Review – Capriccio from Sonokinetic
Sonokinetic delivers another unique orchestral offering – a symphonic orchestral phrase library that also includes a playable percussion option.
by Per Lichtman, Nov. 2016
Capriccio (approx. $320 USD +VAT from Sonokinetic.net) is a symphonic orchestral phrase library for the free Kontakt Player 5.1 or later, that also includes a playable percussion multi-sample patch and a runs patch with layers for strings and woodwinds. If you’ve read our earlier Minimal and Grosso reviews (recorded in the same hall as Capriccio), you know that we’ve come to expect a strong combination of high quality sound, unique material and a strong and striking visual interface and Capriccio continues that streak, providing the greatest amount of control in the series yet. New highlights include subdividing the orchestra even further for greater control; adding the ability to drag-and-drop a multi-track MIDI file of the pattern being played (with selectable key); a new runs patch (including a strings layer with eight patterns with four variations each and a woodwinds patch with twelve patterns and four variations each) and the aforementioned multi-sampled orchestral un-pitched orchestral percussion. Note, those are highlights – the list of improvements goes on. So if you’re looking for orchestral phrases, you should definitely read on.
What’s the Content on Offer?
Capriccio eschews the choir in Grosso to add more in-depth sampling for the orchestra, adding a dedicated runs patch with independent layers for strings and woodwinds, as well as subdividing the percussion into melodic and un-pitched patches as well as a multi-sampled percussion patch. The material is all in 4/4, recorded at 132 BPM (as compared to Minimal’s 110 BPM in a variety of time signatures and Grosso’s 135 BPM in 12/8) in straight 8th and 16th notes (as opposed to triplets, etc.) The library uses the time-stretching in Kontakt Player to lock to project tempo (with the same options discussed in the Grosso and Minimal reviews). There’s a lot of content: 18.4 GB in the 16-bit version and 38.4 GB in the 24-bit version, both at 44.1 KHz.
Petr Pololanik conducts the Capellen Orchestra of 52 string players, 12 woodwind players, 15 brass players, 2 melodic percussionists and 6 additional percussionists. The core library is divided up into a patch per section: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and melodic percussion. There are also “lite” versions of these patches that feature a single stereo mix instead of allowing you to choose two out of four mic-positions and cross-fade between them (and saving memory in the process). Additionally, there’s a runs patch and a multi-sampled percussion patch.
Each of the main patches can play up to three phrases at once, and the slots where you place these phrases are called “fields” and you can map the combination of three fields onto one of four keyswitches, called a “user preset”. You don’t have to save user presets – they are automatically reloaded with your project. By default, the fields are mapped to different categories of phrases: the high phrases are mapped to the top field, the middle phrases to the middle field and the low phrases to the bottom. The pitched percussion section is an exception, with the phrases divided into iron, wood and piano sections instead of by pitch. It is possible to place any phrase from the instrument section on any field, so if you want to just have three layers of high strings playing at once, you can do that. The content is segregated by family, so you can’t load string phrases in a percussion patch or vice-versa.
There are a lot of phrases on offer, and we’ve cataloged the overall totals below since the manual doesn’t list the numbers. Note that listing which phrases offered both major and minor variations versus which ones were agnostic (and thus play the same phrase for the major and minor versions of a triad) proved prohibitive. So if you count the major and minor versions as separate phrases or variants, the numbers are greater than those listed below.
- High: 18 main phrases (with 8 offering an additional variant). 26 phrases total.
- Mid: 18 main phrases (with 13 offering an additional variant). 31 phrases total.
- Low: 18 main phrases (with 6 offering an additional variant). 24 phrases total.
- High: 16 main phrases (with 1 offering an additional variant). 17 phrases total.
- Mid: 15 main phrases (with 4 offering an additional variant). 19 phrases total.
- Low: 13 main phrases (none offer an additional variant). 13 phrases total.
- High: 18 main phrases (with 2 offering an additional variant). 20 phrases total.
- Mid: 18 main phrases (with 1 offering an additional variant). 19 phrases total.
- Low: 18 main phrases (with 4 offering an additional variant). 22 phrases total.
- Iron: 15 main phrases (with none offering an additional variant). 15 phrases total.
- Wood: 11 main phrases (with none offering an additional variant). 11 phrases total.
- Piano: 15 main phrases (with none offering an additional variant). 15 phrases total.
- High: 18 main phrases (with 11 offering two additional variants and 1 offering five additional variants). 45 phrases total.
- Mid: 18 main phrases (1 with four additional variants, 3 with three additional variants, 5 with two additional variants and 8 with one additional variants). 49 phrases total.
- Low: 18 main phrases (2 with four additional variants, 5 with three additional variants, 6 with two additional variants and 5 with one additional variant). 58 phrases total.
The multi-sampled percussion patch is divided across the keyboard into the following sections: piatti & tamtam; low drums, iron hits, high drums and isolated piatti hits. The low and high drums are also each subdivided into single-hit and flam sections. Some sections are also mapped into different regions for right and left-hand performance, though both use the same sample materials: low drums, high drums and iron hits. Each hit has up to three dynamic layers and up to 4x round-robin. All the material is well recorded and mapped, with the iron hits having an open sound that make them a personal favorite.
The runs patch has two fields, and by default one is assigned to strings and the other to woodwinds. The strings field gives you eight phrase choices and the woodwinds thirteen choices. The strings alternatives are: ascending (two phrases), double length ascending (two phrases), ascending then descending (two phrases) and double length ascending then descending (two phrases). The woodwinds cover those eight phrase types and add five more: spiraling upward (two phrases), ascending-descending-ascending further (two phrases) and low ascending. This one of the places where the ability to view the score for the current preset is especially helpful in quickly showing the orchestral forces used in a blend, and giving you the basic figuration to map to another library (though, as elsewhere, based on the quantized score rather than the live performance). Much like the other phrase patches, you play a tried to select the key the run will be played in (both major and minor are supported), though you can also transpose up or down a given number of semitones by playing keyswitches near the top of the keyboard instead of playing a whole new triad. The woodwind phrases also sometimes have two “alternatives” where the second one only plays every second time. In other words, if you combine it with a string run in the other field, triggering the pattern twice results in both strings and woodwinds playing together one time and then just the strings playing the next.
Like Grosso and Minimal, there are four microphone positions (close, decca, wide and far) and the patches allow you to crossfade between two positions. Should you wish to use all four positions at once, you can load a second instance of the patch with the remaining two positions and map each both instances to the same MIDI channel. My suggestion to load a single instance, setup all the customizations (pattern selections for each section, etc.), then save the patch and load it again, change the microphone positions and map it to the same MIDI channel.
Getting the Most Out of Capriccio
I would suggest either doing a batch-resave or individually saving the patches after you load them, making sure to check “absolute paths” to get the fastest load time. Next, make use of the excellent context sensitive help (just click on the “i” icon in the lower right of the GUI) to quickly find out what each section does. There’s excellent documentation on offer. Beyond that, the first decisions I would look at regard the release tails.
Take a look at whether your specific workflow benefits from the release tails or not (which can be accomplished via keyswitch as detailed in the manual). Leaving the tails on gives you greater flexibility to end a phrase with an accent wherever you see fit as opposed to having to play to a logical bar end, while turning the release tails off makes it possible to play the triads for their full duration without an additional accent at the end. If you’re sequencing and want to push the note right up against each other, I’d suggest turning the release tails off. If you leave them on, I’d suggest shortening the notes slightly so that the release tail doesn’t crowd or overlap with the start of the next triad. Note that if you leave them in, clicking on the gear icon and selecting the “volume” tab lets you link and unlink the release tail volume from the main volume. To modify each of them, just drag the horizontal white line across the field you want to modify. Incidentally, the release tails sound great, so some users may want to bring the level up relative to the rest of the phrase to emphasize the accent.
Users that want to look at a list of the patterns can buy the score PDF off the Sonokinetic product web page, much like in earlier versions.
Let me blunt – while there are other orchestral phrase libraries out there (such as Native Instruments Action Strings, some of the content in 8Dio Agitato Legato Arpeggio or the combined violin and viola phrases in Project SAM Symphobia 3), it quickly becomes obvious that Capriccio (and its siblings that I’ve reviewed so far) are unique. I can’t claim to have heard every single other library on the market (new developers are popping up all the time) but the ones I’ve heard differ greatly in their aesthetic and their approach: the phrases in Capriccio and its siblings offer a grander, more majestic and vital sound than their competitors that I find much more inspiring. As such, I can recommend them; so if you like the sound in the Capriccio demo, the only competitors I’d suggest checking out are the other Sonokinetic products.
In regards to the runs capability, the competition is stiffer. Capriccio supports fewer scales than the string runs in, for instance, CineSamples CineStrings Runs or Spitfire Audio Albion One, nor does it give you the “playable runs” functionality that is currently best embodied in Orchestral Tools Berlin range. Unlike those products it gives you a choice of two ways to switch scales (either playing triads or using transposing keyswitches), making it easy to learn and quick to work with. The scales in question sound good in all the libraries mentioned above, including Capriccio, and the vitality and aesthetic of the rest of the library carries thru to this part, giving it arguably the most spritely and energetic sounding scales out of the bunch. For those that already own the Orchestral Tools Berlin series, it’s worth noting that the scales here were often recorded with several instruments performing together, lending them a different sound than the playable runs in the Berlin Series (at the expense of flexibility and more granular control).
Room for Improvement
For a product that makes some of the most ambitious use of Kontakt’s scripting and custom GUI capabilities that I’ve seen, Capriccio is unsurprisingly robust. Nonetheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the few glitches I encountered. Occasionally, loading a new mic position or pattern would fail to generate any sound. The bug didn’t cause any crashes on my system and each case I was able to slide a mic fader, or load/re-load a pattern or mic position and sound was restored, so it was never more than a minor inconvenience. The drag MIDI pattern works as advertised and saves a lot of time but if a future library could give the option to use the performed timing rather than the quantized timing (which would admittedly require a lot more work) it would enhance the value of the product even further.
Is It Right For You?
If you want orchestral phrases, the Sonokinetic line is the first place you should look, and Capriccio is quite possibly the best entry yet. Additions like multi-sampled percussion, runs capability, draggable MIDI files and more control than previous entries make a very attractive library to start with and the sound quality is top tier. While there are other orchestral phrase libraries out there, they don’t sound like this.