Action Strings is a set of cinematic string orchestra phrases recorded by game music producers Dynamedion and performed by the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague. Designed for ease of use with a MIDI keyboard controller, it enables you to use your left hand to select phrases and your right hand to control their pitch, all the while remaining in sync with your host project.
The library consists of more than 150 phrases and features over 60 themes (presets), each with a group of five phrases that work well together. Two microphone settings are available – stage and far – and it runs in the free Kontakt 5 player.
Once it’s loaded in Kontakt, working with Action Strings is literally a piece of cake. Unlike most other titles developed for Kontakt, there is just one instrument, so no trawling through Instruments and Multis is necessary. Using the software is very much hands-on, and for fast scoring a MIDI keyboard is needed. Unusually, the UI features music notation, although you don’t have to read music to use it.
Select a phrase with your left hand and press a note with your right – you’re instantly rewarded with the sound of a full-size string orchestra chugging away on a punchy ostinato. Move to another key and the orchestra changes pitch.
Add a second note or voice a chord and the phrase becomes more intense. For variation, you can switch between phrases as you play at any point in the bar with your left hand. By experimenting further with your right hand, all kinds of variations on a theme are possible. The process is addictive, good fun and a great way to kick-start a cinematic-style composition.
As expected with a title like Action Strings, the phrases are very rhythmic, aggressive in nature and chock full of heavily accented staccato notes. Most are two or four bars in length and perfect game-music fodder. Of course, being complete recorded phrases you can’t alter the pitch or velocities of individual notes. However, keyboard velocity does come into play. In Action Strings it’s used to switch between major and minor modes and to play a staccato one-shot. Dynamics are controlled via the mod wheel.
Rhythm is the game here and you won’t find any tear-jerking string lines in Action Strings – it’s not that type of library – but some of the phrases do contain limited melodic material. It’s characteristically rhythmic, though, in keeping with the rest of the library.
We were impressed by Action Strings. What at first appeared to be a rather gimmicky loop library turned out to be a well thought through collection of useful phrases, perfect for cinematic action music. Used on its own it soon becomes repetitive, but when used as a rhythmic basis for a track and mixed with other melodic material it blends in very well. You can also compile your own themes, alter the time signatures, change tempos in real time and create ritardandos and accelerandos, courtesy of Kontakt’s time-stretching engine.
Phrase libraries like this inevitably cause controversy among composers. Some welcome them as time-savers, others use them for inspiration. Others ignore them completely, preferring to compose their own phrases. A few become quite heated about it and rant on internet forums about the moral implications of using pre-recorded material in their masterpieces. They worry, too, that the ‘musically illiterate‘ among us are going to muscle in on their work. With Action Strings these worries are largely unfounded. In the wrong hands it will soon sound boring. In the right hands it becomes a very useful tool – not a must-have, admittedly, but definitely a very-nice-to-have.
+ Simple to use
+ Good for action-style strings
– One style only
A fun-to-use tool for creating a wide variety of cinematic string backgrounds, ideal for chase scenes and the like.
This video takes a detailed look at Action Strings: