Last month we discussed general methods for getting the
most out of software-based orchestral instruments. Now, let’s dig deeper
into each section of the orchestra, starting with brass.
Getting realistic brass digitally has always been a
challenge. Having played trumpet and French horn in school, I can attest
to how quickly a player can switch between a wide range of sounds
almost instantly. Soft pads, singing melodies, staccato stabs, swells,
blasts, double-tonguing, and flutters are just some of the articulations
separated by no more than a breath. So what’s the best way to navigate
Click images below to enlarge.
Fig. 1. In this Logic screenshot, the mod wheel data
controls both the volume and timbre of the “Horns and Trombones Long”
patch in Spitfire Albion Vol. I.
Fig. 2. In the Velocity Map preset of Cinesamples
CineBrass, the lower window sets the note velocity ranges that trigger
three different lengths of short notes. When the sustain pedal is down, a
long note is played.
|Fig. 3. In Kirk Hunter Concert Brass 2 under the Divisions section, the E1 keyswitch chooses four players per single note. The automatic divisi is active, so notes in a chord will be distributed among the four players.
The timbre of all brass instruments goes from warm and
mellow when played softly to bright and edgy when played loudly, and all
of today’s better libraries provide multiple dynamic layers within the
same instrument patch. While some patches may employ key velocity to
control the volume and timbre of a note, the modulation wheel is
commonly used to go from soft to loud—a level control that’s distinct
from MIDI expression and MIDI volume. In some cases, note velocity may
be disengaged altogether or used to control another aspect of the sound,
like switching between sustained and staccato articulations, as in
Cinesamples CineBrass and Kirk Hunter Concert Brass 2.
As the mod wheel changes the volume, the timbre also
changes accordingly. This lets you sweep crescendos, descrescendos, and
dynamic swells—the hallmarks of orchestral brass passages. This can
result in quite a bit of controller data (see Figure 1) that may need to
be tweaked later.
Unlike strings, care must be taken if layering ensemble
brass patches from different libraries, as it can result in a lack of
clarity and a chorusing buildup from too many “players.” It’s more
effective to seek out a specific patch that has the right weight and
tone, even if that means jumping between libraries between passages.
Layering solo instruments from different libraries can
create complex and interesting ensemble textures, however. When layering
different patches, keep in mind that rarely respond to identical
controller settings in the same way. When layering patches that use the
mod wheel for both volume and timbre, for instance, you’ll usually need
to record the controller data separately for each, even if the notes
were originally copied from one MIDI track to another.
Switching libraries within a piece doesn’t necessarily
need to be avoided, as disparate sonic combinations of timbre, size, and
weight between elements are now common in modern TV, film, and pop
music. Some composers even go out of their way to use artificial
processing on their live orchestras and sample supplements to break up
the “sameness” of the sound. So when the music calls for an articulation
that’s executed particularly well in a specific library’s patch, just
go for it.
Short and Long Notes
Brass passages often weave between short notes and long
sustains within a single phrase, and all of our featured libraries
provide both sustains and variations on staccato, staccatissimo, and
marcato together in some of their patches. In addition to the option of
dedicating key-switched patches to each articulation, other methods are
employed that allow the note lengths to be switched in real-time within
the same patch.
A collection of programs in CineBrass and Concert Brass 2
use a combination of velocity and the sustain pedal to choose the note
lengths (see Figure 2). EastWest Hollywood Brass uses the mod wheel in
some patches to pass through five length variations of short notes.
Vienna Instruments, by far the most elaborate control interface, also
provides Universal Performances that analyze your playing on the fly and
do a fantastic job of translating velocity, note length, and other
controller settings into very realistic sounding phrases played in real
One of the most dramatic developments in recent sampling
technology has been legato mode, which allows a sampled instrument to
play monophonically when notes are slightly overlapped. Typically, a
small transition sample is inserted between the two played notes that
adds immensely to the realism, as the transitions are derived from real
Most of the brass libraries feature a fixed number of
players for a given patch, which I consider a limitation that usually
forces you to choose between, say, a trumpet ensemble of three players
per note, or a solo trumpet patch. In Concert Brass 2, automatic divisi
progressively (and realistically) halves the number of players as you
add notes to chords (see Figure 3). For playing single-note lines,
whole, half, quarter, and solo divisions are accessible by
Double-Tonguing, Flutters, and Rips
Double (and triple) tongue figures are often a dead
giveaway for emulations, and only a few libraries offer true samples of
these articulations. CineBrass and Concert Brass 2 employ key-switching
to engage both double- and triple-tonguing samples, and the speed of the
repeated note(s) is determined by the length of the note played with
the following notes sounding on the key release. Hollywood Brass and
Vienna Instruments use round-robin samples and require individual
note-ons to create the effect.
Flutters and rips are practically impossible to program,
but all the libraries here provide pre-sampled flutters and rips to
cover most of your needs. Often, these and other effects will be in
separate patches and will require their own MIDI track.
Mastering each library requires time and dedication, and
getting sampled brass to sound realistic typically requires a good bit
of MIDI editing. In a mix, jumping between libraries is not as abrupt
sounding as when auditioning the sounds on their own, and the ear
quickly adjusts when actual music is being played, so don’t be afraid to
mix and match as needed. Also, holding different controller methods in
your head is necessary to take advantage of the various libraries to
their fullest, as none are perfect. However, the results are more than
worth the effort.