The music of an orchestra is something special, an all-encompassing fully emotional experience. Unlike the sounds that fall out of popular radio stations, catchphrases, auto-tuned voices and highly manufactured beats aren’t what you get from a collective of professional players who band together to create one giant sound. The unique rich tone of an orchestra is made possible by the sheer mass of instruments being played perfectly in time, often with strings taking up a substantial part of the floor. The double bass plays deep notes and piccolos play high with a mass of variation in the middle and thus the sounds that make their way to our ears are full of body. The masterful way that string players interact with their instrument also makes for wondrous audio, plucking or very steadily sustaining gives an extra dimension to the possibilities of what strings can do, much of this is very difficult to replicate.
In modern music, emulation is a key part of song creation, lyrics are referenced, melodies are borrowed and chunks of compositions are unquestionably pulled straight from their sources. Sampling is one way that producers tend to insert strings into new music without having to labour too much. However, playing new melodies digitally has its pitfalls. Using MIDI technology, anyone with a keyboard (or any MIDI enabled instrument) can change the sound of their music to emulate strings. This has been done with varying degrees of success, the shorter the sound the tougher it is to detect its authenticity, whereas some strings clearly sound ‘plastic’. Here are some reasons why its much harder to replicate a violin than a drum for example.
This is something that guitarists use often but it also applies to vocalists and of course violins, cellos and the rest of a string outfit. Vibrato is the wavering change of pitch that can be performed purposefully to provide energy to a somewhat still and lengthy note. The technique used to create this on a stringed instrument is difficult to falsify through digital means. Simply converting MIDI files to the sound of strings will not achieve this effect and would require further editing to create this desirable sound.
Orchestras are regularly recorded as a whole. This means that the instruments get to let out their individual sounds all at once, reaching their full volume all together. Additionally, the environment they are in is also retained in the recording. The reverberation gained from the size of the concert hall makes for a sense of space and scale that a simple string synth can’t achieve without effects being applied.
This is something that is a constant challenge for computerised music. Though some genres (like Acid and other forms of dance) may utilise the computer’s perfect timing skills, actual players all have their own unique play style and will also make the odd mistake. Though you may think zero mistakes would make for a better record, the sound achieved is unsatisfying and noticeably robotic. The subtle differences and imperfections made by many people all gel in an orchestra in a manner that is difficult to program in.