Dynamics: the optical center

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Knut
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Dynamics: the optical center

Post by Knut » 26 Oct 2015, 14:39

I wasn't sure wether to post this here or in the 'Type and Font Design' section, but since I think this topic warrants a broader discussion, it ended up in this part of the forum.

There aren't many set rules concerning the horizontal placement of dynamics. Elaine Gould stipulates the well known convention of centering dynamics on the notehead, while Ted Ross says 'A multiple [dynamic] mark straddles the stem of the notehead which it is beneath'.
As most engravers know, however, when it comes to dynamis, the actual center and the optical center are two very different things. If these marks are to be placed correctly, the reference point should be the latter.

One of the features of the SMuFL music font standard is the optical centering of dynamics. For a font designer, this involves deciding where the optical center of each dynamic component is. With this information implemented into scoring software, it is much easier for the end user to achieve correct horizontal dynamics placement, regardless of stem direction.

To start off the discussion with a reference, below is a picture with my own decisions on optical centering for up-stem notes thus far. For down-stem notes, all dynamics should ideally be shifted to the left by the same amount, since there's only one value for each glyph. What do you guys think?
Skjermbilde 2015-10-26 kl. 15.09.40.png
Skjermbilde 2015-10-26 kl. 15.09.40.png (42.5 KiB) Viewed 6805 times

Peter West
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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by Peter West » 26 Oct 2015, 16:35

To my eye, the centre of the dynamic should be placed slightly left of centre because the dynamic is italicised. The amount of offset is determined by the angle of lean of the italicisation.

I don't mean specifically that the centre of the dynamic follows the angle to the centre of the notehead, it is not so much, but the feeling is that the lean of the italicisation points the eye towards the note
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John Ruggero
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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by John Ruggero » 26 Oct 2015, 19:12

That is a very handsome set of dynamics; and if the placement conforms to the present standard, so be it.

However, I prefer seeing the actual center of a single-character dynamic (which I would define as the line perpendicular to the base through the midpoint between the two lines parallel to it that touch the rightmost and leftmost parts of the symbol) exactly in the center of the first note head, irrespective of the direction of the stem. For a double-or quadruple-character dynamic, it would be the center between the symbols defined similarly. For a triple or quintuple, the center of the central character. However, for combinations like FP, sfP. etc. I would rather that the initial character be centered under the first note head, as you did with the sfzP.

Therefore, while many of your glyphs would seem to meet my preference, the following characters seem too far to the left to me: F, FF, FFF, FP, Fz, sFP, sfPP

I think that Peter's interesting take on this leads to a very beautiful result. However, I prefer that the symbol impinge as little as possible on the space before the note head for a conceptual reason, i.e. the dynamic level begins when the note enters, not before.
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Fred G. Unn
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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by Fred G. Unn » 26 Oct 2015, 19:50

I also position them just ever so slightly to the left. In Finale, I have them set to center minus 12 EVPUs (a half space) as a default position. I hadn't really thought about it, but Peter's idea that the amount of offset is determined by the slant of the angle is an interesting one. Anyway, several style guides back up this positioning. Schirmer on pg 38 states "dynamics should be positioned slightly to the left of the note they apply to." Boosey on pg 101 states "the marking may appear displaced to the left of the notehead but should never appear further to the right."

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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by Peter West » 26 Oct 2015, 20:50

Compared to John's taste, to me the ones he considers too far left are the ones I consider correct, and the ones he likes are, to me, too far right!
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John Ruggero
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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by John Ruggero » 26 Oct 2015, 23:10

In that case, perhaps he has good balance. The too far left and the too far right often cancel each other out.
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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by Peter West » 27 Oct 2015, 03:41

Ha!. There will always be different opinions when aesthetic judgement is involved. I think we both have similar view of what feels right, but mine is perhaps half a space further to the left. Neither are incorrect as there is no fixed rule.
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OCTO
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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by OCTO » 27 Oct 2015, 05:28

Peter West wrote:Ha!. There will always be different opinions when aesthetic judgement is involved. I think we both have similar view of what feels right, but mine is perhaps half a space further to the left. Neither are incorrect as there is no fixed rule.
I also like more as you do. I think it is visually problematic to see sfpp that is to much going after the note.
As a performer, I liket much more dynamics that are just a bit before noteheads, so that I prepare myself correctly executing the force.
That is just my feeling that I implement in my engraving (of my scores, only!).
Knut wrote:As most engravers know, however, when it comes to dynamis, the actual center and the optical center are two very different things.
That I never heard about. How does it differ?
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Knut
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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by Knut » 27 Oct 2015, 12:52

I find the differing opinions so far very interesting, but problematic considering I'm trying to define the ideal center point for a majority of users.

Peter's point about how the italicized shape influences the optical center is pretty much right on the money. The individual shape and size of the characters.While the real center of a common single mark such as :forte is more or less at the intersection between the horizontal bar and the body on the left side, the optical center point is typically at the upper arch. Similarly the real center of the :piano is at the intersection between the stem and the bottom of the bowl, while the optical is in the centre of the bowl.

Here's an illustration of how the reference point for dynamics might be defined in different ways:
Skjermbilde 2015-10-27 kl. 10.40.28.png
Skjermbilde 2015-10-27 kl. 10.40.28.png (202.24 KiB) Viewed 6748 times
The main problem is that some multiple marks, typically sFz and the likes, are generally placed closer to the real center than marks like FF or PP. John's point about only the initial character being centered in marks such as sfP or FP complicates matters further. This makes it difficult to define values that will work for everyone, but I'm at least trying to come up with some sort of balance across the entire range, minimizing the need for individual tweaks.

Peter, are you sure all the marks John didn't mention are placed too far right for your taste?

BTW, The NYC based engraver Mathew Maslanka discusses this issue on his blog here:
http://matthewmaslanka.blogspot.no/2012 ... ement.html

He posts two different revisions of proposed settings for individual marks in Sibelius, according to the principles I've mentioned.

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Re: Dynamics: the optical center

Post by Peter West » 27 Oct 2015, 14:10

John mentioned 7 that are too far left for him that I like.

if one assumes all others are OK for him, they are too far right for me, but the assumption that john thinks all others are OK maybe false.
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