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The scope and sophistication of high-quality sample libraries that offer entire symphony orchestras, chamber sections, solo players and specialist instrumental performances continue to develop. Multiple leading product designers now provide such a comprehensive range of resources that, with the core orchestral bases covered, they’ve begun branching out into more unusual instrumental colours. Whether these come from more esoteric instruments or less familiar performance techniques, this is an inspiring time to be working with instrumental and orchestral samples – if you can afford to get in on the action, that is.
It’s pleasing, then, to see that some are developing new and more cost-effective ranges. The UK’s Spitfire Audio, for example, has its free Labs instruments, as well as its low-cost Originals range. German firm Orchestral Tools, meanwhile, has its Creative Soundpacks series. Here, we’re cueing up three of the latter for examination: Amber is an intriguing quartet whose strings have been downtuned; Arbos is a suite of natural forest percussion sounds; and Babel is a three-part solo voice texture library.
All three of these libraries can be purchased and managed through Orchestral Tools’ free SinePlayer, which acts not only as a plug-in host but as a shop window through which you can access all of Orchestral Tools’ wares, allowing you to download free sample library content or purchase other libraries from within the plug-in.
Browsing patches within the collections that you’ve already licensed takes place within the library tab, where a series of drop-down menus lets you target the sounds you need. Let’s start with Amber.
The Amber pack features all four instruments of the string quartet, each with its strings downtuned by a fourth (five semitones). The idea here is to produce an introspective, melancholy, rich and haunting tableau of instrument sounds to add the kind of focus that only a solo player can provide. As with all libraries within the SinePlayer, clicking on an instrument’s name reveals the microphone positions that were used during recording, with the emphasis within Amber very much on close spot microphones (of which there are two) and a warmer but still intimate Room option.
Once you’ve loaded the articulations you want, the mixer pane lets you enable and adjust the balance between the mic positions. You can also remap articulations according to how you like to work. By default, different playing styles are mapped to keyswitches but the settings button next to the articulation list lets you remap to MIDI channels, Control Change messages or Program Changes.
Within Amber, there are multiple articulations for each of the solo instruments, as well as a global String Quartet instrument that lets you score for the whole ensemble at once, ideal if you prefer not to work one musical line at a time. The recorded sample content has also been processed to produce a series of additional instruments, with a number of beautiful frozen, scratchy and twisted pad textures, dusty keyboard sounds and foreboding drones. They’re all highly playable and evocative instruments.
Forest (noise) floor
Arbos is a similarly precise and beautifully focused library that brings forest-based ‘instruments’ to your percussive writing. Expect everything from rustling leaves to tree-trunk hits, all of which might sound esoteric but the results are very impressive, especially when these are layered both with other sounds from this library or as part of a wider group of percussive instruments.
We often make the mistake of thinking about orchestral percussion as being the exclusive domain of massive ensembles, with deep taiko hits and epic toms. There is often call for those instruments, sure, but it can be more interesting when unusual sounds cut through to the listening audience because they’re higher, brighter or trickier.
Fortunately, not only does Arbos provide a pleasing range of these, their character is warm, organic and somehow different. The rustling leaves will be of interest not only to composers but also to sound designers, as they possess a remarkable liquidity and a three-dimensional quality that helps them sit beautifully in the mix. Again, there are also processed pads, plucks and textures, all of which combine a shaken, brushed or undulating forest texture with a pitched element that sustains and is mapped across the entire key range.
Towers of babel
Like Amber, Babel takes the concept of a full ensemble and strips things back to a more fragile and exposed interpretation. Rather than doing so for strings, however, Babel is a three-person vocal library that comprises solo soprano, alto and bass voices. The collection again begins with ensemble patches, which offer layered combinations of the voices. But there is a wide variety of articulations for each voice in its own folder.
There are some real treats here. Beyond the ooh and aah sounds, there are more percussive, staccato vocal noises and experimental textures that feel in step with some of the most interesting trends in contemporary media composition. There are some unique patches per voice but the vast majority overlap in terms of their performance techniques, which means that you are able to amass a sung, spoken, whispered or undulating intimate ensemble of vocal performances or textures to match your track’s needs, whatever its flavour.
As with Orchestral Tools’ other Creative Soundpack libraries, further riches can be found in the less obviously vocal patches. Some of the pads are too ‘digital synth’ for our tastes but others are wonderful, with dust and grain and an undulating and unpredictable quality that layers wonderfully with the complementary sounds in Amber. The same can be said for the textures and the drones, which will likely appeal to your inner trailer composer. Indeed, assign a few of the textural sounds from all three libraries to the same MIDI channel and use the mixer sliders to set the balance between them and you’ll be rewarded with uniquely interesting sonic activity.
All three of these libraries provide a just-so balance between realistic hard-drive footprint and total cost, with Amber being both the most expensive and the largest, at more than 17GB of samples (compressed to half of that at install).
Crucially, all the libraries also offer the twin pleasures of well-recorded and highly playable sounds, with plenty of unexpected flavour thrown in for good measure. These are tools meant to inspire composition as much as facilitate it. All three libraries are sparse and broadly dry, meaning that, straight out of the box, they’ll feel smaller and less showy than some of their market rivals. In our opinion, this is something to be celebrated, as you can use these sounds as a base layer to make them as sparse
or epic as you choose.
We would love a few processed loops to work alongside the main playing-style patches for instant inspiration and to keep things moving in the heat of writing but, this small oversight aside, these three Creative Soundpacks have plenty going for them, and are all worth their asking price.
Do I really need this?
These libraries are aimed at modern media composers and, while there’s some crossover with the needs of sound designers, Orchestral Tools knows its core users. If you want a range of vivid colours for your orchestral palette, there’s a lot to like here. These can be instruments in their own right or used as a front end to layers of larger ensemble patches. There’s real individuality here.
- Intimate String Quartet, Forest Percussion and Vocal Trio Libraries
- Amber: 17.3GB of samples
- Babel: 7.72GB of samples
- Arbos: 4.92GB of samples
- Requires Orchestral Tools’ free SinePlayer for hosting
- SinePlayer provides mic merging, which frees up memory
- Multiple approaches to articulation mapping provided
Imagine an orchestral palette designed to evoke the sounds and textures of frozen landscapes and permafrost. That’s what you’ll get with Tundra. If the organic though unusual nature of Amber appeals, this will too.spitfireaudio.com
This overlaps with the tone and palette of Arbos to some extent but lacks the brushed leafier end of what the Orchestral Tools’ library delivers and certainly stops well short of its wealth of pitched content.