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The Trash Session

This short film documents a unique recording session for which our production team found creative ways to make some amazing sounds with found objects.  Junk, in particular.

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Creating Palette – Interview

What is “Palette” and what inspired you to create it?

Palette is a new series of orchestral virtual instruments designed for producers and media composers. I’ve always been passionate about orchestral and cinematic music and I’ve been a big admirer of sample developers and the work they’ve done in the past decade. Virtual instruments have really come a long way and it’s incredible what you can accomplish now with software and a little creativity. It’s virtually limitless and just when you think things couldn’t be done any better, a developer comes out with something new that blows us all away.  So it’s an excited industry and I’m really thankful to be a part of it.

Having worked with several developers over the last 10 years I’ve seen a lot of orchestral sample libraries, and like any other composer I found things I liked about them and some things I didn’t.  When I set out to make Palette I got the chance to combine the best ideas I’ve seen with some of my own – to design instruments with features that I would want and that make writing with an orchestra easy and more fun.

Tell us about the concept behind “Palette – Symphonic Sketchpad.”

Palette – Symphonic Sketchpad” is the flagship of the Palette line.  It’s the library I always wanted to make and I’m so proud of it.  The Red Room team did an amazing job in all phases and together I think we created something really outstanding.

I’ve always been a fan of the ensemble patches in orchestral libraries. You know, where the instruments overlap to make a full strings spread, for example, with the low notes being the double basses, then as you go up the keyboard the celli are added and then viola and finally at the top you get the violins. These ensemble patches are cool – you get the whole section in one patch and that’s perfect for fast, easy writing. The issue I’ve had with them, though, is that they’re always scripted, meaning the developer took all the  different recordings of each individual section (basses, celli, viola and violins) and layered them together artificially with script to create kind of a fake full ensemble. The result can be unbalanced, some sections hold notes longer than others or the samples have to be trimmed to match, etc. So I thought, what if we got the entire section into a hall at the same time and did the whole shebang together – every note, every articulation recorded with all the players watching the conductor and communicating with each other just like they do in a normal performance scenario. So to use our strings section as the example, we started by recording the basses lowest note, doing all articulations. Then we moved up to the next note. When we reached the bottom of the range of the celli, they joined in, in unison. As the notes got higher, the viola join the party. When the basses reach their highest note, they drop out. Same with the celli. And as you can guess, the violins enter the picture when we reach their range. So what you end up with is a tighter performance because you get the emotion and all the nuance that comes with a group of musicians performing together, with a conductor, and that’s what I felt was missing from those artificial ensemble patches. I think this method just sounds better because it’s real. Of course we did the same thing with our brass and our woodwinds.

Another thing I’ve personally been disappointed with in regards to typical ensemble patches is they’re generally pretty limited when it comes to articulations. We decided to fix that, too. Our ensembles have up to 10 articulations, including 4 kinds of short notes and deeper stuff like trills, tremolo and flutter tongue.

So we recorded all that with a standard size orchestra. But then we thought, you know what, wouldn’t it be great to also offer a second, smaller size, for flexibility? The answer was yes! So we repeated the entire process with chamber sized ensembles. Again, nothing is scripted – these are entirely new recordings but with fewer players. Same set of articulations, same ranges, same authentic group performances. So basically what you get is 2 orchestras to choose from.  And I’m so glad we did, because sometimes you need to compose something rich or lush or bombastic but other times the piece calls for a more intimate approach. Here you get both.

We wanted the library to live up to its name – “symphonic sketchpad” – so it had to include all the instruments you’d typically need. Of course a proper orchestra includes percussion, so we recorded all the standard performance techniques for 8 of the most commonly used atonal orchestral percussion instruments like bass drum, snare, cymbals and auxiliary and we mapped them into one kit for easy access. We also sampled tonal percussion like timpani, glockenspiel, xylophone and tubular bells.

Most composers I know actually write with piano and then go back and flesh things out for the full orchestra. So “Palette – Symphonic Sketchpad” also features a beautiful Steinway B grand that we sampled in detail in the same hall as the orchestra.

Next, we had to include concert harp. For this instrument we sampled it like we did the others and the result was a very playable, simple plucked harp patch. But of course glissandi are a very integral and often used technique, so our scripter created an amazing pedaling script for a glissandi maker and it’s really fun and easy to play. I think our harp really goes above and beyond what you’d expect from a seemingly small piece of the Palette puzzle and it really adds significant value to the library.

Of course a symphonic collection would be incomplete without my personal favorite honorary section of the orchestra, which is the choir. So “PSS” also includes a really passionate and dramatic sounding mens and womens choir. We recorded 3 vowels – Ah Oh and Mm – for sustains and staccati. Writing choir into a score always adds a human emotion that just can’t be accomplished with instruments, in my humble opinion, so we wanted to be sure to include it.

A lot of modern scores and especially obviously trailer music features elements of sound design. It’s really become almost like an additional section of the orchestra and it instantly adds punch and a futuristic feel to the film, or game, or commercial or whatever you’re writing for. So naturally we felt that, even though it was kind of stretch, we wanted to include a good selection of what are commonly called “trailer tools.” These were also a lot of fun for our sound designers to make so it wasn’t too painful. There are over 250 designed sounds in 7 categories and we even, kind of at the last minute, added a dual-layer subtractive synth with 17 kinds of waveforms. My original thought was that people could use this to layer a simple sine wave to subtly add some extra low end to the orchestra, which is of course still something you can do with it. But with the controls and features that were added to the GUI, now you can even use it to design some sounds of your own. Maybe add some grit to your piece when you need it.

So there you have it. 2 sizes of orchestral ensembles with strings, brass, woodwinds, choir, percussion, piano, harp and trailer tools. Again I’m so proud that we were able to create a library of this magnitude, with all this gorgeous, amazing content. It’s truly a dream come true and I hope that comes across when you use it.

What are Brush Packs?

We had a lot of ideas for content for the flagship library, “Palette – Symphonic Sketchpad” and to be honest it turned out to be too much to try to cram into one product. So I got the idea to divide it all up into more focused and affordable libraries that compliment each other. That way if you need certain tools but not others you’re able to buy exactly what you need. The term “brush” was in keeping with the whole painting/Palette/colors theme, so I kind of view each instrument within the Brush Packs as a different paintbrush, or tool for writing.  And when you put several together and you get a “Brush Pack.”

So what can you find in these Brush Packs?

Well there’s a lot of pretty cool stuff. Brush Pack 1 is a collection of 17 instruments and instrument combinations that are commonly used in classical and modern scoring to carry the melody.  We unoriginally titled it “Melodics” and these brushes are gorgeous. There’s violins octaves, a monstrous low strings plus low brass patch, some playful woodwinds, a 6 horns patch and several other great combos.  There are also 6 soloists – violin, cello, trumpet, horn, flute and oboe. All these instruments have a nice selection of articulations and of course, true legato.  “Melodics” is my favorite of these first brush packs and I’m personally going to use it alot.

There’s also a brush pack dedicated to cinematic orchestral FX. We worked with 3 really talented composers who orchestrated some very cool material for strings, brass, woodwinds and even choir. It’s also got a cool FX Builder patch that lets you layer up to 4 FX to create your own.

The 3rd brush pack we made I think fills a hole in the market and that’s authentic recorded scales and arpeggios. Now there are a few of these out there but this one is probably the largest of its kind, considering it includes close to 1000 unscripted, actual runs & arps recordings for both strings and woodwinds.

So the Palette brush packs tackle specific elements of orchestral scoring, and they’re designed to work perfectly together OR in combination with other libraries.  Hopefully they provide some pieces that you might have been missing.

Describe the recording process and what it’s like to sample an orchestra.

Recording Palette was an absolute joy for me but probably pretty tedious for some of the others who were involved. Orchestral sampling is grueling. It’s literally hundreds of hours of long, exhausting sessions and to be honest I felt bad for the performers. Of course they never expressed any kind of discontent but I have to believe that recording for samples is not their favorite thing to do. I mean, these are some of the world’s finest musicians, the best at what they do, and I’m asking them to sit completely still and repeat single notes for hours and hours. Of course if they shuffle their feet or the chair squeaks or they sniff or even breathe funny it ALL comes through in the recording and that sample becomes unusable.  So at every single session I was absolutely blown away not only by their skill but also by their level of control, their discipline, their positive attitude and just their overall professionalism. It was truly an honor to witness.

I ended up flying to Europe twice to work in person with the orchestra, each time was about a week of marathon sessions, morning to night. We also conducted countless more sessions online over a 8 month period, a lot of them at odd hours here in the US because of the time difference. Our session producer, Yuliyan, was amazing. His production team not only handled the difficult task of scheduling but he also personally oversaw every session, helped to monitor for the best takes and performances and made sure our samples were going to be top notch. He basically ran the ship, despite me barking in his ear and making bad jokes. So much credit goes to him and his team and I really love working with them.

So what’s coming next in the Palette line?

We’ve got plans to create more Brush Packs, including one that’s already in production that we think is going to be very useful for a lot of producers and writers of all kinds of music. We’ve also already finished recording a bunch of deeper articulations with the soloists, which we plan release in 2018. So the Palette line is definitely here to stay and it’s going to continue to grow. It’s a cliche, I know, and I hate to use it but it’s truly a labor of love for us so we’ve designed them with composers in mind and tried to make them as affordable as possible. I almost feel like I just bought something new for my own collection every time we make a new product, which is exciting. We can’t wait to hear the music people are going to make with Palette.