The latest Vienna string orchestra offers a unique dual perspective.
The most recent instalment in an unbroken line of sample products stretching back to 2000, Synchron Duality Strings began life when VSL founder Herb Tucmandl woke up one morning with double vision. I hasten to add no ocular disturbance or medical emergency was involved, and as far as we know the Vienna supremo wasn’t suffering from a hangover — this was more a case of a blinding flash of inspiration which marked the genesis of a unique double‑whammy project.
Tucmandl explains the concept: “When working with ambient (ie. hall‑recorded) libraries, sometimes you want to have a closer, more direct sound. To achieve this, you have to use close mics as you would in real world orchestral recordings. When doing this you get the section leader more prominently in your mix, more or less a zoom in on an individual player in the section. In a perfect world you would have moved the whole section closer, which is not possible in a convenient way.”
Rather than addressing the problem with different mic mixes or layering separate performances, Tucmandl proposed a radical solution: “For a perfect result you would need a performance of all musicians in a wet and a dry environment together at the same time. Thinking about the options at the Vienna Synchron Stage, I realised that it is possible. We have two stages, our famous big hall and the smaller dry hall. Doing film scoring for seven years now, our musicians are trained to perform with headphones to deliver perfect results. So what we did was sample two string orchestras in two stages at the same time.”
In musical terms, this equates to a simultaneous recording of a symphonic string section playing in the huge Synchron Stage A and a smaller chamber ensemble positioned in the smaller, dryer‑sounding Stage B (see box below for section sizes). The musicians played to a click with a video link to the conductor and their colleagues in the adjoining room, acoustically isolated yet perfectly synchronised.
The string players are all members of the Synchron Stage Orchestra, a hand‑picked ensemble drawn from the top Viennese orchestras. Looking at the photos, it’s obvious that the smaller Synchron Stage B space will create a more intimate, dryer studio‑style ambience, in contrast to the big reverberant sound of Stage A. Rather than trying to replicate the intensive multi‑miking used in the latter, VSL’s Chief Recording Engineer Bernd Mazagg devised two different setups inside the dry stage, using different mic types to create a bright and dark option.
Synchron libraries run exclusively on the dedicated Vienna Synchron Player, which works as a plug‑in and standalone on Mac and Windows systems. 16GB of RAM and an SSD drive are recommended. VSL have now adopted the iLok licence management system, which can be used on the iLok Cloud or with a physical USB key. The latter requires an iLok 2 or 3 key (the old iLok 1 won’t work — boo!) but comes with the advantage of excellent free instruments (hooray!). You can read all about it at the company’s www.vsl.co.at/en/News/Hello_iLok page.
As with other VSL Synchron products, the Standard Library and Full Library include the same articulations and four basic mic positions, but the latter, more expensive option adds four extra mic perspectives (Ribbon mic, Main Surround Stereo, High Stereo and High Surround Stereo), the latter three of which would come into their own in 5.1 and immersive mixes.
Having immediate access to symphonic and chamber string ensembles playing simultaneously in radically different acoustics opens up a wealth of creative possibilities. You can use the two sections in combination, or separately to provide contrast. When layered, it’s notable how the smaller ensemble adds definition, clarity and overall brightness to the symphonic section, revealing more detail, enhancing bow attacks and increasing the rhythmic drive of the spiccato and staccato short notes. The brightening effect of the chamber ensemble is evident regardless of which mic set up you use, and serves as proof of concept for Herb Tucmandl’s vision.
Synchron Duality Strings’ presets group together all the articulation patches of each individual section, thus, you can access all of the first violins’ playing styles within one preset, and the same is true of the second violins, violas, cellos and double basses. Presets load with both the Stage A and Stage B samples in place, after which you can use the Synchron Player’s mixer channels to alter the balance and timbre of the two groups.
There are four preset types: the old‑school ‘Velocity’ assigns dynamics to...