Spitfire Audio’s Orchestral Swarm – this sound library certainly comes with the most convenient subtitle: “The Tidal Orchestra“. It’s an ocean of orchestral soundings, unique playing techniques based on Spitfire’s SWARM approach of sampling (the pointillistic effect of having multiple players perform short notes at random intervals to create an undulating swell of sound that can be performed in real time for inspiring results). Interestingly, the now commercially available library has been in use by Hans Zimmer and Radiohead before, for their Song “(Ocean) Bloom” – in addition to that you can hear it all over the Blue Planet II Soundtrack by Jacob Shea and David Fleming (Bleeding Fingers Music). Let’s literally dive in now and see what you can expect from Spitfire’s “new standard in orchestral sample library innovation”.
Let’s begin by getting the hard facts straight:
Like any other of Spitfire Audio’s libraries, Orchestral Swarm (“OS”) was developed for KONTAKT. Version 5.6.8 is required – however, a free KONTAKT Player is included. The library will take approx. 30 GB of your hard drive and contains a fair sum of 25565 samples. Unlike many other Spitfire libraries though, OS was recorded at British Grove, London. The recording took place in a medium-sized, semi-reverberant room, “allowing for precise detail but with enough energy to maintain a character and fullness” so the Spitfire team.
It’s hard to exemplify the tenor of OS, it’s really like an ocean and the sounds you can expect from something mystical like that: beautiful, long sonic textures as well as crescendi/diminuendi that incarnate waves. Low, bubbling soundscapes as well as the sound of birds floating above the surface. There are lots of sound samples on the Spitfire website and below, hear my piece “Requiem for Birds and Whales” where I try to incorporate all the lib’s facets to show you what it can deliver. But let me be precise as much as I can through written words now.
Content and Sound
All the patches and articulations are clearly organized. You can either load a global patch like “Strings High” or save resources by entering the _Advanced_ folder and choose the favored articulation.
Here’s a list of global patches that contain up to 13(!) different articulations:
• Bones and Tubas
• Strings High
• Strings Low
• Woods High
• Woods Low
• *Advanced Folder*
The content varies for each group of instruments. “Brass” for example just contains a crescendo and diminuendo patch whereas “Strings High” contains the following articulations:
• Combo Swarm
• Combo Swell
• Flautando Swarm
• Pizzicato Swarm
• Short Pizzicato
• Short Spiccato
• Short Swarm 1
• Short Swarm 2
• Short Swarm Harmonics
• Spiccato Molto Sul Pont
• Tenuto CS Tasto Swarm
• Tenuto Swarm
• Whisper Swarm
“Strings Low” comes exactly with the same articulations whereas the Woodwinds deliver different ones, catered to the playing techniques and sounds, woodwinds are capable of producing. One sound, in particular, I really, really love is “Upper Mordent Swarm Wholetone” out of the “High Woodwinds” patch – it’s basically the birdsong of an Albatross floating above a paradise-like coral reef. I might be getting crazy here, but I like it when a virtual instrument has the power and energy to let me see instant pictures of a scene like that.
Although it clearly was not the attention of Spitfire Audio to deliver “normal” sounding articulations and patches, I found it very welcoming that they delivered “shorts” (for Strings and Woodwinds) and “pizzicato” patches too! British Grove Studio has a certain sound and I’m grateful to have those patches in the package too so I can mingle them with more ease in the mix since they share the same sonic footprint.
Talking about the sound I should mention that you can choose from 6 different mic positions. “Close” and “Tree” are pretty common, but when it comes to “Outriggers” for example – this is a welcoming additional option to have. Same goes for the sound R88 Ribbon mics can deliver when you bring up that fader.
Some patches come with a great dynamic span, especially the brass section ranges from very quiet, breathy to really edgy, loud and brassy. I wished for some of the string patches to have the same range but they often end in a kind of mid-energy level. Of course it depends on the articulation since you just cannot play a “whisper” patch really loud, but still, some patches have room for improvement there. For quite some patches, one can control the number of pointillistic notes by cranking up/down the mod wheel which is a really nice feature to have.
Spitfire has a clear way of design and layout for pretty much all their libraries. Orchestral Swarm is not an exception, so if you’re already familiar with the way those libraries look and interact, you are good to go. If not, don’t worry – it’s pretty straightforward with all the controls being clearly laid out and self-explaining. Mic positions, utilities (purge function, transpose, etc.), CC controls and all the articulations fit on the same surface level.
One of the really few downsides of the library is how the articulations are laid out (illustrated by dots as you can see in the picture below). You have to literally click through these little boxes of surprises and see which articulation you’ll be presented with. Not all patches share the same articulations so you cannot memorize them either (“ah, the 5th one is the flautando patch). If you like to get surprised then please convert this into a positive feature since the element of surprise often does it’s wonders as we all know. To me, at least an option to see them labeled correctly would have been nice.
A very nice feature to have is The Ostinatum – Quite simply a little inspiration machine. Not quite an arpeggiator, not quite a sequencer. This intuitive device allows you to build up complex patterns that react to your playing to achieve wild systems results tantalising Zimmeresque tension beds or cheeky multi-tonguing effects! This feature lets you get even more wavy, manipulate the sound and create unique patterns without ever leaving the GUI.
What I really like is the easy, yet super efficient reverb control that comes with the plugin. On a constant struggle of mixing different libraries, recorded by different people with different gear in totally unlike rooms/halls, it comes really handy when trying to mingle the library with others by just adjusting the short/long reverb controls and tweaking the sound in the particularly desired sonic direction. In addition to its usefulness, the reverbs just sound quite fine. For my demo track, I barely used any other 3rd party reverbs on the OS patches.
With “Requiem for Birds and Whales” I especially wanted to test the versatility of the sound library. There’s a certain, not to be kept secret rising popularity of libraries that deliver those edgy orchestral sounds at the time given. The question is, what can they deliver on the long term and how flexible are they when it comes to different genres and styles. That’s why I tried out three different moods on my piece:
Yes, Epic. And by layering especially the Strings and Brass patches, I was definitely able to achieve that so often desired wall of sound.
For the last part I also used some 3rd party brass samples and of course, the solo violin was recorded live.
Orchestral Swarm ships for 249€. It’s an absolutely fair price to ask in my opinion since you’re getting so many patches from every section in the orchestra including, as mentioned above, additional “normal” patches aside the unique swarm patches. For my demo track, I spent quite some time with the library and could not find a single bug, corrupted or noisy sample or anything like that. The library has been extremely well engineered and its sound has a certain delicacy to it that lends character to the instruments. It has a few downsides like the cryptic dots symbolizing the articulations and some patches could have some more energy in louder dynamic fields but besides that, I didn’t have that much fun and got struck by inspiration just by clicking through the different sounds in a long time! Orchestral Swarm truly is an ocean of sound that delivers unique, well-engineered patches for modern film scoring.