A visit with Arne Wallander on the release of NotePerformer 2.0 [updated]

by Philip Rothman on March 6, 2017 · 36 comments

in News, People

Today Wallander Instruments released NotePerformer 2.0.0, a major update to the sound library that works with Sibelius. The update is free for all existing users, and the price for new users continues to be $129.

NotePerformer 2.0.0 boasts dozens of improvements and new features. Some highlights:

  • Rebuilt sound library
  • Improved solo strings
  • Greater dynamic range
  • New sounds: Electric organ, rainstick and bell tree percussion, harmonica, sampled recorder
  • Advanced MIDI CC controls: Custom vibrato; base tuning; pipe organ registration; section building from a2 to a8
  • Polyphonic harmonics

I first connected with Arne Wallander several years ago when he launched NotePerformer, a breakthrough product for use exclusively with Sibelius. Made available in 2013, NotePerformer offered a relatively inexpensive and easy way to achieve high-quality playback of orchestral scores directly through Sibelius. For $129, a NotePerfomer user downloads and runs a simple installer that automatically configures NotePerformer to work with Sibelius. No special knowledge of custom players, sequencers or separate loading of instruments is needed.

At the time, Arne said, “NotePerformer is the kind of software I’ve always dreamed of having myself, before even learning about VST, sequencers or gigabyte sample libraries,” he told me. “You write musical notation, and can hear it played back, with accurate phrasing and dynamics. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be accurate enough so that you can use playback to improve your own skills and refine your scores.”

Of course, Arne was no stranger to the world of virtual instruments; Wallander Instruments had already created several products made to be used with sequencers. But NotePerformer was in a class by itself, designed especially for the Sibelius user and inextricably linked with it.

Since its first release, NotePerformer has been updated several times, adding instruments and refining the overall experience, with updates always free for existing users. However, until today, the last update (v. 1.5.0) was from May 2015. When I attended the 2017 NAMM show a few weeks ago, I met with Arne in person to talk about NotePerformer 2.0 and more.

Arne Wallander at the 2017 NAMM show in Anaheim, California


Q. What’s new with NotePerformer?

A. Most importantly, there’s been a major overhaul in sound quality. Earlier NotePerformer versions have had a sort of “mushy” quality and a lack of high frequencies, problems I’ve wanted to address for some time. Many of these things were technical issues at the very core of the software, due to design decisions I made early on. And it’s not until you have a finished product that you realize that some of these early decisions weren’t the right ones.

So basically I had to start from scratch with the entire sound library. The base materials (which were recorded in an anechoic chamber) are obviously the same, but there has been a major overhaul to the technology, to make sure the spectrum and phase of each instrument is accurately preserved through each step of the process. The new version has a much more open and airy sound, and a greater definition.

There are also improvements to timing and pitch algorithms. The new version is able to maintain separation between instruments and unison sections without having as many “outliers” in pitch and timing. So the performance is much cleaner and well-defined yet without suffering from unnatural effects such as phasing.

There were also some issues with brass and woodwinds, occasionally having an uneven timbre or intensity from note-to-note even with Espressivo turned off. I was able to find a way to fix this permanently when I was at the process of updating the core technology. Unfortunately, it also meant I had to recalibrate the dynamics of every instrument from scratch. This was very time-consuming, but I felt that it had to be done at this point. Because taking this step also allowed me to clean up the code a lot and it provided a “prettier” solution to how dynamics is dealt with, so I knew it would also solve many other dynamics related issues such as accents and marcato sometimes being uneven in strength.

A few new instruments and sounds have been added (electric organs, rainstick, bell tree and harmonica). Recorders have been replaced with samples instead of synthesis, just like the flutes have in the past, because the synthesized recorders just didn’t sound good enough. Legato is significantly better sounding, in particular for strings. Strings no longer play vibrato on the lowest open string where it shouldn’t be possible. Pipe organ now responds to dynamics in the score. Polyphonic artificial harmonics is now possible (e.g. four written notes = two sounding pitches). And there’s a better-sounding reverb.

There are also a few new power-user features which can be accessed using MIDI messages only. These are highly advanced features and everyone should read the documentation very thoroughly before attempting to use them, including the Sibelius documentation on how to use MIDI messages in scores. The features include being able to change the global tuning from 440 Hz, setting custom pipe organ registrations anywhere in the score, scaling the vibrato amount for an instrument and also there’s brass/woodwind section building (a2, a3, … up to a8) which also happens to work for reducing the number of players in a string section at any point in the score. The custom sections handle divisi like string sections do, i.e. they automatically divide over chords so that you always hear the correct number of instruments playing. Especially the custom pipe organ registration is a bit tricky because it uses a binary system for the stops. I’ve tried to give my best explanation to this in the documentation. If you still don’t get it, I recommend asking someone else e.g. on the Sibelius forum instead of filing a support ticket, just to get another person’s perspective.

Q. Will the older versions of NotePerformer still be available?

A. Yes. All old versions back to 1.3.3 are available for download for those requesting them. The “official” installer changes to 2.0.0, but I typically include a link on the update page which can be used to access the previous version. In case someone downloads the new version and it doesn’t work for them, e.g., if Sibelius stops working entirely, it’s quite important to have this option.

Q. Will the user be able to freely switch between 2.0.0 and 1.x if desired?

A. Yes and no. You can only have one version running at a time on a computer. So you can roll back to a previous version, but not run both at once.

Q. What has the feedback been like since you launched the product more than three years ago?

A. Feedback on NotePerformer has been quite overwhelming! I actually get letters of appreciation every other day from users who just want to tell me how much they love this software, which is a new experience to me and truly inspiring.

I’d like to think the reason why many like NotePerformer so much is that almost everyone “gets” the purpose of this software once they actually get to try it out. They’re smart enough to understand intuitively that it’s just as much a workflow software as a playback software. You load it up and realise that working with scores just became ten times more enjoyable and your writing may even improve from using it. Maybe this is just my wishful thinking, but that’s always been my vision of how NotePerformer should work. There should be no reason for people to benchmark individual viola sounds against their $1,000 sample library, because the true edge of NotePerformer isn’t the exact sound of the scraping of the bow but it’s the art of performance and musical interpretation and improved workflow it it brings. And I’m happy to say NotePerformer users seem to get this.

Q. Do you have plans to make NotePerformer available for other notation programs? What would be the technical challenges inherent in such a task?

A. Had it been easy to port NotePerformer to other notation programs, such as Finale or Dorico, there would already be ports but unfortunately it isn’t straightforward. If you compare all notation programs side-by-side, they all have their pros and cons but Sibelius is definitely one that’s more readily adapted to third party sounds, in my opinion, which is why it was targeted to begin with.

I’m not fully up-to-date with the specifications of the latest Finale, but with the 2014 version latency compensation and transport mode info (play, stop, pause) didn’t work at all on Mac, if I remember it correctly, and that was a deal-breaker in itself because working with NotePerformer becomes completely unbearable. And the default Human Playback preferences didn’t seem to be user-editable. NotePerformer must be able to programmatically edit these settings because switches, articulations and programs may change between NotePerformer versions. It would be much better for NotePerformer if global HP preferences and other necessary settings (e.g instrument mappings) were stored in plain text or .xml files (for example in a predetermined user’s folder) so that NotePerformer could easily self-govern its own presence in Finale by tapping into these files and installing its own playback rules. This is why NotePerformer works so well with Sibelius. It can automatically spawn its own Sound Sets and Playback Configuration in the appropriate folders, so users don’t need to worry about these kind of details but everything just magically works. But from what I can tell — and I’d love to be wrong — the default global HP settings seem to be hard-coded into Finale, and are not user-editable by design.

I’m also frequently asked about Dorico these days and the situation is the same as with Finale. Which is, it boils down to making it technically possible and there are things to be added to Dorico before it can be done. After all, Dorico is a new software and NotePerformer has a few special requirements. We’ll just have to wait and see how Dorico’s feature set unfolds. I know Daniel Spreadbury personally and we frequently discuss this and we’re all very open to a NotePerformer port for Dorico when or if that becomes possible.

Q. What are some of your plans for the near future for NotePerformer or other products/projects?

A. The plan is to get NotePerformer 2.0 out to everyone, and make sure it works! That’s all I can share, sorry.

Q. What are some other products or developments in the field that interest you?

A. I have to confess that I don’t keep up with what other plug-in and sample library developers do these days. To some degree I felt “this is all I need” when I had the first early beta version of NotePerformer running on my computer, because it serves my own musical needs so perfectly. I still carry that feeling with me.

Update 1:25 pm: We contacted MakeMusic for further comment regarding Arne’s remarks about Finale, and received this reply from Michael Johnson, MakeMusic’s vice president for professional notation:

Thank you for reaching out to MakeMusic on your post highlighting the new version of NotePerformer. We appreciate the value that Arne has developed in NotePerformer and the interest by Finale users in utilizing it with their scores. Your assessment of limitations in Finale, Windows Unicode support, and latency during playback, are accurate. The comments in the blog post highlight the modernization we must do to support Arne’s work with Finale. I am optimistic we can address those hurdles soon and collaborate with Arne for a NotePerformer solution in Finale.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan Angermüller March 6, 2017 at 8:31 AM

>”In Finale…the default Human Playback preferences didn’t seem to be user-editable… It would be much better … if they were stored in XML.”

That’s not correct. In Finale 2014 they are user-editable in XML format and stored in the folder Configuration Files->preferences.humanplayback.xml
A NotePerformer version for Finale would be great!

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Philip Rothman March 6, 2017 at 8:46 AM

Thanks, Jan. I’ve updated the post. I’ve also reached out to MakeMusic for comment and will update further if they reply.

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 8:57 AM

On Mac, yes, but on my PC that file does not exist (Finale 2014 and 2014.5). The folder exists and contains all relevant files except for the human playback preferences XML. Inside Finale the settings behave as if read-only.

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Philip Rothman March 6, 2017 at 9:08 AM

Thanks, Arne. I’ve updated the post to reflect that we’ve reached out to MakeMusic to get clarification on this point.

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Jan Angermüller March 6, 2017 at 9:12 AM

Yes, they do exist on Mac and Windows (also on Fin2012).
On MacOS they are in Home/Library/Application Support/MakeMusic/Finale2014.5/Configuration Files/… and on Windows in C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\MakeMusic\Finale 2014.5\Configuration Files\… I will send you a PM…

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 9:47 AM

Ok, so I looked into this again, and now I remember exactly what the problem was.

The path for HP preferences in Finale is not Unicode safe. So the HP preferences .xml only works if you have a Windows username that uses 128-bit ASCII characters and nothing else.

This may sound like a small problem, but for example the words “Administrator” and “User” use extended characters in Swedish (Administratör and Användare respectively). Which means, if you’re Swedish (like I am) or basically from any non-English speaking country, chances are quite high this file will not exist on your system, and HP preferences cannot be changed.

fratveno March 6, 2017 at 9:28 AM

So, what about the file ‘preferences.humanplayback.xml’ living i ‘…\appdata\roaming\MakeMusic\Finale\Configuration Files’ ?!

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 9:51 AM

Right, please see my reply above. The file does not exist or work when running Finale on foreign language Windows versions unfortunately, depending on your Windows username.

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fratveno March 6, 2017 at 10:12 AM

I’m not arguing, but that sounds strange. Doesn’t windows internal localization routines take care of such things? I’ve been quite focused on the Finale community for nearly 30 years and never heard of any Swedish users complaining about HP … :)

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 10:31 AM

I agree, it’s very strange that this hasn’t been brought up. But maybe they they aren’t system administrators, or use their own name as a username and don’t have extended characters in their personal name.

But you’re right, Windows has handled this since the 90s, and also the older Windows ANSI functions should handle this particular case. Because these aren’t even multibyte characters (e.g. Chinese) but just basic extended characters required for European languages such as German and French.

I wish I was wrong, but I have a Finale 2014/2014.5 computer in front of me. If I login with a user named “Gäst” the .xml file doesn’t appear, if I login with a user named “Guest” it works.

You are probably able to reproduce this on your English system, by creating a guest user with e.g. the letter ä in it and open Finale. If you do, please let me know how it goes, as I would be interested in knowing if this was the case.

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Jan Angermüller March 6, 2017 at 11:00 AM

I can confirm that the bug still exists in Fin25/Windows when I select the user name “Administratör” (with o umlaut). Nevertheless HP is still working with its default values.

fratveno March 6, 2017 at 11:17 AM

Yes, I get the same result. I tried to save a modified set of preferences, but I’ve no idea if/where it was saved. There is no preferences.humanplay.xml files to be found (except those that were saved under my normal user account). BUT, you can still try to make Noteperformer for Finale, just ask users to avoid those characters :) Congrats on the update BTW, impressive! I decided to learn Dorico, but I now fear I must also (re-)learn Sibelius to enjoy this! :)

Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Thanks for confirming this for Fin25. That’s unfortunate, but good to know…

Paolo March 6, 2017 at 10:09 AM

An incredible job! What was already a great way of listening a preview of our music, is now an expressive and realistic virtual orchestra. Sounds are bigger, “meaty”, more expressive. Incredible, incredible.

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 12:01 PM

Thanks for the kind words Paolo! :)

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Paolo March 6, 2017 at 12:12 PM

Thank you for the precious gift, Arne!

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Peter Roos March 6, 2017 at 11:47 AM

Fantastic, many thanks Arne (and thanks for the heads up, Philip). A brilliant program, sounds so much better than the built in sounds (and loads 1,000 times faster!). Would be great to have it in Dorico as well, once the audio engine is a bit more advanced.

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 12:01 PM

Thank you Peter, I truly appreciate it!

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Steve Steele March 6, 2017 at 1:58 PM

Arne – I posted a comment to you down below that I should have put here. It’s about Notion.

Thanks.
Steve

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Dave McKay March 6, 2017 at 11:52 AM

Sounds are much more crisp and expressive. Well done! Hope things could be worked out to be implemented in Dorico.

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 12:03 PM

Thanks Dave. :) I, as well, hope so.

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Steve Steele March 6, 2017 at 1:10 PM

Arne – What about a version for Notion? I realize Notion isn’t considered an A-list notation program. However, I’ve switched to using Notion for sketching because, 1) it has excellent quick note entry methods, 2) there is an excellent iOS version that works very well on an iPad Pro and with the Apple Pencil (it can playback a full orchestra without problems), and 3) Notion’s playback abilities are second to none, IMO. XML files in Notion are easy to create and edit. NotePerformer wound seem to be a great match for Notion. I’ve been using the full pro version of Wallander Winds and Brass in Notion for a long time.

I do use Finale (since 1995). Though these days I only use it to complete scores, or accomplish tasks that’s aren’t possible in Notion.

Thanks for your time.
Steve

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 1:55 PM

I wouldn’t rule Notion out, but admittedly I haven’t looked at it yet… I’ve just been so occupied with this update. On the other hand, being that Notion’s own playback appears to be one of its key features, I’m also not sure NotePerformer would be a welcome addition for them as it would mean there’s less difference between notation programs. But now I’m only guessing wildly.

iOS is another can of worms. I tried compiling NotePerformer for an iPhone 5 once. It rendered a full Sibelius score at 1-2% of playback speed. So even though iOS devices seem much faster than they used to be, it’s still a far cry from a computer’s performance. Even though NotePerformer is very, very optimized, it’s easy to forget that it’s a highly advanced software which uses a fair amount of CPU.

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Steve Steele March 7, 2017 at 1:15 AM

Thanks for that information. Speaking of iOS, did you ever port any of your instruments for AudioBus compatibility? And do you have plans to support Audio Units in iOS? I hope so! It would be great to use WIVI or WIVI Band in Cubasis! I’m fairly certain the A9x could handle WIVI Band without trouble, maybe WIVI too if reasonable with voices. Also, I use a Fishman Guitar MIDI controller, which transmits Bluetooth to a USB dongle that’s connected to the iPad Pro via the USB to Lightning connector and it works brilliantly. I’d love to be able to control WIVI instruments on my iPad in Cubasis or via AudioBus with my guitar. Not only do I use the iPad Pro in the studio for Guitar MIDI note entry but also at gigs when I want to solo with a different instrument. No keyswitching necessary. The guitar can do all of the wind and brass articulations including double and triple tonguing by playing it that way. Easy.

Concerning Notions for macOS’ playback, the built in sounds and expansion sounds are good but not good enough. It’s easy to set up a VSL or Kontakt template in Vienna Ensemble Pro in Notion. But I’d prefer a sound engine like NotePerformer that, as you said, “it’s the art of performance and musical interpretation and improved workflow it it brings. And I’m happy to say NotePerformer users seem to get this.” Yes! I certainly get that. My entire reason for using Notion as my composing app is that compared to any other notation app or even a DAW, I’m able to bang out cues that sound excellent, need little to no editing or mixing, and then can be printed all in near real time. It’s cut the process in half at least. A better sounding playback engine that quickly and accurately executes dynamics, hairpins, MIDI CCs, (which could all be done with XML rules in Notion would only make the experience better sounding and faster. IMO, that’s the holy grail of composing in notation apps.

If you’re at all curious, is there anything in particular about Notion you’d like to know? I’ve throughly gone through the package contents to modify XML files and other files. I’d be glad to answer some initial questions.

Thank you for your time Arne!
Steve Steele

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Arne Wallander March 7, 2017 at 5:18 AM

I never did add AudioBus support to any of my apps, and I’m afraid there are no plans to update them. I’m not even sure I can update them now without doing a complete rewrite, because the iOS development tools and API have changed so much.

I haven’t looked into AU on iOS yet. Unfortunately, I can’t see iOS as a serious platform for commercial music software unless the App Store model changes dramatically. Revenues these days are practically non-existent. Top charts are plagued by companies using mob-like methods for manipulating the lists (for payment) by timed organised mass-downloads. Your app’s Top 100/250/500 position is everything, so it’s basically a war between developers. It’s not an environment I want to be in.

If I’m going to look at Notion seriously at some point, I’m sure I’ll have questions! I’m not there yet, though… :)

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Steve Steele March 7, 2017 at 11:14 AM

Arne – I can understand how the App Store would be no fun for developers. Not much profit margin. However, WIVI is a known brand. You already have customers and there’s not much competition for orchestral sounds. I respect your decision though. I just have a feeling that the iPad Pro in another generation or two, might actually replace the MacBook as the mobile music creation device for composers. It has for me.

I downloaded the NotePerformer demo last night and started composing with it in Sibelius. I haven’t tried all the instruments yet but I love how it just plays back the music right without any fuss.

Owning WIVI for so long I’m kinda surprised I haven’t purchased it yet. It’s actually got me thinking of going back to Sibelius as my desktop notation app because it sounds so good and makes the workflow so much better.

Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thanks for the extended dialog. It’s so helpful when a developer takes the time to communicate with the user base.

And thank you too Philip if you’re reading this, for a really great blog. I read every email that I get.

Steve Steele

Philip Rothman March 6, 2017 at 1:26 PM

Hi everyone: I’ve updated the post at the end with a reply from Michael Johnson, MakeMusic’s vice president for professional notation.

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Steve Steele March 6, 2017 at 1:30 PM

Thank you for contacting MakeMusic and posting their reply!

Steve Steele

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Arne Wallander March 6, 2017 at 1:49 PM

Thanks Philip for clearing this out, and so quickly!

I also want to add that in my contacts with MakeMusic they’ve always been both very kind and responsive to a NotePerformer port.

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fratveno March 6, 2017 at 6:22 PM

Get going! You may even convince them to finally fix the remaining longstanding bugs in human playback in the prosess!

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Mike Philcox March 7, 2017 at 3:06 AM

Thanks, Arne for the amazing NotePerformer update and your continued focus on providing a product that makes writing music so much easier and faster! And thanks, Philip for keeping us up-to-date about new notation software and related items – I can’t imagine a better blog of its kind.

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Arne Wallander March 7, 2017 at 5:21 AM

Thanks Mike. :)

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William Sisson March 16, 2017 at 10:22 AM

I remain a Sibelius 6.2 user, simply because I’ve used it so long I’m very fast & comfortable with it. Will NotePerformer 2.0 work with this older version? I’m running it on a MacBook Air with 512G of Flash storage.

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Paolo March 16, 2017 at 11:10 AM

I’m still on Sib 6.2, and NotePerformer 2.0 seems to work very well.

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William Sisson March 17, 2017 at 11:26 PM

Thanks, Paolo! I’ll give it a try!

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Philip Rothman March 7, 2017 at 1:36 PM

Thanks, Steve!

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