Two hands, no waiting.

Hi CF,

If someone asked me what was important about 2010 for digital samples I'd really only have one reply: polyphonic legato.

You are probably going to see this couplet bandied around a lot in advertising and marketing this year and I thought it might be useful to explain what it means to us as composers working with virtual instruments.

Firstly a quick recap ... what does it mean to have legato samples? It means that we can create lines which move smoothly from one note to another. If we use simple sustained samples (for strings for example) then each new note will start with a distinct attack. If we want legato phrasing we don't want to hear that attack.

Over the years, various solutions have been provided. Initially most of these were simply a matter of clipping the attacks from notes but slowly more sophisticated solutions appeared. The most famous is probably the VSL true legato where the transition notes were all recorded so that you could really here the actual legato effect.

Since VSL's first moves in this direction, other companies have followed suit and legato has become a necessity for a modern sample library.

So everything is good right?

Well more or less...

The problem was that when we're rushed for time we use ensemble patches don't we? Come on you can admit it to me. We know we shouldn't but for sketches or fast mockups or even writing we like using string ensemble patches and now they're not legato. Why is that? Well it's because the legato is monophonic. This means every line has to be played in separately.

Well honestly that's WAY better that nothing and I've already discussed a lot of tricks how to use ensemble sustains with a couple of monophonic legato instruments.

Well in 2010 the situation is different. Polyphonic legato is a reality. It really is.

I'd say the first I heard of this was probably the Hollywood Strings demo where they played chords in the left hands with legato melodies on the right. Very close and I remember being stunned to see that!

Next I saw Andrew Keresztes demo his new features for LASS in his studio. That was the real moment. Full polyphonic legato. I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing. Obviously I've discussed this in great depth in previous posts.

So now it seems that polyphonic legato is breaking out all over. I believe the next place I saw it advertised was Symphobia 2 but honestly Tonehammer Requiem version 1.1 might have come first. Doesn't matter, they're both going to have it!

I think it was the announcement of the new Vienna Instruments Pro also offering polyphonic legato that prompted this post. All of their instruments are now available to play with polyphonic legato. We are looking at the new "must have" feature here.

So how does this change the game for us? Well firstly polyphonic legato means you could play in a full string section with two hands on the keyboard and an expression pedal in a single pass. Seriously. How much might that speed us up the next time we have to write slow and soft strings?

Is it perfect? Well no. Obviously the software has to make some guesses and so if any of your voices cross then it's unlikely that polyphonic legato will pick it up. Also any expression will affect the entire section so swells between different sections won't be possible ... but let's be honest even using 2 tracks with polyphonic legato is quicker than using 5 monophonic tracks.

Is it a game-changer? Hmm ... I think so. I think that a lot of us like to write string parts with ensemble patches and this just can work so well. Honestly at the moment I am still tending to use LASS in sections but that's largely to exploit the divisi. I can easily see myself writing full sections with Symphobia 2 if I need to put together string parts quickly. Brass choral parts and choirs will also go the same way.

I hope this article is of use to people perhaps looking at new libraries and wondering whether any of their features are worthwhile.

As ever I'm open to comments and suggestions.



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  • Thanks for the honest reply and insight, James.

    At this point, I will probably pick up LASS and VE Pro (and Hollywood Strings when EW decides to have a sale :). As always, it is a pleasure to read and learn from your blogs. Cheers mate
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  • A brief but important update: it seems I was mistaken regarding Symphobia 2 having polyphonic legato. Apologies. It has some multi's which combine polyphonic ideas with legato but does not contain actual polyphonic legato. Shame!
  • Hi Albert, I think that's a fair and honest question. I'll be as absolute honest as I can with my answer. Firstly I think both libraries are phenomenal achievements and you would likely be happy with either.

    Also being honest, it's very important to mention that I know Andrew Keresztes (creator of LASS) and I don't own Hollywood Strings.

    I would probably base my recommendation on sound. Of the two, I believe that LASS probably has the edge for more intimate arrangements and in bringing out the detail within complex string arrangements. HS is pretty much unparalleled for the singing symphonic strings. Obviously this doesn't mean that you can't create beautiful singing leads with LASS nor intimate, complex strings with HS.

    LASS isn't a complicated library as such but it is powerful and will take some practice to get the best out of the sound. It certainly rewards users who know how to write for strings.

    There are a lot of tutorial and demo videos online of both products and I highly recommend you watch as many as you can before making your choice. Good luck!
  • Hey James,

    As a user of the EAST WEST family of VST's (started with silver and ended up with the Platinum PLAY version), I find the format be it Kontact or Play to be fairly user friendly, and just perusing over your blog it would appear (at least to me :) that the LASS is a little more complicated.

    Would this be a fair statement, or is the learning curve (in your opinion) and in turn, the flexibility/quality of samples for LASS fairly simple and preferable respectively? I ask because I am considering one or the other (Hollywood Strings vs. LASS) and I cant afford both!!

    I also realize this question may be one of preference (i.e. who is your favorite composer), but I would appreciate your insight as to which you would prefer, given the opportunity to purchase one over the other. Thank you
  • Since writing this article I have now bought Vienna Instruments Pro and Tonehammer Requiem Light which both feature exceptionally usable polyphonic legato. They mostly use a "nearest note" approach which would likely be a disaster for contrapuntal work. Personally I'd recommend sticking with separate tracks for counterpoint.
  • Hi Kristofer, excellent question here. Firstly, being honest I would generally use individual tracks for heavily contrapuntal tracks so that I can control the dynamics individually. I would say that polyphonic legato is more useful for homophonic textures.

    To answer your specific question, I can only speak for LASS, whose behaviour I understand. If you were literally only playing the 2 notes C and E then these notes would be split between sections. Let's say we were using a 1st violin patch for this then say 8 violins would be playing the C and 8 playing the E. If you then just played the D then all 16 violins would move to the D note. Therefore you would hear the rising C->D transition as well as the falling E->D transition. Of course this is also related to the auto-arranger and divisi aspect of LASS. Other tools such as Symphobia 2 and Requiem 1.1 may use different rules. I would assume a logical rule might be to ensure legato on the top line so that may take precedence.
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