We’re very sad to report the recent passing of our orchestral expert Keith Gemmell and in memory of his contributions to MusicTech we thought we’d round up the best orchestral software instruments and collections…
Before we look at the best orchestral software out there right now, let’s talk about Keith…
MusicTech’s longest serving writer, Keith Gemmell died recently after a long battle with cancer. Keith was in various bands in the 60s before a long stint in Audience, who enjoyed success in the States and across Europe and toured with a fledgling Led Zeppelin.
Gemmell played flute, clarinet and saxophone in the band and used wah-wah effects to create a highly unique and atmospheric sound. As Cherry Red Records says: “Audience had a fanatical following, particularly on the continent, where their jazz-influenced brand of progressive rock proved popular (earning the band Top 10 status in Italy)”.
Keith was MusicTech’s longest serving editorial contributor
The band made four albums – Audience, Friend’s Friend’s Friend, The House On The Hill and Lunch – before disbanding in 1972 (before going on to reform in the 2000s). Gemmell then played in other bands throughout the 1970s, including Sammy, who recorded an album produced by Ian Gillan from Deep Purple.
He studied jazz and composition before discovering the joys of music technology in the 1980s with a setup that many of us would recognise from the era: an Atari 1040ST running Notator; an E-mu Proteus module; Korg M1 synth; Roland Sound Canvas plus an unspecified Roland drum machine, reel-to-reel, and mixing desk.
Later, he continued to enjoy composing and arranging, but also returned to teaching and writing, publishing several books and writing for MusicTech magazine since the very first issue in March 2003.
Keith will be sorely missed by all of us at MusicTech and is survived by his wife Jackie and two sons, Patrick Gemmell and Rennie Gemmell. We’d like to thank Patrick for supplying some of the details here.
For the magazine Keith specialised in features on orchestral products and notation software. He wrote hundreds of such features for us, right up until his death and here we collect six of his favourite recent choices
6 of the Best Orchestral Software
Best Delicate Phrasing – Sonokinetic Sotto
Sonokinetic is famed for making some of the best orchestral software. Titles like Grosso and Capriccio have focused mainly on the grandiose, but Sotto concentrates on the lighter side of orchestral composition with a variety of soft beds and patterns.
With Strings, Wind and Brass sections, there is plenty here for a variety of cinematic orchestral productions. “Entire compositions suitable for atmospheric backgrounds can be realised with just Sotto alone.
It works wonders if you’re stuck for ideas – a true source of inspiration to kickstart a composition and maintain a constant mood throughout. For composers and producers on a tight deadline, this is a marvellous inspirational tool and timesaver. Bravo Sotto. Beautifully conceived phrase-based library suitable for film and game music, where light orchestral sounds are required.”
Contact via website
Best Orchestral Strings – NI String Ensemble
The Symphony Series’ rationale is not surprisingly to provide composers with a comprehensive toolset for creating realistic orchestral productions. String Ensemble has four Kontakt instruments: violins, violas, cellos and basses.
In his review, Keith Gemmell said: “With its rich, luscious, professional sound, this should prove popular with professional and amateur composers alike. This is an excellent full-size string orchestra with a great sound, which is easy to use and is suited for both quick sketching and end-production use.”
Price Ensemble: £429
Albion One is a reworking of the award-winning and best-selling title from Spitfire. This time around, a 109-piece orchestra was used in the recording and the GUI redesigned, but the aim is still the same: to provide a broad range of orchestral brush strokes and to enable quick composition.
“Albion One is a big step up from the original version. It’s intuitive and yields gratifying results at surface level but if you want to, it’s possible to dig very deep with the eDNA synth engine”
And the conclusion was: “When it comes to all-round cinematic orchestral sample libraries, few can match Spitfire Audio’s Albion One, which provides lush strings, powerful brass, thunderous percussion along with a huge variety of organically derived loops and synth pads.”
Contact via web
We first met Orchestral Tools at last year’s NAMM show, where the huge demo from this collection – designed for impactful and epic film and trailer scores – was booming across the hall. We were so impressed that we made it one of our products of the show.
Little did we know that Keith Gemmell was already on the case with the review. He said: “For powerhouse productions, we don’t think there’s anything to match this at the moment.
No doubt other developers will follow, but this is currently the library to buy for any composers involved in producing epic soundtracks. A terrific library that contains just about everything for composing and producing loud, powerful and epic music.” Epic!
Price €549 +VAT
Contact +49 (0) 7665 9398678
Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) has been around since 2004 and standalone since 2009. GPO5 saw a much needed update with 70-per-cent more patches, more choir, more piano, more everything, really. Those strings and harps are real strengths, as is the fact that it is so light on your system.
Keith Gemmell said of it: “This is a brilliant orchestral library. It’s packed with every orchestral instrument any composer, arranger or student might need to write classical music, whether for large or small ensembles… and is probably the most complete library of its type. GPO has always been great value for money. Version 5 is even better, with improved sounds and a helluva lot more of them.”
Contact Time+Space, +44(0) 1837 55200
This certainly vies for being the oldest orchestral tool in this roundup – the original came out 20 years ago. For a budget price, you get a good amount: over 10GB of content over 700 instruments spread over all four sections of the orchestra (strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion).
“For pure classical-music projects, others might offer more on a technical level. They are, of course, far more expensive and this is where IK Multimedia’s offering scores very highly indeed – it’s fantastic value for money. Value-wise, orchestral libraries don’t come better than this – a full orchestra, solo strings, ensembles plus mixing and editing features.”