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Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra Vol. 1-5



There are some sample CD releases that might trigger a spark of interest in the potential user reading about what they could contain. There are some releases that you might actively look forward to hearing, and get almost excited by the thought of what they might sound like in your latest project. There are even some that are positively drool‑worthy. You want them, you justify the price to yourself somehow, you get your credit card out and prepare yourself to be blown away with new sonic dimensions and exciting textures. Then there's Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra.

From the renowned orchestral sample über‑meisters Best Service comes this five CD‑ROM set available in both Akai and Roland formats. It works something like this: Imagine a full‑sized symphony orchestra meticulously recorded and arranged, providing a massive selection of multisamples, effects, runs, glissandos, swells, tremolos and so on, edited sensibly across five CD‑ROMs jam‑packed with useable material. With each disc constituting more sample information than your average single CD‑ROM release, I could write a thousand words on each, but I won't. Instead I'll look at each disc individually, with apologies up‑front for any points I have to exclude in the interests of keeping this month's Sample Shop under a million words!

VOLUME 1: STRING ENSEMBLES Rating: ***** 5/5 Stars

Unlike the highly successful Orchestra CD‑ROM which gave us a full and crossfaded orchestral string section, Volume 1 in this set deals with the individual elements of the string section, namely: 14 violins, 10 violas, eight celli and six basses. The violins are given the most disc space (nearly four whole partitions) and the volumes range all the way from large multisamples of the entire section playing 'ff' and 'pp' to complex runs, glissandos, swells, pizzicato effects and odd phrases. A lot of attention has been given to the number of different playing styles, and this has presented the user with a huge database of classical‑sounding effects that could either be slipped effortlessly into an existing string track, or used as the central theme idea. It goes without saying that the recording quality is superb and the programming and editing of the raw samples to blend and crossfade within a multisample programme is superb. All the sounds are presented in stereo and, as you've probably guessed, the name of the game with all of these sounds is quality and flexibility as opposed to saving on memory space. This can sometimes be a mild inconvenience to anyone working with anything less than 32Mb of sample memory, and some mono or lower‑bandwidth alternatives of the most important sounds would have been a great help, but this is only a mild gripe set against a huge sonic backdrop of sheer quality and pure technical musicianship.

VOLUME 2: SOLO STRINGS Rating: **** 4/5 Stars

Three instruments (violin, viola and cello) are each presented first as a stereo multisample (forte and piano) of sustained notes, followed by shorter, 'detache'‑style playing. Following from that are spiccato and pizzicato multisamples and the very expressive con sordino styles. Interestingly, the producers have opted to have no loops with these samples; instead they offer us very long stereo recordings of each note (sometimes as long as six seconds each!) allowing us to loop them ourselves if we need to. This accounts for the fact that each of the full‑range violin programmes is around the 16Mb mark. Whether or not a solo string instrument sounds infinitely better or worse as a mono recording is a moot point, but it seems foolish of the producers to exclude at least one mono alternative for each instrument. Of course, going through your sampler and deleting all left‑hand channel samples, then re‑saving the programme onto a spare part of the hard disk is one way to get round this, but it seems awfully long‑winded. The sounds themselves are fantastic (or at least as good as any I've yet heard) with the expressive cello programme (cello con sordino) stealing the show for me in the realism department. But where this volume really shines is in the amount of 'twiddly bits' thrown in for good measure. Trills, runs and glissandos are just the kind of things that are virtually impossible to programme realistically, and here is a massive selection of all sorts of 'real' playing that, when dropped into your MIDI performance, can fool even the most astute listener. This CD‑ROM covers only three instruments, of course, but as an in‑depth study of each it rates very highly indeed.

VOLUME 3: WOODWINDS Rating: ***** 5/5 Stars

Just as with the solo strings, most loops on this disc have been replaced with exceptionally long recorded samples — and very good they are too. The disc covers most of the instruments of the contemporary woodwind family, namely: flutes (solo and flute trio), alto flute, piccolo flute, oboe, clarinets, bass clarinet, solo clarinet, bassoon, contra bassoon and English horn (Cor Anglais). Each instrument starts with long, sustained multisamples playing both loud and soft notes, followed by staccato notes, trills, mordants, swells and grace notes. The flutter tongue effects are particularly good, as are the major and minor runs for nearly all of the instruments. The solo samples are, again, nearly all in stereo, apart from a few mono and half‑bandwidth versions (at last!), and these generally work better as samples than the recordings of three instruments paying together. The oboe and English horn samples are particularly fine, sounding richer and more authentic than any physical modelling synth ever could, but it's the wonderfully mellow bassoon that really steals the show for me. Perhaps because of the wide range of instruments presented on this disc, you really get the 'value for money' feeling when flicking through this volume, and as a single source of woodwind sounds I can hardly fault it at all.

VOLUME 4: BRASS AND EFFECTS Rating: ***** 5/5 Stars

Trumpets, tubas, French horns, trombones and all manner of weirdness can be found in the effects section. The disc starts with sustained multisamples of all instruments, followed by musical oddments including swells, trills, glissandos and staccato phrasings. This disc seems to be slightly less memory‑hungry than some of the other volumes but, just like the others in the series, the accompanying literature and sleeve notes are extremely clear and help you to determine exactly the kind of sound you're looking for and how to go about getting it into your sampler. The solo trumpet is jaw‑droppingly realistic, as are the French horn sections and trombone crescendos. When you want all the power and aggression of a big‑sounding brass section, this disc delivers, just as it does when you want the subtle and more delicate tones of a solo French horn. The effects section is a little more erratic, and unfortunately tends to concentrate a bit too much on a contrabassoon doing a helicopter impression, or a gimmicky viola sound effect, when it really should have provided a few 'Whole Orchestra' effects such as stabs, hits, runs and short phrases. But it does offer some excellent string cluster effects, and overall there's more than enough to keep most users happy for quite some time.

VOLUME 5: PERCUSSION AND HARP Rating: **** 4/5 Stars

This disc features cymbals (of varying sizes), timpani drums, Gran Cassa, snare rolls and hits, orchestral bells, Tam Tam/gongs, Chinese gongs, triangles, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, tubular bells — oh, and a harp. It starts with a huge number of long, sustained cymbal crashes, rolls and crescendos, then moves onto the wonderfully rich and harmonic timpani samples (pp, mf, and ff). The snare drum programmes are especially useable, with up to five different levels of snare roll and hit in one patch, plus various speeds of crescendo and velocities of hit. This is just the kind of attention to detail that makes this whole set a real joy to use. The tubular bells take up a massive amount of memory (the full set needing more than 28Mb) but are well worth the wait. This is true for most sounds in this library, and if you don't have the sample space you'll quickly get very frustrated. The harp collection is packed full of every imaginable glissando and strum, but somehow fatally neglects to provide us with a full multisample of the instrument! This spoils an otherwise faultless volume and means that if you want your harp to play anything other than the (admittedly wide) selection of sounds here, you will just have to look elsewhere. Overall, though, if you want orchestral percussion samples you really should be looking at this disc.


The whole package is currently on sale for a penny under £600, which may put it well out of reach of smaller studios, but for anyone seriously involved with film or TV soundtrack work, this set deserves serious consideration. For those working to a real budget, audio versions of all of these discs are available (for the usual £59.95), but be warned — you'd have to stay up quite late to match Best Service's level of programming, particularly when it comes to accurately crossfading and blending the raw material within a patch or programme. The simple truth is that you will need a a lot of sample memory (certainly no less than 16Mb, and 32Mb or more is preferred), a very fast CD‑ROM drive, and quite a bit of time to get to know the library inside and out before you can confidently call yourself a 'power user'.

This project obviously represents a huge number of man‑hours of work, and it shows at every level. As a set of intelligently recorded musical instrument samples that you will turn to again and again for inspiration, Advanced Orchestra works like a dream. The competition is going to have to work very hard to beat this one, because — certainly within this price range — there isn't anything that even comes close. PS: When the man from Best Service comes round to collect his CDs, tell him I'm out... Paul Farrer

Star Tea




2 Stars TETLEY