The Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) Background Information

What is a "Rendition"?

MIDI Sequences in the 1990s

When MIDI became popular during the 1990s as a file format for storing and distributing music, it was used in various ways: one way was to simply treat MIDI as a method of only storing "score" information, as a symbolic representation of music notation. The other way was to actually store in a MIDI file a kind of "performance", aiming not just at replicating the music score information but also its musical interpretation (tempo variations, rubato, crescendo, diminuendo, etc.). MIDI files were known as "sequences".

Unfortunately the MIDI file standard was not designed to represent all the information that usually is present in a music score, but it had simply evolved from the MIDI synthesiser control and communication interface protocol and whas therefore optimised for only this purpose of controlling music synths. This meant that this file format was unsuitable for fully representing music scores. However, MIDI sequences provided an excellent way of getting at least part of a music score across, for study and play.

When I purchased a Yamaha SQ-16 synthesiser/keyboard in 1993, with a built-in 16-track sequencer for creating and saving MIDI files, I started to create MIDI sequences with it from classical orchestral music. My efforts aimed at making the results as "musical" as possible, differentiating my MIDI sequences from the ones which aimed solely at representing the abstract music score. Such a MIDI file could be labelled as a "MIDI performance", because its purpose was to create a rewarding listening experience rather than providing study material.

Shortcomings of MIDI

A significant principal shortcoming of these "MIDI performances" was that their actual sound output was not reproducible and depended on the sound hardware, the synthesisers, and the sample material. The General MIDI standard only defined the name/category of the samples and controllers, but did not specify not how they were actually supposed to sound. This meant that strings sounded different on each system, and also the controller value mapping was not consistent, leading often to very imbalanced results: what sounded acceptable on the Yamaha SQ-16 was completely off on any other General-MIDI sound card. Therefore, sharing and distributing MIDI sequences as "performances" was not really feasible.

MP3 Recordings

When the MP3 standard took off on the internet in the late 1990s, the MIDI artists finally had an option to distribute their work in a reproducable format, which sounded the same on each hardware, because it did not require a synthesiser. Of course, one could have used conventional audio recordings for distribution, but the MP3 compression (about 1:10) made it possible to get reasonable file sizes for online distribution.


On the former MP3.COM site (which quickly became the dominant online music distribution site), many musicians who had formerly created and distributed MIDI sequences, now began to distribute their MP3 recordings. In some cases, these recordings were clearly of the category of "score notation" sequences, without any musical thought or interpretation. However, several musicians attempted to create real musical artworks with these reordings, with musical interpretation for an enjoyable listening experience. There was no name for such recordings: they were not really "performances", because they were not live recorded but painstakingly constructed, with controllers being drawn, tempo curves being varied, etc. A few artists who recorded sequences this way (among them myself) founded a loose organisation: "The Group", later known as "Classical Music Makers (CMM)". In the discussions among these artists it was decided to give a name to such audio recordings which were created from MIDI sequences: "renditions". This term had been used in the graphics domain, where computers were used to create photo-realistic visual renditions (still graphics, animations) in Virtual Reality 3D. Analog to the visual domain, an acoustic rendition would be based on sound elements (samples) and the time line given in the music score - shaped by the performing/controlling artist.

Other Renditions

There is a funny comment made by Eleanore Kjellberg about another use of the word "rendition" by former US Foreign Secretary Condoleeza Rice, which had become quite infamous in the context of "extraordinary rendition"... thanks for the kind words, Eleanore, whoever/wherever you are!

Last page update: 3. Feb. 2011
© 1995-2011 Reinhold Behringer