Morph from chamber to huge orchestras and add some sampled synth spice
Ever wonder what it would sound like to morph seamlessly from a small and intimate chamber ensemble to a massive 100-piece orchestra, and then take that orchestra several notches up to 11?
Spitfire Audio’s latest library Albion Colossus sets out to accomplish just that and more.
Colossus comes in at around 110Gb downloadable through Spitfire’s own Audio App, which manages the user’s purchased libraries and facilitates the download and installation of both the library content as well as the proprietary plug-in.
Unlike most other Spitfire libraries which work in Native-Instruments’ Kontakt, Albion Colossus utilizes Spitfire’s own plug-in, which supports all the major DAW’s formats (AU, VST2, VST3, AAX). Those who have invested in the Native Instruments’ ecosystem will be glad to know that Albion Colossus is fully NKS Compatible for easy interfacing with many hardware controllers.
The Spitfire plug-in UI is clean and intuitive, seldom requiring the need to reach for the documentation, with selectable and easily adjustable articulations plus a large central circular dial that conveys the intensity level of various parameters. Each parameter can be controlled through the modwheel or with a user-assigned real-time MIDI CC, easily configured by right-clicking on the desired slider and selecting the Learn MIDI CC function.
In addition, several sliders can be linked to one another so that a single MIDI CC can control several parameters at once.
While there are some customization options, this is very much a load-and-play type of library. I believe most users will be quite satisfied with the way Spitfire programmed each preset. They’re well organized into instrument groups.
Big and little. The orchestral sections are divided into Low and High Strings, Brass and French Horns, Woodwinds, Flutes and Piccolos, and Percussion. Articulation-wise, most of the orchestral instruments offer the standard sustains and legatos, along with a handful of shorter articulations, and in some cases special playing techniques such as flautando, Bartok pizzicatos, and hairpins (meaning screscendo and decrescendos) at various tempos.
In addition to the traditional orchestra, Albion Colossus adds Acoustic and Electronic Drums, Guitars, and Synths. These more contemporary elements of the library were created in collaboration with Los Angeles-based electronic artist and producer Snakes of Russia. They include Altered Drum Kits, as well as a number of synthesizer-derived sounds sub-categorized as Basses, Drones, Keys, Leads, and Pads.
The core idea behind Albion Colossus is to allow seamless blending of the intimate sound of a small ensemble all the way to the bombastic epic sound of a Hollywood-style orchestra. For that reason, Spitfire recorded Albion Colossus at Clockwork Studios in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, tracking the smaller chamber orchestra in the New Auditorium and the larger symphony orchestra in the more spacious Royal Concert Hall. So that blending between the two would be as smooth as possible, they used the same recording equipment and the same musicians for both sessions.
To achieve the dynamic and sonic extremes that Spitfire set out to create, Albion Colossus features three real-time controllable parameters: Depth, to move from an extreme close signal to a far and ambient mix; Scale, to control the size of the ensemble; and Hype, which enhances each preset differently to add intensity and low-end girth to the instruments’ sound.
Music. For my first test I wanted to see just how effective the orchestral portion of the library is. I started by laying down a rhythmic ostinato groove using the High Spiccati Strings, and then added Low Strings Sustains to create a chord progression for my track.
Next, I programmed some Orchestral Toms and Timpani to make the groove even more pronounced. A French Horn melody increased the epic scale of the piece, and Staccatissimo Brass accentuated the beats.
All the while, I rode the Hype and Dynamics to build up to a massive crescendo. My subwoofer was beginning to strain, and I was easily pushing the mix levels into the red without much effort. As a final tweak I added some High String Hairpins for more dynamic interest, and some Piccolo Flutes playing Staccatissimo as a counterpoint to the High Strings.
For my second piece, I was very curious to explore the more contemporary and electronic side of this library. Being a big fan of Snakes of Russia’s productions, I was excited to hear some of the original synth textures and leads that he created for Albion Colossus.
I laid down an arpeggiated sequence using the synth patch Little Fangs. Not only did it provide a nice plucky character, it opened up into a wider texture at the higher Mod Wheel range. Continuing, I added the SpaceWerk Kit at a higher Mod Wheel setting, playing a scattered beat.
My intention when adding a long sustained note with the Danger Beach Pad was to increase the Dynamics, Scale, Depth, and Hype of the first 16 bars to create a maddening crescendo. But while the Dynamics, Scale, and Depth behaved as expected, slowly crossfading into the wider and more aggressive tonalities, I was unable to crescendo the Hype sound without needing to re-trigger my note to hear the effect.
Hopefully this will be addressed in future updates, as the ability to add Hype on continuous sustains would be a welcome feature. My workaround was to double the track, with Hype already enabled on the second track, and do volume crossfade automation to bring out the massive character of the Hype(d) synth pad toward the second half of my piece.
Next, I played in a 16th note Guitar Staccato, and I was able to automate the Hype and other parameters without any issues, since the notes where continuously re-triggering. Continuing, I added some other Colossus elements such as a wonderfully detuned Red Lines synth and some Spiccato High Strings to add a touch of organic elements to the track until I was happy with the result.
I would caution that the Hype function is easy to overdo -a little of it definitely goes a long way. In particular, I’d suggest keeping an eye on the bottom end of the mix, as Hype adds a considerable amount of subsonic frequencies that can peak the audio levels without necessarily increasing the track’s perceived loudness.
As Spitfire puts it, “Albion Colossus is unapologetically heavily processed” and in use I found this to be the sonic characteristic which sets this collection apart from other hybrid-orchestral sample libraries. While the processing does offer effective ways to create massive crescendos and hits, I would note that this library is not a replacement for dedicated orchestral libraries if you’re seeking absolute authenticity and realism.
Thus. I found Spitfire proprietary plug-in interface to be clean and familiar to those of us used to working in Kontakt, but there are a couple of other quirks that I hope will be improved upon in coming updates. In addition to the lack of auto-refresh on the Hype effect, the Spitfire engine tends not to play any sound until most of the sample headers have been loaded into memory. At first I wondered whether something was wrong.
Overall I enjoyed using Albion Colossus, and I feel that this is a worthy addition to any composer’s tonal palette. The ability to add gravity and impact to the mix without needing to resort to complex FX processing chains is definitely a welcome feature. That Spitfire sought to include more contemporary electric and electronic instruments makes this a flexible and versatile collection that will find much use in intense action and trailer-oriented compositions.