Flying Hand Percussion

Virtual Percussion Instrument

Review by Carlos Garza


In part three of our percussion sample library roundup, I review Flying Hand Percussion, a sample library from a California company by the same name.

As the name suggests, this sample library is all about hand played instruments with a focus on drums, small percussion and cinematic sound effects. The product, which I will refer to as “FHP,” aims for, and achieves, extreme realism through extensive variations, advanced programming and subtle details.

Features

The instruments were recorded with microphones from Neumann, Earthworks, Shure and AKG using a Demeter VTMP-2C mic pre. The 40,000+ individual samples are supplied at 24-bit, 44.1 kHz. There are up to 20 velocity layers with four alternate hits each.

Flying Hand Percussion

Flying Hand Percussion

Flying Hand uses the advanced programming features of the Kontakt sample player (sold separately). Keyboard players should note that left and right hand samples are provided in most of the MIDI mappings while electronic percussionists will be interested in the Zendrum MIDI mappings. Up to three mic positions are available. FHP also includes a set of reverb impulses and the Nitro “FHB Edition” filter bank.

So what about the sounds? Included are frame drums, djembe, conga, timbales, bongo cajon, Indian Naal, clay drum, Boomwhackers, plastic bottle, orchestral bass drum, tam tam, shakers, toys, electronic percussion and cinematic effects. Some instruments, like the ashiko allow selection of top-only or top and bottom mic positions.

Full sets with all velocity layers and alternate hits range from several hundred MB up to 1.5GB but smaller versions are available for low-memory computers or quick sketches.

In Use

This past summer I decided to try my hand at writing in various world styles. I’m also writing music for a film with scenes in India and South America. This gave me a chance to use FHP in different musical settings. I installed FHP on a G5 Quad with Kontakt 3, Logic 8 and Mac OS 10.4. I listened with Mackie HR824 and Tannoy PBM-8 monitors.

The gorgeous package — made in Nepal — is your first clue that this is no ordinary sound collection. The DVDs arrive in a hexagonal box with a lid that is fastened by a string around a button. This work of art belies the high tech product inside.

While not the broadest collection of world instruments, there is plenty to like here. The Clay drum samples range from small bright pings to larger thuds with many variations. The kanjira is an Indian drum with bells – a distant relative of the tambourine. It has a strongly ethnic flavor with a loose sounding membrane. For me it worked with Indian and Gypsy musical styles.

The djembe, mutant and “Morphosis” sets were among my favorite. The Boomwhackers and the bongo cajon were perfect for several spy chasing spy scenes that I scored over the summer.

The electronic sounds did not fit into my action score but they may work in other genres. The spooky drones are ready for prime time TV, film and electronic game scores. I loved the hand played bass drum. Why no dumbek?

The larger drums are engaging but less domineering than similar sounds in Quantum Leap’s Storm Drum 2 [reviewed in which issue?] and ProjectSAM’s True Strike Pack [reviewed in which issue?]. Because of this, it turned out that the FHP drums worked better with symphonic arrangements that were already heavy with low strings, synthesizers and massive horns.

I loaded djembe, Naal, bongos and drones and assigned Kontakt 3’s convolution reverb to an auxiliary bus. I then tried several of the impulse responses included with FHP. The large halls are spacious and detailed. It’s a good starter set but no replacement for Apple Logic’s Space Designer.

Using Native Instruments Kontakt as the sample playback host led to some important features in FHP. For example, a “dynamic resonance” control affects drumhead muting and is triggered by how long a slapped note sample is held. A relatively quick release triggers a sample of the head ringing while holding and then releasing triggers a sample of a hand leaving the drumhead.

The Legato Drumming™ uses velocity and duration to liven up the note tails. The results are not always obvious, especially in a fog of reverb with the distant mic set — and it’s not present on every program. However, this non-random addition of sounds like a hand moving on the drumhead adds a realism that I have not heard in any drum library.

Learning to play the instrument sets was easy because the mappings are very intuitive. I really like the idea of symmetrical mapping for two hands on the keyboard. In general, the sounds made from the middle of a drumhead are mirrored around middle C or D and sounds made closer to the edge of the drumhead are placed symmetrically out from there. Separate left and right hand hits with extensive alternate samples make for a very good time indeed.

Summary

The overall sound quality is as good as anything I’ve heard and then some. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into Flying Hand Percussion and the results are impressive.

I know of no other percussion library with as much articulation control. While the underlying functionality is complex, playing the sounds in a realistic way is as easy as, well, playing a drum. I also like having a choice of mic position and ambience.

Flying Hand Percussion is the one to reach for when looking for a unique sound. In a sea of imitators, Flying Hand Percussion is a rare gem.

Fast Facts

Applications: World, pop, jazz, TV, film and game score realization, composing and live performance.
Key Features: 24-bit instrument samples of hand drums, timbales, Boomwhackers, tam tam, shakers, toys, bass drum and effects; Requires Native Instruments Kontakt 2 or 3 sample player, sold separately.
Price: approximately  $259 USD
Contact:  FlyingHandPercussion.com
SONiVOX MI

Product Points

Plus
• High quality recordings
• Convincing realism and variety
• Intuitive MIDI mapping

Minus
• Long load times for large sets
• Compatible only with Kontakt (not included, note, latest version of Kontakt is a free download)

The Score

Flying Hand sets a new bar for sample realism. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was playing real drums. This is an excellent value.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

ProjectSAM True Strike Pack

Review by Carlos Garza


From suspenseful “heartbeats” to creepy scraping and pounding rhythms, no instrument family speaks with as much authority and dynamic range as percussion. In part two of our percussion roundup, we’ll look at a pair of products from a Dutch company known as ProjectSAM.

True Strike  and True Strike 2 — sold together as True Strike Pack — cover a variety of instruments and ensemble sizes. Together they feature orchestral, world, mallet instruments and unique effects for sound designers.

Quantum Leap’s, Storm Drum 2, is a close competitor to True Strike Pack. We’ll compare their features and see if there is a clear winner. This review is part of a percussion library round-up, which also included a look at Flying Hand Percussion. See reviews on this site.

Features

True Strike includes 51 instruments and requires 17 GB of space. TS2 has 59 instruments and needs 14 GB. The 24-bit, 44.1 kHz products are delivered on DVD-ROM and are integrated with the free Kontakt player.

ProjectSAM True Strike

TS focuses on symphonic instruments with timpani, gran casa ensemble, toms, snares, cymbals, tams, thunder plate and brakes. The melodic instruments include marimba, xylophone, vibes, glockenspiel, celesta and a handful of ethnic crossover instruments. Samples were recorded with close range, stage and large hall ambience.

TS2 adds percussion effects, bowed cymbals and vibes, 7 Asian instruments, including taiko, Turkish, European and over 20 African instruments. Samples were created with close mics and either room or stage ambience. The Cimbalom and prepared piano are a unique bonus.

In Use

In January of 2010, the True Strike products were re-released, dropping integration with several previously supported players to focus on the free Kontakt player (screen shot below).  The move is described as a win-win.  While allowing ProjectSAM to focus their development and support efforts, the move reportedly improves round-robin alternation, navigation, streamlines ADSR control and provides better reporting of articulation features.  See also the review of Flying Hand Percussion on this site, which makes extensive use of scripting features in Kontakt.

The EXS-24 version that I tested in 2009 uses the same sample set as the re-released product. I tested under Logic Pro with Mac OS 10.5 and listened critically on Mackie HR824 and Tannoy PBM-8 monitors.

I tested both sets in an action film score I’m composing. I found the toms and bass drum ensembles blended perfectly with strings and brass from Vienna Symphonic Library. I could have chosen to place all the virtual instruments in the same ambience by using the TS close mic samples with Logic’s convolution reverb but the stage ambience of the TS samples was too good to pass up.

The bass drum is stunning. These massive “thwacks” are detailed and expressive and the softer sounds are sublime. Concert bass drums can sometimes be unwieldy in a dense mix due to overtones and long decay. Thankfully, the tasteful producers at ProjectSAM have crafted a modern sound that works exceptionally well in dramatic symphonic works.

True Strike 2 with Kontakt Player

TS has an excellent collection of snare drums, including a thin concert, a deeper drum and the field drum, which gave my action cues that “official” military sound. The swells in the snare ensemble are wide and detailed.

I had mixed feelings about the mallet instruments. The marimba with stage mics and full hall is spot-on but I wanted more tonal variety — soft and medium mallets, for example. The vibes in TS are useful but the damper sound, while realistic, is present enough to be noticeable when soloed. On the other hand, the bowed vibes in TS2 are wonderfully eerie and the effects sounds and prepared piano are great for suspense cues.

The U.S. company, Quantum Leap, set the standard for thundering ensemble samples in their original Storm Drum 1 product. Naturally, the 24-bit thundering ensembles in TS2 (and the new SD2) have a greater depth and clarity than the 16-bit SD1. ProjectSAM has their own take on the concept and these sounds are perfect for creature features, action game scores and dramatic pop productions.

ProjectSAM also did an excellent job of capturing the nuances in African and Turkish drums. In fact, there is enough variety to make a convincing performance – not always the case in world instrument samples (and never in keyboards). The mind-bending timpani effects will work in game, TV and film scores and contemporary concert works.

As with any sample library, there is a learning curve for playing the instrument. Once you get used to where the single hits, flams and rolls are, you can quickly create a great sounding track. A small gripe with True Strike is the mapping of some non-pitched sounds to a single MIDI note. This is fine for a drum pad but not so great for keyboard triggering. It would be nice, for example to have the four toms available an octave or two apart with left and right hand samples.

These minor negatives do not diminish the overall product value. Using these drums in a compositional setting really paid off for me. The sounds are very musical and composing with them is effortless.

So how does the True Strike Pack compare to Storm Drum 2? The recording quality is excellent in both products. I loved the stage ambience in the TS drums, especially the concert toms and bass drums. It’s a beautiful sound that shines in spare arrangements.

SD2 has more sound effects but there is no redundancy between the two and if you are serious about effects percussion and large ensembles you’ll want the TS Pack and SD2 in your arsenal. TS covers the contemporary symphony very well but SD2 adds royalty free MIDI tracks. TS Pack integrates with your favorite sample player software while SD2 uses the proprietary Play engine.

Summary

The detailed 24-bit recordings and spacious ambiance make these sounds come alive. I found that the recording clarity really helps in a dense mix and the snare roll crescendos made me feel like the drum was being played right in front of me (kind of scary actually). Some alternate sample mappings would help with certain playing styles but this is an inspiring world-class collection in any case.

This is also a versatile collection. The dystopian sounds and range of ethnic percussion make True Strike 2 a valuable resource for film and video game sound designers. Some of Hollywood’s top composers are using True Strike and it’s easy to see why. This is an awesome product.

Fast Facts

Applications:  TV, film and electronic game scoring, pop production, contemporary orchestral realization, arranging and music education.

Key Features:  24-bit symphonic, world and effects percussion samples. Compatible with major sample players for Windows and Mac OS.

US Prices approx.   USD $399 each or $799 for True Strike Pack

Contact: Project SAM + 31-30-2314500, www.ProjectSAM.com, info@projectsam.com; Available in the US from:  HouseofSamples.com West L.A. Music (www.westlamusic.com)

Product Points

Plus
• Great sound quality
• Beautiful hall ambience
• Compatible with major sample player apps

Minus
• Keyboard mappings could be expanded
• Greater mallet variety needed

The Score

True Strike Pack offers pristine audio quality in a reliably useful collection. The recent price drops make this a great buy.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Quantum Leap Stormdrum 2

Review by Carlos Garza


Quantum Leap set the bar in 2004 with the original 16-bit Storm Drum product. If you wanted bombastic samples for action films, games or that “Peter Gabriel” drum sound, SD1 was it. Fast forward to 2008 and Stormdrum 2 brings a range of improvements, including 24-bit samples and 100 MIDI rhythm tracks.

This is the first in a series of percussion library reviews. Future reviews will look at ProjectSAM’s True Strike set, also aimed at TV/film and electronic game scoring. We will also look at FlyingHand Percussion, a set that uses the advanced programming features of the Native Instruments Kontakt player for subtle articulation control.

Storm Drum 2

Storm Drum 2

Features

Over 12GB of new samples, with the exception of the Metallica “Black” drum kit from Ministry of Rock. The drums were recorded at the new EASTWEST Studio 1 (formally United-Western). Quantum Leap reports that SD2 was recorded using vintage Neumann mics and Meitner A/D converters.

Included are toms, cymbals, kits, ethnic metals, small gongs, waterphone, spring drums, brake drums, a metal bridge and whale drum. There are ethnic drums, such as custom congas and bongos, Indonesian bongos, Malaysian djembe, Nepalese two-headed drum, Dholak, timbales, udu. There are rhythmically “glitched” drones, ambient low sounds, “Godzilla Hits,” “psychotic” effects, swooshes, stutters, clicks, clangs and “Rumpfs.”

SD2 expands on the ensemble samples that were the hallmark of SD1. Producer, Nick Phoenix explains, “SD1 had a cool patch called ‘Thunder Ensemble’. This was six musicians hitting large drums in unison in a warehouse. SD2 has the ‘Earthquake Ensemble’, which is eleven musicians hitting huge, large and sometimes smaller drums in unison in EASTWEST studio 1.”

SD2 uses the proprietary 64-bit Play engine rather than third party plug-in players. The Play interface includes convolution reverb, delay and disk streaming management. Wideness can be minimized for precise sound placement and the 64-bit architecture is compatible with 32-bit operating systems.

Play offers a stand-alone functionality and is compatible with VST, ASIO and DirectSound on Windows and VST, Audio Units and Core Audio on Mac OS. Copy protection requires an iLok security key.  Recommended configuration includes a DVD drive, Core 2 Duo, 2.5 GHz or faster, 2 to 4GB RAM and XP SP2, Vista or Mac OS 10.4 or later.

In Use

The installation was glitch-free on my Mac OS 10.5 desktop.  One thing to note is the iLok security key requirement, which makes the set a little less convenient for mobile rigs.

SD2 packs a wallop where it counts, big dramatic drums. I’m sure these sounds are going to show up in role-playing shooter games and heart pounding, escape-from-who-knows-what movies. Among the stand-outs are the “Beast” (a custom 42” Remo tom), Nagado, taikos and the Tong Zi drums.

There are also lighter sounds like the stick hits on the Chinese Kettle drum, the darbuka, dholak and some acoustic chirps called, “Ticki Ticki,” which would be right at home in a percolating action-adventure groove.

The MIDI performances focus on driving rhythms for action scoring with a smattering of neutral and exotic grooves. Each MIDI file comes with an associated multi-patch — up to 16 individual patches. You’ll find well-named beats like, “Malicious Hordes,” “Rampant Carnage,” and “Chasing the Devil” that show off the amazing power of these sounds.

The MIDI tracks reveal a strong collection of rock drum sounds, large dramatic drums and a unique collection of effects percussion. Imagine rock drums with a bleating Chinese noisemaker, “clanking ambient contortion,” Persian castanets and a set called, “radiostatic anomaly.” Cue the black helicopters — this is not a home organ beat box!

The taiko drums are beautiful, especially the ambient Dynasty set. The toms have a very clear sound – great for rock tracks and scoring but the close mic and stick sound makes them less suited for classical arrangements.

sd2_t

Storm Drum 2

If you use Play as a multitimbral plug-in, your DAW channel effects will apply to all the drums. No worries, Play includes its own filter, effects and panning controls for each MIDI channel. There are plenty of sound shaping options, including a reverb section with enough variety to cover any genre.

The built-in effects include a delay, a panning controller, volume and an ADSR for each channel. I found the filter useful for taming the stick sound in the toms and it’s mapped to the mod wheel so you can tweak it as you play or store your favorite setting in the patch.

Of course, you can load one Play instance for each sound and use your own channel strip plug-ins. I’m happy to report that SD2 plays well with others, particularly driving guitars, synths and symphonic brass. The thundering ensemble drums really “super sized” an action film score I’m working on.

The cool thing is that you don’t need a huge number of tracks to get a big sound. A simple arrangement with just a few tracks of SD2 sounds like you rented a Hollywood scoring stage and a small army of drummers. In fact, when I started working on this review I thought SD2 would be perfect for the Terminator 4 score. Apparently composer Danny Elfman felt the same way. Cue the DUH-dum-dum-duh-DUM riff.

The patch collections open up new ways to get a pro sound very quickly. Among the unique sound sets are Ambient Largeness and the Rumpfs. Are you on a tight schedule and need to punctuate the end of a scene? You need a Rumpf, my friend. It goes… “Whoosh…boom.” It’s an amazingly quick way to drop in a polished impact and they come in all shapes and sizes.

There are fresh glitch sounds (that’s a good thing) and blips in the ‘Fuzzbox” set; subtle and hip percussive sounds to keep a pulse going. The many sound design elements include swooshes and “stutter makers,” Asian percussion, such a Vietnamese wooden mallet instrument, Devil Chasers, bamboo sticks and for you Planet of the Apes fans, the angklung.

The congas and bongos are versatile but the sampled nature would be less apparent with more alternating samples, especially when soloed. The mapping works well for keyboard controllers with similar samples across five adjacent white keys. However, the three-octave jump between low and high bongos and four octaves between the congas gave me a workout. Some instruments have mappings for Zendrum but I was not able to test these.

Also reviewed on this site are True Strike Pack and Flying Hand Percussion — related products from other companies. If you have the budget, I would consider owning all three products.  There is less duplication between SD2 and TS Pack than I expected and Flying Hand Percussion is a one-of-a-kind product. TS Pack includes symphonic percussion instruments but SD2 is much stronger in the effects percussion and sound design elements.  Both sets include excellent large ensembles with SD2 offering more options in this category. Both have strong collections of world drums. See the other reviews for details.

Summary

SD2 reflects East West and Quantum Leap’s vast experience in developing professional sample libraries. It’s a thorough collection and the sound quality is flawless. If you need powerful drums, deep atmospherics and some no-nonsense grooves to get your production started, SD2 is a must. If history repeats itself, these fresh sounds are going to be with us for many years.

Fast Facts

Applications:  TV, film, game, rock & ethnic music arrangement; education

Key Features:  24-bit percussion samples including studio kits, ethnic drums and metals, sound design percussion, royalty free MIDI performances

US Prices: $395 list (approximately $350 on the street)

Contact: EASTWEST, www.soundsonline.com

Product Points
Plus
• High quality recordings
• Unique monster hits
• Versatile collection
• Useful rhythm patterns

Minus
• iLok security (key not included)

The Score

Stormdrum 2 is an outstanding and quite versatile collection. Well priced and an excellent value.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Vienna Instruments Special Edition

Vienna Symphonic Library

Review by Carlos Garza

Originally Published in Pro Audio Review


The arms race in sampling is all about realism and audio quality. The new standard in sample libraries for computers is 24-bit and, for musical instruments, a variety of articulations must be within easy reach.

Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) GmbH in Vienna, Austria is a leading provider of symphonic instrument samples and has recently introduced a dedicated software player for their Vienna Instrument products that tackles these challenges. Vienna Instruments Special Edition (SE) is an all-in-one symphonic sample library and is one of the newer products using this software.

SE comprises two products, the Standard Library ($465 US) and the Extended Library ($625 US), distributed in the U.S by ILIO. In this review, we’ll see if VSL has an affordable all-in-one orchestral library with the features and sonic quality you would expect from a company that repeatedly sets the standard.

Special Edition

Features

The instruments in SE were selected from VSL’s extensive line of Vienna Instruments (VI) products and require 81 GB of drive space. The Standard Library contains 28 instruments and ensembles from the post-romantic orchestra. It includes solo and ensemble strings and brass, solo woodwinds and percussion, which includes drums, gongs, cymbals, Taiko drums, thunder sheet, metal chimes and plate bells. Rounding out the set are, Bösendorfer grand, celesta, glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba and vibes.

The Extended Library adds 35 instruments and ensembles but does not augment the articulations in the Standard Library instruments. Highlights include saxes, contrabass trombone, chamber strings (small ensembles), Appassionata strings (larger ensembles), Epic Horns, harp, classical guitar, electric guitar, Vienna Konzerthaus organ and harpsichord. For all you Beatles fans there’s even a piccolo trumpet. A complete listing of tracks can be found at vsl.co.at.

Whereas previous VSL products relied on third party sample players, such as Giga, HALion and Apple Logic’s EXS-24, the VI products use proprietary software for performance control and hard drive streaming. The cross-platform VI player serves up the 24-bit, 44.1 kHz samples as simple patches, containing a single articulation, for example, violins with short notes, and in combinations called matrices, which combine related articulations for use in a single MIDI track or switched instantly for live performance.

The multi-patch matrices reduce the number of sequencer tracks needed to create a realistic performance using multiple playing styles. For example, you can play quick short notes, longer notes and tremolo in a single matrix set-up.

The VI player runs stand-alone (for live) or as a DAW plug-in with Audio Units, RTAS and VST compatibility. RTAS support OS X was introduced in October. The minimum configuration is 1GB RAM on a G4 1 GHz under OS 10.4 or a 2GHz PC with Windows XP. Most of the work is done by a background process, which shifts the memory and CPU burden outside of the host DAW, such as Logic.

In Use

I installed SE on a G5 Quad with 4GB RAM, OS 10.4 and Logic Pro 7. SE requires a Syncrosoft USB security key, which must be registered online. It is sold by VSL as the Vienna Key ($39 US). Authorizing the standard and extended libraries was nearly trouble free.  The only snag I ran into was caused by having both the Vienna Key and another Syncrosoft key for HALion connected during authorization. I temporarily removed the HALion key and completed the authorization with no problems. It would have been nice if the documentation recommended removing Syncrosoft keys used for other products. However, the installation tutorial video was otherwise excellent. Great to have a visual guide for a process that some find daunting.

By the way, VSL has created some excellent learning tools, including instructional videos and tutorial demo sequences for popular DAW applications. From my experience, nobody is doing a better job of helping their users get the most out of music sampling software.

The matrix approach is where the user interface gets powerful. Matrices are built from patches, each of which contain a single articulation of an instrument. There are several ways to call up the different articulations, including key switches and MIDI controllers and they can be used in many combinations in a single matrix.

Key switches are notes outside the range of the instrument (usually at the low end). For example, hit the lowest C with your left hand and the right hand plays for staccato notes, hit the C# and you are playing détaché, D for sustained and D# for legato notes and so on.

You can also switch articulations using a continuous controller, such as the mod wheel. For example, you could play long notes and use the mod wheel to layer short notes or switch to tremolo. The VI player can accommodate up to twelve rows and twelve columns in each matrix. And if that’s not enough, you can combine matrices into keyboard-switched “presets.” Many possibilities.

While you can’t create your own patches, which include velocity and sample mapping, you can create your own matrices and make personalized versions of the ones provided. I wanted to create a performance matrix with crescendo control, such as that provided in HALion Symphonic Orchestra (HSO), which uses the mod wheel to cross fade (or switch) between samples played with different dynamics. The first step was to assign a continuous MIDI controller, such as the pitch wheel or breath controller for “velocity” X-FADE. I simply control-click the fader in the PERFORM tab of the VI window and used the breath controller to assign it.

Next, I needed to assign a controller as a switch because I don’t want velocity X-FADE always on. For example, I still like to use key velocity for short notes. I used the ribbon controller on my Yamaha Motif ES-8 keyboard as the switch. After fine-tuning the response curve in the VI window, I had a zone at the top of the ribbon that I use with my left thumb to activate velocity cross fade with the breath controller when I need it.

SE is a very flexible product and it’s easy to create your own customized performance setups. Since VI is also a standalone player, you can create key-switched presets with completely different instruments for live performance. For example, a song might need cello for the intro, trumpet for a solo and tubular bells for the ending each with its own key-switched and controller-modified articulations.

Vienna Instruments has some impressive software features. The flexibility to arrange patches within a matrix is very logical. Using custom keyboard notes outside the range of the instrument is also useful but the ability to design your own articulation performance sets is a real innovation.

VSL decided that the Extended Library should widen the instrument variety rather than add articulations for the Standard Library instruments. I think some might prefer a deeper set of articulations rather than some of the slightly redundant instruments.

On the other hand, the variety of instruments between the two sets allows for more distinctive and expressive realizations where custom ensembles of solo instruments are needed. Three cheers for including the amazing solo strings in the Standard Library. I wish the harp were there too.

Also on my wish list for VSL products are the hardingfele (or Hardanger fiddle for you “Lord of the Rings” fans), and jazz inflections of the string bass, trumpet and trombone. There are several products providing the heart pounding drums that have become common in animal documentaries and action scores. It would be nice to have additional drums recorded on VSL’s “silent stage” to blend with VSL products. Native American and European frame drums would be a nice addition.

But I’m nitpicking; this is a versatile set. The saxes and muted trumpets and trombones lend a jazz versatility while the electric guitar takes it into action score territory. These are pro sounds with plenty of useful articulations.

The Appassionata strings answer the mail for those who felt that VSL strings are too pure or precise (not that that’s a flaw). This is a lovely cinematic sound for sweeping themes. The small ensemble strings, woodwinds and classical guitar are also excellent. I loved the Epic Horns in the Horizon series and I don’t know of any other all-in-one set that has such a sound.

While these instruments do not have all of the articulations or detailed range of samples of the Vienna Instruments products they were selected from, the sound quality is the same. These are beautiful recordings that work well in many genres, including symphonic mock-ups, TV and game scoring, rock and pop production and music education.

VSL records their samples in an acoustically dry environment. The bad news is that you have to add reverb to make a symphonic piece sound like it’s in a concert hall. The good news is that you have complete control over the acoustic setting. Logic’s Space Designer convolution reverb with a scoring stage or concert hall works wonders.

I like the fact that much of the processing and memory are handled by a separate process, the vsl-server, which shifts much of the memory and CPU burden from the sequencing or DAW application. This frees up DAW resources for software synths and other sample plug-ins. The VI software includes options for optimizing RAM utilization by clearing samples not in use in a MIDI recording. This makes laptops and some older computers a viable platform.

Thirty-two bit applications, such as SE can use up to 4GB of RAM. Since SE runs outside the DAW application, an 8GB machine supports a hefty number of instruments in SE while leaving another 4GB for the DAW and other plug-ins. Theoretically if you had 12GB of RAM you could add a another sample player that runs outside of your DAW.

As this article went to press, VSL announced their Vienna Ensemble product, which they say will be a free update for Vienna Instruments users. They say that the Vienna Ensemble stand-alone player is designed to host Vienna Instruments on networked computers, and balances memory use when run on the same computer with the DAW. It also adds support for 64-bit PCs and Macs.

Summary

Wrangling a symphonic orchestra, even one as easy to use as SE, requires practice. While the skills for “conducting” a symphonic library differ slightly than the live orchestra, the goals are similar. The performance should flow smoothly and dynamically and the instruments should blend acoustically into a symphonic sound.

SE does not let you tweak every conceivable nuance of a performance but most of the tweaking that you need to do is either easy or even better, it’s automatic. The intention of SE is to quickly capture a realistic performance so you spend more time creating the music and less time sweating the details.

SE includes a huge selection of professional symphonic instruments and I don’t know of any other all-in-one set that includes solo strings and horns this expressive. If you want top grade pro sounds at an affordable price, look no further. SE is an excellent value and a serious musical tool.

Carlos Garza is currently scoring an action feature film. His work has been heard on Image Entertainment DVDs, Turner Classic Movies and the National Gallery of Art. He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

Fast Facts

Applications: TV/film music, symphonic realization, education and live.

Key Features: 24-bit samples, plug-in for VST, RTAS and Audio Units, stand-alone player for live performance, resource management, PC and Mac.

US Prices: Standard Library, $465; Extended Library, $625; both require Vienna Key, $39

Sales and product information in the U.S. from ILIO at ILIO.com (818-707-7222)

Product Points

Plus

• Astounding sound quality

• Innovative controls for efficient operation

• Automatic realism

• Computing friendly

Minus

• Harp missing from standard library

• Limited articulations for non-mainstream compositions

The Score

This friendly-priced, all-in-one symphonic library from one of the leading innovators of realism and quality is an outstanding value.

(c) 2007 Carlos Garza

Apple Logic Pro 7

Apple Digital Audio Workstation Software

Review by Carlos Garza
Originally Published in Pro Audio Review


Apple’s professional digital audio and MIDI production environment has been updated with new sounds and a new look.  As with other Apple offerings, it is available in both Pro and Express editions.

Both versions of the program integrate digital audio and MIDI recording with software synthesis, sample playback and notation.  With version 7, the improvements include user interface, workflow enhancements, new instruments and effects and, with 7 Pro, distributed processing for networked Macs.

Both products retain their previous list prices of US $999 for Logic Pro and $299 for Logic Express.  Upgrades from previous versions are available and a $19.95 upgrade from Logic Pro 7.0 to 7.1 was recently released.  This review will focus on the features of Logic Pro. 7.0

Logic Pro 7

Logic Pro 7

Features

The core of Logic’s flexible environment is the Arrange window, where recorded regions are visualized and where most editing takes place. MIDI and audio can be edited side-by-side in the Arrange window or in dedicated editing windows. Logic has extensive formatting features for notation printing. Logic incorporates synchronized playback of QuickTime video formats including playback to FireWire devices.

Logic Pro 7 includes four new software instruments. Pro 7.1 adds an additional pair of hybrid synth instruments. Sculpture, a component-modeling synthesizer, simulates the physical properties of acoustic instruments. Models starting with strings or woodwinds are modified by selecting materials, such as steel, nylon, wood or glass. Software “Exciters” are added to the model to modify the sound based on how a sound is actuated — picking, blowing or bowing, for example.

Ultrabeat is designed after the drum machines that were popular in the 1980’s. Sounds are generated through sample playback, virtual analog synthesis and FM for bass sounds. Ultrabeat is capable of 25 voices and incorporates filtering and distortion effects along with swing and human factors quantization. The 7.1 upgrade adds the ability to export patterns from the drum machine to the Arrange window.

Both products include EFM1, a software based FM synthesizer, and a set of instruments from GarageBand. Some of the Apple Loops provided with GarageBand incorporate the original MIDI note information in addition to the segmented sound data. Dropping this type of loop onto a MIDI track allows substitution of the loop segments with new sounds. GarageBand songs can be imported into Logic.

There are several new audio processing plug-ins, including Guitar Amp Pro, a plug-in incorporating tube amplifier and speaker emulations for electric guitar. Pro 7.1 adds a Bass Amp plug-in.  Ringshifter combines a ring modulator circuit with a frequency shifter. The Vocal Transformer separates fundamental frequency from its overtones allowing male-to-female and female-to-male voice changes.

The Pitch Correction plug-in takes a monophonic sound source and enforces pitch conformance to a musical scale with adjustable tuning.  Using an extremely fast setting creates something akin to Cher’s “Believe” effect.

The 7.1 upgrade includes plug-in delay compensation for native plug-ins, support for nine additional control surfaces and a number of performance and workflow enhancements.

The Distributed Audio Processing capability now lets users supplement the CPU resources of a G4 workstation or a PowerBook with the resources of additional networked G4 and G5 machines.  The user picks a lower powered machine as the workstation and then enables distributed processing for plug-ins on selected tracks.  Audio is routed through the Gigabit Ethernet port to the node machines for plug-in processing and routed back to the workstation host for mixing.

Among the workflow improvements is the ability to import audio from Final Cut Pro with XML metadata describing placement of audio clips on the time line.  Logic 7 can detect movie cuts to place markers in the global tracks, import QuickTime movie soundtracks and insert soundtracks in existing QuickTime files.

Interoperability with other DAW applications is expanded through support for Advanced Authoring Format (AAF), which includes information on the placement of audio files in the project.  Bouncing to AAC is now supported along with enhanced ID3 tag editing for bounced MP3 files.

The Arrange window has been enhanced with several new editing modes.  Control of the shuffle and snap modes is available at the top of the Arrange window.  A new cross fade mode automatically fades between regions that overlap on the same track.  A track solo feature is now available in the Arrange window.  While previous versions had a single Autoload (template) song, users can now pick from a set of templates predefined for various project types.

Logic Express 7 has the same visual workspace as Logic 7 Pro and includes 26 software instruments and more than 40 effects plug-ins.  The software instruments include the EXSP24 sample playback engine with a modest sample library, a variety of software synths including analog and FM emulations.  Effects include a preset version of the Multipressor multi-band compression, Guitar Amp, pitch and time effects, reverbs and supports audio resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz and QuickTime synchronization.  Logic Pro 7 supports audio resolutions up to 24-bit/192Khz.

In Use

I tested Logic 7 Pro on a G4 dual 1 GHz under OS X v10.3.7.  The audio interface was a Digidesign 96 I/O going into a Pro Tools HD|1 card.  I monitored through a pair of Mackie HR824s.

I found that Logic pro offers a number of improvements in both the “getting started” stage of a project and the polishing stage.  GarageBand instruments make a nice starting point for sketching out arrangements.  Rather than spending valuable time sifting through hundreds of sounds or hundreds of parameter settings, with the GarageBand instruments you just pick the instrument family and perhaps tweak a few basic settings and you’re making music.  And yes, they sound nice.

The new filmstrip in the Global Tracks is far easier than the older thumbnail tracks.  The improved ability to edit tempo changes graphically against the bar lines and filmstrip was a huge timesaver for me in matching hits to video events.  A lot of my film music uses odd meters to help me line up cues and hits.  Seeing the meter in the Global Track along with the filmstrip was very handy.

The main thing that distinguishes Logic Pro 7 from other professional tools is the sheer number of musically useful instrument sounds that are incorporated.  Anyone looking to Logic 7 for sound design features will be in audio heaven.

The first stop for sound designers is Sculpture.  The random tremolos and otherworldly breath effects make these sounds come alive.  The accelerating and decelerating tremolos are very tempting.  Imagine a plucked string instrument with the attack of a coin rolling on the table or a bouncing ball.  The edgier sounds based on breath models are well suited to film score and alternative music.

I set out to explore the different ways of using Logic as a composition tool.  For example, what if I want to approach writing songs like I did in the 80’s, using a drum machine and a keyboard?  Logic gives you a number of drum and keyboards options that would work in rock, pop, hip hop or electronica.  Ultrabeat has a variety of acoustic and electronic kits.  A word of warning, the ultra low kick drum sounds in the electronic kits will seriously rattle your speakers.

Support for Apple Loops has been expanded to allow more flexibility in importing GarageBand songs into Logic.  However, you can just as easily start in Logic.  I found a jazz/rock drumbeat that worked well with a reggae bass line loop.  But it needed some electric guitar.  So, I turned to Guitar Amp Pro.

Most of the preconfigured settings work fine but you will want to tweak things to work with your guitar and playing style.  The crunchy Woodstock setting put some meat on my Strat copy and enough bite to cut through the swirling electric piano part I had going on the EVP88.

Next, I ramped up an instance of the EVB3 organ emulation.  The “Whiter Shade of Pale” sound would have been perfect in the right setting.  In my case, a grittier sound was needed and EVB3 came through with some excellent sounds.

The Apple Loops drum beat that I picked worked well with the GarageBand fretless bass.  The gritty EVB3 organ and the edge from Guitar Amp Pro made the mix more authentic and much less “MIDI band”-like.  And all of this without waking the kids.

Summary

There are enough sound making and shaping tools in Logic 7 Pro to keep an army of sound designers employed for years to come.  The Space Designer convolution reverb and the EVOC vocoder continue to amaze me.

The workflow enhancements from Garageband song file imports to environment templates make this the user-friendliest version of Logic yet.  The new Arrange Window settings for region placement and crossfading of audio regions make for more efficient editing.

I realize that some may find the price tag of Logic 7 Pro a bit on the high side but I can’t say it’s over priced.  It’s actually a bargain when you consider the extensive features for sequencing, high-resolution audio recording, notation and video synchronization.  I had no trouble on a G4 Mac but if you like to use a lot of plug-ins and a lot of tracks you should consider a G5.

Logic has matured into a very productive and versatile environment.  Logic 7 Pro offers a wealth of features that will be useful to composers, musicians and arrangers.  Both products are a great way to awaken your music and sound design creativity.

Carlos Garza is a film composer who produces and engineers film scores for broadcast and DVD and is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2007 Carlos Garza

DVD Studio Pro and Motion 2

Apple Final Cut Studio (part 2)

By Carlos Garza

With all the new outlets for music video these days, it almost feels like 1981 all over again. Music and video artists have more outlets than ever before and greater need for an integrated set of audiovisual postproduction tools.

Apple Computer has combined the three previously available applications and one new application into an integrated postproduction suite. Final Cut Studio comprises Final Cut Pro 5, DVD Studio Pro 4, Motion 2 and Soundtrack Pro. DVD SP4 is available within the $1299 Final Cut Studio product suite, or separately for $499 US. Upgrades are available for $199 US. Motion 2 is available separately for $299 US. Upgrades from Motion are $99.

In part one of this review, I looked at Final Cut Pro 5 and Soundtrack Pro. In part two, I will focus on new features in DVD SP 4 and take a quick look at Motion 2. Part 1 of this review appeared in the October 2005 issue. We reviewed DVD Studio Pro 3 in  2005.

Features

Looking at the box that Final Cut Studio is packaged in you will notice a few things. First, it’s a heavy box with Final Cut Pro 5 documentation in four separate volumes and the DVD SP4 manual taking almost 700 pages by itself. The next things you’ll notice are the big letters, “HD” on the side of the box.

The message is simple: HD is here. You may have already noticed this from Apple’s support for the H.264 codec in QuickTime 7. H.264 is mandatory in both the Blu-ray and HD DVD specifications.

DVD SP4 can be used to author standard definition titles for release on single-layer, DVD-5 and dual layer, DVD-9 media. DVD SP4 can also write the HD DVD format to conventional red laser recordable media.

Authoring for dual layer SD titles includes control of the break point between layers. Authored titles can be burned (space permitting) to dual layer DVD-9 or written to DLT. DVD SP4 supports the following red laser recordable formats: DVD-R, -RW, +R, +RW and +R DL.

DVD SP4 continues to support DDP 2.0 and 2.1, CMF 1.0 output formats. Video title set files can also be written to disk for SD and HD DVD. HD content can be previewed in full screen on an Apple Cinema Display using Digital Cinema Desktop.

Extensive scripting may require extended memory registers that Apple provides through partitioning of General Purpose Register Memory (GPRM). Complex DVD titles can use up to 112 register partitions for advanced interactive authoring.

The new VTS editor allows authors to create additional Video Title Set (VTS) folders and move assets between folders to optimize disc performance. VTS allocation provides a way for disc authors to combine audio or screen formats on the same disc.

Final Cut Pro 5 and DVD SP4 can take advantage of networked G4 and G5 computers for distributed encoding. The updated encoder, Compressor 2, provides encoding in H.264 (aka MPEG-4 Part 10), which support HD content.

Previous versions of DVDSP used a separate utility, A.Pack, to encode AC-3 (Dolby Digital) audio files. Compressor 2 now includes Dolby Digital (AC-3) encoding, and is Dolby certified. Video compression includes 2-pass VBR encoding. In addition to a growing number of presets, DVD SP4 allows the user to create droplets — drag-and-drop desktop objects pre-configured for specific encoding or format conversions (for example, NTSC to PAL).

Motion 2 boasts a Real-Time Design Engine that is scalable across available CPU, graphics processors and RAM. Motion 2 can address memory above 4GB and supports GPU-accelerated 32-bit float rendering. The ability to work in larger address spaces means less rendering during project creation.

The Replicator tool, well, replicates graphical objects, shapes and movies. The Key Frame Editor offers greater precision over the previous implementation. Object movement along a path can now be controlled with finer detail.

If you’ve worked with audio applications under OS X, you are probably aware of Apple’s “Core Audio” architecture. Core Audio provides a framework for third party development of effects plug-ins and software synths. Apple extended the concept to a broader set of Core Media technologies.

Motion 2 includes over 500 filters, particle presets and effects. New filters include 3D Rotate, Extrude and Vignette. Apple has opened the door for third party effects developers through their FxPlug architecture, which includes parameter automation.

MIDI devices, including mix controllers and keyboards can be used to control parameters such as filters and transforms. Knobs, faders and music keyboards can all be used as real-time performance controllers.

Round-trip editing is possible using other Final Cut Studio applications as well as Adobe After Effects. For example, Motion 2 particle effects can be linked into Adobe After Effects projects.

Motion 2 has a built-in browser for iTunes playlists and iPhoto albums. Native HDV is supported in Motion 2 and can be passed between Motion 2 and Final Cut Pro 5 and DVD SP4.

In Use

You’re probably wondering why anyone would want to make an HD DVD when (at the time of this writing) there are no HD DVD hardware players. Simple answer is that you CAN play red laser recordable discs authored with HD content on a G5 with Mac OS X v 10.4 and Apple DVD Player 4.6. In fact, with DVD SP4 you can author discs with both standard and high definition content on the same disc so they would be compatible with today’s DVD players and play HD content on a suitably equipped G5.

As of this writing, the standard capacities for HD DVD are 15GB for single layer and 30GB for dual layer replicated discs. However, a fully compliant HD DVD title set can be written to lower capacity DVD-5 and DVD-9 media. In theory, these discs will play on HD DVD hardware players when they become available. You can also take your HD content and create an SD title with it now, then substitute the HD content later.

All of the applications in Final Cut Studio sport a familiar look and feel. The user interface remains unchanged, and that’s a good thing. Anyone familiar with Final Cut Pro timeline will feel at home with DVD SP4.

In DVDSP3, I found myself wishing that I could view the DVD at a larger size in the Simulator. With DVD SP4, the user can now preview HD content and SD content scaled to HD on a G5. The Simulator in DVD SP4 now supports external monitors, which allow previewing the picture at the intended resolution in a YUV color space.

I’ve been thinking about putting some of my film scores out on a DVD. Yes, they are already on a DVD, but I want to make a music project — perhaps a CD and DVD with high quality PCM audio. The DVD-Video spec allows for stereo PCM audio tracks at resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Some of my recent recordings have been at this resolution and I was anxious to hear how they sound on hi-fi systems outside of my studio.

My first task was to find my 24/96 Pro Tools project. The Spotlight feature in OS X Tiger came to the rescue. I’ve accumulated project files spread across three FireWire drives. Fortunately, I always try to put the name of the project in the file name somewhere. The Smart Folders feature of Tiger is simply a saved search for a keyword. But Spotlight looks inside of files too so it’s like having a search for file name contains your keyword plus a Unix grep command searching for the word inside of files. The best part is the fact that the smart folder stays up to date as you add files that match the criteria to your system. Pretty smart.

Adding the 24/96 WAV file assets into a DVD SP4 project was a piece of cake once I found the file I was looking for. Next, I found some images to match my video, and dropped them into the slideshow window. I then added the 24/96 file to the audio track in the slide show.

This isn’t as obvious as you would think. Looking for a timeline? You won’t find one. Slides are stacked vertically top to bottom in sequence order in the Slide Show Editor. Audio files are added by dragging and dropping them from the Asset Manager into a little “bucket” at the top of the slideshow editor.

It’s not difficult to use but there is no graphical feedback on the duration of each slide. A waveform display would also be a big help when using DVD SP4 for music projects. As I said in my last review, some basic support for audio levels and fades would also enhance the experience for those of us who use DVDs to showcase our music. By the way, if you are doing work in 192 kHz stereo or high definition audio in surround, you will need to find another program. This is a DVD-V world only.

Here’s a tip for graphic artists using Motion 2:  Get a USB MIDI controller! A two octave MIDI keyboard like the Midiman Oxygen 8 that I used, works fine and you don’t need piano lessons. All you need is an animation subject — a graphic or image — and some time to play. I’m not kidding here, tactile control of graphics can be a lot of fun.

I took one of the sample objects provided in the Motion 2 tutorial, a little alien character. I found that I could easily animate his arms and legs and make his eyes pop out (anything for a laugh). The magic started with I synchronized the character’s motion to a piece of music I wrote. With a few background effects, I ended up with a very catchy piece for my demo reel.

I intend to return to Motion 2 and use some of the generous supply of particle animations, including smoke, sparkles and fire effects for another demo reel piece. The license free text animations are another big plus. LiveType, which is included in Final Cut Studio, has some very fun text animations and some very dynamic and modern royalty-free fonts. I was able to create a bouncing version of my band logo using LiveType and had plenty of time left over to create some video loops for the menu.

When it was time to put it all together, the new Motion templates were there to get me started. I added two short video clips to a Motion template and instantly had a very professional looking loop for my DVD menu, complete with moving graphics and text.

Summary

Once again, Apple is one step ahead of the game. HD disc players are just around the corner. No one knows which format will win the public’s favor but Apple has developed an authoring tool that puts HD DVD authoring in your hands today.

While I’d like to see more features designed for audio-only titles, I also have to say that it works quite well for video and is a worthy investment. The added power of VTC editing, advanced scripting and combination SD/HD titles will be of use to commercial DVD authors as well as musicians, composers, visual artists and filmmakers.

The price for DVD Studio Pro 4 is the same as version 3. With all the added features, DVD SP4 is well worth the price — either separately or bundled with Final Cut Studio.

Motion 2 has some stunning effects and unique features, such as MIDI control that make it a standout application. The support for HD video and the integration of products for workflow improvement make Final Cut Studio an extremely valuable set of tools. At a price of $1299 US, that’s going to be hard to beat.

At a Glance

DVD Studio Pro 4
Applications: SD and HD DVD authoring for professional applications, including films, episodic video, music videos, industrial/educational films and commercial event videography.
Key Features: HD DVD authoring, professional templates, distributed encoding, advanced scripting and VTS editing.
Price:  $499 (US), upgrade $199 (US)

Motion 2
Applications: motion graphics, special effects, text animation, broadcast, DVD
Key Features: Real-time design engine, MIDI control, native HDV support, templates, particles
Price: $299 US, upgrade $99
Contact:  apple.com (800-MY-APPLE)

Product Points

DVD Studio Pro 4

Plus
– HD DVD Authoring
– VTS allocation
– Advanced scripting
– Powerful Drag and Drop Authoring

Minus
– No filmstrip view in track editor
– Support for DVD Slideshows (i.e., music titles) could be expanded

Motion 2

Plus
– MIDI control of animation
– Advanced particle generator
– Templates

Minus
– none

The Score

Both applications are intuitive and pack enough features to satisfy professionals. Both products are an excellent value, especially when purchased in the Final Cut Studio bundle.

(c) 2007 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library FX Percussion

Sound Design Tools for Effects and Music
By Carlos Garza


At one time, nearly all composers used pencil and paper while sound designers worked with a mic, tape recorder and splicing block. While that approach clearly still works, today you are just as likely to see both at a computer — trading the pencil and razor blade for a MIDI keyboard and mouse.

This review examines three sound libraries designed for postproduction and multimedia effects and three libraries that have roughly equal value for dramatic sound design and contemporary music production.

All of the products reviewed in this article are offered by their respective manufacturers with a one-time purchase fee and no additional usage fees.

VSL FX Percussion

VSL FX Percussion

This sampler library is part of VSL’s Horizon series of orchestral sound libraries. It includes musical instruments and acoustic effects devices used in the symphony orchestra and around the world.

The set includes an angklung, bell tree, boobams (drums), brake disks & springs, bull roarer, Burmese bells, car horns, castanets, chimes, claves, cuica, exotic gongs, flexatone, hammer, Japanese singing bowls, jingle bells, lion’s roar, log drum, ocean drum, rails, rainmaker, shots, siren, spring drum, tam-tam, thunder sheets, vibratone, Walteufel, waterphone, whip and wind machine.

It is provided on one DVD-ROM with three GB of samples at 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Instrument mappings for both VSL products in this review are supplied for Logic’s EXS24, TASCAM GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt. They are intended to be played from a MIDI controller, such as a keyboard and in many cases offer various articulations or the same sound at different pitches across a range of keys.

Some of the programs use key switching to select articulations during performance. For example, the angklung, a bamboo instrument from Indonesia is available in short medium and long shakes. The combination program uses keys C1 to D1 to pick from the three.

Many of the sounds come from familiar objects, such as bells, horns and gongs. Much of this set is dedicated, however, to acoustic imitations of the natural world, many of which are commonly used in the symphony orchestra but some have origins that are more ancient.

For example, the bullroarer has a type of whiling aerophone, which is commonly associated with aboriginal Australians (although not by this name). The recordings are very deep sound with a high wind component that is captured beautifully in stereo.

Imitative instruments, such as the wind machine, thunder sheets, rain stick and ocean drum offer possibilities when mixed with recordings of the real thing. For example, thunder sheet mixed with real thunder creates a supernatural atmosphere.

Some sounds evoke a common feeling in different cultures while others do not. To my western ears, nothing says, “scary jungle” quite like the rattling bamboo tones of the angklung, an instrument native to Southeast Asia. The sound was used in Jerry Goldsmith’s original Planet of the Apes score. Goldsmith also made good use of the Brazilian cuica to mimic ape sounds. Here, the cuica chirps like a hairy ape and moans and groans like a wounded cow.

FX Percussion really shows off the acoustical environment that VSL created in their custom-built stage. This is most evident in the metallic pings, scrapes and boings. The Burmese bells samples, chimes are very relaxing and crystal clear. There is plenty of variety in the widely captured bamboo chimes. The Japanese singing bells program uses the modulation wheel to switch from rubber to wooden mallets, an expressive feature that I found very musical.

The more disquieting side is covered by thunder sheets and Peking opera gong. The China gong has more of the mysterious quality associated with tam-tams and is well represented with hits and rolls. However, the lack of bowed gongs and tams is unfortunate.

But fear not, or do fear, because there is bowing a-plenty in the thunder sheets and waterphone. The sound of distressed metal keeps me squirming no matter how many times I hear it. These samples are high quality and well suited to professional applications calling for terror and suspense.

Many of the sounds are explored in depth and the results have applications for sound designers in TV and film genres including comedy, drama, suspense, sci-fi and horror. The sounds are also perfectly suited to contemporary symphonic mock-ups.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

DVD Studio Pro 3

Apple DVD Authoring Software

By Carlos Garza

With all the buzz about Apple’s new hardware products, it’s easy to forget that Apple is also a software company.  Final Cut Pro is probably the best-known member of Apple’s family of postproduction applications that includes LiveType, Cinema Tools, Soundtrack, Motion and Shake.

The recent upgrade of Apple’s DVD-Video authoring application, DVD Studio Pro 3, brings new features and new levels of integration.  With considerations towards workflow efficiency and a rich set of features, Apple has raised the stakes for professional DVD authoring on the Mac.

Features

DVD Studio Pro 3 (DVDSP3) sports three customizable layouts.  The main windows are the menu editor, the track editor, the Assets tab, the Palette and a graphical project overview.  The product also includes two stand-alone compression applications.

The Palette has a collection of templates, styles and graphics that can be used in projects.  The pre-built interfaces are suitable for a variety of professional projects including industrial, wedding and entertainment titles for film, video and music producers.

The Menu Editor is where you arrange the buttons, text, background images and video clips that create the user interface for your DVD.  In some cases, multiple tasks can be accomplished in a single step.  For example, holding the mouse button while dragging a graphic yields a context-sensitive “Drop Palette,” or menu, where you can select options such as creating a button or simultaneously creating a button and a track and linking the two.  Graphical elements can be placed in drop zones to build a composite image for the menu background.  Buttons and drop zone graphics can be resized.

The Assets tab is simply a listing of graphics, video clips and audio that has been imported into the current project.  Audio clips can be added to your project via the Assets tab or pulled from the iTunes library via the Palette.  Apple Motion projects can also be imported and used for animated menu graphics or Alpha Transitions.

The bundled A.Pack application encodes PCM audio into AC-3 with channel configurations up to 5.1.  The Compressor program supports batch processing of video into several MPEG formats, including MPEG-2 with one and two pass encoding.  Compressor encodes HD video sources directly into MPEG-2 and stereo AC-3 audio with bit rates up to 256 kbps.

Audio can be imported into DVDSP3 from MPEG-1 Layer 2, AC-3, DTS, WAV and AIF sources.  Note that DVDSP3 does not provide a means for encoding DTS audio but it can be integrated in projects.

DVDSP3 imports MPEG-1, MPEG-2, D1 and QuickTime video formats.  Several new features are aimed at integrating DVDSP3 with Apple and third party applications.  For example, DVDSP3 can work directly with layered Photoshop files, it can import iDVD4 projects and chapter markers are read from Final Cut Pro/Express and iMovie.

Alternate languages are supported with up to 32 subtitle streams and up to 8 audio streams.  The “stories” feature provides alternative sequences for your video clips.  This could be used for alternate endings or selective scene skipping by the viewer.  DVDSP3 is compatible with PAL and NTSC video standards and supports up to 9 video angles.  It also supports dual layer discs.

Slideshows can be created with up to 99 still images.  The durations of each image can be set globally or on a per-slide basis.  Individual slide durations can be automatically set so the length of a group matches the length of an audio track.

DVDSP3 supports writing to DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW.  Professional authoring formats, such as Data Description Protocol (DDP 2.0 and 2.1) and Cutting Master Format (CMF 1.0) can be written to DLT or hard drive.  Copy protection is supported through APS, which requires a license from Macrovision and CSS, which is applied by licensed replicators.

Thirty adjustable transitions are available for menus jumps, buttons, slides and still images in a timeline.  Graphics can be customized through direct launching of Motion and Photoshop.  Alpha Transitions, a new feature in version 3, add the use of video clips to the transition options.  The compositing engine can preview transitions without an extra rendering step.

In Use

I set out to create a film score demo reel using segments from my two commercial DVDs and a few short films I’ve scored.  I used DVDSP3 on a 1 GHz G4 Dual with 1.5 GB of RAM and OS 10.3.7.  The audio came from Pro Tools sessions created on my HD|1 system and Logic Pro 7.  The video clips were prepared in iMovie and Final Cut Pro 3 (FCP) and saved as QuickTime or MPEG-2.

The menus are very easy to set up especially with the Apple supplied templates.  The film-themed backgrounds and pre-made buttons saved me the trouble of trying to be something I’m not – a graphic artist.  I found it handy to be able to type text directly into the background of the menu and directly onto buttons.

My Demo reel became more complex as I added sub-menus for specific types of projects and a slide show with biographical information.  The Graphical View is helpful for visualizing the hierarchy of menus and relationships between menus and tracks (and the graph can be printed).  I also found the graphical view was the easiest way to navigate the project while I worked on different sections.  Follow the tree, click on a menu or double click on a track and it comes up in the menu editor.

Occasionally I hear complaints from people about the lack of a second button on Apple’s factory supplied mouse.  A second mouse button could, for example, put a contextual menu on the screen where you are pointing.  DVDSP3 answers this call to a certain extent through the Drop Palette.  Once I set the preference for the Drop Palette to appear faster, and got used to holding the mouse button, I found this feature to be a real time saver.

Aside from the standard dissolves, wipes and fades, DVDSP3 also has transitions that fade through color, a water splash effect and a generous assortment of spinning, flipping, melting and zooming effects.  The new Alpha Transitions feature adds some nice eye candy.  One of my favorites was a short clip of scratchy old film that makes a perfect lead in for a classic film title.  I found that judicious use of transitions made my project look far more professional.

I wanted to test the menu navigation before burning a DVD.  After dealing with video editors that require rendering with each little change, it’s a pleasure to see that you can see moving graphics and transitions in the Simulator without the extra step of rendering.

The DVD-Video format allows surround audio only in compressed formats.  I used the bundled A.Pack utility program to encode my surround stems into AC-3.  My source files were 24-bit, 48 kHz WAV and DVDSP3 supports up to 5.1 channels of 24-bit, 48 kHz AC-3.  I fed the 5 stems of the 75 minute score into A.Pack and had a 5 channel surround AC-3 file in no time at all.

While the DVD-Video specification does not allow for surround mixes in PCM formats, it is possible to incorporate stereo PCM with sample rates as high as 24-bit/96 kHz.  I took advantage of this to sweeten a slide show with a dropped in section of high-resolution audio from Logic Pro.

DVDSP3 is not intended to replace the audio and video editing features of programs like FCP and Logic but you can trim audio and video to an extent.  There are restrictions to keep in mind.  For example, video trimming is restricted to Group of Pictures, or GOP boundaries.

I feel that a bit more attention could be given to the features and information in the track editor.  For example, the ability to fade audio streams in and out would avoid a lot of outside editing.  It would also be nice to be able to set a level for an audio stream, at least when PCM audio is involved.

The video display in the track timeline is an opaque blob with a single thumbnail image at the beginning and a solid color indicating the length of the video.  The inclusion of a filmstrip view such as found in Logic Pro and FCP would be a big help in placing subtitles and audio clips.

Summary

Apple has taken the user-friendly interface to a new level with the addition of contextual Drop Palettes.  Once I got the hang of it, I was able to work much more quickly than I would have otherwise.

Apple’s extensive support for the DVD video specification and the ability to create professional authoring formats make DVDSP3 well suited to professional applications.  Considering the rich visual features, the batch encoding and the ease of use, I have to say that Apple has come up with a winning solution at a great price.


At a Glance

Applications: DVD authoring for professional applications, including movies, shows, music videos, industrial/educational films and commercial event videography postproduction.

Key Features:  streamlined workflow, templates for professional applications, Alpha Transitions, batch encoding, familiar interface, supports DDP and CMF writing to DLT

Price:  $499 (US), $199 (US) upgrade from DVD SP 1 or 2
Contact:  apple.com (800-MY-APPLE)
Product Points

Plus
– Workflow enhancements
– Professional Templates and graphics
– Batch encoding of MPEG-2 and surround AAC
– Extensive support for DVD specification
– All standard writable DVD formats supported

Minus
– No filmstrip view in track editor
– No audio level controls or audio fade options

The Score

A very well designed application that streamlines complex DVD authoring chores while providing a very extensive set of options for authoring.

Carlos Garza is a film composer who produces and engineers surround scores for broadcast and DVD and is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2005 Carlos Garza