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Review of East-West Symphonic Choirs

Symphonic Choirs is a sample library by East West/Quantum Leap.  Its is one of the many large sample libraries East West distributes which include Rare Instruments, or RA, Colossus, and of course, the Symphonic Orchestra, with its Silver, Gold and Platinum editions (and the newer "XP" upgrades of these).  I call these "The Big Four" of the East West/Quantum Leap Collection.  You may have seen them referred to by their initials, which can be confusing.  The Symphonic Choirs collection is sometimes referred to as EWQLSC, for, yep, you got it, East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs.  We're just going to call it SC here.

SC comes on DVDs.  Like many large libraries, the samples are installed in protected containers on your hard drive, 27 to be exact, and each holds directories of samples, which the presets and word builder call up as needed.  SC comes with a special version of Kompakt by Native Instruments, which has several directories Multis (multichannel setups) and presets.  It also comes with a separate application called the Word Builder. The Word Builder also comes in the form of a MIDI type plugin for sequencers that support it. 

The Basic Preset Choirs   

The basic presets of the choir are, as you would expect, top notch.  They were recorded in the same concert hall as the Symphonic Orchestra collection.  Each choir comes recorded from 3 microphone positions, close, stage and hall.  You can  blend these instances to locate your choir in sonic space.  There are 5 choirs total:  Boys, Alto, Soprano, Basses and Tenors.  There are also solo singers.  Many presets implement "key switching".  For example, pressing C1 on the keyboard will give you one articulation of the choir, C#1 will call up another and so on.  This makes it so you can change the dynamics and modulation of the choir for every note if you wish, starting with a pure solo note and changing to a louder note with vibrato.  With care, and usually some editing of these switches in the sequencer, you can achieve realistic, even emotive, results.

Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs Virtual Instrument

Available at these stores:

Tweak's Audio Pro Shop (Amazon)

 

I have had SC for about a year and have used it in many songs, but still I don't claim to have it mastered.  So take that into consideration in what follows.

The Word Builder

If they had stopped there, we would have a nice collection of choirs and that would be it.  But the programmers went further and took on an incredible initiative.  What if you could make the choir sing the words you input?  That is what the Word Builder does.  It allows you to type in words, which are translated into MIDI commands which call up consonants and vowels as they are needed, assembles them into words at the required pitch and sends them to your sequencer.  This is nothing less than revolutionary.  Its also a lot of midi controller and sample manipulation behind the curtain, and yes, it takes a big bite out of your CPU.  Those interested in SC should carefully consider whether you have a strong enough computer for it.  On my Mac G5 1.8 GHz with 6GB of Ram, it works acceptably, but my G5 clearly feels the strain when the Word Builder is running.

It takes a little while to wrap one's head around the Word Builder, but once you understand the signal flow it becomes easier.  Basically, the midi data from your keyboard goes in the Word Builder first, and then it is sent to the Symphonic Choir application (or plugin, if you are in a sequencer).  As an example, lets talk about how the Word Builder is used in Logic.

Logic, unfortunately has no MIDI plugin facility, so you have to run the Word Builder outside of Logic as a separate application.  The Word Builder will create four virtual in and out MIDI ports on the Mac which Logic will see.  In the environment you route the input object directly to these ports so they send all your keyboard controller's data to the Word Builder. That's right, when using the word builder this way you can't use your other instruments in Logic. The data exits the word builder and comes back into Logic via virtual ports as well, get directed back to the plugin and you hear sound and can record MIDI.  Once you get your choir midi tracks done you can restore Logic to normal operation and access the rest of your instruments. Those who are comfortable with re-routing the virtual cables in Logic's environment will not have trouble.   You probably could try to run SC as a standalone application outside of Logic as if it were an external synth, or on a second computer and send out the MIDI and stream in the audio. 

In Cubase, things are not as convoluted.  The Word Builder runs as a MIDI plugin in Symphonic Choir's MIDI chain. I only tried this once to verify it works and it does.  I think Cubase is a much better application for running the Word Builder.  Note that you can use SC without the Word Builder, but you won't be doing any custom phrases.

But once you have this setup, then the fun begins.  In the Word Builder you can choose from a list of Latin phrases, or you can type in your own (in English, phonetically, or in Votox)  The program will convert English phrases to either, so if you don't get the results you want you can edit in a language that better controls the vowels and consonants.  Of course you can have a lot of fun making the choir sing stuff no real choir would let you get away with.  Indeed those angelic voices can be quite profane if you want them to be, lol!  Just make sure the kids are in bed first, OK? 

Once you have your words setup you can play the notes.  Each note is a word (or syllable), and the next note is the next word in the phrase.  So you can adjust phrasing and speed by how fast you play and dynamic by how hard you play (velocity). You can also adjust the length of the notes in the Word Builder, and use the mouse to adjust fades and more.  In all, its quite ingenious. 

The Samples

The version of Kompakt supplied does not have a sample browser, so ironically, you might own SC and never see how many samples there actually are here.  However, if you own Kontakt, or the full version of Kompakt, you can get at the sample layer and use the samples to create your own choirs.  Personally, I think you are missing half the fun of owning this collection if you don't have Kontakt .  There are tons of samples in the collection, and if you are like me, you will want to put them together in strange harmonies, use them as percussive elements, and as parts of vocal wash soundscapes.  In Kontakt you can layer a few long samples on top of a synth pad for example and create some excellent sounding pads. 

What kind of samples are there?

Ok, lets make sure you have this straight.  There are no rock or pop, blues or hip hop vocal sounds in this collection. No ethnic voices (unless you consider Latin an ethnicity) no radio spot hits, barbershop, do wops, scooby doos or scatty cats.  This is a classical choir we have here, like the kind that perform in churches.  It has a definite dramatic, operatic character.  Its has its hues of otherworldliness, a touch of intrigue, and a lean towards Gregorian chanters, monks and nuns in exaltation.  The Full choirs have Ah, MM, Oh, with variations and the single choirs have a wide range.  All the vowels, consonants, and FX.  Effects?  You bet.  Staccato, slurs, shouts, and clusters.  The soloists effects include more clusters, whisper words, shouts, falls and more.  There's plenty to play around with without using the Word Builder.  Sometimes you just want straight ahead choir samples doing ahhs and oohs and yes, they are here to be racked, stacked, transposed and harmonized. 

The Sound

The samples sound excellent and with care assembling your choir track, breathtaking results are possible.  For me, it's definitely the first choice I go to when looking for a choir sound.  When you want your lyrics sung by a classical choir for your productions, its the only game in town.  It definitely not inexpensive as far as sample collections go, but its cheaper than hiring a choir.

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