Is It Real, or Is It Joshua Bell Virtual Violin?

October 25, 2017, 12:49 PM · Good news for composers who prefer a digital audio workstation: now for just $199, you can access the sound of a Stradivari with the new Joshua Bell Virtual Violin library, released earlier this month by the virtual instrument sampling company Embertone.

The library contains more than 20,000 individual samples performed by Bell on his 1713 "Huberman" Strad, with a Tourte bow.

Joshua Bell VIrtual Violin

Is this good news for the rest of us violinists? Well, read on, and feel free to post your thoughts and perspectives in the comments below.

Embertone sound engineers were of course thrilled to have Joshua Bell creating these samples: "Every sample was a performance," said Embertone co-founder and producer Alex Davis. "He brought a level of artistry to these sessions that I never could have imagined."

The samples were recorded over the course of two days at Avatar Studios in New York City, where Bell played more than 400 pages of score, including various articulations for each note: "sustains," pizzicatos, staccatos, and spiccatos — as well as a number of sample sets.

The result was more than 20,000 individual samples, which can be manipulated in various ways with predictive programming and a diverse array of musical properties and rule sets. The platform has 12 legato/transition styles, allowing users to "play" at various tempos, dynamics, and in different styles.

Here are few samples of pieces recorded using the Joshua Bell Virtual Violin:

Here is a video about how it works:

Click here for the website where you can buy it or find out more information. What are your thoughts?

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Replies

October 25, 2017 at 08:06 PM · Very impressive! Although I have to say, making a track sound like it does in those sample pieces probably takes HUNDREDS of hours of careful editing and keyboard work, whereas a good violinist should be able to learn the part in just a couple, and sound more convincing as the end result.

I also have to say that if there wasn't so much backing to the tracks that it would be easier to distinguish it from a real violin, but perhaps to the layman it would be convincing enough. Also, take reverb out of the equation and I'd imagine that it becomes much more obvious that the violin isn't a real one.

Regardless, it's still super impressive and I think that for lower-budget recordings it's an awesome option.

I'm also a fan of the pieces chosen, as they are really my favorite style of music, and showcase the software well.

October 25, 2017 at 08:25 PM · This is a vital tool for composers to put their ideas into reality. Then once a piece is "sold" for let's say a soundtrack, the real players come in to do the job during a recording session.

October 25, 2017 at 11:43 PM · I'm all about modern tech and I'm sure that will be used to great effect -- but, though the sound of the violin is perfect, the actual 'playing' sounds very synthetic.

October 25, 2017 at 11:43 PM · It's my hope that working with these sounds will give composers a deep desire to work with violinists!

Of course I must confess that the more fearful side of me worries a bit about live violinists being replaced by a virtual library!

October 26, 2017 at 05:12 AM · Virtual libraries will never actually replace real violin players in quality. They can sound convincing when “played” to their strengths, but lack a the flexibility a real player has. Although I’m a big fan of of Mr. Bell (saw him live in Vegas a few years ago), the real difference between this and the Hollywood Solo Violin library is the programming and recording techniques. Each sample was played excellently for both libraries, but playing a Concerto with Mr. Bell’s samples is not the same as hearing Mr. Bell actually play it live in a specific space and time. (Although they imply that it could be to sell the libraries)

Unfortunately for us, the public isn’t so discerning. As long as the sound is close enough, most consumer (non-classical) tracks will likely rely on libraries to fill their string needs at a cheap cost.

October 26, 2017 at 08:21 AM · As I suspected, it's the Mendelssohn that gives the game away. I'm frankly surprised that JB should want to have his name associated with this - listeners may think that's the way he would actually play the piece! I guess it's analogous to a painting-by-numbers program in which each brush stroke was sampled from Cezanne. Does that sound silly or what?

October 26, 2017 at 01:58 PM · It's a tool for composers, who increasingly use this kind of technology to get their ideas together. Is it meant to be used as a final product in creating a professional recording? That probably likely depends on the genre, budget, etc. but I'd think that in many cases, no. It does give composers, students and arrangers a new set of samples for playing around with violin sound.

October 26, 2017 at 02:23 PM · I'm NOT surprised Bell would associate himself with this project. Why not embrace technology? I seriously doubt he feels threatened by some Wizard of Oz hiding behind a curtain with a synthesizer.

As for "hundreds of hours of editing" etc., my guess is that (a) it depends what you're trying to accomplish, and (b) probably over time one can become more efficient.

When computers started to get good at chess, all the same questions were asked. Will the game be ruined? (No. Chess is alive and well.) Will computers change how the game is played? (Partly. Computers have changed how masters study and prepare, but not so much how they play.) Will an expert be able to tell that a game was played by a computer rather than a person? (Yes, but only to a degree, and not without the aid of yet more computers.)

October 26, 2017 at 03:14 PM · Without wishing to provoke an endless debate (again!), I can appreciate Laurie's point that this is likely to be most widely used as a tool for composers and not in order to generate a finished product, and Paul's that technology is not necessarily to be feared, but I find the chess analogy rather forced. Musical performance is not a matter of winning or losing but of communicating beauty and individuality. And I am disappointed that a player as eminent as Joshua Bell should devalue his art in such an exercise, unless the intention is to donate any profits to charitable concerns. Would the sound samples sound significantly less convincing if they were recorded by a deserving up-and-coming player?

October 28, 2017 at 12:33 AM · Wow, lots of judgmental and negative comments! As an amateur struggling to progress, I can see all sorts of uses for this. It might help sharpen my ear and improve my intonation to input scales, arpeggios and even etudes so I can play along with “Joshua” the way I play with my teacher. I find my intonation improves throughout a piece when I play along. I am very appreciative of the effort that has gone into this!

October 28, 2017 at 01:21 AM · Hello,

since 1992 I make playbacks for musicals and Violinists - I have tried to work with Vienna music and I can tell that this leads into a never ending story. I stopped, because it takes to much time - and in the end

when I just take a really good sounding piano, and put in all my knowledge how to make the music brilliant everybody is really greatful-

viceversa take a brilliant sound without music doen'nt help much?

here try by yourself: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUDmr-kE4IdR8oN4nOFDP1RiTjPjFs-Fw

October 28, 2017 at 04:08 AM · I believe that Joshua Bell has volunteered his time and energy to do this. This can be a useful tool for all kinds of things, like productions requiring a violin but they can't get access to a live violinist, or an electronic recording. I'm sure there's a lot more. The sounds are impressive, but a virtual violin can never replace a live one no matter how hard you try.

October 28, 2017 at 05:20 PM · I reacted to the smorgasbord of sounds and effects as a teacher (and learner.) It would be very helpful to teach such techniques as single bowing legato, slurred bowing legato, dynamics changes, pizz., harmonics, etc, by showing students the first of these two videos. After learning the techniques comes the hard part: making the musical judgments about when and how to use them. There is no single correct answer to these questions of judgment. This kind of judgment helps make each individual’s style unique.

As for Laurie’s fear that computerized music may replace music made by real musicians, I believe that this fear is valid. We violinists could tell the difference between human made and computer generated music, but the general public probably could not, except for virtuoso performances, like a concerto of violin and piano music by Joshua Bell. The price of such concerts could go up out of sight.

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