Cinemania – Action Strings by Native Instruments

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Native Instruments Action Strings is one of the most unique and innovative cinematic tools that has come along lately.  Use your creativity and make some great action music – the sky is the limit.


by A. Arsov, March 2016


We are starting a new column dedicated to the best and most innovative cinematic tools that money can buy. Cinematic tools are no longer intended just for media, film composers, as the whole range of big stock music sites open their doors to all musicians that want to try their luck in that specific field. Almost every month we get a few new cinematic tools. This column will be dedicated to those that impressed us the most. We are starting with Action Strings from Native Instruments, a string instrument library with a very unique and innovative approach.


What Is It?

Action Strings is a sound library of instrument that brings a wide range of prerecorded short rhythmical string phrases, or rather, passages recorded as single pitch rhythms in all pitches and at different tempos. In this 9 GB collection we get 62 different themes. Every theme contains four different rhythmical phrases that are accessible through five key-switches at the lowest end of the keyboard. The lowest, fifth one is reserved for an ending note, containing single string notes distributed over the whole keyboard range. All phrases are recorded with a big, 60-member string orchestra offering natural transitions between notes that can’t be reproduced with any staccato programming, no matter how skilled a programmer or keyboard player you are.




By playing different notes, changing key-switches on the fly, it is quite easy to achieve stunning results in a very short time. So it is a big time saver, saving you plenty of time that you would otherwise spend playing and programming different takes. The second, even more significant, advantage of Action Strings is authenticity of results (before mentioning transition between notes inside a single phrase). With all other great string libraries you can spend ages making various action orchestra arrangements, but still they wouldn’t sound like they’re on the same level as some of the Hanz Zimmer well-known works. The reason is quite simple: at the end he always records his works with a real orchestra, using samples just in the starting phase. By combining Action Strings phrases in chords or melodies you can come really close to the sound of a real orchestra recording, as after all, these phrases are recorded with a real orchestra. Transitions between phrases sounds very natural. The whole library is very well programmed and if your next note overlaps with the previous one, the phrase changes key very smoothly, as it would with a real orchestra. Notes which are not overlapped with previous one will have a strong attack at the start of the phrase, just as real players have. The most interesting and best part of these overlapped notes is that the next note will not start at the beginning of the phrase but it will continue where last note ends. This is especially important if you use more complex rhythms combined from few rhythmical elements allowing you to preserve the flow of the whole musical passage. Hats off for this one, my dear Native Instruments.

If those 62 themes are not enough for you, you can always combine yours by taking elements from any theme building your own unique one. You can build your melodies by playing the whole notes, for the whole length of the phrase, or even just using shorter notes, taking just a few starting notes from the phrase, building your own fast passage filled with so many notes, that will take you enormously more time than by playing or programming all those double notes or fast triplets.


A Closer Look

Action Strings comes as a single preset Kontakt player instrument. By loading this preset you will find a note sheet like window, with the Basic theme opened. Four simple phrases and End note as the fifth one. Clicking on any sheet line inside this Basic Rhythms theme you get a list of all themes. Every theme can be quickly previewed with a single click on the theme name. The last themes are dedicated to bass instruments, some themes even contain melodic passages and phrases. Some of them even contain some elements like slur at the end of every tripled phrase – something that would be quite impossible to recreate with pure MIDI programming/playing. Most of these melodic phrases can be switched between major and minor scale simply by playing with lower velocity for major and higher for minor phrases. We can even find some legato phrases, so obviously, it is not a staccato only library. Regarding velocity, if you hit a key really hard inside a normal rhythmical phrase you get a single staccato note offering you to end the phrase without switching key. As all phrases are recorded in two different volumes you can build, or should we say, control dynamics with the mod-wheel.

Build your theme by using a few one note presets combined with one of those melodic phrases and you can build a very complicated line with just a few clicks. Of course, you are not limited just to five phrases in your new build theme, as you can also use additional sheet lanes for building bigger custom themes.

At this point it would not be bad to mention that the whole library is very flexible regarding tempo changes (after all, it’s provided by Native Instruments, the company that was known for their stretch algorithms used in their well-known Kontakt sampler). So, you can go totally bonkers with tempo range without loosing any authenticity. Of course a tempo range between 120 and 160 is the most common for this sort of music, but if you feel that you should go beyond this range, it is possible.


Playback and Sound Menus

At the lower part of main graphical interface you can find buttons for two set of slots and an additional two that will open new menus where you can tweak some general options. In the Playback window you can choose between Phrase sync and Free trigger where Phrase sync causes the before-mentioned behaviour where the phrase will continue to play from start to end no matter how many different notes you use inside a single phrase as long as all notes are overlapped. Free trigger is … er … free trigger, meaning that the phrase will start where every note starts. In Phrase sync mode the phrase will continue to be in sync even if some of your notes are not exactly quantized to a beat. In the same window is also a tempo switch allowing you to set playback at half or double speed.

In the sound window you can disable or enable two different general equalization settings. There is also a drop down menu where we can choose between different convolution reverb presets along with a reverb amount knob. We can also choose between two essential microphone positions: Stage and Far. Add to that a Boost knob for applying some basic compression and that is, more or less, all.


Happy Ending

In the last few months I received a few extraordinary cinematic tools, but this one is really brilliant. It is not a one trick pony, nor a magical tool that will make you an excellent action composer just by pressing few keys, but if you have at least some basic knowledge of how action arrangements are made, than you can achieve great results in no time. Actually the better the composer you are, the better results you will get with Action Strings. It is an absolute time and life saver for pro cinematic producers and the same goes if you are at least on the way there, knowing some basics of the action cinematic genre.

It is possible to build some arrangements by using only Action Strings, but if you add some good brasses along with other orchestral sounds the end result could be quite similar to those live recordings from our beloved Hanz. I haven’t had enough time to elaborate all possibilities of this tool during the test period, but one thing is for sure: this one will definitely become my best friend during the next few years. If you are in the cinematic business then you simply can’t miss this one.


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