With a range of sample libraries spanning the orchestral palette and even including a decent number of special and not so often used instruments, VSL (Vienna Symphonic Library) have established themselves as one of the big sample library manufacturers. Their innovative legato tool back in its day brought for the first time real legato to composers and in recent times, they have done it again with Vienna Ensemble Pro as probably the most convenient way of setting up slave machines and building huge templates. In 2005, VSL introduced their own proprietary sampling engine, aptly called Vienna Instruments, which with its matrix-based approach to patch organisation has proven itself one of the most powerful tools available to composers for utilizing the capabilities of their libraries. In 2010, VSL added an even more powerful sampler to their roster: Vienna Instruments Pro dramatically enhanced the possibilities of VSL’s libraries and allowed composers to control the human element of a sampled performance – not even to mention the addition of a convolution reverb right into the sampler!
The release of VI Pro 2 (a free upgrade for all previous owners) in 2011 brought a host of new features to the platform, which showcase in special presets and matrixes for almost all available instrument collections via library updates. SCOREcast’s upcoming review of VSL’s Solo Strings — right on the heels of our Spitfire Solo Strings and LASS First Chair review — will also go into some detail on the perks of using VI Pro with the library.
With their huge feature set, VSL’s samplers (even the traditional Vienna Instruments, which comes with every library for free, while VI Pro is an extra product) sometimes seem a bit daunting to the novice. Fortunately, this fear is not really warranted: Once you have wrapped your head around the way VSL does things, both samplers are incredibly easy to use and deliver fantastic results. This is why this VI Pro 2 overview will give you a brief rundown of the user interface and the general workflow of VSL’s offering.
Exploring the Interface
VI Pro has two main interface views (plus the sequencer view), the Basic and Advanced views. When you load the plugin into your sequencer or start the standalone version, the Basic is the default view (shown here in Logic Pro 9):
The most important concept in VI is the Matrix. (No, not the one with a funny green tinge, which only serves to keep you calm so you can be a nice battery for the machines!) VI’s matrix basically works like a grid, where you can move from left to right (and back) and from top to bottom (and back). Every such cell contains a single articulation, which called Patch in VI. You can find all patches on the right of the window in the patch tab. Note that while in other samplers, a patch may contain multiple articulations, in VI it never does. A patch is a single articulation! See the screenshot:
As you can see, there is a folder for different types of articulations, with the actual articulations being represented as single patches which you can drag into cells of a matrix.
A pre-programmed set of articulations organised in a grid is called matrix, which you will find in the matrix tab. Matrixes can be huge, so you would be able to fit all articulations of a library into a single matrix with ease.
All VSL collections come with a large amount of factory matrixes, which usually (as you can see in the screenshot) contain what may be called “multis” in other samplers: Articulations sensibly mapped across the keyboard, sometimes with keyswitches. A matrix is usually what you will want to play on a single track in your projects if you like keyswitches or other means to switch between articulations on the same track.
Now comes the last layer: Presets. A preset consists of several matrixes, which can be accessed by keyswitches or bank select commands. Usually a factory preset will contain almost all articulations available in the library, see the screenshot:
You have a number of free starts of Extended content for demo purposes on your eLicenser. Unfortunately, many people do not realise that the Level 2 content needs an extra license, so they only realise it after their demo starts have been used up. So make sure when using any “ext” content that you actually have a valid license for it!
How to Use a Matrix
So how do you actually use a matrix? And how can you switch between cells? Here’s a view of a matrix from VSL Solo Strings:
This is the „L1 Vl Articulation Combi“, which means that it is a matrix with all common articulations for the Solo Violin and only uses Standard content. On the left you can see the matrix with its cells, all cells bearing abbreviated names. The selected cell (sta) stands for the patch 01 Vl_staccato, which you will find in the patch list under this name if you were so inclined to look for it. If you look more to the right, the Matrix Control section shows you the current settings for navigating within the matrix. This works very much like your beloved grids in math class at school. You have an X-axis and a Y-axis and can assign different ways to move along the grid. In this case, the X-axis is controlled by regular keyswitches, while the Y-axis uses the modwheel. As you can see, the X-axis has tons of keyswitches because there are many „columns“ in the matrix. There are only two „rows“, though, which means that the modwheel has only two settings. VI Pro allows you to choose a sizable number of ways to move through the matrix. You can switch cells depending on how fast you play, or how hard you press a key, and so on.
The matrix makes VI Pro (and VI, for that matter) very powerful, but takes a bit of time to get used to. Fortunately, VSL ships a large number of very nicely done matrixes with their libraries, which also showcase specific features of the software. There are, for example, dedicated matrixes just for VI Pro 2 using its new sequencer.
At the bottom of the VI Pro window you have the control assignment area, where you can assign CCs and other means of control (speed, velocity…) to your instance for controlling a number of features. This is where you assign expression, volume, crossfades, and so on.
The controls area is incredibly flexible and makes assigning different controllers dead easy. With just a few clicks you can remap any controller. This is also where you can activate the integrated convolution reverb, a feature unique to VI Pro. The reverb comes from the Vienna Suite (a bundle of effects plugins developed with VI instrument collections in mind) and is very light on resources – the perfect way to make VSL collections sound great on a portable rig.
Also make sure to always assign Velocity X-Fade (pictured here). In combination with CC11 (Expression), it allows perfect control over dynamics and seamlessly morphs between velocity layers.
As if the things we had a look at so far weren’t difficult enough to remember, this is not even half of VI Pro’s feature set. On the top right of the window, you can switch to the Advanced View.
To go into details would get too deep here, but the VI Pro manual explains all this very well. Nevertheless, a few things are worth mentioning:
On the bottom right, the humanize feature allows you to simulate a realistic attack going quickly from being a tad out of tune to spot on – just like with real players. Make sure not to overdo it, though, or your expensive VSL collections will sound like a high school wind band VI will randomize those human attacks, so on every key press you get a slightly different attack.
On the upper right, you can assign up to eight patches per cell, which not only allows you to stack different patches which will sound at the same time, but also lets you create crossfades between different patches in the same cell. With a combination of crossfade articulations inside a single cell, switching between cells in the matrix and switching between matrixes in the preset, the things you can do on a single track in your sequencer are almost limitless.
Underneath the patch assignment area, the mixer area has controls for panning of all the patches you assigned as well as for volume control. If you want to build stacks, this is an incredibly flexible way of making sure everything sounds good together. You can also set the volume as well as the key range of individual patches right in the keyboard view at the bottom of the window without any programming necessary.
Hopefully this short overview of VI Pro 2 gave you a bit of an idea of the concept of the sampler and helps you to understand SCOREcast’s upcoming reviews of some of VSL’s instrument collections.
Leave a comment or a question in the COMMENT section below.