Composer Input - Interview with Otto Martin Christensen

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VIRHARMONIC: Tell us more about yourself, Your music career, credits, published or performed works and of course what are your favourite styles and inspirations.

OTTO: I have studied flute at the conservatory in Oslo, and as a performer I have been touring extensively as pianist and flutist for Concerts Norway (Rikskonsertene). I have also been playing saxophone and flute in jazz and salsa bands, teaching flute, conducting wind bands, conducting and participating in choirs - and in many of these contexts I have been arranging and composing for different types of ensembles. Considering myself as being mainly classically trained (albeit with a love of music from a wide variety of genres) it should not come as a surprise that some of my greatest musical heroes are dead white males. Mentioning Bach is almost superfluous. The sheer joy inherent in his music, combined with deep, dark and introspective moods, makes listening to his works a constant source of inspiration. And his masterly command of polyphony is really something we contemporary composers should lend our ears to, since this is an essential skill that has been in decline for some time. The combination of intellectual discipline (as in polyphonic writing) and sensual pleasure (as in life-enhancing rhythms and in such beauty of sound and timbre that we sample addicts keep searching all the time) makes music a complete art form, encompassing the totality of man"s nature. And Bach is the pinnacle of this art form. But of course I have many other inspirations as well. Among all the wonderful classical composers in our contemporary world, I would in particular like to mention the very versatile James MacMillan. And when it comes to the non-classical scene, I have learnt a lot from playing salsa music, with its boundless rhythmic vitality! A common denominator for both Bach, MacMillan and salsa music is that the human voice is an important element, and the vocal component is very important in my musical world as well. This is a reason why I am so fascinated by the wonderful choral libraries that you have made in Prague. These made it possible for me to compose a work (Domine Deus) that has been used in an American movie (Catching Broken Glass). I have plans for having some choral works printed by a publisher, just like several instrumental works of mine have been printed by the British publisher Forton Music - works that have been performed both in Norway and abroad (here is a video of a performance of the 1st movement of my clarinet sonata at the Norwegian National Library).

VIRHARMONIC: What DAW do you work in and why?

OTTO: Being trained within the classical tradition, as I am, one easily becomes notation-centric when it comes to composing. Thus, I prefer to do my composing within notation programs (even if I occasionally play around in Logic and Studio One just for fun). Ordinary DAWs are probably just as good - or even better - for many purposes, but not for all. Thus, polyphonic writing as such has a strong visual element which is best taken care of by standard notation, as I see it. In general this possibly applies to music that structurally (and not only sonically) gets above a certain level of complexity. But by all means, composers are doing absolutely wonderful things with their DAWs! It is mostly a question of different styles and traditions. And I come from the classical, notation-centric tradition, as I said. My favourite among notation programs is Notion (by Presonus, which comes bundled with a generous set of orchestral samples. These are very easy to work with, as they are closely integrated with the notation module. Thus, articulations, dynamics and playing techniques are rendered in a consistent manner. Shortly after I started to use Notion in 2010, I made a piece for flute, violin and cello that was premiered at the Lincoln Center in New York by three excellent musicians educated at Juilliard (who play together as Sonic Escape). My demo for the musicians was made with Notion"s bundled samples (you can listen to the piece here ) However, these samples are not meant to compete with dedicated, stand-alone libraries when it comes to sonic realism, so Notion even comes with presets for integrating libraries from several sample producers (like VSL and EastWest) - and even most other VST instruments can be loaded and tweaked from within the Notion interface (for instance by making custom rule sets) in such a way that you can use their full potential. This also applies to the Virharmonic libraries, as you can see from the tutorial below.

VIRHARMONIC: What Virtual Instruments do you use?

OTTO: The Notion samples are great for jotting down and monitoring your musical ideas in a fast and easy manner, and the audible result is fine if the audio file is not supposed to be your primary end result. But when I want to make an even more realistic audio file than these samples are able to produce - for professional purposes, or just for fun - I have quite a few VIs in my setup that I can use. As end users we have almost become spoilt by the plethora of choices these days, where the big US players in the sample industry, like EastWest, Cinesamples and 8dio, over the last years have gotten gradually harder competition from Europe, where VSL is not the sole ruler any more when it comes to orchestral libraries. The Vienna company now has to compete not only with the US sample makers, but also with offerings from two other European cities with a great musical heritage, i.e. Berlin with Orchestral Tools and London with Spitfire Audio. I own and use libraries from all the mentioned companies, with string libraries from Spitfire as my latest acquisition (here is a short test sequence I recently made with their Mural Strings within Notion). What you prefer in the end is dependent on many factors, I suppose, like ease of use, pricing and your stylistic idiom. Orchestral libraries is not the only thing you need, though. For me it is essential to have a playable virtual piano, and I was very happy when I finally found a stunning UVI library from VI Labs, the Ravenscroft 275 piano. And last, but not the least, the superb UVI choral libraries that have been developed by you brilliant guys in Prague - another European city with a great musical heritage - have been a very welcome and inspiring addition to my setup.

VIRHARMONIC: What do you think about the virtual instruments in general and what do they mean to your work?

OTTO: My primary aim as a composer is often to produce scores that can be performed by real musicians, and then it is great to be able to produce convincing and accurate audio demos that can be sent to publishers and/or musicians. The VIs are very handy for this purpose. They are even more essential, of course, if the audio is your end product, as it was when I, by means of the Virharmonic libraries, composed my Domine Deus that has been used in the movie mentioned above. Good VIs may stimulate your imagination, but not so good libraries may have the opposite effect. So VIs may be both good and bad for musicians trying to develop their compositional skills. And if you are composing for real musicians, you always have to remember that neither your VIs nor your DAW (or notation program) know what is actually playable by real musicians. Thus, you need to know both the possibilities and the limitations of the instruments (or voices) that you use in your compositions. There is no shortcut here. If your music is not supposed to be performed, you have a different scenario, though. Then you just have to learn the possibilities and limitations of the virtual instruments, and not the real instruments, and in this way you may explore and expand the universe of music making.

VIRHARMONIC: How does VoP, SoP & CBC fit into your template?

OTTO: They fit very well into Notion, as you can see from my tutorial on of how to set up VoP + SoP in Notion. Even if the libraries are made from the point of view of playability, like most other virtual instruments, they integrate nicely into a notation environment.

VIRHARMONIC: What inspired you to pick up one of our choral libraries?

OTTO: I had come to a point where I wanted to integrate my passion for choral music in my compositional work. I kept searching for choral libraries for quite some time, since I thought it would be cool to make digital audio demos in choral contexts as well. The crucial point for me was the libraries" ability to sing with words, and I found out that VoP was the obvious choice for this purpose. It is not only able to produce real lyrics by means of the ingenious libretto engine - where other libraries are limited to a small set of syllables and phrases - but it is also a real divisi library (SATB in stead of men/women), and it is sampled from the voices of the gorgeous Prague Philharmonic Choir. It may easily be used for the same purposes - albeit with a lot more flexibility - as the competitors (colouring instrumental, cinematic tracks and the like), but it may also be used for a whole range of other purposes, like composing and making convincing audio renderings of a cappella scores, not the least due to the libretto engine. And the same applies to SoP and CBC, of course (which are also included in my setup).

VIRHARMONIC: What features of VoP, SoP & CBC do you use most?

OTTO: The libretto engine is, as already indicated, the feature that sets the Virharmonic products far apart from all other choral libraries. It is not only stable and powerful, but also very tweakable, something which makes it very flexible in use.

VIRHARMONIC: How did VoP,SoP, CBC help you in your work?

OTTO: The libraries have entirely lived up to my expectations and made me fulfil my primary wish, viz. making digital a cappella demos with lyrics.

VIRHARMONIC: Any tips/best practices you would like to share besides the tutorial on Youtube you have kindly shared with our users?

OTTO: The syllable sequencer is very flexible, and it probably enables you to achieve usable results for most sounds in most languages, thanks to a wide range of tweaking possibilities. But please remember that VOP is produced with Czech singers, and that the phonetic features of their native language colour the samples to a certain degree. This is, of course, unavoidable when you make choral libraries, regardless of the singers" language. Still, the group of phonemes present in the syllable sequencer by no means covers only Czech and Slavic languages. Thus, English comes out well, as you can see from the manual, which uses English words as examples when explaining how the syllable engine works. But don"t expect that the engine instantly will produce perfect lyrics in your mother tongue if you use ordinary spelling. You will have to experiment with different syllables and settings. Trial and error is probably the only working method here, with the manual as a useful guide. Here are some tweaks you can try,

* Adjusting the volume/attack/delay/release of any vowel/consonant per voice is a very useful option. Tweaking these settings will change the playback considerably.

* In my experience, a very efficient way to make the words sound closer to what you want is to use different sounds in different voices at the same time. Thus, in the syllable sequencer you may mix "oo" and "u" in the English word "you", by using "u" in one or two voices and "oo" in the other voices. The same applies to consonants - experiment with mixing different sounds!

* Different reverbs and reverb settings may yield rather different results when it comes to the phonetic behaviour of the samples.

VIRHARMONIC: What would you like to see from Virharmonic in the coming future?

OTTO: I have so far been very impressed by your dedication to your choral libraries, which already have received several big updates. So please keep up the good work in the choral compartment! I would of course be very happy if you could produce other UVI libraries according to the same high standards, since the UVI engine has lots of great features, and since NI and its Kontakt engine needs some competition. If you could follow up the Violin Freebee with a full solo strings library, it would be great! And as a woodwind player, I always keep searching for the ultimate woodwind library, so that"s another very personal tip (I know the competition is stiff, though). Great Czech musicians, sample producers with highly developed musical and technical skills, dedication to quality, the features of the excellent UVI engine plus reasonable pricing is a very competitive combo indeed. So thanks a lot for what you guys have done so far, and the best of luck with your upcoming projects!

Link to the tutorial

Link to Otto's Website

Best regards,


(Otto Martin Christensen)

Latest update: 03/07/2015