Zen of Recording

Attached to Strings?

Reviewing products can be a tricky thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. New things to learn, new tools and techniques to utilize in the constantly evolving craft of recording and arranging. All a part of my favorite thing. That gift/curse I’ve devoted the lion’s share of my life to: music. What’s not to like, right?

Well, It’s complicated.

I’m not so much referring to the writing part. I mean, half the time most of you loyal readers of this column are wondering what the hell I’m even going on about in my amalgam of life, observation, and metaphor, much less the twitch-inducing “under the hood” inventories of Hertz, specs and schematics. See? I sensed your eyes starting to glaze over just now…

Part of it could also be that I don’t really write bad things or about things I don’t like. Believe me, there are plenty of products that I don’t think are worth even a nanosecond of your time or consideration. It’s just that they aren’t worth mine either.

Sometimes, however, it’s just the opposite set of circumstances that lay the groundwork for what can become a major informational roadblock: I love it too much, or there’s just too damn much to love!

Case in point: Miroslav Philharmonik 2 from IK Multimedia (http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/philharmonik2/). To begin with, it is a ridiculously curt oversimplification to refer to this as a newly improved, updated, and upgraded version of their wonderful orchestral sample library and VST instrument, although all of that is certainly included within this product. It just that with the inclusion of a DAW-style mixer, an incredibly versatile complement of excellent sounding effects and sound-shaping tools that rival just about any synthesizer out there, it can be so very much more than that.

Let’s start with the sounds, all 58 gigabytes of them! This covers over 2,700 instruments, including the entire Miroslav Philharmonik 1 library (sans any redundant duplicate sounds), which has been improved through substantial sonic and editing enhancements, bringing them up to the standard of the newer edition. While this is a generous inclusion, it is also born from necessity, as there are no new choir sounds and much of the percussion has been “grandfathered” in as well. That said, there’s no denying the stunning difference in depth and fidelity from the previous version.

868 string samples comprise the 31-piece string section of 14 violins, eight violas, five cellos, and four contrabasses. These can easily be played via the full ensemble presets, but those looking to refine the specific numbers of each instrument can delve into the separate ensemble sections for violins, violas, cellos, and contrabasses.

A further flash of brilliance is the inclusion of recorded glissandos, trills and slides, as well as legato runs and scales. These articulations can often be the tell-tale evidence that “fake” strings are being used, because it’s so difficult to convincingly play them with a keyboard. By recording the performances of actual players and ensembles, your listeners get more “truth” from your musical arrangements without any cheese getting in the way. I had great results from playing the sustained and staccato sections “by hand” and the filling in with those stylistic flourishes when needed. There are even loops (or “patterns”) of musical phrases included, which deepen this feature even further.

Drill down even deeper and you will discover the true beauty and wonder of this collection: the solo instruments. I’ve used Miroslav 1 extensively within many pop and classical recordings (including my own albums), so I have already shown my confidence in their quality and realism. However, listening to Miroslav 2’s solo violin and solo cello will absolutely make your heart ache. The gentle swell as each note blooms and the virtuosic vibrato employed are quite simply the stuff of magic.

The same can be said for the solo flute, English horn, and contrabassoon. In fact, all the woodwinds were unexpectedly alive and the entire orchestra exhibited excellent positioning within each sections soundstage, lending an almost three-dimensional presence within the stereo field.

As I dug deeper into the sounds and presets, I felt I was falling further and farther down the proverbial rabbit hole, because there are so very many life-like variations, myriad options bursting forth with each new selection I auditioned. Trombones blared, French horns led the fanfare with authority, and clarinets crooned with romantic perfection. Right out of the box and throughout my experiences with it, this virtual symphony orchestra was inspiringly playable, with a warm sound wonderfully evocative of the real thing.

Then I found the other rabbit holes.

Miroslav Philaharmonik 2 has in fact, three different modes: “Play” (where, up to now, we’ve been loading, performing, and listening to instruments and sections); “Mix,” where each part can be assigned its own volume, panning, and effects; and “Edit,” where the sounds can be completely reinvented as the basis for a synthesizer-styled patch editing, where one can take things as far into the opposite direction of realistic sounds as their imagination can carry them.

Just seeking and tweaking through the effects (many of them Philharmonicized versions of software emulations of classics like the Urei’s 1176 compressor, the LA/2A Limiter and a Pultec equalizer featured in the company’s T-Racks mastering program and Sample Tank’s effects. Plate reverbs and tape-based echo units take things into entirely new spaces, while phasers, choruses, and flangers modulate with watery sheen. There’s an incredibly good-sounding rotating speaker (Leslie) emulation, or you can get crazy with filtering effects that can close the piano lid or even add the sound of aged vinyl.

If you haven’t already rendered everything unrecognizably enough, switch over to that Edit page and torture those instruments with a full complement of filters, LFOs, and envelopes that can subtly alter your woodwinds, or render them completely unrecognizable. I’m a big fan of mellotrons, Chamberlins, and other tape-based instruments and was able impart their unique signature into mixes this way.

Among my favorite sounds were the French horns vibraphone and marimba (recorded in both mono and stereo versions), as well as the contrabasses, cellos, and solo English horn (although I must note the English horn section sounds were missing when called upon, even after redownloading and installing. My workaround of multiplying the solo voices worked okay, but it does bear mentioning here.

With a price tag of $499 (upgrade pricing starts at $299), Miroslav Philharmonik is an investment that requires a bit of certainty that this will fulfill your needs. All I can say is it certainly has met mine with respect to its great sound and inspiring playability. I’m still discovering new and wonderful things it can do and you just can’t beat it’s vibe.  This has got to be the most substantial infusion of real soul into something since Oz’s Tin Man got his heart!

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, engineer, and recording artist. Contact him at www.kaspro.com or www.facebook.com/svenerikseaholm

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