It seems that everywhere you look over the past two years, we get another shiny new strings library to play with. And there are more coming. You could say that it’s the “in thing” right now, and that’s very exciting for composers the world over.
But this time, sample developers 8Dio have decided to go a different direction with their solo violin library, called ‘Studio Solo Violin’. While other libraries have all taken the multi-sample approach, Studio Solo Violin focuses on the phrase. And we’re about to see if this approach provides what 8Dio set out to accomplish.
Studio Solo Violin is a Kontakt library(requires full version of Kontakt) that takes around 4.2GB of space. Played by well known violinist, Thomas Yinn, you not only get great scale, but great talent behind it. So how does it work? Read on.
8Dio have referred to the Studio Solo Violin library as a “deep phrase sampled” library. It is their belief, and I completely agree, that there are some things you just can’t do with any current library or technology. Certain sounds, certain playing styles, certain techniques that have yet to be realized in a library.
So 8Dio recorded loads of solo violin phrases, along the lines of their Forgotten Voices vocal libraries, if you’re familiar with those. The phrases are quite varied in nature, and are divided up into a series of categories, or ‘themes’. These categories vary from vague to specific composers to even specific songs.
Each category then has one or more patches that present the various phrases in a menu format. In other words, you won’t find anything according to key here, but rather every note within a patch is assigned to a unique phrase. Most patches have dozens of phrases to choose from(usually around 50). And some categories provide several patches full of phrases, giving you hundreds within some categories alone. All patches together include well over 4,000 individual phrases.
There are 37 categories in all, ranging from something like Amazing Grace, which basically gives you the song broken up into phrases on the keyboard, to what 8Dio refer to as “Turkey”, which is more of a fiddle style. You will find plenty of classical composers represented, from Brahms to Beethoven, and from Mozart to Tchaikovsky, all providing phrases based on the compositions from each composor. Some categories are a bit more vague, such as “Orange”. Maybe you’re interested in some Batman-themed phrases? That’s a category. Or some “Espanol”, “Irish” and others. You’ll find a category based on scales, one based on rhythmic playing, and even some FX phrases.
You’ll find phrases of the romantic variety, flowing and smooth, to the classical variety, to rhythmic material and fiddle phrases, to more quirky and fun phrases, or more ethnic phrases from different parts of the world. Most every playing technique and articulation is represented, including trills and tremolos, spiccato, pizzicato, and others. You’ll find quick little flourishes and long drawn out melodies. You could consider this an all-inclusive library of phrases really, and you are sure to find SOMETHING you will like among the almost unreal amount of phrases included. I was constantly impressed each time I loaded up a new patch and found an entire new mini-library within each patch to play with.
The only real downside of this approach is that piecing together a full arrangement can be a little time consuming if you wish to mix phrases from one category with another. And finding just the right phrase can take some time as you browse, but honestly, that was some of the most fun I had because along the way, I discovered new phrases that brought out new ideas. So the search is well worth it.
If you want to get a quick idea of the library, you can load up the “Browser” patch, which provides a large amount of the library in a single patch with the ability to select categories from the interface to demo phrases from that category. But you’ll definitely want to load the actual category patches for the full experience.
The phrases are of differing lengths, ranging from several bars long all the way down to single notes with specific inflections. Most are of the 1-3 bar variety, so they make excellent accent snippets for overlaying in your score. You don’t have to start at the beginning of a phrase though. If you want, using the mod wheel, you can scroll into a phrase so you can start from the middle, or a fourth of the way through, or wherever you want. It’s not the easiest method of finding a start point in real-time, but programming the mod wheel in your sequencer can make things easy.
Variety is key here. It seems that 8Dio wanted to provide enough phrases that, if you want, you could create entire songs with just the phrases inside of Studio Solo Violin. And they have succeeded. I almost couldn’t believe how comprehensive the library is. But the phrases themselves are only half the story.
Studio Solo Violin doesn’t just give you thousands of phrases. It actually gives you lots of editing abilities within the library. As already mentioned, you have the ability to start anywhere within a phrase, but you can also change the playback speed using the pitch bend wheel. You can even change the speed of a phrase in real-time DURING the phrase, so if you want to play the first half of a phrase in the original tempo, but slow down the final few notes for emphasis, just pull the pitch wheel down. This really allows you to change the phrasing quite a bit.
You can also change keys(pitch) of the phrase using simple keyswitches or a knob on the interface. So you essentially have the library available for every key. In addition, you can choose to play each phrase in half-time, double time or even triple time using keyswitches(in addition to speed control on the pitch wheel). It’s important to note though, that these phrases are NOT tempo-synced. so you’ll have to line up your phrasing manually using these available timing controls.
When using Kontakt 4, I found that there really wasn’t much flexibility in terms of shifting pitch. Sure, you CAN change the ‘key’ and speed in the Kontakt 4 patches, but it sounds quite bad. This is because the Kontakt 4 Time Machine engine is outdated and doesn’t have the best quality around. However, when used in Kontakt 5(8Dio provides special K5 patches, which also greatly speed up loading times), you can actually change the key several half steps in either direction before any noticeable artifacts appear. So if you can use Kontakt 5, I highly recommend it!
You can change the attack and release of the phrase, which affects the phrase as a whole, not individual parts of the phrase. And you can control how much affect key velocity has on the volume of phrases. Also, you are provided with knobs for both pitch and time if you prefer to use the interface to change these instead of keyswitches and wheels.
You get even more flexibility in terms of effects. On the main page, you are provided with a simple 3-band graphic EQ for general tweaking, along with a fully automatable filter for simple sweeps and other filtering tasks. Finally, you have a gate you can use to create stuttering effects with the phrases. This gate includes a speed control as well as a knob to adjust the gate’s depth/amount. The gate also features an additional page on the interface where you can change the shape of the gating, including a sine, triangle, saw and rectangle waveforms. You can use one or more of these together to shape the gate precisely how you want it.
The real fun begins with the second tab available in the interface, the “Effects” tab. This is where you can control any of the six additional built-in effects and how they are triggered. Included is a lo-fi effect, rotator(Leslie speaker), delay, convolution reverb, algorithmic reverb and distortion. Each effect has a small set of controls to change.
You can trigger these effects in a couple of different ways. By default, they are triggered by holding down preset keyswitches on the keyboard. So you can turn them on or off in real-time by holding down the keyswitches, including activating any combination of the effects that you choose, and they turn off when you release the key. You can choose, if you wish, to have the effects on by default, and have the keyswitches turn them OFF instead, reversing the default. This setting can be set separately for each effect, either on their controls page or on the master on/off page that is provided.
The effects are all standard Kontakt-included effects, so the quality is fairly good. The one that stands out to me though, is the convolution reverb. This is because 8Dio have included 67 CUSTOM impulse responses from various spaces. You will find churches and concert halls, to small rooms and large ones, and more. Then there is a great selection of special FX impulses which can turn your phrases into drone-like sounds, complete with strange long-evolving echos, timbre-changing distortion, etc. In fact, this collection is quite welcome as they can be used in any convolution reverb to apply to your other tracks, if you desire!
Taking the over 4,000 phrases, and then adding the ability to literally tweak them in dozens of ways, applying them to any key and any tempo and then adding effects, and you get an unreal amount of versatility that goes far beyond what any typical loop/phrase library will provide.
Practice Makes Imperfection
While many libraries do focus on getting every note pristine and extremely in tune, many of them do so to a fault. In the end, you’ll sometimes find that all human variance has been removed and you have nothing more than pure clinical repetition remaining. Studio Solo Violin doesn’t go there. In fact, it almost spits in the eye of perfection. I’m not talking about recording quality though, as this is excellent and the phrases sound very “live”, as if you were there. But they remain real, instead of clinical.
When browsing the Studio Solo Violin library, you’ll hear what I mean. Whether it’s the slight side to side sway in the stereo field from the natural movement of the instrumentalist, or the small screech of a bow working a little too hard during a transition, or the ringing of an open string after release of a note, or the accidental swipe of a neighboring string, it’s there. In other words, the things that occur naturally during playing are all kept in the library to allow as much realism as possible. So it’s important to note that if these bother you, Studio Solo Violin may not work for you. But I don’t find it to be a large problem at all, and in fact, a benefit in most cases.
The large and vast majority of these imperfections are not so glaringly obvious that they distract. They don’t particularly stand out, especially to the point of being out of place. They just ‘fit’ in a subtle way that lets the listening ear believe what they are hearing is real.
The only imperfection that I truly had an issue with was the few(and I do mean only a few) out of tune notes that are present in the library. I do understand that it’s difficult to get perfect pitching on a fretless instrument such as the violin, but the notes in question are very much obvious in their “out-of-tuneness” to the point that it sounds UNnatural to even an untrained ear. It’s hard to fault 8Dio for missing these considering the sheer scale of the phrase selection, but it is there, and it is worth mentioning.
The Perfect Violin Bridge?
With well over 4,000 violin phrases at your disposal, there is no doubt that you will find some kind of application for this library. Make no mistake, Studio Solo Violin is IMMENSE. I can’t stress enough how big it really is, once you take into account the number of ways you have to edit and adjust each phrase to mold it to fit your composition.
You may already have solo violin libraries in your arsenal. But there is nothing out there like Studio Solo Violin. Nothing of this type, in this scale, and this flexible. If you can deal with a slight bit of human imperfection in your samples, Studio Solo Violin will fit just perfectly alongside your other libraries. You can expect Studio Solo Violin to complement whatever you currently own, and to fill the gaps that exist in every solo violin library currently available.