Auddict’s innovative orchestral strings library marks the legacy of a top London studio.
Back in July 2017 I reviewed the thunderous Drums Of The Deep library issued by the young London‑based company Auddict. Since then this productive outfit has released a host of orchestral‑flavoured sample collections along with the intriguing PercX instrument, which impressed SOS reviewer John Walden in May 2020. Outside of the sample library world, Auddict founder Dorian Marko has been busy recording and producing a piano concerto, thus underlining the fact that this company really is ‘run by musicians for musicians’.
An Auddict library which caught my ear (actually, both of them) is Angel Strings — mercifully, not another half‑arsed homage to the non‑existent supernatural flying beings, but a more down‑to‑earth name check for the London studio where it was recorded. As I’ve written elsewhere on these pages, Angel Studios was one of my favourite places to work and had become my go‑to strings recording studio before the death of its owners sadly forced its closure at the end of 2019.
The last session I did at Angel (recording strings on Swedish band Opeth’s In Cauda Venenum album) reminded me how great it is to work in a top studio: the players were on splendid form and whizzed through the arrangements in record time, while the studio and staff lived up to their usual high technical and professional standards. It’s therefore a pleasure for me to help celebrate the studio’s creative legacy by taking an in‑depth listen to Auddict’s Angel Strings Vols 1 & 2.
USE With Care
This collection represents Auddict’s second collaboration with the United Strings Of Europe (aka USE), a contemporary string ensemble formed at London’s Royal Academy of Music in 2012. The members are leading chamber musicians and principal orchestral players who teamed up with a view to forming a five‑star performing group, and judging by the musical quality of their videos, I’d say they’ve succeeded admirably.
For this project the makers recorded a full string orchestra of first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses performing together in Angel’s Studio 1, carefully balancing and blending the instruments over a six‑octave range to ensure tonal continuity. The samples were then mapped into Kontakt instruments containing multiple articulations. This ‘full strings’ presentation means you can play the section with both hands, making this library an ideal sketching tool as well as a convenient, easy‑to‑use strings resource for MIDI arrangements.
At the time of writing Angel Strings consists of two volumes: Vol 1 (34.5GB installed) contains the main articulations and musical effects, while Vol 2 (10.1GB) provides ‘flurries’, explained in the box below. It seems the original idea was to cram the more specialised styles and textures into one bumper second volume, but on reflection the makers decided to issue the material as a series of smaller, expansion‑pack‑style libraries, enabling users to save their cash and cherry‑pick the articulations they need. The two volumes share no samples, and Vol 2 does not require Vol 1 to run.
Both libraries require the full version of Kontakt 4 and up (I played them in Kontakt 6 with no problems). Vol 1 does not work with the free Kontakt Player, but Vol 2 will run on it for 10 minutes, after which you have to reload the player. The samples are supplied as zip files, so during installation you’ll need approximately 60GB and 20GB of disk space respectively to accommodate the zipped and extracted files.
Longs & Shorts
The makers say their aim was to “capture colours from a string orchestra which have not yet been recorded for any sample library”. Sounds good to me, but as it’s a bit early in the day I’ll start out with the conventional articulations before veering off into the brave new sound worlds. Vol 1’s big ‘Tonal Longs and Shorts’ patch crams 10 articulations into a single playable Kontakt instrument, with built‑in keyswitches enabling style changes on the fly. The keyswitches are positioned above the playing range of the strings, but can be repositioned if it suits your workflow.
Following the modern convention, long notes’ dynamics are controlled by the mod wheel (which somewhat undermines the two‑handed playing idea). The added twist is that as you play harder, the initial relaxed swell of quietly played notes gives way to a short, sharp marcato attack, which you’re going to want for loud rhythmic music. If you’re looking for a softer sound, the breathier ‘molto sul tasto’ (Cockney for ‘very tasty’) bowing has a gentle, calming effect and can sound very beautiful.
The ‘sautillé spiccato’ articulation has won enthusiastic accolades from luminaries such as film composer David Newman, and though I can’t rival that gentleman’s impressive Hollywood showreel, I’m happy to add my own rave review: this brilliant short‑note articulation combines excitement with grandeur, showing off the strings’ big, magisterial sound while zapping out fast‑moving, motoring ostinato patterns. A pleasure to play and a highlight of the library, coming soon to an action‑thriller soundtrack near you.
If your taste extends to more subtle realms, I can recommend the ‘sul tasto staccato’ artic, a decorous, well‑mannered and delicate short brushed bow‑stroke which the makers say “ended up unintentionally sounding very Baroque or classical”. This quieter delivery shows off the section’s rich, broad tone to good effect, and would work in a British period drama as a gentle underscore to scenes of aristocratic gentlefolk sipping tea on the vicarage lawn. Meanwhile, if you’re multitasking, you can use the loud sautillé samples for fast‑cut shots of Vin Diesel violently killing large numbers of people, but for heaven’s sake don’t confuse the two cues or you’ll never work again.
Also included are sul ponticello performances (a thin, edgy, nerve‑wracking sound produced by playing very close to the bridge). Although less harshly metallic than many I’ve heard, some of the double basses’ harmonic‑infused sul ponticello samples put me in mind of the forlorn dinosaur calls in Jurassic World, and the section’s ‘sul pont tremolo’ version is as unsettling and threatening as ever.
Powerful, solid, sweet and reasonably lush, this versatile string orchestra covers the emotional spectrum from intimate and romantic to cinematically huge.
One Step Beyond/Timed Tremolos
Vol 1’s ‘Tonal Longs & Shorts’ also houses some less commonplace styles. ‘Timbre oscillation’, a subtly shifting sustain timbre with a subdued built‑in pulsing, was created by synchronised note reiterations akin to a slow tremolo bowing. I’m guessing here, but it sounds like these could be divisi performances where some musicians play the reiterations while others hold straight long notes. In any case, it’s a pleasant, somewhat lighter and more transparent long‑note texture that suits quiet, mysterious and romantic passages.
In a more disquieting vein are the ‘bends’ long notes, which start out sensibly then drunkenly slide a semitone up or down before sobering up and returning to a looped sustain. It’s an arresting and colourful effect. I don’t suppose alcohol was involved, though I’m sure the local pub saw some action after the session. I enjoyed the fabulous ‘cluster to unison’ style, in which the players all start on a different random pitch before swooping down to a unison note in a tightly‑synchronised dive worthy of the Red Arrows. A great, superbly played effect which transforms the humblest of chords into a spectacular musical event.
Though the so‑called ‘Runs and Tremolos’ patch contains no played runs and no conventional tremolos, it holds another secret weapon: the ‘timed tremolo’ patch, which pumps out propulsive, tempo‑sync’ed repeated short notes when you play a note or chord. A primitive on‑board sequencer generates a syncopated rhythm which you can edit and save along with three other custom patterns. The sound is terrific, and the players’ great, energetic delivery creates instant excitement.
This patch uses 17 round robins per note and incorporates over 12,000 samples, which helps explain why it sounds so convincingly organic. The misnamed ‘bowed runs’ variant dispenses with the sequencer and presents the same samples under velocity dynamic control, thus opening up a world of creative possibilities; more lightly played and less grandiose than the library’s sautillé/spiccato style, these brisk detaché performances lack the joined‑up legato quality required for very fast runs, but they are a killer articulation for driving string ostinatos.
Angel Strings Vol 1’s more left‑field material is safely quarantined inside its ‘SFX’ patch. If you’re looking for mind‑altering string effects, a good place to start would be the excellent selection of slow, tension‑building risers played on every string of the four instrument types. ‘Build’ risers start very quietly and crescendo as they rise in pitch, while the more immediate ‘attack’ kind starts out loud and stays that way. I’d probably go for the latter for general purposes, and reserve the crescendo option for more exposed settings.
As you may have guessed, ‘dive’ glissandos are the opposite of risers: they start off as atonal clusters and converge into unison as they slide down to a loud sustained target note, an excellent sonority reminiscent of the psychedelic strings in the Beatles ‘I Am The Walrus’. The dives ship in ‘smooth’, ‘attack’ and ‘tremolo’ flavours — the last two have a built‑in crescendo, while the manic tremolo version is the most hair‑raising. The latter dramatic, ear‑grabbing articulation could make a great intro for an alt‑rock track, scare the pants off a horror film audience or even provide a fresh direction for a BBC TV nature programme theme tune. OK, perhaps not the latter.
Other fun articulations include wild‑sounding tones created by playing the string behind the bridge, a ghastly cacophony which veers between fingers‑on‑the‑blackboard screeching and the dismal howling of lost souls. ‘Scratch tone’, a hellish, overwhelming racket created by exerting excessive bow pressure, sounds like the strings you’d hear playing at the end of the world, a kind of musical black hole. Love it. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised when the top note of the ‘percussive sounds’ patch (the usual desultory collection of knocks and bonks) yielded a formidably loud, overpowering sforzando atonal stab, an electrifying end to this entertaining musical excursion.
I wasn’t able to ascertain how many players were involved in this production, so based on the studio seating layout glimpsed in Auddict’s trailer video, I’ll hazard a guess and say 14. That said, the sound of this chamber group suggests a much larger ensemble; powerful, solid, sweet and reasonably lush, this versatile string orchestra covers the emotional spectrum from intimate and romantic to cinematically huge.
Vol 2 — Flurries
Angel Strings’ smaller second volume features a playing style often heard in orchestral music, but as far as I know, never before featured in a sample library. Basically, the players play a simple repeated phrase in their own time, producing an excitingly chaotic blur of notes as the phrases overlap. Auddict refer to this technique as a ‘flurry’, as good a word as any to describe a musical effect akin to a cloud of snowflakes swirling around in the wind. The style demands spontaneity and empathy from the players, and can’t be readily (if at all) emulated with static samples.
Auddict divided the flurries into major and minor varieties, each with three variants mapped chromatically across two octaves: focusing on the key of C, the ‘Ionian flurries’ patch’s first phrase is an ascending C‑D‑E figure, the second is a descending G‑F‑E‑D‑C and the third consists of a repeated E‑D movement with reiterated C‑G fifths in the bass. ‘Aeolian flurries’ is the minor‑key version of the above formula, with the E’s duly flattened to Eb’s.
The idea extends with so‑called ‘bariolage’ performances affording the players more interpretative freedom: the ‘Ionian flurries + bariolage’ patch sees the players meandering up and down the major scale, rapidly repeating C‑D‑E‑F‑G and merrily whipping out major‑chord arpeggios in multiple octaves, the latter a bit too chaotic for my liking. Needless to say, the trick is repeated in a minor‑key ‘Aeolian’ version. Lastly, the ‘fifths + unison’ patch does what it says on the tin, offering repeated C‑G fifth intervals, randomly repeated unison notes and a variant of the first phrase featuring both upper and lower fifths.
All of this material can be played in all 12 keys, so you’re spoiled for choice. Taken as a whole, the phrases provide instant textural mobility, a swirling, energised harmonic backdrop and a live performance vibe which could add zest to an arrangement if used carefully. Hopefully my description will give you a sense of how they work, but to hear the full potential of these swirling note flurries, check out Auddict’s online demos.
The Angel Strings samples were recorded from four main mic positions:
- Tree: The classic Decca Tree mic configuration, placed high above the conductor’s podium facing the players.
- Rigs: Outrigger mics at the edges of the string section to add extra stereo width.
- Room: Ambient room sound, the most distant signal.
- Rib: A set of vintage ribbon mics with a pleasantly old‑fashioned, warm sound. Less toppy than modern mics.
- Rev: A fifth, reverb‑only channel carries the output of a lush‑sounding high‑end hardware reverb unit, most likely Angel’s Lexicon 480L.
In addition to the main channels are five individual stereo close ‘spot’ mics trained on each section of the group; violins, violas, double basses, cellos and second violins are spread across the stereo with basses in the centre and the first and second violins panned respectively hard left and right. Each spot has a stereo width and pan control, so you can set up your own close‑mic mixes. Auddict claim this system offers complete isolation between the different instruments, but with a live ensemble seated close together that’s not really feasible — the microphone bleed between adjacent players means that you’ll always hear traces of other instruments on individual spots. Nevertheless, it’s a useful facility which does achieve a reasonable degree of separation.
As with most orchestral libraries, the Decca Tree is the star of the show, with the outriggers and room mics on hand if you need more width or ambience. Angel Studio 1’s fairly dry acoustic suits pop/rock productions, and I have found the studio’s spot mics useful for increasing rhythmic definition; for a more traditional concert‑hall sound, simply turn up the classy built‑in reverb (which would also come in handy for the rear speakers in a surround mix). Interestingly, when you add reverb to the ribbon mics it instantly evokes the sound of old classical recordings, made in the days when high‑frequency audio was nothing but a future dream.
Angel Studios History
Built as Islington Chapel in 1888, Angel Studios is based in Gaskin Street, Islington, London. Grade II listed since 1972, the building still incorporates its original Victorian choir stalls and 19th‑century Speechly pipe organ. It is said that on winter nights the ghost of Henry Speechly can sometimes be heard playing haunting Edwardian laments on his instrument while the wind whistles eerily through the old chapel... actually I just made that up, sorry.
In 1979 religious activities ceased and the building was purchased by De Wolfe Music, a venerable British company specialising in broadcast library music. If you’ve ever wondered who owns the cheerful, low‑key acoustic guitar cues which strike up in TV gardening shows whenever someone deadheads a daffodil, it’s probably them. Following a major refurbishment and conversion programme, the studio opened its doors in 1982 and a succession of eminent artistes flooded in: Adele, Sam Smith, Rush, Emeli Sandé, Gary Barlow, Plácido Domingo, Seal, Florence & The Machine, Kylie Minogue, Goldfrapp and Robbie Williams along with countless others.
As the complex could accommodate 100 musicians, orchestral sessions also played a major part, with composers and arrangers such as Anne Dudley, John Altman, George Fenton, Craig Armstrong and, er, myself bringing in their scores. Consequently, Angel became a popular film and TV music recording location, turning out soundtracks for GoldenEye, The Blue Planet, Moulin Rouge!, The English Patient, Pride & Prejudice, The Lion King, Jackie and Downton Abbey, as well as arrangements for pop and rock tracks.
Despite the studio’s superlative reputation, it was announced in autumn 2019 that the facility would be closing following the deaths of James and Rosalind de Wolfe. A victim of its own success? Hardly. In 2018 Angel had enjoyed one of its busiest years, with a healthy bookings sheet and a sustainable client base, for the simple reason that once people worked there, they tended to want to come back. The staff and management got on well and the atmosphere was happy. We can only surmise that it may have been more lucrative to sell it to a developer than keep the business going — a hard‑nosed economic reality which may prove to be the death knell for more UK studios in years to come (cue doomy low strings chord).
Other studio‑recorded chamber strings collections include Vienna Symphonic Library’s Chamber Strings, Light & Sound Chamber Strings and Spitfire Chamber Strings, the latter being the most expensive. I have yet to find another strings library containing the kind of material found in Vol 2: Flurries, so ‘unique’ would be a fair description for that product!
- A leading UK strings ensemble recorded in a top London studio.
- Recorded from nine mic positions, including individual spots for the different instruments.
- Pre‑orchestrated patches give instant access to the full strings playing range.
- The ‘sautillé spiccato’ and ‘timed tremolo’ short notes work brilliantly for driving string ostinatos.
- No legato mode.
- No PDF manual.
Angel Studios is no more, but its sought‑after sound lives on. Simple to use and packed with dynamic performances, Angel Strings Vol 1 combines standard articulations with some iconoclastic string effects, while Vol 2: Flurries gives you swirling harmonic textures.
Angel Strings Vol 1 £202, Vol 2 £138. Prices include VAT.
Angel Strings Vol 1 $220, Vol 2 $150.