West Coast samplists Cinesamples stay ethical with their major new orchestral brass library.
Media composers in Los Angeles and London share the same problem: although their respective cities harbour some of the best orchestral players on the planet, shrinking budgets for TV music increasingly preclude the use of live players. As Mike Barry of LA-based sample company Cinesamples put it, "How is a composer scoring a cable TV 100-minute feature possibly to deliver the John Powell-esque score required by the producer for $6000 without samples? [British film composer John Powell has written numerous movie soundtracks, including the entire Bourne trilogy] It's just impossible these days — evidence being the small amount of completely live television scores.”
When it came to creating a high-end orchestral brass sample library to add to their catalogue of cinema-oriented titles, Cinesamples faced another dilemma: how to utilise the superior musicianship residing in LA without betraying the session players, some of whom, understandably, feel that samples pose a direct threat to their livelihood. Rather than conduct a covert 'dark date' in a shady studio, which could lead to trouble for the participants if word got out, the company approached the American Federation Of Musicians and negotiated a special sampling agreement. It took months to thrash out a deal whereby musicians, copyists and stage hands were supplied by the union with strict rules governing rates, overtime and even catering. Significantly, the agreement (which Cinesamples claim is the first of its kind) also entitles the players, copyists and engineers to a percentage of sales revenue.
Titled CineBrass, the end result is a product you can buy safe in the knowledge that ethical considerations have not been sidelined in the name of profit. The samples were recorded from multiple mic positions at LA's capacious Sony Pictures Scoring Stage, a famous venue where the music for The Wizard Of Oz, ET, Schindler's List, Star Trek and Spiderman (to name but a few) was recorded. A week after the CineBrass sessions, Hans Zimmer breezed in to record his rollicking cues for Pirates Of The Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides. Manning the mixing desk for the CineBrass sessions was distinguished film-music mixer Dennis Sands, whose credit list on the Internet Movie Database is so long I almost got RSI from scrolling down the screen.
CineBrass is available in two forms: the original core library (8.2GB) and an all-new, larger expansion set (which does not contain the core samples) called CineBrass Pro (18.9GB). Owners of the core library are entitled to a discount on the Pro expansion. Both libraries run on Mac and PC on the full version of Kontakt 4 and up, which must be bought separately — the samples will not work with Native Instruments' free Kontakt Player. (See the 'System Requirements & Installation' box for more technical details.) The libraries are available only as downloads, and depending on broadband speeds where you live, downloading both will probably take a considerable amount of time.
Taken together, the Core and Pro libraries' instrumentation comprises trumpet, French horn and trombone (solo and ensemble), bass trombone, tuba and cimbasso, with the lower brass playing together in various combinations. The Pro version also contains a full brass ensemble (three trumpets, four horns, three trombones, bass and contrabass trombones, cimbasso and tuba) which performs chords and effects. See the 'Instrumentation & Articulations' box for a complete listing.
Sustained notes (including legatos) are looped, so unless there's a power cut in your area, you should never find yourself in the embarrassing position of playing a four-bar sustained brass pad that unexpectedly expires after two and a half bars. The instruments' short notes come in a choice of three lengths which the makers call 'eighths staccato', 'quarters tenuto' and 'halves marcato' (the numerical rhythmic references are intended merely as a guide). The staccatos are very short indeed, ideal for incisive, jabbing accents; the tenutos sound like longer staccatos, while the marcatos equate to quarter notes at around 90 bpm.
The libraries' 'Articulations' patches combine sustains and short notes in a choice of five presets. The default 'Velocity' preset allows speed of touch to control note lengths: light key-presses trigger the staccatos, faster strokes produce tenuto samples and heavier key-presses trigger the marcatos. In this preset, long notes are selected by holding down the sustain pedal, but keeping the pedal pressed down doesn't sustain notes after you release the keys. If you prefer to use the pedal in the conventional way within the Velocity preset, you can assign sustains to velocity control with a couple of mouse clicks.
In CineBrass, dynamics are largely controlled by the mod wheel, enabling you to perform your own dramatic swells and fades. The producers say that the natural-sounding timbral changes one hears within these dynamic movements are achieved by morphing rather than conventional crossfading — but whatever the technical rationale, they certainly sound smooth and free of any 'stepping' or chorusing. While such programming touches are an excellent aid to expression, users who yearn for a more traditional, old-school approach can use the 'Keyswitch Velocity Dynamic' preset, in which the short-note dynamics are controlled by velocity and note lengths are selected by a set of four keyswitches.
'True legato' patches incorporate all played intervals up to an octave in both directions; as is now the norm in contemporary orchestral libraries, the built-in legato scripting tracks your playing and intelligently selects the correct interval transitions to 'join up' your melody lines. Legato transitions between unison notes are also provided, so you can play repeated notes on a legato patch without hearing any awkward gaps.
I was pleased to see that Cinesamples have adopted the VSL-style monophonic legato mode, wherein a held note will re-sound after you release an overlapping note: very handy for playing trills and grace notes. In an improvement on conventional monophonic operation, the legatos may also be played polyphonically, with excellent musical results: the scripting handles two-part inventions and parallel chord movements very well, and it's great to be able to perform legato harmony lines in real time! The only limitation I noticed is that if you try to sustain a top note over chord changes, the high note will stop sounding. No big deal, though...
If you're in the mood for a bit of tweaking, you can use the dedicated 'legato volume' fader to control the legato transition samples. By assigning a MIDI controller to the fader, you can alter their level in real time, so that (say) a quick swoop from a low to a high note could be at a different volume each time it occurred. Such subtle details may not be noticeable in a full mix, but they have the potential to make an exposed solo passage sound more organic and realistic.
It's worth noting that in the core library the solo instruments' legatos are restricted to one mf dynamic layer; in the Pro expansion, that's increased to four layers, pp to fff. So if you need to program highly dynamic or very strident solo trumpet or horn legato lines, Pro would be the way to go; that said, the warm, expressive mf legatos of the solo horn and trumpet in the core library are highly effective and very enjoyable to play.
Although I'm sure the Cinesamples guys are not warlike people, their trumpet ensemble is ideal for issuing a cinematic call to arms — whether you need a rousing fanfare, machine-gun staccatissimos or heavy-artillery marcatos, the trumpet section rise up and deliver the goods with military precision and commitment. The muted trumpets found in the Pro version have a nice menacing edge, and their loud dynamics are exceedingly bright and cutting. Bearing out mixing engineer Dennis Sands' comment that "the room responds tremendously well to brass", the trumpets sound bright, full, fat and commanding, with a grandiose sweep that should satisfy the most megalomaniac film director.
When the battle's over and the dead are counted, you might need an instrument to utter a few mournful notes as the camera pans across the shattered terrain. Cue CineBrass' solo trumpet, which plays its poignant legato notes with just a hint of vibrato. The producers did a great job of sampling the subtle inter-note slides and slurs that occur in real performance, enabling the instrument to reproduce legato melody lines with satisfyingly smooth, expressive results. Lifelike, too — a trumpet player might spot that it's not real, but most people wouldn't!
Automatic double and triple tonguing is a nice feature that enables you to create single or double round-robin repeats with a single played note. The effect (which sounds particularly exciting on chords) operates on staccato notes. The repetitions are triggered when you release a key, and the clever part is that the timing of the second note of the double repeat automatically matches the lapsed time between your initial key-press and the moment when you released it! Although it takes a while to master, this facility gives complete control over the timing of the double and triple tonguing, and can be used to create fast, galloping repeated-note passages that would otherwise be very difficult to play.
I was impressed by the warm, luxuriant tone of the six horns' quiet sustains, and loved the way they open out into a glorious, full-throated roar when you push up the wheel. The staccato and marcato deliveries sound equally plush and retain a fat tone at all dynamic levels. Another big plus is this section's excellent legatos. Some makers curtail the ranges of their legato instruments, but CineBrass' horns span over four octaves, sailing unwaveringly up into the high trumpet register. With their wide, pp-fff dynamic range and creamy transitions, these are some of the most playable and convincing legatos I've heard. I also enjoyed the horn rips. Rather than terminating in a short, staccato note, they sustain their final high pitch, thus making the articulation satisfyingly climactic. If you're a fan of the style (as I am), you'll also enjoy the set in the Pro library, which are ballsier and more aggressive. Ripping stuff!
Chords played by four horns are a nice feature: 'Triad Chords' offers straight majors and minors in a choice of three voicings, played staccato, tenuto and sustained. 'Seventh Chords' combines two octaves of major sevenths, two octaves of minor sevenths and an octave each of dominant seventh and diminished chords, performing the same three articulations as the triads. The mapping of the chords is a little idiosyncratic: although they're laid out chromatically in the normal way, the type of voicing changes unpredictably within an octave, making it difficult to locate a particular shape for a given key. However, whether by accident or design, this mapping does tend to generate some musical-sounding voice leading!
For the Pro expansion, the makers pushed the boat out and hired 12 horn players, more than enough for any occasion, save, perhaps, the Day of Judgement. The players were seated in a semi-circle in the middle of the scoring stage, creating a wide, panoramic sound. I was bowled over by the quality, grandeur and power of their samples, particularly the stunning legatos. French Horn samples don't get much better than this, and their A-class performances are a massive selling point for CineBrass Pro.
Make no bones about it, CineBrass' core library's trombone ensemble matches its trumpets and horns for sound quality, dynamism and playability. Due to a MIDI routing accident (a common occurrence in my music room), I stumbled upon a cool new sound combination: bass synth doubled by muted trombones, a truly sinister timbre — now I just need a film-score gig to use it in. If you seek more expression in your trombone parts, the solo instrument in the Pro library has a great legato patch and (like the solo trumpet) plays its quiet notes with a tasteful, subdued vibrato. The only thing missing is the pitch slides at which this instrument excels. Let's hope Cinesamples get round to including them at some point, because although arguably not an essential component of orchestral performance, they always put a smile on your reviewer's face.
Nestling alongside the solo trombone in the Pro library is an amazingly versatile tuba with a tonal range that runs from a warm, rotund warble to a stentorian mothership blast. Reflecting a commonly used orchestral timbre, CineBrass also recorded tuba and bass trombone playing together in unison. This is a great resource for bass lines. In a similar vein, the magnificent cimbasso joins forces with the bass trombone to produce a series of mighty, incisive, low-end trumps packing enough force to knock ornaments off a mantelpiece.
These samples are combined in a 'Low Brass Pads' patch featuring trombones in the right hand and unison tuba and bass trombone in the bass. The patch sounds big and fruity and spans a very wide range. My only gripe is that its decay rings on a bit too long — I tried to reduce it by turning the 'Release Delay' fader down to zero, but that didn't help. There's probably a way to do it inside Kontakt, if anyone has time to investigate (answers on a postcard, please).
Apart from the horn and trumpet section rips, effects in the core library are confined to a beautifully-played set of sustained, staccato and short-crescendo trumpet cluster chords. Nothing too revolutionary there, but in the Pro library the effects have been greatly expanded. Prior to recording, Cinesamples enlisted TV composer and violinist Michael Levine to make suggestions on the content of the new effects section. Levine (who conducted the players on the day) also canvassed fellow composers for ideas they'd like to see included.
The results are great. Having spent an absorbing half hour playing these discordant effects, I'd like to congratulate the madman who composed them: they are so profoundly dissonant as to make other discords sound harmonious by comparison. Most fall into the 'very loud and very scary' category and offer useful variants like sfz staccatos, long crescendos and fortepiano, and many of the loud deliveries are supported by unrestrained, fortissimo, contrabass trombone blasts of enormous power. The quiet discords (some of which feature muted trumpets) are less visceral, but more creepy and unsettling. These are the sort of disturbing orchestral dissonances we used to enjoy in the soundtracks of Hammer classics like Plague Of The Zombies, fantastic fodder for a horror film score.
It's not all death and madness: by way of a happy ending, the large group that performs the effects also contribute some lovely, soothing chords. An ensemble of trumpets and trombones plays basic majors and minors in a choice of three voicings. With trombones supporting the trumpets in the lower octave, it's a rich and penetrating sound. Low chords are played by a wonderfully dark, sonorous blend of trombones (three tenor, one bass, one contrabass), four horns, cimbasso and tuba, who play their majors and minors in a choice of root and first inversion (ie. with the third in the bass) voicings. Fifths and octave unisons are also provided. As with the horns, I found the keyboard mapping of these chords counter-intuitive, but who cares — their musical and sonic quality is superb. A complete patch list can be seen at http://cinesamples.com/products/cinebrass.
At the time of writing, no multis had been provided for the Pro version. The core library has eight multis which contain layerings of various patches (for example, octave trumpets and trombones), a useful resource for scratch-pad orchestrations which can also serve as inspirational starting points for writers. Few composers will be able to resist the combined trumpets-and-horns legato multi, a great sound for soaring lead lines and main themes.
The core library's free v1.1 update offers various enhancements: Articulations patches are expanded to incorporate legatos as well as straight notes, the legato samples' release trails have been tidied up to make fast legato lines more playable, and marcato short notes are now added to the sustains as a high-velocity attack layer to facilitate the creation of realistic sforzandos. You can also use this layering to create fortepianos by pushing up the mod wheel, playing loudly to trigger the attack then fading the sustain samples down with the wheel. That's a lot more convenient than trying to fit pre-played fortepianos to the timing of your piece.
In addition to the small horn tuning issue noted earlier, I noticed a few other spots of less-than-perfect intonation: the six horns' quiet, sustained 'B' below middle 'C' is a little unhappy, a couple of the four-horns' chords sound a tad sour, and the low 'C' octave in the bass trombone and tuba patch is definitely out of sorts. Technically, the worst offender is the aforementioned combo's staccato bottom 'G', which has some very flat round-robins; however, since it's such a brief, low-pitched, raucous sound, the bad tuning barely registers. I believe the library has already received a tuning overhaul since its first release, and I don't think these remaining inaccuracies are of any great significance. However, a little more forensic fine-tuning by the makers wouldn't go amiss.
With some patches mapped over six or more octaves, CineBrass benefits from being played via an 88-note master keyboard. However, you can still negotiate its wide expanse with a standard five-octave, 61-note workstation, providing that the keyboard in question has a conveniently located octave-transpose button!
Though woodwinds are beautiful and percussion is exciting, strings and brass are the foundation of orchestral sound, especially in film music, where the use of brass has intensified in recent years. Mike Barry says: "Of all the sections in the orchestra, the brass have evolved most from classical to film music. They are supreme masters of tone, phrasing and stamina. Without them, the music lacks the intangible soundtrack quality.”
With this in mind, orchestral brass libraries have become a must-have item for TV, film and game composers, and as a result their quality, scope and usability has risen steadily, in line with users' expectations. CineBrass met my expectations, and more. The producers (themselves busy TV composers) have clearly spared no effort to create a library that upholds the high standards and traditions of the LA film-music scene. It's a pleasure to review a collection of such musicality: its fine, dynamic performances, wide timbral range and well-chosen instrumental combinations are inspirational, and its imposing tones will make your orchestral arrangements shine.
Symphonic brass sample libraries of comparable size to CineBrass' core library include Project SAM's 9GB Orchestral Brass Classic, which was recorded in a concert hall from two mic positions. Kirk Hunter's Concert Brass II (16GB) is stereo only, and has more flexible section sizes but fewer solo instruments. The two big hitters in this field are EastWest/Quantum Leap's 147GB Hollywood Brass (boasting five mikings) and Vienna Symphonic Library Brass I (stereo only, 78.5GB). The Vienna library has the largest menu of articulations of all, but no bass trombone and cimbasso — they're in VSL's Brass II collection.
CineBrass was recorded from three mic positions: Close, Room (a blend of the three‑mic Decca Tree assembly placed immediately behind the conductor and wide stereo mics) and Surround (facing the rear of the room). The instrument mixer has a fader for each position, while a fourth fader carries a full mix of all three. In addition, there's a reverb stem consisting of all the samples run through a classy Bricasti M7 hardware reverb unit, using a hall setting. To save on RAM, the factory patches load only the full mix samples, after which you can manually select the other options.
I tend to agree with Mike Barry's assertion that "close-miked brass sounds irritatingly fictitious and doesn't place itself mix-wise in the places we are used to hearing.” My favourite position was Room, which features a great natural ambience while maintaining focus and definition. The Bricasti fader adds a tasty, large concert-hall reverb. However, it's worth bearing in mind that since these are actual reverb samples, rather than effects, they will double RAM consumption.
As ever, sticking to one mic position while composing will avoid over-taxing your system, and once you're happy with the arrangement you can experiment with different mics and pannings before bouncing. If you're working in surround, the simple technique of assigning the Room mics to the front stereo pair and Surround mics to the rear speakers will create a nice quadraphonic sound picture, effectively placing the listener in the centre of Sony Picture's legendary scoring stage along with the players — a piece of sorcery that would have been inconceivable when The Wizard Of Oz score was recorded there back in 1939!
As mentioned earlier, CineBrass and CineBrass Pro require the full purchased version of Kontakt 4 and up, which works stand-alone and as a plug-in on Mac and PC. Your version of Kontakt 4 must be updated to 4.2.3 or higher, and the update is free for registered K4 owners.
Cinesamples' minimum system requirements are (PC) Windows XP (SP2, 32-bit) or Vista/Windows 7 (32-/64-bit), Pentium 4 2.4GHz, Intel Core Duo 2GHz or AMD Athlon 64 CPU; and (Mac) OS 10.5 or higher and Intel Core Duo 2GHz CPU. You'll need at least 2GB of RAM, but for orchestral and film work, more would be preferable!
When you purchase either library online you'll receive a confirmation email containing your licence code and links to a set of compressed RAR files. After downloading, you should use a program such as WinZip (Windows) or RarMachine (Mac) to extract the data. Cinesamples caution against using Stuffit for this purpose (personally, I would hesitate to use a product with a name like that for any purpose whatsoever). You only need to extract the first RAR file (entitled 'Part 1'), and the remaining parts will automatically follow; any attempt to manually extract the other files will cause unnecessary folder duplication.
The final step of preparing these libraries for use is to activate them at Native Instrument's Service Centre using the supplied licence code, after which you can add the library to Kontakt's database. In my experience, both the activation and 'add' processes occasionally fail to work on the first attempt: in the case of the latter, you may have to remove the library inside Kontakt and then re-add it.
A tip for users: I found that many CineBrass and CineBrass Pro patches initially took quite a while to load. However, as is often the case with Kontakt libraries, re-saving all the patches without changing their names reduced loading times dramatically.