EXPERIENCING THE RENAISSANCE OF DIGITAL MUSIC
I have to say that I am a true child of the 80s’. I grew up when 64k of RAM in a personal computer was groundbreaking and the the thoughts of listening to music on something other than a cassette tape was something only George Jetson could imagine. My first experience with digital music composing was on a Commodore 64 using Music Construction set but change was coming and very quickly. A renaissance in digital music was on the horizon with new discoveries in digitally sampled instruments were being made that would change the music world as we knew it.
Around 1986 I heard a new project; “Instrument of Praise” by Phil Driscoll. Driscoll is a well renowned Christian trumpeter, musician and vocalist who had previously worked with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Joe Cocker and others. What made this project different however was the arrangements were produced and recorded using only one instrument (aside from Phil’s trumpet) – the Kurzweil 250.
It was an incredible experience to hear these powerful sounds and orchestrations coming from one instrument. As a young Christian musician It was one of those moments that reenforced my desire to continue my journey into the digital music.
Joe Ierardi was behind the original piano sounds developed for the Kurzweil 250 (one weighing in at 1 megabyte which was huge at the time). Years later Ierardi was joined by George Taylor who together formed the company we know today as Synthogy. What began over 30 years ago has now been further realized with Synthogy’s family of virtual piano libraries – Ivory.
IVORY II GRAND PIANOS
A FUTURE BUILT ON LEGACY
The original Ivory was groundbreaking in its own right; now with the release of Ivory II Grand Pianos featuring an updated 2.5 engine Synthogy brings newly refined piano samples along with many other requested improvements.
The new 2.5 engine brings full 64bit compatibility to the major plugin formats available (VST, AAX, AUDIO UNITS and RTAS). You also have a very useful standalone for Mac OS and included for Windows is a special version Cantabile hosting a custom Ivory II 2.5 playback engine for live performance.
The total size of Ivory II Grand Pianos comes in at over 77 gigabytes. Synthogy has provided a very well thought out download and installation process. One very helpful feature is that you can install one, two or all three piano libraries depending on your particular need. This is convenient if you are limited by available storage space.
YOU NOW HAVE AUTHORIZATION
Synthogy uses the iLOK protocol for authorizing their products. You can authorize using an iLOK USB dongle (sold separately) or directly to the host computer. With the 2.5 engine update you are provided with TWO authorizations in case you have a production setup as well as a live performance rig.
BRINGING THE PHYSICAL INTO THE VIRTUAL
It almost feels like the movie TRON where instead of Bruce Boxleitner, a piano gets sucked into your computer…well almost. What Synthogy has done is create a clean, intuitive interface giving you access to a generous array of the elements that help to create an authentic acoustic piano experience. This does not just stop with 88 keys (a few more if you are playing the Bösendorfer) but also features settings for lid positioning, pedals (even half pedaling), tuning and adjustments of the non musical noises (pedals, the action, etc.) that further enhance the playing experience.
Ivory II Grand Pianos builds on the original Ivory concept, presenting us with three beautiful pianos:
Bösendorfer 290 Imperial Grand
Steinway D Concert Grand
Yamaha c7 Grand
ALL ABOUT THE LAYERS
In my first experiences with digital pianos with one time in particular I found myself unconceously playing harder and harder to get the digital piano to respond, so hard at times that I broke a blood vessel in my finger (OUCH!). What I was encountering is the limitation of not having the appropriate layers available that would allow me to play at different velocities as you would on a “real world” piano, living up to the original name “piano forte” whose literal interpretation means “Loud and Soft”. What was missing was dynamics.
First generation sampled pianos sometimes used only ONE sample layer and employed filtering (either amplitude or frequency) giving the impression that the sound was changing the harder and softer you played. With Ivory II Grand Pianos, you have up to 18 sample layers available and the American Concert D features up to 20 sample layers.
Not only do you have up to 18 initial note layers but also sample layers covering instances covering use of the SOFT PEDAL and a layer of RELEASE samples that some piano libraries in my experience are not included and believe me they make a huge difference.
All of this is great but would not pack the realism and performance experience without the Ivory playback engine. The Ivory 2.5 engine further improves how the sample layers are switched in and out in response to how you play, this is vital in providing the very transparent and natural playing experience which Ivory is known for.
Your fingers will definitely thank you because you just can’t play what is not there; fortunately Ivory II Grand Pianos gives you that and so much more.
THE MAGIC OF DSP
With the new Ivory II 2.5 playback engine Synthogy has increased performance and playability by leveraging their years of experience in the area of DSP (Digital, Signal, Processing) to do most of the heavy lifting. This reduces the dependence on additional sample layers and/or other techniques that could place additional overhead on your computer CPU and hard drive when streaming the various sample layers. You will find this especially true when looking at how Ivory II Grand Pianos approaches sympathetic resonance.
JUST LIKE SINGING IN THE SHOWER
Have you ever asked why some enjoy singing in the shower so much; well it has something to do with Sympathetic Resonance. What you are experiencing is that a bathroom typically has a lot of hard surfaces (glass, tile, etc.) and the sound sort of rolls around with some notes seeming to stand out more than others. I love discovering the resonating frequency in some rooms I’m in (strange looks not withstanding). This is the same idea the Ivory 2.5 engine uses when emulating a piano’s sympathetic resonance character.
Sympathetic resonance is the sound strings not being currently played produce as they are excited by the notes that are. The harmonics and overtones created add sonic realism and are key to reproducing an authentic acoustic piano library.
In the image below you can see some of the options to shape this sympathetic resonance response. Notice that you are in control of a lot of detail even down to the type of soundboard being used.
It does not stop there; Ivory II Grand Pianos also provides additional tone shaping controls ie. Shimmer (which affects how the high frequencies are handled), and various Equalizer settings.
There is a very nice effects and ambience settings page available that lets you place Ivory II Grand Pianos in some very nice spaces that range from concert halls to intimate recital rooms and spaces suitable for recreating some very cool Jazz atmospheres. A Chorus section to give you some interesting options. You also have a thoughtful EQ section featuring an adjustable Low and High shelf along with a band of parametric EQ.
IVORY YOUR WAY
Looking at the SESSION screen above you have options allowing you to fit Ivory II into your particular setup. This ranges from MIDI channel assignments, to the number of voices and memory resources being used. This helps you to be sure Ivory II is fine tuned for the best possible performance for your specific computer enviroment.
You can adjust for tuning and velocity scaling to further customize Ivory II to your playing style. The Ivory 2.5 engine also gives you an exciting option for Half Pedaling. This is useful if you use a sustain/hold pedal that can transmit continuous controller messages. This gives you all of those interesting “in-between” tones that are possible when playing a physical piano.
The Ivory2.5 engine allows you to create your own Session presets for later recall. This comes in handy when you are playing Ivory II Grand Pianos using different computer system, different MIDI keyboard controllers or other variable performance situations you may find yourself in.
SOME PAD ON THE SIDE
One of the interesting features of the original Ivory has been the inclusion of a special set of sounds you can layer with the main piano presets. These “pad” layers have been further expanded in the latest versions of Ivory II Grand Pianos. These have been taken from synths and vintage string machines and add an extra dimension to the already wonderful sound of Ivory II Grand Pianos.
Some of the layer presets really bring back memories of iconic sound textures of the past while others help inspire new directions Ivory II can take you.
SO HOW DO THEY SOUND ?
Even if you have all of the state of the art software and tech behind you what really matters at the end of the day is SOUND and in a word what I have experienced with Ivory II Grand Pianos and American Concert D is amazing. Synthogy have faithfully transfused the signature and character of the individual pianos into your computer and placed them beneath your fingers.
In my experience I have found there is not a one size fits all piano library. If you produce in various musical styles you may encounter times when a Yamaha c7 is just too bright or the Steinway might be just a little too dark and other times a Bösendorfer is just what the doctor ordered. Each has its own unique audible and physical fingerprint.
That being said however you could potentially shape any of these pianos to fit your situation if need be due to the vast amount of control you have over the range of sound, whether it is adjusting the EQ or using their creative Timbre Shifting options. You could go down the rabbit hole pretty quickly experimenting with all of the options Synthogy has provided.
IVORY II AMERICAN CONCERT D
I was also able to spend some time playing the Ivory II American Concert D. There are subtle but dramatic differences in the Steinway German D (included in Ivory II pianos) and the American Concert D (available seperately). This piano library brings yet another dimension and character unique to the piano that was originally sampled. There is a very nice openness and playability that is enhanced by the additional sample layers. I found myself getting lost in this particular instrument as once again the Ivory II 2.5 engine allows for very expressive and detailed dynamics.
IVORY II GRAND PIANOS and AMERICAN CONCERT D – A RARE AND VALUABLE INVESTMENT
In my short time working with IvoryII Grand Pianos and American Concert D, I have discovered what many of my friends, clients and fellow musicians have been so impressed with Ivory and now Ivory II. The years of dedication and hard work that has been put into this series of instruments is not only heard but experienced in every note.
With the updates to the Ivory 2.5 playback engine, I can say with confidence that Ivory II Grand Pianos and the additional pianos in the Ivory family solidify their place on future recording music projects, movies, commercials and in live performance. It is no wonder that the Ivory family of piano libraries have been the choice of a vast array of artists and producers who depend on its stable playability in the studio and on tour.
I so appreciate Synthogy and ILIO for giving me the pleasure of discovering for myself the beauty of Ivory II Grand Pianos along with the American Concert D and to share my experience with you.
For more information and to purchase Ivory II please visit Synthogy and Ilio here:
The BBC has published a very interesting video featuring Joe Ierardi (founder of Synthogy); you can view it here: The quest to perfect digital pianos