Interview – George Strezov of Strezov Sampling
Strezov Sampling is the maker of Bulgarian sample libraries, including orchestral and choral offerings. We speak with the man at the helm, George Strezov.
by Per Lichtman, May 2016
Strezov Sampling are the makers of Bulgarian sample libraries, including orchestral and choral offerings like Storm Choir, Thunder and Cornucopia and many others. They offer a sound very different from other brands. In this interview their founder, George Strezov, walks us through both the how and why, of that process and gives a bit of insight into some uniquely Bulgarian factors that played a part in the journey as well.
SoundBytes: On behalf of our readers, I just wanted to take the time to say thank you for answering some of our questions about music and sampling.
George Strezov: Hello SoundBytes and thank you for this interview!
SB: What experiences as a composer led you to start recording your own samples? Was there any very positive experience that inspired you or any gap that you felt needed to be filled?
GS: One of the main reasons why we started this Strezov Sampling adventure is because most of the commercial sample libraries out there I used were … too perfect! I strongly believe that the magic behind music are those tiny imperfections that make things sound interesting and catchy. Otherwise it’s just too robotic!
I’ve been to a few seminars here in Bulgaria where the tutors mainly spoke about controlling the pitch-wheel for, say, first violins in order to make it more “live” and realistic. There was a time I worked mainly with advertising and commercials and – believe me – between countless revisions and sleepless nights I don’t have the time, nor nerves to manually fine-tune the pitch of each melody.
And actually a good friend of mine, Jasper Blunk, has actually led me to this thinking – and this is when we first did Storm Choir 1 with him a fellow composer Oliver Codd. I have a Masters degree in choral conducting and as a tenor I have sung in many choirs – from film music (Duel of the fates) to Bach (St. Matthew’s passion and currently rehearsing the “Hohe Messe” in B minor). Throughout my entire “career” as a choir singer we’ve always been told that we have to sing as, I quote, “German singers or English singers”, and we have to get rid of that primal Slavonic singing vibe (although it’s hard and maybe impossible to do that). So when we first discussed the concept for Storm Choir 1 I was really hesitant whether people would appreciate this type of sound … turns out I was wrong! People nowadays are tired of those soulless samples – they want something with emotion, they want to “feel” the musician behind the hundreds of .wav files. So this is what drives our company at the moment – searching for the sound, not just the “notes”. We have a specific way of sampling – which to my humble opinion got its peak while recording Wotan; I can’t give much details but let’s just say it’s not just dull long and short notes *wink*.
SB: Many sample library developers seem to have a sonic signature to their libraries. The recordings in your acoustic sample libraries tend to have a very natural, open and unprocessed sound that helps to differentiate them from some other libraries that go for either a glossier or more heavily colored sound. What inspired you to go this route and what are some of the aspects you feel help achieve this sound?
GS: I’ll add a few points to my previous answer – when you get a choir or orchestra to play together in an ensemble, they are never pitch-perfect when you think vertically; it’s not a piano, the sound constantly moves up and down while musicians try to get even with the others in the ensemble. You can’t have this when all your samples are auto-tuned to the maximum and when you hold a six-note chord from the strings you actually get … a piano. This is something I personally don’t like and we try to change it with every library we do. We’re not always right, but we’re always fighting for this.
SB: Can you tell us a bit about the recording space you use and the musicians and instruments you’ve worked with so far? Any fun stories from sampling sessions?
GS: We work closely with Four For Music Ltd. (http://www.sofiaso.com) the company behind Sofia Session Orchestra and Choir, they have been very helpful and always supporting of our endeavors. We try to pay the highest musician fees in Bulgaria and to keep the musicians happy – although to be honest there’s nothing fun in a six-hour recording session of sampling. I remember having an intense period of two-week non-stop recording for Storm Choir 2, and while the musicians only had two hours of singing per day (in order to keep their voices fresh) I was conducting for both men and women non-stop and was there before and after that in order to organize all PT sessions. One of the funniest moments to me was recording Thunder 2; with Thunder – which I keep very close to my heart – we did constant experiments. Not only with the ensembles, but with the sticks as well! For the large gran casa ensembles we bought a couple of shovels and made a few beaters out of the handles. You can imagine these are very large and have a specific form … so just while we were recording one of the players didn’t prepare in time so he asked his colleague: “I’m sorry, but can you please pass me the dildos?” I think we still have it in the raw session material.
SB: Do you find that the greatest challenges in creating sample libraries are creative or organizational and logistical? What are some parts of the process that readers might not think about?
GS: I would say from a business point of view, the biggest challenge is marketing and competing with the huge names out there. Also another thing the readers do not think about I think is how much time and money actually goes into recording those libraries. Somehow it’s perceived that sampling is somewhat of an easy job – but I have to say that for instance we recorded our Macabre Solo strings three times before it turned out good. It was just not what we were after.
SB: What have been some of the most gratifying moments you’ve had since you started Strezov Sampling? Have you heard your products used in ways that really inspired you or that you found particularly unexpected?
GS: For sure one of the moments that still make my day is seeing a composer you have admired since your childhood to get your sample libraries or even to drop you a line saying they really appreciate what the entire team is doing. I think for me this is the biggest reward. Also I’m not going to lie that all those sample libraries are inside my template so I’m trying to improve my writing skills every day and to increase my MIDI orchestration quality.
As for hearing our products – I mostly do when I go to the movies cause nowadays all trailers have Storm Choir 1/2 in them. However I was really surprised by Adam Hochstatter’s demo (this guy is a genius!) for Rhodope – he featured an ethnic Bulgarian choir in a “country” piece, which is something I would have never thought of. He always surprises me very pleasantly – and it’s very cool seeing what other people do with your libraries.
SB: Cornucopia had an excellent sound to it. Are there any plans to bring the players back together to record individual sections or use the true legato interval sampling approach seen in the Macabre solo bundle?
GS: Thank you – Cornucopia is really something we thought of expanding; no concrete plans yet but I can say that we are working on the update right now which will fix major scripting issues that we had even with the latest updates. It will feature the old content, but in a much more playable way. And there might be some additional bonus content for this update too.
SB: How do you keep musicians musically engaged during a long sampling session? What are some of the key things you try to get out of their performances?
GS: Coffee. Lots of it. Or at least for me – I rarely get any sleep around sampling sessions. Often I do my own conducting during the session and like to joke a lot in order to keep players occupied with something else than sempre dynamic, sustain, staccato, sustain, staccato. And again, as I pointed before we have a bit non-traditional way of recording samples.
SB: The technology side of sample recording and sample playback has evolved a lot over the years and it seems (to outside observers like me), that the pace hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down in recent years. What are some of the areas you feel can still be improved in terms of sample recording, library scripting and sample playback?
GS: There are still things that need to be fixed. One thing that personally annoys me is that Kontakt doesn’t have in its loop editor an option to do equal power crossfades. This will save so much time on looping and will actually bring better results for all the looping that needs to be done in Kontakt. Playback is getting better and better which allows us sample library developers to push for the limits more; we introduced multiple microphone positions in Storm Choir 2 that can be used for different music genres and thus change the sound of the choir itself. Thing like this could not have been added a few years ago in a single patch. Still, there are few things that could be improved – at least in Kontakt; we do a lot of scripting stuff which is – as we say in Bulgaria – like getting water from ten wells when we have one right next to us.
SB: On behalf of our readers, we want to thank you for taking the time to answer all these questions for us. We wish you the best of luck with your future projects and look forward to hearing more of the fruits of your labor!