On January 14, after months of waiting, music technology journalists, along with the general public, were finally given a glimpse of EastWest’s new Hollywood Strings library in the PLAY player via video presentation that could either be viewed online or downloaded to your hard drive.
Hollywood Strings is the first string sample library to be recorded in a Los Angeles recording studio, specifically EastWest Studio 1, which prior to being purchased by EastWest, has boasted many a string ensemble being recorded within its walls with Frank Sinatra and others. So the studio in which HS was recorded already has a longterm demonstrated track record for achieving a quality recorded string sound.
Consequently, a key feature for HS (Hollywood Strings) is its studio sound vs. the concert hall sound in EW’s Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra.
HS’s studio sound provides we composers with another choice as to which string ensemble recorded in which space do we want for the piece we’re working on. I use the word “piece” because it’s too easy to box Hollywood Strings into a specific genre when it has capabilities in virtually any musical genre.
The string ensemble size is 16-14-10-10-7 making it a large orchestral string section. The library has the strings recorded in their seated positions using this stage layout: Vlns 1, Vlns 2, Violas, Cellos with Basses behind the cellos. According to the presentation, Violins 2 are independently recorded.
Divisi for this library has been achieved through a unique mic placement technique (described by co-producer Nick Phoenix in the video presentation) allowing for div a 2.
There are three different methods by which divisi can be achieved in a string section. Per the presentation, it appears the method used by EW is, from the conductor’s position, dividing the strings so that players to the left side of the music stand play the high part while the players on the right side play the low, or inner, part.
In the presentation, Mr. Phoenix used the term first chairs to describe players on the left side of the music stand. The use of the term first chairs should not be confused with that term as used by L.A. Scoring Strings, which refers to the soloist for each section.
On Sunday Evening, January 24th, Mr. Phoenix responded to a question on the VI Control.net/forum explaining how divisi works in Hollywood Strings. Here is his response:
In the divisi folder there are 10 folders:
1st Violins A
1st Violins B
2nd Violins A
2nd Violins B
Each one of these folders contains ALL of the patches in the library that the section played. So there is no limitation to what the divisi patches can do, including all legatos, sordino etc. They are the same as the regular library. These patches are all pre-panned in the proper position. The divisi was recorded at the same time as the regular samples and was captured simply by placing a U67 or U47 in a place that captured mostly 1/2 of a section with and emphasis on the first chair (A) or second chair (B). The benefit to this is tuning is perfect and coherent. This is how Sean Murphy get’s a more detailed sound. He just dials in a bit of these spot mics. Use all the A patches and get a smaller sound. Use all the B patches and get a different small sound. Use them together and split parts and harmonies amongst A and B for a true divisi performance. If you are looking for a quartet type of sound, you will not get it from HS. But if you are looking for a small string section sound like 18 players (6,5,4,3). That is easy.
RE: Muted Strings. According to Mr. Phoenix Hollywood Strings has modeled muted strings. This means that the sordinos included with Hollywood Strings were not recorded with mutes on the strings. Instead, the Hollywood Strings interface creates a muted string effect. “We recorded real sordinos in HS, but they were only for analysis and comparison to the regular recordings,” explained Mr. Phoenix on the VI-Control.net forum.
Comments on the Overall Presentation
By way of background, on January 6, 2010, members of the press (including myself) received a written invitation to attend a live demonstration of Hollywood Strings on January 13 at the EastWest facilities.
Unfortunately, that meeting was canceled and replaced with this video presentation, which was made available to both the press and the general public on January 14th. On January 15th, a revised presentation was posted.
Observations and impressions here are from the revised video. Just to restate, the revised video is the only information journalists have today with which to write about Hollywood Strings. Consequently, I’ve posed a number of product feature questions about Hollywood Strings from what the video covered or in some cases, didn’t cover.
After months of waiting for what promises to be a game changing library, I confess, I felt let down by this first video presentation (which EW calls a tutorial) because there are several practical pieces of upfront information about HS and using it that weren’t covered that I would want to know before taking advantage of EastWest’s pre-order pricing. As professionals, our decision to pre-purchase is based on this video demo and those to follow.
Consequently, with so much time available before formal product launch, it would have been good for EW to have produced, using either Keynote or Power Point, a basic 5-10 minute overview, that could have also been posted on YouTube, that would have clarified and explained key product features, along with setting composer expectations of how a system, or systems, loaded with Hollywood Strings should be set up.
There are system integration issues to consider. Is Hollywood Strings designed to be on the same system as our sequencing program, or is it best setup, at 500+GB, on a separate computer? At this point, since PLAY isn’t yet working with Vienna Ensemble Pro, if HS is on its own system, then what’s the recommended setup today?
Note: Just before press time, Doug Rogers, President of East West Sounds, wrote me and suggested that Hollywood Strings is probably best put on its own system. On the PC, you will probably want to consider an i7 with 8GB of RAM or better. We’ll have more updated information shortly. I appreciate Doug responding to us.
About my Comments on the Hollywood Strings Library
My comments take into account that this is an unfinished library with the Diamond Edition not shipping until February 28 (it was originally announced that it would ship on January 13). The Gold Edition is scheduled for a March 28 release.
I looked at this first video of HS Diamond as a preview of things to come (teaser might be a good word) with the understanding that its overall purpose was to encourage composers to make a pre-order buying decision (which is the objective of a sales presentation!).
Consequently, from my perspective, I see a few technical system questions that need to be answered (which I’ve already posed), a few feature questions that need to be answered, along with stronger demos of Hollywood Strings‘ modeled sordinos and their recorded approach to creating divisi. For comparison purposes, I’d personally like to hear these last two features demoed with a few short Public Domain 4-10 bar examples from Debussy, Ravel, and Vaughan Williams clearly demonstrating sordinos, divisi, and, divisi with sordinos.
A few examples would be:
Debussy, Danse Profane
Ravel, Mother Goose Suite, The Fairy Garden (first 17 bars)
Vaughan Williams, Norfolk Rhapsody #1 in E Minor, at E
My remarks are pegged to timings (minutes: seconds) in the revised video presentation.
2:56 – Slur Runs – compelling feature especially with five mic position choices.
3:19 – The dream – load a patch, play chords in the left hand and a melody in the right so that it sounds like finished music. A program is displayed labeled “Tommy Williams” (?). Is this a preset? A custom program? Re: Mr. Phoenix’s comment that the demonstration at this point was on a feature that’s never been done before. This also needs a little explanation.
In this section, Mr. Phoenix talked about, “unimaginable power.” I asked for a clarification. On January 26, at the VI-Control.net/forum, Mr. Phoenix wrote:
About the unimaginable power comment: Thomas was playing a single patch in real time which allowed him to play a full string section with crossfading dynamics and vibrato with his left hand and the melody he played with his right hand was playing all 3 types of interval legato. The result was something that sounded like a real string section playing live. It’s breathtaking when you play it and was breathtaking to many that heard it and understood that the way they write will be changed with this library.
4:12 – Celli Legato Monster Patch – If I’m understanding this correctly, what EW has programmed in the Monster Patch is comparable to the concept behind several of the Vienna Instrument programs where all the basic expressive articulations are within a single program (patch), including up bow/down bow in the demonstration. If I’m understanding this correctly, this is an awesome programming achievement for PLAY. Are there equivalent patches for the violins, violas, and basses?
5:43 – Mic positions – Mr. Phoenix used the Cello Legato Monster Patch as the basis for demonstrating the five mic positions. While brief, you certainly see the great options available with this feature. It would have been useful to have a one-sentence explanation for each mic position demonstration to clarify better what you’re hearing, especially for those who are recording novices and unfamiliar with a Decca Tree and how it works.
6:47 – Mic Mixing With Reverb – Impressive. Certainly allows an ease for using HS with other libraries, and certainly with HS alone. Since there are no direct woodwind, brass and percussion libraries recorded to match HS, it would be useful for EW to provide some template setups for QLSO, StormDrum 2, Gypsy, Quantum Leap Pianos, and Ministry of Rock, so that you can have a ready-studio orchestra post-installation built entirely of EW products.
6:58 – Full Strings Patch – This was demonstrated both open and muted. It was performed live at the keyboard by Thomas J. Bergersen, one of the co-producers. Though brief, you get the idea. Quite lovely. However, the program displaying in the browser is Violas Sus RR Omni. So which program was it we were hearing?
8:05 – This is a demonstration of the First and Second Violins in octaves (Vlns 1 – Vlns 2) using what Mr. Phoenix called a Violin Performance Legato. A different group of players were recorded for each of the sections. This combination is most frequently used when Violins 1 are in the Medium through Very High registers with Violins 2 in the register an octave below. I’m impressed with this demo. String octaves are a major writing technique, and they’re a major technique in film score writing. This can be a very difficult technique to do with samples, and even though we’ve only heard a little portion, EW seems to have captured this.
9:07 – 2nd Violins Shorts Mod Speed Patch – Mr. Phoenix didn’t say, and I couldn’t tell from listening to the Marcato Shorts if whether the shorts, all activated by the Mod Wheel, are with an arco string program so that on the same patch, you can go back and forth between arco and a particular “short” depending on the melody’s needs. If not, it would certainly be great to have such a program so that you can have a fluid string line on a single track. Least impressed with Staccato-on-Bow in this example. Otherwise, impressive.
10:40 – This demonstration uses multiple programs but only one program displays in the browser, 1st Violin Legato (1). Very good demonstration.
12:58 – Divisi – Good explanation of their recording approach.
15:46 – Measured tremolo – Demonstrated the program and the micing. Good feature.
17:06 – Tremolo controlled by mod wheel. Good.
There were two audio demos by Mr. Bergersen, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the presentation. The first demo was Hollywood Strings alone and the second was Hollywood Strings mixed in with a full electronic orchestral mix.
My questions really come from the second demo.
Was this HS with only QLSO or was this HS with Mr. Bergersen’s other libraries mixed in? If it’s with QLSO and other PLAY products exclusively, then those having QLSO will see immediately how their investment can be enhanced. If it’s with other libraries mixed in, then we have an excellent example of Hollywood Strings’ blendability. If it’s the latter, it would be most useful to have some explanation of what was used and how the mix was achieved.
At this writing, Hollywood Strings, listing at $1699 and shipped on a hard drive, can be pre-ordered at a $200 discount off list. The question being asked of me is, “Should I buy it?”
While this may appear to be a cop-out, what I have to take into consideration is that Hollywood Strings isn’t yet shipping, so I cannot directly come out and make such a recommendation. I also don’t have a review copy like I did with L.A. Scoring Strings that I could really test and push (the second review of LASS is being worked on now).
So I think the way I should handle it, as a fellow composer, is to ask you this question: “For what you’re writing today and what you think you might be writing in the next year, do you think having Hollywood Strings will add to your ability to earn income? “
If the answer for you is, “yes,” then what I can say is that you should by all means consider taking advantage of the pre-order pricing.
There are two elements to me that are game changers with Hollywood Strings.
One element is the need to really understand string instrumentation and string arranging/orchestration techniques to fully get the most out of this library. A look at the bowings included tells you that a lot of orchestral thinking went into this library. Then there’s the unexplained feature that says, “Multiple finger positions for all sections including open strings.” Simply put, the more you know about string writing, the more you’re going to get out of this library. While that could be applied to other libraries, it is particularly so here.
The other is having the instruction to understand how to mix Hollywood Strings alone with the Decca Tree (as demonstrated in the video) and, then applying that knowledge to working with other libraries in your collection. The demo of this in the video was very intriguing and not being an engineer, I would like to see more explanation of what can be achieved, and how.
Overall, I’m excited about Hollywood Strings. But since I’m writing to 20,000 professionals around the world who read this, I just think we need a few more basic questions answered to clearly understand the feature set and the system integration issues.
NOTE: Post publication we found a post on the Soundsonline web site stating that the samples used by Mr. Bergersen in the second demo is Hollywood Strings mixed with other libraries.
Finger Positions Explained
On January 26 at the VI-Control.net/Forum, Mr. Phoenix responded to my question and clarified what he meant about Finger Positions.
Finger positions simply means that you have access to specific notes played in multiple places on the bridge. So you can play a low e on the g string of the violins, or you can play the same low e on the d string etc… In practice, if you simply want to write music, you can set HS to mostly use the notes played farther up the neck for a warmer more lush sound.
Peter Lawrence Alexander is the author of the Professional Orchestration series which has been endorsed by winners of the Academy®, Grammy®, Emmy®, BAFTA®, G.A.N.G, Telly®, and AVA Gold® Awards. He is Film Music Magazine’s award winning journalist.