I asked a question to myself by listening and watching some recordings.
How can a soloist cover an orchestra with only his voice/instrument?
I think that it is mostly because musicians in orchestra have to play more piano than you'll normally do and that soloists need to get "perfect" sound projection ( bow pressure, etc...). But I may be wrong.
But there are still some passages were the orchestra plays loudly and the soloist still cover the orchestra ( like Vengerov in the end of Sibelius's first movt or Rostropovich in final part of Don
So I don't really know how they do this. I've thought that recordings were extremely modified to get that sound equality. But that's a bit like soloists were cheating (and I don't think they cheat). I've also thought that the composer always keep that sound equality when they compose a piece ( I mean that they prevent the orchestra to cover the soloist ).
And finally, I've thought about the concert hall and the soloist's placement in the hall compared to the orchestra musicians. But again, I'm not sure.
Can someone please answer this question correctly?
I believe that its a mixture of the strings on ones instrument. Orchestras generally play quieter when they play with a soloist. But you are correct that sound engineers change things when mixing a recording. There may also be sound engineers in live concerts as well
Thanks, that's interesting
No sound engineers in live performances.
No, live performances can definitely have an engineer. I've been to several where the musicians were thoroughly mic'd. It makes the concert experience not suck for the people in the back row.
Orchestras of the caliber that can afford to play with Vengerov or Rostropovich do not mike their soloists, except if it's an instrument that doesn't project without miking (eg mandolin). They also generally play in very carefully acoustically engineered concert halls where the last row does not suck.
If you are playing at the local basketball arena (like our regional symphony does a couple times a year) then you mic everyone.
Here's a more thorough explanation of some of the ideas I was talking about, and more techniques composers have in their toolbox:
I'm definitely not a sound engineer by any means but I think it mainly has to do with the player's techniques. A strong vibrato will separate the soloists from the orchestra as it will not blend in. As well as more projecting bowing techniques such as using each portion of the bow more evenly. It probably also has to do with the soloist instrument. Usually, soloist go for more projecting and overall more powerful instruments that would not do well in an orchestra but sets it apart with many overtones letting it soar across the orchestra.
Forget about recordings in which all sorts of trickery may be used - haven't we all (or at least most of us) played in live, non-amplified orchestral concerts with a good but non-stellar soloist who is able to carry over the band without difficulty?
And some of us have performed as soloists -- I'd guess typically with community orchestras in places with sub-optimal acoustics, which was my soloist experience.
It's the composer's style which makes a solo part work or not -- remember that most of the solos people still play these days were written long before amplification, so the composer had to make the solo part work while playing in front of a whole orchestra.
OK OK if the orchestra plays ff then of course no soloist has a chance, but still I am with Ben that the real answer to Guillermo's question is "simply" a splendid bowing technique. Much weight, high bow speed, and being able to make that sound with a clear tone. Even softer passages can project really well with a great bowing technique.
Sometime in the past two decades violin maker Joseph Curtin published a pair of articles in the STRAD magazine about violin acoustics and vibrato. He stressed the irregularity of the of peaks in the overtone spectrum of different violins in terms of both frequency distribution and acoustic strength (i.e., decibels, DB) and how vibrato was a technique violinists used to enhance their sound. The way this works (according to Curtin) is that vibrato spreads the frequency range of the overtones produced to increase the apparent loudness of the notes whose overtones have lower peaks and evens out the sound level projected to an audience.
I think people are forgetting that another huge reason why vibrato makes it easier to cut through is because the addition of vibrato disrupts the natural balance between bow speed, pressure (I know some people hate that word, so let's say vertical force), and contact point.
In addition to the factors already mentioned: sound intensity in decibels is proportional to the square root of the energy (number of players) So that a first violin section of 9 players is not 9 times louder than the violin soloist, but only 3 times louder, and only if they are playing forte, in unison. Of course the orchestra backs off for a violin solo. The brain has a preference for the higher pitches, so that for two violins playing in octaves, the higher octave sounds louder. The brain also prefers the sound that arrives first. The soloist stands only a few feet in front of the violin section, but it makes a difference. And, good, expensive violins sound louder.
'sound intensity in decibels is proportional to the square root of the energy (number of players) So that a first violin section of 9 players is not 9 times louder than the violin soloist, but only 3 times louder, and only if they are playing forte, in unison.'
Isn't there an issue of phase incoherence as well?
Two factors, over and above the sheer power of the instrument (or voice):
Joel, shouldn't that be the logarithm rather than the square root, or am I confusing things?
I remembered a logarithmic relationship also. As long as one is getting technical, I think it also pays to be very careful about the terms one is using. "Energy" vs. "Intensity" vs. "Power" etc.
continued-- Jean is right. After looking at my old acoustics textbook; The relationship between sound energy (watts) and perceived loudness (phons or decibels)is logarithmic, base ten, much steeper than square root. So that a section of 10 violins sounds only twice as loud as the violin soloist! Which would explain why it is probably not worth the time and money for an orchestra manager to find a sub. for a section string player who calls in sick, but a missing wind or brass player makes a real hole in the music. The total sound energy of a big orchestra playing a full volume is about 80 watts, enough to power one light bulb.(!) Another illustration; For large chamber music, like the Brahms, Tchaikovsky sextets, the Mendelssohn octet, the lead violin on the top note is not overwhelmed by the sound of the other 5-7 players. Composers that want a louder string section sound have learned to go for density, write lots of divisi, with octave doublings, to get the subjectively louder sound.
Not to get too picky, but Watts is a unit of power (J/s). Watt-seconds is a unit of energy. (In the US, for example, one pays for electrical energy by the kilowatt-hour). Fortunately, it does not matter here, because the argument of a logarithm is always dimensionless. In physics this is ordinarily accomplished by taking the ratio of the intensity (or energy or power) and a corresponding
Paul D. is a real scientist and I only know enough to be dangerous, so, thank you. jq
The instrument and bow make a difference. But the primary determining factor is the player's technique -- right hand, vibrato, and left-hand articulation (for clarity).
Lydia - I'm not sure everything taught with a thick Russian accent should be taken as prescriptive. This may be the way solo playing has developed over the years, partly as a result of halls getting larger and orchestras louder, but it is still possible and musically invaluable for a soloist to be able to command the stage, conductor, audience and all by playing pianissimo. Of course it depends on the piece but there are moments in the Beethoven concerto that can be pure white magic.
"What carries to the back of the hall isn't necessary a function of just decibels, though. There's some black magic of physics involved."
We're getting very technical.
"There's some black magic of physics involved." If there's one thing we know about physics -- it's that it's
In most of the experiments and studies I am aware of so far, "carrying power" has correlated pretty closely with the decibel level up close (on violins).
I wonder if soloists sometimes fight too hard to dominate at all costs. I heard master classes by Ida Haendel for example and this is the point she tends to stress most: The importance of being heard over the orchestra. She seems to live in constant panic about that.
Many years ago I attended a performance of the Brahms Concerto by Eric Friedman and the Kern Philharmonic (originally founded in 1932 and renamed again in 1982 as the "Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra").
Andrew - It's psychoacoustic magic! I don't suppose it's the whole story but co-modulation masking release (the modulation being the application of vibrato) enables the auditory system to distinguish the harmonic spectrum of the violin in which all the frequencies are modulated together from the orchestral frequencies which of course cover a similar absolute range but are modulated more-or-less at random. The violin sound thus becomes a coherent "auditory object", no louder than before but requiring a masking level up to 6dB higher (if I remember correctly).
@David, that result does not surprise me. Do your clients ever specifically ask you to make sure their violin is good and loud? Same question to those who are dealers -- do your customers gravitate toward the loudest instrument on the shelf?
Of course, "decibel level" includes the "singer's formant"!
Nobody understands me (boo hoo) but I'll make one last pitch. The human auditory system has evolved an exquisite ability to break down, reassemble and interpret sound mixtures, the underlying processes of which scientists have hardly begun to understand. Co-modulation masking release is one process that we can now demonstrate and study in the laboratory, although exactly how he trick is done remains mysterious.
I found a book on this topic a while ago in the public library. It is a truly fascinating subject; unfortunately I have now forgotten the author and the title of the book, so I can not recommend it.
Hi Albrecht - The only book I know on the subject is Auditory Scene Analysis by Albert Bregman but it's more than 25 years old. I left this field 12 years ago and I really hope someone has since made a breakthrough but I've not heard of one.
"A viola is usually louder "than a violin, but projects less." But when a double-bass is tuning backstage, even very softly, you can hear that up in the balcony. Maybe that's because the audience isn't opening any cough-drop wrappers that emit the same frequencies.
Yup. I'd like to pose a "simple" challenge to the AI people; I'll give them a complex sound waveform, maybe a passage of symphonic music or a mixture of natural sounds, and their task is to find out what it is without listening to it.
Actually I think AI should be left out of this. Take chess: It is true that a computer can play champion level chess--if it has like a few thousand times the processing capacity of the human champion's brain. Meaning AI does not mimic human intelligence; it arrives at results that mimic the results of human intelligence but does it in very different and wildly less efficient ways. AI can deal with vision problems (either because they are more tractable than sound problems or because the promise greater profits; I would bet the second). But that does not explain how the brain deals with them.
That's certainly true, I was really just making a point about how difficult a task this is. But there must be ways in which such an AI device could be exploited commercially?
"There is a corresponding feature of ours, though maybe less complicated: Humans appear to be the only mammals that can sing; singing defined as the voice's ability to produce sounds of precisely defined pitch. Amazing stuff! Why would evolution favor such a talent?"
Canines can sing!
But Irene and Andrew, can you notate their songs? Even when they are in a sense "tuneful" I think you'll find that very difficult because they're constantly modulating and hardly ever settle on a note for long enough to be able to identify it.
steve: yes, you can notate pretty much anything if you come up with the proper system. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-whale-songs-look-sheet-music-180956813/
Just to be fair to Albrecht, he was only talking about mammals. I think everybody agrees that birds can sing :-)
Check out the book "Mozart's Starling."
What makes the mockingbird especially interesting is that it will repeat its song once or twice and then move on to some completely novel song that it has never sung before. In other words, it spins out riffs but never develops them. But the initial repetition means that what they're doing isn't random. The difficulty of writing down a bird or whale song on ordinary staff paper tells you more about the limitations of the recording medium.
O. Messien tried to accurately transcribe bird songs to the piano for his Catalog of Birds. The birds make it difficult for us when they refuse to use any of our proper tuning systems, and won't stay in tempo.
I got this from the book I quoted above. And you are right, it should probably be restricted to terrestrial mammals. And I agree, birds can sing (some birds anyway, not crows for example though they are classed as singing birds...). I am pretty sure there are birds that one could teach to sing human melodies. There are those who can imitate railroad signaling whistles sufficiently to fool railroad workers (ancient technology now of course but this was real at some time in the past).
I'm only familiar with Eurasian species so can't generalise to the New World, but I really cannot match a single note to the wrens, dunnocks, starlings, crow, jackdaws, chaffinches, goldfinches etc that sing round here. Can anyone recognise Messiaen's birds from his notation? The question of evolutionary advantage must be fodder for another thread, if not another forum!
Hi! I think sound projection should be viewed from a different perspective in the advent of amplification in huge stages, and audiences.
When birds sing a particular song, do they always start on the same note? In other words, do they have perfect pitch? Could I tune my violin to a bird song?
"Still, what would the evolutionary advantage of singing be?"
David - Most birds round here don't produce identifiable musical pitches at all, just a collection of warbles, trills, glissandi and jingly noises (aka "modern music"), but as I think I said up above we have a Blackbird that occasionally ends its 2-sec song with a quick rising B and G natural. I've checked it half a dozen times and the pitches are always the same. Other Blackbirds I've known to do something similar but I don't think identical.
Possibly to communicate before the advent of language. If you consider bird "songs" there is great variety -- not just clear pitches but all kinds of clicks and other sounds. Even today these feature in a few human languages. Maybe early people were not mimicking the mere aesthetic of bird (and other animal) sounds, but rather their underlying purpose.
Joel - Some good points there but I think speech and signing must have evolved as equal and alternative means of communication, or else the congenitally deaf wouldn't acquire sign language so readily. Is sign language any less rich (careful now...)? Music has become intertwined with speech but is still separable and plenty of people happily do without it so I think must be an exaptation with little or no survival value rather than an adaptation. It seems to be for some birds too!
Sign language is very rich, that is why I believe people who lose their hearing (for example, in an accident) and need to learn to sign are often surprised that it takes so long to become truly fluent.
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