Spitfire Audio join forces with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the celebrated Maida Vale Studios. Is this the best of British?
Though I'm growing a trifle weary of flag-waving right now, I was pleased to hear that Spitfire Audio, champions of British musicianship and purveyors of fine orchestral samples since 2008, have teamed up with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, purveyors of fine British orchestral music since 1930, to record a new library which we can safely describe as all-British. Henceforth known as BBCSO, the project stemmed from a discussion in a pub (always a good starting point) between Spitfire founders Christian Henson and Paul Thomson, and Dominic Walker, a commercial director at BBC Studios (formerly known as BBC Worldwide).
Paul Thomson explains: "I was working with BBC Studios on a TV show as the composer. I've always had a great relationship with them, and as the project came to an end they asked, 'We love what you guys are doing with Spitfire, is there anything we could collaborate on together?' We brainstormed and that provided the kernel of the idea." From such little acorns, mighty oaks grow. Eighty-four recording sessions and over a million samples later, we now have the mighty BBCSO, a large scale, comprehensive, one-stop orchestral sample library powered by a single cross-platform plug-in for all major PC and Mac DAWs — a breakthrough moment for Spitfire Audio, and a fillip for the historic institution that helped create it.
A significant feature of this ambitious venture is the sheer number of signals it contains: 20 in all, including 11 microphone positions, two stereo mixes, a set of signals optimised for Dolby Atmos mixing, and five spill signals. The latter stemmed from Paul Thomson's desire to have "all of the mics open all of the time", thus replicating what happens when recording an orchestra live. Though it seems daft to fade absentee players' microphones into a mix, the spill from these open mics adds a subtle but telling ambience which enhances the sense of being in the room with players. (See the 'Microphone Positions' box for more details.)
If creating blockbuster scores is your mission in life, this library could be just the tool you need to help you realise it.
The project was recorded in Maida Vale Studios, originally built in 1909 as a skating rink. Rebuilt as a BBC facility in 1934, it has been home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the legendary John Peel Radio 1 sessions. All instruments in the library were played by members of the aforementioned BBCSO, the Beeb's principal broadcast orchestra, which has performed regularly at Maida Vale since 1934.
Though such longstanding institutions have been known to breed complacency in the workforce, there's a lot to be said for a musical collective that plays together regularly: over time, the ensemble naturally develops a cohesive balance and an uncanny musical telepathy concerning subtleties such as rhythmic feel and dynamics. Having played every instrument and ensemble in this large library, I can assure you none of the players exhibit any signs of complacency — rather, it sounds to me like they gave it their all. The studio acoustic also makes a major contribution, imparting size, depth and a unique combination of warmth and brightness to the orchestra's polished sound.
If you're considering buying BBCSO, it's worth bearing in mind that Spitfire pay performance royalties twice-yearly to every artist who has performed on their recordings. Paul Thomson explains: "As with all of our products, the players receive a royalty on sales, but as this is a partnership with the BBC, a proportion of sales revenue also goes back into supporting music at the BBC." This supportive, co-operative attitude is a welcome contrast to certain big Internet companies who would sooner set fire to their beards than pay musicians a royalty.
For more info on the studio and players, see www.soundonsound.com/music-business/bbc-maida-vale-studios and www.bbc.co.uk/symphonyorchestra.
BBCSO runs exclusively as a plug-in in your DAW — there is no Kontakt (or any other sampler format) version, and samples are locked for editing. Despite Spitfire referring to it as a 'stand-alone plug-in', it needs to run inside a host program such as Logic Pro X, Cubase or Pro Tools, and will not operate in stand-alone mode on your desktop.
The extensive microphone options have made this library a massive 680GB in size, which means...