UJAM and Hans Zimmer attempt to make creating professional string parts possible for everyone with Striiiings.
UJAM have a well‑established catalogue of virtual drummer, guitarist and bassist instruments with a design ethos that combines quality sounds with very user‑friendly UIs and workflow. However, their latest release is Striiiings (just hold on to all those letter ‘i’s and pronounce the name with a dramatic flourish!) and this represents something of a bold departure. That said, with Hans Zimmer as a co‑founder of UJAM, and his own archive of string ensemble recordings being used for the underlying samples, expectations might well be high. So, if you are looking for an easy way to add high‑quality modern string arrangements to your musical projects, is Striiiings the thing?
At the heart of all UJAM’s virtual musicians lies a combination of a sample set, a large collection of preset performance patterns, some cool effects options and a very clever UI that brings all these elements together in a deliberately compact control set. Striiiings will undoubtedly have many elements that appear familiar to the UJAM user base.
Top menu bar aside (where you can access the global preset system), the screen is divided into two horizontal sections. In the upper portion, you can customise the sound of the string section itself, with separate controls and effects for the low strings (basses/celli) and high strings (violas/violins) plus a central panel of global processing options. The lower portion contains the performance controls, allowing you to select from the 60 available performance styles and, with three zones mapped out across a virtual MIDI keyboard, select phrases from the current performance style (on the left), trigger chords within the Play Range (on the right) and specify alternate bass notes if required (in the centre). This panel also allows you to specify the Key (which then automatically weeds out any duff chords), the sync mode, timing (for example, swing) and set Striiiigs to ‘latch’ mode.
In many respects, the combination of selecting/tweaking the underlying sound, and then triggering preset performance patterns that follow the sequence of chords you play is identical to UJAM’s various virtual guitarist instruments. In use, it’s a deliberate design choice to simplify the process of getting a great performance, while keeping the control set streamlined and focussed.
Striiiings’ more conventional presets (that is, without any of the available creative processing options applied) ably demonstrate that the underlying strings sounds are very good indeed. The mod wheel can be used to control the playing dynamics or add crescendo/diminuendo. Within an individual style preset, you get six core phrases mapped on keys C1 to A1, with the performance phrasing gradually getting both more complex and being delivered with increasing gusto.
Given that Striiiings doesn’t offer an ‘instrument’ mode where you can just play the underlying string library freehand, it is obviously important that the supplied pattern presets have plenty to offer. Thankfully, the 60 performance styles included cater for a wide range of typical string ensemble performance types. These are divided into six groups — Arpeggios, Dramatic, Epic, Friendly, Riffs and Sustains — with multiple individual Styles presets within each group. Some are named by musical mood (eg. Gather The Troops or Glorious Day) while other by technique (eg. Heavy Bass Ostinato or High Spiccatos). While more would always be better (and I suspect UJAM will add further styles in future updates), there is plenty to get your teeth into. Combine a few instances of Striiiings within a project and you can create some very believable musical performances.
One further feature that helps in this regard are the four Additions triggers within the Phrase range. Many of these add a second, complementary, violin/viola line on top of the current phrase. They are really very effective, and my only minor quibble is that it might have been useful to have independent control of their volume.
As is obvious from the main screenshot, the UI includes some new options specific to Striiiings. This includes the ability to process the low and high string elements separately and, whether via the Crossfade slider, or in real time using the pitch‑bend wheel, to adjust the balance between the low and high string components.
In addition, with the Bass Notes trigger section, while this doesn’t let you play bass/cello lines manually, you can control the pitch of the low notes within the currently selected pattern/chord combination to create ‘slash’ chords. Both of these elements are a doddle to use and provide additional performance choices.
As mentioned earlier, Striiiings does ‘well‑balanced conventional orchestral string section’ with ease, but ‘classical’ is far from all that’s available. A number of categories within the 200+ supplied global presets demonstrate Striiiings’ sound‑design possibilities. These make good use of the various effects options available within the upper panel, where you get an individual Character FX and Motion FX for each of the low and high strings as well as plenty of creative options within the global Finisher slot. Whether you just want something lightly processed for pop flavours or full‑on sound‑design for more experimental (almost synth‑like) electronic textures, Striiiings can do it.
The Striiiings playing experience is a lot of fun. The user picks a Style, triggers the required chords (mostly with one finger), adds the performance variations through pattern switching and dynamics, and then Striiiings’ very clever pattern technology delivers a thoroughly convincing performance. Whether you have an orchestration background or not, this is about as easy as it gets.
If you want great‑sounding string arrangements with a minimum of fuss, Striiiings is a very attractive option with an equally attractive price.
Of course, there is an obvious catch. While you can combine patterns or layer/sequence multiple instances of Striiiings to create performance variations, there is no ‘instrument’ mode (as, for example, there now is within the UJAM virtual bassist titles) where you can just play the string sounds as a conventional sample library. Nor is there drag and drop of the phrase MIDI for editing within your DAW (this would, of course, require the pattern MIDI to be sent to separate MIDI tracks for basses, celli, violas and violins). Whatever performances you create, you have to do it within the pattern options provided by those 60 style sets. That said, even in this first release, that’s still a heck of a lot of creative possibilities.
The workflow is obviously very different from orchestrating by hand using a conventional ‘playable’ string sample library. However, there is an obvious comparison to a product such as Sonuscore’s The Orchestra. This can also do some of the orchestral arranging for you with lots of style‑based presets, but it can also be ‘played’ as a conventional multi‑articulation library, and covers the full orchestral palette. However, it doesn’t offer the sound design options of Striiiings, has a deeper (and therefore, more complex) UI, and comes in at a higher price. While there are concepts that overlap, it’s pretty obvious that, with the very deliberate design of Striiiings, UJAM are pitching it to a somewhat different (if perhaps overlapping?) audience to Sonuscore’s product.
While I suspect Striiiings will hold most appeal to those without an Orchestration 101 qualification, I’m sure it is a tool that even more experienced writers of string arrangements could appreciate; that ‘quick and easy’ workflow most certainly doesn’t mean Striiiings can’t deliver great results in the right musical context; it most certainly can. So, is Striiiings for you? Well, as UJAM offer a free, 30‑day, trial version for download via their website, it’s easy to find out. If you want great‑sounding string arrangements with a minimum of fuss, Striiiings is a very attractive option with an equally attractive price.
- Convincing string arrangements whatever your orchestration skills.
- Sounds great for both conventional or sound‑designed strings.
- Super‑slick UI and easy workflow.
- You are constrained to working within the supplied performance patterns; there is no ‘instrument’ mode or MIDI drag and drop.
UJAM have adapted their user‑friendly pattern‑based performance engine with great effect for Striiiings. Yes, you must work within the confines of the supplied patterns, but it can deliver high‑quality string arrangements for anyone, regardless of your orchestral skills.