It can do all your creative work for you, or you can play your own parts
Sonuscore and Best Service have had their sights set on reinventing the composition process for quite some time, and with their latest sample library, The Score, they attempt to push the envelope further than they ever have before. Did they succeed?
The two longtime developers teamed up to bring us a new sample collection that promises to help craft polished tracks quickly. It’s a versatile and powerful set of creative tools that handles most of the arranging, melodic, and mixing duties.
The Score is a 20Gb Kontakt sample library that can be downloaded through the dedicated Best Service installation application. Authorization and implementation for Kontakt is handled through the Native Instruments’ Native Center app.
The library requires Kontakt 7.5.2 or higher (or the free Kontakt 7 Player) and is fully NKS-compliant. I must admit to having yet to warm up to the new Kontakt 7 redesign, but it’s apparent that The Score leverages some of the latest features in the software to work its magic.
By presenting over 120 pre-arranged animated presets, or Stories as they’re referred to by the developers, The Score provides an inspirational sketch pad that can tackle various compositional styles and moods, and that you can customize further.
Their first product to offer this type of approach was The Orchestra series, which highlighted a series of “animated” orchestral patches combining pre-sequenced elements. With Elysion they turned their attention toward electronic and textural sounds, bringing their design philosophy into more a contemporary sound palette.
The Score seems to want to bridge the gap between these two product lines and then some, providing a wide selection of instrument options ranging from traditional orchestral groups to synthetic sounds to ethnic instruments, to guitars and basses, to percussion and drums, and even vocals.
The Score’s collection of instrument presets are organized into two sub-categories: Lead instruments (more on that in a moment) and the Ensemble patch, which is where most users will likely spend the majority of their time. The Ensemble UI presents an intuitive and easy to read front page consisting of a graphical layout of the instruments used in the active preset. Volume level, panning, octave range and reverb level are easily accessible and adjustable from the front page.
Each preset can contain as many as ten different individual instruments. Clicking on the left and right arrows switches the page between instrument groups 1-5 or 6-10. Each instrument has its own dedicated effect chain, which can be accessed by pressing the circular FX button.
In addition, a set of global effects that affect all of the instruments can be accessed by clicking on the Global FX button. This can be useful for adding reverb and compression to the group of instruments to tie everything together in the mix.
If you’re already familiar with The Orchestra or Elysion’s graphic layout, navigating your way around The Score’s interface should prove fairly intuitive. Clicking on the FIND button or the Preset Name will reveal the browser window with access to all of the Stories included in the library. It’s possible to narrow down the search by clicking on a Genre and a Style. You can also search for time signatures in commonly used meters.
While pre-arranged sequenced instruments are nothing new, The Score’s Stories are unique and innovative in their approach. In addition to using the mod wheel to build crescendos and bring additional dynamics and textures into the mix, each Story also features a key-switchable Intro, Main A, Main B, Outro, and Final Note sustain.
By clicking C1 thru G1 in combination with the mod wheel, you can quickly construct a dynamic musical arc that begins with a more simple and soft arrangement, builds in complexity and volume, and finally winds down to its final cadence.
Leveraging this, I was able to craft a rather intricate and polished cue using a couple of Stories and Lead instruments tracks in about 10 minutes.
Each instrument’s animated sequence pattern can be customized on the Play page, where it’s linked to a rhythmic and melodic pattern (which can be tweaked and adjusted). The variety of options presented on this page is quite vast, allowing for time signature variations, bar length variations, tempo dividers or multipliers, and much more.
In addition, a Chord Studio sub-section lets you generate chord progressions in various Maj, Min, Dim, Sus modes as well as a variety of inversions. Digging into this page showcases just how deep and powerful The Score’s programming is, bringing this sample library very close to what might be expected from a full-fledged DAW. Each Chord Progression can be auditioned and then dragged and dropped into the host DAW’s timeline. [FIG.7 CHORD STUDIO]
The Lead Instruments presets comprise the other half of the library, and here again, The Score exceeded my expectations. These presets are subdivided into two categories: Solo and Duet, the latter comprising of creative combinations of two Solo instruments.
The selection of Lead instruments is quite staggering, ranging from pianos to guitars to ethnic winds and stringed instruments to synths and more. While these instruments are not necessarily a replacement for dedicated solo instrument sample libraries, they are well recorded and programmed, and in some cases they include legato and multiple round-robins.
Each instrument has its own effects page and a Global effects setting. As with the Ensemble preset, you can adjust the instrument level, octave, pan position, and reverb send from the front page.
To make finding the right instruments as fast and intuitive as possible, the Lead patches include a comprehensive preset browser, this time with instrument group category filters to help narrow down the search.
All of the Lead instruments feature a Melody page that is, for all intents and purposes, a fully-featured monophonic sequencer paired with a melody generator powered by smart algorithms with user-definable settings, such as Easy, Complex, Triplets, and Slow.
Chord progression information can be transferred from the Ensemble instruments so that the Melody generator can produce cohesive melodies in the same key, following the same progression as the Ensemble chords.
Generated melodies can be edited and tweaked further using a piano roll editor. This should be familiar to any DAW user.
Like the Ensemble Chords, the resulting Lead melodies can easily be dragged and dropped from the Kontakt interface directly onto a DAW’s MIDI track.
Using it on a real score
I’ve been working on the soundtrack for a light comedy, and I wanted to see if The Score could deliver something a bit more subtle and less bombastic than what I heard in the library demos.
First, I narrowed down the search by using terms like “mystery,” “fantasy,” and “thriller.” That came up with a preset called Self Sabotage, which provided a nice “sneaking around” vibe with a jazzy feel provided by a ride cymbal.
I wanted to keep the harmony fairly ambiguous and modal, so I alternated between C Maj and F min chords. The track shaping up nicely.
Using variations between the various key-switchable sections, I wanted to add a touch of rhythmic complexity. I located another promising preset called Enchanted Fields that had a rhythmically active quality that I liked. At first, I wasn’t sure if these two presets would work together, but they created an interesting juxtaposition that resonated with me.
Lastly, I added a Lead preset comprised of harp and vibraphone. It seemed to be a good complement to the rest of the track. The result was a whimsical and unpredictable cue that fit the scene perfectly.
All of this power does come at a cost, as The Score can be very heavy on the processor, requiring that I increase the audio buffer to avoid glitches. From time to time, particularly at faster tempos, it was also necessary to offset the regions in Logic Pro to start about 120 ticks early to compensate for a slightly sluggish response from the instruments.
In use I found The Score to be an effective tool for generating musical ideas and arriving at quick results that felt polished and ready for client review. It can also be a great tool to iterate multiple stylistic takes rapidly, based on a chord progression or melodic themes.
Whether used as a creative sketchpad for prototyping ideas or as a versatile sample collection that you can take all the way to final delivery, The Score should find a coveted spot in any composer’s tool bag.