Review: London Contemporary Orchestra Strings by Spitfire Audio

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With London Contemporary Orchestra Strings, Spitfire dive deep into sonorism with a clear and present sample set of experimental articulations, many of which I have never heard before! The surprising thing is just how playable this library is given it’s aleatoric nature.

Jump to the Demos of London Contemporary Orchestra Strings

Jump to the Videos of London Contemporary Orchestra Strings

 

Review:

Spitfire‘s London Contemporary Orchestra Strings was produced in partnership with the London Contemporary Orchestra. The LCO has contributed significantly to a shift in string writing and has been featured in music by Radiohead and composer Jed Kurzel (Alien: Covenant). The result is a dynamic sample set of violin, viola, cello, and bass sections with a pallet of never-before-sampled articulations.

London Contemporary Orchestra Strings sells for $349 from Spitfire Audio

 

Thoughts

Spitfire Audio seem to be on the hunt for innovative textures and timbres. The developer recently released Albion V Tundra, an expressive orchestral sample set with a unique set of articulations recorded “at the edge of silence”. Following that up with another innovative orchestral library of unusual articulations may seem like the developer is on repeat but after just a few minutes with London Contemporary Orchestra Strings (LCO Strings) I experienced just how different these 2 libraries are. LCO Strings ventures into uncharted territory and delivers a unique set of string section articulations that you (literally?) won’t find anywhere else.

The library opens up with 4 main Kontakt instruments: Violin, Viola, Cello, and Basses + Celli presets. The library also contains dozens of additional nkis divided among folders for Extended Technique, Individual Articulation and Other patches.

LCO Strings Extended Technique and VLN Individual Articulation nkis

 

 

Each of LCO Strings presets load up with the usual Spitfire muti-sampled instruments GUI. Those familiar with other Spitfire libraries will have no problem jumping in to change articulations (via Keyswitch) adjust dynamic, vibrato, release sample length, expression and a reverb send adjustment. The engine also contains a special Ostinatum rythem machine when you load up the short articulations.

By default, the MX1 (stereo Mix) samples load up and I found these to contain plenty of bite and clarity.

The main LCO Strings presets load up with multiple microphone positions (Mic Mix) in the expected area of the interface. With LCO Strings we are treated to 6 sample playback options, which include 2 mic positions (close and room), 2 individual stereo mixes (full and pumped) as well as 2 additional FX sets that have been bounced with analog effects. By default, the MX1 (stereo Mix) samples load into the instrument and I found these to contain plenty of bite and clarity while MX2 goes a bit overboard with “pumped” sample playback that is very in your face. The Close Mic Mix is as clear and up front as close mics get with the Room Mic Mix adding a touch of space to the sample.  Listening to the FX Mic Mix are just as experimental as the articulation set itself and although I am not sure where these will come in handy they are sonically very original.

LCO Strings main interface

A big departure here from many of Spitfire‘s libraries is that the LCO Strings was recorded very dry. Many of the developer’s orchestral libraries have been recorded at the world famous Air Studios.  LCO Strings take the close mic train to dry-town with a clear and present sample set captured on a dry stage.

A big departure from many of Spitfire‘s libraries is that the LCO Strings was recorded on a dry stage.

Purists might worry that this would hinder the library from blending easily with other instrument captured in larger halls. With my experience with the instrument, I had the opposite result  Loading up Albion One with the Long String articulation, then doubling the line with LCO Strings’ Open Normale, I was able to breath new life into playback almost as you would adding a “first chair player” but with even more intensity.

In the materials for LCO Strings, Spitfire Audio is quoted as noting a “shift in string writing based on innovative techniques and performance styles”. This has culminated as the strength of the library. LCO Strings is unique with an experimental articulation set.

LCO Strings Long Techniques nki

The Vivid Longs articulations breath and pulse while the Open Granular Trems conjure visions of swapping the bow for a hacksaw. The short articulations are demanding and immediate while the Spectra Scrub sounds like the string players are sitting on a Tesla coil and it is amazing. Playing the Spectra Scrub  articulation, the hi-freq electric spats coming out of my speakers made me stop to make sure something wasn’t going wrong. Then I had to google “Spectra Scrub” hoping to find how playback was conjured only to be directed to a website selling medical wardrobe.

LCO Strings “Other Patches” Celli – Time Machine nki

My biggest critique of the library is that I would have loved it if the LCO Strings included Spitfire‘s performance legato patches for each section. This would have made the instrument a complete toolkit for intensely agile string writing.

I would have loved it if the LCO Strings included Spitfire‘s performance legato!

A lot of comments about the library floating about the interwebs thus far have criticized that the library doesn’t “stand on it’s own” because there are no “normal” articulation included.  This only leads me to wonder how many of those critics are actually creating underscore, which is what the majority of Spitfire Audio‘s more experimental instruments are being designed for.

As a composer creating music for media I rarely am commissioned to create anything concerto-esque and more often called upon to create deep and communicative textures that support a story and directors vision. And that is exactly what I see as the libraries major strength. In fact, I will go so far as to predict that we will start to hear LCO Strings on scores for the the big and small ( as well as the interactive) screen with the LCO Strings standing on it’s own, working perfectly for underscore and creating unique and spacious textures.

Is this the right library for you? It is very hard to say and will depend on what you composing and who you are composing for. Those scoring for picture and looking for a fresh and innovative string machine will get the most out of this library but as you can tell from the video and demos this is a very niche library. Please check out the audio and video demos below to investigate further to see if this right tool for your individual needs.

 

Facts

London Contemporary Strings downloads as 28.1GB and is made up of 42,094 samples. The library does require 56.2GB of disk space for installation. The library is a Kontakt Player instrument compatible with both the full and free version of Native Instrument’s Kontakt.

LCO Strings sample set was recorded from sections of 6 Violins, 4 Violas, 3 Celli and 2 Basses (with the Celli in octaves) all recorded in a”tight” room. The library contains over 100 articulations which were captured across all 4 sections.

Each instrument has 2 mic positions (Close and Room) as well as 2 individual stereo mixes (full and pumped) as well as 2 additional, printed analog FX. The library comes with Integrated reverb which has been matched to the room and all the usual Spitfire controls accessible on the instruments GUI with a built-in interactive manual accessible from the gear icon.

London Contemporary Orchestra Strings sells for $349 from Spitfire Audio

Demos of London Contemporary Strings

Videos of London Contemporary Orchestra Strings