Product Review: UVI’s IRCAM Solo Instruments

Screen capture from UVI IRCAM Solo Instrument package interface, courtesy UVI IRCAM.

COLLEGE PARK, Md., February 10, 2014  – One of the problems with amazing product demos is that it can be difficult to sort out truth from fiction from clever mixing. As mentioned in a previous review, UVI’s IRCAM Prepared Piano is true to its online presentation, with the product’s lush sounds and atmospheres available right out of the box.  

In the case of UVI’s IRCAM Solo Instruments (retail $399), you also get what you hear in the online demos, though the full quality and usability of the package isn’t as easily discernible from the bewitching sound demos that UVI has placed online.         

UVI IRCAM product box.
UVI IRCAM product box.

In what is another mostly successful collaboration, the composer-centered UVI has teamed up with France’s renowned IRCAM (Institut de Recherché et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) to sample 13 solo instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet in Bb, bassoon, alto saxophone, horn, C trumpet, trombone, tuba, accordion, guitar, harp, and solo strings.         

We tested UVI’s IRCAM Solo Instruments in Mac OS 10.8, working in Sibelius 6 and Logic 9, approaching it from traditional notated and modern sequenced perspectives. We also used it in stand-alone mode through UVI’s “Workstation” player, controlling the instruments through a MIDI keyboard and Akai USB Wind Controller.         

All of the instruments are divided into “classical” and “extended” folders, representing standard playing techniques along with an extensive battery of extended techniques including such goodies as discolored fingering on the flute, tuba glissando, harp buzzing, and all manner of string effects (flautando, sul ponticello, col legno, and many more.)

Many of the instruments also include folders with “muted” samples of various kinds, along with “transition” folders containing movement between techniques, such as a violin norm. gradually moving to sul pont., or gradual variations in string pressure.

All in all, it is a massive library of sporadic quality. The good news is that just about every extended technique you could desire is available, and they are all recorded incredibly well. The sounds have a raw and sometimes even (tastefully) flawed quality, adding to an impressive level of realism in the individual notes.

If there is one place where these sounds suffer – and the same can be said for the standard “classical” sounds – it is the lack of scripting for items such as legato phrasing and repeated notes. This leads to a package where the individual sounds are stunning, while convincing performances might be hard to come by.        

Criticisms aside, this package remains the best alternative for extended techniques available. Composers looking to create mock-ups including such extended techniques need not look elsewhere, and will have their investment richly rewarded.

Onscreen explanation of extended violin performance technique and sound.
Onscreen explanation of extended violin performance technique and sound.

While they may not have intended to do so, UVI has also created a valuable pedagogical tool, allowing younger composers to call up beautifully recorded extended techniques and experience them on a very real and visceral level. They even went as far as to provide a written description of each technique and sample type, a much appreciated level of detail that stands in contrast to often cryptically named banks of samples.  Companies should take their cue from UVI and not try to re-invent the wheel where naming conventions are concerned.        

The “classical” folders are more of a mixed bag. In general, the individual notes are convincing though they lack expressive quality. Successions of notes in runs or phrase groups sound flat and mechanical in succession, while there is a surprising lack of dynamic character in a number of the instruments.

One potent example is the brass packages, which contain nice soft samples but completely fail to present convincing louder samples, resulting in a surprisingly emasculated sound. Furthermore in many of the standard “ordinario” samples, the notes themselves are shockingly short, clocking in between a half second and one and one half seconds in length, without a convincing re-trigger option. For composers writing slow or atmospheric music, this might present an impossible situation.        

This sample package fared best in testing when it was used in conjunction with stronger solo instrument samples, such as those provided by Eastwest’s Platinum Orchestra.  When those close-miked samples were placed in the same space via a nice reverb package with UVI’s extended technique samples, an entire new world of mock-up possibilities emerged.

One should not be tempted to purchase this product in hopes of receiving a fully functional set of solo instruments. Yet composers seeking beautiful and convincing extended technique samples, transitions, and “filler” notes may find themselves justified in embracing the hefty price tag for this rather uniquely qualified collection of sounds.

In the final analysis, UVI’s IRCAM Solo Instruments is a mixed bag, justifying a breakdown grading based on its various components. UVI might benefit from creating a cheaper sub-package including just the extended techniques. Many composers would likely bite at the chance to have so many incredible sounds at their fingertips.

Standard Sample Sounds:  * ½ (1.5 out of 4 stars)
Transition Samples: *** ½ (3.5 out of 4 stars)
Muted Samples: *** (3 out of 4 stars)
Extended Techniques and Transitions: **** (4 out of 4 stars)

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