Three hundred year‑old singers being a bit thin on the ground, Orchestral Tools called upon members of an altogether more youthful German mixed‑voice chamber choir who specialise in music of this period. The 10‑strong female choir and their 12 male colleagues perform sustains, legato sustains and syllables, the latter in a choice of long, marcato and short styles.
The vowel sounds used for the sustains are ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’. Not startlingly original, but as the two vowels are assigned to different velocity layers within a single patch, you can create lovely evolving choral pads by using the wheel to morph between them. The long notes are well tuned and the female choir sounds great in three‑part harmonies — I enjoyed the singers’ steady, silky‑smooth deliveries and was pleased they don’t employ an overbearing operatic vibrato. I also found the legatos to be surprisingly nimble and adaptable to a wide range of tempos.
To create an impression of a Baroque chamber choir, the makers recorded a set of 19 syllables taken from German liturgical works by composers such as J S Bach. To my untutored English ear they sound like ‘herr’, ‘komm’, ‘du’, ‘gna’, ‘der’, ‘zu’, ‘uns’, ‘sie’, ‘dich’, ‘gott’, ‘ku’, ‘mich’, ‘klau’, ‘ge’, ‘wo’, (pronounced ‘vo’), ‘han’, ‘mensch’, ‘sind’ (pron. ‘zint’) and ‘tod’ (pronounced ‘tot’). The syllables are programmed to play in a round‑robin cycle, but you can remove any you don’t like or just select a single syllable. When fashioned into chords and melodies they do a very good impression of a live choir, and though the syllables are incomprehensible they’re certainly a lyrical improvement on ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’. An unexpected bonus is the marcato syllables’ quiet dynamic, which has an engaging confidential quality.
Since the short syllables’ initial consonants have slightly different lengths, if you put them all bang on the grid some will sound a little late. To save you the chore of manually correcting this, the makers included an optional short syllables patch in which the attacks and pre‑delays of the samples have been matched up. The time‑aligned samples all have a fixed pre‑delay of 190 milliseconds, so to put them exactly in time you can either move your MIDI notes a bit to the left or use the MIDI pre‑delay in your DAW.
Despite its relatively narrow focus, Miroire provides a satisfyingly full sound picture of a bygone musical age.
Unless you’re an experienced MIDI orchestrator, assembling a bunch of separate instruments into a coherent musical whole can be a daunting prospect. To help get your creative juices flowing without getting bogged down in technical details, Orchestral Tools created a set of combined patches out of the individual instruments and sections which will familiarise you with their sound and hopefully provide some inspiration.
Some of Miroire’s most enjoyable material is found in this section. ‘Christmas Oratorio’ combines cheerful staccato oboes and trumpets with a stately low strings accompaniment, bringing glad tidings in a classic and joyous Baroque mix. In a similar vein, the celebratory woodwind‑driven arpeggio‑style melodies and marching basso continuo of ‘Orchestra Shorts’ shows off the excellent staccatissimo artic, ending with some urgent Bernard Hermann‑esque ostinato chordal repetitions powered by exciting crescendo surges. Being a fan of staccato woodwinds, I had a lot of fun with this highly playable patch.
The jollity continues with ‘High Ensemble Ornaments’, which layers woodwind and strings grace notes to create a cartoon‑like atmosphere. For more liturgical moods, the ‘Passion’ sustains patch combines female and male choirs with austere, serious‑sounding strings, while the violins, alto recorder and female choir ‘oohs’ in the tritely named ‘Angel Choir’ sound delicate, serene and somewhat mournful. ‘Wind Fanfares’ and ‘Brass Accents’ do what it says on the tin, combining horns and trumpets in regal staccatissimo flourishes and blaring marcato accents. Lastly, there’s ‘Orchestra Marcato’, a grandiose fusion of accented horns and strings bolstered by powerful low strings and bassoon. Reserve for your epic big screen moments.
I’m happy to report that the Orchestral Tools’ Sine player’s long‑awaited 1.0.6 update is finally available. It introduces many minor improvements and fixes a number of issues, including a long‑standing bug where the keyboard GUI would only trigger the first instrument in a multi‑instrument setup. Disappointingly, the player still has no built‑in effects and you can’t tune the samples or alter the amount of pitch bend, all facilities one would expect from a high‑end sample player.
The good news is that Sine makes it easy to set up your own velocity splits and/or crossfades, design your own keyswitch setups and extend instrument pitch ranges by dragging their outer notes up or down on the GUI keyboard. Another cool feature originally implemented in Orchestral Tools’ ‘Capsule’ Kontakt script is that you can apply legato transitions to the instruments’ portatos, long and short marcatos, tremolos and ornaments, smoothing out any unwanted bumps between notes.
As intimated earlier, this collection doesn’t set out to be an exhaustive exploration of Baroque‑era instrumentation, so if you want lutes, harpsichords, serpents, ophicleides, crumhorns, sackbuts and racketts (a personal favourite), you’ll have to look elsewhere. No percussion is included, so adding an authentic beat to these period instruments would require a search for compatible timpani and tambourine samples.
Despite its relatively narrow focus, Miroire provides a satisfyingly full sound picture of a bygone musical age. Its well‑chosen instruments and voices sound expressive while maintaining a simple, direct style, and the library’s components blend beautifully into a united whole, providing composers with an unusual and colourful alternative. An evocative and characterful collection, and an excellent addition to Orchestral Tools’ ever‑expanding sound world.
This is the first library I’ve seen in a very long while that doesn’t loop its instruments’ long‑note samples. In the early days of sampling that might have signalled a desire to avoid the delay and cost of creating hundreds of loops, but that’s clearly not the case here. OT’s explanation is that with the occasional exception of pedal notes, music of this period doesn’t involve very long melody notes or chord pads, so to emulate that spirit they decided not to loop the sustains. Instead, they recorded articulations that have a certain built‑in expressive dynamic movement, and are thus unsuitable for looping.
Most instrument sustains last between five and seven seconds, with the oboes’ ‘sustains soft’ artic clocking in at eight. The melodic portato style varies in duration from 1.5 to three seconds depending on the instrument, while marcato longs are between 1.5 and 3.5 seconds. In some cases these longer notes start with a swell and feature a diminuendo in their latter half, and when you sustain a chord some notes persist a little longer than others. By contrast, the choir’s long notes are sung at a constant dynamic and are looped, so you can sustain them till the cows come home.
In addition there are OT’s familiar short marcato, staccato and staccatissimo styles, and all instruments except the horns and trumpets have a highly effective legato mode, as do the choirs. Grace notes, an important feature of Baroque performance, come in three flavours: the first is a double grace note called a ‘lower mordent’, the second is a triple grace note starting one step above, while the third is a faster rendition of the latter. All offer a choice of tone or semitone intervals. Coupled with the library’s trills, these ornaments will add beautiful decoration to your courtly melodies.
Nowadays we take it for granted that modern instruments are in tune with each other, so if you play a Yamaha vibraphone and your friend has a Casio digital piano, the two of you can have an enjoyable jam with no tuning clashes. This wasn’t always the case — tuning in the Baroque era seemingly varied according to geographical location, and musicologists believe (for example) that pitch in South Germany was lower than in the North, while Venetian orchestras played at a higher pitch than their counterparts in Rome.
Thankfully, such differences were eventually ironed out and we now enjoy an international pitch standard of A‑440, meaning the ‘A’ note above Middle C vibrates at a frequency of 440 cycles per second (aka 440 Hertz). However, some historic variants persist: according to Orchestral Tools, today’s performances of Baroque music commonly use a tuning system of A‑415, and that’s the tuning used for Miroire’s instruments and voices. If played in literal note‑for‑note unison with modern instruments this would create a Portsmouth Sinfonia‑style train wreck, yet the library sounds perfectly in tune with the A‑440 keyboards in my music room. How so?
The saving grace is that A‑415 sounds almost exactly a semitone lower than A‑440. In a triumph of pragmatism over purism, Orchestral Tools mapped all of Miroire’s instrument and vocal samples onto the keyboard a semitone lower than their nominal pitch, thereby uniting ancient and modern tuning systems by means of a simple MIDI transposition. It’s important to understand that no sample detuning is involved — the violas’ bottom string (written as C but sounding as B due to the lower Baroque tuning) is mapped to B2 on your keyboard, while the violin’s bottom note (nominally a G but sounding as F#) duly appears on your keyboard’s F#3. In other words, what you play is what you get. As OT’s video walkthrough commentator explains, “This is just a note for the purists out there — for everyone else, don’t worry: when you play a C, you’ll hear a C.”
- Baroque violins (4)
- Baroque violas (3)
- Basso continuo section (2 cellos, double bass, bassoon)
- Baroque flute
- Baroque oboe
- Baroque oboe d’amore
- Oboe da caccia
- Alto recorder
- Baroque horn 1 (in F)
- Baroque horn 2 (in D)
- Baroque trumpet 1 (in C)
- Baroque trumpet 2 (in D)
- Baroque Female Choir (10)
- Baroque Male Choir (12)
- An authentic collection of well‑played Baroque string, wind and brass instruments and ensembles.
- Female and male singers from a Baroque‑inspired choir perform long notes and syllables.
- The instruments and voices blend beautifully to create an enjoyable and lively period‑flavoured chamber sound.
- Programmed combinations provide instant creative inspiration.
- No percussion is included.
Orchestral Tools’ Miroire holds a mirror up to the past while giving a modern perspective. Its period instruments, ensembles and vocal performances create an authentic Baroque sound for historical and fantasy productions, while its unique timbres and colourful combinations offers modern composers a new take on standard orchestral textures.