I've saved the best till last: whoever thought of combining two concert harps and two vibraphones into a single playable sampled instrument, give that person a medal. Though it won't win any prizes in the high-adrenaline world of trailer music, this exquisitely delicate sonority sent me to aural heaven. When played together as single notes, the combination comes across as a pleasant harp timbre with the vibes adding subtle sustain to the harp plucks. The 'vibrato flageolet' patch combines harp harmonics with soft vibes hits featuring the instruments' distinctive motor-driven tremolo, a unique, special and beautiful sound.
The 'best in show' award goes to the harp and vibes' 'irregular arps' patch, consisting of the simple, quietly played root/fourth/octave arpeggios described earlier. Played chordally, this creates a lovely, glacial rippling effect à la Joe Zawinul's 'In a Silent Way'. Absolutely magical, a delightful sound which I could play till the cows come home.
While I'm still trying to figure out how to fit some of its more abstruse articulations into an arrangement, I appreciated the library's innovation and originality, and found much of its contents inspiring.
In addition to the articulations described above, each of TMA's sections includes an entertaining 'clockworks' section comprising tempo-sync'ed tuned and unpitched material. The first consists of simple melodic rhythm patterns, while the second are musical effects which utilise noises such as woodwind key clicks and vocal mouth clucks to evoke the sound of ticking clocks.
The tuned 'tonal' patterns are a lot of fun: load the high strings' clockwork patch, play a long note and you'll hear repeated 16th notes at your song tempo, with light quarter–note accents adding lilt and propulsion. Pushing up the mod wheel superimposes a layer of eighth–note triplets, while pushing it up further introduces a third layer of high, single accented short notes which pop up at spaced intervals. In the case of the low strings, the accented layer consists of loud, staccato double bass stabs on the top of every bar — low fifth intervals played with this patch sound fabulous. The bass stabs are also presented separately.
A similar formula is applied to the high woodwinds: the mod wheel brings in flute triplets an octave higher than the main clarinets pulse, topped by a third layer of irregular flute stabs. A variant low woodwinds patch has the clarinets playing groups of 16th notes in alternating high and low octaves, a jolly, circus–music-like effect. The brass section's contribution features eighth notes with built-in lower octave offbeat accents, while the mod wheel introduces single accented staccato notes on every quarter note: excellent, propulsive material for exciting chase scenes. The harp/vibes guys follow the standard format, with a third layer sounding like a bowed vibraphone — a hypnotic rhythm pulse which is very effective at quiet dynamics.
As with any time-stretched material, the clockwork patterns sound best near their recorded speed (in this case, 120/60 bpm). Slowing them down a lot can strain their timbre, but speeding them up is no problem — I tried them at 145 bpm and they happily bubbled along, sounding as natural as ever. Although some of the rhythmic performances' initial few notes are a little on the loose side, they all settle into comfortable, well synchronised looped grooves. Layer a few of these patches, engage the wheel, and you can create amazing orchestral builds. Very impressive.
Time Macro was recorded from four microphone positions: Close, A/B (reverberant with a wide stereo image), Decca Tree (the default position) and Surround (the most distant). A fifth option (Close A/B) is available for the brass only. The Kontakt patches are powered by Orchestral Tools' 'Capsule' articulation management system, which uses both single and multi-articulation patches: the latter contain up to 12 articulations, each with its own dedicated keyswitch, so you can easily switch between different playing styles.
Most patches incorporate mod-wheel-driven extra layers which have a major transformative effect on dynamics and texture — this is a vital expressive feature, so I'd encourage users to make liberal use of the wheel in order to explore each patch's full potential. I often found it helpful to artificially extend the patches' playing ranges, which can be quickly done with the small range controls at the bottom left of the Kontakt GUI.
If I ran a high street orchestral sample library shop (perish the thought), I'd be tempted to file Time Macro under 'experimental'. That's meant as a compliment — while I'm still trying to figure out how to fit some of its more abstruse articulations into an arrangement, I appreciated the library's innovation and originality, and found much of its contents inspiring. While some experiments are arguably best conducted in private (I'm thinking of free jazz in particular), this is one we can all enjoy sharing.
Though you won't find anything on the market which exactly replicates Time Macro's temporal-symphonic theme, some Spitfire Audio libraries take a broadly similar approach — Orchestral Swarm's studio-recorded sections play short notes at random intervals along with long textures and more conventional articulations, while the chamber line-up of Spitfire's London Contemporary Orchestra Textures (which includes flutes, viola, two cellos, vibes, harp and a small mixed-voice choir) performs a set of evolving articulations recorded in a vast aircraft hangar, which greatly expands the ensemble's delicate sound. Neither of the above libraries emulates Time Macro's clock-like melodic patterns.
Some of TMA's most intriguing patches can be found in its 'Altered Time' folder. Here's my Top 10:
- Chrono Reversed: A softly pulsating, blissed-out chord bed with psychedelic backwards elements.
- Decelerate Time: Dreamy floating pad which layers low thrumming harps and twinkling vibraphones over a lovely orchestral wash. Harp tremolandos sound almost like mandolins.
- Icy Plains: Massive, multi-octave symphonic tutti.
- Morse Unveiled: I'll 'endeavour' to explain the plot: a tranquil strings and winds pad transforms into a gigantic orchestral racket swelled by cataclysmic, end-of-days choral babbling.
- Parallel Trem Bursts: Deceptively demure winds pad explodes into a colossal brass onslaught when the mod wheel is engaged.
- Reversed Fifth Shimmering: Winds pad, does what it says on the tin. Musical warning: do not play dominant seventh chords with this patch.
- Reversed Quivering: Big, portentous, hovering full orchestra pad.
- Slow Brass Motion: Ominous breathy bass drone, reminiscent of low strings laced with giant didgeridoos, which packs a frighteningly loud trumpets layer. A sumptuous and original orchestral texture.
- Strings Shivering: Grand-sounding concoction of brass and tremolo strings.
- Brass Unleashed: Quiet muted trumpets gain a regal dimension when mod wheel is pushed up.
- High strings (20 violins)
- Mid strings (eight violas + eight cellos)
- Low strings (eight cellos + six double basses)
- High woodwinds (four flutes + four clarinets) *
- Low woodwinds (four clarinets + four bass clarinets) ** v
- Double Reeds (four oboes + four bassoons)
- Four trumpets + four trombones
- Two harps + two vibraphones
- Twelve women
- Twelve men
- String Orchestra +
- Woodwind Orchestra +
- Mixed Choir +
- Full Orchestra +
- Strings and Woodwinds +
- Brass and Strings +
- Choir and Strings +
NOTES: * Lower range features alto flutes and basset horns.
** Lower range features English horns and contrabassoons.
+ Created from individual sections vs Played in octaves.
- It's good to hear an orchestral sample library that dares to be different.
- Features some unusual, original and highly dynamic articulations, some of them stunning.
- As ever, the ensembles and choirs sound great in the Teldex hall.
- The multi-microphone set up is 100 percent compatible with other Orchestral Tools libraries.
- A few patches suffer from spots of indifferent tuning.
- May be a tad too specialised for some folks.
Featuring 10 ensembles (including choirs) performing evolving textures, rhythmic 'clockworks' patterns, dynamic swells and ad lib articulations along with a collection of altered-speed and backwards material, Time Macro spans the gap between traditional scoring and sound design. Recorded at Berlin's Teldex Scoring Stage using the same multi-microphone set up as the company's Berlin and Metropolis series, this imaginative collection offers an intriguing alternative to standard orchestral libraries.