We’ve all come to recognize MIDI sounds and virtual instruments whether we realize it or not. Thousands of soundtracks to movies, TV shows, and commercials are created solely through computers.
But what other uses can be found using MIDI?
Kent Huang is a digital composer from Taiwan,
and he sees this technology as a means of Cultural Preservation.
The former Disneyland fiddle player has gone through quite the extraordinary journey in order to realize his ambitious virtual instrument project called “The Sound of Taiwan.”
Kent tells what led him to the idea of sampling native Taiwanese instruments:
“I was working on a composition case for a client who was looking for some ethnic-style music. So for the sample clip, I simply went to Omnisphere and searched for some Tuvan throat singing, plus some African drum set loops in Logic, and bam, the client liked it and we proceed with the project.
But that moment raised a red flag to me… it got me thinking: I’m a Taiwanese composer, but my default ethnic music isn’t Taiwanese. Is there something I could do to remedy this awkward situation?”
Audio technology in Taiwan is a very niche area for students and researchers. Those who are in it often find themselves in a small community where the few job openings will only go to those who already know each other.
Because the community is so small, access to information is much more limited compared to the US. Resources that we take for granted (such as Lynda.com) don’t have a Mandarin translation, and as for learning about Sampling, it’s better to just read the English books!
From absolutely zero experience in sound sampling, he started to teach himself about sampling technique using Kontakt Scripting. Kent recalls how difficult it was for him to find the necessary tools and learning resources:
“I felt very lonely, actually. There weren’t people around with whom I could consult with concerning techniques or codes because I’m literally the first person to create this. I bought The Sampling Handbook, watched tutorials on Kontakt Scripting, got the basics of the process, but I was still very confused about many things like… how to code a legato or slide on strings, how to customize the control knobs, how to write out impulse response… etc”
Kent’s first breakthrough occurred as he was working with string samples.
“I found this company Embertone while I was researching about legato scripting for strings sampling.
Their string samples are beautifully detailed with layers of customizable variations. You really need to understand a string instrument to take the full advantage of their string instruments!”
Gaining an admiration for Embertone, Kent reached out to the company through the contact form on their website. Much to Kent’s surprise, he got a response from Alex, a virtual instrument developer at Embertone, for a Skype meeting. ( ← networking lesson learned: Just Reach Out! You never know until you ask. Don’t forget that even the so-called industry experts are human beings, too!)
“I told Alex in my initial email that I wanted to learn to preserve my Taiwanese culture through music, and that I was willing to fly over and be his intern for free in exchange his mentorship.” Kent laughed, “He stopped me from flying! He introduced me to the in-depth online course Xtant Audio, which I went through from beginning to end, translating everything I could to help myself gain a better understanding of sampling.”
After getting all he could through self-taught methods, Kent decided to personally visit some audio people in Los Angeles to learn the “dark art of deep sampling” (according to Alex).
“I was given contacts in two other studios, Realitone (famous for its Realivox-Blue for vocals) and Fable Sounds. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit Native Instrument or EastWest, because you have to know that for these bigger corporations, non-specific emails get lost relatively easily, and I had no personal connections in either of them, so those two are perhaps for the future!”
What are the takeaways from meeting those people?
“It’s surprising; we tend to overcomplicate things for ourselves. The path to success is really just an authentic motivation plus the continuing passion and curiosity fueled by commitment. Mike Greene from Realitone shared that he started doing voice sampling simply because he didn’t really like the Voices of Passion from EastWest!”
(… we started CMN simply because we want Classical Music to have an equal treatment like sports!)
After going back to Taiwan filled to the brim with knowledge and experience, Kent buried himself with the actual sampling works:
Recording the Most Significant of Taiwan’s Native Instruments!
To get the most accurate samplings, Kent spent a few months not only learning how to read the “music score 工尺譜” (see picture), but also studying with professionals on actually playing the instruments.
He did this because of several instruments, such as the nose-flute, are phrase-based and can only play a preset range of intervals. When crafting his samples, Kent creates the experience of playing phrases rather than single notes.
Now that he is finished with “The Sound of Taiwan”,
Kent discusses what his next project will encompass:
“I created this SOUND Museum Page to include this past and all future sampling projects.
Currently, I’m planning to release 5 more packs of aboriginal Taiwanese instruments in the next 2 years. This is just the beginning!”
This is indeed an amazing journey to witness together. When asked about if he had concerns of ever making a profit from these projects, Kent spoke in an encouraging way:
“Along the way, I met many sound artists who stopped themselves from following through with their ideas because they were scared of losing money. I went through with my project because I wanted to use these sounds in my own compositions, so I was already saving up from my earnings. To me, making money through this project wasn’t the goal, so I guess that’s why I didn’t think too much when deciding to do it.
What’s funny is that I’ve made so many friends and colleagues during this process who would have considered me a competitor if I had positioned myself as a composer rather than a sound sampling artist (laughs). So I guess these are the invisible profits that came with the SOUND Museum!”
Giving users the most authentic sounds from the aboriginal music, Kent’s 『Sound of Taiwan』is already featured on AudioBase. You can also view his demonstration video on Youtube ↑ (or click the above).
If you, composers or sound designers, would like to use these unique sounds in your upcoming work (that’s totally unique to your competitors!) while helping to preserve a culture, SOUND Museum offer you a competitive package as the first group of fans here in the USA!
You’ll receive a beautiful wooden 32G thumb drive that comes with the complete Kontakt Virtual Sound of Taiwan 1.0 instruments, audio file version for Apple & REX Loops use, and a handwritten Thank-You note! Or if you prefer just digital download, there’s an option for that as well!
Place your order here! **
SOUND Museum thank you for helping us preserve a culture through music sampling.
*If you are a Mandarin Chinese reader, feel free to check out Kent’s online journal at SOUND Musuem
** Since the Kontakt Instrument Pack need to be ordered from Taiwan, we kindly asked you to give it 3-4 weeks for processing and shipping time. (2-4 days for Digital Download option)
***Interview conducted in Mandarin. Translation done by Noniko Hsu. Edited by Ryan McDonald
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