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Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions Review
For contemporary, haunting fairly slow moving string textures, I can’t think there’s anything even close right now.
– Many subtle variations, so the sound is never static
– The EvoGrid is great for soundscapes
– Fantastic close mic sound
– Not a con, but it’s not the right library for your epic Disney showdown music
Spitfire have a great working relationship with Olafur Arnalds, a leading neo-classical composer. If you haven’t heard his haunting music yet, it’s now time.
They’ve collaborated in the past on other sample libraries, and this latest release builds on them with a fresh new concept added to the sound and workflow of chamber strings for Spitfire’s deep collection.
Really, to start, If you’re not familiar with Olafur Arnalds, you absolutely MUST listen to his music. It’s glorious. You may well have heard it without knowing (seen Broadchurch on Netflix yet?). In short he’s a composer flitting across several genres; ambient, electronic, classical to name a few. He blends classical and electronic instruments, treated to create a beautiful quiet glistening soundworld, massively evocative, and cinematic. Here are a couple of tracks to get you started.
Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions is 20gb of samples (recorded at AIR studios) of a small chamber string ensemble, consisting of four 1st violin and three each of 2nd violin, viola, cello and Dbl Bass.
The library consists of recordings of a wide range of one note evolving phrases, all placed within the EVO grid instrument. The recorded sound is a style that has become hallmark for Arnalds’ music, whether it be standalone or score to picture.
One setup note: you’ll need to update to Kontakt 5.6.8 or higher, for the Native Access app: it won’t work with the old Service Center versions.
The samples are presented within Kontakt in 2 ways. There are just 4 presets when opening the library. Chamber grid, Chamber waves, Bass grid and Bass waves. The grid system; the Evo system, was developed by Spitfire a few libraries ago. More on that later. The ‘Waves’ version is a new style preset introduced by Arnalds, as it fits his orchestrating style. It’s set up in the style of other Spitfire string libraries, with key switches through different patches, from length swells, to tremolo. But the waves are single note samples recorded from nothing to nothing volume-wise – they rise and swell like waves, then disappear to silence. Some of the samples are over a minute long – something you don’t get in many string libraries.
The strings are all mic’ed the same as the other classical instrument libraries, with close, stereo, tree and ambient mic positions that you can get down and dirty with in how you want to position the orchestra in your mix. The close mics with these strings are just awesome – you can hear so much detail in the way the instrumentalists are playing.
Get on the Grid
Inspired by the EMS synths, Evo Grid is a patch matrix for all the different ‘Evos’ available. Y-axis gives you the pitch center, X-axis the patch for that center. The sound of each patch is a single pitched note, with timbral and textural movement and evolution, looping back to the original state. They are all different lengths, so you’ll never hear a pattern begin to develop as you hold chords down.
A click on each ‘hole’ selects a different textured sound that gradually evolves in that pitch center. At the bottom of the Y axis are an FX on/off that routes in Kontakt’s versatile FX chain (handily displayed to the right of the grid so you can tweak to taste), and Pan and Volume pots. There’s also a couple of controller elements (dynamics and expression) and ADSR, and mic positioning levels.
The X axis is also divided into color bands that provide differing levels of texture and agitation. From the left, yellow band, that gives you 6 options of subtle movement, the evolutions gradually build across the x-axis until you get to a ‘dissonant’ green band. Within each band, there’s a gradual increase and frequency of movement as you move from left peg to right peg. By the time you get to the dissonant end, you are starting to get some slight movement within the pitch, creating senses of unrest and a slight edginess to the sound.
This is a different approach at playing through the samples in the library. Instead of having the different patches available as a keyswitch library, that affects the entire frequency range of the instrument, the grid allows for different movement in different frequency ranges. It works perfectly for this type of library, where you’re looking for soundscape rather than melodic instrument.
You can randomize the evolutions across the keyboard, with a quick press of a button. You can randomize completely, or within a colored band, giving you some control over the randomization.
Enough writing. The best way to understand this library is just to listen:
To me, this library is the ultimate intimate string texture creator. There are so many subtle variations in the sound, movement, and timbre of the strings that I think you could set it up so you never hear a repeating pattern in the sound. That, to me, is huge with string samples. I would say it was impossible to tell this was a sample library, if you mixed it into the track well.
I find the sonic atmospheres Evolutions creates to be very inspiring. The sound is quite de rigeur at the moment in score writing (Broadchurch anyone?) with the subtle movement that doesn’t necessarily attract listeners attention – just prevents a stagnant sound. Blending this library in with a more traditional string library would give just so many excellent options to play with.
I love the intimate feel that Arnalds orchestrates with; how with the delicate patches you can hear the brush of string hair and the air around it. It’s an extremely emotive style of playing stringed instruments. And recording it as a chamber orchestra just gives that extra bit of weight, enabling movement from small and close sound to powerful washes of tone and timbre. It goes without saying that this sample library would be completely useless for your bog standard epic Disney showdown music – there are other libraries for that. But for contemporary, haunting fairly slow moving string textures, I can’t think there’s anything even close right now. Just gorgeous.
This is a great conversation between Olafur and Spitfire’s Christian Henson about how the library came about.
Chamber Evolutions is also NKS ready so you can access the sounds super quick through Native Instruments keyboards.
Price and Availability
You can get Olafur Chamber Evolutions as a download from Spitfire Audio for £249. More info here.
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