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EASTWEST/QUANTUM LEAP announces the debut of its latest release, HOLLYWOOD STRINGS virtual (software) instrument — a collection of impeccably sampled string instruments with unprecedented control over sound and performance.
This is first instalment in the Hollywood series which comprises of Hollywood Strings, Hollywood Brass, Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds, and Hollywood Orchestral Percussion, plus Hollywood Solo Instruments which includes Harp, Cello and Violin.
Recording for HOLLYWOOD STRINGS took place at the famous EASTWEST STUDIO 1, the same studio where many Hollywood soundtracks and television themes were recorded with a live orchestra. Heading this project were co-producers DOUG ROGERS, NICK PHOENIX and THOMAS BERGERSEN and ACADEMY AWARD, C.A.S. (Cinema Audio Society), BAFTA, and EMMY award-winning sound engineer SHAWN MURPHY.
“Murphy was an obvious choice for this project; who better to obtain that quintessential Hollywood sound other than someone with his credits,” says Rogers. “HOLLYWOOD STRINGS looks to expand on the success we achieved with EASTWEST/QUANTUM LEAP SYMPHONIC ORCHESTRA by providing a perfect large scoring stage sound and a more intimate scoring stage sound with divisi capability.”
“The sound of these virtual strings are as good as it gets,” says Phoenix. “We have one of the top sound engineers in the business, a famous and beautiful sounding recording studio, the most incredible selection of microphones available, the best analog and digital recording equipment, and top Hollywood string players - how could we go wrong?”
“I've used many virtual orchestras over the last decade, including some I developed with other composers, and some I developed myself. With each new development, I got one step closer to my ideal compositional tool.” says Bergersen. “HOLLYWOOD STRINGS includes features that I consider necessary if you want to create realistic orchestral strings on your DAW.”
HOLLYWOOD STRINGS has many groundbreaking features not found in any other collection. Finger position is, for the first time, controllable by the user, so you can play as far up the strings as you want, and get a fuller more romantic Hollywood sound.
Vibrato intensity and extensive dynamics are controllable by the user. Extensive multi-dynamic true legato has been sampled for all sections in three different categories: slurred, portamento, and bow change. This results in unsurpassed legato performance that has never been available.
Hollywood Strings is available here in the Gold Edition, Silver Edition and the Diamond Edition:
24-bit, with one mic position (mid-tree, no divisi) and all articulations except bow change legato.
16-bit, with one mic positon (mid-tree, no divisi) and all articulations except bow change legato.
16-bit, with one mic position (mid-tree, no divisi), and includes an essential set of articulations and instruments with slur legato.
For futher details about each edition, please take a look at the More Info and Contents tabs.
From ACADEMY AWARD, C.A.S. (Cinema Audio Society), BAFTA, and EMMY award-winning sound engineer SHAWN MURPHY, who has recorded and mixed the scores for more than 300 feature films including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: A Musical Journey, Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park The Lost World, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Titanic, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Bourne Ultimatum, Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, The Passion Of The Christ, X-Men: The Last Stand, Memoirs of a Geisha and Ice Age; and multiple award-winning EASTWEST/QUANTUM LEAP virtual (software) instrument producers DOUG ROGERS and NICK PHOENIX; and composer and orchestrator THOMAS BERGERSEN, HOLLYWOOD STRINGS offers unprecedented control over sound and performance, and is a must have compositional tool for serious composers.
Additional info about Editions:
Hollywood Strings is available here via download in the Gold, Silver and Diamond Editions:
Hollywood Strings Diamond Edition is 24-bit, with one mic position (mid-tree, no divisi) and all articulations except bow change legato. Please take a look at the PDFs below for full details of the Diamond Edition of Hollywood Strings:
Hollywood Strings Gold Edition is 16-bit, with one mic positon (mid-tree, no divisi) and all articulations except bow change legato. Please take a look at the PDFs below for full details of the Gold Edition of Hollywood Strings:
Hollywood Strings Silver Edition is 16-bit, with one mic position (mid-tree, no divisi), and includes an essential set of articulations and instruments with slur legato.
Please take a look at the PDFs below for full details of the Silver Edition of Hollywood Strings:
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS & COMPATIBILITY:
- PLAY 5 software (included) is required to use this product (download at the EastWest Support page)
- Diamond Edition - 310GB free hard disc space, iLok Account (required for machine-based license), iLok Key (optional), Diamond Edition is downloaded.
- Gold Edition - 48GB free hard disc space, iLok Account (required for machine-based license), iLok Key (optional), Gold Edition is downloaded.
- Silver Edition - 13GB free hard disc space, iLok Account (required for machine-based license), iLok Key (optional), Silver Edition is downloaded.
MAC MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS:
- Intel Core 2 Duo Processor 2.1GHz or higher
- 8GB RAM
- Mac OSX 10.7 or later
- 7200 RPM or faster (non energy saving) hard drive for sample streaming
PC MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS:
- Intel Core 2 Duo, or AMD Dual Core 2.1GHz or higher
- 8GB RAM
- Windows XP SP2, Vista, or Windows 7
- Sound card with ASIO drivers
- 7200 RPM or faster (non energy saving) hard drive for sample streaming
MAC RECOMMENDED SYSTEM:
- Mac Pro Late 2013 edition (model with round enclosure) or above
- 16GB RAM or more
- Mac OSX 10.7 or later
- SSD (Solid State Drive) for sample streaming
PC RECOMMENDED SYSTEM:
- Intel Core 2 Quad, or AMD Quad Core 2.66GHz or higher
- 16GB RAM or more
- 64-bit Windows/Host Sequencer
- Sound card with ASIO drivers
- SSD (Solid State Drive) for sample streaming
Please check the compatibility chart below for supported hosts.
EASTWEST PLAY Host/Sequencer Compatibility Matrix
|Tested DAW||Mac OS 10.9 - 10.12.3||WIN XP|
|WIN 10, 8, 7,|
|WIN 10, 8, 7,|
|Ableton Live||YES||YES||YES||YES1||6.07 or higher|
|Cubase/Nuendo||YES2||YES||YES3||YES||YES3||6 or higher|
|FL Studio||YES||YES||YES||YES||7 or higher|
|GarageBand||YES||3 or higher|
|Logic||YES4||7.2 or higher|
|Digital Performer||YES4||YES||YES||6.02 or higher|
|Pro Tools5||YES||YES||YES||7.4 to 10|
|Pro Tools 11 or higher5||YES||YES||YES6||11 or higher|
|Sibelius||YES7||YES||YES||6 or higher8|
|Sonar||YES||YES||YES||YES||6.2 or higher|
|VE Pro||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||4.0.54 or higher|
|Studio One||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||2 or higher|
|Reaper||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES||3 or higher|
1: Play 5 (and above) is compatible with all 64-bit hosts that use VST, AU, or AAX plugins. Use Play 4 for 32-bit hosts.
2: Mac OS 10.7 or newer is required.
3: Cubase/Nuendo 4.1 or later are required as 64-bit hosts.
4: WordBuilder is not supported in Logic 7 or lower, and DAE (RTAS in Digital Performer and Logic) is not supported at this time.
5: Ethernet control surfaces are not officially supported (ex: C24).
6: Windows 7 or 8 Home Premium Supported. Pro Tools HD 11 does not support Windows 8.
7: Sibelius 6.0.3 or higher is required to run in Mac OS 7.
8: Sibelius 6.2 is required to run in Mac OS 10.9 (Mavericks).
This library and other libraries in the EastWest/Quantum Leap “Hollywood” series are designed to work together particularly well which helps them blend into a unifed sound.
Please take a look at the edition-specific PDFs below for full details of Articulations in each edition:
- Hollywood Strings Diamond Edition Articulations
- Hollywood Strings Gold Articulations
- Hollywood Strings Silver Articulations
Overview of Diamond Edition Articulations:
- Bit Depth: the samples in the Diamond Edition are 24-bit; those in the Gold Edition are 16-bit.
- Delivery: the Diamond Edition is provided on a hard drive; the Gold Edition is provided on a set of DVDs.
- Mic Positions: The Diamond Edition includes samples from 5 independent mic positions that can be mixed together to achieve control over both acoustic vantage and spaciousness of the sound; the Gold Edition provides a single mic position.
- Legato: The Diamond Edition includes several types of legato transitions, including what’s called “Bow Change Legato”; the Gold Edition does not include “Bow Change Legato.”
- Divisi: The Diamond Edition includes separate samples to accommodate Divisi passages; the Gold Edition does not.
Overview of Gold Edition Articulations:
- Multiple finger positions for all sections including open strings
- Unique styles of legato interval sampling, including slurred legato, and portamento sliding legato, sampled at 3, 3 and 2 dynamics respectively, all with speed control, all sampled in long format so each note has time to breathe. Basses only have slurred legato.
- Up- and down-bowed sustains, all at 4 finger positions, at least one full octave on each string:
- Dynamics at non-vibrato, vibrato and molto vibrato
- Extensive runs
- Playable runs
- Spiccato runs for violins
- Other articulations including Bartók pizzicato, Col legno, Detaché, Flautando for violins, Harmonics for violins, Marcato short and long, Measured tremolo, On-the-string staccato, Pizzicato, Repetitions, Ricochet, Spiccato, Staccatissmo, Staccato, Slurred staccato for violins, Sul ponticello tremolo for violas, Tremolo, Trills (major and minor), Sordino effect available for all patches.
The Silver Edition comes with a smaller, "Essentials" set of articulations viewable in the above PDF.
- Recorded in the famous EASTWEST STUDIOS 1
- Neve 8078 mixing console
- Meitner ADC converters
- One mic positon (main)
- Convolution reverbs include new impulses from Quantum Leap Spaces. These include soundstages and halls from Southern California.
All sections except the Basses were sampled with wide extended ranges including almost 4 octaves for violins.
16 1st Violins (9/7 divisi mode)
14 2nd Violins (8/6 divisi mode)
10 Violas (6/4 divisi mode)
10 Cellos (6/4 divisi mode)
7 Basses (4/3 divisi mode)
"EastWest set out to capture the sound we have grown accustomed to in movies and on commercial recordings, and they succeeded. The sound of Hollywood Strings is lush, rich, powerful, and poignant. A product this detailed, thoughtful, well-recorded, and ambitious deserves to be heralded. Hollywood Strings is an extremely capable tool—it is up to you to make the most of it."
- Electronic Musician (Editors Choice Award)
Reviewed by Dave Stewart in Sound On Sound September 2010
"When it comes to keeping an audience interested, Los Angeles-based sound company EastWest have the instincts of a showman. Their latest release was originally announced over a year ago, raising expectations sky high and setting Internet forums ablaze with gossip. For months on end, visitors to the company’s web site were confronted with a set of red theatre drapes concealing the object of desire, so it was a dramatic moment when show time finally arrived and the curtains drew back to reveal the new star turn: Hollywood Strings, the world’s largest self-contained string library, 13 months in the making and boasting around 800,000 samples.
A recurring question has been “what kind of system do I need to run this library?” One strong recommendation from EastWest is that users seeking optimum performance should use Solid State Drives (SSDs) to house the samples. While these devices have much faster access speeds than regular hard drives, they are considerably more expensive. Happily for those hit by the current economic doom-fest, the library runs without problems on conventional fast drives, though some of its bigger patches do demand a pretty hefty system. (See below for EastWest’s specifications.)
Contrary to rumour, installing gigantic orchestral libraries from 35 DVDs is not the thing I enjoy most in life, so it was a relief to discover that HS ships pre-installed on a hard drive. However, I was surprised to find that the drive in question is a bare internal type, which means that you either have to put it in a spare drive slot inside your computer or buy a suitable external case for it. At the time of writing, EastWest’s web site states that the drive is supplied for installation purposes only and is “not intended for daily use (such as for storing the samples for streaming)”, a caveat repeated on the product box. The company have now upgraded the drive to a 500GB Western Digital Caviar Blue 7200RPM SATA model which they say is suitable for sample streaming, and they advise that this warning message is now out of date.
The library was created by a quartet of Hollywood heavy hitters. EastWest supremo Doug Rogers and Nick Phoenix of Quantum Leap need no introduction — having enjoyed a professional partnership since 1997, it’s safe to assume they know each other’s names by now. For this project, the pair enlisted talented Norwegian composer/orchestrator Thomas Bergersen. Like Phoenix, Bergersen is an experienced film-trailer music producer, and having created a number of orchestral sound libraries for his own use (no, they’re not commercially available), he shares EWQL’s sampling and programming pedigree.
The fourth team member has a CV as long as your arm, and a display case full of Academy, BAFTA and Emmy awards: enter Shawn Murphy, the veteran sound engineer who has recorded and/or mixed the soundtracks of over 300 feature films during the last 30 years. In the words of Doug Rogers, “Who better to obtain that quintessential Hollywood sound than someone with his credits?” An excited forum user put it more emphatically: “DUDES!!! Shawn F-ing MURPHY recorded it!!! It IS gonna be sick.”
Since early 2008, all EastWest/Quantum Leap releases have been formatted exclusively for their proprietary Play sound engine. Play 5 comes in 64-bit (use PLAY 4 for 32-bit compatibility), both of which are included with the library. The chief advantage of the 64-bit version is its ability to access much larger amounts of RAM, but in order to run it, your operating system, computer motherboard and (if you intend to use Play as a plug-in) host sequencer also have to be 64-bit. The Play sound engine was reviewed along with EastWest’s Fab Four and Ministry of Rock libraries in SOS March 2008. Read the article at www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar08/articles/ewfabfourministryofrock.htm).
In the interests of musical expression, Hollywood Strings uses an unprecedented amount of sample crossfading, causing a hike in polyphony that required some improvements to Play’s software. Play version 2.0 (not to be confused with the forthcoming Play Pro) is now available as a free download to registered users. The makers claim the update also improves loading times, and while I was unable to compare Play v1 and v2 on the same machine, I can say that on a 3.16GHz PC the player took 25 seconds to load a 738MB instrument containing 7060 samples.
So what’s not in HS? Since its selling point is a large-scale, big-budget cinematic sound, it doesn’t contain solo instruments or chamber sections. No chords, phrases, ‘wild card’ effects or glissandi are included either, but you can simulate the latter by playing a rapid chromatic run using a ‘repetition runs script’ instrument. Though it’s probably not an issue for media composers, there are no real-life muted (con sordino) samples; the effect of the mute is simulated by a switch that activates an EQ curve modelled on sordino recordings.
Enough of the prologue: it’s time for the main feature. Hollywood Strings was recorded in EastWest’s Studio 1 with 57 of LA’s top string players, using full-blown symphony orchestra section sizes (16/14/10/10/7). In marked contrast to EWQL Symphonic Orchestra (recorded in a reverberant concert hall), HS has a large-room studio acoustic which, while by no means dry, lends itself to users adding their own reverb if desired. To that end, the library includes a large menu of convolution reverb impulse responses, including some derived from the hall in which EWQLSO was recorded.
From the violins down to the basses, these string sections have a lovely sound, texture and feel, with a rich, full symphonic sound and an opulent quality that comes from combining great players with a great sound engineer. The looped sustains are manna from heaven for pad merchants like myself, incorporating three degrees of vibrato as well as alternating up- and down-bows. As one who likes to compose by playing, the provision of pre-programmed, full, six-octave strings sections is very helpful. You can use Play’s instrument key-range setting to build your own full strings setups, though you’ll find that the presets require fewer samples.
Meeting film composers’ insatiable need for driving eighth-note ostinatos, HS offers a generous selection of short note deliveries ranging in length from powerful short marcatos to brisk, urgent staccatissimos that will do nicely for high-octane action scenes. I liked the intensity and forceful attack of the ‘on-the-bow’ staccato articulations (whose notes terminate with the bow still resting on the string) and the zing and bounce of the spiccato samples — great, energetic performances. Some of these deliveries incorporate as many as 16 round robins; a reset button allows you to force the round-robin cycle back to the top, and if necessary you can also add silent (zero velocity) notes before a part starts, to line up the requisite RR sample.
Following orchestral sample library best practice, the producers recorded completely different first and second violin sections. This greatly increases the timbral variety — and arguably, value for money — as each violinist brings in his or her own unique, often priceless instrument! The 14-piece second violin section replicate many of the articulations played by the 16 first violins, and also perform some lovely breathy flautandos (a delicate, whispering delivery full of quiet tension) and a nice set of chromatically-mapped harmonics.
Another articulation worthy of note is the ‘measured tremolos’ played by all sections, which time-stretch to play their fast iterations at a user-defined rate. The rhythmic effect is somewhat blurred, but a 16th-note pulse can be discerned. The same idea is applied to the note repetitions played by the violas and basses. With these, the pulse is sharp and clear, though its real life speed is consistently a little slower than the tempo figure displayed by Play.
To facilitate expression, HS adopts a ‘double modulation’ technique on some instruments, in which MIDI expression (CC11) replaces velocity as the dynamics controller, while the vibrato depth is controlled by the mod wheel (CC1), an approach I first encountered in Garritan’s Stradivari. It creates very lifelike, user-controllable swells and fades and obviates the need for played crescendo and diminuendo samples: rather than fiddling around trying to make fixed-length crescendo samples fit the tempo of your arrangement, you can create perfectly-timed crescendi of your own. Starting notes with no vibrato, then gradually introducing it with the wheel is also very expressive. It takes a while to develop the requisite foot/hand co-ordination, but with practice the combined modulation produces those dramatic, emotive surges in volume and vibrato intensity we associate with strings.
The technique works by crossfading between different layers of samples, with a choice of six, nine or 13 layers available for the vibrato sustains. Transitions between layers sound natural and ultra-smooth, but a disadvantage is that even though you’re only hearing two layers at any one time, the others are playing silently and consuming polyphony. For this reason, EastWest put the 13-layer instruments in ‘Powerful System’ folders, warning that they may be too taxing on hardware that falls below the recommended specs. (Due to the crossfading involved, some of the large patches in HS use over 13,000 samples and require more than 1GB of RAM. For the those with less powerful systems EastWest created ‘light’ programs, available in the free HS instrument update 1.0.1.) I find this slightly perplexing — there’s probably some technical reason why silent voices use up polyphony in Play, but it was never an issue on my old Akai S1000 hardware sampler!
I found the ‘mod speed’ instruments (which let you use the wheel to increase the speed of delivery from very short staccatissimo to a short marcato) a very useful programming aid. Keyswitches are used throughout to switch between semitone and tone trills, up and down runs, and so on. In addition, each section has a single main keyswitch instrument incorporating various types of sustained note articulations. At this time it’s not possible to create your own custom keyswitches in Play.
A realistic legato sound — a smooth, unbroken, joined-up line of notes, the hallmark of orchestral strings — is not easy to achieve with samples. In HS, EastWest bit the bullet and, following the example of Vienna Symphonic Library and others, painstakingly recorded legato intervals of one to 12 semitones, up and down, for every note in the instrument’s range. This generates enormous amounts of sample data and helps explain why libraries of this ilk are so big, and why they take so long to create! I found the results to be excellent: with a little convolution reverb added, the cellos’ legato performances sounded truly magnificent.
HS offers three types of legato: ‘slur legato’ (regular joined-up notes), ‘portamento’ (Bollywood-style slides), and ‘bow change’, where you can hear the players elongate notes by changing bow direction. The legatos incorporate different dynamics and vibrato strengths (controlled by CC11 and CC1 respectively), so you have the great advantage of adding real-sounding, expressive surges and diminuendos to legato melody lines. Velocity is used to control the speed of the intervals, including that of the portamento slides: playing hard triggers a quick note transition, while the 51-60 velocity range works best for slow-moving performances. The fastest legato intervals speak quickly, but they’re not up to producing a realistic trill effect. If you need one of those, use the played trills samples.
Though these legato instruments are basically monophonic, a MIDI CC22 command will render them polyphonic and non-legato, thus avoiding the hassle of having to switch to a different articulation to play chords within a legato passage. The makers also created monophonic legato and portamento simulations that can be turned on and off on the front panel. The legato effect works well across the board, and the portamento sounds pretty good if used judiciously. Unfortunately, neither the scripted nor the real legatos accommodate the old monophonic analogue synth technique of holding down one note while rapidly reiterating another, a nice easy way of playing a trill!
Speaking of ease of playing, even one-fingered keyboardists will be able to impress their relatives with the fast up and down octave runs performed in various scales by the first violins, violas and cellos. Though the samples do their job well, I noticed that the time-stretching used on these instruments introduced some extraneous audio artifacts. (Other programming bugs in the review copy caused staccato on-bow and staccato slur samples to cut off abruptly at the end and a general malfunction in the basses’ slow legato instruments. These have now all been remedied and the fixes will be available in a free Play update.) Multi-digit performers will enjoy whipping out very fast, Flight Of The Bumblebee-style lines on the ‘playable runs’ scripted instruments, the only limitation being that on the slur and spiccato runs, the note-smoothing effect works only on semitone and tone intervals.
Divide & Conquer
Hollywood Strings addresses the problem of ‘divisi’ in an idiosyncratic manner. Real-life string sections often divide to play different parts or the individual notes of a chord. For example, in a 14-violin section, eight violins might play the top part while the remaining six take the lower part, or the instruments might divide 6:4:4 to play a three-note chord. Old-school string libraries can’t replicate this effect, as samples are usually played by all the players in a section.
The producers’ solution was to place microphones close to the left and right side of each section, capturing a pair of mono mixes labelled ‘Divisi A’ and ‘Divisi B’. Every patch in the library has a corresponding A and B ‘divisi’ option, available only in the close-miked position. These mono patches have a smaller sound than the other mikings and can thus be used to simulate an orchestral divisi. One advantage is that as they are the same performances (albeit miked differently), there are no tuning, timing or phase discrepancies with the main stereo samples!
Connoisseurs of the violin family will know that pitches played high up near the bridge have a warm sound, while notes played low down on the neck sound more bright and open. In HS, the choice of string may be determined by a knob whose four positions (selectable manually or via keyswitches) correspond to the instruments’ strings: for example, selecting ‘Position 2’ on a violas patch gives you the notes played on the second (G) string. If you choose a pitch that the currently selected string can’t reach, Play will explode, creating a giant fireball that burns down your house. Actually, I’m lying: what really happens is that the software automatically moves the note over to the next closest string. Finger-position control is implemented on bowed long notes (not legatos) for all sections except the basses; there are also ‘4th position’ instruments in which all notes are played high on the neck, for a warm, romantic timbre.
There’s no doubt that the fabulous sound, musical versatility and depth of expression of HS place it in the highest echelon of professional string libraries. No-one in their right mind would criticise the effort that went into creating it, but at times I felt a little less effort might have been beneficial — for example, I occasionally found myself hankering after some simpler, less multi-dimensional patches (for example, straight velocity-controlled vibrato sustains). For maximum flexibility of programming, having access to the individual layers used in the instruments would be very handy. Which I guess is where Play Pro comes in...
Returning to the question of what system this library needs, it’s clear that the producers’ laudable endeavours to make it as musically and sonically powerful as possible have created a technically demanding product. Users should make sure their systems can cope before buying; it’s not realistic to expect to simultaneously run large numbers of HS’s ‘powerful system’ instruments on an average-to-middling setup, especially if you want to use multiple mic positions. Determining exactly how many instruments you can run at any one time depends on how much RAM your system can access (itself something of a vexed issue), which instruments you need (they range in size from 3MB to well over 1GB), and how much polyphony they consume. In a nutshell, unless you have the kind of optimal system outlined above, expect to do more bouncing than you would with your average library.
If you’ve already bought this high-end, musically intricate collection, you’d be daft not to read its excellent manual, which explains its hidden depths with admirable clarity. If you haven’t yet taken the plunge, check out the ‘Techniques’ audio demos on EastWest’s site. These feature the strings playing on their own, enabling you to properly experience their sound. Absolute beginners, abject paupers, technophobes and people in whom the sound of lush orchestral strings induces psychotic episodes need not apply, but if you’re serious about orchestral sampling, you won’t want to let this impressive strings library pass you by."
- SOUND ON SOUND
Reviewed by Tim Curran in Film Score Monthly
Volume 15, No. 8 - August 2010
Okay, so everyone knows that the quality of orchestral samples continues to get better and better. As the hardware and software get more robust, the producers of these libraries take full advantage of it all, creating sounds that are sonically richer; and ones that use more microphones in more positions, have more dynamic range and articulations, and are generally better than ever before. What was impossible even a year or two before quickly becomes the standard in composers’ studios here in L.A. and around the world.
Such is the case with the EastWest/Quantum Leap Hollywood Strings Diamond Edition. This thing is a monster, and it has quickly set a new bar in what you can get out of a library of orchestral string samples.
Now, when I say “monster,” I mean that in two ways: in the Hollywood Strings’ system requirements, and in what it provides the user. You really need to have a robust computer to take advantage of this library. When I was offered the chance to review Hollywood Strings, I almost turned it down because my old computer system (Mac G5/dual 2.0GHz/8GB RAM) simply wouldn’t run it; it needs an Intel processor to run, so I was out of luck. But I needed to upgrade my 6-year-old box anyway, so I took this opportunity to do it. I bought a Mac Pro 2.93GHz machine and put 12GB of RAM in it. I’ve been working with the Hollywood Strings library for a couple weeks now, and I haven’t exactly pushed it to its limits. I haven’t attempted to build my entire string orchestra with it, as that’s not the way I work. I like to pick and choose from a bunch of different libraries and get the best bang for my buck. By doing that, I tend to get the “best of the best” sounds and also spread the CPU/RAM demands around a bit.
Here’s a way to get an idea of how far things have come in the world of sound-sample libraries: Remember when they used to ship to you on CDs? Then multiple CDs? Then the libraries began to get bigger, and the samples themselves began taking up more space. So they started shipping them on DVDs. Then multiple DVDs. The Hollywood Strings library ships on a 500GB hard drive. You read that right. 312GBs of files. It comes in a pretty red box, and inside the box is that hard drive and a quick-guide of FAQs.
Next up is the installation, which is very easy. I think it took over an hour on my system, so be patient. As soon as that’s done, you can get to work and start auditioning sounds. Just open up your host digital audio application (mine is Digital Performer 7.2) and open an instance of Hollywood Strings just as you would any other virtual instrument. East West’s proprietary PLAY engine interface comes up, and you can start loading string sounds in immediately, if you want. But I highly recommend you do yourself a favor and watch the Hollywood Strings video tutorials first. There is a pdf user’s manual that ships on the hard drive, and other information and details about Hollywood Strings can be found online here. But the video tutorials at the Hollywood Strings website are really important to watch so that you know what you’re looking at as you load and listen to sounds. Take the 40 minutes or so to watch these videos; you’ll be glad you did. They explain the different articulations, the file-naming conventions, the reverb specs, the different miking positions and much more—all things that are talked about in the user’s manual, but seeing them in video format really helps.
And Away We Go
So this is where the fun begins. As the size of this whole sample library suggests, producers Doug Rogers, Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen have gone to amazing lengths to provide both quality of sound and quantity of samples via various articulations, bowings, finger positions, dynamics, section sizes and more. The first thing I noticed was the sonic quality of the samples. They’re amazing, which stands to reason, since they were engineered by Shawn Murphy. That’s right, John Williams’ engineer Shawn Murphy. These guys set out to create a string section that sounds like film-music strings, not concert-hall strings. They recorded in Hollywood, with A-list session players, and one of the top scoring mixers of all time. And the samples show it.
There’s so much in this collection, over the past couple weeks I’ve been able to put but a portion of it to practical use. But here are some of my favorite things:
Choice of short-note bowings: Staccato, staccatissimo, spiccato, marcato, on the string, just about any length and attack of a short note, you’ve got it in Hollywood Strings. It’s pretty darn comprehensive. Now you don’t have to search from library to library to find that perfect attack. Chances are, it’s here.
Consistency of sound and style: This is one of the most frustrating things to deal with: a lack of consistency from section to section. Bowings in the violas are slightly different from violins, for example. (And I’m not talking about the “human factor” in playing. I’m talking about an obvious difference in attack or a slight difference in how long a note is held, stuff like that.) To get this kind of thing right takes an incredible attention to detail and a lot of work. Kudos to the producers here because these samples have been incredibly consistent across the sections.
String runs: For commercial orchestral music, this is a must-have because when you build these manually, it rarely sounds right. And to get it to sound in the ballpark takes a lot of time. There are a ton of choices (variations of minor, major and whole-tone scales) and they all sound great.
Choices of key switch, keyboard splits or mod wheel: Let’s say you want to load a string run. One of the options is a sample that contains both a run up and a run down. Depending on which you prefer, you can load in the key-switch version, which allows you to trigger the change from up to down with a single key. Or you can load the keyboard-split version, which means that the runs are divided by octave and direction on the keyboard itself. Or, you can load the mod-wheel version, which lets you switch the sample via your mod wheel. I like that they took a user preference into account here.
Measured tremolos: The PLAY engine is able to match the tempo of your sequence so that your tremolos become measured to that tempo. Again, such a time saver, and you can avoid making lower-quality manual versions.
Microphone choices: Close, Mid-range, Main, Surround, Vintage—you get plenty to choose from. I’ve been sticking with the mains, but it’s sure nice to have the other options. Those mics, combined with the myriad reverbs modeled after Hollywood scoring stages provide you with a ton of control over the sound you’re after. And chances are, you’re always mixing different sounds in from other orchestral libraries, so having this many options increases the likelihood that you can tweak your strings to match the rest of your orchestra, and vice versa.
Expressiveness: The Hollywood Strings collection has really upped the ante in this regard. The velocity-triggered portamentos and slurs in the legato folders are amazing. They’re a specialized sound, of course, and won’t be appropriate for every situation, but when the need arises for this kind of expressiveness, you’ve got it here.
In terms of negatives, there aren’t many. I found an ever-so-tiny slur in one of the violin patches, which only occurs on a couple notes in the lowest octave, and only on the initial attack. But it’s annoying and particularly troublesome if you want to use it as a solo instrument in a quiet passage.
As for the PLAY engine, which the EastWest folks have designed themselves, this has been my first interaction with it. From what I’ve heard from other users, there have been vast improvements made to the interface and the engine itself, and I find it pretty easy to navigate in its Hollywood Strings iteration.
The $1,495 sticker price makes Hollywood Strings one the more expensive sample libraries out there. On the other hand, I’ve worked with plenty of libraries whose ratios of useable samples to cost make me feel I didn’t get my money’s worth, no matter what I paid for them. That is not the case with this. I think you’ll find that you get what you pay for with Hollywood Strings.
With the critical acclaim garnered by the Hollywood Strings collection, I have to believe that Phoenix, Rogers, Bergersen and Murphy are already in at least the planning stages for the next section of the “Hollywood” orchestra series. At least, I hope so."
- FILM SCORE MONTHLY
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