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Author Topic: How well can we electronically replicate the sound of musical instruments?  (Read 2396 times)

Offline cheryl j

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I was just wondering how well synthesizers today can actually replicate the sounds of the very best musical instruments - or have we surpassed them in quality? Of course, maybe there's a subjective aspect to quality and the slight variations or imperfections of a physical musical instrument contribute to that. I don't really have enough experience in musical that I would be able to judge, but I'm sure many others do.


 

Offline alancalverd

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Synthesisers tend to be boringly precise, so every note repeats exactly and it never sounds quite "real". You can get a lot closer to a live sound with a sampler, which is more like cutting and pasting bits of real instrumental sounds, but it still lacks the acoustic interaction of several sources. If you play two notes simultaneously on a piano you will hear a whole lot of overtones from the mixing and reflection of air compression waves inside the box, and distortions of the box itself: these aren't generated by any sampler but they make the difference between say a Steinway and a Bosendorfer - both excellent machines but with a completely  different "interpretation" of a chord because although the strings may be identical, the rest of the instrument is different.

"Qualilty" is difficult to define. I was taught that squeaky changes on a guitar were anathema - my teacher played in dance bands. But they are almost inevitable in classical guitar playing and Segovia never worried about them. Nowadays they are sometimes added to studio recordings to make folk music sound more folky. 
 

Online evan_au

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A synthesiser with a keyboard requires a very different technique than playing a guitar, saxophone or drums.
  • Older keyboards had an on/off switch for each note, but newer ones can measure the force used to strike the note, and use this to control the loudness or attack time of the note.
  • You can get "pitch bend" controls on a keyboard that you can use to produce something like the ability to slightly change the pitch of a guitar note (by bending the string) or on a saxophone (by changing mouth pressure).
  • Despite the best intentions of instrument makers, each note on an instrument has its own unique set of harmonics; synthesisers tend to have the same harmonics for each note.
  • You can also get input devices for a synthesiser which emulate the "user interface" of a saxophone or a guitar.
Each type of instrument has its own peculiar squeaks and squawks, huffs and puffs, clicks and pops that are a product of a human interacting with a mechanical device. Like them or loathe them, they are hard to emulate on a synthesiser, and will give away a synthesiser to the trained ear.
 

Offline David Cooper

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It may be impossible for anything electronic to match up to a real non-electric musical instrument because the sound's always going to come out of a speaker rather than from the real thing, but I have had a go on an electric piano that was so good that I don't know if I could tell it wasn't the real thing without seeing it. I've yet to hear other string instruments synthesized well, but the complexities of bowing make that a hard task. Wind instruments also give the musician a lot of control which makes things similarly complex. The piano's probably one of the easiest instruments to synthesize because there's so little the player can do to influence the way a note is produced - every note just dies away predictably until it's cut off.
 

Offline FunkyWorm

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Some musicians would say "..could an acoustic instrument match the sound of a Hammond B3 organ, a Fender Telecaster or a Rhodes electric stage piano" - music should not be related to how sounds are made, merely that they sound great!
 

Offline chiralSPO

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I would argue we can electronically replicate the sound of musical instruments extremely well. Any decent recording of a musical instrument being played through any decent speaker at sufficient volume is likely indistinguishable from the real thing (by a blindfolded listener.)

Perhaps this doesn't fully meet your criteria, and you would only like to consider sounds that are generated ab initio by mathematical algorithms. Here, the technological world has some more work to do, but they are getting closer and closer.
 

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