Eli Krantzberg reviews The Orchestra by Sonuscore, a revolutionary 80-player orchestral sample library for NI Kontakt Player featuring a breakthrough Ensemble-Engine that allows you to create quick ensemble sketches with minimal effort or write complex orchestral arrangements.
What exactly is The Orchestra?
The idea of combining pre-arranged orchestral ensembles and phrases with multi-sampled instruments is nothing new. I remember a library from almost twenty years ago called Orchestral Colours by Pete Siedlaczek. It contained a variety of hits, finales, layers, and atmospheres delivered as audio files. And in those days audio files played back in one key at one tempo. They sounded great, but like those “jingle” Apple Loops that ship with Logic Pro, there wasn’t a whole lot you could do with them. Developers have tried various variations on this idea over the years with varying degrees of success. Gary Garritan’s Instant Orchestra, for example, contained patches of various section combinations, mood-based presets, and orchestral effects.
On June 22, 2017, everything changed. The Orchestra by Sonuscore / Best Service is a new plateau in orchestral scoring. Pre-made generative phrases with plenty of user control, along with a hearty multi-sampled collection of the most useful instrument articulations, combine for a new instrument that allows for a depth of orchestral part creation that I have never seen or heard before.
The Orchestra is a 6.85 GB library hosted within Kontakt 5.6.8 or higher. Broadly speaking, the instrument is divided into two sections.
- The first is a traditional collection of all the usual orchestral instruments with all the usual articulations. They load up as individual Kontakt instruments and can be controlled via conventional key switching, or with the mouse and a collection of simply laid out front panel buttons.
- The second is built around a system of multis called the Ensemble Engine. Each Ensemble contains up to five instruments. It is a simple way of combining orchestral colors and quickly loading playable instrument combinations with intelligently laid out split and layers. The Orchestra ships with a collection of Kontakt multis that load multiple instances of these Ensemble Engines all mapped and ready to go.
If that is all this instrument did, it would be enough. But the real magic happens on the Engine page of the Ensemble. A unique system of range based arpeggiators and envelopes allow each Ensemble to generate complex rhythms between the different instruments contained within.
Let me explain.
The architecture of each Ensemble is as follows: five instrument slots, three programmable arpeggiators, two programmable envelopes, a mixer with basic control for each slot, and three effects processors.
Each of the five slots can be shifted by an octave. They can also be routed for control by one of the arpeggiators or envelopes. The arpeggiators and envelopes are where the real power lies with this instrument. In addition to the arpeggiator controls we are all familiar with, these arpeggiators have a note selection feature which allows for range specific notes to be affected. Notes falling outside the specified range are muted.
The two amp envelopes are designed for us to draw in custom curves that control the amplitude of notes over their duration. Each has their own independent note selection based criteria.
Try and imagine the following scenario: You are holding a five note chord. The top two notes have violins playing a rhythmic pattern generated from one of the arpeggiators. The brass are playing slow sforzando swells on the bottom two notes, thanks to one of the envelopes. The middle note has the flutes playing another single note rhythm based on a second arpeggiator pattern. Woodwinds are playing a slow crescendo based on all five notes, thanks to the second envelope. The fifth slot has different brass instruments playing a complimentary accented rhythmic pattern, generated from another arpeggiator, with staccato articulations. Imagine then a Kontakt Multi with several of these Ensemble engines assigned to the same MIDI channel, where each of these elements described above is layered with other instrument combinations.
Is your head hurting yet?
Not to worry, there is a large collection of multis that ship with The Orchestra. The multis are organized into three categories. They combine different presets and settings in multiple instances of the Ensemble Instrument to create huge-sounding instantly playable instruments. The Orchestral Colours Multis are full orchestral combinations for quick sketching and layering. Orchestral Rhythms and Animated Orchestra Multis contain rhythms and patterns that will be generated from any played note. Many of them are layered with playable articulations, so melodies can be played on top of the orchestral rhythms.
To give you an idea of the power of all this, below is a simple little exercise I improvised in real time that took me about five minutes to do. It is using the stock multi called Big Orchestra Basic 8ths 06.
This multi consists of three Ensembles.
The first is a collection of strings triggering three separate arpeggiator patterns.
The second is a combination of string and horn marcato articulations with no arpeggiator or ensemble based movement. So they are adding weight to the initial attack of each note played.
The third consists various brass sections playing either staccato or marcato articulations triggering three different arpeggio based rhythms. I added some mod wheel movement on the second pass for some volume swells.
And these are the notes I played in:
There’s a lot to love about this instrument. Not only do the multi-sampled instruments sound great, but the whole Ensemble Engine and Multi-paradigm bring orchestral part creation to a new level of simplicity.
I have to admit, my feelings about this instrument evolved significantly the more I got to know it.
At first, I thought, this made it too easy. Anyone could play with one finger and create fantastic sounding orchestrations. This will be the beginning of the end of true orchestration skill; not unlike the first impressions many had about singing when Autotune and Melodyne came out. And as I scrolled through the Multis I thought to myself that everyone using this instrument will create music that sounds the same. The multis are great for big dramatic gestures.
But what about more nuanced control over what is generated?
I warmed up to it very quickly though as I got to know and understand how the engine system works. For those willing to take the time to move beyond the preset rhythms and one-finger-gratification aspect of this instrument, there is a world of new workflows and possibilities here.
It would have been nice if Sonuscore had included a simple Ensemble that was completely blank, to be used as a starting point for building your own. The first thing I did was clear one out and save it as an empty preset. I then started building my own and realized how elegant this whole system is. I can see myself saving a series of presets with arpeggiator patterns laid out, but with the instrument slots empty. It’s like having a palette of orchestral rhythms available to be used in different ways on different instruments.
I think this is a fantastic 1.0 release and have a couple of suggestions for how Sonuscore can make this already fantastic product even better.
First, it would be great to have the ability to save arpeggiator and envelope presets independently of the Ensembles. Users could build up a palette to choose from that can be called up as needed within any Ensemble.
Second, since this is such a fabulous sounding set of samples, it would be nice if multiple output routing were available. That way instruments could be mixed independently within our DAWs.
Who's it For?
I think The Orchestra has a lot of appeal for a wide range of users.
For those less experienced, who want to get into working with orchestral libraries, this is a huge win. It is extremely easy to generate gratifying results with minimal tweaking. The entire manual is only 18 pages long - which is a testament to the simplicity of the interface and overall design.
For “mid-level” orchestral sample library users (I consider myself in this category) this has huge appeal as well. It is a great tool to mock up elaborate sketches quickly and easily. There is plenty of room to personalize the results and create some custom Ensembles without too much fuss. The multi-samples are perfectly useable on their own as well.
For power orchestrators, the actual instrument library will be nothing new for them. The Ensemble Engine, however, with its clever system of range based arpeggiators and envelopes, provide a fresh set of composing tools that I think will inspire and stimulate. This aspect of the instrument alone will be worth the price of admission for them.
When I first heard the audio demos, I thought - they must have done some serious sequencing and tweaking to create these. But no, they are exactly what the instrument sounds like out of the box.
At $399 it is great value for a set of basic orchestral instruments and articulations and the other unique compositional tools it offers.
To learn more, take a look at the Best Service web site to see and hear for yourself: