In this article, I am discussing my recent recording of the Chopin G minor Ballade made with True Keys American Grand, a software piano by VI Labs.
When I got my digital piano back in March, my whole idea was to see how much effective practicing I could do on it, given that my time for practice is limited to evenings. I never thought the whole thing was going to go as far as it has!
Last time I wrote on the subject, I gave as detailed an overview as I could of how software pianos can enhance the experience of playing on a digital piano. The first software piano I tried out was True Keys American. I got it because it was relatively affordable, downloadable, and had lower system requirements than some other well respected software pianos. Also, it is based on samples of a Steinway D which is my preferred type of piano.
Once I got True Keys up and running, I really fell in love with the sound. I was so impressed by the unmistakable Steinway D signature tone. After lots of tweaking of the many parameters available in the interface, I felt like the sound I was getting truly rivaled the sound of many professional traditional studio recordings. I was able to achieve a full dynamic range and get a very predictable, dependable, real-time response while playing.
My excitement led me to the decision to produce a recording of the Chopin G minor Ballade using True Keys. A year previously, I had recorded it acoustically at a studio in Manhattan, so the piece was somewhat in my fingers. My goal in embarking on this task was to see if I could make an end product that would sound, if not exactly like an acoustic recording, at least beautiful and convincing enough to be an enjoyable listen. I wanted to see if the music would come through and if I could wind up with a true representation of my interpretation of the piece. I don’t expect experienced listeners and fellow musicians to think it sounds like a traditional recording, but I hope it is not so fake-sounding as to detract from the music.
Now, whether or not I succeeded will have to be up to the individual listener. We all look for something different when listening to music, and we each respond uniquely. So, I will in no way state whether I succeeded in producing a recording that people would like to listen to. However, these are the positive things I can state with conviction:
- I like the sound — especially after listening for a few minutes and getting used to it.
- When you compare acoustic recordings, the variety among them (in the sound of the piano, amount of reverberation, amount of noise, etc.) is truly astonishing. That’s why I think that even though this sounds different, it’s not completely out of the realm of what we accept from recordings.
- I was able to get a range of dynamics and colors that enabled me to be expressive.
- It was truly relaxing and enjoyable to record in the comfort of my own home, late at night, with no one listening to me.
- The fact that no complex setup of microphones was required, and that the software piano is always in tune, meant that I could spread out the recording process over many days without fear of winding up with a product that sounded like different recordings pasted together.
- The whole production was much cheaper and more convenient than renting a studio with good acoustics, a properly tuned and regulated Steinway D, and good recording equipment set up properly. That means I could record over and over again until I was satisfied without the pressure of having limited time.
- I believe I was able to communicate the piece as I hear it and feel it.
And now, the caveats and disclaimers!
- I prefer playing a beautiful Steinway D concert grand piano, and if I had the resources, I would love to practice and record in a small concert hall with excellent acoustics, on my own $100,000 piano (meticulously maintained), and with top of the line recording gear always set up and at the ready for when inspiration strikes. I do not have such resources.
- I don’t think this True Keys recording sounds completely realistic because there is a certain “sameness” to the piano’s sound that starts to sound a bit artificial to me after a while. Also, there are certain little foibles of the recorded piano that I would love to change, but with a sample-based software piano, you have to accept the sound of that particular piano and live with it. I think it sounds pretty nice, though!
- I am recording simply for my own personal enrichment (giving myself a reason to practice) and to share my interpretations with family, friends, students, and the relatively small online audience I’ve developed.
- Given my particular situation, I find this to be a very useful way to record. I am pleased enough with the results, and so comfortable with the workflow, that it makes more sense to me to record this way than any other.
- For full disclosure, I will admit that, as with most recordings out there, this performance is edited together from multiple takes. However, I did not do any altering of the MIDI data. All I did was cut and paste. Just mentioning this in case anyone is curious.
So here it is. I hope you enjoy listening to it! (As with all my recordings, if you click on the “down arrow”, you can download in lossless FLAC format you can play with the free VLC player. The audio you get through the embedded player is somewhat compressed.)
My next post will discuss my experiments with PianoTeq 5. I will talk more about the pros and cons of sample-based versus modeled software pianos. I’ll also post soundclips made with PianoTeq — maybe a whole piece if I can get one recorded soon.
Also, I’ve just gotten a new, much more powerful, computer. So, I look forward to trying out other sample-based software pianos like Garritan Yamaha CFX and Synthogy Ivory II. This stuff is so fun!