The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

The role of virtual musical instruments in our music

Posted in Eliška_Cílková by iawmblog on February 19, 2010

Everyone of us has surely encountered computer music. Whether are we singers, composers, instrumental players or theoreticians, we listen to artificially-created sounds every day. We only need switch on the TV to hear the stream of signature tunes and music from advertisements. But the question is: what role do these sounds play in our life?

I’m a composer; computer technology is very important for me. Everyday I work with software to notate my music and I listen the notes played by virtual instruments–but just for a reference. I really think it is important to be aware of the influence of virtual instruments and to keep hearing your own natural sound ideas.

Even thought most people would expect that every live performance will sound better than a virtual one, it isn’t always true.

Once I composed a work for woodwinds. The virtual flute sounded perfect with perfect technique and I got used to this. How I was later surprised! I got used to perfect technique and I expected that my musician would not only technically play as well as the computer but also have a better sound, of course. I found out that the technical aspects I had written were too difficult for the musician and therefore the piece didn’t work as well as the computer rendition had.

Nevertheless virtual musical instruments can be very helpful. Especially if we use professional high–quality musical instruments which work in software like Cubase, Nuendo or Logic. I know composers who write music for advertisements and documentary films by using only computer samples. It works quite well, and if you are not a professional musician you won’t recognize it. Composers can also afford to use special musical instruments (temple block, wind chimes, celesta, cymbalom etc.) without any problems–no calling to orchestral players, no matters about money.

Even thought I belong to the group of composers who compose music at a table or with piano and holding a pen in the hand, I sometimes use virtual musical instruments. For me it’s very helpful to send a MIDI recording to my musicians. It’s so easy to extract a .mid file from notation software and replace the sounds with high-quality virtual instruments. But sometimes, I just use my dictaphone and record a live piano version to send to the musicians.

So I’d just like to say at the end: virtual musical instruments can be very helpful for us but they will never be as rich and nuanced as music played by live musicians.


Eliška Cílková recently moved to Bratislava, Slovakia where she is in her first year studying composition at Academy of Music.


2 Responses

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  1. Jed Tuma said, on March 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Nice site, added it to my favorites

  2. Bob Paolinelli said, on March 28, 2010 at 1:24 am

    I found what you had to say regarding virtual instruments very interesting. I, too, am a composer and use a computer to notate my work (Sibelius) and Kontakt to play my samples (mostly East-West orchestral). I’m not in a position to get my work played very often at all, but I do include the virtual realization of my work on my website for everyone to hear and download. Surprisingly, I’ve had a lot of visitors doing exactly that. I make no apologies for using virtual instruments and recording virtual performances to make available. I put no musician out of work by doing that because I can’t afford to hire them in the first place. If it were easier to get my work performed, I would. Live is still best. But it’s a different world.

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