Collected hints for your daily work

Getting "that" sound

Working on virtual orchestrations we got used to the fact that changing an instrument's or ensemble's basic sound relies on plug-ins and the DSP processes they supply. Working with MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24, consider them to be the fourth-best solution only. If you are aiming for other tone colours than the one you hear already, try the following options first:

  • Move the Instrument Icon to another position on the stage. Don't follow the visual impression of MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24's Main View slavishly! If the flute sounds better when it seems to sit right between the first violins – just do it. The orchestral arrangement doesn't have to look beautiful; it should sound good.

  • Rotate the Instrument Icon away from the direction that seems to be the "logical" one for a real player. More often than not, a hall will react very differently when the main acoustic impact of a source changes. For example: If you need more "splash" for a trumpet fanfare, turn their Icons away from the Main Microphone for more reflections from the rear walls. If you're longing for a more pronounced left-right positioning impression for a certain Instrument, turn it into the respective direction. Remember: The dry sound doesn't change as long as you don't switch on "Dry Directivity" in the Instrument Channel – Again: Don't be fooled by the fact that in reality the players always look at the conductor. Who knows how many times a seemingly "wrong" orientation of an instrument on stage would actually sound better?

  • Try the different Character Presets. It's so easy, really. We have put enormous efforts into the creation of useful, individual timbre presets for almost each and every Vienna Instrument; there are sensible general settings for most other sources, too. HINT: Although it might be tempting to use similar Character Presets (e.g. "Air") throughout an arrangement over and over again, it is advisable not to overdo it. The (intended) colouring could become obtrusive. Try to differentiate sounds rather than to make them sound the same.

These should be the first steps in the quest for the sound you have in mind for individual instruments. That done, you can reach for additional processing options:

  • A tried-and-tested trick when working with virtual instruments in general (not only in context with MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24) is the application of some soft compression to make the single sampled notes sound more connected. In addition, a bit of harmonic enrichment (technically spoken: distortion) will please our ears. Both types of processing can be achieved exceptionally well with the help of Vienna Suite Compressor – with the bonus that there are tailor-made basic presets for almost every Vienna Instrument. Add some "FAT" for subtle saturation, which will emphasise the overtones we usually associate with terms like "warm", "strong", or – uhm, well – "fat".

  • If you can't find a Character Preset to fit your needs, then of course nothing is wrong with using full-blown equalizers for detailed sound sculpting. Again, there are literally hundreds of hand-made presets for Vienna Instruments available in the Vienna Suite.

  • Above all, don't be shy to use any kind of processing, ranging from the obvious (like EQs, filters or exciters) across the strange (like echoes, delays or modulation effects) to the unusual and innovative (e.g., additional convolution-based effects, like Numerical Sound's unique sets available for the Vienna Suite Convolution Reverb). MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 is all about creating the perfect illusion of three-dimensional space, so everything that helps to enforce this illusion is a valid option.

Keep in mind that real-world venues are never perfectly symmetrical – neither architecturally nor acoustically. It may happen that a certain position on the stage's left side sounds very different to the seemingly identical position on the right. Don't miss the chance to try unusual positions for single instruments, or even completely mirrored orchestral settings on a stage (e.g., first violins on the right side); if you like the sound better, you can always swap channels later.

Talking about space – you may run into situations where you want to change the sound of the Venue itself. Although the Multi Impulse Response sets MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 relies on are huge collections of sampled data, you have more options for creating different spatial impressions out of them than you may be aware of:

  • Needless to say, the best method for finding the optimum space for your music is to find the most appropriate room! Changing the concert hall in MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 is as easy as clicking a button, so don't miss the sensation of having a totally new perspective on a well-known arrangement or orchestral setup in a different room.

  • Within a Venue, you have the choice between up to four discrete Main Microphone positions. In some cases switching from one position to the next is just a new perspective – in some cases it's almost a different hall.

  • The possibly single most important influence on the sound of a chosen Venue within MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 is the Output Format. As explained before, the use of Ambisonics as underlying audio format gives us the unique opportunity to select microphone characteristics after the actual recording process has already taken place. For starters, simply switching through the factory presets will give you an instant idea about the virtually endless possibilities. Later on, creating an individual, hand-tuned microphone setup could make all the difference between a good and a great mix.

  • MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 offers the possibility to scale the overall reverb length of Multi Impulse Response set. Just use the Reverberation Time trim fader to build a precise and defined acoustic environment from Venues that were originally laving in reverb.

  • Finally, the Room EQ is implemented for the sole task to sculpt a room's signature sound to the needs of a certain arrangement or setup. The Room EQ gives you the possibility to get rid of annoying resonances or to enhance the treble with the same ease that a soloed instrument would give you: Using the Wet Solo button in the Output Channel you will hear no direct signals at all, giving you full control over the actual room.

If you like the overall acoustical impression you get from a certain Venue up to this point, but find yourself in the need of more spatial enveloping and stereo width ("decorrelation"), there are several options:

  • Open the Output Format Editor and widen the angle between the left and right virtual microphones.

  • In addition, you could try to change the polar pattern of individual virtual microphones to a higher directivity. By doing so the microphone will pick up more out-of-phase information coming from the back of the hall, thus enhancing the impression of being enveloped by reverb.

  • The Distance parameter in the Output Format Editor allows for the virtual creation of non-coincident microphone arrays (which the Ambisonics microphone always is by definition). Using sophisticated decorrelation algorithms, the reverb produced by MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 is greatly enhanced in perceived spaciousness, without sacrificing the all-important localization cues of the original impulse responses.

  • Last but not least, moving the virtual microphone closer to the stage using the Microphone Position Offset will broaden the perceived stereo width for the dry signals, because the angle between the microphone and the far left and right borders of the achieved stereo image will increase. Just make sure to switch off (!) the Scale Direct Sound option – otherwise you would change the volume relations between the single instruments, too.

Strictly spoken, MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 is meant to be used as an integrated spatial mixing front end, with the goal to achieve the complete and credible virtual image of a real room. But even in the Real World, orchestral recordings made in perfectly suitable rooms are sweetened with additional algorithmic (synthetic) reverb. So although it seems to be against the standards of purity, there's nothing wrong with doing the same to mixes derived from MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24. The main question is if you really want to put additional reverb on top of the one that's already there, or if you want to feed the additional reverb form the dry source-signals. – This will depend a lot on the characteristics of the chosen Venue, of course.

In any case: MIRacle – the algorithmic reverb add-on that comes with MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 – is the perfect "first call" for these tasks, as it integrates perfectly with MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 and comes with tailor-made presets. But there's nothing wrong if you prefer to use one of those trusty old machines you got used to, during the years. :-)

Keeping Track of What Is Where

Big orchestral arrangements need a lot of musicians. Don't be astonished when your MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 stage looks really crowded when everybody is seated – it would be the same in Real Life. Things get worse as soon as you start layering sounds: For example, it's not uncommon to mix in a solo violin into a big violin ensemble in order to achieve an even more emotional expression. Huge percussion sets can pose a similar problem, as they require many instruments to stand on more or less the same spot on stage.

MIR Pro / MIR Pro 24 provides you with a few tools to keep everything under control. Using a thoughtful combination of the Zoom and Navigation tools together with list-based instrument selection, Selection Groups and the possibility to "Hide" an Instrument lets you conduct the crowd easily.

  • As long as you're working with just a handful of instruments, it may be sufficient to select an Icon with the mouse. You will see that with an increasing number of employed Instruments it makes more and more sense to do this in the Channel List Window. Engaging the MIDI Activity Focus offers an even more elaborate way of instrument handling, as it simply selects the channel that received the most recent MIDI data input.

  • Of course it may happen that the Icon belonging to the Instrument you selected from the list lies outside the displayed area of the stage. To avoid the constant repetition of zooming out, locating the Icon, and zooming in again, make sure to activate the Follow option in the Venue Navigation Bar just below the main Venue View window. That way, the Icon for the selected Instrument will always jump right to the centre of the display without changing the zoom level.

  • Layering several instruments on top of each other is a good way to achieve certain timbres in an arrangement. To avoid the visual mess of piling up two or more icons on top of each other it is highly recommended to Hide those Icons that are used for colour only. Another criterion could be the Icons' stereo width: Just keep the one that claims the largest space on stage and hide the ones that are actually covered by the biggest one.