Music brief: Paul Henry Smith, his digital orchestra in the making

Imagine a composer who has just polished off the score for a major orchestral work. It looks good on paper, but where can this composer rustle up a string section, a couple of horns, winds and the timpani in order to bring his creation to life?

Paul Henry Smith

This is where Paul Henry Smith and his Fauxharmonic Orchestra step in to the rescue. Using a digital orchestra, Smith turns a score or MIDI file into a full recording. Once the recording is drafted, a composer is offered the opportunity to review and request changes. And since each score is kept on file forever, the composer can come back and rewrite or add any part to the recording, even years after the original recording was made.

The Fauxharmonic Orchestra: Digital Technology Making It Easy to Record Orchestral Compositions

Smith notes that many teachers encourage their students to compose smaller pieces for fewer instruments because it is extremely difficult to find an entire orchestra to perform a new piece. With a passion for orchestral music, Smith wanted to create more incentive for composers to try their hand in the medium.

The film industry already relies heavily on digital orchestras, and the technology has advanced to the point that incredible nuance and gesture are possible. So in 2003, Smith established his Fauxharmonic Orchestra to serve the music community.

Enabling recordings of full orchestral works is only one of the services that Smith offers, however. His Fauxharmonic Orchestra can also take existing recordings and enhance the quality or eliminate mistakes.

Also, the technology’s usefulness isn’t limited to composers who want to hear their work in action. Musicians who want to play concertos, but never have the resources to hire an entire orchestra, can purchase recordings of their accompaniment.

Getting from Sound Byte to Symphony: The Process of Creating Digital Music

As in any musical performance, getting to a full orchestral work requires Smith to start with the individual notes. Each type of instrument is recorded performing a note–such as C–in every single style possible: pizicatto, legato, piano, sharp attack then fade, using the bow, etc. These sound libraries take up a massive amount of space, reaching 500 to 600 gigabytes on a disc.

In order to get these individual notes strung together, Smith uses a Nintendo Wii wireless controller and balance board to “play” the music. He can control aspects such as tempo and dynamics at this stage, waving his arms to indicate speed and leaning towards different sections of his virtual orchestra in order to elicit more or less volume.

Paul Henry Smith received an MFA in musicology from Brandeis University and a B.A. in composition and theory from Oberlin College.

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