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Joshua Bell in a Box

February 20, 2018

Ever wish you could have a great violinist, Joshua Bell, for instance, add a few tracks to your latest recording project, or perhaps accompany you with an obbligato while you sing around the house? If you have a computer and a spare $199 or so, you can make that dream come true … virtually. The music-software company Embertone has released the latest in its series of digitized performances on real instruments in the form of Joshua Bell Violin, which features the renowned violinist playing his legendary 1713 “Huberman” Stradivari. The software is a plug-in tool for digital recording programs such as Cubase, Logic, Ableton, and Pro-Tools.

There has been strong interest in capturing the sound of real instruments in a format that can be used instantly and cheaply in the recording studio. Most previous efforts have been clunky and rarely convincing, particularly when attempting to reproduce the sounds of bowed string instruments. The Mellotron, popular in the ’60s, captured the sound of a full orchestra, note-by-note, on magnetic tape loops that could be activated on a keyboard. It made an interesting sound, but it wasn’t fooling anyone. Since then, generations of synthesizers have improved on that somewhat, but discerning ears won’t conflate synthesized sounds with those made by a real musician on a wooden instrument.

Embertone reckons it has changed the game for realistic-sounding digitized string instruments by scripting and recording every possible note combination, technique, and style in a pristine recording environment as performed by top-notch musicians. For Joshua Bell, for example, Embertone claims, “We recorded every possible note-to-note transition throughout of the range of Joshua’s Stradivarius … in 12 different styles [including] bow change, slur, and portamento, with different speeds and dynamics. When playing melodies you hear an actual performance!”

They also added a phalanx of digital tools for fine tuning the output, including control over vibrato, tremolo, spiccato, harmonics, and special “humanization controls that allow you to alter tuning based on speed, interval and attack, as well as a bow/slur switching system that will let you sound amazing with very little effort.”

Are the final results good enough to fool your ears? Take a listen to the sound samples and watch the video and let us know what you think.

Paul Kotapish is the managing editor for SFCV.  You can learn more here or at guitarfish.net.