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Ok, so I've discussed lots of areas of digital orchestration but today I thought I'd discuss how I get everything working together and what my main "go to" samples and VIs are.

I'll try not to turn this into a big shopping list as best I can.

Ok, so I'm using an 8-core Mac Pro with 3 hard drives (system/apps, recording and samples). I've got a Saffire Pro 10i/o as a Firewire audio interface. I'm using E-Mu monitor speakers with the E-Mu subwoofer. For MIDI input I'm using an E-Mu XBoard plus a Yamaha BC3 breath controller (into a MIDI controller box into a U2M USB <-> MIDI convertor cable).

Cubase 4 is my main sequencer. I might have chosen something else if I'd started on a Mac but I started on a PC and I don't really have any problems with it. I'm using Kontakt 3 as my main sampler and again that works well. When using instruments with multiple articulations (like staccato/legato) then I'll load them into instrument banks within K3.

Orchestral Samples
Most of my discussions are about digital orchestration rather than contemporary music. I'll possibly do an article on more modern approaches or hybrid scores but for the time being I'll concentrate on "cinematic digital orchestration" which roughly equates to the John Williams / Jerry Goldsmith orchestral sound.

These are a combination of Vienna Instruments Special Edition, Westgate modular instruments, WIVI and Project SAM Woodwind Orchestrator. Generally I use VI SE as a basis and then replace the odd instrument with Westgate and WIVI. I particularly like Westgate Flutes although the piccolo can sound a little synthetic (and it's an instrument I like to use a lot). For particularly strong woodwind lines I may even use combinations (like Westgate Flutes & VI SE Flutes) or just ensemble patches.

VI has some great legato patches but I love the vibrato on the Westgate instruments. WIVI is very playable straight out of the box (and doesn't require loading multiple articulations).

For Woodwind effects I use Project SAM Piccolo & Flute FX, Project SAM Woodwind FX and some patches from EWQL Symphonic Orchestra Gold XP Pro (the piccolo rips are great!)

If I'm sketching up then I just use Project SAM Woodwind Orchestrator plus one or two other woodwinds for highlights.

At one point I exclusively used WIVI for this but now I use more of a combination of differents VIs/libraries and I also choose different instruments for different genres. Generally I use WIVI when I need to really play the lines and samples for background parts.

The WIVI horns are great. As with all WIVI I tend to 'close mike' them now (with the audience guy on the stage) and use the Dry Sample 3 preset. I run them into my regular Altiverb setup (which I've detailed below). These horns are very flexible and can handle all manner of usage. I highly recommend experimenting with 2-3 channels of horns blending open, stopped and muted for various effects. Bringing in the stopped/muted horns for staccati works beautifully. For big, bold epic horn melodies I always choose WIVI.

I also use a lot of Westgate Horns for the softer legato moments and the staccati. I then mix in effects from Project SAM, EW and VSL Epic Horns (such as glissandi).

For heroic trumpets, WIVI again takes the lead for me. For jazzier trumpet playing I have been working with SampleModelling "The Trumpet". I have also used other instruments from SampleModelling (cornets, piccolo trumpets, flugelhorns) and been very pleased with the results. For an upcoming Raiders March mockup I intend to use 3 WIVI trumpets plus a SampleModelling trumpet.

For other situations, I often use EW muted trumpets. These are great for stabs, crescendi and background chords. Again, between them and Project SAM I have plenty of brass effects.

I love the sound of trombones and again use combinations of libraries. WIVI 'bones are generally very good but for me they're the one I'll replace the most frequently. Sometimes they don't quite buzz enough on staccati or are just too thick in the mix so I'll use something else. Often I'll use EW trombones and I've been very pleased with their sound and the number of articulations available. Project SAM are great as well and I'll often use Project SAM for bass trombone and cimbasso patches (both absent from WIVI). Tubas are generally WIVI and/or EW.

This is pretty straightforward. I use True Strike for pretty much all percussion, tuned and otherwise. This includes celesta, marimba, xylophone, glock and vibes.

For harp I use VI SE plus glisses from CineHarps.

For piano I use Art Vista Virtual Grand.

For more modern hybrid pieces I use waaaay more libraries but for this article I'm dealing with traditional orchestral percussion only.

My main string ensemble is Sonic Implants Symphonic Strings. I love the sound and it has a lot of articulations. It can easily be doubled with itself and it also includes really amazing con sordino patches.

If I want something bigger sounding then I'll generally double up with Appassionata Strings.

Mix and Production
I set up 10 groups (Strings Left, Strings Centre, Strings Right, WW Left, WW Right, Brass Left, Brass Right, Perc Left, Perc Centre, Perc Right). Each group has an Altiverb insert effect for direct and ERs only, including stage placement. I also setup a Reverb Group which includes an Altiverb insert for reverb tail only (but not mixed to 100% this time).

Dry instruments are panned using either Vienna Ensemble power panning or Waves S1 Stereo Imager, sent to their appropriate group and then sent on to the Reverb group.

Wet, pre-panned instruments are usually sent straight to the final output or sent to the Reverb group.

For noisier pieces I'll often add Waves C1 compression on the brass and percussion to prevent them overpowering the mix. I'll generally use either Waves or PSP Neon for any EQing required.

On the master bus I'll usually add Izotope Ozone 3 for tape saturation, plus a TrueVerb to act as a desk reverb before finally running through Waves L1 Limiter.

So... it does seem like a fair bit of work but I'm definitely happy with this sound. After reading through a couple of articles from other people recently I tried using Altiverb as a send effect but I think using inserts sounds better although I do appreciate that using 11 instances of Altiverb is heavy on the CPU.

So there's a fair bit of info from previous articles in here but it's all in one place at last and hopefully this shines a light on how I work. I hope this is interesting to fellow composers and (as always) I hope to learn from everyone else's input on the subject.

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Comment by James Semple on August 30, 2010 at 12:35pm
Hi Doug,

I'm afraid this post is quite out of date. Right now I use a MOTU 2408 as my soundcard. I have a Marshall JMP-1 which I can run directly into the MOTU. I also have a Cornford Harlequin 6-watt recording amp. I mic this up with a Shure SM57 and then run this through an SSL Alpha Channel and then into the MOTU. Just added the SSL recently and it does sound very nice indeed as a pre-amp.
Comment by Doug Lauber on August 29, 2010 at 3:17pm
Wow- that's a huge 'gadget' list. I'm envious!
I have a big question- what mic pres do you use when recording elec guitar? the Saffire?
Comment by Amirul Hisham Othman on January 7, 2010 at 6:34am
Brilliant setup :D
Comment by Mike Torr on July 21, 2008 at 6:16am
Another interesting post, James. It's useful to have these things to refer to. The plug-in/send debate on reverb is an interesting one - I had intended to read that SoS article and I hadn't got around to it. Thanks for the reminder, everyone.
Comment by James Semple on July 21, 2008 at 2:39am
Thank you for the comments people. Pete I think the Saffire is pretty good but I did have a few problems with it initially. I'm fairly sure the drivers are all good now but occasionally I have to reboot the device by switching latency in Cubase.

Ray, I do have the issue of SoS so I'll go and take a look back over it.

Gabriel, I hate producing so I've stuck with a method that works for me here. I try not to think about it too much if I can.

Chris, I have the old VSL Horizon libraries amd I far prefer working with VI SE now. Also, it works outside of the sequencer and so I have access to more memory.

All of this comes at a price though. My current templates usually take about 7 minutes to load.

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