Every once and a while, a new sample library comes along for us composers that changes everything, or is significant in its contribution to our arsenal of tools at our disposal. In this SCOREcast product review, we chose to take a look at the new Sample Logic NI Kontakt-based library FANFARE in an attempt to discover if this was one of those libraries.
I have a pretty extensive background with the marching band / drum corps idiom, and my principal instrument is the trumpet, so imagine my excitement when Sample Logic announced the “Definitive Marching Brass Library” in FANFARE. There are not many libraries out there are for marching brass, and certainly none with the pedigree of the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps brass behind it—the only other one being… well… a bit antiquated at this point.
So…before I began exploring FANFARE, I went to Sample Logic’s website to learn as much as I could about it.
The FANFARE library is essentially split into two sections. A Traditional section consisting of a myriad of patches and Kontakt multis to be used in the creation and performance of marching brass in the way they were meant to be heard… playing marching brass arrangements. And then there is a Morphed section of patches and multi’s where, true to Sample Logic’s aesthetic, they have taken their source material and tweaked it, processed it, stretched it and manipulated it to the point where it is barely recognizable as marching brass and can be used in a slew of modern day compositions by composers of most all genres of music. So if you do not write for a marching band or drum corps ensemble, don’t think this library is not for you. But more on that later.
I checked out the demos on the Sample Logic website and I honestly have to say, I was a bit surprised and disappointed, in that a lot of the existing demos on their website were not pieces written to show off the “Traditional” half of the library. Most everything written (including a beautiful piece entitled “Elegy, Piano and Fanfare” by prolific Film/TV/Game composer Bill Brown) was not a drum corps style composition. They were modern and somewhat “electronic” compositions. I had to ask myself…why have a library where its root source material is one of the most celebrated drum corps ensembles in the history of the genre, tout it as the “Definitive marching brass library for educator and arrangers” and not have a demo that shows off that style of writing? If I were to evaluate the effectiveness of the library’s “Traditional” elements, I would have to be able to determine its ability to replicate the music it was inherently designed to replicate.
The best way I felt I could do this was to replicate, as a MIDI recording using FANFARE, part of one of the original marching band shows I composed in my past. I chose to render out the opener of a show I wrote a few years ago called “Weather The Storm”. The show was commissioned by a marching band program in Phoenix, Arizona.
There are some things to take note of before listening to this little demo:
1) This arrangement was for a marching band and not a drum corps—meaning that while very similar in concept, marching bands have woodwind instruments whereas drum corps have all brass in their wind sections. In this arrangement you will hear some flute, clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax and baritone sax parts along with the marching brass. These woodwind parts were rendered out using other sample libraries, like the Garritan Marching Band library for the saxophones and the East West Symphonic Orchestra Clarinets, Piccolos.
2) I rendered out the trombone parts I wrote using the Euphonium instruments in FANFARE. While FANFARE does have some trombone patches, there are only a select few. As in the drum corps world, the piston valved euphonium replaces the slide trombone.
3) No marching battery percussion parts are playing largely because they add a lot of impact to the mix that would make it harder to hear the brass for this review.
4) There is a trill in the horn/mellophone part at the end of the demo that could not be accomplished with FANFARE because there are no trill patches. I used a trill horn patch from the East West Symphonic Brass Library to get the part to sound as it was intended.
Listen to the demo, and then we can dissect how FANFARE did from the inside out. This was produced using the latest Digital Performer 7.24. FANFARE was running on the latest version of Kontakt 5.0.1 on a fairly modest Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. Here is the opening 2 minutes of the marching band show.
[slidingnote title="FANFARE Traditional Mockup (Full)"]
[slidingnote title="FANFARE Traditional Mockup (Brass ONLY)"]
After running this library through some paces to achieve this particular quick mock-up, my feelings on it are mixed. First, for marching brass, FANFARE is the best thing out there. Honestly. But that being said, this small corner of the sample library market is so dry, it is not too hard to be the best thing out there. The quality of the source material is excellent and I feel I can finally now get a demo of the composition that will fairly accurately replicate what I intended.
In the creation of this demo, however, I found it a bit frustrating to get the MIDI notes to speak in a consistent manner. I had to do a lot of MIDI tweaking to make it work. One note’s velocity would be just a bit higher than the previous note and the volume triggered would shoot up and be extremely loud—almost distorting. The Blue Devils are a loud group, and recording any drum corps is a very challenging task, but the level of these samples in general seems very hot. Many of the professional recordings out there from the various competitions that Drum Corps International (DCI) has released were recorded with up to 35 mics spread throughout the stadium and the field. Sample Logic’s recordings were both recorded by Leslie Ann Jones at the Scoring Stage at Skywalker Sound (Lucasfilm Ltd Company) and on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills) by Grammy® Award winner Frank Dorritie. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of time going into the MIDI and smoothing out the lines to get consistent playback of the samples.
I also found undesirable results when having the release trigger setting enabled for the Euphonium sustain patches, which were being used a lot for both my 3 trombone parts and 2 baritone parts in my arrangement. Upon release of a note in the Euphonium patches, I would hear a very un-smooth trigger of a second attack sample that would sound on the release of notes. Because of that, I had to turn the release triggers off for my demo, which isn’t something I wanted in the final sound since usually this helps add more realism to the note’s performance. I spoke with Joe Trupiano at Sample Logic about this quirk, and upon investigation, he conceded that there is in fact a bug in the release triggers of the Euphonium patches. Joe assured me that Sample Logic would be releasing an update ASAP after the new year to address this issue I found. He also reassured me that this was one instrument patch in a library of thousands of instruments. By the numbers, he is correct. But it is important to note that half of the library is intended to be used in a traditional marching brass arrangement. There are only 4 instruments in this Traditional half—Trumpets, Mellophones, Euphoniums and Tubas. To have Euphonium patches where their release triggers on the sustained notes are corrupted to the point where you can not really use their sustained patches without turning off the release triggers and manually adjusting the cut-off times via the NI Kontakt interface makes 25% of the traditional instruments next to unusable. That is, until the updates is released.
Secondly, I found the interface for FANFARE, while pretty to look at, a bit complicated to navigate. It can be a hard thing to design an interface that allows the user to have access to all of the features needed, but makes it simple and easy to get done what you need to get done.
Above is the main interface screen for FANFARE. The highlighted “Options” button is actually an incredibly important button—as the underlying menu controls much of what is tweakable about FANFARE. But on the main interface shown here, that button is just a little button not well distinguished from the other elements on the screen. More on this in a minute.
An important thing to distinguish when writing for marching brass…is that by design, one is writing for live players in every case. That may seem silly to point out…but think about it—you do not render out these compositions for marching brass where that recording is the final product for audience consumption. The final product will be 100+ people performing it live on a football field. So while writers and arrangers would want their demo recordings to sound as close as possible to what the final product will be (so that show and drill designers can design their elements accurately), the demo will always be just that… a demo. In the film and TV world, the MIDI recording might actually serve as the final recording, so realism is paramount. Realism should be important when mocking up a marching band piece, of course, but it’s not the main focal point of a library claiming to do get you there. In that case, another element should take center stage. And that element is “ease of use.” I wanted the library to just sound great out of the box and yet I found myself having to tweak and tweak to get the notes to speak the way I had in my head. The attacks, particularly in the Euphoniums and Tubas, have this weird little pop on the attacks at the front of the sustain patches. I am not talking about a technical glitch, but rather it seems it is in the way the sound was captured from the instruments. Was the mic too close and are we hearing the tonguing of the notes being attacked too strongly? I’m not sure. You can change and manipulate the attacks and releases to be more present or less present in the playback, and you can also mix the various close, mid and far mics to get a blend of how you want it to sound. I am glad those options are there as they allowed me to fix what I was hearing. But that is more time going back in to manipulate the MIDI performance. I wanted it to just sound natural out of the box. Most marching band music is actually written and arranged by the directors of the corresponding groups and these folks are not the most technologically savvy people. They want it to just work and sound great without having to go in and manipulate the parameters, and I am not sure they’d experience that with FANFARE. There is just so much control that it’s almost too much. The same thing that makes FANFARE’s “morphed” section of the library so great seems to make their “traditional” section so complicated. If you tweak the wrong thing too much, then all of a sudden, your Blue Devils brass begin to sound like a casio synth. When using the traditional brass patches, be careful of what you tweak with the included FX.
Your mileage may vary, but I found many of the multi patches in the traditional section to only be moderately useful. If writing and arranging for a group like this, my work is usually done in Sibelius (or Finale) first, then transferred into a DAW and demoed out from there. I would not be using the FANFARE multi’s in this case as I already have all of the parts separated out, and thus, I would mostly need to use the section patches and individual patches for any ensemble and solo work. The traditional multis—many of which create unison patches of various sections playing at the same time across the keyboard—is just not how one arranges for marching groups. I found their use limited aside from the occasional unison line or powerful chord, etc. It is also important to note for arrangers and educators that Sample Logic does have a Sibelius Sound Set for Sibelius 7 users that would allow playback directly from Sibelius which will also automatically assigns the correct instruments to the staves in the arrangement—something that could be a huge time saver in setting up Sibelius playback. I didn’t test this feature for this review, but it could be a huge plus for many people who simply need a quick and accurate playback of what’s coming out of the Sibelius sketch.
There are instrument patches with FX and without FX. This basically means the FX patches are pre-set with the included reverbs and EQ/compressor tweaking to give the instruments their ambiance. While nice to have and I acknowledge it would be useful for some with close, mid and far mic controls included, I found myself not using the FX patches in the end and turning to Altiverb 6 instead to create my space and depth.
One thing I noticed is that all of the FX patches were defaulting to be monophonic instruments, while the non-FX patches were not. I found this out the hard way when trying to play back my MIDI arrangements of the show with the FX patches: Every time the horn/mellophone or trombone/euphonium line would split into a divisi part, not all of the notes would play. I then spent ten minutes trying to explore what was going on and where I could turn this monophonic setting off. Remember that “Options” button in the first pic above? That is where you will find it. An important future update request from me would to simply make both the non-FX patches and the FX patches polyphonic by default.
Ultimately, I think the end results of FANFARE used in a traditional sense are pretty good, and at the end of the day, they gave me the ability to produce a very acceptable demo of the genre of marching band/drum corps music. Once those release triggers in the Euphonium patches are fixed and updated, this will raise my opinion of the Traditionalhalf of the library considerably.
Where the traditional patches perhaps are a bit frustrating, the morphed patches totally shine. In the same way Spectrasonics has taken real, organic recorded source material and created the monster synth instrument Omnisphere, Sample Logic has donewhat they do best in taking their marching brass source recordings and tweaking them, morphing them, stretching them, and anything else you can think of to create a deep set of sounds one can use in electronic and modern compositional work. The best way to show this is to direct you to the many great examples of this on Sample Logic’s own FANFARE music demo player I suggest you spend some time listening to.
Atmospheres, Impacts and Rhythms
There are rhythmic elements, atmospheric elements, percussive hits, etc… all created from these original brass recordings. It is quite amazing actually, and it’s certainly where Sample Logic’s strengths have always been. If you want to add some power to your cue in a way that hints at brass, but don’t want it to be immediately recognized as such, FANFARE is the perfect tool to use. There are a variety of one key patches that evolve and develop the longer they are sustained, some nice atmospheric pads, and a great selection of stacks that you can go in and further tweak to your heart’s content.
For example, their atmospheric patches are divided up into Ambience and Stinger construction kits. The Ambience section alone is then categoriezed into eight categories describing a general genre of sound from Bizarre, Dark N Scary, Electronic, Euphoric – Spiritual, Low End, Mixed Emotions, Mystery Suspense, and Organic. Each one of those genres of sound then have dozens of instruments for you to use. Aside from the Atmospheres section of the morphed library, there is also an Impacts section, and an Instumental section that is further divided into arpeggiated, melodic and pad instruments.
The interface of FANFARE includes a lot of post-processing options so the user can truly create the sounds they want. It is a little confusing in the interface to figure out where to access these FX tools. They are represented by the little colorful icons in the FX page…or one can also choose them from a little drop-down word menu in the middle of the screen. Sample Logic has done a great job of using their sound design talents and creating unique morphed patches from the source material…but then they have also given you access to those tools so you can take what they have done and develop it further. Two they are particularly proud of are their Arpeggiator and Spinner tools.
The arpeggiator does just what you would suspect. You can use this to create a rhythmic feel to your patch. Want to create a unique percussive element on top of your groove? This is your tool. You can copy and paste the patterns you design and really get creative here…twisting those patches even more.
It will allow you to take a sustained pad like this:
[slidingnote title="FANFARE Morphed Pad"][/slidingnote]
And create a rhythmic element out of it from the same pad as above like this:
[slidingnote title="FANFARE Morphed ARP"][/slidingnote]
With FANFARE, Sample Logic has also introduced their new Spinner tool. With Spinner, you can manipulate any of FANFARE’s multi-mic instruments to not only shift the position of the instrument around the concert hall in all directions, but you can also automate the position of the listener, swirling the sound around the space to create a unique effect.
My only problem with the morphed section of the library in general is that my meager system (well within their minimum recommended specs for the library) was starting to get bogged down in performance when using a lot of the included FX. Anyone running an 8-core Apple MacPro should have absolutely no problem adding thick layers of morphed patches to their compositions, but on an older system or a less powerful laptop like mine used in this review, you will start to notice some playback anomalies the more you use their included effects like the reverb, arpeggiator tool, spinner, etc.
An important note on this is that in the education world, not many directors have the latest and greatest systems out there. School funding for music programs is severely lacking and whatever money they do have is usually put into buying or repairing instruments and not upgrading the office computer. Then again, most education customers will probably just want this library for the traditional side of the instruments offered and will not use many of the FX available, so that may or may not be an issue for most. For commercial music professionals, having older and slower hardware would most certainly be an issue.
The true question is whether FANFARE stands up to the challenge. Is it the “Definitive Marching Brass Library” or not?
If FANFARE were a bit lower in price, I could deal with its interface quirks a little easier. At $399.00 USD, I do start to get into the territory of a high expectation of it just working right out of the box without much tweaking.
FANFARE is fairly unique in its offerings with both the traditional and morphed instruments, but one place it has room for improvement in is its ease of use and scripting. You may need some time to become comfortable with where everything is located. The way the traditional instrument samples respond and play could be fixed and tweaked in updates if Sample Logic decides to do so. With all of the scripting available in Kontakt now, I am positive some time spent in this area could make my issues with FANFARE’s traditional patches go away since all of my problems seemed to stem from performance and MIDI playback issues inherent in how the library was programmed.
For the marching brass/drum corps folks out there, FANFARE is the best thing you will currently find on the market for demos of your arrangements. When that promised update comes out to fix the release triggers, it will be even better. The quality of the recordings and source material is excellent. Top notch. The originality and variety of the morphed patches is a great addition to anyone’s sampled library arsenal, and between all of the one key patches, stacks and beds, there is a huge amount of unique material for you to explore and incorporate into your compositional work.
- Over 1200 instruments and multis, originally recorded and processed at 88.2KHz/24-bit and delivered at 44.1KHz/24-bit
- 30GB of content compressed down to 20GB via NI’s Kontact Compression.
- FANFARE is available in both boxed and direct download formats and will run Standalone, VST, AU, DXI or RTAS.