Fritz Lang’s Metropolis inspires a third epic sample collection, while Berlin Orchestra Inspire provides a full symphony orchestra in a single package.
Fritz Lang casts a long shadow. The revolutionary German film maker wowed audiences in the 1920s with his cinematic masterpiece Metropolis, which still captures the imagination 90 years on. In 2015 its imagery and monumental sweep provided the inspiration for Orchestral Tools’ Metropolis Ark 1 collection; a year later, the Berlin-based company unleashed the sequel Metropolis Ark 2: Orchestra Of The Deep, a completely new symphonic sample set augmented by harps, choirs, keyboards and percussion.
Epics tend to spawn trilogies, and sure as night follows day, the series has now sprouted a third instalment in the shape of Metropolis Ark 3: The Beating Orchestra.
What, you ask, is a beating orchestra? The makers explain: “Metropolis Ark 3 combines an enormous, rhythmically driven orchestra with the loudest and beefiest percussion instruments we have ever recorded.” Fair enough. And the ‘Ark’ bit? According to OT’s founder Hendrik Schwarzer, “The ‘Ark’ part symbolises a kind of vessel in which the spirit and atmosphere of the 1927 movie is preserved in a modern interpretation, in the form of a sample collection.” I’m still scratching my head over that one, but if you’re in the ark-building game, it seems prudent to knock up a spare in case the first two sink.
Metropolis Ark 3 (MA3 for short) follows the same broad concept as its predecessors but, as intimated, its large string, brass and woodwind sections are rivalled by a massive percussion contingent which includes taiko drums, timpani, low drums, orchestral bass drums, snares, toms and cymbals. A string quintet and grand piano are thrown in for good measure. The whole shebang was recorded at the Teldex Scoring Stage in Berlin using the same mic setups as the previous two volumes, which means you can mix the three collections’ samples with no sonic discontinuity.
MA3 works with the free Kontakt Player or Kontakt 5.7.1 full version, and occupies 60GB of disk space once installed. You can read the reviews of Metropolis Ark 1 and Metropolis Ark 2 in, respectively, the September 2016 and October 2017 issues of SOS.
In this review we’ll also take a look at Orchestral Tools’ Berlin Orchestra Inspire library, which aims to bring the sound of the full Berlin Orchestra to smaller and mobile systems, and to provide a convenient sketching tool for those who need to create orchestral arrangements in a hurry.
MA3’s contents are divided into four main sections, which the makers persist in calling ‘districts’, but this time the wheeze of adding Berlin street names to instrument sections has been dropped — quite a relief, as patch names like ‘Graefenberger Contrabass Clarinets’ tend to make the head spin.
Delving into the individual instrument families located in ‘District IV’, we find a high string section of 21 violins & 14 violas playing together. This section lacks the melodic long-note options found in Metropolis 1 and 2, but compensates with some fearsome, immensely strong-sounding deliveries: attacking staccatissimos, dramatic accented short notes preceded by a single or triple upbeat, rapidly played bow ricochets and fast half-note-down slides straight out of the Bernard Herrmann/Psycho songbook. These articulations are played in octaves, with the large, confident viola section ensuring that the low register is never drowned out by the higher violins.
The aforementioned styles are applied to nerve-jangling cluster chords in a choice of voicings, a confrontational sonority which Herr Herrmann would have appreciated. Having done their scary thing, the high strings move on to play intensely powerful, surging crescendos and decrescendos of various lengths. All very good, but it gets better: the remaining articulations are tempo-sync’ed, looped note repetitions played as half notes and quarter, eighth and 16th notes with triplet options, performed in unison and in wide cluster voicings. These artics are the business; hold down a note or chord and they’ll bang out great, tightly-played staccato repeated short notes at your song tempo.
In an admirable display of consistency, the high strings’ articulation menu is maintained wherever practical for all of MA3’s sections. This works a treat for the library’s low string section of 10 cellos and nine double basses: their half-note-down slides are a delight, and their eighth-note staccato repeats motor along with excellent feel and drive — good news for those requiring instant orchestral low-end rhythmic action. The low strings’ crescendos and decrescendos are also top class: the former is the classic John Williams ‘shark alert’ strings sonority, while the latter can double as a straight short-note articulation provided you don’t hold down notes for too long.
As you might imagine, a low strings cluster chord is not the most uplifting of experiences, sounding more like an effect than a musical event. However, as a string arranger I’ve been asked for exactly this kind of obliterative bass noise, so there’s obviously some demand for it! Though there are no col legnos or Bartok pizzicatos here, the woody attacks of this section’s bow ricochets would be a reasonable substitute. With that particular patch, I found it expedient to turn off the round robins in order to regularise the rhythm — arguably less realistic, but it maintained the groove.
Further string delights await a short cab ride away in District I: there lurks MA3’s string quintet of two violins, viola, cello and double bass, awaiting gainful employment in your next blockbuster movie score. The players faithfully follow the large string ensembles’ octave/unison formula, and though the tuning isn’t always spot-on, their repeated notes are very usable and their bright, precise bow attacks can add definition to the larger ensembles.
As with the string ensembles, MA3’s woodwinds are divided into high and low sections, the former consisting of two piccolos, two flutes, Eb clarinet, Bb clarinet, oboe and English horn, while the latter comprises two contrabassoons, bassoon, two contrabass clarinets, two bass clarinets and a Tubax, a large, contrabass hybrid saxophone/tuba contraption. Both sections are arranged in octaves with instruments blended across a two-octave range; these being wind instruments, the articulation menu is amended with flutter-tongue and fortepiano performances replacing the ricochets.
Though many woodwinds battle for supremacy in the high section, the ones you tend to hear are the piping piccolos, which add a brilliant sheen and edge to staccatos and repeated notes — the insistent pulsing of the latter could be used to good effect in a minimalist, Koyaanisqatsi-style film score. The low woodwinds sound more blended, making a fabulously big, fruity and resonant sound in their contrabass register. It’s debatable how much mileage users will get from this section’s endless array of atonal cluster chord articulations, but whether they strike you as sinister or funny (or possibly both), they certainly grab the attention.
If you’re looking for powerful brass in the John Barry/Mission Impossible vein, look no further. This library’s low brass section of two tenor trombones, bass trombone, contrabass trombone, cimbasso, bass tuba and contrabass tuba nails that timbre, turning in seismic, blasting, rasping bass notes which will batter cinema audiences into submission. The low brass’ marcato long notes are a useful addition. Users should keep an eye on volume levels when auditioning this section — its ‘flutter crescendo cluster wide’ articulations make some of the most ferocious, speaker-shredding noises I’ve ever heard in an orchestral sample library.
At the high end of the brass range is a six-trumpet ensemble which plays some glorious unison marcato long notes, surprisingly the only looped sustains I encountered in the entire collection. Beautifully tuned, these regal performances are worth the entry price alone, a superb example of top players recorded in a great-sounding hall acoustic. Layer them with the fortepianos, and you have a trumpet sound to die for. I was hoping the library’s eight-player French horn ensemble would get the same treatment, but they have no sustains. On the plus side, the horns sound superb, and their fortepianos and decrescendos can double as loud medium-length notes.
The beating heart of MA3 is its percussion section, which centres around a substantial set of samples played by members of the Wadokyo taiko ensemble performing solo and in three-player ensembles. The five taiko ensemble patches contain a selection of thunderous single hits, various types of roll and clacky shell hits, played on a variety of drums ranging from a stentorian 60-inch monster odaiko to the higher-pitched, ritualistic-sounding shime-daiko.
Featuring six dynamic layers and 10 round robins, the large taikos create the quintessential, hammer-of-the-gods booming ‘cinematic drums’ noise which has obsessed samplists in recent years, and frankly it doesn’t come much better than this. Should you need more detail, there are 13 solo taiko patches, each featuring a different drum.
Augmenting these splendid Japanese taikos is a large array of percussion performed by the Hamburg-based Elbtonal Percussion quartet. Continuing the deafening epic drums theme, the players pound away on orchestral bass drums, toms, Brazilian surdo and Indian davul, all played solo and in various ensembles. These booming thwacks can be augmented by orchestral snares, trashy crash cymbals, trashcans, plastic buckets, and wooden and metal hits, the latter including a tiny triangle which sounds as though it’s wandered into the wrong session.
Piling on the grandeur, OT also sampled a three-player timpani ensemble, sounding truly mighty and agreeably reverberant in the expansive Teldex Hall acoustic. The players do an excellent job tackling a demanding articulation menu: their single hits, single and triple upbeats, crescendo and decrescendo rolls all sound great, and what the three-note so-called ‘cluster chords’ lack in harmonic value, they make up for in sheer power. The only fly in the ointment is the timps’ tremolo patch, which failed to load its samples.
To save you the trouble of combining individual patches into single playable entities, the makers combined the above-mentioned instruments and ensembles in full String Orchestra, Woodwind Orchestra, Brass Orchestra and Percussion Orchestra super-sections. That has created some astoundingly heavy percussive impacts, but for some reason the other instruments’ patch lists omit all of their straight-note performances and focus exclusively on half-note-down and atonal cluster effects — a strange decision, I would have thought the straight staccatissimo and note repetitions would be more useful to users.
While it’s great to have every instrument, ensemble and playing style of the symphony orchestra at your fingertips, lashing them together into a musical arrangement can be daunting and time-consuming. In order to make life easier for users, Orchestral Tools created the Berlin Orchestra Inspire library, featuring sections and solo instruments culled from the company’s larger collections and streamlined for fast creation on less powerful systems and laptops.
For an in-depth evaluation of the full Berlin Woodwinds, Strings, Brass and Percussion libraries, check out their reviews, published in the March 2013, August 2014, March 2017 and October 2017 issues of Sound On Sound (available on the SOS web site). For an overview of the all-in-one Berlin Orchestra Inspire (BOI for short), please read on!
BOI contains a total of 23 instruments and sections, each of which plays up to five essential articulations. A star turn is the full string section of violins, violas, cellos and double basses mapped over six octaves and blended according to range — the ideal tool if you need to quickly knock up a string arrangement without having to think about assigning parts. This ensemble plays strong sustains, excellent, zippy ‘action-scene’ staccatissimos (an Orchestral Tools speciality), vibrant, shimmering tremolos and beautifully tight, sumptuous pizzicatos, for which there will always be a home in some TV ad or other.
For melodic passages and dramatic bass lines, there are high and low strings sections voiced in octaves, both of which have true-legato patches to ensure smooth note transitions. Alternatively, you can use the commanding unison Violins I & II patch for lead lines, or go for a smaller chamber sound with the First Chairs section, which maps a quartet of solo strings over their full collective playing range. All string patches have a con sordino button, which simulates the instruments’ softer muted sound.
The woodwind patches contain some lovely material: a full wind choir mapped over seven octaves (I love the way the oboe gradually gives way to flute in the higher register), and the pastoral, wooden-pipe-organ sound of flutes and clarinets in octaves. Both ensembles feature OT’s brilliant Trills Orchestrator, which automatically generates a realistic trill when you hold down two notes a tone or semitone apart. Bassoons and clarinets in octaves are another great Stravinsky-esque sonority, with a superb solo flute and clarinet on hand for expressive and lyrical solo lines. All except the full ensemble play true legato sustains.
Brass gets a similar treatment: a full complement of trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba mapped over a wide range, the same again with mutes attached (real ones this time), trumpets and horns in octaves, a powerful trombones/tuba combo and an all-purpose solo horn and solo trumpet, the latter offering a subtle ‘romantic vibrato’ option.
In the percussion department, a terrific ‘essentials’ patch groups together fantastic low, booming orchestral bass drums, hair-raisingly explosive tam tam and piatti crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, excellent toms, orchestral snare drum and a miscellany of small percussion. Timpani play straight hits and powerful rolls, and tuned percussion is represented by a hard-mallet marimba-xylophone pairing and a rather delicate glockenspiel. There’s also a concert harp derived from OT’s popular Symphonic Sphere library, and a Steinway D piano adapted from their Orchestral Grands title.
The biggest sound of all is the ‘full orchestra ensemble’, a grand tutti mix of brass, strings and woodwinds playing sustains, short staccatos and a great effects patch comprising brutal Bartok snap pizzicatos, scary cluster chords and an outrageous set of atonal risers, hits and crescendos — the perfect soundtrack for an apocalyptic movie score. As with the other ensembles, a useful Kontakt keyswitchable multi-patch allows on-the fly changes between articulations.
If you’re an experienced orchestral sample user, working with BOI is a doddle; if not, getting to grips with its simple layout should be relatively easy. The library (9.5GB installed) works with the free Kontakt Player and Kontakt 5.6.8 full version.
Apparently three trucks full of percussion instruments and 111 musicians were employed to create Metropolis Ark 3, in which case, hats off to the roadies, as well as to the excellent players who gave their all in creating this enjoyable, highly effective rhythmic maelstrom. It doesn’t cover every orchestral base — there are no silky sustains or legato long notes, for example — but for massively powerful rhythm-based programming on an epic scale, it has few equals.
As for Berlin Orchestra Inspire, if you’re thinking of dipping your toes in the orchestral water this library would be a good place to start, offering an excellent spread of instruments and ensembles pre-arranged in classic orchestral textures, along with articulations which require the minimum amount of effort to whip up into a realistic score. Two great libraries with creative applications for both serious professionals and newcomers to the field — are we inspired yet?
Orchestral libraries in the Metropolis Ark 3 vein include, well, Orchestral Tools’ previous Metropolis releases (the first of which featured taiko drums in its percussion section), Spitfire Audio’s Albion One and 8Dio’s Majestica. At the more budget-conscious end of the market, VSL’s Special Edition Volume 1, EastWest/Quantum Leap’s Symphonic Orchestra (Play Edition) Silver, Cinesamples CineSymphony Lite and Kirk Hunter Virtuoso Ensembles offer their own takes on Berlin Orchestra Inspire’s orchestra-in-a-box format.
Metropolis Ark 3’s percussion offers a choice of five mic positions (Close I & II, Decca Tree, Surround and the mysteriously-named ‘AB’), plus a sixth ‘sub’ mix designed for the 5.1 surround low-frequency channel — in cinemas, that signal would be isolated and routed to the ‘point one’ subwoofer, so it’s a nice option to have up your sleeve if you’re creating surround mixes.
By contrast, to keep things simple, Berlin Orchestra Inspire provides just one microphone position, a blend of close and hall mikings featuring a judicious amount of hall reverb.
- Twenty one violins & 14 violas
- Ten cellos & nine double basses
- String quintet
- Six trumpets
- Eight French horns
- Low brass ensemble
- High woodwinds
- Low woodwinds
- Solo taikos
- Solo percussion
- Aux percussion
- Grand piano
- Taiko ensembles
- Percussion ensembles
- Timpani ensemble
Full ensembles (created from individual sections.)
- String Orchestra
- Brass Orchestra
- Woodwind Orchestra
- Percussion Orchestra
- Full orchestra ensemble
- Strings whole ensemble
- First Chairs whole ensemble
- High strings 8va(8va = played in octaves.)
- Low strings 8va
- Violins I & II
- Woodwinds whole ensemble
- Flutes & clarinets 8va
- Bassoons & clarinets 8va
- Solo flute
- Solo clarinet
- Percussion essentials
- Marimba & xylophone
- Brass whole ensemble
- Brass muted ensemble
- Trumpet & horn 8vaTrombone & tuba 8va
- Solo horn
- Solo trumpet
- Steinway D piano
- MA3’s instruments are among the most powerful you’ll find in the orchestral sample domain.
- MA3’s articulation menus are highly consistent across its sections.
- Berlin Orchestra Inspire provides all the ingredients required for orchestral arrangement in a single, user-friendly package.
- Both libraries benefit from great musicianship and excellent hall sound.
- Both libraries are fairly expensive.
Metropolis Ark 3 puts the seal on Orchestral Tools’ epic trilogy by focussing on rhythmic performance. Spearheaded by a large contingent of taikos, low drums and timpani, the library also provides great attacking short notes, driving repetitions and cluster chord effects played by seriously powerful strings, brass and woodwind sections. For less committed users, the classic timbres, essential articulations and undemanding specs of Berlin Orchestra Inspire offer a convenient solution to the challenges of orchestral arrangement.