Review – Solid State Symphony Lite: Q from Indiginus
This small version of Indiginus’ popular Solid State Symphony instrument for Kontakt promises super-simple synthetic strings and brass on a budget, but it’s more than just a “Lite” version of SSS.
by Dave Townsend, Nov. 2016
When it comes to creative noodling, one of my favorite tools is Solid State Symphony, the Kontakt instrument from Indiginus. It’s a synthetic orchestra with smart scripting that lets you jam away with minimal forethought, with various orchestral sections chiming in based on note ranges and velocities. It’s a wonderful tool for working up arrangements and melodies, or just whiling away an evening pretending to be John Williams.
SSS’s creator, Kontakt guru Tracy Collins, has now released an alternate version called Solid State Symphony Lite: Q. I call it an “alternate” version rather than a stripped-down version, because even though it’s less-sophisticated than the full product, it’s really a whole new instrument that stands on its own. Even if you have the full Solid State Symphony, you’ll still want to check out “Q”.
It’s a small download at a small price, but the sounds that come out of it are far from small. Nearly as much fun to play as the original SSS, “Q” offers an even simpler interface so you can dive right in. Reading the manual is almost optional, except for looking up keyswitch values.
Q isn’t a subset of Solid State Symphony, it’s an ensemble version of SSS. What Tracy did to create this instrument was to sample SSS itself. Why? To combine multiple layers of SSS’ already luxurious sounds into lush meta-samples that fit into a tiny RAM footprint and won’t make your CPU break a sweat.
Here’s a sample. It’s just one track of me doodling live using the “Orch 1” mode, with no sweetening other than the included reverb:
Orch 1 Demo
The Main Page
The UI is very simple, consisting of just two pages of easy-to-understand controls. The main page has seven buttons and two sliders. [PIC: Q_MAIN.PNG]
The first group of three buttons are for selecting soundsets, plus a couple variations, for a total of five modes (OK, six if you count chord mode and eleven when you add in the optional staccato layer).
The three main modes are:
“Orch 1” plays strings and woodwinds at low velocities, then adds brass at higher velocities. There’s also a celeste in there at the higher octaves.
“Orch 2” plays strings at low velocities, adds brass and woodwinds at high velocities. The “Short” button changes the string envelopes to what Tracy describes as “a more marcato [accented] feel”.
“Strings” plays strings only, no woodwinds or brass. Attack envelopes are chosen by velocity. The “Vel Sw” button offers a variation on the velocity-based envelopes in which higher velocities trigger shorter marcato notes.
A fourth button, labeled “Staccato”, adds a staccato layer to the string sounds in any of the three modes. A slider lets you adjust the relative loudness of this layer, from subtle to dominating.
All of these are key-switchable. See the PDF documentation for a full listing of keyswitches.
The last button on the Main tab switches the entire instrument into Chord mode for the benefit of non-keyboard players and small children. Pressing a single key results in a three-note chord; two octaves on the keyboard create major chords, another two octaves produce minor chords.
Finally, there is an “Ambience” slider that brings in a convolution reverb with one of two custom IRs (large or small hall, depending on the slider value).
And that’s it. Those are the essential controls. If you don’t want to be bothered with technicalities you can just stop here and start having fun with “Q”. But if you want to tweak each mode’s behavior, there are additional controls on the SETTINGS page.
The Settings Page
The power of Solid State Symphony lies in its Kontakt scripting, which brings in string, brass and woodwind sections (and in the full version, percussion) based on note velocities and note ranges. Here on the SETTINGS page you can adjust the rules by which each section is brought into the mix.
For example, in “Orch 1” mode, strings and woodwinds are activated across all velocities, but the brass section is only introduced at higher velocities. Use the two slider triangles to set the range within which brass is to be applied.
The darker-grey triangle on the right indicates the lower velocity limit where the brass section will start playing at low volume. Between that and the lighter-grey triangle is the crossfade (“X-Fade”) region. Within this range of velocities, the velocity curve is nonlinear to provide a gentle transition from no-brass to got-brass. Beyond the point indicated by the lighter-grey triangle on the left, there is a linear relationship between velocity and volume.
OK, if you found that explanation overly obtuse, consider the image to the right. The brass section will start to come in quietly at 87, rapidly increasing in volume as velocities go up from there. After velocity 107, volume tracks velocity linearly.
I prefer a gradual transition with a crossfade region of 20 or more, but if you want the change to be abrupt, set the two triangles to the same value.
Tip: Watch the level meter that’s built into this display while you’re playing. If you’re consistently going above the crossfade region into the white zone, move the left triangle upward until most of your notes are falling within the grey middle zone. The right triangle will follow, maintaining the range specified in the X-Fade window.
Also on this page is an optional cymbal that hits at high velocities. This is actually pretty cool, for those 80’s style “orch hit” effects.
Finally, the two knobs at the far right adjust dynamics and volume. The top knob adjusts the relationship between velocity and volume (overall velocity curve), while the lower knob sets the amount of volume to be applied via CC11, A.K.A. the “expression” controller.
SSS-Q is a direct download (160 MB) from Indiginus . Price is $29 USD, but free for current owners of Solid State Symphony. Alternatively, you can purchase the full version of Solid State Symphony at the bargain price of $59 USD and get “Q” thrown in for free.
Full Kontakt 5 is required. “Q” will only run in the free Kontakt player for 15 minutes. However, the download also includes .sfz files for use in other samplers, albeit without the cool Kontakt scripting.