Digital Instruments In A Very Real World.

Music In Flims

When films arrived on the scene in the early 20th century one thing was established very quickly…what do we do about this loud projector noise!  The solution? Music. Putting music over movies has been a practice almost as long as movies have been around.

“Before the age of recorded sound in motion pictures, efforts were taken to provide suitable music for films, usually through the services of an in-house pianist or organist, and, in some cases, entire orchestras, typically given cue sheets as a guide.” (Wikipedia)

Orchestral scoring was once viewed as a very specific skill and potentially expensive. In the 1950’s you had Bernard Herrmann scoring Psycho with a similar feel to “The Rite Of Spring”.

In the 1970’s you had John Williams scoring Star Wars and Jaws.

The Invention of Midi

In the early 1980’s a brand new technology was created called MIDI. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It’s primary use was that of synthesizers, which we should all be familiar with because of the “sound” of the 80’s.

MIDI “… is a technical standard that describes a protocol, digital interface and connectors and allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another. A single MIDI link can carry up to sixteen channels of information, each of which can be routed to a separate device.” (Wikipedia)

The Digital Impact

Over the last 10-12 years the digital impact of the computer world has really taken off.  I remember when I used the built-in MIDI on my original PC and it sounded awful. As time progressed, people started to use MIDI while composing for film and television. Ultimately it made it possible for a low-budget show or movie to be scored at a fraction of the cost. Most recently, this is how a lot of professionals have begun to creat mock-ups of theirs scores and even implemented digital samples into their final mix.

What is a Sampled Instrument?

“A sampled orchestra is a close imitation of a real one, or rather, the special-purpose recording and triggered playback of the sounds of individual orchestral instruments (or section of instruments). The playback of the sounds is accomplished by a new musical performance on a keyboard or with another type of midi- or non-standard digital controller. The way the samples are made ready for a composer’s use – the sound sourcing process – is fairly simple and standard:

First, high-quality recordings of individual notes played by various instruments are made, one by one across their entire musical range, capturing each note performed with different expressions and techniques, possibly using different microphone setups and even various spaces (concert hall, performance stage, studio, etc.).

Secondly, the combination of the hundreds of recorded samples are organized in a digital sample player (hardware or software) in order for the appropriate notes (samples) to be played back when striking the keys across a keyboard (or other midi controller) with various strength.” (Sampled Orchestras)

That explanation is a great introduction to what will be referenced in the rest of this post.  It’s important to note that all of these samples are recorded in various ways and depending on the pack that you purchase, and how you play it, drastically changes the outcome of the final composition.

The Unreal Orchestra (Sampled Instruments)

Hans Zimmer (an Academy Award Winner composer) has always been at the front of digital composing. He is known for mixing the real and unreal world of instruments. In his personal studio he has a massive wall of gear that will ultimately give him the sound he is looking for.

In one of his recent endeavors, he wanted to give people the opportunity to use sampled libraries to create more realistic scores when the budget doesn’t allow for a full orchestral session. The first volume of this has been recently released and you can watch a short video on their concept and the making of their samples below.

This is an all new percussion pack from Hans Zimmer’s collection.

Here is an example of an all orchestral score done with various different sample libraries, including the most recent Hans Drums.

*MIDI Composers Tip

“If I want a dramatic crescendo in the trombones,” says Cornish. “I raise the volume with MIDI, but also I use the mod wheel to crossfade to louder samples, which changes the timbre from light to aggressive — much more realistic.”(The Unreal Orchestra)

Changing Everything

Not only does this affect the big studios, not having to pay for full scored orchestras as often but this has also changed the face of the studio. Dave Porter, known for writing the music for Breaking Bad has a great studio that he made out of his two car garage. He has all the gear he needs and used real instruments combined with sampled instruments to create a seamless musical experience. Check out his studio below!



This revolution of incorporated sampled orchestras into real orchestras and even the lack of real orchestras in todays film and television world is amazing. One of the best things about it is that it allows for young composer especially to get their hands dirty and start composing for short films, student films and even commercials.


Finally, check out action strings.

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