TALLINN by Orchestral Tools: A virtual instrument review
CANTON, Ohio – Having previously reviewed concerts performed by the luminous Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, it only seemed fitting that I return to the pages of CDN and document a real achievement in the world of virtual instruments. Namely, TALLINN, the capturing of this fine ensemble as a virtual instrument by Orchestral Tools.
For those who do not know, virtual instruments are pieces of software, which allow composers and arrangers to realize their musical compositions entirely through the use of their computers. Indeed, even avid moviegoers may not know that the majority of modern film soundtracks are created in this way. Today, all manner of virtual instruments are available. They range from choral and orchestral to more ethnic and even include synthetic fare. And best of all, they all grow more realistic, musical, and useful by the day.
The Berlin-based company Orchestral Tools is a major player in this dynamic industry. The company offers a series of musical software products that have become beloved staples in many a modern composer’s toolkit. Their latest product effectively captures the sound of the iconic Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir along with their frequent collaborator the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, plus two organs as well. The resulting virtual instrument – entitled, simply, TALLINN – is a triumph.
A brief overview of TALLINN, a virtual instrument by Orchestral Tools
Recorded in the moody and evocative acoustics of the old Niguliste [St. Nicholas] Church* in Estonia, this product’s most immediate selling point – beyond the quality of the performers – is the available ambiance of a church synonymous with so many excellent Arvo Pärt performances and recordings.
Users can download multiple microphone configurations, and can mix each voice from a spot microphone to an “incense thick in the air” mix of TREE OMNI and Surround microphones. The product captures every instrument lovingly in this way, and the results are simply gorgeous. Most users will likely find no need to add additional reverb or processing to these beautifully mixed performances.
(Below: TALLINN mini documentary video.)
A lifelike virtual instrument encapsulating the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Beginnings with the vocal aspects of the package, the package simply divides the choir into “male” and “female” sections. Each voice loads with a series of key-switchable options, and can be played with sustain legatos, stackable/harmonic sustains, humming, vibrato (as opposed to the standard straight-tone), long and short syllables, and random tonal and atonal figurations. There does not seem to be a single throw-away or second-rate performance captured in these instruments, and the legato instruments are immediately stunning and playable. Also useful is the Orchestral Tools setting. It toggles dynamics (played via the mod wheel) that users can play beginning either from a set pianissimo level, or from complete silence.
What this product captures with the vocal material is the essence of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir: its ethereally clear, crystalline, and immaculately balanced wintry sound. The choir’s unique qualities have helped propel the music of Arvo Pärt to global status, while setting the standard for chamber choral settings in the west. Even for composers who do not plan to work with computer technology, simply having these voices available beneath their fingertips while composing may prove reason enough to purchase this inspiring package.
While the choir does not contain a dedicated wordbuilder, the syllables patches can provide tasteful syllabic definition to lines. They can sound even better when doubled with the wordless legato patches. Subsequently, I used this same trick with other choir packages I own and found that doubling other word-builders with TALLINN’s magnificent legato brought those instruments to another level as well.
The instrumental features in this product are equally impressive.
The package divides the chamber strings into violin, viola, and cello, in addition to a small bass section. The general character of the strings is exactly what you would hope for from a live chamber ensemble. The sound is clear, nimble, and strong, yet refreshingly fragile within the Niguliste’s stunning acoustic environment. Instruments contain standard legato and harmonic sustains. They also include a “soft” patch, expressive single bows, portato, staccato, tremolo, dynamic passages, and numerous takes on harmonics. The strings are mostly straight-tone to match the quality of the choir and the general wintry, Nordic feel of the package. Thus, the ensemble provides a unique tool for composers working in the current virtual instrument landscape.
… and then, not one, but two magnificent organs
Finally we come to the two organs captured in TALLINN. These include the Church’s Main Organ and its Choir Organ. Both flit and warble and sustain with moody grandeur the ambient acoustics in the Niguliste. In short, a composer could easily become lost within these impressive instruments.
Each organ has a bevy of sound-shaping options in terms of their respective built-in stops. This proved the major surprise of the package. Frankly, I did not expect to receive more than a cursory organ instrument. What I found instead were two fully-functional virtual organs. Orchestral Tools has perhaps undersold this intriguing feature of TALLINN. Quality virtual instrument organs of similar quality typically sell for more than the price of this entire package alone.
Orchestral Tools houses all their virtual instruments within their proprietary SINE Player, which comes free to customers. Users familiar with Kontakt or PLAY should have little trouble navigating this interface. But the skittish user can also download SINE for free. Subsequently, the user can then sample some of Orchestral Tools’ excellent (and free) virtual instruments before taking the dive.
In TALLINN, Orchestral Tools successfully wraps up the choir, strings, and organ into a masterpiece of a virtual instrument filled with inspiring potential. Many virtual instrument companies prove quite adept at marketing highly-produced demos of their work. But with TALLINN what you hear is actually what you get: an instrument sure to inspire some of the emerging choral masterworks of our time, while bringing the sound of this ensemble into scores everywhere.
Rating: 5/5, highly recommended.
(Below: Official walkthrough video.)
*(Note: According to its Wikipedia entry, “St. Nicholas’ Church (Niguliste kirik) is a medieval former church in Tallinn, Estonia. It was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors. Originally built in the 13th century, it was partially destroyed in Soviet Bombing of Tallinn in World War II. [Since restored], today it houses a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, [which] mainly focuses on ecclesiastical art from the Middle Ages onward. The former church is also used as a concert hall.”)