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Cinematic

Studio
Strings
Sample Library
Cinematic Samples
take arefreshingly
simple approach
to the Hollywood
orchestral sound.
Nick Magnus

inematic Studio Strings (CSS) is


the first of Cinematic Samples
Kontakthosted orchestral Studio
series. Brass, Woodwind, Percussion and
Solo Strings libraries are planned for future
release, and aPiano (CSP) is also currently
available. Any similarity of CSS to the same
companys Cinematic Strings 2 library
(CS2, reviewed in SOS June 2012), is not
surprising. CSS builds upon CS2s ethos,
but this is an entirely new library, recorded
in Sydneys Trackdown Scoring Stage, with
aHollywoodstyle sound aimed squarely
at film, TV and game composers. It
includes several new articulations, ahugely
improved legato system and the ability to
route mics to different Kontakt outputs,
among other things more on all these
features later. Were certainly not short of
indepth string libraries to choose from, so
any new library that not only sounds great,
but is adoddle to use and doesnt cost
the earth, is agood thing, and CSS scores
highly on all three counts.

Alles Ist Klar


CSSs list of patches is refreshingly short,
with one patch for each of the 1st Violin,
2nd Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass sections,
plus Full Ensemble and Lite Ensemble.
The Lite version contains three basic
articulations, and has no Legato mode;
all other patches offer the full shooting
match. All articulations and functions are
accessible from one very clear, uncluttered

118

GUI, rendered in what you might call


apostmodern graphic style. The number
of players in each section is as follows: 10
1st violins, seven 2nd violins, seven violas,
six cellos and five basses.
These are slightly smaller sections
than those often encountered in other
epic libraries, yet the sound is full and
lush; the smaller player count allows each
sections beautifully detailed vibrato to
shine through with clarity, especially in the
violins. Although CSS has no dedicated
system for handling divisi, it seems not to
suffer unduly from multiplied player bloat
when doing divisi parts, again probably
thanks to the relatively conservative player
count. Tone and volume are admirably
consistent from top to bottom in all
sections; the bass sustains in particular are
probably the most consistent Ive heard in
asample library.

Suits You Sir


Articulations can be selected in three
ways: keyswitches, MIDI CC, or by
clicking directly on the GUI. If the default
keyswitch locations dont suit you, they
can be remapped to your preferred
layout. Alternatively, MIDI CC58 can be
used to step through every available
articulation, with the advantage that your
DAW can chase the values so the correct
articulation comes up wherever you start
playback in the piece. Clicking the cog icon
at top right opens aconfiguration pane,
where all the default MIDI CCs can be
altered to your preference. The mic level

October 2016 / w w w . s o u n d o n s o u n d . c o m

faders on the left can be assigned MIDI


controllers via the usual rightclick MIDI
Learn method, but no MIDI is assignable to
the panning controls or the reverb amount
these are strictly set and forget.

Long Note Articulations


The dynamics of long note articulations
(sustain, tremolo, harmonics, marcato,
trills) are controlled by the mod wheel.
The sustain, tremolo and marcato were
sampled at four dynamic layers, with
vibrato increasing in intensity for each
dynamic layer of the sustains and marcato.
This gradation is particularly dramatic in
the sustains, giving aprogression from

Cinematic Studio
Strings 316
pros
Exceptional sound quality.
Highly expressive.
Easy to use, with aminimal learning curve.
Very effective legato and portamento.

cons
No aleatoric effects.
An initial release CC2related bug which
the developers are attending to.

summary
CSS is an extremely expressive library,
oozing quality with aHollywood flavour.
It has all the essential elements for
creating detailed, realisticsounding string
arrangements, and is very quick to learn and
easy to use.

silky smooth pp to adistinctly passionate


delivery in the ff layer. Unique to the
sustains is aseparate layer of nonvibrato
samples; the balance of vibrato to
nonvibrato is controlled by CC2, with
full vibrato being at 127, crossfading to
nonvibrato at 0. At the time of writing,
there is an issue concerning CC2s
crossfading behaviour; this has been
acknowledged by the designers and will
hopefully have been resolved by the time
you read this.
Marcato is an especially versatile
articulation; its dynamics are controlled
by acombination of mod wheel and
key velocity, together with an optional
velocity sensitive spiccato overlay, ideal for
adding extra emphasis to specific notes in
aphrase. With Legato engaged, fast runs
and arpeggios take on the characteristic
blurred effect of multiple players hands
scurrying (albeit very accurately) up and
down the fingerboard particularly
effective on the violins. With the spiccato
overlay on, marcatos twoway dynamic
control and long sustain make it excellent
for performing incisive expressions such

as sforzando and decrescendo, fullon


emotive melodies and forceful cello and
bass lines.
Major and minor trills are both handled
by the same articulation; simply play two
simultaneously starting notes amajor or
minor second apart, and CSS plays trills at
the appropriate intervals. This also works
polyphonically (legato off), so you can
combine multiple major and minor trills
at the same time. For example, playing
acluster of C, D, E, F#, G and Awill
produce atrilled C major chord; C, D,
Eb, F, G and Ab make aC minor trill that
conforms to the notes in the minor scale,
whilst C, Db, Eb, Fb (E), G and Ab would
make achromatic minor trill. Be aware
that orphan notes not accompanied by
amajor or minor second wont make any
sound at all!

Eat My Shorts
Short note articulations (staccato,
pizzicato, measured tremolo) all operate
polyphonically, with dynamics controlled by
key velocity. Staccato and pizzicato both
present further articulations: the right side

Articulations
Legato sustain, including legato
repetition and portamento.
Spiccato.
Staccatissimo.
Staccato.
Sforzando.
Pizzicato.
Bartok snaps.
Col legno.
Harmonics.
Tremolo.
Trills (half and whole tone).
Measured tremolo (tempo sync and
freesync).
Marcato/fast runs.
Con sordino emulation (whole library).

of the GUI changes for each of these to


show amodwheel graphic and the various
articulation options. These can be selected
in two ways: either by moving the mod
wheel, or by the velocity at which you press
the relevant keyswitch. Staccato presents
four options: spiccato is the shortest, with
alovely feathery bounce; staccatissimo is
short and played on the bow; staccato,

w w w . s o u n d o n s o u n d . c o m / October 2016

119

on test
C i n e m at i c S t u d i o S t r i n g s

This composite screen shows the


velocity meters for Standard legato
(two speed zones) and Advanced legato
(three speed zones). When legato is off
(polyphonic), the meters are replaced
by an interactive envelope graphic with
adjustable attack and release times.

slightly longer; and the longest,


sforzando, which decays to
silence, rather than swelling up
again as might be expected. As
mentioned above, the marcato
articulation is the place to go for
sculpting custommade sforzandi
and other incisive dynamic shapes;
nevertheless, this short sfz is
awelcome inclusion, handy for delivering
emphatic punctuations and endings.
Pizzicato offers standard pizz, Bartok
snaps and col legno. The col legno sounds
delightfully mischievous, and although
it is meant to be adelicate effect, Ifeel
it could do with just atad more volume
relative to the other two. The measured
tremolo articulation (based on the spiccato
samples) uses scripting to generate single
16thnote repeats at aslightly lower
volume than the initial note; the repeat
rate can be syncd to the host tempo,
or set manually. Simply play aseries of
eighth notes to get an energetic 16thnote
flurry. This is far more flexible than having
acontinuously running pattern, as you can
freely vary the velocity of notes on the fly
to create any rhythmic emphasis you want
Vivaldi would surely have loved this for
making Four Seasons Winter mockups.
Id like to have seen some means of
adjusting the relative volumes of the
repeated notes. In denser arrangements
they can tend to get lost, so you only
really perceive the eighths.

Joinedup Writing
CSSs Instruments browser includes an
additional folder, Classic Legato Patches,
containing the same complement of
patches as those in the main list: these
emulate the original type of legato used

Alternatives
Cinematic Strings 2 enjoys alush symphonic
sound, easy operation similar to CSS,
aunique method of performing fast runs,
but covering slightly fewer articulations. NI
Symphony Series String Ensemble includes
aleatoric effects, an autodivisi system and
configurable section sizes. Cinesamples
Cinestrings Core features polyphonic legato
transitions, and has asibling expansion
library, Cinestrings Runs.

120

by CS2. However, CSSs vastly improved


legato (for the sustain articulation)
offered by the main patches is highly
recommended. There are two legato
modes, standard and advanced. Standard
provides two transition speeds, medium
and fast, the choice of which is determined
by the key velocity of legato notes.
Velocities between 21 and 63 select
medium, whilst anything between 64 and
127 selects fast. The icing on the cake
occurs with velocities of 20 or lower: this
triggers abeautiful portamento slide, an
essential device for adding realism and
emotional impact.
Advanced mode has three transition
speeds, covering different velocity ranges:
2164 = slow, 65100 = medium, 101127
= fast, with portamento being 20 or below,
as before. The developers are keen to
point out that these are real performed
legatos, reproducing the natural changes
of timbre and bow pressure youd hear in
areallife performance, with no crossfade
fudging or other
trickery involved.
Inevitably, there will be
increasing amounts of
delay with the slower
transitions as the
players prepare for
the next note, so some
forwards timeshifting
is necessary to ensure
notes fall correctly on
the beat, especially
when quantising parts.

When the staccato or


pizzicato articulations are
active, the right side of the
GUI shows the articulation
variations selectable by
moving the mod wheel.

October 2016 / w w w . s o u n d o n s o u n d . c o m

The PDF manual suggests approximately


100ms for fast, 250ms for medium, and
333ms for slow. Similarly, portamento
slides need to begin well before the beat.
Having achoice of three transition speeds
really does make ahuge difference to how
smoothly and naturally notes connect with
each other, depending on musical context
and the speed of the part; its well worth
spending time experimenting with this for
the best results.
Key velocity also affects the attack
envelope of nonlegato notes; low
velocities soften the start, whilst higher
velocities reveal more of the initial attack.
Legato mode also enables realistic note
repetitions; replaying the same note
with the sustain pedal down produces
arebowing effect. Again, this is asampled
performance, not ascripted emulation.

Mixing
Each section has faders for three mixable
mic perspectives: Close, Main and Room,

The Configuration pane; the default MIDI CC assignments can be customised here. Note that
Portamento volume can be lowered using CC5 useful for exposed passages where the effect
may need to be alittle more subtle.

together with areadymade Mix of all


three positions. Patches load with the
Mix fader active by default; switching on
any of the individual mics deactivates
the Mix and unloads its samples,
avoiding unwanted sample duplication
or unnecessary RAM usage. Each mic
fader can be routed to aseparate Kontakt
output if desired, so you can process
them individually.
The premade Mix sounds great out of
the box, so you may well opt for just using
that! There is also an inbuilt hallstyle
reverb, but the developers are so confident
about the natural sampled acoustic of the
Trackdown Scoring Stage that they suggest
you wont need the reverb. And you know

what? Theyre right. Finally, Ihavent yet


mentioned the Con Sordino switch lurking
in the corner of every patch in the library.
This is aconvolutionbased emulation of
the classic silky, muted sound, typical of
intimate passages accompanying scenes
of romance, sadness, pastoral bliss or
Philomena Cunks profoundest Moments
Of Wonder.

Conclusion
CSS has all the essential elements needed
to produce expansive, expressive string
arrangements with adistinctive Hollywood
flavour. The refreshingly uncluttered GUI
and simple operation applies across the
whole library once youve learned how

one preset works, youve learned them all.


A lot of thought has clearly gone into
making CSS as versatile and easy to use as
possible. CSS is decidedly geared towards
melody and harmony. If youre after
spooky evolving clusters, swoops, sinister
mutterings or other aleatoric effects,
youll have to look elsewhere. Likewise,
there are no presampled performances of
sforzandi, crescendi, decrescendi, swells
or other such dynamic manoeuverings
that may or may not fit your music in
quite the way youd hoped. However, that
omission shouldnt be adealbreaker, and
personally Ithink its agood thing, since
all those effects are not only eminently
possible with CSS, but theyre under your
direct control and you can sculpt and
shape them to be exactly how you want.
If Cinematic Samples can maintain this
standard across the rest of the Studio
series, they should earn themselves an
enthusiastic and loyal following.
315.94 including VAT.
WW www.cinematicstudioseries.com

w w w . s o u n d o n s o u n d . c o m / October 2016

121

Mix with the best!


Besides the excellent interviews and fascinating,
indepth recording and mixing articles, Ican
always depend on Sound On Sound for
complete, unbiased reviews of the latest
proaudio gear.
Bob Clearmountain, engineer, producer and
mixer, Grammy Award winner (Bruce Springsteen,
The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, INXS)

As aprofessional Iadmire Sound On Sound


as one of the most trusted and credible
sources of inspiration and information.
Jack Joseph Puig, mixer, producer, Grammy
Award winner (Rolling Stones, U2, Mary J
Blige, Black Eyed Peas)

The Worlds Best Recording Technology Magazine

This article was originally published


in Sound On Sound magazine,

October 2016 edition

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