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electronic MUSICIAN

The Ultimate Brass Library

By Rob Shrock | March 1, 2003

The December 2002 issue of EM premiered a new serieshighlighting top-notch titles in specific sample-library categories.The first installment focused on bass-guitar sounds. This month, we'lllook at some of the best ensemble and solo brass libraries.

Using samples to realistically and musically capture the sound ofbrass instruments is a tall order. A lot goes on within a good livebrass section: various embouchure articulations are called for, overalltone changes drastically with swells and sforzandos, and potentialdynamic range is enormous. Blending within an orchestral section,carrying a solo line in a symphonic setting, or blowing in a jazz orfunk group each require vastly different playing techniques. Needlessto say, there are plenty of opportunities for brass libraries to fillthe need for good horn sounds.

BIG FISH AUDIO

First Call Horns

First Call Horns is not yet commercially available, though itshould be released by the time you read this. I had the opportunity tocheck out a beta version of the two-CD library, and it promises to bequite good. One of the few libraries that can function in pop/rocksettings as well as orchestral, First Call Horns, in Gigaformat, has section and solo trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flügelhorn,trombone, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, and bari sax. The finalrelease may include more instruments than were on the beta version.

The programming was incomplete at the time that I reviewed thelibrary, but the programs that were included were exceptionally good.Vibrato and nonvibrato versions of many instruments were provided.Mutes, falls, shakes, swells, and other idiomatic styles seemed wellrepresented. Hopefully, the programmers will take full advantage ofother techniques such as keyswitching, Mod-wheel crossfading, andrelease samples.

DAN DEAN PRODUCTIONS

Dan Dean Brass Ensembles

One of the newest brass libraries, Dan Dean Brass Ensembles,concentrates on exquisitely detailed sections of four French horns,three trumpets, and three trombones (see Fig. 1). Both ambientand close versions are provided for all articulations of eachinstrument. The Giga library comprises 12 CDs: each instrument gets 2discs of close-miked samples and 2 discs of ambient samples. Fullrelease-trigger implementation is provided so that you can add thenatural large-room reverb to all layers and articulations.

The ambient patches are gorgeous, although I generally prefer usingthe close-miked versions and applying a concert-hall preset from AudioEase Altiverb to put the sounds in the same “room” withsounds from other libraries. Still, I like the ambient samples verymuch.

A lot of detailed programming went into this library, which offers ahuge variety of articulations and up to eight dynamic layers. Thislibrary has the best crossfades between dynamic layers that I've heardin a brass library, making the patches highly realistic and fun toplay.

DAN DEAN PRODUCTIONS

Dan Dean Solo Brass

The predecessor to Dan Dean Brass Ensembles, this ten-CDlibrary makes an excellent sonic complement. In addition to trumpet(vibrato and nonvibrato versions), trombone, and French horn, thelibrary includes bass trombone, cimbasso (bass tuba), euphonium, tuba,and piccolo trumpet (vibrato and nonvibrato versions).

All of the samples are close-miked, which allows them to blend wellwith the close-miked samples in Dan Dean Brass Ensembles. Theprogramming is thorough and the articulation choices are excellent withup to eight dynamic layers in many patches. The solo programs offerenough variety to create two- or three-part sections by combiningdifferent variations. (For more on building ensembles, see the sidebar“Sensible Ensembles.”) As in Dan Dean BrassEnsembles, the recording of the samples is excellent, making DanDean Solo Brass immensely useful in a wide variety of musicalapplications.

EASTWEST

Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra

I reviewed the Roland and Akai versions of Peter Siedlaczek'soriginal Advanced Orchestra library a few years ago (see theSeptember 1998 issue of EM). The library was excellent then, buteven a few years can feel like a century in the world of sound design,and sampling has improved a lot since that review was published. Thenewer Giga version of the library has been reworked a bit to takeadvantage of the current GigaStudio technology, which makes thisfive-CD library still viable in today's market (see Fig. 2).

Trumpet, trombone, and French horn sections are provided, along withsolo versions of trumpet, piccolo trumpet, trombone, French horn, andtuba. A few solo phrases for the two trumpets are also included.(Remember that for the price you also get strings, woodwinds,percussion, and harp.)

Overall, the samples are great and clean, although they have a touchof cloudiness that I remember from the original versions. (A bit of EQusually solves that problem.) The library offers some fine crossfadingprograms as well as keyswitching versions. The dynamic crossfades aresecond only to Dan Dean Brass Ensembles in their smoothness andplayability.

The solo sounds blend well with other libraries, although they sounda little “smaller” than some of the newer libraries, whichmay be preferable in some settings.

EASTWEST

Quantum Leap Brass

Quantum Leap Brass is the most versatile brass library inthis roundup (see Fig. 3). The five-CD set works just as well ina pop/rock genre as in an orchestral movie score. You can easily mix ajazzy, Miles Davis — sounding muted trumpet with triumphantFrench horn ensembles.

Alto sax, bari sax, tenor sax, soprano sax, trumpet, trombone, basstrombone, and tuba are offered as solo instruments, and you can usethem effectively to create pop horn sections as well as jazz and rockhorn solos. The overblown muted trumpet (think “Minnie theMoocher”) is a standout. For ensembles, the library includes athree-sax split, three trombones, three trumpets, and four Frenchhorns.

Mod-wheel-controlled filtering on many of the programs adds life tothe excellent collection of samples. Still, I wish there werecontroller crossfades of dynamic layers other than with MIDI Velocity,and I'd like to see some keyswitching programs to make the wide varietyof articulations more immediately accessible.

This library is primed for some Giga articulation updates to takefull advantage of its potential. Separate versions for Akai S1000 andS5000 are available to maximize the programming capabilities of thosesamplers.

EASTWEST

SAM Horns

When I first heard SAM Horns at a friend's studio, I wasimmediately impressed; the French horn sounds were phenomenal (seeFig. 4). (French horn sections are the only patches in thissingle-CD Giga library.) Although any individual note in the librarysounds like a professional four-person section, the tones blendextremely well when playing three- or four-note chords, and the size ofthe section doesn't sound as though it has instantly jumped to 12 or 16players. Both ambient and close-miked samples are provided, along witha slew of effects that include swells, rips, interval leaps, clusters,trills, and glissandos. Keyswitching, Velocity switching, releasetriggers, and three dynamic layers add to the library'splayability.

Everything in this library sounds terrific — not a dud withinearshot. The Dutch developer's Web site (www.projectsam.nl)indicates that the company is working on additional instruments, andsamples of trumpets and timpani are available for free download.

Solo lines sound powerful and majestic in SAM Horns, and youcan create some absolutely gorgeous soft pads; I think I'll use some inmy next project instead of synths.

ILIO ENTERTAINMENTS

The Memphis Horns

Few pop/rock horn libraries match the quality of the availableorchestral brass libraries, but The Memphis Horns is anexception (see Fig. 5). Samples of the real Memphis Horns— Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson — absolutely drip withpersonality. The four-CD library includes lots of great licks andphrases in multiple keys, and it offers sustained chords, falls,noises, and other goodies characteristic of the legendary duo.

Unfortunately, the collection doesn't include chromatic multisamplesof the players individually or in unison. Part of the original MemphisHorns sound comes from the way that the players voice chords andoverdub themselves, as well as from the types of licks that they play.I would have loved some multisampled instruments so that I could havefleshed out the potential of the sampled phrases; that missing featureis the biggest drawback to this library.

On the other hand, the licks are so outstanding that if you only usethis library a couple of times, that will justify its price tag. If youcreate commercial music, you could write loads of cuts based aroundthis collection and sound extremely hip. Moreover, the documentationincludes a personal note from Jackson that explains the philosophybehind the Memphis Horns; it's a great minilesson in good poporchestration. You also get a discography of all the cuts that Love andJackson have played on as well as technical information on the samplingsessions.

ILIO ENTERTAINMENTS

Miroslav Vitous Solo Instruments I andII

Another of the revamped “Golden Oldies” of the '90s, theMiroslav Vitous libraries have been a favorite of composers fora long time (see Fig. 6). You can't get a complete collection ofbrass instruments without purchasing both of the discs, because theinstrument groups are broken up between the different titles.

Solo Instruments I (one CD; two in Giga format) includestrombone, bass trombone, and trumpet (along with bass clarinet,bassoon, clarinet, contrabassoon, viola, and cello). SoloInstruments II (one CD; two in Giga format) provides the Frenchhorn and tuba (along with alto flute, English horn, flute, oboe,piccolo, violin, and contrabass). The samples sound great, and they'revery musical. But the library suffers from some inconsistentprogramming in the Giga format.

At most, each instrument has only four or five articulations, butthey're in useful bread-and-butter patches. Keyswitched programs giveyou access to different articulations on the fly. The Mod wheel is usedmostly for volume control. (I'd rather have the Mod wheel controlfiltering or crossfading between dynamic layers.) The instruments aredry, so you have to add ambience to them yourself.

The library is very good, but it's not a complete collection ofbrass sounds. More detailed GigaStudio programming coupled with someadditional content would make this library more competitive by today'sstandards. Nevertheless, I know several composers who love these soundsand use them regularly on commercials and in film scores.

ILIO ENTERTAINMENTS

Miroslav Vitous Woodwind & BrassEnsembles

This single-CD library of ensemble patches has the sectional Frenchhorns, trombones, and trumpets in addition to bassoons, clarinets,flutes, and oboes (see Fig. 7). The samples are clear andpunchy, and looped as well as unlooped versions are provided. See theprevious entry for details on the programming.

ILIO ENTERTAINMENTS

Synclavier Brass and Winds

A bit long in the tooth, the Synclavier Brass and Windssingle-CD library is available only in its original Akai and SampleCellversions. Nevertheless, there is something about this library's mix ofsolo patches and two- and four-player sections that works well in avariety of settings.

When they're soloed, each instrument may not sound particularlystellar, but when combined with other tracks, I'm often pleased withhow well the sounds cut through a mix. This collection does not offermany articulations, and it doesn't provide any clever programmingtricks. But Synclavier Brass and Winds is a good basic libraryto turn to for doubling instruments, adding a different“player” to an ensemble, or simply fattening orchestral orpop sections.

According to Ilio, Synclavier Brass and Winds may bediscontinued in the next few months, although copies may still beavailable.

PYRAMID SOUND PRODUCTIONS

Prosonus Orchestral Collection

Prosonus Orchestral Collection is another older library thathas been reedited, reprogrammed, and remastered for the Giga format.The upgrade has really blown new life into the original sourcematerial, which sounds great overall.

The solo instruments are bass trombone, cimbasso (an overblownversion only), cornet, flügelhorn, French horn, trombone, trumpet,“pop trumpet,” piccolo trumpet, tuba in C, tuba in F, and“tuba FX.” A few brass ensemble programs are provided asfull sections in octaves, so they're limited in their functionality.However, they are a lot of fun to experiment with, and I spent tenminutes just playing a bunch of “brappy”-sounding DannyElfman — like spooky brass melodies.

The programming is good overall, though inconsistent in spots. Inoticed some pretty bad tuning in the cornet and some incorrectlyassigned samples in a few places. On many patches the Mod wheelintroduces release samples of ambience that can be dialed in to taste.That's a hard thing to get right, and it's well done in this library.Keep in mind that the price of the library includes strings, woodwinds,and percussion, which are also very good.

IN THE STUDIO

Other titles are available for creating pop/rock brass sections, butthey generally pale in comparison to the titles spotlighted in thisroundup. I wish there were more high-quality pop-brass sample librariesto choose from, but until there are I'd turn first to Quantum LeapBrass. First Call Horns will undoubtedly be another good choice forpop sections and solo horns in the future, and The Memphis Hornsis in a class by itself if you don't mind being limited to theavailable phrases and licks.

On the orchestral side, there is a lot more to choose from. I wouldput Dan Dean Brass Ensembles at the top of my must-have list,closely followed by Dan Dean Solo Brass, SAM Horns, andAdvanced Orchestra. Quantum Leap Brass and ProsonusOrchestral Collection are excellent choices as well. Their maindrawback is that the programming is not quite as detailed, so it takesmore effort to manipulate the articulations authentically.

I can't wait for First Call Horns to be completed; it willreally augment the great brass libraries that already exist. I wouldnot discount the usability of Prosonus Orchestral Collection andthe Miroslav Vitous libraries, because the “right”sound for a project is different every time. As doubling agents and toadd depth to sections created by building up individual soloinstruments, these libraries, along with Synclavier Brass &Winds, are immensely useful.

Some of the libraries combine especially well with other libraries,depending on the musical context. I prefer the sound of mixinglibraries because that ultimately creates a more animated characterthat minimizes the sound of each library. I like that some instrumentssound bigger in size than others, because it gives me choices incontrast. As hard as brass is to emulate with MIDI, we're finallygetting to a point at which things sound pretty darn good.


Producer and musician Rob Shrock has worked withBurt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Dionne Warwick, George Duke, FaithHill, and many others. He currently serves on the Board of Governorsfor NARAS.

COMPANY CONTACT INFORMATION

Big Fish Audio
tel. (800) 717-FISH or (818) 768-6115
e-mail info@bigfishaudio.com
Web www.bigfishaudio.com

Dan Dean Productions
tel. (206) 232-6191
e-mail dandean@dandeanpro.com
Web www.dandeanpro.com

EastWest
tel. (800) 969-9449 or (310) 271-6968
e-mail sales@eastwestsounds.com
Web www.soundsonline.com

Ilio Entertainments
tel. (800) 747-4546 or (818) 707-7222
e-mail info@ilio.com
Web www.ilio.com

Pyramid Sound Productions
tel. (800) 631-1346 or (303) 458-7154
e-mail info@pyramid-sound.com
Web www.pyramid-sound.com

SENSIBLE ENSEMBLES

I wish sample developers would address how brass sections arecreated in real life and give us that option. What we need more thanunison ensemble samples are multiple “players.” Forinstance, a typical trumpet section consists of three players. Whenthey play in unison you hear three distinct players on a single note.When they play a triad, you still hear three individual players, thistime making up the chord with one player per note.

If you play a triad with an ensemble brass sound, you suddenly getthe sound of nine “players” (three players per note), whichcauses an unsatisfactory shift in timbre. Using multiple copies of asingle solo instrument to play each note of a triad is a poorsubstitute because the ear can hear that the subtle differences betweenplayers are missing and the voices are identical and thereforeunnatural. What's more, you can't shift between harmony and unisonsbecause of phasing on the unisons. The solution is to give us multiplesolo instruments (First, Second, Third, and so forth) for those of uswho like to build up sections one instrument at a time.

That approach is being taken already in many string libraries thatoffer completely different First and Second Violins with the sameamount of detail provided for both. The result is an organic timbrethat more closely rivals live recordings. Of course, that means a lotmore work for the developers and repeated duplication of all of theavailable articulations, but today's technology supports that amount ofdata manipulation. For the most part, the lack of multiple individualsolo players remains the biggest missing link in orchestral andensemble simulations with samples.

Sample Libraries
DistributorTitleFormatsDescriptionPrice
Big Fish Audio
First Call Horns

Giga

2 CDs. Solo and section: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flügelhorn,trombone, French horn, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, bari sax.

$299.95

Dan Dean Productions
Brass Ensembles

Akai, Giga

12 CDs. French horn, trumpet, trombone.

$599 Akai; $699 Giga

Dan Dean Productions
Solo Brass

Akai, Giga

10 CDs. Bass trombone, cimbasso, euphonium, French horn, piccolotrumpet, trombone, trumpet, tuba.

$549 Akai; $649 Giga; $119 per instrument

EastWest
Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra

Akai, E-mu, EXS-24, Giga, Roland

5 CDs. Solo: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba.Section: 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, French horns. Also string ensembles,woodwinds, percussion, harp.

$495

EastWest
Quantum Leap Brass

Akai, E-mu, Roland, Giga, Kurzweil, Unity

5 CDs. Solo: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flügelhorn, trombone,bass trombone, tuba, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, bari sax.Section: 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 3-sax split, 4 French horns.

$395

EastWest
SAM Horns

Giga

1 CD. French horn sections.

$99.95

Ilio Entertainments
The Memphis Horns

Mixed set: Audio/WAV, and Akai

4 CDs (2 mixed format/2 Akai). Trumpet, trombone, bari-sax, andtenor-sax phrases.

$299

Ilio Entertainments
Miroslav Vitous Solo Instruments I andII

Akai, E-mu EOS, Giga, Kurzweil, Roland, SampleCell

I: 1 CD (2 in Giga). Trumpet, trombone, bass trombone. Also bassclarinet, bassoon, clarinet, contrabassoon, viola, cello. II: 1 CD (2in Giga). French horn, tuba. Also piccolo, flute, oboe, alto flute,English horn, violin, contrabass.

$795 each

Ilio Entertainments
Miroslav Vitous Woodwind & BrassEnsembles

Akai, E-mu EOS, Giga, Kurzweil, Roland, SampleCell,

1 CD. 3 trumpets, 3 trombones 4 French horns. Also 3 flutes, 3bassoons, 3 oboes, clarinets.

$795

Ilio Entertainments
Synclavier Brass and Winds

Akai, SampleCell

1 CD. Trumpet, trombone, tuba, flügelhorn, 2- and 4-trumpetunisons, 2-trombone unisons, French horn, saxes. Also flute, oboe,clarinet, English horn, bass clarinet, bassoon, and exotic winds.

$249

Pyramid Sound Productions
Prosonus Orchestral Collection

Akai, Giga, Kurzweil

1 CD; 2 CDs in Giga format. Solo: Trumpet, piccolo trumpet,flügelhorn, French horn, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, cimbasso,cornet. Brass ensemble, brass orchestra. Also flute, piccolo, clarinet,obe d'amore, English horn, bassoon, contrabassoon, strings, percussion,harp.

$295

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