CANTON, Ohio, August 9, 2017 – The company “by composers and for composers” has struck again with a new offering. Built as atmospheric scoring tools and evocative add-ons to Spitfire’s standard string libraries, the Albion Tundra collection and London Contemporary Orchestra Strings now provide compelling tools for the scoring and mock-up process that were previously unavailable to composers.
Given the general theme and target audience of these reviews, we should first mention what these libraries are not: They (with the exception of several instrument patches) do not serve as stand-alone orchestral sounds appropriate for a notation environment. Outside of a very subtle and gentle piece which may make use of some of the longer and legato samples available in these packages, Tundra and LCO are essentially scoring tools, more appropriate for DAW environments or for filling out specific techniques in a mock-up setting.
Yet these two packages are reviewed here as an Apollonian-Dionysian pair, given that they can be paired to meet the increasing need for timbres and techniques generally not present in standard orchestral libraries. These are niches, and Spitfire just filled them.
The Albion Tundra library was initially inspired by the music of Arvo Pärt, and doubtless by the many fine and highly evocative recordings available of this singularly original music. (Thank you, Manfred Eicher!) The library features grouped strings, winds, and brass (divided between high and low registers) playing with various techniques, many of which are of the crystalline and “barely there” variety (see Figure 1 for a snapshot example).
While the little aleatoric effects and extended techniques are very nice, composers may be particularly drawn to the “Air and Ice” and “Frozen” string instruments. These provide various fantastically evocative light bowed long techniques. The “pulsing” and “ricochet” patches became quick favorites of this reviewer, already finding their way into film scenes requiring subtle motion and delicacy. The “hollow” wind patches are also especially effective, providing a nice alternative to the generally full and warm section patches available in most good standard orchestra libraries.
The London Contemporary Orchestra Strings is a strings-only package, which provides a variety of rare, extended techniques divided by section (see Figure 2). Examples include new, longer sul tasto and sul pont samples; various harmonics of various timbral qualities (many previously unavailable); and less common techniques, which may arise via the musical instruction of a section leader or conductor. Examples in this latter category includes a more granular and gritty tremolo, various longer vibrato and bending techniques, or modifications over time (such as the “granular to ord” patch).
Perhaps the key aesthetic difference between Tundra and LCO is the impact of each. The LCO patches are more raw and more immediate, allowing one to quickly achieve the Penderecki-like effects present in many modern scores, while Tundra is a distant chilly whisper by comparison. The only exception occurs in the nice open fifths double stop instrument in Tundra, the most aggressive instrument of the patch.
With regard to both packages, Spitfire’s online demos and videos are beyond honest in representing the evocative nature and musicality of these virtual instruments. For the purposes of this review, we combined a number of Albion and LCO instruments (see Figure 3 below for a partial screenshot) to quickly construct a colorful musical scene.
As always, Spitfire provides the ability to easily mix microphones, modify mic distance and deeply affect the musicality of each individual patch, including thoroughly convincing swells through use of the mod wheel. Less useful, perhaps, are the different synth and warped sounds provided along with Tundra, though composers looking to increase their arsenal of character-filled pads and colors may benefit from having them.
While the instruments themselves are pricey (Tundra $449.00 USD, LCO $349.00 USD), various package deals and educational pricing provide deep discounts to standard pricing. One of Spitfire’s clever selling points is the fact that every instrumental library is recorded in the same location, making for instant production compatibility and balance between products. Composer just starting out building their virtual orchestras could theoretically purchase the Spitfire Symphonic Strings with Tundra & LCO as add-ons, giving themselves a full toolkit for string composition and scoring.
On a personal note, having Albion Tundra at this reviewer’s fingertips has become a new source of inspiration. As is often the case with Spitfire products, a lackluster day can suddenly be filled with inspiration just by closing out the world, putting on a set of headphones and slowly improvising within one of these gorgeous landscapes of sound. These are truly beautiful instruments, and many composers will find them gratifying additions to their existing digital palette.