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What do you use for organic/symphonic sounds?


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I'm just wondering what you guys use for symphonic/orchestral instruments when going for a realistic or at least semi-realistic sound. I'm mostly using samples packs (soundfonts I think?), which are great for lots of purposes but the sound is not very customizable as unless you're talking about effects. I'd really love to know what you all use!

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Read a little, wrote a lot, read a little more, didn't wanna delete my writing. Skip to the end for what I've got.

Commence blah blah:

Obviously, the first is writing. This guy knows that stuff a whole lot better than I do, so keep an eye on that thread for more on that. Soak up everything that guy says about this stuff. The writing basics that I wanna bring up are just to write realistic (don't write boring parts, don't write impossible parts), position them realistically, and... (I need a third item to make this a list...) Write something that makes sense, arrangement-wise.

There's actually a lot you can do with soundfonts. Here's what you _can't_ do without an advanced sampler or a lot of effects work and some insane amount of fiddling with details: change their timbre beyond basic effects eg filtering, true legato for ensembles, realistic ensemble polyphony, the characteristic attack sound of loud brass (I keep forgetting the real term for it), bowing technique, and just a lot of things you don't have the samples for. I'm still looking for something affordable with spiccato samples.

Anyway, what you _can_ do is route different midi cc to different parameters in your sampler (well, if it's any bit a decent sampler, thatis). Modulation wheel and Expression are probably the two most important ones, but breath control and a few others can also be applicable. That's if we're only going by their default uses, you can technically route pretty much any cc to any parameter. That way, even if you don't have control over the realistic motion that goes on in actual sustained notes, you can control the sustain level. You can bend trombones. You can give tremolo to brass and woodwinds, vibrato to string instruments. Lots of things to do for more realism.

In addition, creative use of layering creates a richer and less static sound. It also lets you get around the problem of no sound having all the qualities you like, eg trumpet sound with good attack but is too short + trumpet sound without a lot o good attack but good sustain. This doesn't technically have to be limited to the real instruments (or what the samples are named, anyway), so if a violin soundfont sounds like bagpipes, feel free to make it bagpipes.

Then there's effects. If you're faking a guitar, you'd want not only a good, clean guitar sound but also a good amp for all that gritty, badass distortion. Likewise, if you want an electric organ, so much is in the speaker sim and whether it can rotate or not. When creating a semi-realistic orchestra sound, you want good reverb. You can layer reverbs to mask bad samples, but the strongest reverb (which still shouldn't be particularly strong, tho) should be the main hall reverb, bouncing from the stage out into and all around the hall. Or chamber. Or church. Or tunnel. This is best achieved with a good convolution reverb, just load two different room samples (impulse responses, or IRs) from the same room, make sure not to get left and right mixed up, and you should have your semi-realistic orchestra performing exactly as instructed (that's what computers do) as if recorded right there. Other effects are also useful, whether it's taming and melding the sounds you're using (with compression and eq) or shaping the overall sound (same effects, probably).

My stuff: Miroslav, the Kontakt factory VSL from whatever version I have, GPO, some GarageBand Jam Packs, and then for occasional flavor Modelonia, Reaktor, Omnisphere or Pianoteq (for assorted physical modeling things, ditto, strings or fun percussion, pianos and chromatic percussion).

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I'm still looking for something affordable with spiccato samples.

I don't know if you've heard of it, but Pocket Blakus is free (if you own Kontakt) and has both legato and spiccato patches (and a fantastic sound). It's not the greatest, and obviously it won't do anything for viola or violin spiccato, but it's worth a download considering it's free.

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  • 1 month later...

I know you're asking for technical things like what samples to use and such, but for a "realistic" sound, performance technique is huge. You can make cheap samples sound decent by playing well. Conversely, you can make expensive samples with lots of articulations sound crappy by playing poorly. What I do is I picture my orchestra in my head as they play the piece, focusing on one section at a time (or a single instrumentalist if I'm working on a solo). A lot of the time I'm a dork and I actually "play" my air violin. I think of what emotion I'm trying to get across in that particular section of the piece. It's amazing what you can do with a bit of natural off-timing and velocity flow, as well as MIDI CC like Rozovian mentioned. Of course, having the more advanced articulation patches is nice as well.

Personally, I use EWQLSO. It's pretty loaded with a ton of sampled articulations as well as decent goodies like Portamento, Round Robin repetition, etc. Some criticisms that others have brought up though is that vibrato is built-in and the samples all come wet.

Edited by Neifion
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I have a ton of libraries, various organic pieces, but for symphonic, I tend to use Albion I the most. It doesn't give all individual pieces, more broad strokes (strings hi, lo, brass hi, mid, low, and winds hi, lo), but it is a great library for cinematic bits. I tend to augment this with Session Strings Pro, or Action Strings. There are many other libraries which sound as good or give more control, but Albion works for me, and does a great job at a reasonable price. Whatever you use, you will need to learn the library. Even when they are all in Kontakt, they are all scripted differently and to get the most out of any given library you will have to learn its particular expressions and articulations.

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I can't believe I almost forgot, but ERA Medieval Legends is also pretty amazing in terms of realism. Particularly if you want to add some period-accurate rustic solos to your piece. It's very performance-based, with lots of algorithms going on as you play such as fret slide, hand movement, and string slap, with simple knobs to adjust each parameter.

Edited by Neifion
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  • 2 weeks later...
I know you're asking for technical things like what samples to use and such, but for a "realistic" sound, performance technique is huge. You can make cheap samples sound decent by playing well. Conversely, you can make expensive samples with lots of articulations sound crappy by playing poorly. What I do is I picture my orchestra in my head as they play the piece, focusing on one section at a time (or a single instrumentalist if I'm working on a solo). A lot of the time I'm a dork and I actually "play" my air violin. I think of what emotion I'm trying to get across in that particular section of the piece. It's amazing what you can do with a bit of natural off-timing and velocity flow, as well as MIDI CC like Rozovian mentioned. Of course, having the more advanced articulation patches is nice as well.

Personally, I use EWQLSO. It's pretty loaded with a ton of sampled articulations as well as decent goodies like Portamento, Round Robin repetition, etc. Some criticisms that others have brought up though is that vibrato is built-in and the samples all come wet.

I'd second everything that Neifion said. Watching musicians perform on the actual instruments can provide a ton of insight into how best to apply the articulations that come in a sample library. Particularly, if you come across an instructional video that's teaching an instrumental technique, you can get a lot of insight from that. Then, when you go back to your sample library and explore your articulation options, it becomes much easier to make decisions regarding how to best use the samples to create a realistic and organic sound.

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Apply volume curves to string patches (assign volume or filter to mod wheel)... Makes for a more realistic sound! eg. Violins play a chord over 2 bars, start with volume very low gradually swooping louder.

Actually, with most orchestral, never take your hand off of the wheel. Even very slight variations when you are trying to keep the same volume give a much more human feel. Bow pressure is very organic, never a constant line.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Use volume automation on swells, play with the attack/release of your string sounds, randomize all your velocities when layering sounds, adjust the velocity sensitivity of your patches for starters. Gear doesn't really matter, I could get a better sound out of Edirol than someone that doesn't know what they're doing with East/West.

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I have some of ProjectSAM's stuff and I recently bought the "Hollywood" expansion for Nexus; which actually sounds awesome, but like anything has its downsides.

Gear doesn't really matter, I could get a better sound out of Edirol than someone that doesn't know what they're doing with East/West.
I disagree that gear doesn't matter. Someone who is skilled will make East West sound 100x better than an equally skilled person will with Edirol.

It's like how I have a friend who has really expensive, good amplifiers and guitar, but he can't play very well or write music worth shit. So yeah, the music he makes with it isn't very good. However, in terms of sound quality and in the right hands, that gear totally destroys my setup no matter how good of guitarist I could be. So therefore, when I play through his gear, it definitely sounds better than when I play through my own.

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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I have some of ProjectSAM's stuff and I recently bought the "Hollywood" expansion for Nexus; which actually sounds awesome, but like anything has its downsides.

I disagree that gear doesn't matter. Someone who is skilled will make East West sound 100x better than an equally skilled person will with Edirol.

It's like how I have a friend who has really expensive, good amplifiers and guitar, but he can't play very well or write music worth shit. So yeah, the music he makes with it isn't very good. However, in terms of sound quality and in the right hands, that gear totally destroys my setup no matter how good of guitarist I could be. So therefore, when I play through his gear, it definitely sounds better than when I play through my own.

I think that's exactly what he was saying, it doesn't matter if you have the best of everything, if you don't know how to use it, someone with crap gear but great talent will sound better.

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