Spitfire Audio – Eric WHITACRE Choir

Spitfire Audio – Eric WHITACRE Choir

KK-Access Review

There can be little argument that the oldest musical instrument known to humankind is it’s own voice, long before mankind even had the inkling to rhythmically hit sticks together, or had any sentient thoughts to construct an instrument that was something even remotely tonal in nature,, we had the use of our own voices.

Whether solitary, in unison, used in anger, peace or worship, it still remains the musical gift the majority of us are blessed with, despite some of us struggling to find our personal tuning control, it remains capable of expressing a myriad of emotions.

Eric WHITACRE …

In this library Spitfire Audio have collaborated with renowned grammy award winning choral maestro Eric WHITACRE , in a bid to explore the subtleties and nuances of the human voice.

Eric won his 2012 grammy award for best Choral recording for his self composed and conducted album ‘Light & Gold’. He has since also collaborated with artists such as Annie Lennox and Hans Zimmer , which are not a bad set of credentials to have!

By taking 22 of Eric’s hand picked and most talented vocalists to record a colossal amount of performance articulations over an intense two week recording period, they have strived to create a polished and comprehensive study of our oldest and most expressive of musical tools.

The recording sessions once again took place at Spitfire Audio’s favourite location, Air Studios Lyndhurst Hall (a former church), in fact the guys at Spitfire seemingly spend so much time at this venue that they could conceivably just relocate their headquarters here. Joking aside though, the benefit of this hall is not only the superlative recording ambience which by now they are extremely adept at capturing, but it also ensures an excellent level of consistency when working with other libraries from their expansive product portfolio.

Although this library has been on the market for over a year now, the latest update has brought with it the long awaited NKS support, which of course now means that us blind and visually impaired Komplete Kontrol users are no longer left wanting.

Tech Specs…

Te The library requires 165Gb of disk space, and uses spitfire Audio’s own sample format, which in turn runs within their own bespoke plug-in. There are two plug-ins which come with the product, the standard choir library, and also the evo grid plug-in (more details of which later).
A generous number of presets are provided weighing in at over 247 in total, which cover the libraries rich choral sections and the many derivatives to be found therein.

There are 22 singers used within the choir, six bass, five tenor, five alto and six soprano which employ a total of some 170 different techniques.

Download & Installation…

As mentioned, the Eric WHITACRE Choir uses Spitfire Audio’s own proprietary plug-in, which in it’s standard form is not accessible to us.

This does mean that the NKS element is a bolt-on edition hence the delay in support for the format. Certainly it is true with some spitfire Audio products NKS compatibility has not yet landed, but The good news is that the Spitfire devs are playing catch-up, and I have it on good authority that all Spitfire libraries that utilise their own plug-in as a means of delivery will eventually have the NKS magic wand waved over them at some point in the future.

Most of us are of course quite familiar and comfortable with our sample libraries coming in the Kontakt format, and when it comes to accessibility both Windows and MAC platform users from our community have their own scripts and macros in place for dealing with the occasional product housekeeping tasks, such as batch resaving in order to optimise the sample content.

In the case of the Spitfire Audio plug-in though, this is taken care of from within the Spitfire software management application.

This handles all of your owned product downloads, updates, repairs, relocations and optimisation, which is their equivelent of a batch resave, ensuring all of the associated files for a given library are up to date and tickety boo!

The Spitfire Audio Software Management application currently does leave a little to be desired in terms of accessibility. There are no keyboard shortcuts, and it does not announce any controls when used with a screen reader in standard mode. With OCR however, it does for the most part manage to read out what is on the page.

Not wishing this to divert into a review of the software manager , the long and short of it is that most things are doable, but there are certainly times when you may struggle to reliably use certain elements of the application, so I would recommend if possible having some willing eyes around to avoid any installation frustrations.

As with all Spitfire Audio products, it is also possible to negate the download procedure by adding a hard drive delivery to your order, which if you suffer from slow internet connections can be of great benefit with their larger libraries, but you will still need to navigate the software management application in order to complete the final install.

Komplete Kontrol Browser & Plug-in Edit Sections…

Browser

Knob 1 & 2 – vendor & Product
Knob 3 – Bank: Alto, Bass, Soprano, Tenor, Tutti
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Type: Vocal
Knob 6 & 7 – Unallocated
Knob 8 – Preset

It is fair to say that the categories assigned to the NKS browsing controls are functional, however with some knobs unallocated, it could have increased browsing speed and workflow for users if a few more preset types had been afforded their own database filter type, for example legato, fx, long, short, vowels etc

Plug-in Edit Mode Controls

Page One – Parameters 1

Knob 1 – Expression
Knob 2 – Dynamics
Knob 3 – Reverb
Knob 4 – Release
Knob 5 – Tightness
Knob 6 – Vibrato
Knob 7 & 8 – Unallocated

Page Two – Global & Stereo Mix

Knob 1 – Global Gain
Knob 2 – Global Pan
Knob 3 – Global Tune
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Stereo Pan
Knob 6 – Stereo Flip
Knob 7 – Stereo Spread
Knob 8 – Simple Mix

Page Three – Microphones

Knob 1 – Close
Knob 2 – Tree
Knob 3 – Ambience
Knob 4 – Outriggers
Knob 5 – Mid
Knob 6 – Gallery
Knob 7 – Soprano
Knob 8 – Alto

Page Four – Microphones Continued

Knob 1 – Tenor
Knob 2 – Bass
Knob 3 – Mix Small
Knob 4 – Mix Medium
Knob 5 – Mix Big

For the most part the NKS mapping assignments are representative for the majority of the presets found within the standard Eric WHITACRE Choir plug-in, there are some variations where the tightness control is not assigned, presumably due to the nature of the preset not requiring it’s use.

Evo Grid Plug-in Controls

Page One – Parameters 1

Knob 1 – Expression
Knob 2 – Dynamics
Knob 3 – Tape Saturation Send
Knob 4 – Tape Saturation Gain
Knob 5 – Tape Saturation Warmth
Knob 6 – Tape Saturation HF Roll
Knob 7 – Delay Send

Page Two – Parameters 2

Knob 1 – Delay Damp
Knob 2 – Delay Pan
Knob 3 – Delay Feedback
Knob 4 – Delay Return
Knob 5 – Reverb Send
Knob 6 – Reverb Return
Knob 7 & 8 – Unallocated

Page Three – Global

Knob 1 – Global Gain
Knob 2 – Global Pan
Knob 3 – Global Tune
Knob 4 to 8 – Unallocated

Page Four – ADSR

Knob 1 – Attack
Knob 2 – Decay
Knob 3 – Sustain
Knob 4 – Release

Page Five – Microphones

Knob 1 – Close
Knob 2 – Tree
Knob 3 – Ambience
Knob 4 – Outriggers
Knob 5 – Mid
Knob 6 – Gallery
Knob 7 – Soprano
Knob 8 – Alto
Page Six – Microphones 2

Knob 1 – Tenor
Knob 2 – Bass
Knob 3 – Mix Small
Knob 4 – Mix Medium
Knob 5 – Mix Big
Knob 6 to 8 – Unallocated

Accessibility…

The addition of NKS to the Eric WHITACRE Choir library has I believe overall delivered a good level of accessibility, as is the case with orchestral libraries a product of this nature does not in general always demand the complex mapping template in the same way that a synthesizer or sound design orientated library does.

The essentials are certainly all here, I generally read through a product manual to try and discover exactly what we may be missing out on, and aside from a randomise button present in the Evo Grid plug-in I believe we can be assured of a reasonable level of parity with our sighted counterparts.

Having said this, I will later expand more fully on the Evo Grid plug-in where some shortfalls undoubtedly have occurred.

Library Basics…

The library can be filtered down into the 5 distinct choral sections, Bass, Tenor, Alto, Soprano and Tutti with each having it’s own version of traditional voice articulations such as Ah, Oh,Ooh, Mmm, short and long, multi vowel transitions, tonal evolutions, vocal fx and legato. Each of these sections has an average of 44 presets with the Tutti section boasting 67 patches.

There is a smattering of rhythmic style presets included within each section, however these did not appear to be tempo synced by default, this could be a case of having sighted assistance to click on a button within the GUI and resaving the preset as the updated default, but I have been unable to clarify this.

By default velocity is assigned to the modwheel cc o1 which allows for subtle and expressive volume changes when recording parts into your DAW, letting you perform gentle fade in and outsbetween sections.

Keyswitches…

Spitfire Audio have made good use of keyswitches for the ‘all in one’ presets, these effectively take each of the distinct voice types and then make each of their derivative articulations available in one preset as a switchable key on the lowest octave of your keyboard.

This is great in a performance situation where you might wish to quickly swap to another variant without the need to load a patch, and some of these had up to 28 keyswitches on offer.

One slight glitch in terms of access for us, is that we are unable to alter the default assigned location of the keyswitches ourselves, as this is a visual process available in the GUI, which does mean that if your particular keyboard model is short on keys, there will be a lot of octave button bashing to reach those keyswitches.

It’s not an ideal solution , but perhaps a suggestion to consider, particularly if you have a lot of libraries that utilise keyswitches, might be to pick up a very cheap 25 note midi controller to connect as a secondary keyboard set to the lower octaves, just to use for the purpose of keyswitching which might help those 32 and 49 key Komplete Kontrol owners to avoid any long term repetitive strain injuries!

Legato…

Perhaps the one articulation that can make or break a vocal library is it’s legato patches. To my ears the Spitfire devs have done a superb job here, testing the legato presets from each of the sections in isolation did not reveal any nasty looping glitches. Notes glide smoothly between each other providing the confidence and ability you need to use them in what is ultimately their most vulnerable and yet most powerful way in a solo performance.

The Sound of Harmony…

Unlike many vocal sample libraries, the Eric WHITACRE Choir is refreshingly devoid of the somewhat cliche latin phrases (and for us the usually inaccessible) word builder features.

Eric is quite rightly protective of wanting the product that carries his name to be representative of the work he delivers, and in reaching for this goal the focus has been placed on the recording and playability of the product.

Listening to some of Eric’s work it becomes clear that this has been successfully achieved throughout the library, there are no latin chants, or harsh operatic vibrato styles, instead favouring his signature techniques of long pure notes and harmonic tones including the occasional cleverly engineered note clashes, which all eventually evolve meticulously into a choral wash.

This abundance of perfectly pitched pure tones are more than adequately balanced with presets that deliver semi tonal clashes, and the Tutti section in particular is the place to search for the more avantgarde offerings. Beauty and the beast is the order of the day with patches that will readily lend themselves to the supernatural side of things.

To accommodate these longer time spanning evolving presets, the large data footprint of the library comes into focus when you consider that many of these vocal preset evolutions can span a time duration of 30 seconds or so,then add to this the round robins, articulation variants, multiple microphone positions and we are looking at a hefty chunk of digital data, !

Evo Grid…

The mention of choral evolutions brings us nicely onto the second of the included plug-ins, the Eric WHITACRE Choir Evo Grid.

This second plug-in includes a further 22 presets divided among the aforementioned choral sections. Described as a virtual pegboard, it is designed to enable users to place markers along the envelope timeline to create their own evolving choral transitions.

Unfortunately this interface would be difficult to implement into an NKS mapping set that we as blind users could effectively use , which is a real shame given the creative potential it is capable of, but this is understandable given the limitations of the available keyboards physical hardware controls.

Nevertheless there are still some really nice choral transitions which could be used as a backwash in conjunction with presets from the main Choir library, and maybe in a future update we could hope for some additional presets for the Evo Grid plug-in to give us a little additional value.

Microphone Choices…

A popular feature which rightly earns Spitfire Audio their excellent reputation among professional composers, is the extended selection of microphone positions available within their libraries.

The Eric WHITACRE Choir is no exception here with the inclusion of Close, Tree, Ambience, Outriggers, Mid and Gallery, but it’s the addition of separate microphones for Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass that means we are if required able to delve much deeper into the mix to bring forward or de-emphasize individual sections, and as such is a welcome bonus.

There are also dedicated controls to invoke Small, Medium and Big mixes created by mix engineer Jake Jackson specifically for the library.

EWC In Use…

There are some really intuitive videos created by Spitfire Audio on the topic of scoring with the Eric WHITACRE Choir, and you will find these referenced at the footer of this review.

Eric himself likens the task of scoring for voice as a similar approach to which he would adopt for a traditional orchestral composition.

The depth of tonal colours and sheer vastness of the lush sound palette found here will certainly make it worthwhile for users to invest some time getting to know what the library is capable of producing in order to maximise what can be achieved.

On the one hand, it can quite happily be used in conjunction with your orchestral libraries, and will work within ambient or ethereal music tracks.

I think however, that the library deserves and is capable of so much more, and there is certainly inspiration enough within these 247 presets to perhaps move users into creating some beautiful voice only choral compositions.

this certainly resonates with the general philosophy behind the Spitfire Audio ethos to encourage composers to explore new musical avenues and to provide them with the tools with which to do so.

Conclusion…

Overall Spitfire Audio have done a splendid job in capturing the talented performances and warmth of the Eric WHITACRE Choir within the sometimes unforgiving clinical digital sound environment.

The library represents an investment into what for many may be new territory, but one in which the creative satisfaction could easily outweigh the cost.

This is definitely a powerfully emotive tool that composers working in TV and film will want to consider, as it will immediately bring the human touch to any score.

It’s certainly a thought to contemplate how our technology now allows us to harness those age old powerful human emotions I referenced at the start of the review for us to use in our own compositions, and thanks to this well recorded and scripted sample library this is now entirely possible.

The Spitfire Audio ERIC WHITACRE CHOIR is available to purchase from the Spitfire Audio Website, at a price of £549.00, at the time of publication (February 2020) there is a 30% promotional discount reducing the price to £384.00

Spitfire Audio Product page:
https://www.spitfireaudio.com/shop/a-z/eric-whitacre-choir/

Product Walkthrough:

Behind the Samples – Eric WHITACRE Interview:

Eric WHITACRE Choir In Action:

Taking Eric to the Edge – Eric WHITACRE Choir:

User Manual:

https://d1t3zg51rvnesz.cloudfront.net/p/files/product-manuals/1791/1540477549/Eric%20Whitacre%20Manual%20V2.pdf

(c) Chris Ankin
KK-Access.com
February 19th, 2020

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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