Spitfire's latest Albion library heads north in search of new scoring directions.
Out with the old, in with the Neo. The latest addition to Spitfire's popular Albion range pursues a fresh direction in film scoring spearheaded by a new breed of composers who ply their trade in European capitals rather than Hollywood. This band of musical thinkers avoid blockbuster clichés by working with smaller instrumental groups, exploring new, subtle playing techniques and incorporating electronic sound design elements. The results amount to a quiet revolution in music scoring, where Wagnerian bombast and conservatoire training are replaced by subtlety and sonic smarts.
In celebration of this creative arising, Spitfire Audio have released Albion Neo, the latest in a series of themed orchestral libraries stretching back to 2011 (see the 'Albion Endures' box). The library is an all-new sample collection which, while drawing inspiration from previous Albion titles, doesn't duplicate any of their content.
Recorded via a two-inch tape path in the reverberant acoustic of Air Studios' hall, the new library (henceforth referred to simply as Neo) contains a chamber orchestra consisting of strings, woodwind and brass, as well as loops, hybrid synths and evolving orchestral textures. The big, crashing 'cinematic percussion' found in other Albion titles is absent, but by way of compensation there's a pristinely recorded harmonium. (One small keyboard, no big drums — is this the new austerity?) Neo (59.4GB installed) requires Kontakt 5.6.8 or higher and includes a free copy of Kontakt Player.
Neo's strings are split into two 'divisi' sections of a dozen or so players with an overall head count of 23. Though each section contains first and second violins, violas, cellos and basses, instruments are not presented individually: they're melded together into a single playable unit, mapped according to range over the full strings C1-C7 playing range. In addition, there are separate low strings patches in which cellos and basses play in octaves. This classic style sounds great, and I was pleased to see it presented as an optional extra rather than baked into the main patches.
Amidst all the talk of experimental techniques, electronic textures and hybrid synths, you might overlook the bread-and-butter string articulations that constitute the heart of this library. That would be a mistake: the strings' simple long–note patches are captivating, beautifully played, expressive and dynamic, with a sweet upper register and a sombre, sonorous low range. Transitions between instrument registers, often a stumbling block in sampled full string sections, are expertly handled, so you can move freely up and down the entire range without hearing any obvious jumps in timbre.
Legato performances are divided into high- and low-range patches, both of which sound fine and are eminently playable for stately melodic themes and expressive bass lines — being able to crossfade between no-vibrato and vibrato samples of these long notes is a great asset. Other standard artics such as spiccato, tremolo, and pizzicato are of a uniformly good standard, and I particularly liked the lovely, tender sul tasto (a Spitfire trademark) and flautando bowings. When combined, these lush, breathy textures work a treat for soft pads.
Moving off the beaten track, I enjoyed the gentle oceanic ebb and flow of the strings 'long pulses', and loved the '5th Bend Up' patches, in which the players...