Project Sam – Symphobia 4 Pandora

Project Sam – Symphobia 4 Pandora

KK-Access Review

The fourth incantation of the sample library series that set the standards for modern cinematic scoring has finally landed, the low whispers that have murmured around the sample library industry for well over a year have now risen to a roaring crescendo that is almost as clearly defined as one of Project Sam’s very own orchestral riser presets, now the long wait is finally over, servers are operating at full output and bandwidth strains as users are now at last able to download Pandora Symphobia 4!

Introduction…

As a quinquagenarian I am all too aware of how our perception of time speeds up as we age, but I was somewhat taken aback when I verified that The last Symphobia release, Symphobia 3 LUMINA, was released way back in the first quarter of 2014, back then you could ride a bus into town, watch a movie and buy a Big Mac & Fries and still have change for the return journey all from a £10 note, ok I really am sounding my age now, but the point is there has been a lot of sample libraries released since that time, yet even now almost a full six years later, the Symphobia series is still strongly a mainstay among many composers templates, whether a hobbyist or professional, the name seems to hold a passionate place in their hearts being synonymously linked with quantity and variety of content, sheer playability and several other factors, but not least is the bottom line that they just sound blooming fantastic even now when the original Symphobia 1 is over a decade old!

The Time Test…

One of the burning questions some may ask, given the progress that has come to pass over the ensuing years, is whether Symphobia 4 Pandora can still hold it’s well earned place in a crowded market, where new libraries seem to be released on a weekly basis.

Pandora has already been in active development for two years, which perhaps provides some major clues into the Project Sam work ethic, taking time to meticulously record, edit and script for a large product that is anticipated to have a shelf life as long as it’s predecessors is after all no mean feat, so when each year of painstaking development has the potential to yield a longevity of returns times four, indeed Project Sam can be forgiven for wanting to get things right when they are living up to their own reputation.

The library of course still needs to work alongside the existing titles in the series, yet add enough new content and technical innovations to make it a worthy and desirable purchase not only for existing users, but a new generation who will then perhaps go on to be tempted to purchase the back catalogue retrospectively, a tall order but certainly a challenge that Project Sam has admirably risen to.

Inside Pandora’s Box…

Pandora is weighted toward FX (although as we shall discover not exclusively so). This is something Project Sam definitely know a thing or two about, indeed the dystopian FX sections of previous Symphobia outings can be regularly heard across all media types, TV, Games and the big screen, you name it, you can easily find examples aplenty without having to turnover too many stones.

Pandora finally puts the creation and manipulation of those ear bending sounds into your own hands with a collection of sound design controls and tools that will allow you to create, make and shape your own risers, hits, clusters, morphs and bends with greater flexibility than was afforded in Symphobia 1, 2 & 3, yet still works harmoniously alongside it’s three older siblings to provide the fourth tier on what has grown to be a rather rich and tasty cinematic orchestral cake!

Tech Specs…

Pandora runs in either the full version of Kontakt 6.1.1 and above, and also the free Kontakt player equivalent, and is of course NKS ready for use within Komplete Kontrol.

The library Occupies around 70Gb of disk space, The samples are recorded at 48 kHz 24 bit quality, and are presented in the NCW lossless compression format.

Download & Installation…

Simplicity itself!, as a Native Instruments partner, it is just a matter of pasting your authorisation code into Native Access, and hitting add library which will register the serial, then navigate to ‘not installed’ where Symphobia 4 Pandora should be ready and waiting for you.

From here hit the install button and the download process will commence. Once complete just move the entire folder to the location where you want Pandora to reside (assuming it did not default to this path in the first instance), then add the library again via the ‘not installed’ tab, and then rescan your Komplete Kontrol database in standalone to finalise the procedure.

Komplete Kontrol Browser & Plug-in Edit Pages…

due to the size of Symphobia 4 Pandora, rather than take up several pages listing each set of NKS mappings one after the other, I will break down each preset type and go through and describe the parameters on a per section basis, but we will begin as usual with the browser.

Pandora Browser…

Knob 1 & 2 – Vendor & Product
Knob 2 – Bank: Clusters, Combos, Effects, Percussion, Pulses, Risers, Tonal
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Type: Bowed Strings, Brass, Piano/Keys, Reed Instruments, Sound FX, Drums, Mallet Instruments, Percussion,
Knob 6 – Sub Type: Ensemble, Grand Piano, Wind Ensemble, Orchestra, French Horn, Trumpet, Tom, Gong, Kit, Timpani, Harp
Knob 7 – Character: Riser, Sample Based, Tempo Synced
Knob 8 – Presets

The majorly talked about innovation that has been introduced within Pandora is the new adaptive sync feature, which allows users to synchronise and time stretch presets that are intrinsically time related, like Clusters, risers and Percussion, indeed from the seven available categories listed under bank, for the most part, these are the types that have this facility mapped to NKS control, but these are also identifiable with the word ‘Sync’ which is suffixed on relevant preset names.

I will describe the NKS mappings for this group of presets, there are some slight variations among them, mostly on the microphone page which has some tasty editions, like individual level control for hit accents from Timpani, Cassas, Cymbals & subs.

Clusters, Risers & Percussion Plug-in edit Mapping

Page One – Microphones

Knob 1 – Mix (a combined blend of the 4 available microphones if loaded)
Knob 2 – Close Mic Level
Knob 3 – Stage Mic Level
Knob 4 – Far Mic Level
Knob 5 – Wide Mic Level
Knob 6 to 8 – Unallocated (on the Cluster & Riser presets)

Note that as mentioned above most Percussive hit presets Knobs 6 to 8 have controls for a very useful drum hit reinforcement feature, which adds a selectable sample sub layer with level and pitch controls, so if you ever found yourself adding your own sub or related sample or synth tone to bolster the punch of a hit, then this may well save you the trouble. Other Percussive presets as an alternative have controls for accent related orchestral drums.

Page Two – Adaptive Sync Controls: Sync to Downbeat, Sync In Beats, Sync In Seconds & Manual

Knob 1 – sync to Downbeat Plus Bars (Adjusts plus or minus the number of bars for the transition or effect)
Knob 2 – Unallocated
Knob 3 – Sync In Beats (adjusts the number of beats plus or minus)
Knob 4 – Plus Bars
Knob 5 – Sync In Seconds (Plus or Minus)
Knob 6 – Unallocated
Knob 7 – Manual Sync (length Control)
Knob 8 – Unallocated

Page Three – Reverb, Delay, EQ, Filter & Dynamics

Knob 1 – Reverb Level
Knob 2 – Delay Level
Knob 3 – Delay Unit (Rapidity of delay)
Knob 4 – Delay Feedback
Knob 5 – EQ High
Knob 6 – EQ Low
Knob 7 – Filter Cut-Off
Knob 8 – Dynamics Limiter

Page Four – Stutter, Screamer, Pitch Envelope & Stereo

Knob 1 – Intensity
Knob 2 – Speed
Knob 3 – Acceleration
Knob 4 – Screamer Level
Knob 5 – Pitch Envelope (Range)
Knob 6 – Hold
Knob 7 – Speed
Knob 8 – Stereo Width

Page Five – Sound Design & Amplitude Envelope

Knob 1 – Sample Start
Knob 2 – Time
Knob 3 – Reverse
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Attack
Knob 6 – Release
Knob 7 & 8 – Unallocated

Pandora’s Adaptive Sync Feature…

One of the unique selling points for S4 Pandora is Adaptive Sync. In particular if you work in scoring to picture where it’s important to accurately make those hit points so crucial for jumpscares in horror films or dynamic cues in action, suspense thrillers or drama, then this facility should prove extremely helpful.

In the past it has generally been a case of creating your rise and hit, transition, cluster or whatever it may be, and then nudging it around on the timeline attempting to get it to sound right.

Given Symphobia’s prolific use in film and media work, Project Sam have thought long and hard about ways to help composers accomplish this task, and have come up with some clever scripting to address the issue.

Depending on your DAW and how you have it configured, if you were for example to pause your edit/play cursor on the desired hit point, and then skip back two bars, you can adjust your riser accordingly to end on that original hit point accurately, making life a whole lot easier and saving you time.

The snag we have as blind users, is of course that despite these controls being mapped to NKS, we are unable to read the onscreen GUI and Komplete Kontrol does not announce with speech any control information on the plug-in edit side, thus immediately knowing how many bars, beats or seconds you are selecting is not possible.

This I should stress, is a limitation of NKS capabilities rather than anything to do with Project Sam,

Despite this, the lack of speech feedback does not have to be a show stopper, it just means you have to tweak things slowly until you reach the desired sweet spot by adjusting the number of bars and beats, and it’s still easier and more creatively flexible than nudging that timeline around.

To test this, I loaded up the actors dialog and cue track from a short horror film I scored a few years ago, and was able to successfully apply a String riser to a chase finale, and make the hit point successfully, I wish I had had it back then!

Stutter & Effects Page…

Another useful facility for the creation of time based effects is what perhaps can be deemed as the main FX page, aside from the more traditional reverb, delay, EQ, Filter and Dynamics found on the prior page, this set of controls provides access to some rather more dramatic sample manipulation tools.

Stutter does what it says, but can be further refined by speed adjustment, intensity and the accelerator which gradually increases the rapidity of the stutter (like when a spinning coin comes to a rest), the tension can be further heightened by adding a screamer distortion, bending the pitch over time using the pitch envelope, adding some ‘hold’ which delays or increases the time it takes for the effects to kick in, and finally there is a stereo width control for the spread.

Clusters, Risers & Percussion Presets…

So we have talked a little about some of the key mapped NKS parameters to be found in the Clusters, Risers and Percussion presets, but not about the sounds themselves!

Clusters…

 

The Clusters section as you might expect, contains a veritable plethora of dissonant sounds from Pandora’s instruments palette. There are examples from right across the orchestral spectrum from low brass trombone and horn ensembles, low tremolo piano, low and high woodwinds, high strings, full tutti orchestra and some nice sounding designed presets. Also some patches have crescendo, diminuendo and swells going on, so there should be something to cover most requirements.

Some of the Clusters are tonal whilst others were not, there were presets with a different sound assigned to individual keys, whilst others were a single instrument spread over one or more octaves. I did not find any low string clusters using the ensemble bass to cello section, however they do make plenty of appearances in other bank categories.

Risers…

The Riser has become an almost unavoidable fixture of the modern trailer and film score world, love them or loathe them, there is still nothing quite like them for adding a sense of accelerated excitement to a track, making both use of speed and pitch to lead up to a dramatic hit point. They are of course also prolifically used in dance music, again to deliver a heightened sense of energy to the section of a music track.

Pandora excels in this category, and they are of course ideal candidates for making use of adaptive sync

All of S4’s Risers and not forgetting Downers (the polar opposite) are produced using Pandora’s String sections, the are naturally created orchestral examples with various bowed playing styles such as tremolo, sul ponticello and arco. There are of course a number of effectual risers and downers that employ the aforementioned Stutter FX page, with exhilarating speed, pitch and distortional manipulation occurring over the span of the played note or notes.

Percussion…

The Percussion bank contains a usable collection of presets featuring Grand Cassa, Timpani, Toms, Cymbals TamTam, Cinematic Hits and again some sound design offerings. There are dedicated hits and rolls presets as well as combinations of the two, most of the rolls presets as you would expect do make use of the adaptive sync feature. There were no examples of snares specifically, but there is a Cinematic drum selection that has some guest drum instruments not present within presets of their own.

Keyswitches…

Let’s now take a look at S4 Pandora’s keyswitch system before delving deeper into the remaining sections.

for those unfamiliar with Keyswitches, put quite simply they are controls from the libraries user interface that are also able to be triggered by a midi note from your physical music keyboard controller that has been pre-assigned by the product developer.

Project Sam have always made great use of keyswitches in previous symphobia outings, and this is great news in terms of access for us. Even before we were blessed with the joy of NKS, the Symphobia series still utilised keyswitches, as they can be of great benefit even to our sighted peers. In a performance situation it allows players to quickly jump to another sample articulation without the delay of loading another preset, in the studio they are also invaluable for also again changing articulations and any number of other controls that have been assigned to them without having to keep reaching for a computer keyboard.

This tradition has continued in Pandora, with a large number of the presets employing this design strategy.

For us, discovering and working out how these all function can be somewhat of an Easter egg hunt. When the walkthroughs and manuals refer to the coloured lights that helpfully inform us of the location of a certain keyswitch, we generally have no idea of where these may be situated on our controller , though they tend to be placed in a vacant area of keyboard acreage free from actual musical note keys.

I would love to present you here with an exhaustive glossary of preset names and keyswitch locations, however the truth is I am still discovering them myself and also working out what they do, in many ways this is part of the joy of Symphobia ownership as you gradually learn new things, here are just a few of them…

Clusters:

Keyswitches change release length of Cluster articulations,

Combos:

KeySwitches add or remove various instrument elements from a presets overall sound.

Pulses:

Quarter, Eighth and Sixteenth note pattern selection, Triplet selection,

tonal:

Various articulation selections, dynamic crossfade

It is also worth noting that some articulations and timbre changes are triggered by velocity levels, for example Woodwind trills play chromatically upward or downward dependent on how hard or soft a key is hit.

Also some presets have velocity mapped to CC01 (Modwheel) whilst others that perhaps have a natural crescendo or diminuendo recorded as a part of the natural sample duration, do not.

Pandora’s Remaining Preset Categories…

I originally intended to list the NKS mappings for each of S4 Pandora’s sections, however the NKS mapping template listed in the first half of the review is quite representative for all sections, variations in general only coming in the form of missing pages for adaptive sync or sound design where these are not available for certain presets.

Pulses…

The pulses category is not as heavily populated as others, however there are some great presets to be found in here.

There are cluster pulses as well as tonal pulses available from which you can add a strong driving rhythm to your track.

As stated previously in the keyswitches section, here you will find the option to switch between 4, 8, 16 and triplets when a keyswitch is held down, and this can be done seamlessly on the fly. If you are able to get the timing right it’s possible to create some very interesting polyrhythmic effects when multiple keys are held down, or equally a complete cacophony if you get the timing wrong like me!

There are some really nice orchestral instrumentation presets available in this section, and I am sure Project Sam will add to these over subsequent updates, they can work to provide a strong backbone to link together all of those dramatic rises and falls delivered by the other sections of S4 Pandora.

I was particularly reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s classic tense and driving main theme for Psycho, and I am sure the Project Sam sounds Design team had this in mind with the excellent ‘Cluster Pulses Strings Mid’ preset, which I immediately gravitated to for my short Pandora demo track!

Combos…

If you already have Symphobia One or Two in your sample library portfolio, you will no doubt be aware of the excellent collection of Kontakt multi presets. unfortunately to date we are unable to load Kontakt NKM multi patches within Komplete Kontrol.

There are no traditional Kontakt multi’s within S4 Pandora, however Project Sam have added a bunch of what they term as ‘Combos’.

This collection of presets draw from Pandora’s large sample pool, and offer an alternative to those big and bold multi’s from S1 & S2.

There are some great examples of this, such as the appropriately named ‘Big Builder’ which throws Brass, Timpani Rolls and a touch of Glissando Harp into the symphonic cooking pot, and using the adaptive sync controls we are able to time the rise and hit precisely on cue.

It’s clear the Combo’s section has given the sound design team an opportunity to enjoy themselves, there are no shortage of scary string risers, spooky woodwinds, action style chase patterns and chaotic clusters that are certain to find a place in many upcoming scores.

Tonal…

Although the emphasis with S4 Pandora is on cenematic orchestral effects, there are a collection of tonal instruments. These in general are not I feel intended to be presented as a composers ‘go to’ choice when writing a general orchestral piece of music, but certainly when married with Symphobia One and Two, they add a very welcome additional dimension that extend the overall symphonic palette, with extremely useful tonal phrases that will ultimately save a huge amount of time.

There are the various ensemble sections of the orchestra low brass, low strings, mid strings, woodwinds both low and high, tutti orchestra, low piano, Col legno strings low and mid, Glissando Harp and horn trills to name just a few.

The articulations of these presets are what shine through, as in many cases they often embrace several playing transition techniques within one single patch.

As a transitional example, sforzando to crescendo and finally diminuendo. There are also hits, bursts, pitch bends, pizzicato and a rather handy looped revolving chord texture.

Effects…

The Clusters and Risers section may also really be deemed as effects, however here we find a category that embodies the concept more fully.

Again there are examples spanning the complete sound range from almost unperceivably low pitched brasses to wild and shrill woodwinds. There are looping flutter tongued brass cacophonies, ghostly rising string ponticello’s and wild run patches recorded for both strings and woodwinds which work together, I want to say harmoniously but, well you get the picture!

The effects section once again provides excellent content for putting the adaptive sync feature into play.

There are also several presets that are identified as ‘collections’ , which take individual instrument samples and assign them to their own note. These are often atonal in nature, and make for some great sound design opportunities.

Using the sound design page of the NKS mapping, to reverse and pitch, stutter and bend a sound can be immense fun, if not always entirely productive, if like me you tend to end up losing all sense of time and purpose when tweaking the sounds!

S4 Pandora’s Microphones…

Pandora has a total of five microphone options, the first that is loaded by default is the Mix setting.

This is a balanced blend of S4 microphones, that generally represent the overall Project Sam cinematic orchestra sound. Using this ‘out of the box’ setting means that all of the content will pretty much match and work with the rest of the Symphobia range.

There are of course occasions when we do sometimes need a different sound perspective, and with this in mind there are further controls for Close, Stage, Far and Wide microphone mixes.

Project Sam state in their S4 Pandora manual that the relevant samples for each microphone position get loaded and unloaded with their own dedicated control.

This is particularly good news if your computer is perhaps not as fully specced as you would like. As I understand, some libraries do not automatically remove or purge unwanted samples from memory when you turn down or switch off unused microphone settings, so for Pandora to do this automatically is very useful.

the claim did appear to bear scrutiny , as my percentage of used system ram jumped from 17.6% of 32Gb to 19.8% after turning on all of the microphones, I then turned them off and the percentage returned again to around the original 17.6%, an appreciable difference.

As I mentioned previously some versions of the microphone page, do contain additional level controls for added sample content found in some of the presets, there are currently no pan controls available, which might be a popular future addition.

Accessibility…

There were never any major concerns over accessibility with the previous Symphobia products, and it’s a tremendous testimony to Project Sam as a developer that this trend has thankfully continued with S4 Pandora.

It could be argued that by nature orchestral libraries do not always demand the kind of niche control assignments required by other products, however Pandora would certainly have been a less desirable kettle of fish if the new Adaptive Sync feature had not been mapped for NKS.

Pandora NKS Accessibility Wishlist…

There are a few additional things that I think would add to our overall sense of inclusivity within Pandora. Perhaps things that on the surface may not appear to be deal breakers, but nevertheless knowing of their existence of course makes them all the more desirable!

In the control menu of the GUI, there are some controls which could also be added to the NKS Sound Design page. There is an ‘octaver’ button within the visual GUI, that literally plays an additional note an octave above to reinforce the overall sound, this currently is not mapped to NKS and could probably equally be implemented with a keyswitch.

Also within the controls menu are options to pitch the currently loaded instrument down by either 12 or 24 semitones. Also a a ‘spread mapping’ button which can spread a selected sample over the entire keyboard range.

The Round Robin switch could be made available to allow us random alternation between the available RR’s for a more authentic sample play performance.

The FX section within the GUI also has a ‘lucky’ or randomise button, which essentially throws the various available FX into a ‘lucky dip’ which could be useful for generating a inspiring new start point when editing sounds.

There is also mention of a quantize button,which works with adaptive Sync to delay the start point by a beat, although I was unclear as to whether this was absent from the NKS mapping or merely another term for the existing downbeat setting.

Last but not least, access to the velocity control which enables us to set our own velocity centrepoint.

Final Thoughts & Conclusions…

Symphobia 4 Pandora has been quite a challenge to review, as it has so many facets that in order to give it the full justice it deserves the review needed to be extended beyond the normal size.

Even now there are elements that I simply could not detail, but fortunately there are some great online video resources that can be watched to accompany this written review, which I have provided links for at the footer.

S4 Pandora will undoubtedly be a dream come true for existing Symphobia series owners,

Working seamlessly together, it will not only reinforce and supplement all of the existing Symphobia sounds with new, punchy and dynamic additional content, but with the implementation of the Adaptive Sync feature serving as a key component of how the library interacts and draws from the wealth of meticulously curated sample content found within it.

As a library standing on it’s own, S4 will be a solid and reliable workhorse for Media, Game, Film and Trailer composers, but when combined with it’s Symphobia brethren it becomes an unparalleled flagship for cinematic orchestral composition, with S4 Pandora, Project Sam have definitely created yet another timeless classic.

Project Sam Symphobia 4 Pandora is available directly from the Project Sam website, or from Native Instruments at the following links:

Project Sam Pandora Product Page:

Symphobia 4: Pandora

Native Instruments Pandora Product Page:
https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/nks-partners/projectsam/symphobia-4-pandora/

Project Sam Pandora Library Overview:

Guy Rowland has an excellent informal series of in depth walkthroughs for S4 Pandora available:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtBlIrl__YxIEjuZs8vHU1g

S4 Pandora Reference Manual:
https://projectsam-public.s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/Files/S4Pandora+Reference+Manual+1.0.pdf

S4 Pandora Preset List:
https://projectsam-public.s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/Files/S4Pandora+Preset+List+1.0.5.pdf
(c) Chris Ankin
KK-Access.com
November 16th, 2019

Disclaimer
The author accepts no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based soly on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web or product manual.

About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.

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