Masters of Playability
Hello Composers, Mike here, and I have the great opportunity to share my interview with Aaron of Aaron Venture | Infinite Series.
This is a new, upcoming and incredibly inventive sample library developer. I am certain the Infinite Series sample library range will be super successful, because they have something that old school sample libraries lack. True playability without those dreadful key switches!
Hello Aaron, we are honored to have you share your story and wisdom here on Professional Composers! =)
Question 1: What is the story behind Aaron Venture as a brand/developer?
I was a composer long before I was a developer. And even before that, audio engineering and production was how I earned my daily bread. I’ve taken serious interest in film music a couple of years ago, and fell in love with music by Golden Age composers like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, and eventually all the great classical composers who inspired them.
I wanted to write music like that and it’s how I got into composing contemporary classical music. As I was working with the tools available at the time, I found that I can’t really express myself with keyswitch-based/articulation-based libraries. I think expression is individual to each player and I wanted to play my own music.
Using keyswitches to switch between “longs” and “shorts”, or trills or fluttertongue didn’t work for me.
The results were always mechanical when compared to recordings of real performances, and the workflow was slow and uninspiring. I preferred performance-based libraries, but they had their own limitations in terms of either features or sound.
So in April 2018, relying on my engineering and programming knowledge, I’ve decided to create instantly playable and expressive virtual instruments that are full-featured and consistent in terms of dynamics and ranges all throughout, can be set up in just a few clicks and allow you to create any ensemble or configuration imaginable in equally short amount of time.
At the time it was all a concept and it would be months before I had something concrete. Once I did, I was very happy with the results, as well as the miniature resource footprint each instrument had (~40 MB of RAM at default buffer size, with an optimized script and voice count for a below-average CPU hit), and decided that these could be made into a commercial product.
Question 2: Can you share your creative philosophy & vision as a developer?
Music is like a language. If you were to try stringing together pre-recorded words to form a sentence, you could make it work every once in a while, but mostly it’ll sound weird, inexpressive and all around fake. So why are we approaching music that way? Every phrase is played differently, and every player will perform it in their own way.
The idea is to have playable and expressive virtual instruments which sound great out-of-the-box and have a small enough footprint to be used on a toaster. Each individual user can then truly express themselves, not limited by recorded “articulations” or a recorded performance. All controls are at their disposal, and the only limit is the music in their head.
I also believe in continuous evolution of software and feel like it’s my holy duty to keep updating my instruments as I learn new things and find ways to improve it further. Infinite Woodwinds saw its first update less than two months after release which introduced numerous improvements to most of the instruments, as well as new requested features and bug fixes. Infinite Brass was last updated in June, and will see its fourth update soon.
Question 3: Why the “Infinite” series of sample libraries, what is special about these instruments?
To tie in on what I wrote about above, Infinite Series instruments have phase-aligned dynamic layers. Phasing is an absolute deal-breaker in sampled solo instruments and it happens because the two layers you are crossfading between aren’t perfectly in phase.
It’s not particularly noticeable in sampled ensembles but they still feel like you’re crossfading between two recordings. With phase-aligned dynamic layers, crossfading with Infinite Series instruments never feel like that; the dynamic response is smooth throughout the entire range and there is no phasing whatsoever.
This changes the entire game as you now have access to effectively 128 dynamic “layers”, one for each MIDI controller value. Because you’re not hearing layers anymore; you’re hearing a single voice changing its timbre, just like the real thing.
The instruments were all recorded dry, and bespoke impulse responses allow you to change positions, as well as switch rooms on the fly. And even though the entire library is 25 (currently) solo instruments, you won’t run into any phasing when playing in unison exactly because of the impulse responses from different positions within a room.
This approach also solves the “reverb problem” that wet samples have. You just cannot perform with samples recorded in an ambient space, because the moment you move that mod-wheel, the room goes away as the samples are crossfaded. So Infinite Series instruments always sound correct, no matter what you do.
All of your playing—runs, trills, repetitions, whatever—is reflected in the room in real time and with the full playable dynamic response and non-linear scripting, the result will always be unique to you. Your performance is what matters.
The same is with vibrato. Vibrato is scripted uniquely for each instrument (as they all behave a bit differently when playing vibrato) and it’s not a separate layer. As you dial in the intensity, the instrument starts to play vibrato at the set rate and pitch and dynamic changes are introduced.
But the dynamic changes aren’t simulated with an EQ or something like that, it’s the script actually moving across the phase-aligned dynamic range of the instrument. So with individual intensity and rate controls, you have full control over the expression. I personally play using the LEAP Motion controller which lets me control dynamics, vibrato intensity, vibrato rate, flutter and growl all with a single hand.
The scripting makes the instruments always feel slightly human. Imperceptible, but enough for the human ear to not detect any machine-gunning, even though there are no recorded round-robins. This is pure math and psychoacoustics. And because the attacks, pitch fluctuations and all other parameters are randomized with every note, there are no two exactly the same performances of the same MIDI data ever.
The script doesn’t mess with the timings, these are always accurate and input response is consistent and snappy. But things like pitch fluctuation during a note, embouchure resonance on attacks etc., which you cannot consciously perceive are completely randomized and because of that, for all intents and purposes, that right there is a French horn in your computer. A virtual one, but a French horn nonetheless. The only thing left for you to do is to play it.
Question 4: What are your future plans, anything you can reveal?
The future of Infinite looks bright. Strings are already in development. You can expect a fully playable and modular symphonic string section, adhering to the same standards as Infinite Brass and Infinite Woodwinds and expanding beyond with features like true auto-divisi and some new, currently unexplored stuff.
Percussion is slated for some time in 2020, but that’s still a long way down the road. I’ll be able to provide a more accurate window once full development starts.
Besides that, Infinite Brass and Infinite Woodwinds will continue to get updated. Infinite Brass 1.4 will add 4 Wagner tubas and a piccolo trumpet as part of the second free expansions for all users, making the instrument count 30.
Infinite Woodwinds expansions aren’t fully outlined yet; there will be at least one more before the year is out, and then the rest will follow in 2020. The focus will primarily be on adding ethnic instruments. And once all of these are done, who knows what’s next?
Question 5: Any final tips and motivation you can share with the composer community?
The absolute best piece of composition advice I ever got is actually very simple. It’s a single word: transcribe! Transcribing a single piece of music will net you more knowledge than watching hours upon hours of videos or reading books.
Sit down at the piano, take your favorite pieces of music and try and transcribe them. Bar by bar, instrument by instrument. I always start with the focus/melody, then do the bass, and then do the harmony/counterpoint, because once you have the melody and the bass the harmony becomes more obvious and easier to pin down.
Have manuscript paper at hand and mark which instruments are playing what. I do an art piece of it, I just scribble a line and write “melody” or “bass” and then refer back to my piano transcription.
The way I write music is I have the piece roughly all figured out in my head, I just don’t know exactly what it is. So the actual process is me trying to figure out what it is that I actually hear in my head.
Which chords, which intervals, what exactly is the counterpoint etc. So in that way, transcribing for me is being as intimate as I can with the original composer; instead of trying to figure out what is it that I hear in my head, I’m attempting to figure out what is it that I hear with my ears. I’m attempting to figure out what and why they wrote what they did.
Once I think I have it down, try to create a virtual version of it with virtual instruments. Then—and only then—do I look at the score (if I have it) and compare what I did with what it actually is. Correct my mistakes, learn from them and when I hear the same combination next time, I already know what it is because I’ve seen and heard it before. Play around with it for the rest of the day and/or try to incorporate it into a piece. That’s the best way to solidify what you just learned.
In this very simple act, you are learning composition, structure, orchestration, phrasing and notation all at once. All at once! From actual masters and their successful pieces! This is easily the quickest way to learn, especially today when there are film scores and excerpts available to buy left and right, and IMSLP hosts sheet music for much of the classical repertoire.
Learn More about Infinite Series
Visit their website to learn more about their products for composers: aaronventure.com