Interview: Paul Steinbauer from VSL


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With the VSL/Best Service tour hitting DV Music stores this month, we thought it would be a good idea to find out a little more about the demonstrations that will be taking place, as well as exactly how Vienna’s immensely cunning mixing and hosting software could be a potential winning formula for a huge number of producers yet to try it out. Paul Steinbauer, product manager at VSL and the very man who’ll be hosting the demos, was more than happy to answer some questions.

DV Magazine : What has set Vienna’s plug-ins apart from the competitors in the past, and how are you continuing to stay ahead of the game now?

Paul Steinbauer: I guess all in all, it has to do with the “Vienna approach”, which is probably a bit old-school: record thousands of single-note samples and phrases in a great sounding room that was exclusively designed to record world-class samples, split them up into their parts and make them accessible with intelligent software.

We have recorded hundreds of thousands of samples that were designed to work with the “classic” sample players –  GigaStudio, EXS24 mkII, Kontakt and HALion. A little application called Performance Tool (I´m sure some people remember this vintage wonder-thingie) made our Performance Legato and Performance Repetitions possible, which was part of our breakthrough into the market – real Legato with original note transitions that were re-assembled in real-time while you played the instrument. Quite cool back then.

At some point, we realized that we needed to establish our own sample player if we wanted to stay on this innovative track – the Vienna Instruments were developed around 2005, making a heap of articulations available on one MIDI channel with the help of a “matrix”. So suddenly, you didn’t need 300 or more MIDI tracks for your orchestra – 20-30 could be enough. In addition, you could actually perform your virtual instrument instead of spending too much time editing.

This worked out so well – and was also so much fun – that we had to take the next steps a multi-timbral host that works over network (Vienna Ensemble 3), which was opened for 3rd party plug-ins after about one year (Vienna Ensemble PRO), designed for everybody who has to manage a lot of RAM in his/her daily musical work, often with multiple computers over a network.

While we played around with the host, we thought that a plug-in bundle could be a great addition and voilá: Vienna Suite! Of course, now that Vienna MIR PRO is also integrated with Vienna Ensemble PRO 5, you can place your instruments anywhere in a concert hall or a church, and an intuitive interface that lets you stay focussed on the sound, much like a conductor will work with his orchestra.

In short: We´re trying to find simple ways to perform complex instruments and create great music, from the staccato sample to the finished mix.

DV: Could you give some examples of the kind of attention to detail that goes into creating your sample libraries?

PS: Where do I start? Our Silent Stage was built right after we found out that no studio was giving us the option to record pianissimo samples. There were always some birds, a far away train or a truck in the way. The only way to get what we wanted was to build our own place, totally isolated from the outside.

As we have been recording for more than 10 years now (and still, every day), there are some things that we’ve realised are vital for a better recording result. These include:

Eat the right breakfast, because an upset stomach is audible in the recording.

Silk shirts are not good for piano samples.

Keep your breath under control (especially string players, before you play fortissimo).

Keep moskitos out of the recording room (the ceiling is 8 m high, so we have designed a long stick with a moskito spray and a clever trigger mechanism, in case an insect gets through the fly screens).

When mastering and denoising the samples, be as careful as possible not to touch the instrument sound itself. I have to smile every time our sound engineers talked to FBI specialists at the trade shows, about filtering sounds out of recordings.

Each sample is edited in many steps by multiple sound engineers that have been with us for years. At least FIVE people check each sample before it ends up in the mapping process. As we take care of each aspect of each sample that makes it to the editing process, “acoustic paranoia” does set in – a new ailment for the world of medicine!

DV: Could you explain how the likes of MIR Pro and Ensemble Pro can help producers and arrangers to get that ‘Hollywood sound’ out of their recordings?

PS: MIR PRO makes mixing a breeze. We have recorded thousands of impulses in the halls we recorded, from the stage to more exotic hotspots like the balcony in the Konzerthaus or the back of the room. Additionally, we have measured the frequency profiles of each instrument – a trumpet activates a room in a different way than a tuba or a cello will.

MIR PRO knows which instrument you put in which place, and creates a wonderful acoustic surrounding – the real magic of a concert hall. Maybe the best part, though, is the visual interface. No pre-delays, shatter-echos, reverb-depths on the mixing desk – it all happens “live” . You decide about the microphone placement; the output format (up to 7.1); even the direction the player is looking to. Or you go with one of the presets and make changes along the way.

Plus, we have added a synthetic reverb as a sugar coating that adds this “expensive”, rich ambience to the character of the room…… This is really something you have to hear for yourself!

DV: How easy is it for someone who’s never used the Vienna Ensemble and MIR ranges of software to start working on it for the very first time?

PS: Let´s put it like this: it pays off to play around with the software and get used to this new approach, as with every powerful new software. The concept is simple, the options are endless. If you are already experienced with other sample libraries, you´ll understand the advantages of the Vienna Software even quicker. And if you want to create a special sound – your sound – it will take a little time. We´re doing our best to support new users with video tutorials and via email – most of the times it´s just a little thing you overlooked that keeps you from getting your results. It helps to ask, both in our lively and friendly forum or directly with our support team.

Here is a link to some video tutorials for the Special Edition, for instance:

A little tip though: start small. Get to know the structure of ONE instrument, then check out the other instruments. Don´t go Stravinsky right away! It´s actually a piece of software that you learn, and once you can control one instrument, it´s the same system with all the others. Then just close your eyes and perform!

DV: Could you talk a little bit about what will be being demonstrated on the upcoming tour around UK stores?

PS: There will be two workshops:

One focuses on the software products of Vienna Symphonic Library – Vienna Ensemble PRO 5, MIR PRO and Vienna Suite. I´ll do my best to cover the most essential aspects, like networking computers, optimizing your workflow (that includes short loading times) and integrating this new technology into you existing setup. This will definitely be interesting for everyone who is working in the music production industry and wants to make the most out of what they already have.

The other workshop will show you how to work with our sample players, Vienna Instruments and the brand-new Vienna Instruments PRO 2. We will work our way up from playing single instruments to full orchestrations in VE PRO and MIR PRO.

As the release of our new products is scheduled around the end of october, those attending will be the first ones to see what we have in store. And of course there will be time for discussions and question after the workshops. If you want to be prepared for what´s coming: We have many video tutorials available online, that show how our products work:

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About Author

Having spent his life changing strings in guitar shops, writing and editing news and reviews of the latest music gear and gigging in admittedly-short-lived bands, Rob's particular passions lie with all things six-string and the bodger's world of home production. While he is perhaps not hugely rock and roll, his efforts as a biographer of those who are allow him to at least live a little vicariously through them, which is almost as good. Feel free to drop him a line for help, advice, or just to chat, but be warned: he does go on a bit.

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