Cinemania – Emotive Strings by Native Instruments
Emotive Strings from Native Instruments can save you enormous quantity of programming time while offering better end results. It is truly an orchestra on demand.
by Alex Arsov, Sept.2016
We already covered Action Strings from Native Instruments. Emotive Strings shares a similar principle of work and a similar general interface. The content is quite different, though. With Emotive Strings we get a number of prerecorded melodic orchestral phrases along with some addition arpeggio phrases and pure rhythmical phrases. I presume readers of this column are quite familiar with cinematic music and probably already own at least one good strings library, if not more. So, where’s the catch with Emotive Strings? Why and when should we consider getting such a library?
Can we record all those arpeggios or so called melodic string phrases on our own with our mighty string libraries? The answer is, of course, yes, and maybe at some tiny point, even no. First of all, even with basic melodic rhythm phrases where few violins are playing, some simple slow rhythm changing a pitch here and there, is a problem with transition between the notes.
As you know, real players go up and down with the bow from note to note. So we get that constant dynamic change for every up and down cycle. We all know that dynamics inside the phrase can be controlled with the mod-wheel. There are various approaches for string lines, joining notes in pairs where transition between notes inside the pair have highest value and lowest between every pair of notes. The second approach is to make a separate convex curve for every note, a good solution if the phrase is compiled from slow, really long legato notes. One way or another, it takes some practice and the result is never the same as it would be with real players.
Arpeggios are a totally different nightmare. The first thing is programming. You should be quite a good keyboard player to make them right or record them really slowly and then increase the tempo to get the end result. If you simply put notes in the editor with your mouse, everything will sound a bit mechanic. Even if you are quite skilled in these practices, it is a time-consuming task. Setting the dynamic right, finding an appropriate staccato patch, setting the tail to fit to the tempo and even if you do everything as it should be done, it doesn’t mean that your score will sound totally realistic.
Mid tempo legato melodic phrases are also problematic as you should catch the feel of a phrase, finding a good dynamic balance between every note in the phrase. Notes should be just slightly overlapped and no matter how good you play the phrase the overall dynamic of every note should flow nicely through the phrase. That’s something that can be achieved with another take by driving the mod-wheel.
If you are good keyboard player, you can almost catch the right mood on the first attempt, if not, welcome to the jungle of trial and error. After all, all those issues are the reason why Hanz Zimmer always uses a real orchestra for final recording. Not just because he needs to spend all that money he’s got. One way or another, making a good string arrangement with classical string libraries is quite a demanding task. No matter how well you recorded your take, along with additional mod-wheel rerecording, it is almost always necessary to open your MIDI editor and check some notes, editing lengths and fixing dynamic issues. And then on to another instrument with a similar number of tasks and so on.
No, it is not. At least you should know the basic harmony rules: which chords are minor and which ones major in any particular scale. Arpeggio and melodic phrases are recorded in minor and major variations. When you play softly, the major phrase is triggered, and playing hard triggers the minor phrase. I saw the Youtube video where some fellow is banging pads on his Novation Launchpad, triggering arpeggio phrases along with an EDM four-to-the-floor beat. At first glance it sounds impressive, but this may not be the exact way to do it. It can go with some melodic or even arpeggio phrases that use dominant and sub-dominant notes , but only basic ones. With some phrases that use more notes it is recommended to also use one’s head as well as one’s fingers (to say it politely).
Emotive Strings, as with Action Strings, is mainly aimed at cinematic composers to help them make a score much faster with lesser effort, offering at the same time more pristine and more realistic sound than is the case with classical string libraries (but as it goes with all instruments, it is up to you to use or abuse it – your imagination is the only limit). Building a whole background within ten minutes is priceless, leaving you enough time to build lead lines with lots of detail.
What Do We Get?
72 themes containing 175 different single phrases, where every theme contains a few phrases with additional end notes. All phrases can be changed on the fly through key-switches on the lower part of the keyboard range. You can even change the phrase in the middle of a long note (allowing you to build a phrase with one long note and a few key-switches). It works with the free Kontakt Player, as with the full version of Kontakt, and uses a bit more than 21 GB of space on your disk (not so much compared to most of the well-known string libraries). All legato melodic phrases, arpeggio phrases and those rhythmical ones, “Ostinatos,” are played by a full string orchestra. In Kontakt you will find only one preset, so when loading this one you find a note sheet-like interface containing various short phrases. You can load up to ten various phrases inside one preset, ranking them from C0 to A0 that you can trigger through key-switches.
Raw examples without any additional effects:
All phrases are divided into a few basic groups: Single pitches, Melodic, Emotives and Arpeggios. Single pitches are those Ostinatos, rhythmical phrases played on one note. If you play two notes at once, the number of players will be split in half per one note, or on third if you play three notes, meaning that no matter how many notes you play the same number of violin players will play one phrase. I must admit, very cleaver programming my dear Native Instruments.
Melodic phrases are those containing some melodic phrases, usually one or two bars long. Melodic phrases that have Min/Max on the righthand side of the browser bring both Minor and Major variations that can be reached through velocity. Up to velocity value of 69 the Major phrases, and from 70 upwards the Minor.
The next one is Emotive phrases, actually similar to Melodic, you can’t find them in upper Theme menu, where all the groups are presented. You can find them among the others when all groups are deselected or when you want to add a new phrase line sheet, and clicking on an empty line you will give you the “Phrases” browser menu where Emotives are also presented. Emotive presets have a special green set of key switches where you can play the chord that you want to use at that part of arrangement and all notes that are not inside the scale of that chord will be disabled in the blue part where you determine the pitch of melodic – emotive phrase. So press D Major in the green area of the keyboard and in the upper octaves all notes inside the range of phrase (showed as blue colored keys) that are not part of the D Major scale will be disabled. If you press F# the phrase will play correctly from F#, preventing all relations between the notes inside the phrase automatically adopting phrase to Major/Minor combinations.
Arpeggio phrases contain only the blue set of keys and before you write to Native Instruments reporting the bug, check the manual. Arpeggio phrases can be only triggered by playing chords. It works perfectly even with the first and second inversion of a chord. So, minor, major… it is up to you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with exotic chords (after all, those are live recorded phrases and for such task the string orchestra will be forced to prerecord all possible combinations, quite an impossible task). As there are a limited number of arpeggio phrases (those are not the main intention of this library, they are just a nice kind of addition) I see a nice opportunity for some future NI library. “Action Arpeggio Strings” or something similar.
In the bottom menu we can also find Sound and Playback buttons that open those two windows offering some additional controllers for fine tuning the performance. In the Playback window we can set phrase release time along with legato transitions volume, and there we can also double or halve the speed of the phrase. The Sound window offers a few more controllers. There we can apply two different master equalization setups, default is set to Off, meaning that the sound is not additionally colored. We can also set a wider stereo image or choose between close and stage microphone positions and also choose between a nice number of convolution presets for the main reverb, allowing us to also set the amount of reverb.
That is more or less it. For me, Emotive Strings and Action Strings are a priceless collection. They bring me a collection of phrases that I will use in my cinematic scores, as those are the phrases that are “a must” for such a genre, and without this collection I would spend hours, instead a few minutes, achieving a similar result . Of course, putting those phrases in is just a good beginning in score composition, but in the past that beginning was the most time-consuming part of composition, and as in rock music, having a good foundation is everything. Action Strings sounds really striking and Emotive strings sounds, well, emotive, and both sound extremely realistic no matter how far you push the tempo. After all, they are running on Kontakt from the same developer who is well-known for its stretching algorithms.
If you are in any sort of media music and production then this is definitely more than a reasonable price for such a comfort, having all those phrases at the touch of a key. €299 EUR for 21 GB of emotions. It works with Kontakt Player and with Kontak 5.