ProjectSAM, with their catchphrase “cinematic sampling”, have become the place to go for libraries tailored to allowing composers to crank out insane amounts of music in a ridiculously low amount of time. Symphobia 1 and 2 are perfect examples of this goal. True Strike 1 and 2 are among the most favorite drum libraries on the market and other smaller products are filling some more niches. Such a product range simply calls of a “best of ProjectSAM”. With Orchestral Essentials, here it is. With a twist.
Orchestral Essentials aims to provide a comprehensive set of essential orchestral sections with basic articulations, a good amount of percussion and some nice goodies on the side. The content for the most part comes from the aforementioned ProjectSAM libraries, but has been reorganised and extended with some new material for this product. Orchestral Essentials follows the concept already established by the two Symphobia libraries: Instead of providing single instruments, the library has combined section recordings, with a few exceptions. Everything is neatly organised into categories.
ProjectSAM has done an interesting job on the UI side of the library. The whole interface looks a bit like a hologram straight out of a SciFi movie. Depending on your taste this is either a good or a bad thing. I like it – nice departure from the realistic or no-nonsense GUIs we have come to see in the past. No matter which patch you load, you will always have a big OE logo in the middle, parameter rotary encoders on the right and patch-specific options on the left. Tabs at the bottom of the patch window let you switch between the adjustable settings. Because most of the patches have identical features, we will now look at these general capabilities of the library and later deal with individual patches.
On all patches, rotary encoders on the main page let you control the amount of reverb applied to the patch (sounds great!), the limiter input (how hard the built-in compressor kicks in) and the attack and release times. The left of the patch window depending on the type of patch you have loaded let you switch on or off the use of round robin samples, the octaver (playing every note you play an octave higher in addition to the pitch you played) and the velocity switch. This switch lets you choose your preferred method of velocity selection: Either by key velocity (how hard you press the keys) or by modwheel. I have to say I just love this feature. It is only available on sustain patches and is extremely useful for playing in a line with your MIDI keyboard in key velocity mode to get it roughly right, later switching to modwheel and dialing in the perfect velocities with a dedicated fader. Also this is where you can find the enhance switch, which adds additional recordings on top of the samples. Not all patches have this features, but those that do really shine!
This tab has controls for release trails, ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, release) and tail length.
OE has a built-in EQ, which is activated by standard. On this tab you can deactivate it and adjust high, mid and low gain independently.
The effects tab has a compressor, delay, a filter and a stereo modeller. You can switch all of these on or off as you please and adjust a number of settings. Clicking on the effect name highlights it and displays the parameters that can be adjusted. All the effects work fairly well, but are probably the one thing you might more or less ignore in your daily use if you mainly write purely orchestral music. If you like to tweak your sounds a bit, this is the place to go, though!
The seating chart shows you not only where each instrument is sitting in the orchestra, but also which instruments are used in the current patch and, if the patch has an enhance button, what the button actually adds in terms of additional instruments. And, as the manual correctly states, the chart just looks damn cool.
The strings category has five ensemble patches, spanning the whole string range from double bass to violin: Arco (sustain), Staccato, Tremolo, Pizzicato and Cinematic Effects. While the former are self-explanatory, the latter is quite interesting and contains a number of string effects like atonal swells, stings and risers, random pizzicati, and so on. The material is very suitable for the scary and creepy moments in your scores. All patches come with velocity control and are very playable out of the box with nice standard EQ settings (which you can deactivate if you choose to do so).
A sixth patch in the strings category has Legato Violins together with flutes. I found this patch to be very versatile and great for melodic lines. Unfortunately, its range from A2 to G4 is very small, making it sometimes difficult to use. The patch is monophonic, so you cannot play more than one note at any time. This holds true for all legato patches in the library, so you really need to plan carefully to stay within the instrument ranges.
An example says more than a thousand words, so here is a short audio demo of the string patches. No editing, no external effects, just the out of the box sound played live.
The brass category is similar in scope to what can be found in the strings: A Long Notes patch provides sustained samples over the whole brass family. The ensemble (tube, trombones, french horns and trumpets) is sampled in multiple velocity layers, which you can seamlessly morph through with the modwheel. On the ff dynamic, OE’s brass has a very nice bite and is perfectly suited for powerful lines or sustained chords. The Staccato patch is programmed very well, with sharp attacks, which can be additionally tweaked with the attack knob in the interface. Similarly to the string category, the brass section has a Cinematic Effects patch. This patch has tonal and atonal rips and a host of other useful effects. Again the sounds really shine in the context of creepy/horror music, which falls in line with their counterparts in Symphobia 1 and 2.
There are solo trumpet, horn and trombone sustain patches, which allow you to write some non-ensemble lines – a welcome addition. Unfortunately, there no other articulations for these solo instruments. It is possible to get a decent enough faster attack with the attack knob, but this does not make up for the absence of staccato samples. As a bonus you also get a Legato Horns with Trombones patch. The patch, which appears to be a subset of the same patch from Symphobia 2 offers legato transitions and works extremely well for carrying melodic lines.
Here is an example of what you can expect in terms of sound from OE’s brass:
By now you should be able to predict what may await you in the woodwinds category – and you are right. Long Notes, Staccato, Cinematic Effects. Interestingly enough, the Long Notes patch does not allow to route velocity control to the modwheel. All the other Long Notes patches do this. When playing ensemble woodwind patches, Cinesamples’ brilliant Hollywoodwinds come to mind. OE’s winds in comparison are much quieter and more laid back. They work tremendously well for lyrical passages and have a very soft, but yet fast attack. For me, the woodwinds are one of the strongest aspects of OE.
There is a Legato Flutes with Clarinets patch. The patch sounds nice, but is very much centred on the flute, with the clarinets playing very quietly. Some ethnic flute phrases – think Lord of the Dance with a regular flute instead of Irish Whistle – add a nice touch to the woodwinds. Sadly, these are not tempo-synced. There’s also an Overblown Flute Staccato patch.
Here are some impressions from the woodwinds:
Taken from TrueStrike, the percussion section gives you the essentials: The orchestral percussion kit has everything but the kitchen sink, from snare drums to cymbals and in my experience works best as a sketching tool to later be replaced by dedicated samples. The timpani patch has nice-sounding single hits and does the trick in most instances. Similarly, you get a xylophone, glockenspiel and a celesta. The japanese kit and djembe ensemble serve as a good basis for ethnic cues, while the cinematic percussive effects patch has some nice timpani rolls, cymbal crashes and other effects.
All in all the percussion section lives up to what it says on the box: Essentials. You will find everything you need to do a quick mockup, but as a seasoned composer with a host of other libraries at your disposal you will most likely replace at least some of the percussion later on. What the percussion definitely does, though, is give you a very solid starting point for laying out ideas without having to delve through dozens of huge percussion libraries.
Keyboards & Harp
Orchestral Essentials includes three very nice keyboard instruments and a concert harp. The Piano Mystique is unique to the library and was not available in any other ProjectSAM library before. As the name suggests, it is a slightly quirky upright piano with a very warm sound. Even if you already have a good number of piano libraries, you will find this piano very useful. Besides, you can never have enough piano samples. The second instrument not taken from a previous product is the harpsichord. The sound is very clean and crystal clear, but to be this instrument lacks a bit of the punch of the real thing. This may be on purpose; after all the whole library leans a bit into the horror/mystery genre with the exception of some patches. Nevertheless if you need a harpsichord and do not have a dedicated library, this one will do the deed just fine.
As an organist, I tremendously enjoyed the Church Organ patch. Taken from the Organ Mystique library, this patch is a nice mf stop combination with very well-programmed samples. Attacks are just right and it feels and sounds great. For me this patch is one of the highlights of this library – which means a lot because all in all I am extremely satisfied with the overall product! The patch does not have a dedicated pedal range, so to write a real organ piece you would still need a full-featured library. But if you need pedal samples, you will probably also want to be able to change stops, so you need to look for a bigger library anyway.
Last but not least, Orchestral Essentials has a Concert Harp patch taken from the library with the same name. With a good dynamic range, this patch will be sufficient for basic sketching of harp parts. There are no glissandos and no special articulation, just the pluck patch. Given OE’s scope as an all-purpose library, this can hardly be criticized – and if you need more, there’s Concert Harp EXP, the bigger brother.
Even though listed first in the instruments list, I saved this for last, because I genuinely think these patches are one of the best mockup tools you can get. I’ll tell you how I approach writing a cue: Either I sit down with a sheet of paper and a pencil (and an eraser) and write some sketches, or I do the same in Logic with a humble piano. More and more I have found myself to use custom-made multis in Kontakt or VI Pro for quick sketches of specific “compositional situations”. You know — the big “huge synth and string pad at the bottom, brass chords in the middle, string melody on top” kind of situation. The Full Orchestra patches sound exactly like some of those multis I painstakingly built – but at a fraction of memory use! Since getting Orchestral Essentials, they have become my number one tool for sketching out ideas.
The patches are named Action, Suspense, Epic, Dark Orchestra, Long Chords and Short Chords. The two chords patches have pre-arranged major and minor chords in all keys. If you are familiar Cinesamples’ CineOrch, you know how this works, only with a much more basic feature set. OE’s chord patches react to velocity, but even at the lowest velocity sound very fortissimo.
Basically you get ff chords from the full orchestra, with volume controlled by playing velocity. On the up-side, they are each only 3.6 MB (no typo!). For throwing in a quick pre-arranged chord in a great sounding voicing they are just perfect! Dark Orchestra is like a cinematic effects patch on steroids: More than sixty full orchestra rips, smears, swirls, pads and textures could tackle any horror scene without any help from other patches.
Action, Suspense and Epic, as their names suggest, are sonic templates. Weighing in at about 20-25MB per patch, they offer wonderfully orchestrated playable notes. With the epic patch you can literally play a decent rendition of any brass-heavy SciFi TV tune live. The enhance button adds the heavy brass; with enhance disabled you get strings and winds. As usual, the seating tab in the interface exactly tells you who is playing when. The suspense patch has string tremolos with some serious low end going on at the bottom notes, which is added with the enhance button. When trying it out the action patch, I could not help myself: I had to play “Pirates”. That’s how it sounds. The enhance button adds low piano stabs and big percussion, without enhance pressed you get full orchestra staccatos.
Here is an audio demo of the three patches:
If you know ProjectSAM’s other libraries, you will be familiar with their Dystopia patches. These patches take samples from the library use them for all kinds of crazy sound design elements. They did the same in Orchestral Essentials and as usual, the results sound absolutely great. You get eight FX patches, each one meticulously programmed with the modwheel controlling filters. From disturbing distorted pulses to etheric string pads – everything is there!
Orchestral Essentials comes with a number of multis, combining several patches from the library and spreading them over the keyboard. The same system is also used in Symphobia 1 and 2 and works extremely well. You really can lay down whole tracks with just a single multi. While using the same samples as the regular instrument patches, the multis are in fact completely unique in their programming and really sound completely different then any of the individual patches. Also the multis are completely new and not taken from any of the bigger products. Going with the spirit of the whole library, the multis are very dark and brooding with a large emphasis on sound design. There are some exceptions, but if you want sweeping melodies, these are not for you. But when looking for a specific texture to create suspenseful ambiences, OE’s multis are a great place to start looking for your sounds, regardless of how many other libraries you may have. One can easily see how much love ProjectSAM puts into coding these multis.
If you want more…
One great thing about the library is that because of its genesis as a subset of other products, you can satisfy your craving for more by getting the other libraries. Obviously that makes sense with Symphobia and True Strike, but maybe even more in the case of the harp and the organ. If you like these patches, get the relatively inexpensive bigger products. In the case of the harp, this will also get you glissandos. And the full Organ Mystique has full control of the stops and three unique sounding instruments in one!
If you have stuff…
On the other hand, if you already own one or more ProjectSAM libraries, you may be asking yourself: Is it worth the price of admission? In my opinion: Yes. Not only will you get a terrific collection of “best of” patches, all very well programmed and extremely light on resources, but you will also get a discount depending on the number of libraries you already own. I have both Symphobia libraries and enjoyed seeing the material in a trimmed-down form as a versatile all-purpose library. Using OE as your ensemble library of choice on a portable machine for quick mockups on the road may very well be worth the price of admission alone. Yes, almost all content was already present in other products, but ProjectSAM have managed to somehow create a new and appealing product, even though you technically already saw all the content before.
Looking strictly at the included effects and special articulations, Orchestral Essentials works best on horror/suspense cues. The cinematic effects patches have some very scary and dissonant sounds, all of which sound simply spectacular. You will find very few tonal or even melodic effects in Orchestral Essentials, which is the only major flaw one could find in OE. The whole library just feels very dark. Of course, this comes in handy when you actually need to write in such a style. The general articulation patches (long, short and legato ensembles) obviously are suitable for every genre. For a library that sets out to provide “essentials”, some lighter content would have been a nice touch. This is remedied a bit by the fact that there are a lot of great libraries with more light-hearted content, so ProjectSAM’s product really fills a niche in this regard and are actually quite useful because of their darker tone.
If you are on the hunt for a versatile ensemble library, either to complement your other libraries or as a workhorse for a portable rig, you’ve found your ideal candidate for the job. ProjectSAM Orchestral Essentials sounds great, is very easy to use and with its enhance feature gives you a great way of sculpting your sound. The interface is strikingly different from what one normally sees, yet powerful with lots of tweakeable options. The library is very light on resources, has extremely short loading times and integrates effortlessly into any sonic palette.
If you already own all of ProjectSAM’s products, essentially what you will get is a basic subset of those libraries, with a common interface and the added bonus of the harpsichord and piano. The Full Orchestra patches work in a similar way to Symphobia’s multis, but by combining what used to be several single patches into one new one, resulting in quicker loading times. Even with all ProjectSAM products in your arsenal, Orchestral Essentials is of great use as a mockup tool or ensemble library for your portable machine.
If you only own a few or even none at all – what are you waiting for? Orchestral Essentials is your perfect low-cost ticket of admission into the world of ProjectSAM! Just keep in mind that for the true “Essence of Film Scoring”, you will need some additional melodic effects to really be ready for about anything that could possibly come your way composition-wise.
So that’s SCOREcast’s opinion on ProjectSAM Orchestral Essentials. If you have feedback, questions or anything else you want to voice, please post in the comments! Ask and thou shall receive an answer!