In which the dean of composition at Eastman and the dean of music technology at Berklee demonstrate that they can’t tell the difference between recorded real orchestras conducted by Roger Norrington, Fritz Reiner and David Ziman and orchestral music created by a Mac Powerbook.  Roll over, Beethoven

11 Responses to “Rage Against the Machine”
  1. Mark says:

    This was most likely Jacob Russell’s last article for the Journal for a while–if ever. He’s off to grad school at MIT. I really enjoyed some of what he wrote, particularly the article on conductors’ salaries.

  2. Rusty Banks says:


    Me too! I was hoping it was just another Bomb Track.

    (The sucka’s be thinking they can *fake* this…)

  3. Lisa says:

    Damn! I was hoping this was a RATM reunion review. Silly me.

  4. Tom Myron says:

    I got it but I have to say the Norrington perf sounds a lot like a computer (something people have been saying for years if I’m not mistaken.) The other two real versions are unmistakeably superior in every way to both the computer & the Norrington.

    99% of my work is with orchestras\, both as a composer & an arranger/orchestrator & I don’t for one minute think that the Vienna Sample Library is a joke for applications in film & theater. But the idea that people will ever buy tix to listen to symphonic music over loudspeakers in a concert hall is a joke-and-a-half.

  5. I think the article inadvertently made a sad point it wasn’t intending to. If two heads of music departments can’t discern obvious synthesized from real orchestral sounds, then the so-called serious music business really is in trouble. The synthesized sample was obvious to me even listening through my laptop’s internal speakers. How long has it been since those two men actually listened to music without the impediment of already “knowing” what they’re listening to? It’s the aural equivalent to blinders – so and so is (or in many cases was) a great performer (or composer), so one expects to hear a good performance (piece). If the music business got back to basics – what does it acatually sound like at that moment – instead of extra-musical issues, it might have a wider audience. But when there’s no “there” there, it reinforces the negative stereotypes of having to have prior knowledge (i.e., that person used to be a great singer, so we’re clapping because 25 years ago she was great) in order to understand something.

  6. Alan Theisen says:

    “Start writing music that can’t be reproduced by a machine if that’s your most important criterion.”

    +10 points for Mr. Banks!

  7. Rusty Banks says:

    What’s everyone so uptight about? It’s not like the camera killed painting. It actually liberated it. Start writing music that can’t be reproduced by a machine if that’s your most important criterion.

    Also, the synth sounds are so obviously fake. Is the Dean at Berklee a stockholder in the company that makes this?

  8. Bill says:

    I’m a big fan of the software that’s out there but it was painfully obvious to me which was the fake in the side by side test.
    Just a few more years and it will be impossible for anyone to guess.

  9. DJA says:

    The sample-based version was instantly obvious to me, and I imagine to anyone who regularly works with orchestral samples (even just the GPO instruments that come with Finale). The giveaways that you’re listening to sampled instruments are similar no matter what library you use.

  10. David Salvage says:

    I went to see the musical Grey Gardens last weekend. Even though there were a few real people in the pit, the music was so hopped up on computers and amplification, it sounded recorded anyway. For use in live venues, I don’t see how this will work. That it’s difficult to tell a recording and a digitally realized performance apart doesn’t strike me as such a surprise. But the article’s depressing anyway.

  11. Alan Theisen says:

    My wife and I took the test (provided in the article). We both passed with flying colors.

    Sorry, but until I hear a computer than can intuitively alter tempo and give me delicious intonation fuzziness, I am not sold…