EXPERIENCING THE RENAISSANCE OF DIGITAL MUSIC
I am a true child of the 80s’; when 64k of RAM in a personal computer was groundbreaking and 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 a Commodore 64 running Music Construction set but dramatic changes were coming. A digital music renaissance was on the horizon that heralded new discoveries in digital sampling that would change the music world as we knew it forever.
It was around 1986 when I first heard “Instrument of Praise”, a project just released at the time by Phil Driscoll. Driscoll is a well renowned Christian trumpeter, musician, and vocalist who previously performed with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Joe Cocker, and others. It was an incredible experience listening to these powerful orchestrations. It was even more amazing to discover that all of the arrangements were produced and recorded using only one instrument (aside from Phil’s trumpet) – the Kurzweil 250. As a young Christian musician, it was one of those moments that reinforced my desire to continue my journey into 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 brought us Synthogy’s Ivory family of instruments, featuring some of the most beautiful and accurate sampled piano libraries available today.
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 playback engine, Synthogy brings newly refined piano samples along with many other user-requested improvements.
The new 2.5 engine brings full 64bit compatibility to the popular plugin formats (VST, AAX, AUDIO UNITS, and RTAS). You also have a very useful standalone for Mac OS and the Windows version features 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 well thought out download and installation process. One 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 a scene from the movie TRON where instead of Bruce Boxleitner, a piano gets sucked into your computer…well almost. Synthogy gives you a clean, intuitive interface along with access to a generous array of elements to help you produce an authentic acoustic piano sound.
This does not stop with 88 keys (a few more if you are playing the Bösendorfer) but provides settings for lid positioning, pedals (even half-pedaling), tuning and adjustments of the non-musical noises (pedals, action, etc.) that further enhance the overall 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, remembering one time, in particular, I found myself unconsciously playing harder and harder trying to get the digital piano to respond. I played so hard at times, I broke a blood vessel in my finger (OUCH!). What I was encountering is the limitation of not having the appropriate number of layers available. This would have allowed me to play at different velocities as you would on a “real world” piano; the element missing was dynamics.
The first generation sampled pianos were at times limited to only ONE sample layer; employing filtering (either amplitude or frequency) to give the impression the sound was changing the harder or softer you played. With Ivory II Grand Pianos, you have up to 18 sample layers and the American Concert D features up to 20 sample layers.
Not only do you have up to 18 note layers, but also a SOFT PEDAL sample layer and last but not least a layer of RELEASE samples. Some piano libraries in my experience do not include release samples, but believe me they make a huge difference.
All of these layers are great but they would not pack the realism and performance if not for the Ivory playback engine. The updated Ivory 2.5 engine further improves how the many sample layers are accessed in response to how you play; this is vital in providing the transparent and natural playing experience Ivory is famously known for.
Your fingers will definitely thank you because you can’t play what isn’t there; fortunately, Ivory II Grand Pianos gives you that and so much more.
THE MAGIC OF DSP
With the updated 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. Using DSP reduces dependence on the possibility of having to add additional sample layers and/or other techniques that could place an unnecessary load on your computer system. This is especially apparent when looking at how the Ivory II 2.5 engine approaches sympathetic resonance.
JUST LIKE SINGING IN THE SHOWER
Have you ever asked why some enjoy singing in the shower so much; well it might have something to do with Sympathetic Resonance. What you experience is that a bathroom typically has lots of hard surfaces (glass, tile, etc.) with the sound bouncing around resulting in some notes standing out more than others. I love discovering the resonating frequency of some rooms I’m in (strange looks notwithstanding). This is the idea behind the Ivory 2.5 engine when emulating a piano’s sympathetic resonance response.
Sympathetic resonance is the sound unplayed notes produce as the strings are excited by the notes that are being played. The harmonics and overtones created add sonic realism, character, 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. Ivory II 2.5 gives you detailed control, going as far as selecting the type of soundboard being used.
Notice the settings available to you that help to shape the tone and character of Ivory II Grand Pianos, e.g, Shimmer (which affects how the high frequencies are handled), along with a very thought out Equalizer section.
The Ivory II 2.5 engine features very nice effects and ambiance settings, letting you place Ivory II Grand Pianos in some very nice spaces ranging from concert halls, intimate recital rooms, and spaces suitable for recreating some very cool Jazz atmospheres. A Chorus section gives you some interesting and creative possibilities. You also have an additional EQ section featuring an adjustable Low and High shelf along with a band of parametric EQ.
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 YOUR WAY
Looking at the SESSION screen above you have options to fit Ivory II into your particular setup. This ranges from MIDI channel assignments to the number of voices and memory allocated for Ivory’s samples. This helps to fine-tune Ivory II for the best possible performance in your specific computing environment.
You can adjust tuning and velocity scaling to tailor 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 IvoryII 2.5 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 a different computer system, different MIDI keyboard controllers or other variable performance situations you might find yourself in.
SOME PAD ON THE SIDE PLEASE
The first version of Ivory featured a special set of sounds you could layer with the main piano presets. These “pad” layers have been further expanded in the latest Ivory II 2.5 engine. The pad layer samples have been taken from synths and vintage string machines to add an extra dimension to the already wonderful sounds of Ivory II Grand Pianos.
Some of the presets bring back memories of some iconic sound textures of the past while others help inspire new directions Ivory II can take you.
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 separately). This piano library brings yet another dimension and character unique to the piano that was originally sampled. I experienced an 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.
Even with 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, placing them beneath your fingers.
IVORY II GRAND PIANOS and AMERICAN CONCERT D – A RARE AND VALUABLE INVESTMENT
In my short time working with Ivory II Grand Pianos and American Concert D, I have discovered why 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 heard and experienced in every note that is played.
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 have solidified their place on future recording projects, movies, commercials, and in live performance. It is no wonder that the Ivory family of piano libraries has 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 opportunity to discover the beauty of Ivory II Grand Pianos and the American Concert D for myself 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