This July, 2016, we were on the road again. Destination: Tuscany.
What do we love about a piano? And what is a piano for us?
A black bench, the resistance of the key under the finger, the soft noise of the hammer hitting the piano wire, the clearness of a round circle sound blowing the air. Something moving. Resonances. Vibration. We decided not only to sample a piano, but we wished to capture our idea of piano sound.
On the other hand we were looking for a way to make our project stimulating and enjoyable. We opted for an amazing studio, a quiet place in the countryside, just a short drive from one of the most inspiring place, as well as one of our favourite Italian cities: Florence. The “Officina Sonora del Bigallo” − literally, the “Bigallo Sound Workshop” − is a perfect blend of innovative technology, traditional architecture and landscape setting. Once a farmhouse among the olive trees, it is located on the slopes of Tuscan hills of Bagno a Ripoli, just ten kilometers far from the city centre.
On that morning we met Aurelio – chief manager of the studio – and Lawrence – resident audio engineer and producer – on the doorsteps. After a brief overview, we quickly settled in our rooms, impatient to begin the work. Then: notes.
Red light in the Studio: Pietro and Chiara have just arrived. It’s coffee time! Hard work, but time flies. Today Pietro has shot sketches of the countryside and Florence as well as documented how we set the recordings, the gear… and the piano bench. Aurelio is cooking pasta al pesto for us, telling stories about his experiences in Yoga and turning out to be a very open mind person with a very interesting life. The first day has gone in typical Italian style.
The sunlight breaks in the room with the typical Tyndall effect created by the slanted rays that shyly permeate from the window shutters. Tiny pieces of dust float in the air like a chaotic swarm of notes on a piano roll. I wonder if we can sample them? They should make some sound!
Breakfast, bread, briefing. Then notes and notes again. Massively. And it sounds like it’s lunch time. The car sweetly slips on the wonderful green hills of Tuscany. Cypresses and roses mixed with prickly pears and olive trees. Pappa al pomodoro and fiorentina steak, typical local recipes.
Once back, we keep on working, or we’d better say playing. For one, two, three hours. Notes. And I feel like a piece of that floating dust, lost in the haze of a pitch meditation. How long could I stay in this studio, just playing the piano key by key?
Some months have passed, but still the mood of those days of sampling reverberates in everyday life. We should say that now begins the “real” work. If we had a desk with tools, it would be a mess of cutters, markers, scores, glues, addresses. I can even distinctly see the circled stain of a coffee cup on a piece of paper, just under a photo book of Tuscany.
Finally, we’ve developed a beta version of the piano ready to be tested. Who better than Riccardo Barba, lifelong friend and experienced jazz pianist to be the first tester? We thought once again to contact Pietro and Racoon Studio, to make a video of our work that could possibly convey even a vague idea of the feelings and the mood of those days. Images of the studio and the piano – of course – merge with the sober environment of the recording stage and with the gentle nature that surrounds the studio.
Scoring Piano is finally ready.
This instrument will find a perfect spot for any kind of soundtrack and, like My Piano, for jazz and classical music. We have tried to take the softest dynamics particularly into account. Moreover, thanks to our Dynamic Range Control, it is very easy to achieve that “Thomas Newman” cinematic sound. In addition to this, Scoring Piano features a great dynamic range, enabling you to play any kind of music genres.
Our new instrument features lots of sound crafting controls, EQ, Reverb, three mixable mic positions and controls for pedal resonances and noises. We have avoided to include fancy effects, like delay, compressor and so on. Not only the quality of these effects in Kontakt is up to debate but also we have simply aimed at a great natural sounding piano.
When you strike a single note with the damper pedal down, you hear a richer sound. This is the sympathetic resonance of all strings having some harmonics in common with the note you have pressed. This happens also when playing without pedal. If some notes are already down and some overtones are in common with the new note, they will resonate. These complex interactions are essential to a stunning lively piano sound.
In many libraries, when repeating a note with the pedal down, sustains usually build up, thus increasing polyphony dramatically. This taxes CPU and disk streaming and it can also lead to sound inconsistencies, like phasing, and a noticeable noise floor rise.
Our system compares each note with the previous one on the same key and determines which is the loudest. This is not a simple problem as the decaying part of a loudest note can be softer than the attack of a softer note. After the script compares the two notes, it discards the lowest by slowly fading it.
The instrument features three mic positions: Close, Mid and Far. Close microphones are our favourite, with their peculiar dark sound. Mid microphones are terrific in combination with Far mics. The latter contribute to a sense of space for the whole mix.
For these reasons, it sounded natural for us to add a fourth Mix position: 100% Close, 50% Mid and 70% Far mics.
For Scoring Piano, we’ve refined our work with the sample masking technique, that fades old notes sustained over the same key: this helps to prevent phasing issues common to standard piano libraries and to control the polyphony.
This strict control over polyphony allowed us to implement an emulation of the interaction between keys that is evident on every piano. If a key is held pressed while another one is struck, you’ll hear a third pitch that is the result of the interaction of the first two. This is called Sympathetic Resonance and the result is a warmer piano sound, very suited to soundtracks and delicate, intimate piano works.
- 6578 Samples
- 8 included NKI presets
- 20 GB installed (compressed with in NCW format)
- Sampled with Schoeps and AudioTechnica Mics and Millennia Media preamps
- Three Mic Positions (Close, Mid, Far) + Mix Position
- 24 bit / 48 kHz stereo
- From 7 up to 40 velocity layers per key (average 15 velocity layers per note)
- Sympathetic Resonances and Pedal Resonances control for maximum control over instrument warmth
- Release Samples
- Equalizer, Dynamic Control and Convolution Reverb
- Complete control over velocity response
- Self Masking for polyphony control
- Separate pedal down resonances and pedal noise control
- Nice occasional crackles knob to emulate the realism of a live recording