Who on Earth is 'Big Bob' Villwock?
I'm an Electronic Engineer that retired in 1990 after a 30 year career that was almost equally divided between Analog and Digital Circuit Design (in the first 15 years) and then Microprocessor and Software Engineering (for the last 15 years). As a hobby musician, I've been making (or attempting to make) 'one-man-band' recordings (since 1951) using various forms of ‘multitracking’ or ping-pong recording. I became a Christian rather late in life (age 43) when the Lord cleaned up my act. But apart from now being a 'Child of the King', I'm just an ordinary guy with some peculiar gifts and a rather unusual hobby.
I was always rather musically inclined, even as a child. I started playing the trumpet in the 6th grade, and by the time I started high school, I could strum a guitar and bumble around a bit on the piano. While the trumpet was my main instrument, every time that I’d hear someone playing something catchy on another instrument, I would start imagining myself playing it. If my interest in that instrument persisted, I’d borrow one from someone and try my hand at it. Over the years, I discovered that I had a rather peculiar talent. I could learn the rudiments of a new instrument quite quickly and then by concentrating on just one or two songs, I could sound almost as good as someone who had played that instrument for many years. That is, as long as no one would ask me to play something other than the one or two songs I knew!
After a while, I began to wonder if there might be some way that I could use this ability to do something out of the ordinary. I started thinking about the possibility of recording a bunch of instruments, one at a time, and then somehow making a composite or ‘multiple’ recording that would sound like all the instruments were playing at the same time. By late 1950, I happened upon Les Paul’s recording of ‘Lover’ (an instrumental that he made before the heyday of the Les Paul and Mary Ford hits). Since ‘Lover’ was performed by just one person, it confirmed that there must be a way to produce the kind of multiple recording I had been envisioning. Only instead of umpteem guitars, I wanted to do it with all kinds of different instruments.
However, with the limited technology available in those days (especially for a newly-wed on a very tight budget), producing a reasonably good quality multiple recording was much more difficult than I had imagined. I started making multiple recordings in 1951 but, my early results were so miserable and discouraging that I would give it up for years at a time before some new technology would come along and revive my interest. This cycle of enthusiasm and despair continued over the years, and it wasn’t until 1967 (nearly 16 years later) that I finally produced a ‘reasonable-sounding’ multiple recording. This ‘first’ for me, was a 7-piece Dixieland rendition of Ja Da. You'll find this legacy recording in the Music section of this website. It's certainly not the best thing I ever did but it was a milestone for me, so I preserved it.
Originally I had also hoped to do some larger-scale recordings like a big swing band or a large choral group, however, in 1967, seven parts was really pushing the limits of my equipment. But at least I was now able to do something. And, as the years rolled by and technology improved, I was able to do bigger and better things. But, eventually, technology surpassed my musical abilities, and my old excuses for less-than-sterling performances wouldn’t hold up anymore. Now I had to concentrate on the musical half of the problem so I started critically listening to my earlier recordings (and wasn’t too flattered by what I heard). A lot of the problems that I had so conveniently blamed on equipment were just plain sloppy performances. So, I reconciled myself to the fact that I would need to improve my musical skills considerably before I could expect my recordings to sound really first class. And, since I couldn’t accomplish that overnight, I had a lot of time to let the Good Lord teach me a little about humility (and patience).
My dream was to someday produce a multiple recording that would be good enough to stand on its own merit (apart from any novelty consideration that it was done by one person). I like to believe that somewhere along the line that happened, but I couldn’t say just when. All I know is that as the years rolled by, the quality of my recordings steadily improved and so did the comments of those who listened to them. Of course in my dreams, I was always doing bigger and better recordings than in reality. So, I would occasionally envision myself doing something really big like a symphony orchestra. However, my instrument collection topped out around 13 or 14 (I count 11 in the old photo above but I got hold of a few more later on) and it didn't seem too likely that I could acquire (and learn to play) another dozen or more instruments. But, I started thinking about synthesis as a possible means of extending my musical instrument pallet. Maybe I could 'fake' some of the instruments.
However, I'd always done all my recordings with real, acoustic instruments and I don't care too much for the 'electronic sounds' associated with innovative synthesis. My hope was that as synth technology matured, perhaps emulative synthesis would eventually improve to the point that it would be hard to tell the difference between the synthesized sound and the 'real thing'. A big step forward in this direction occured with the introduction of digital sampling synthesis. Sampling technology offers the hope of true 'emulative synthesis' because it is based on digital recordings (samples) of real, acoustic instruments. It was around the late 1980s or so that I first began fooling around with sampling technology to see if I could eventually use it for future recordings. However, like almost everything connected with this crazy hobby of mine, the separation between the dream and the reality was considerable.
Early samplers sounded great when all you played were a few isolated notes. Those notes sounded so much like the real instrument itself that you couldn't help but be inspired. However, in the process of trying to play real musical phrases, the weaknesses in the technology quickly became apparent. With early samplers, there was no way I could have synthesized something like a trumpet solo and convince anyone that it was played on a real trumpet by a real trumpet player. However, synthesis (as a subsitute for 'real' instruments) has continued to improve over the years to the point where such synthesis is now often referred to as Virtual Instrument technology. Today's virtual instruments can come pretty close to fooling you into thinking that you are hearing the real thing.
But, while technology was closing the gap, I was getting older and starting to have physical issues with things like arthritic joints and such. It was getting harder and harder to play some of my instruments and it was clearly only a matter of time before I'd have to 'retire' from my lifelong hobby. This prompted a more aggressive interest in sampling and virtual instruments because it might provide a way for me to continue past my prime. So, when Native Instruments added a script processor to Kontakt (their flagship sampling software package), I started thinking that I might tap my software engineering background in the hope of building a few virtual instruments. And, perhaps I could use them for some of my future recordings (if I ever get to make any more ). I wrote a few Kontakt scripts designed to help to overcome a few of the shortcomings of sample libraries. The first such suite of scripts was named the Solo Instrument Performance Suite, the now legendary SIPS package. This got me close enough that I started using a few virtual instruments in my recordings here and there but, more help than this was still needed.
So, I set out to write the successor to SIPS with an emphasis on Wind Instruments (one of the most difficult areas remaining to conquer with virtual instrument technology). Just before building this website, I finished writing WIPS, the Wind Instrument Performance Suite (which you can download from this site). I hope that soon I'll be able to incorporate WIPS into a few custom virtual instruments and then, if the Good Lord wills, I may be able to make a few more recordings in my old age before the Lord calls me home.
Since my hobby is a blend of music and technology, my website is devoted to both. During the course of realizing the WIPS scripts, I also authored a number of documents on the use of Kontakt and its scripting language and I have included them for reading or downloading. So, if you are a Kontakt user, you may want to check out the Kontakt Documents and Kontakt Scripts sections of this website. On the other hand, if you have no interest in the technological side of things, you may still enjoy listening to some of my 'multiple masterpieces' which you'll find in the Music section of this website. If you aren't into the heavy technical stuff but you have some interest in how multiple recordings are made, you may want to give a listen to my Narrated Introduction to Multitrack Madness which you'l find in the Music section. It is my sincere hope that everyone that visits this site will find something useful and/or enjoyable. If you do, please share it with a friend.
Well, it's been great reminiscing but I'll wrap it up now and leave you with this question: Eternity ... have you thought about it?
Rejoice in the Lord,