Review of Spitfire Audio’s BML Mural Strings

Review of Spitfire Audio’s BML Mural Strings

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Composers and musicians: A new string king has arrived!

Violinist Emily Ondracek-Peterson performing excerpts from Mark Nowakowski's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. (Video still via YouTube)

CHICAGO, February 16, 2016 – In the increasingly crowded and competitive string library market, Spitfire Audio’s BML Mural Strings volumes occupy the rare distinction of being designed with depth while remaining memory efficient, highly musical, and yet affordable.

For composers working in a Kontakt environment, these volumes may represent the most intriguing and beautiful string library available. Even those not working with Kontakt may find themselves purchasing the engine just to gain access to Spitfire’s wide variety of gorgeous musical products.

Spitfire is perhaps the most aesthetically interesting and musician-centered producer of software instruments on the market. No, really. Just go look at their website for starters – but not until you’ve locked away your credit card somewhere safe.

The three volumes of “Mural” string instruments continue a composer’s musical journey in a deeply intelligent way, providing a product scalable for different memory options ranging from the powerful desktop workstation to the “barely can handle it” travel laptop.

While Mural Strings are designed primarily for use in your favorite digital audio workstation (DAW), users who work primarily in notation software will be able to access these sounds as well. Unlike another major competing string orchestral software instrument, Mural gives you several different sets of instruments with intelligent key-switching in mind. Users can pull up the key-switched instruments and conserve memory by easily unloading any techniques not used in their scores.

Another option for users of Kontakt instruments is to create a custom “key switched” instrument (of sorts) using Kontakt’s instrument banks feature. (You can find a tutorial on this option here.)

Key switching has many advantages, one of which is control over the sounds used without having to install any third party software to manage more complex packages in notation environments.

The screen shot below shows the simple yet powerful set of features in a common instrument. Here we see the “core palette” representing sounds from Spitfire’s Volumes 1 & 2. (The first two volumes are recommended as a minimum purchase for fully functionality, while the third volume includes more rare and eclectic techniques.)

ScreenshotONEinternal800At the bottom of the instrument window in this image, we see the loaded technique (Long, mute, harmonic, flautando, sul ponticello, sul taste, spiccato, short quarter note, short half note, pizzicato, bartok pizzicato, and col legno. The depth of multi-sampling (available attacks, dynamics, and techniques) is described in the yellow area, bottom left.

Located above the available techniques in the gray area are three mic options: close, medium and far. There are numerous additional mic and sound design options as well. For instance, if you access the same instrument from the “alt mics” folder, you can access the intuitive and ridiculously easy to use “easy mix” menu, which you can see in the next illustration below.

SubWindowThe sounds are all recorded as full sections in Spitfire’s Air Studios, a world class scoring stage that has seen scores from films and TV series like “Gladiator” and “Downton Abbey” pay a visit. Composers who want a bone-dry, close mic experience won’t get this with Mural. What they will get is a moodier, yet still detailed and truly organic orchestral instrument whose pre-mixed environments save a lot of time in the mock-up stage.

The mic controls are followed to the right by controls for dynamic intensity, vibrato intensity (from non. vib to a pronounced wide vib), release, ensemble tightness, and expression, which controls the volume of the patch; All these preceding musical options can be controlled in a DAW or notation program via CC controller MIDI messages. To learn how to include CC messages in Sibelius, click here. Knowing how to effectively use these tools is key to getting the most out of this package.

One quick concern we have is worth noting here. We found that in order to match with American tuning and American instruments, the Spitfire tuning would have to be raised by a fraction. To accomplish this, in the top right of the instrument window, simply enter “0.20” in the “tune” area, and you will be good to go.

As American orchestra sometimes tune higher (A=442 up even through A=445) for brightness, such adjustments are occasionally necessary to get diverse instruments to gel together. We’ve written Spitfire about this concern but have not yet received a response.

We acquired these string libraries in the midst of creating a promotional video of excerpts from this composer-reviewer’s own violin concerto. Embedded below, this video includes excerpts from, “Fragments: A concerto for violin and orchestra,” and contains numerous string techniques. The string-heavy score also demands truly luminous playing from soloist and orchestra alike. It proved the perfect testing ground for Spitfire Mural, Volumes 1 and 2. The violin soloist in the following video is Emily Ondracek-Peterson.:

In the end, this composer decided to make the Mural Strings the new centerpiece of his digital orchestra.

Lovers of the orchestral tradition—whether film or classical—will find much to appreciate in Spitfire’s latest home-run effort. Musicians and composers may even find they’ve just added a new and vital heart to their digital orchestra.

Highly recommended!

Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)

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