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Author Topic: How many velocity layers are practical?  (Read 2889 times)

SWriverstone

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How many velocity layers are practical?
« on: January 18, 2008, 07:07:39 am »

I'm working on some sample sets while waiting on my Zendrum. My initial plan is to use Kontakt 2 on my laptop with an Echo Indigo PCMCIA card (with ASIO). I'm wondering how many velocity layers are realistic for the Zendrum?

I ask because, not being familiar with the Zendrum's sensitivity, I don't know how sensitive (and more importantly, how subtle) the dynamic sensitivity of the pads (or do you call them buttons?) are.

I think with MIDI controllers in general, people often get a little carried away with velocity layers---in the sense that some sample sets I've seen simply exceed the velocity "granularity" that a given controller is capable of.

I'm not familiar with BFD and some of the other good virtual instruments, so don't know how those sample sets are constructed.

So basically, do most people find they can easily and repeatedly produce _____ dynamic levels? 3? 4? Or actually more than 4?

In my experience with other controllers, I've found that going with 4 velocity layers provides a sound that's realistic/sensitive enough for me (in musical terms, levels for p, mf, f, and ff).

Of course I can construct samples with ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, and fff per-note...but I think that's getting a bit silly!  :)

Scott

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loosesnare

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2008, 09:04:10 am »

Hi Scott,

I've only recently bought a zendrum myself but here's what I think anyway!

I think it depends of the style of music / the context / the aims of the drummer / playing style / the type of drums (acoustic vs electronic samples) / the needs of the actual piece (kick/ snare/ cymbal etc).

I guess you could also separate expressiveness (p,mf,ff etc) with realism (not hearing the exact same sample repeated ie machine gun effect). Usually the two go hand in hand ... as you increase the velocity layers the dynamic resolution increases and this means more chance of selecting different samples for similar velocity hits.

But another way to build sample sets is to program them with a 'round robin' feature so that even if you had only four velocity layers, for each velocity layer there is a bank of 5 pretty much identical samples which would alternate in sequence. This method might be preferable if you want a small sample set and you're going to be playing within a very narrow band of the dynamic range - ie whacking the crap out of your zendrum at velocity 127 all the way! You can do round robin programs in Kontakt BTW!

You asked about the sensitivity of the zendrum - this is what I think:

I think the pads on a zendrum offer as much sensitivity, and therefore expressive potential and realism, as any sample set could possibly hope to utilize. IOW any limitations will be down to your sample sets not the zendrum - or to put it another way, you can't ever have more samples than the zen can make use of.

If your aim is to play acoustic drums and make them sound as real as possible then strictly speaking I'd say you need a lot more than 4 layers! (but then again it's all about context and personal preference!). I use BFD and the original sample sets had between 20 to 45 velocity layers for a snare drum - at the time this sounded amazing and very expressive and realistic ..... but then when new packs came out for BFD with 70 layers  .... and then 200+ layers things sounded even better and the old 46 layer snares started to sound a lot less expressive and realistic by comparison. However that is when playing the drum sets with a zendrum like you would play a real kit at a regular drum practice ... but if you used those snares in a heavily compressed mix in a song where the drums are playing a simple punky / rock rhythm and competing with guitars/ bass etc then you're probably not going to hear those differences so much or appreciate the realistic nuances that 200+ layers can give you!

Personally I find ALL drum sample sets to be a huge compromise on the real thing and could never regard them as even the 'same instrument' as my actual real acoustic kit! - I mean whether playing zendrum or v-drums I have to play a different style to accomodate the limitations of samples especially on things like ride cymbals etc - so for me I think zendrumming only really became appealing once these mega velocity layer kits in BFD appeared and I could at least get pretty decent flams / rolls / ghost notes etc as well as never hear that dreaded machine gun effect!

But having said that, when playing electronic sample sets or more whacky ('industrial' or whatever) style acoustic kits, I can be totally happy with even one velocity layer! .... it's only when emulating the expressiveness / realism of 'real acoustic kits' where I get so fussy!

So there's my two cents! - I don't want to sound like a 'sample layer snob' - I can't stress enough how much the context has a bearing on whether any particular sample set works or not. I think 'realism' is one thing but 'sounds great' can be something else entirely. You asked what's practical - I guess that depends on your set up and the music you want to make, but I guess the point of all my rambling (sorry!) is that IMHO there is not really an 'upper limit' where adding velocity layers won't improve the realism and expressiveness of the drum ... certainly not before 300 layers! LOL!

All I would say this: relative to the cost of a zendrum BFD2 is really not that expensive ..... !  ;D

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SWriverstone

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2008, 09:42:41 am »

Great response loosesnare! And I agree with everything you said. It's good to hear that the Zendrum is capable of maximizing any sample set---can't wait to play with it! And you're absolutely right about context---that's everything.

I forgot to mention round robin variations per-note in my first post, but yes---that's a good thing to have. Interestingly (and I say this at risk of sounding snobbish) one of the biggest goals (in my experience) of classically-trained percussionists is to minimize the difference in sound between left/right hands as much as possible (mainly by practicing endlessly until you literally don't have a "weak" and "strong" hand anymore and routinely alternate between starting licks with left and right hands). Playing timpani, for example, I developed a technique over years and years where I actually strike the head in almost the identical spot for every stroke, even when rolling. Obviously achieving perfect "sound unity" is impossible...but I've noticed that the difference in left/right positional sound variations depends a lot on the skill of the drummer! (I've seen some drummers that don't even seem to notice that one hand is 1" from the rim and the other is in the center of the head! LOL)

But back to the point, in playing the Roland Handsonic for several years, I (like you) just adapted to the more limited expressiveness of an electronic instrument...and instead (in a very Zen-like way!) focused on working with the strengths of an electronic instrument (diversity of sounds, for example) and also tried to be unique not through the "realism" of sounds...but through the rhythms I played.

I was flipping through the latest issue of "Sound On Sound" magazine (a most excellent e-music publication, BTW!) and read a review of the "Mixosaurus" virtual drums. I have to say, I think this thing is going too far---it's a sample set for a single acoustic drum kit (one snare, one hi-hat, 4 toms, one BD) that (get this) comes on its own external hard drive! It's 160GB of samples!!! I mean, I understand the desire to produce high-quality sample sets...but where does it all end? Seems to me when you've reached a sample set of 160GB for one instrument, you seriously need to just go play the real thing! LOL

I might also suggest that if you're relying on the quality and depth of a sample set to make you a good drummer, you're missing the point!  ;)

Scott
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Zennerman1

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2008, 11:22:37 am »

I have been really digging into Battery 3 lately to understand the workings of it better.  I agree to what everyone else is saying and would also like to add that the velocity cross fade points and velocity curve are equally important. I have a snare drum with 29 sample hits in it. Another one I use has 36 samples in it. The snare drum with 29 samples sounds better and plays better to me. I looked at the mapping for both sounds and noticed they looked different. I then mapped the other snare to match the one I liked and guess what?? It worked. I feel this will be different for each player so it's good to find out what works best for you.

As for the Zendrum, it has more sensitivity than any other MIDI percussion controller I've tried. That shouldn't be a problem for you.

Cheers,
Steve
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loosesnare

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2008, 01:23:54 pm »


........ But back to the point, in playing the Roland Handsonic for several years, I (like you) just adapted to the more limited expressiveness of an electronic instrument...and instead (in a very Zen-like way!) focused on working with the strengths of an electronic instrument (diversity of sounds, for example) and also tried to be unique not through the "realism" of sounds...but through the rhythms I played....

Yeah this is a good point - and a reason I also like working with samples and midi ..... by limiting your drum vocabulary, samples force you to find new ways to say what you want to say....  so I end up writing /playing in a new style more suited to samples and then even bringing that style back across into my acoustic drum kit playing!



I was flipping through the latest issue of "Sound On Sound" magazine (a most excellent e-music publication, BTW!) and read a review of the "Mixosaurus" virtual drums. I have to say, I think this thing is going too far---it's a sample set for a single acoustic drum kit (one snare, one hi-hat, 4 toms, one BD) that (get this) comes on its own external hard drive! It's 160GB of samples!!! I mean, I understand the desire to produce high-quality sample sets...but where does it all end? Seems to me when you've reached a sample set of 160GB for one instrument, you seriously need to just go play the real thing! LOL

I might also suggest that if you're relying on the quality and depth of a sample set to make you a good drummer, you're missing the point!  ;)

Scott

Well, big GB libraries are inevitable as prices for hard drives (and RAM) fall and computers get faster. I must have around 300GB of BFD samples which would have seemed totally bonkers just a couple of years a go been seems quite normal now - LOL!

All I can say is wait until you try playing BFD/ Mixosaurus / DKFH... for yourself -  then you'll see .... :)

Of course, apart from the multi velocity layers, another reason why these libraries are so big (in terms of GB size) now is that these are not just stereo samples but multi channel .wav files ... with BFD for example for each sample you get separate signal for direct mic (sometimes several like 2x top and 1x bottom snare mics) + overhead pair + two further pairs of room/ ambient mic channels  - all of which can be mixed in real time just like a real drum session. Things like having 11 different hihat articulations and articulations for snare centre/ mid centre/ rimshot/ sidestick/ drag etc also contribute to library data size ....

I do agree in a way, about the ridiculousness of it all though ... I mean, it's almost like the closer these VI's get to being like the real thing the more you can hear that they will never sound like the real thing! ... sort of like chasing the horizon if you know what I mean! The same is happening with orchestral samples - I use VSL's 'vienna instruments' and I can not believe how beautiful it sounds and how expressive it is - but it still falls, er, 'some way' short of a real orchestra! (Even when you listen to the best demos by people who have the complete library) .... but for me the important thing is not so much realism per se but expressiveness - it's just that more realism tends to mean more expressiveness (or vise versa) ... with both VSL and BFD I (like to think I) play / write /record music that is both intricate and emotional and conveys  what I mean to express - and that is my main goal I guess .... if it also fools people that it is a 'real' live orchestra/ drum kit then I just get a perverted kick out of that as well!

I'm rambling again sorry!

BTW I don't want to sound like a salesman for BFD - but I use it so it's kind of inevitable! - but if you're a timp / percussion player and interested in playing them the zendrum way you might be interested to know BFD has a general percussion pack already out AND more importantly will be releasing a new orchestral an marching band pack with timps etc .... I'm sure John Emrich will 'chime' in and give you details if you're interested.  :o

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SWriverstone

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2008, 01:39:01 pm »

More good words loosesnare.  :) check out my other post on Battery 3. I'd love to pick up BFD...but as I mentioned in the other post, I'm broke!  :-\ (As in "I've already stretched myself so thin that one more big purchase, even on the credit card, will break me!") I can't even afford the $300 that BFD costs right now (and for what it is I *do* think it is very reasonably priced!). Hence my decision to go with the $160 Battery 3.

I think one of the unavoidable difficulties with big, realistic sample sets is that they take time to get to know and use well. Developers have come a long way toward making all this easier...but for me anyway, it's important to remember that even the time it takes to learn an app like Battery 3 or BFD is time away from actually making music! (I know, you get beyond all that eventually...but then new stuff comes out, and you're back on the learning curve again!)

Put differently...the countless thousands upon thousands of hours I've spent with MIDI and hardware/software come closer every year to just making me want to say "Screw it!" and ditch it all and go back to just playing a djembe.  ;D (But don't worry---I plan to enjoy the Zendrum!)

One question I do have for John E. or others...what I'd REALLY love to have in a virtual instrument (if it exists, I'm not aware of it) is a top-notch, super-realistic set of world drum samples: particularly Indian percussion such as tabla (the full spread of sounds), dhol, dholak, mrdangam, kanjira, etc. I've found that these are often left out of world percussion kits, presumably because not just anyone can play these instruments well---you need to find someone who is a guru to come into the studio!

I'd also love a super-detailed sample set of gamelan instruments---another difficult one because there aren't exactly lots of gamelans lying around in people's basements. LOL

Scott
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loosesnare

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2008, 02:24:40 pm »

I hear you on the cost issue - it can all mount up very quickly!

Anyway, I just wanted to say I'd also be very interested if anyone has any recommendations for N/S Indian drums - I actually play the tabla but I would still be interested in a virtual set ... I would really love to have a set of decent pakhawaj samples!

I have SWAR plug and it's a lot of fun, but the samples are not very well recorded (hiss, background noises, cut off tails etc) and have about 1 velocity layer!

I've looked at Motu's Ethno and East West's 'RA' ... and if I had unlimited funds I'd get both, but I'm not really interested in loops or a lot of the other instruments they contain. A lot of cheaper sample CD sets I've found also seem to be mainly loops, with just a few hits and often very pre processed (ie drenched in reverb) and aimed I guess at late 90's / early 00's dance music sound !

Since getting my zendrum (just before Xmas) I have actually been thinking about recording my own library of tabla bols - but it won't be happening for a while yet if I ever do...



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Zenfem#9

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2008, 02:32:35 pm »

Scott,

You may be able to get into BFD for cheaper than you think, the original BFD dropped in price to 199, I think.  And check out ebay, you can probably pick one up there for pretty cheap.

I like yellow tools culture for ethnic instruments, some of the most realistic to my ears. I've dropped vst's for the Roland td-20, so I may be selling mine soon...I'll post it here if I do.  You can check out my review of it somewhere on this site, just search for Culture.

Raven
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SWriverstone

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2008, 03:22:06 pm »

I'll have to check out fxpansion's site and see if there's a way to hear everything in BFD. I just spent some time listening to the sample sets in Battery 3 (as an ensemble, via the MP3 player on their site) and was impressed with the range of samples in the package---the African and North Indian samples sounded pretty good (I'm sure there are better ones out there, but these sounded pretty good in the context of the sequences they used in the demo!) So it seems to be a really good collection for the money.

Scott

EDIT: BFD does sound fantastic...but I definitely want/need the ability to load in my own samples...so Battery 3 still seems like the best choice for me. I'd also add that having the extensively detailed ability to mix various mic positions, etc. is great...but far more than I need right now!
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 03:34:07 pm by SWriverstone »
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loosesnare

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Re: How many velocity layers are practical?
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2008, 04:07:14 pm »

RE: importing samples - You can import your own stereo wavs (drums, percussion, bass notes, melodic phrases - anything) into BFD2 (not BFD1).  You can add as many velocity layers as you like and then save as a kit piece alongside BFD's own kit pieces - which means of course you can then have them as part of presets too. For me this is sooooo cool as it means I can keep everything self contained within BFD (and in presets).

Also presets mean you can recall the kit, mixer, FX (compression EQ etc) .. in short everything with one click so you don't have to spend ages assembling kits and mixing them if you don't want to - although BFD2 doesn't have that many presets included at the moment many more are on the way for registered users (from the 'name producers' etc) as well as possibility of shared user presets of course.

"I'll have to check out fxpansion's site and see if there's a way to hear everything in BFD."

You can audition BFD's included drums here (obviously when you have the BFD2 installed you can adjust the mic mix and add FX too, but this gives you a pretty good idea.....)

http://fxpansion.com/index.php?page=53&tab=150

An overview and some demo songs here:

http://fxpansion.com/index.php?page=53&tab=148

(cool bit of trivia  - BFD 2 includes samples of kits owned and played by both John Bonham and Ringo Starr )
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