Nick Batzdorf looks at a unique string instrument library that’s totally unlike any other one you’ve heard.
Hi, welcome to another Synth and Software review – Realitone Sunset Strings.
Realitone’s latest instrument is called Sunset Strings. It produces unique and pretty spectacular sounds that are unmistakably strings, but it’s very different from what you think of when someone says “string library.”
Realitone describes it as “evolving textures,” and that’s certainly apt. In their advertising they emphasize that this is an instrument people who already have other orchestral string libraries will want anyway.
And… well yeah, we think they’re right.
That’s Sunset Strings. This is a “strings instrument,” mainly intended to *play* from the keyboard, rather than program. It’s a unison string ensemble, but with the “upper” strings – violins, violas, and cellos – recorded separately from the basses. The ensembles are recorded from three mic positions that you balance: close, room, and ambience. As you can hear, it sounds rich and full, and it’s spread out nicely in stereo.
The way it works is extremely simple: you pick an attack, a release, and/or a middle – “and/or” meaning that you can use each one individually. How likely you are to do that depends on the individual sound.
Anyone who thinks this video clip is just some guy noodling is totally forgiven.
Here we start with some staccatos for a cheap imitation of The Rite of Spring. Then it’s a quick switch to the Normale articulation for a long shot of, I dunno, extremely bad guys looking through binoculars. This is your basic keyboard string sound, although a pretty nice one. Notice how the program-switching is instantaneous, because the samples are all loaded.
Then we turn on an attack, in this case Quick-up 5th. We have blues.
Next, what review of Sunset Strings would be complete if we didn’t turn on the Scatter Release as we open the refrigerator door and see that… OH NO! The sandwich is totally rotten and covered with maggots! EWWW!
Okay, enough of that attack and release (we turn them off). It’s high time to turn on the top layer, in this case Harmonic Trills. We’re in the desert, there’s a lake in the distance, but nope: it’s a mirage, and look at the skeleton of the last guy, who didn’t make it. Bummer.
In case it’s not obvious, the middle articulation that comes after the attack and before the release is called “Layers” because there are two identical layers. And moving between the two layers (with the modwheel) is much of what gives Sunset Strings its unique sound.
It might be nice if you could remap the modwheel to a different controller of your choice, maybe for hands-free driving, but that’s easy enough to do in any DAW. (In Apple Logic you just insert a Modifier MIDI plug-in.)
If you look in the middle of the screen, you see there’s a picture of the articulation’s shape. Now that’s cool.
It starts to get very interesting when you begin examining the Layers, for example here’s sul tasto layered with harmonics – two gorgeous sounds in Sunset Strings. The modwheel can either crossfade between the two layers (as it’s doing here), bring up the lower layer, or play them both (effectively defeating the modwheel).
And that yellow line that raises along with the modwheel is just runaway professionalism.
Expression is controlled by MIDI CC 11 – here I’m dialing in the range I want – and you can link Expression to the mod wheel so it gets brighter and louder as you bring up the lower layer.
These are the “evolving textures” description in Realitone’s bumph. Sunset Strings is clearly not a regular string library with a focus on emulating real strings, which is why it’s complementary to those. It’s set up more for playing chords, as opposed to, say, flowing legato lines – although you can certainly lead into or out of a Sunset Strings patch with a regular string library.
For example, here’s a cello section from EastWest Hollywood Strings playing the kind of line regular string libraries play, going into Sunset Strings:
The main idea behind this library – or at least the main thing we get from it (you may well find other applications) – is that you’d have to work hard to create boring, static string parts that just sit there on sustained notes. Just as a guitarist might crank up the volume to introduce feedback on a sustained note to make it interesting, a good orchestrator might have strings transition from, say, a sustained note to tremolo as it fades.
You’ve heard sustained strings combined with trills, for example Dave Grusin likes that a lot. Sunset Strings is set up for that kind of effect.
The library itself works in either a Native Instruments Kontakt sample player or the full version, and of course Kontakt works in all the major plug-in formats. Sunset Strings is relatively compact – about 14GB on the disk – and not especially resource-intensive. With the 64-sample buffer we’re using here and Kontakt set to its default streaming settings, it’s only using 1.06GB of memory.
Now, you can’t program articulation changes as part of a MIDI sequence, because of the way Kontakt works. That means you have to load multiple instances with different programs and switch between them, as we did in the first video example. Good news: Kontakt’s Memory Server shares samples between instances, so you’re not using additional sample memory. [UPDATE: The current version now adds six user presets, and you can use keyswitches to recall them. Someone very close by is clapping his approval.]
What you can do is map a some things in the interface to MIDI controllers, using the wiggle-and-learn method in your DAW. Here we have on/off switches mapped to toggle the attack and release on and off. You’ll see the crescendo release turn on here. [UPDATE: There are keyswitches for that too in the latest version.]
Yes, Sunset Strings is capable of producing a BIG sound. I had to insert a limiter on that example so my roof didn’t fly away.
Especially in the Repetitions category, some articulations make sense when you layer them with sustained articulations. You may have a musical use for repeating ricochets at random timing on their own – as in the first of the two sustained chords here – but the second chord, with it blended in, is probably more mainstream:
And yes, it’s very cool. Sunset Strings is full of unique sounds like that.
While you could use it almost as an instant film score machine (because of the pre-orchestrated strings aspect) you’re unlikely to hear yourself coming and going with this library. For one, you’ll probably use it as a complement to your other libraries and instruments rather than stand-alone, so it’ll blend in. But the main reason is simply that every musician is going to use it differently.
In some ways you could view Sunset Strings as a 2021-style take on the old Arp String Ensemble from the mid-’70s: play it and out comes “strings.”
Ergo: Realitone has come up with unique string instrument that encourages you to be musical. We like it.
For more info – Realitone: Price: $200 (introductory)