London Contemporary Orchestra Strings Review – Spitfire Audio Get Edgy

Spitfire Audio is a sample library company with a difference. They’re cranking out orchestral libraries that are gaining much critical acclaim, not only for the sound quality but for both attention to detail and addressing customer feedback. This was apparent with the Chamber Strings library; a response to composers requests for a slightly smaller ensemble with more revealing detail in the sound.

London Contemporary Orchestra Strings is a further step along those lines. Contemporary composers are always looking for new ways to stretch boundaries in their work by pushing players and their instruments into new and innovative sonic territory. Unusual scoring techniques produce unique timbres and adventurous textures that can add flavor to potentially tired sounding music.

Spitfire Audio have risen to the occasion, with the creation of the contemporary string library. As is their way, they have hired the best, choosing to collaborate with London Contemporary String ensemble; a small ensemble of 6 violins, 4 violas, 3 celli and 2 basses. These guys have played with a litany of excellent artists and brands, such as Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Goldfrapp and Nike.

The library is set up in mostly the same way as the symphonic and chamber library collections. There are 4 patches available for each instrument in the string family. Within each of those patches are up to 18 keyswitches with different techniques at your fingertips.

The sound

There are over 100 articulations in total, and they’re NOT your typical articulations. They are recordings of excellent string players playing at the very edges of their technique to create sounds that you won’t find in any regular string library.

Split into instruments, the patches are blends of short and long techniques. The line is a balance between tone articulation, and effect articulation, and there will often be an evolution between the two. Of note is the granular tremolo, which begins as a hissy scratchy white noise, but gradually morphs into tone, as the players change their technique. I found the sounds to be incredibly detailed, and with wide dynamic range – probably because the strings were recorded on a dry stage.

There are scoops, woozy wobbles, scratches, a variety of tremolos played at various points on the violin bridge, etc. The initial patch, called vivid long, is a lush straight note, with gorgeous tone, and very wide dynamic range.

I found the library to be a varying combination of haunting, unsettling and ethereal, in terms of atmospheres created. I found them to be excellent for creating soundscapes, textural ‘pad’ sounds.

The patches can be quite quiet, as they’re on the edge volume-wise – really breathy recordings of strings sitting right on the edge of the tone/scratchy sound. The spectral scrubs patch is particularly beautiful – with random harmonics fluttering in and out of the sound, creating a spiderweb blanket of sound, thin silk lines blending together to create this fine gossamer patchwork of sound.

I found that layering sounds was really useful in this library – blending the more scratchy, breathy sounds, with more tonal ones created real depth and drama to the tone and timbre of strings.

The mixer

This is slightly different from the other orchestral libraries Spitfire offer. Instead of a selection of 3 different mic positions, LCOS only offers two
– Close and Room (recorded on a fairly dry stage. There is a specific reverb that is matched to the space included that you can blend in and out).

Additionally, there are two analog printed FX mixes on offer, of which Spitfire are being coy about, but I think sounds like compression, and some sort of harmonic distortion, adding thickness and presence to both sounds. FX2 is a lot more ‘in your face’ than the mics or the other effected channel.

There are 2 preset mixes, pre-mixed by the engineer of the library, offering a couple of different takes on the library – one being a very wide stereo image, but balanced and refined. The second being a narrower image, warmer, and a lot more pumping and almost aggression in the sound. It’s a great balance of mixes, mics and effects giving you lots of tonal options.

The key switching is up to the usual Spitfire all-inclusive standards, offering Midi, CC, velocity, and speed-of-playing change. It’s the best keyswitching I’ve come across.

Socialites

The people at Spitfire Audio are on top of their social media presence; I think they’re doing a fantastic job of creating content that’s linked to their products, but is equally fascinating to watch, and very educational.

I avidly watch their ‘creative cribs’ youtube playlist, where they visit composers up and down the country, chatting to them about gear, engineering and composition techniques, and the like. I find the series highly educational. Watch it here.

So when they release a two part in depth video of a composer writing a piece with contemporary strings, not only is it educational on how to use the library, but equally gives some great tips on orchestration and writing in general. Very cool!

Conclusion

I absolutely love this library. It has the same depth of quality as Spitfire’s other libraries, coupled with the same intuitive flexibility. The sounds are truly phenomenal, smartly scripted and inspiring.

They are a lovely balance of unusual unique string techniques, without being so ‘contemporary’ and far removed from comfortable listening that they’re useless for scoring to media. You can’t find these sounds or timbres anywhere else, and they are an immense addition to any string library you might own already.

I would say this library lends itself best texturally within a score, creating atmospheres, and soundscapes within the music. Loads of harmonics and sound design type timbres and movement rest within the different articulations.

It’s a no-brainer for anyone trying to create tension, or drama in a moment. But it’s also incredibly subtle and beautiful in some instances. I would highly recommend this library to anyone wanting a more contemporary edge to their string writing.

Contemporary Strings is a 45GB library. As always to get the best out of these type of libraries you’ll do best with a fairly recent computer at least Core 2 Duo plenty of RAM, and preferably a separate SSD drive for the samples.

Spitfire Audio contemporary strings costs £299, and for more information click here.

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London Contemporary Orchestra Strings Review – Spitfire Audio Get Edgy

by Andy Dollerson time to read: 4 min
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