When the first electronic synthesizers began to appear in the 1960s, musicians’ unions sought to ban them out of fear they would put orchestras and traditional musicians out of business. In retrospect, this seems awfully ironic considering how crude the earliest synthesizers sounded.
Modern sampling synthesizers, such as Propellerhead’s Reason and Native Instruments’ Kontakt, are capable of recreating most, if not all of the instruments that make up the typical orchestra with astonishing fidelity. Unless your name is Wendy Carlos, you probably won’t be using them to recreate a full classical concerto. For those home recordists who want to add orchestral colors to a vocal song or instrumental and can’t fit the London Philharmonic in their living room, these synths can really do the trick.
It helps enormously to understand the range and techniques of the various instruments in the orchestra. That’s where Paul Gilreath’s 703-page hardcover book, The Guide To MIDI Orchestration, now in its third edition, comes into play.
In a way, the book itself is an illustration of Glenn Reynolds’ Army Of Davids meme: beautifully laid out on slick, glossy paper and copiously illustrated in color, the production qualities of this self-published book are impeccable.
The Guide To MIDI Orchestration is infinitely more than just pretty to look at. It’s also chock-a-block full of details and tips on how to get electronic instruments sound less, well, electronic. While the topic of arranging classical instruments alone could fill a book the size of Gilreath’s — and has, many times — there’s enough detail here to give a keyboard player with decent chops a great starting point. It’s no coincidence the book is also being sold as a school textbook.
Unlike the typical book on arranging actual instruments, The Guide To MIDI Orchestration presents those arranging tips in the context of electronically sampled instruments, particularly computer-based software synthesizers.
In addition to the tips is advice on which effects to use to increase the realism of electronic instruments and where to place instruments in a recording mix to get as close as possible to the sound of being in the room with an actual orchestra. There’s also a chapter devoted to well known soundtrack composers, mastering engineers, and synthesizer designers.
The Guide To MIDI Orchestration isn’t cheap at eighty buck, but for the home recording enthusiast who already has some basic keyboard skills and wants to expand his recording abilities to include orchestration, this book is highly recommended.