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strange sound card behavior

Just wondering if anyone else has experienced this problem: I'm writing a wind quintet, substituting English horn for the oboe. When the EH and the flute are in octaves, the flute disappears, as if the notes had been muted.

Changing the EH to an oboe doesn't fix the problem. Changing MIDI channels doesn't, either. I also tried using a flute from a different sound bank - same result. Ditto a piccolo. Apparently my sound card simply won't play flutes and double reeds in octaves.

I'm using an SB Audigy II on a PC card, plugged into a Dell laptop running XP.

My current solution has been to patch a soprano sax into the flute part for the octave notes. The timbre shifts, but it's not radical, and at least I can hear the notes. Has anyone else experienced this, and if so, how have you dealt with it?

Perplexedly (I think that's a word) -

Bill

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #1
G'day William,
just did some experiments...

Unfortunately I couldn't reproduce your results.  However, I did find that in some ranges the flute was masked by the stronger EH sound.  It was still there, just overpowered...

I tried with my Yamaha softsynth and the Airfont 340 soundfont in my Audigy II ZS.  Test file had parallel scales sometimes in octaves and sometimes not.  When they were in unison the flute was quite evident, when in octaves with the flute in the treble staff and the EH an octave below the flute became less evident, but never actually disappeared.

I think it must be something to do with your sound source...  Soundfont selection perhaps?
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals, youfonymums 'n tubies.

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #2
Hi Lawrie -

Yeah, I think it's a masking phenomenon....of a sort. I suspect the English horn font's upper partials are strong enough that flute tones can't be heard through them. A flute tone is as close to a pure sine wave as you can get out of a musical instrument, so there are very few partials above the root, and that very strong first partial of the double reeds is covering the root. I could cut the EH horn volume down, but that would affect the balance of the rest of the piece (or else sound very weird for one note). And I could, as you suggest, go looking for different soundfonts; but, having tried the two quite different flutes I had on my machine already, I'm not encouraged by that approach, either. I tried pitch bending, hoping to get the EH partial and the flute root far enough apart to allow the flute to be heard, but that didn't work particularly well. Guess I'll probably just have to live with it. But thanks for trying.

Cheers,

Bill


Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #3
Quote
A flute tone is as close to a pure sine wave as you can get out of a musical instrument

I suspect part of the problem is that a real flute usually has a lot of vibrato, but maybe the midi version, played with whatever soundfont you have, doesn't. If you can find some way to emulate that (perhaps with MPC pitch up and down, centred on the true pitch?) maybe it will stand out a bit more.

Quote
I could cut the EH horn volume down, but that would affect the balance of the rest of the piece (or else sound very weird for one note). 
Alternatively, you could perhaps increase the flute volume for the notes that otherwise can't be heard.  Instead of using the MPC for that, you could just put in hidden dynamic markings.


Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #4
Thanks, David, for the further suggestions. You're probably right about the vibrato. I tried messing around with pitch bends - also volume bends - without much success. I also tried changing the dynamic of that single note in the flute to a triple forte (the music is moving generally at forte). Interesting result, there: I could hear the flute, faintly, but an octave higher than written. That tells me that the fundamental of the flute is, in fact, being masked by the first partial of the EH, and there's probably not a lot to be done about it. The phenomenon is, unfortunately, strongest with the the EH on the F above middle C and the flute an octave above it - exactly the notes I had written for them. Held for four beats. Oh, well. It's a heads-up re potential performance pitfalls, at any rate. Perhaps I will simply rewrite the part.

Cheers, and thanks again to both you and Lawrie -

Bill

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #5
It's very frustrating, Bill, I'm sure.

I wonder how it compares to real life? 

Have you tried having a live orchestra or band play the piece?  Maybe it's not the soundcard at all, but a real function of the underlying instruments - would a real EH obscure a real flute at certain pitches? 

In concert bands we often have up to 8 flautists, because they are very quiet, but I've never seen a group with more than one EH.  The EH can be a beautiful sound, but like its little cousin, can be a dominating sound.

 

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #6
...I wonder how it compares to real life? 
...In concert bands we often have up to 8 flautists, because they are very quiet...
In real life, have a flute play a simple melody in its lowest range (F above middle C and below).
Now try the same tune with more flutes in unison.
It's actually quieter for some reason.

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #7
Quote
Now try the same tune with more flutes in unison.
It's actually quieter for some reason.

That's called "flanging".
The computer generated sounds are identical and the frequencies tend to cancel out.
In a sequencer you can get around this by detuning the voices and sliding them a few ticks apart.

As a general rule don't write unisons for identical voices.
If you must - follow the steps above or spread them wide across the pan.

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #8
Thanks, Barry - I hadn't thought of tuning the EH and the flute a few beats apart. If they're not far enough apart to produce combination tones, it should work.

But I think Kevin was talking about a real-world effect, not a MIDI effect. Same principle, of course. Flutes are tricky because they lack almost all overtones. The chorus effect makes most instruments sound richer - with flutes, it just sounds like more flutes. Or sometimes less, as Kevin pointed out.

Thanks again. I'll go try it.

Bill

<edit> Well, that helped a bit. So did panning the five instruments into roughly the horizontal positions they take on stage. I can live with it at this point. Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this discussion.

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #9
Quote
In real life, have a flute play a simple melody in its lowest range (F above middle C and below).  Now try the same tune with more flutes in unison.  It's actually quieter for some reason.

I didn't know that.  Cool.  Thanks.  Now if we could do the same with trumpets...(I love their sound but they sure can be hard on the ears if you sit in front of them)

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #10
The thing is, with simple sine waves (which flutes approximate -- well the sum of two or three at most) unless they are exactly in phase there is a cancellation effect which produces the same sound, but at a lower volume.  The "ups" of one and the "downs" of another can add up to a lower volume than either one alone.

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #11
Sorry, David - trumpets got lots of overtones.

But Cyril is right about the cancellation effect in flutes. It actually happens in other instruments, too, just not quite as effectively because of their more complicated overtone structures. Cancellation is one of the reasons a single soprano can cut through the sound of an entire Wagnerian orchestra - because the orchestra doesn't produce the full volume of all the instruments added together. Some of the volume is subtracted by waves cancelling each other out.

The other thing that can happen, though, if flutes are detuned slightly from each other, is the combination tones I mentioned in my last post. What happens there is that the peaks and troughs of the sine waves go in and out of phase with each other at a rate that sets up a second frequency - much lower and growlier, with a piercing quality that can drive your ears nuts. It feels like they're being produced inside your head. Recorders are particularly prone to this - as any other recorder players out there can testify.

All this has a bearing on my problem because what is happening is that the first harmonic of the English horn is cancelling the flute. That was pretty clear from the beginning. What was needed was smarter people than me to figure out how to deal with it in the artificial environment of the MIDI generator. Which is why I come regularly to this forum, and thank all of you (especially Barry: I had tried pitch bending, but it was the pitch bend plus the panning that did it.)

Cheers and thanks,

Bill

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #12
Quote
Sorry, David - trumpets got lots of overtones.
Tell me about it (grin).  And the players have the lungs and energy to produce them.  Usually right behind me, aimed straight at my ears.  I swear I didn't develop a bald spot on my crown until I first sat in front of a bunch of 'em.  They're nice people, but they can really hurt a guy. 

My passion is Ellington's music, and I love the effects of various mutes on trumpets.  The sound can be exquisite (think Jabbo Smith) or it can be exciting, or both.  Solotone and pixie mutes with rubber plungers are what my guys tend to use most often in my Ellington repertory band. 

````````````````````~~~~~~~~~~~~~~``````````````

Be that as it may, I find this acoustical information fascinating, and I am grateful to you for sharing it.



Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #13
David;
   I agree with you completely about the trumpets. The only saving grace for me as a bary sax player was that in our bands normal configuration I had the trombone players between me and the trumpets. They acted as a buffer of sorts.


Regards
Keith
Illigitimi Non Carborundum

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #14
Hi Keith,
I play alto directly in front of the trumpets in one band.  It physically hurts when they do fanfares and such.  The pain is less, however, if I happen to be playing when they're blowing loud.  Must be a physiological factor, I guess.

In the band where I play bass clarinet, I played tenor sax for a while but the trumpets behind me made me decide to switch.  In that band now, I'm directly in front of the trombones.  They can be loud, but it doesn't hurt because the pitch isn't high.

A few years ago, there was a discussion in Community Music about plexiglas shields to be put between the trumpets and their victims the musicians they play through.

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #15
David,
why not just make 'em stand up all night?  Then they'll be playin' over you instead of into you...  <gd&r>
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals, youfonymums 'n tubies.

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #16
Because I ain't the bandmaster. 

Besides, in both bands most of the trumpeters are getting on in years and I doubt if they could stand for a lengthy period.  At least two of the six in one group are over 70.  In the other group, there isn't one who didn't retire years ago; most seem to be well over 70.  Risers wouldn't do the trick, because there's only a limited amount of time to set up and put stuff away before and after rehearsals.


Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #17
In likewise circumstances I put some cotton in my ears. It filters the high notes but leaves most of the music intact. Sounds crazy? Not for me it doesn't. I treasure my ears
(they don't call me Eagle Ears for nothing in the Newsgroup)

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #18
It's the percussionists that always have to stand up.  Especially when playing nice heavy crash cymbals.
And that's how the trumpeters are revenged.  And there's nobody behind the percussionists to blast their ears out-percussionists blast their own ears out with our own instruments!

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #19
For a few year the New York Philharmonic had plastic sound-shields in front of the brass section, but they abandoned them a while ago.  I'm not sure if it coincided with a new music director or not.  Now the just have the brass "up against the wall", with a rather wide space between them and the next rank forward.  Unless they are playing Mahler or one of that ilk.  (And I know that is an improper use of "ilk", but it sounded okay.)

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #20
Mahler is an ilk. If forced to opine on Mahler, I just say that his music sounds better than it is.
Registered user since 1996

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #21
Mahler of Mahler?

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #22
Quote
But I think Kevin was talking about a real-world effect, not a MIDI effect.
Yes, Bill, that's what I meant.

Sorry it's been taking so long to get back here lately.  I am swamped with work, and I have been substitute teaching full time so there's less time for me to get my own work done.  And being in a different room every day with a different computer doesn't help...

Re: strange sound card behavior

Reply #23
Crossing Gustav and Daffy: A Mahlered Duck

GDR
Sorry, couldn't resist.
Since 1998