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Friday, 24 February 2012

Ilya Efimov and the Guitars Virtual Instruments


Ilya Efimov is the name of a Russian composer who is a very proficient jazz pianist, a very successful arranger composer, and the owner of this company.

From one of the links on the VI Control forum, I went to this company's webpage to take a look at their products.

I was initially quite surprised by the limited number of virtual instrument this company has to offer. It only makes 4 products, out of 2 virtual instruments. 2 of the products are a Nylon and Accoustic Guitar, and the other 2 are the intelligent and authentic strumming counterparts of the Nylon and Accoustic Guitar VIs.

I took a listen to their instruments and I was quite blown away. They are incredibly authentic, lively and they do not sound repeated. With about 3500 samples per instruments, you can automatically or manually select the string used to play every note. There are 14 different articulations on each guitar. These include legato, glissando amongst others. Also, each note on each string is recorded with multiple takes so the takes could be triggered in a round robin fashion when the passages require the same notes triggered repeatedly. They also come with effects such as reverb, delay, EQ and compressor.

The Strum version of their guitars sound really really good too! There's a youtube video on their page, but somehow I could not play it. I'll try to find it on youtube. I've seen some screen shots of the instrument and it looks like the controls are sensibly laid out for easy and straightforward operation.

The prices are not bad too! A single VI product costs EUR99, but if you buy them in a bundle (the solo guitar + the strum version of the VI), it costs only EUR149.

Go have a listen at their demos, and let me know if you find that it sounds good too ;)

I've got my eyes on these guitars!

Cakewalk Sonar - Fixing Latency for Virtual Instruments

So I am back to take another look at the software I've been using for years.

Somehow this time I find that I am much less familiar with it. I still roughly know where things are I do not feel as close to it as I did FL Studio.

This time round, I ran into a very annoying problem. It's the latency problem in Sonar. Remember a while ago I wrote a similar post on solving my latency problem with my EastWest virtual instruments in FL Studio. Now I'm facing the same problem again in Sonar.

This time it happened to all virtual instruments in Sonar 8.5. The lag is unacceptably long (about 1.5 seconds). Tweaking the appropriate audio buffer values did not allow me to find an optimal setting that completely removed the lag. It was either laggy when I set the Sonar audio buffer values too high, or the sounds became choppy and stuttered when the buffer values got too low.

I went to youtube to do a search and found these.

So here are 2 youtube.com clips that talks about how to solve latency problems in Sonar.

This is the first time I've heard of this fantastic tool. Its called Asio4All. The website affectionately calls it A4A. It is developed by Michael Tippach to solve his own audio latency problem, and it's become one of the most sought after tool for fixing latency. He  (it works for me!).
Download it here: http://www.asio4all.com/

Here's a clip showing how to use the Asio4all tool. (this video shows it on an FL Studio host).

Hans Zimmer Talks About His Own Sounds

Alvin gave me a link to a very insightful post by Hans Zimmer himself! He was replying to a post talking about how to achieve a "Hans Zimmer" sound. Here's the link to the post! http://www.vi-control.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=24544&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=35&fb_source=message

VI Control is a forum where composers, sound designers, audio engineers... anybody who works with sound and music, come together to talk about their art, skills and passion. The motto of this website is "musicians helping musicians". Musicians make the forum.

Being a somewhat new-comer to virtual instruments and sample libraries, I find their advertisements surprisingly relevant, interesting and helpful. There are always new products and virtual instrument libraries being introduced even on the main forum page. That keeps me clicking and checking out the products that are directly helping musicians do their job more efficiently and creatively.

If you are a musician, this is definitely a place to soak yourself in the music making culture, and let the passion of fellow musicians motive, advise and help you in your music journey!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My Interpretation of DnegLondonExpVideo_V001_003

I am listening to the music again. There's a percussive segment that sounds like blades clashing, led me to think of a duel or fight of sorts. That's when I came up with the following imagery for the latest post: DnegLondonExpVideo_V001_003

<start of music: 0:00>
maybe the story is about a battle between 2 men
at the beginning, we are following just 1 man
he is on his way to a duel or a confrontation ( he doesn't know yet (?) )
now he is lost in his own thoughts, pondering
maybe unsure of himself, or struggling with his own feelings ...anything
maybe thinking of the people he love, the reasons he should fight, etc
i am thinking of the camera showing big close-up of his face
the background is blurred, out of focus
he is moving but it is in slow motion
and the low beating sound we hear is his heartbeat.

<at 0:30>
he gets back to reality and he hastens (maybe he comes to a decision?)
maybe he is on horseback, or he is running, actually travelling

<at 1:11>
he gets more determined and goes faster (maybe his village is in sight)
maybe he sees something is not right
maybe his village is burning or plundered
he charges into the village to see people dead, houses burn, etc
he is looking for survivors

<at 1:38>
he spots his enemy
they get into a good fight.
I am imagining them crossing blades
the cymbal rides now sound like clashing of weapons

<at 2:01>
the battle ends with one survivor,
maybe one man standing over the other, or with a sword run through the chest
maybe the protagonist dies, the camera closes up on his face again like the beginning

Responses to DnegLondonExpVideo_V001_003

I ran the piece through Janson, YC and Rainne (my colleagues).

Cao Ye:
- the opening melody is very sweet! should bring that back during the later part also=D
- hmmm this track actually sounds pretty 'London' haha. yeah the later part definitely has the fantasy flavor, how about something abstract like maybe a colour or something, i dont know haha
- it's really great that you dont stop create new stuff and this latest one really sounds fresh!=D

- sounds like music for movies. 

- i like it. reminds me of Final Fantasy, walking around in the game, etc.
- can I get you compose something for my reel? 

- reminds me of english army, knights horses and castles.
- sounds like the army in high spirit, ready to go war.. then sth nt so nice happen... enemy attack?... where the flat and sharp notes coming in...haha... I am dreaming..

- it takes too long before some main theme kicks in
- for the repeating melody at 1:10, so much anticipation, but i think it didnt build up to something too fantastic
- i think around 00:24ish something should kick in, maybe the build-up is too gradual

These are all good comments. And it is very interesting and educational to read all of them, gaining insight to how different listeners react to the same piece of music. It also brings out the parts and areas I have not given much thought to.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


Listen to this on soundcloud.com

Here's a piece I've been working on for more than 3 months. I started the idea when I was in London. Now this is one of those "shape it as you go" piece.

When I started it, I had no idea how the next 8 bars would go. Therefore I would not be surprised that the structure breaks all the compositional rules that bind this kind of music.

This is a follow up from the "playing a-fool" piece.
The name is a working title. I have not thought of a proper one at this time.
It's an attempt at a more dramatic and driving mood.
All orchestral instruments from NI Kontakt, and the multi-tapped-delayed guitar is from FL Sytrus, the low freq pulsing is from NI Massive, and I have a "multi-stick kit" from NI Battery in there.

Just completed, havent spent much time tweaking effects and giving a proper mix.

I hate copying from existing works so if you spot parts that "sound like" some existing works please let me know. ;)

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


I came across this nice site on the internet.
http://www.musictheory.net/ by Ricci Adams

This is a site that gives free lessons and exercises to improve your music foundation.

The lessons are animated to effectively illustrate music concepts.

The music recognition exercises included a huge list of areas that can improve note identification, key signature identification, interval identification, chord identification and many more.

I always had problems reading notes especially those notated outside the range of the staff. I went through the note recognition training where I had to identify the note notated on the treble clef. It shows how many times I've missed and my percentage of accuracy. After going at it for a while, I actually felt more confident identifying the correct notes! It's pretty fun, and it actually works!

The tools section has a collection of very useful tools, from determining the tempo by tapping on a button, to utilities that list out the major and minor keys by number of accidentals.

The lessons are available for the iPhone as an app called "Theory Lessons".

The tools are also available as an iPhone app called "Tenuto", available in the Apple App Store.


I discovered this site as I was surfing the web. This is an amazing company that produces discs in bulk for record labels and independent artists. They also do mastering, DVD authoring, cover designing, and all sorts of supplies and storage solutions related to disc duplicating, recording, mastering and such.

They also host an amazing blog called Echoes. This is filled with insights and discoveries that help musicians, including music industry-related news, and articles where professional musicians share their discoveries and lessons learnt.

They are very pro-independent musicians. I feel that the services, blogs and resources at the Discmakers site is there to support and reach out to help independent artists reach out to the audiences.

The site also contains a section where there is an amazing collection of free material for reading and listening, to educate and instruct artists trying to make their mark in the industry. These range from technical subjects like mastering tips to the business side of marketing yourself or your band in the modern age of digital media and social networking.

Do swing by and check them out!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Cinematique: Rare and Unique Instrument Libraries

I came across this company that makes very interesting instruments recorded from unexpected sources. They have hits and knocks from kitchen appliances, to clicking and scratching of glass, all the way to more electronic instruments that sound like they were from the 8-bit console era, with a twist, of being able to add some advanced processing to the signals to give them a totally unique sound.

Here's their demo page:

I was just browsing through soundsonline.com and again I found Cinematique Instruments being sold through that site: http://www.soundsonline.com/Cinematique-Instruments
it is going for $199.95 here (USD I presume).
More demo pieces can be found at this soundsonline.com site. I don't know if they are the same ones from their main site though. :)

Friday, 10 February 2012

So You Would Come V06 - Feedback

Janson has listened to the latest version - So You Would Come v06
and he has given his feedback. He says he is feeling more contrast in dynamics.

He had another listen to the original Hillsong track, and he feels it's pretty good too. (He thought it was a bit monotonous yesterday, but he realised it is better than he thought). He felt it is also a good reference for dynamics highs and lows.

Reflecting the scenario in an orchestra or symphonic band, the sole person to interpret the piece in terms of expression, would be the conductor and the soloist during solo passages.

In the case of a sequencing arranger,  the conductor would be himself/herself. However, while the conductor expresses the music in real-time, the sequencing arranger is building the piece track by track, section by section, recording automation passes by passes, and tweaking audio parameters knob by knob (fader by fader and switches by switches, etc). Doing all that, he could lose himself (or herself) in the small things to make it perfect, and neglect the bigger expression of the song.

A similar mistake along the same line of oversight that I often catch myself making is this: My piano track is doing a sycopation on beat 4, while my bass is playing straight 8 beat groove. Later on I layer on strings playing a line that syncopates at beat 3 in the same bar. This is total rhythmic dis-harmony.

These are a few things that happen. Basically the idea behind the mis-management remains the same. Many different instruments are doing their own thing, even when coming from the same sequencing arranger. :( Many different things in a small scale translate into uncoordinated music on the big scale.

Janson also thought the ending was a bit hollow. The bass seemed to stick out like a stray instrument who did not know that the rest has stopped playing. He was more for the idea of finishing the song together as an orchestra.

CaoYe (my fellow colleague) says the addition of the cello is a nice addition to the last version.

Kaihsin says that the music reminds her of all the Korean dramas that she was furiously watching before being employed here at her current job.

Zan Mei Zhi Quan v04

Listen to this on soundcloud.com

Cover version of Zan Mei Zhi Quan (讚美之泉)
- changed piano tone and reverb parameters
- improved piano track dynamics
- adjusted overall levels so dynamic range is maximised

So You Would Come - V06

Listen to this on soundcloud.com

Cover version of Hillsong's So You Would Come
- added in cello section in places that were previously not playing
- strings section that were previously downplayed are brought back up again
- refined piano tone and piano reverb
- Refined and reworked all the dyanmics of all the instruments to produce a more coherent overall performance. became a bit more daring on pushing the contrast on intense sections
- Improved levels and audio placement on instruments
- adjusted overall levels to maximise dynamic range

Thursday, 9 February 2012

So You Would Come v05 - feedback

So I've gotten some feedback from a few people for the latest version of So You Would Come (v05).

Janson said he found the whole piece too monotonous, lacking dynamics and emotions. He said he couldn't feel where the song is at its highs and where the lows were. After a while he felt it just became like a background music droning on. However, he also said that the original track from Hillsong gave him the same feeling too. But I am sure my rendition of it was much more more lacking than the Hillsong one.

He also said he felt the same way about my cover version of How Am I Supposed to Live Without You. He basically felt that the pieces do not have enough dynamics.

Janson used to play the clarinet in a band. So he is probably better at understanding how a musician playing a piece should approach handling dynamics.

Since this was a piece to have vocals sung over the instruments, Janson suggested I should sing with my friends to find out where the more intense parts are, and then arrange for the dynamics to follow.

I shall ask him to give me some examples of pieces so I can see what he is talking about.

Now I am listening to it again, and I felt the strings has withdrawn quite a bit since my last version, and it has made the whole thing sound more laid back and distant, having less presence.

I think at this point I am still more focused on the musical side, and sort of neglected the performance (emotions / dynamics) and the mixing side. In Janson's analysis, getting the lines and chords are just the first step, the technical parts, like a musicians playing notes right, before internalising and thinking about how to play the parts right emotionally.

I've always been quite conservative with dynamics. Usually I work with progressively building up in the complexity of the notes. Maybe its too methodical and dead.

I may have to spend more time on these areas in my music.

So You Would Come v05

Play this on soundcloud.com

Changes from the last version:
- raised the key to D (from C) to link to zan mei zhi quan in D
- increased the playing intensity of the drums to match the performance of the rest of the instruments
- balanced up the playing levels of all instruments across different sections

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Feedback - Zan Mei Zhi Quan

There have been a few feedback to date, on the most current Zan Mei Zhi Quan to date.

Peter Lim (the worship leader for Johnson's wedding) says he loves the intro, and he says "Wow I am speechless, it is really very nice".

Sean says he loves the intro too, and that the GuZheng is really authentic, and blends well with the music.

Rainne from my workplace says she likes the Guzheng in the context of the music too.

YC however, says that the instruments actually sounded cheaper than this piece I made. http://soundcloud.com/patrickwoo/how-am-i-supposed-to-live-3. This was made with a collection of soundfonts, the Korg M1 Le soft synth, and some virtual instruments & generators from FL Studio.

This is interesting observation. YC is not musically trained or literate, to express exactly what is wrong, but he has a keen sense of what he expects to hear from a nicely produced piece of music.

So this is a challenge and a problem to overcome. I've just finished arranging the piece so I've just got out of the musician mindset, thinking about notes and harmony and musical lines. YC's comments have reminded me that I should also put more love into things that give the finishing polish to up the value of the piece, so it is closer to professional standards.

As it stands, I have already done basic reverb sends and levels balancing, including panning, on all my instruments. However each instrument is doing it's own send in their respective "players".

For example, the piano from Kontakt is in it's own Kontakt Pianos virtual instruments collection, doing its own reverb send and having its own reverb space configuration (maybe it's Hall A, cathedral, etc). My bass guitar is from Kontakt Factory Instruments collection, and its also having it's own reverb send with a different configuration (different delay duration, pre-delay values, reverb stereo spread, etc). Could be a reason why they are not sounding coherent.

I may need to fix this by sending things to an "external reverb" outside of the Kontakt player.

I may also have to look into widening my audio panning to give it a "bigger" feel. I might also have to re-look at my EQ to bring out unique band of frequencies in each instrument so they sit well together as a band.

Too many possibilities to test out. I may not have time to tweak this to be in time for the wedding worship. But I'll quickly do a bit of everything I've thought of to improve the mix, before mixing it down to 2-tracks for the wedding.

Passion and Interest

Sean and I were talking about passion, interest and tenacity. He says a CG artist (or vfx artist) are one of those jobs that especially need tenacity to stay long in the industry.

Many jobs only requires you to work hard during the working hours, and you will have gained the required experience to move up and excel in your career. Not for CG. Many times we need to keep practising our craft. Especially when working in a huge pipeline, you may not always necessarily be doing the full spectrum of work you would like yourself to be doing. In many instances we are just doing a very small part, or something else entirely.

To keep ourselves relevant in the specialisation, in the capacity we want our career to move towards, we need to keep "sharpening our blades", and keep doing the things we eventually want to be doing. That is quite a tedious and joyless work if we have no passion, or if we do not have enough determination to do it till we actually get to where we want to go.

This definitely requires perseverance and tenacity.

"Interest makes you work till 8pm", says Sean in these exact words, "but fire makes you work till 4am in the morning."

From my previous post, I was working on a piece of music till 5am last night. ;)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Zan Mei Zhi Quan - Completed

A more modern cover version of zan mei zhi quan (讚美之泉). 
Original version here: http://youtu.be/1wGHfg_q9mM
All instruments done with Native Instruments Kontakt Factory Instruments. Drums are from NI Battery, GuZheng is from EastWest Silk. 

Added a verse before the first chorus, and another chorus with raised key, and of course an outro.

Sean is really my number one fan! It's 4.40am in SIngapore. He is still online. I told him I just uploaded it, and he immediately grabs it. He is listening to it now!

Monday, 6 February 2012



A fellow headphone enthusiast has shed light on my bad experience with my purchase of the Klipsch S4 . He's given me a link that I could not be too glad to receive.

Here's a website that profiles frequency response curves from major headphone for you to compare and contrast in your relentless search for the perfect set of ear/headphones (within your limited budget of course, or the lack of).

Now you can do this without running around and sifting through huge number of review websites and forums full of advertisements and sometimes biased or inaccurate reviews. Of course those sites are really important, so we know what the existing owners are saying about the perceived sounds, temperaments, build quality, etc. However, I believe that a frequency response graph says a thousand words, technically and scientifically speaking of course :).

This is definitely a place I must go to before I head to the shops to hunt for my next pair of phones.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

KVR Audio Portal


Here's another comprehensive audio portal I came across. KVR Audio is Internet's number one news and information resource for open standard audio plug-ins (yes this includes virtual instruments for DAWs).

They report new releases and latest news related to plug-in standards like VST plug-ins, Audio Unit plug-ins, and RTAS plug-ins.

Many of their services are free. Signing up as their member is free too! Free membership services include news and products information update, user reviews and a very active user-forum.

They are also the official hosting forum for many plug-in and soundware developers.

Zan Mei Zhi Quan - work in progress

Click here to listen on soundcloud.com

A more modern cover version of zan mei zhi quan (讚美之泉). 
Original version here: http://youtu.be/1wGHfg_q9mM
Done mostly with Native Instruments Kontakt Factory Instruments. Drums are from NI Battery, GuZheng is from EastWest Silk.

work in progress. not mixed

This is the first time I am using articulations from my EastWest instrument libraries.

This is a Chinese worship song that's going to be used in Johnson's wedding worship portion of the ceremony. Thus Peter requested it to be a bit more Chinese sounding, as well as more modern. So in the usual cheesy manner, the GuZheng was blatantly used. I really hope I've made it somewhat relevant in the music. 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Composer: Thomas E. Brown

I came across Thomas Brown's page, and I was somehow captivated by it.

Thomas is a music composer, arranger and performer. In his write-up on the main page, he is very frank about his involvement with writing music for the screen. Admitting that he is new to the section of the media industry, it says nevertheless he approaches it with passion and enthusiasm.

His write-up is humble, because despite him being new in this circle, he has composed and written for 2 films that went into film festivals.

He has had formal music education. He graduated in Music Performance at the renowned Tech Music Schools.  He is still studying for a Masters in "Composing for Film and TV",

The reason I like him, is probably due to the fact that he is relatively new, but he has had 2 finished films, and has made some connections with people in the circle. He also has his own page and a facebook profile in his composer capacity. Through all this, I can see the effort, and feel his enthusiasm, and I can relate to him. This is a success case of a composer entering the industry, and actively doing things to upgrade his skills at the same time. He is surely someone to look up to. It is inspiring!

Thomas' Facebook profile here: http://www.facebook.com/thomasbrowncomposer?sk=info