Originally published in Pro Audio Review
East West/Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs (SC) is a virtual instrument library comprising soprano, alto, tenor and bass (SATB) choirs, soprano boys and soloist programs with soprano, alto and boy singers.
Samples were recorded in the same concert hall, with the same engineer and mic techniques used for EASTWEST/Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra. The recordings were made at 24-bit, 88.2 kHz resolution (or better) by engineer, Keith Johnson. Close mic, full stage and the ambient hall samples are available for each choir and soloist and the samples are phase aligned to allow blending.
Need a vowel? The SATB choirs include vibrato and non-vibrato looped vowel sounds, consonant sounds and voice effects such as shouts, falls and whispered words. The soprano, alto and boys soloist samples have fewer articulations and no adjustable vibrato. The “Church” choir combines the four adult sections with full hall reverberation in a single instrument for composing and quick arrangements. The mod wheel cross fades non-vibrato with vibrato samples where available and dynamics in some cases.
The most unique aspect of SC is the WordBuilder application, which allows entry of English and phonetics for more precise control of the adult choirs. WordBuilder does not work with the soloist or Church choir programs but does work with both stand-alone and plug-in versions of Kompact.
The recommended CPU speeds are 3GHz for Pentiums/Athalons and G5 processors running at 1.8 GHz or faster. SC requires 38 GB of drive space and 2 GB of RAM are recommended. I tested SC on a G5 Quad with 4 GB of RAM and a G4 Dual 1-GHz with 1.5 GB RAM.
The sound is superb. The voices are premixed with a wide sound stage giving excellent localization of individual singers in each section. The vocal quality has no apparent coloration from microphones or room acoustics resulting in a very natural sound.
The hall sound is gorgeous and on the G5 I usually turned off my convolution reverb and used samples with the room sound. This is a first rate choir and an immaculate recording.
WordBuilder’s linguistic features give SC its unique potential but harnessing this potential requires a little patience and the set-up can be daunting. The on-line instructional videos, FAQs and forum are highly recommended.
First, the virtual connections between your DAW software, WordBuilder and the Kompact player must be made. With Logic Pro 7, WordBuilder runs as a separate application and must be virtually cabled between the sequencer engine and the Kompact plug-in. The “pre-wired” Logic Environment and WordBuilder templates on the EASTWEST web site were helpful.
Each section (altos, tenors, etc.) has its own window in WordBuilder and a dedicated instance of the Kompact player in Logic. The special multi-programs used by WordBuilder are resource intensive because they use five instrument programs each to cover the full range of vowel and consonant sounds.
WordBuilder gives you extensive control of pronunciation. For example, you can adjust how quickly the choir moves through diphthongs using cross fades (Oy!) and control the syllabic em-PHA-sis.
Got a song about snakes? You can sustain non-pitched consonants such as S, T and H. Pitched consonants can also be sustained to create, for example, “singing insects” with a “zzzzzz” melody or to record a certain soup commercial that goes, “mmm mmm good.”
This versatile library has many uses including TV/film scoring, video game music, jingles and concert music. I wrote several pieces to test the range of SC and found the experience of commanding a first rate choir with phonetic programming quite surreal. First, I created a horror film theme using tenors and the boys’ choir singing in Latin. I was going for something in the style of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for “The Omen.”
WordBuilder’s built-in Latin phrases gave me a quick way to start my vocal track. The vocals were still distinct even after adding a dense orchestration of strings, brass and percussion. The stereo width of both choirs helped them stand out in the mix while the 24-bit quality and Latin syllables created a frightening realism (whatever they’re saying).
Next I went for a lighter sound using the female alto section with a celesta-driven string arrangement along the lines of Danny Elfman’s title music for “Edward Scissorhands.” Again, I turned to WordBuilder to breathe life into the track with a series of “ah” and “oh” sounds and the occasional “ooowaaah.” SC sounded like the real thing.
The full choirs in SC would be right at home in an action/adventure film score or an electronic game soundtrack. The soloist samples are beautiful, haunting and perfect for simple parts but there is not enough articulation control for instrumental singers like Lisa Gerrard (Gladiator) or Lisbeth Scott (Munich) to worry about their jobs.
A tremendous amount of control is provided by WordBuilder but the fact that pronunciation is not linked directly with the sequencer’s timeline makes word/melody synchronization a bit tricky during recording. I had no problems syncing words with music when both Logic and WordBuilder were started from the beginning.
Some of the sample sets are more resource intensive than others. The G4 was adequate for one or two sections but the Quad was better suited to the demands of a larger choir with full dynamics and WordBuilder. Faster load time and lower memory use are possible by reducing the buffer size and polyphony and using the close mic samples with a separate reverb plug-in.
After tweaking the, so called, “expert” memory settings in Kompact, I was able to open four multi-programs for WordBuilder on the G5 Quad. In this extreme test, it took Logic 7 about three and half minutes to load my Logic song with all SATB choirs using full mic positions and 3-layer dynamics from a FW800 drive.
Achieving believable singing performances with Symphonic Choirs takes some tweaking and an investment in learning the techniques but the results are out of this world. This is an amazing product.
Applications: Symphonic arranging, TV and film composing, jingles, world music, rock/pop recording and performance and music education.
Contact: EASTWEST (www.soundsonline.com), 800-833-8339
Price: $445 Play Edition (newer than version reviewed here)
$495 Play Edition pLUS Symphonic Choirs (VOTA) Expansion
- beautiful recordings with advanced phonetic controls
- Fast computer and a bit learning curve for WordBuilder
A beautiful sounding choir that sings your words is a bargain at any price. This is a steal.
(c) 2006 Carlos Garza