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The Angst of Selecting a Virtual String Orchestra: DVZ vs. VSL?

From my first attempt to compose music in the early 90's using my 486, Finale, and my computer's internal sound card (mistake!), it has been my dream to have at my disposal a realistic virtual orchestra.

 

When the Garritan Personal Orchestra came out, I thought my dreams had come true. And for a while, it seemed that Gary Garritan had solved the world's most pressing problems and ushered in a new era of world peace, sending beauty pageant contestants on a desperate scramble to find a worthy cause to promote in their speeches (How about a reduction in breast implants? Wait a minute? Is that a good idea?).

 

After about a year-long honeymoon with GPO, I began to write music that this everyman's orchestra couldn't realistically emulate, so I decided to upgrade. After painstakingly comparing the Vienna Symphonic Library and East West Quantum Leap's Symphonic Orchestra, I chose to purchase EWQLSO Platinum Plus (mistake!) because I thought its online demos sounded better (sonically) than VSL's. Then I played its strings and disappointment set in. While EWQLSO P+ sounds great if you aspire to be the next John Williams, I am apparently the only wannabe composer who doesn't wannabe the next John Williams. Listening to EWQLSO's strings play anything but Hanz Zimmer and Post-Romantic Gagantuan-ese is like letting a sumo wrestler on Dancing With the Stars. The tutu doesn't even look good! In other words, EWQLSO P+ luxuriates in its own larger-than-life Hollywood sound, and for delicate restrained music, it's simply too overpowering.

 

So now I contemplate the final frontier for a classically-minded wannabe composer. Should I purchase the way overpriced Vienna Symphonic Library Cube and surrender to the Borg, or should I take a chance on maverick Chris Stone's DVZ Strings and unfortunately named Brillanti Philharmonic ("Yes, we know our product is brilliant. That's why we named it Brillanti. That's Italian for brilliant." What happened to DVZ? Divisi didn't get passed your spell checker?) (There's also Hollywood Strings, LA Scoring Strings, Cinematic Strings, Miroslav Vitous' String Ensembles, and a few others, which I've considered and rejected for various reasons mostly related to them not possessing the classical sound I wanted.)

 

Having narrowed the playing field to two contenders, I weigh the cost/benefits ratio of each. I could either spend $3,200 on a gracefully aging sample library from our less than generous friends in Wien, or I could spend $999 on DVZ Strings and allegedly another $999 on the upcoming Brass, Woodwind, and Percussion libraries, plus about $270 on Vienna Ensemble Pro and $300 on two Solid State Drives to run DVZ Strings, plus an additional $100 for other related software? What fun choices we have!

 

Here is what I know about VSL. It sounds more convincing than any other VST in classical repertoire, but it requires some serious programming and convolution reverb to sound good. Do I have to become a sound engineer just to compose? Borg: "Resistance is futile!"

 

Here's what I know about DVZ Strings? Every sample loads on initiation. Every parameter is
"controllable" in real time. Some moments of each demo on AI's site sound awesome; others sound like a flashback to my days using a 486 and its internal soundcard to compose for orchestra (mistake!).

 

Here's what I want. Since AI has partnered with Best Service to distribute its products in Europe, why not make use of www.try-sound.com to let us demo its product? If the good people at AI are willing to bring DVZ Strings to your studio if you live in the LA area, they should jump at the chance to bring it to your studio anywhere in the world, with a little latency (or a lot, depending on your internet connection), via www.try-sound.com. And if Try-Sound's server can't handle the system requirements of DVZ, then AI can donate one of their custom AiDAW's to the cause. Since not every user will have a dedicated controller for key switches, the good people at Try-Sound could preconfigure DVZ's most useful settings (one for lush legato, one for dramatic marcato, one for pizzicato, one for a smaller ensemble playing arco, one for a solo quintet).

 

Here's another thing I want. I want AI to upload demos of DVZ Strings playing classical music, so that I can evaluate its claim that its product sounds like a real string orchestra because it works like one. If that's true, don't hide behind clever advertising slogans, produce a demo that proves it. If Hollywood Strings posts a demo of its gargantuan post-apocalyptic string ensemble playing the Presto from Vivaldi's Summer in a performance that would scare the devil, why can't AI show us what a proper-sized "virtual" Baroque string orchestra can do with the same repertoire. If VSL can post a demo of Barber's Adagio for Strings that is as convincing sonically as any performed by real string orchestras, why can't AI? If VSL Strings, which don't even have true divisi capabilities, can in their demo of Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis produce convincing divisi, why can't AI show us what a true divisi library can do with the same piece?

 

I realize that VST producers sell most of their products to film composers and wannabe film composers, but even for such as these, listening to a little good music from time to time might put a musical idea in their head. Anything would be better than another Hanz Zimmer rip off? "True legato? All I care about is if it can play monster staccato, man!"

 

To all of you film composers and wannabe film composers, I love you, because your music inspires young people with the sounds of a symphony orchestra. I also hope that this year we can have world peace or its most convincing virtual equivalent. That would be truly brillanti! And if I could purchase a virtual orchestra with a realistic string orchestra that would allow me to produce classical music, I would be most grateful.

 

 

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Comment by Mikolaj Holowko on June 4, 2011 at 10:11pm
I'm plaing guitar since i was 13 and i'm used to constant changes of intonation for best expression ( and FUN! ). I agree with everything written here - that samples will never give you the feel that real musicians would. That's y I'm organising some real musicians for my songs now. It will certainly take less time than tweaking every single note to gave it right expression. Still with a bit of imagination it's possible to make any sample sound more interesting, by cutting them ( you can do it in kontakt very quickly ), giving some overdrive and some efects like flanger or phaser, or even little distorition. Sadly on my rig  i can't realise all of my ideas in one song and have to write specifyc files only for experimentation with particular instrument. Anyway that my thoughts. I recently think about getting one of the cinesamples. They seam to sound really good.

But anyway, August, maybe just get real musicians? :)
Comment by August Champlin on June 2, 2011 at 1:12am

Interesting update! Rather than just post my wishes on a blog, I sent Audio Impressions an email asking them if they would consider partnering with Try-Sound.com to allow prospective customers to demo their virtrual string orchestra online. The good news is that AI has excellent customer service. Helen personally responded to my email and forwarded it to Try-Sound. That was impressive! Even Try-Sound responded promptly. While it may not be possible presently due to technical barriers, I was nonetheless impressed by AI's and Try-Sound's obvious faith in this innovative new product. I wish the people at AI the best and hope that they can win a larger market share and continue to offer innovative products. 

Comment by August Champlin on June 2, 2011 at 1:02am

I agree, Anders, that Steve M. Lloyd's "Montebello" sounds fantastic. It's interesting you should post a link to it, as I was just listening to it last night and wishing he would post a tutorial on how he got that sound out of EWQL. Curious, I launched PLAY and began to fiddle around with Vivaldi-like passages. I think you're right in suggesting that the key to realism lies in changing articulations and adjusting MIDI CC parameters. By doing so, one can come close to the sound of a concert hall string ensemble. I also like Ray's suggestion of scooping out the midrange, so that it gives the sound some depth. EWQL is to the classical orchestra what metal is to rock, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when drama and speed are the name of the game.

 

Comment by Anders Christensen on June 1, 2011 at 5:42am

One of the things I have experimented a little with is to make some classical music with EWQL. What I have found out is - yes you can make classical music with EWQL.

 

But as Ray says you have to be damn good. To make it sound realistic you have to go mad with the number of articullations and the chord struktures in Classical and Baroque are very complex. This makes it very time comsuming espesially for the beginner. But it is all of the little details and varriations that makes up a great classical composition.

 

Making a Hans Zimmer style soundtrack composition is just technically much more simple. This does however not have much to do with the samples being used.

 

On the top of a mountain stands a great classical composition made with EWQL. At the moment I am standing at the bottom trying to push a big rock up there - for me making a great sounding classical piece is my next big mountain climb.

 

This one I do like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPgoJtSTUp4 - made using EWQL

Comment by August Champlin on May 31, 2011 at 12:07pm

That's a pretty good idea, actually. Perhaps I should try that. Thanks for the suggestion. Sometimes it's helpful just to be pointed in the right direction. I think you're onto something. I'll tell you how it goes when I get time to work on it. Best wishes!

Comment by August Champlin on May 31, 2011 at 2:44am
You're right! I have heard some very convincing performances of Baroque music performed with EWQLSO. Maybe I should request a more experienced user to show me how to acheive the most with the software I have.

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