1987, in the studio with Terry Brown and Juno award winning engineer Mike Jones, Bruce Hornsby’s song That’s The Way It Is comes over the air waves during a break. A popular song then and a conversation between the two men transpires regarding how good it sounds for a sampled instrument. Can’t help overhearing some of their discussion, “You were saying the piano isn’t real?”. They answer yes it’s a sample absolutely not a real piano. I listen too and I’m a pianist – I decide they’re nuts.
By then I was also prejudice, had worked off and on for at least a year with Terry and didn’t like his musical taste plus his claim to fame was producing Rush and I was allergic to Rush. Who knows, maybe Terry wasn’t into Rush either? The opinions of Terry and Mike lingered with me a long time because they were professionals and so confident even arrogant that the Bruce Hornsby piano wasn’t natural. I realized a few years later, after many recordings of pianos myself that probably they were right. Your ears change from getting up close and personal with microphones and recording.
There was a time when people in music stores wanted to impress me with latest imitation piano sound and it never did, until the day it did. Someone cracked the code and then it was perfect. Subsequently I used lots of sampled pianos. More than one knowledgeable musician complimented my piano recording when in fact it wasn’t a real piano. The reasons I used the sampled sounds were convenience. No microphones, no labour to find the perfect spot, no inconsistent tuning or inconsistent piano quality plus being a midi recording transpositions could be made with a click. Surreal levels of control.
In recent years I prefer to record the real upright over the sampled Bosendorfer. Maybe because my studio is at the Tranzac and there are 3 pianos there. It’s more work but it’s more fun. I realize now when all is said and done there’s a couple obvious problems with virtual reality. Part of me has to pretend I am not playing a sampled sound and another part of me has to pretend to not notice that I’m not suppose to notice. That’s two parts pretending instead of completing the task at hand. Quicker method to play notes made by hammers hitting strings and I can give 100% to that easy.