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Dan Dean Solo Strings

Sample Library By Martin Walker
Published September 2001

Dan Dean Solo Strings

Rating: **** 4/5 Stars


Many musicians feel the urge at some time in their career to add the sounds of a real string section to their music, whatever its style. However, while booking a session with professional string players almost guarantees a good result, given a suitable arrangement, those of us relying on MIDI have a harder job. The massed string sections available from most synths create very passable ensemble sounds, but the solo instruments nearly always leave a lot to be desired. With Gigasampler libraries, though, each note can be sampled chromatically without looping, thus keeping body resonances (formants) intact; pitch‑shifting always shifts these, creating an unnatural result. The Dan Dean Solo Strings library comprises violin, viola and cello, sampled at 24‑bit using GML mic preamps and Apogee AD8000 converters, before dithering to 16‑bit using Apogee's UV22 process.

A large part of the problem when recreating realistic string parts is that the violin family can be played in so many different styles. Dan Dean's answer is to provide each instrument with six articulations, switched 'on the fly' using a range of keys an octave below the normal range of each instrument. The sustained bowing of Arco/Vibrato will be used most often, but there's also Staccato bowing (spiccato), finger‑plucked Pizzicato, the scraping of Tremolo (think 'Black Adder'), and the ornamentation of Half‑Step and Whole‑step Trills. With practice you can switch between these on a note‑by‑note basis, to achieve maximum expression.

However, this library will stand or fall by its main Arco/Vibrato sounds, and thankfully these don't disappoint. There's plenty of intimacy and bite, but since they are recorded dry you can place them in any environment you wish, using reverb. Their realism is enhanced by the fact that since each note is separately sampled, you gain the nuances of slight variations in pitch, vibrato, and intensity that characterise a real string section, especially with several 'players' in combination.

The cello is particularly good, but I found the violin and viola Arco attacks a little slow, making it more difficult to get smooth phrasing when switching between Arco and Spiccato styles. It would also have been very useful to have an Arco without vibrato for understated passages, but there's still an awful lot you can do with what's on offer, especially once you add some MIDI Expression controller data.

If you want to hear what Dan Dean's Solo Strings is capable of, listen to the 542K MP3 demo on the Nemesys web site — it's a perfect rendition of the Fawlty Towers theme which allows you to hear how transparently you can switch between Arco and Staccato articulations. Whether you need chamber music or a hip backing for a pop band, the Dan Dean Solo Strings collection should be on your shortlist. Martin Walker