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.
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.