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Arranging For Strings: Part 2

The second part of our string-arranging series ventures into more dramatic musical territory, and explains how to manipulate orchestral string articulations when creating MIDI arrangements.

other common performance styles and discuss how to incorporate them into a strings arrangement.

ast month, we looked at an extract from astring arrangement Iwrote for asong called Truenorth by the UK band No-man (www.soundonsound. com/sos/jun12/articles/string-theory-pt1. htm). The example Ichose was afairly simple, restrained and supportive affair based on chord pads. This is something strings do supremely well, as evidenced by countless pop ballads down the years, but its only one facet of what they can bring to atrack. This month, Ill look at

Further North
Before moving on to more histrionic examples, Id like to dwell on Truenorth alittle longer, to demonstrate how strings can add subtle rhythmic and harmonic enhancement to aquiet, lyrical composition. This long-form song features aflute solo played over arolling 16th-note acoustic guitar part. The guitarist (Steven Wilson) had also overdubbed an African hand-drum part, so there was already

afair amount of rhythmic action going on; however, Ifelt the strings could add something in that department, so I wrote the arrangement in diagram 1. These accented staccato punctuations add drama without upstaging the main event (Theo Travis flute solo). All the stabs are played staccatissimo (ie. very short), and though notated as eighth notes for convenience, their actual duration is more like a16th note. By way of contrast, the quarter notes in bars 8-16 are played full length with no accents. The difference between them and the short stabs is thus very pronounced (akin to the


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Diagram 1: This 16-bar extract from No-mans Truenorth string arrangement occurs halfway through the song, at around 6:20. The four string parts were scored for (from top down) eight first violins, six second violins, four violas and four cellos, and their accented eighth notes are played staccatissimo (very short), contrasting with the long, unaccented quarter notes in bars 8-16. The chord names shown apply to the strings parts; the guitar chords are Aadd2, Cmaj7, Fmaj7#4 and Cmaj7 over E.

difference between the open and closed hits of adrummers hi-hat), and that disparity gives the rhythm alift and alilt. As you can see from the diagram, the acoustic guitar chords (played in an arpeggiated style) maintain an open high E and B string throughout the changes, thereby creating the opportunity for much enjoyable jangling. Sustaining those notes over the bass line of A, C and F adds an interesting harmonic dimension to what would otherwise be arather plain sequence. Itried to increase the exoticism by using close voicings in the string parts, exploiting the mild dissonance of juxtaposed tones and semitones. Play the first Am9 chord on akeyboard to see what Imean its C and B semitone interval has anice bitter-sweet ring to it! A small refinement occurs in the second eight bars, where the stabs on the first beat of each bar are replaced by longer notes and the staccato accents become alittle quieter. Thats because, at this point in the song, the flute solo finishes and the vocal re-enters, requiring amore supportive and less rhythmically pointed string arrangement.

ostinatos (repeated motifs of equal-length notes). Iused it myself recently in ashort trailer-style piece, four bars of which are shown in diagram 2. For this arrangement, Iused string samples from Spitfire Audios Albion, but

in aminor key, often with an intermittent flattened sixth interval thrown in to add an air of mystery and anxiety. (You know the kind of thing arepeated E-minor arpeggio of E-G-B-G, with the B occasionally changing to aC.) Anxious to give that particular clich awide berth, Ibased my short piece round the harmonically ambiguous scale of G, A, Bb, C, Db, Eb, E and F#, constructed from alternating tone and semitone intervals. Like the whole-tone scale, this scale has no fixed tonal centre it actually contains four major triads, each of which can lay equal claim to being the home key, on account of the identical set of intervals that arises from their root note. Can you work out what the four major triads are? (The answers at the end of the article.) To ratchet up the angst in this music, Iwrote abass line that fluctuates unpredictably between F# and G. This undermines the tonality further: on hearing the first four notes of the top line played over an F#, the ear assumes amajor key, but thats subverted as soon as the bass note moves up to G, at which point the same four notes take on adiminished feel. Establishing the tonal centre (ie. key) of apiece of music is all aquestion of context and expectation,

Diagram 2: Staccatissimo strings ostinatos are commonly used as atension-building device in action film cues. If played by live players, this four-bar extract would be most effectively orchestrated by assigning the top line to violas and the lower part to cellos.

Tension Builder
The staccatissimo strings style is commonly used for music of aless subtle nature, being the go-to orchestral delivery for fast, tension-building action film cues. This delivery is highly effective in rhythmic

had Iscored it for live players, Id have given the upper part to violas and the lower part to the cellos. Why not use violins for the upper part? Well, although the notes technically fall within the violins range, Ifelt the violas would sound tonally stronger playing the low As and Gs, since the latter pitch (marked in red) is the lowest note on the violin, which can only be played on its open bottom string. And, of course, the lower part could only be played by cellos, as its lowest pitch (the B flat in bar four, marked in blue) lies atone below the playable range of the viola. Much of the cinematic music in this vein that one hears nowadays is played

and, as you can probably tell by now, my personal preference is to avoid the expected and try not to make the contexttoo obvious!

Hooray For Bollywood

Like many people, Im very fond of Indian film and pop music, and have always enjoyed the wonderful string-orchestra styles associated with those genres. The players attack the melodies with enormous gusto, and their trademark style of sliding between notes adds afabulous, sinuous feel and (to Western ears) exotic atmosphere to the music. This particular technique doesnt seem to occur much in

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Diagram 3: Asoaring, Bollywood-style strings lead line from Porcupine Trees Sleep Together. The melody (which features portamento pitch slides between many of its notes) is played by violins, violas and cellos in three parallel octaves.

the European classical tradition, and some purists might even consider it vulgar, but for me its ahighly appealing performance style with great applications in pop and rock. Iwas therefore pleased to be able to employ it in my string arrangement for Porcupine Trees Sleep Together, asong from their album Fear of aBlank Planet. The chorus of Sleep Together is based on the simple yet original chord sequence of D, Eb (two beats each) and one bar of A, played in aslowish, heavy rock style with athundering, John Bonham-esque backbeat. After afew choruses, the music subsides and along, slow, agonisingly tense build-up begins; the bass and drums eventually come back in, and finally, at the 6:20 mark, the guitars are unleashed and the band explodes into the final choruses. Ifelt that this climactic moment,

arguably the high point of the whole track, called for something unusual and attention-grabbing, so wrote asoaring, Bollywood-style lead line to be played in unison by the 22 string players. Diagram 3 shows the first four bars of this tune, featuring the characteristic Indian strings pitch slides (in other words, portamento) between most notes. In order to further accentuate the Bollywood flavour, Iused the notes of Bb and D# (respectively, the flattened second and sharp fourth) over the Achord, as, to my (admittedly uneducated) ears, that particular combination of scale intervals has adistinctly Indian ring to it! This lead line was scored for 14 violins (eight firsts, six seconds), and doubled an octave lower by four violas, and two octaves down by four cellos. The three-octave unison created abig, strong sound which was very effective in this setting, though its not atechnique Id recommend for general purposes. Ithought long and hard about how best

to notate the melody. The copyist advised against overloading the parts with too many instructions, but since some notes are played without aslide and others feature agrace note instead, Ifelt Ihad no alternative but to notate each slide individually. As always, phrasing was an important consideration: string players usually play all the notes of aphrase under one continuous bow movement, followed by ashort gap as they lift the bow prior to starting the next phrase. These gaps (analogous to the breaths asinger or wind player takes between lines) give shape to the music. Phrases are notated by placing curved lines over groups of notes. As you can see in diagram 3, the second and third phrases start on the second eighth-note of the bar rather than the downbeat, and the last bar is made up of atriumphal high note followed by two fast descending phrases. In the end, such notational issues proved largely academic, because as soon as they read the words Bollywood Chorus on their parts, the players instinctively knew what to do. From the moment their bows hit the strings, we were transported from cold, drizzly

Order Of Play
String arrangers are expected to be aone-stop shop for recording strings, and the logistics are complex: the copyist, studio, arranger, session fixer and players all require paying (the biggest single cost usually being the players). Availabilities of all parties need to be checked well in advance, and co-ordinating dates can be anightmare: successful musicians are busy; some acts work abroad alot of the time; and theres usually at least one band member whod like to attend the session. so you need to plan well ahead. Heres asuggested start-to-finish procedure for creating and recording areal string arrangement: 1. Before committing to the work, ask for ademo of the song, including vocals, and imagine the kind of string arrangement you think it needs. 2. Estimate how long it will take you to write and demo the arrangement. 3. Decide how many players are required and how long it will take to record them, bearing in mind that there are restrictions: for example, you cant book musicians for athree-hour session and expect them to record two and ahalf hours of material! 4. Check the current session rates, session fixer fees (a fixer will give you this info over the phone), copyists fees and studio rates, and decide how much youll charge for the arrangement. 5. Make aspreadsheet budget and send it to the bands management and/or paymaster. 6. Once the budget is approved, ring afixer and check the players availability. (Its advisable to plan at least six weeks ahead.) 7. Ask the bands producer to send you stems (submixes of drums, bass, guitars, vocals...) of the song, so you can hear exactly whats being played on the track. The same stems can be used as abacking track for the strings session. 8. Ask the band to send you ademo of any ideas they have for the strings Iusually ask for aMIDI file as well as astrings-only audio file. 9. Check the availability of copyist, studio, favourite engineer (if you have one) and members of the band or their team (including producer) who would like to attend the session. 10. Book the players, studio and copyist. 11. The important bit: write the arrangement. 12. Send ademo of the arrangement to the band for comments. (Iusually send amix and astrings-only version.) 13. If necessary, send asecond demo incorporating the requested changes. 14. Once the arrangement is approved, send ascore, MIDI file and audio demo to the copyist. 15. Check the copyists work well before the day of the session. Typos often creep in. 16. Make sure the stems and copyists parts arrive at the studio in good time for the session. Even if everything is technically perfect, it can take almost an hour to put out parts, check backing track balance, sort out click track, etc. Although alittle daunting on the face of it, most of these are merely logistical tasks which can be solved by sensible forward planning. The most important thing is to create astring arrangement that works well for the track. Once youve nailed that, you can proceed with confidence!


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Diagram 4: The keyswitch displays of (from L-R), Cinematic Strings 2.0, Audiobro LA Scoring Strings 2.0 and East West Quantum Leap Hollywood Strings. Keyswitching allows you to switch instantly between different articulations, and keyswitch notes are often depicted in adistinctive colour on the sample players on-screen keyboard.

Islington to the humid, sultry climes of Mumbai, the temperature in the control room rising by afew degrees as alittle bit of India was grafted onto the music of an English rock band.

Articulation Switching
Whereas successful acts can command abudget to hire live string players for their albums, most musicians arent in that privileged position. However, with the creative and intelligent use of samples, its possible to bridge the gap between real and sampled strings. When working with orchestral samples, one of the keys to creating asuccessful MIDI arrangement is instant switching between performance styles (aka articulations) in real time, emulating the sudden changes in tone

colour and dynamics one associates with areal orchestral performance. To make this possible, most sample libraries now utilise atechnique called keyswitching. Diagram 4 shows the keyswitch displays of three leading orchestral strings libraries. Although the graphics vary, the principle remains the same: akey outside of the instruments playing range

is used to switch between articulations, enabling you to make instant changes on the fly. Keyswitches are usually located at the low end of the keyboard below the instruments playing zone, but sometimes (notably in the case of low-pitched instruments such as double basses and contrabassoons), youll find them placed at the top end.

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Diagram 5: Asimple Vienna Instruments keyswitch between staccato and sustained violin ensemble articulations. The low note of C1 selects the staccato articulation, while C#1 selects the sustains.

Some manufacturers allow you to create your own keyswitch setups by assigning individual patches to akeyswitch note of your choice, while others provide pre-programmed keyswitch patches combining all the articulations for aparticular instrument or section in asingle patch, with each articulation pre-assigned its own switch. In some libraries you can alter these default

keyswitch pitches, which is essential if you want to make your keyswitch articulations identical across different libraries. One of the most flexible articulation switching systems was designed for the Vienna Symphonic Librarys Vienna Instruments sample player by Christian Teuscher. Software for this proprietary player is provided free with every VSL library. Amatrix (roughly equivalent to

aKontakt multi) holds up to 144 cells containing single or layered articulations, and you can switch between the cells via keyswitches, MIDI control change (CC) commands, pitch wheel, velocity or even playing speed (ie. the elapsed time interval between notes, as opposed to the speed/velocity of akey press). In diagram 5 youll see avery simple Vienna Instruments keyswitch operation between staccato and sustained violin ensemble articulations (as utilised in the Truenorth string arrangement above), using the low note of C1 to select the staccatos and C#1 to select the sustains. These keyswitch notes are user-definable: you can change them to whatever pitches fit your requirements.

CC Rider
Keyswitches have their drawbacks: being common-or-garden MIDI notes (albeit silent ones), they will appear in your score as extraneous pitches, requiring amajor tidying-up job before ascore or part can be printed out. An

Which Orchestral Strings Library?

Samples are an essential part of an arrangers toolkit. Whether youre writing for real players or creating aMIDI orchestration, youll need your sampled strings to sound convincing. This applies equally when writing for real players even if youre capable of imagining the whole arrangement in your head without the aid of any audio back-up, youll still need samples to demo it so the band can hear what theyre paying for! The following libraries (listed in order of their Sound On Sound review dates) represent the cream of the crop of stand-alone orchestral string collections recorded within the last 10 years and available in current sampler formats. All contain multisampled, multi-dynamic, full-sized violin, viola, cello and double-bass sections. For product demos and details of their contents, visit the company web sites and/or follow the links to read the SOS reviews. Apologies to any libraries weve inadvertently omitted! Sonivox (formerly Sonic Implants): Symphonic String Collection WWwww.sonivoxmi.com WWwww.soundonsound.
com/sos/nov02/articles/ sonicimplants.asp

Vienna Symphonic Library: Orchestral Strings I+ II; Appassionata Strings I+ II WWwww.vsl.co.at WWwww.soundonsound.com/
sos/jul06/articles/vslvienna.htm WWwww.soundonsound. com/sos/may07/articles/ sampleshop_0507.htm

Kirk Hunter Studios: Concert Strings II WWwww.kirkhunterstudios.com Audio Impressions: 70 DVZ Strings WWwww.audioimpressions.com You will also find professional-quality string ensembles in thefollowing full-orchestra sample collections that weve reviewed: Project SAM: Symphobia and Symphobia II WWwww.projectsam.com WWwww.soundonsound.
com/sos/dec08/articles/ sampleshop.htm WWwww.soundonsound.com/sos/dec10/ articles/project-sam-symphobia-2.htm

Audiobro: LA Scoring Strings WWwww.audiobro.com WWwww.soundonsound.

com/sos/apr10/articles/ lascoringstrings.htm (original version).

(LASS Version 2.0 review elsewhere inthis issue)

East West Quantum Leap: Hollywood Strings (Now also available in the budget Gold Edition.) WWwww.soundsonline.com WWwww.soundonsound.
com/sos/sep10/articles/ ewql-hollywood-strings.htm

Best Service: Peter Siedlaczek String Essentials WWwww.bestservice.de WWwww.soundonsound.

com/sos/jul06/articles/ sampleshop_0706.htm

Cinematic Strings: Cinematic Strings 1 +2 WWwww.cinematicstrings.com WWwww.soundonsound.

com/sos/may10/articles/ cinematicstrings.htm WWwww.soundonsound.com/sos/jun12/ articles/cinematic-strings-2.htm

East West Quantum Leap: Symphonic Orchestra Play Edition WWwww.soundsonline.com WWwww.soundonsound.
com/sos/aug09/articles/ symphonicorchestra.htm

Spitfire Audio: Albion WWwww.spitfireaudio.com WWwww.soundonsound.

com/sos/oct11/articles/ spitfire-audio-albion.htm


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alternative switching method that avoids this hassle is to use MIDI CC commands rather than keyswitches for articulation switching. Notevery library supports this method, and to do it in real time requires aMIDI controller capable of generating user-definable CC data. but you can add individual CC commands after the event by inserting them in the MIDI event list, controller display, or whatever your sequencer program calls its itemised display of MIDI data entries. Although its abit of afaff, it is possible to create custom CC commands without owning adedicated MIDI controller: simply hit record on your sequencer and perform aquick up-and-down move on your keyboards mod wheel, which will generate astring of CC1 (modulation) numbers. Then open up your sequencers event list, select one of the entries, and edit the controller number from CC1 to anew number of your choice, as shown in diagram 6. Ioften use CC23, but it can be any of the undefined numbers in the MIDI Control Change table. If your sequencer cant display this, examples of the table can be found online. Having altered the CC number, copy and paste

Diagram 6: AMIDI CC1 (modulation) event can be edited to anew number of your choice (in this example, 23). When re-numbering CCs in this way, take care to avoid pre-defined numbers such as CC7 (volume), CC11 (expression) and CC64 (sustain pedal). The value of the CC (currently shown as 127) can be altered to any one of 128 numbers. Note that the numeral 6 shown refers to the MIDI channel, and has no relevance to the CC number or value.

the edited CC command to the desired location in your arrangement, placing it just before the point where you want the articulation switch to occur. Every MIDI CC number has 128 possible values, so once youd selected CC23 as your controller, you could switch between (say) six articulations using the values CC23 10, CC23 30, CC23 50, CC23 70, CC23 90, and CC110 always assuming that (a) the sample library in question supports this particular switching method, and (b) its articulation switching

Budget Measures
Budget versions of some all-in-one orchestral libraries offer amore affordable solution to those whose income stream doesnt quite measure up to their professional aspirations. Though the lack of fancy performance styles could be aproblem if you want to recreate afull orchestral score, these slimmed-down volumes (which offer upgrade paths to the full libraries) maintain the high sound quality of the originals and can deliver very good musical results: Vienna Symphonic Library: Vienna Special Edition (80GB) This contains afull orchestra of instruments and sections presented in cut-down form, though still featuring VSLs excellent legatos and portamentos. The supplementary SE Plus volume introduces more of the atmospheric articulations media composers require. WWwww.vsl.co.at/en/211/261/314/183.vsl WWwww.soundonsound.com/sos/oct07/articles/sampleshop_1007.htm WWwww.soundonsound.com/sos/oct08/articles/sampleshop_1008.htm East West Quantum Leap: Symphonic Orchestra Play Edition (Silver)(11GB) This library focuses on essential instruments and articulations, and contains only one mic position and 16-bit samples, thus offering amore affordable alternative to the full 24-bit Platinum version. WWwww.soundsonline.com/Symphonic-Orchestra WWwww.soundonsound.com/sos/aug09/articles/

page is set up to correctly respond to these commands! Diagram 7 shows the Vienna Instruments player programmed to receive CC commands as the articulation switch controller: H-span and V-span refer to the horizontal and vertical axes of the matrix grid, while the two rows of numbers on the right represent each CC zones numerical thresholds. Ispecified CC23 as the horizontal controller and CC24 as the vertical, so selecting the highlighted 14 Violins portamento articulation, as shown in the diagram, requires aCC23 value of between 32 and 41 (which selects the fourth cell from the left), followed by aCC24 value of between 21 and 31 to access the third cell down. It sounds complicated, but, once you latch on to the concept, its actually pretty simple!

Spoiled For Choice?

A final word on this months musical extracts, and the samples you need to play them: to accurately emulate the contrasting short-long deliveries in Truenorth (shown in diagram 1) with samples, youll need two different articulations: staccatissimo and sustained vibrato. You might think you can get away with just using sustained notes and playing them long and short, but believe me, that sounds pretty bogus: the attack of ashort staccato note is completely different from that of asustain, so youll need good versions of both. While every half-decent string library contains these articulations, its worth considering that the trend for very short staccatissimos (as used extensively in contemporary film, TV, trailer and game music) is comparatively recent, and that some older libraries staccatos tend to be longer and less urgent-sounding

For composers who dont require afull-on, Hollywood-style sound, Ican recommend: Garritan: Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 (2GB) Although not as sumptuous or lush-sounding as the top-end libraries, the complete instrumentation and flexible sections of this easy-to-use, modestly-priced set are agreat educational asset for would-be orchestrators. WWwww.garritan.com WWwww.soundonsound.com/sos/jun10/articles/personalorchestra4.htm


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keyswitches, dynamic modulation and impressive-sounding samples is arguably not much of an achievement if the music being played is bog-standard and boring. The moral, as ever, is to keep focused on the music and try to be imaginative and exploratory in your musical ideas, at the same time as keeping afirm hand on the technical chaos that can ensue when working with MIDI and samples. Ihope some of what Ive written will be of help for both of those endeavours. Next month, Ill be joined by the gifted composer and arranger David Hearn, wholl serve up some useful masterclass tips, while Icontinue to give you my personal take on the big subject of arranging for strings.
Diagram 7: As well as responding to keyswitches, playing speed (etc.), the Vienna Instruments player can be set up to receive CC commands as the articulation controller. When fully expanded, the VI matrix holds up to 144 articulation cells arranged in a12 x 12 grid for the purposes of legibility weve shown just 42 of them! In this example, CC23 controls the horizontal position on the grid while CC24 controls the vertical axis.

by comparison. Another important consideration is that the realistic performance legatos and portamentos, now almost standard in string collections, didnt reach their current exalted state until the advent of the pioneering Vienna Symphonic Library back in 2002, so any libraries released before that date will inevitably lack realism in that particular department. The choice of which orchestral strings library to buy is abig question, and depends largely on what style(s) of music you want to create, as well as on your budget. Listening to the manufacturers product demos should give you some useful pointers, and our in-depth SOS reviews aim to throw further light on the subject! To help give you an overview, Ive listed the most prominent orchestral strings libraries of the last ten years, along with links to their SOS reviews, in the Which Orchestral Strings Library? box.

the day, its not practical to completely rewrite astring arrangement and scribble out new parts for 30 players in the tight time-frame allotted to an average string-recording session! Those days have long gone. Todays string arranger needs technological know-how as well as musical chops, but it would be amistake to prioritise the former over the latter. Knowing how to lash together asonically convincing MIDI orchestration bristling with

Truenorth (Bowness / Wilson) is from the 2008 album Schoolyard Ghosts by No-man www.no-man.co.uk. Sleep Together (Wilson) is from the 2007 album Fear of aBlank Planet by Porcupine Tree www.porcupinetree.com. Thanks to the composers for permission to use extracts. (Quiz answer: the four major triads that can be constructed on the scale of G, A, Bb, C, Db, Eb, E and F# are Amajor (A, C#, E), C major (C, E, G), Eb major (Eb, G, Bb) and Gb major (Gb, Bb, Db). Their minor variants (A, C, E, and so on) are also possible, making this avery adaptable scale indeed!)

Diagram 8: Some string libraries contain rhythm tools for the automatic creation of ostinatos. The two shown here are from Spitfire Audio Albion and Audiobro LA Scoring Strings.

In Conclusion
If we go back in time to the 1970s, string arrangers (then considered astar turn almost on apar with the producer) would simply write out their scores by hand, pass them to acopyist and proceed straight to the studio, where the recording artists (if they bothered to show up) would hear the arrangement for the first time. If the artists didnt like what they heard, it would be too late to do anything about it because although you can make micro-changes on


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Mix with the best!

Besides the excellent interviews and fascinating, in-depth recording and mixing articles, Ican always depend on Sound On Sound for complete, unbiased reviews of the latest pro-audio gear. Bob Clearmountain, engineer, producer and mixer, Grammy Award winner (Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, INXS) As aprofessional Iadmire Sound On Sound as one of the most trusted and credible sources of inspiration and information. Jack Joseph Puig, mixer, producer, Grammy Award winner (Rolling Stones, U2, Mary J Blige, Black Eyed Peas)

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This article was originally published in Sound On Sound magazine,

July 2012 edition

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All contents copyright SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2012. All rights reserved. The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.