Alongside what I consider their flagship libraries, Albion and Symphonic; Spitfire are consistently releasing orchestral libraries that provide new and interesting flavours that can be used either in conjunction with their main libraries, or by themselves. The Bernard Hermann Composer Toolkit is an homage to the palette of the great film composer Bernard Hermann. His scores are legendary for their originality in orchestration, and their deft ability to characterise the on-screen actors. Hermann also began to use electronic instruments within his scores from the 1950’s; Moog’s synths, Theremin and Ondes Martenot being particularly recognisable.
Spitfire have created a massive 225GB orchestral library to reflect the sounds of this great composer.
The main GUI of the library is the standard Spitfire orchestral one; see our other Spitfire reviews for more detailed description of that. Where this library stands out is in the choice of instrument pairings that are sampled, that provide that Hermann flavour to this library.
There are 25 main presets that cover the range of orchestral instrumentation. Preset A is a fully mixed studio orchestra. It’s mixed strings forward with a blend of brass and woodwind in the background, so you hear those different timbres and tones poking out depending on the dynamics you’re playing at. It’s a gorgeous cinematic full tone. Within this preset are 9 keyswitches (that are beautifully accessible through Spitfire’s innovative system). One is long notes, the next is staccato notes. The next is a chord key switch, that separates the keyboard into different chords curated from the massive selection of scrunchy close-note chords that Hermann leant towards in his writing. The following 6 switches are different FX that have that classic Hermann character. The FX are a lot of clusters and slides that dominated the more claustrophobic and tense atmospheres Hermann created. (THOSE Psycho strings being the classic example)
There are then 6 string patches, that contain key switches that are more familiar perhaps to the flagship libraries – with legato, long, pizz, spicc, tremolo being typical among the 8 or so switches you get with each patch. However, the orchestrations are different; instead of recording per section, they are recorded more as timbral flavours. Low strings with horns, for example. Not only is the timbral sound interesting, but the different techniques blended, like muted horns and slapped pizz strings is just an unusual sound. With the long slow notes, as the sound gets louder, the horns come forward dynamically to overtake the low strings. Spitfire worked closely with the Hermann estate to represent the Hermann sound well, and this is reflected in the choice of orchestration when recording the samples. I think it’s also reflected in the way it was recorded, with a slightly brighter, more dry and forward tone to the samples. It’s definitely reflected in some of the key switch choices – I love the short string keyswitch; a half second note half way between spicc and stacc. Lovely sound.
There are 7 woodwind patches; one noteworthy one is the mixed flutes, which is a combination of concert, alto and bass flutes. The sound is very exotic, and makes for a lovely melodic part when played with the legato key switch.
Spitfire Audio are absolutely on top of their social media. Alongside my favourite Creative Cribs series they do fantastic walkthroughs and explanations of their libraries. Here’s the one for the BH orchestral library:
5 brass patches, and a couple of brass and woodwind mixed patches. The trumpet xylophone patch stands out to me – the muted trumpet spicc patch is a very fresh percussive sound that will cut through the mix in a track.
An interesting note is that all of the ‘chords’ keyswitches across all the patches are mapped the same, so you’ll get the same chords if you play more than one patch at a time.
There are some unusual percussive collections presets here – Harp and vibraphone in particular is gorgeous. The Ondes Martenot I’ve never seen live, so I don’t know whether this is reflecting the original instrument accurately in terms of volume, but I found this haunting instrument to be recorded really quietly. The Ondes Martenot is a distinctive monophonic electronic instrument – sonically a cross between a theremin, bassoon and accordion, and is used all across Hermann’s scores.
I love that this library has been recorded fairly dry, similar to the chamber library. This reflects really nicely on the percussive sounds in these patches.
A standout in the percussive sections to me are the timpani. They’re really clear biting, and are played with a variety of beaters and sticks giving some fresh timbres on that particular percussion. We’re used to hearing softer beaters on timpani for that classic sound, but hearing them resonate with hot rods, or hard beaters is awesome.
Here’s a video of the library being used in an original composition:
Unusual to an orchestral library, but fitting with Hermann’s aesthetics, there’s a small bunch of synth presets, consisting of pads, leads, basses and effects. When loaded, there’s a simple synth interface that allows you to control the various major elements of the sound. The synths were recorded through several amps, and mic’ed in different ways, so you can pick, choose and blend between the method of recording. There’s also an Envelope, Filters, an assignable XY pad effects unit, with several preloaded effects, and a wobble patch that ranges from tremolo and vibrato through to the WUB of dubstep. A bit random for a Bernard Hermann tribute library! Although an excellent selection of sounds I felt this was the furthest step away from the Hermannesque sound. Still, it added a touch more originality and choice of interesting timbres to use with the library.
There has been a lot of attention paid to mic positioning. As usual, there’s a simple slider on the opening GUI page, from far to close; so if you’re working quick, you can just use this. However, slip into the expert mode, and there’s SO much more you can do to work with the mix positioning. There are 6 mic positions, 2 varieties of close stereo, 2 main Tree stereo, and Ambient and outrigger with a wider stereo spread. The close mics are incredibly dry and bright. Lovely sound, whereas the ambient and outrigger add lovely lush atmosphere to the sound. You can blend between them, and even adjust the stereo spread and mic levels per microphone!! Brilliant.
Alongside the main patches, you can load any articulation separately, and there are extended techniques, including legato and even more unusual techniques.
This library setup plays as well as all the other orchestral libraries Spitfire have introduced. It’s the best orchestral library set up I have come across; clear, intuitive, useful whether you want to work quickly or you want to spend time diving deep into every patch. The keyswitching is the best in the biz, and other useful tools such as the Ostinato machine keep your inspiration levels high.
But the sound is what really matters, and once again Spitfire have done a phenomenal job of creating an instrument that is not only sonically useful and inspiring, but also steps into a little niche of its own powerfully evoking the fantastic sound of an iconic film composer. Once again, this library comes highly recommended.
Bernard Hermann Composer Toolkit requires Kontakt player or full 5.5 or higher, a LOT of hard drive space, and a fast mac or PC. Fully NKS, It costs $449. More info can be found here.
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.