Andrulian's blog

Creating sounds | Making music | supporting fellow musicians | reflections in time

Review of Bernard Herrmann composer toolkit for Kontakt Player by Spitfire Audio — July 20, 2017

Review of Bernard Herrmann composer toolkit for Kontakt Player by Spitfire Audio



Spitfire Audio, purveyors of the finest virtual instruments from the finest musical samples in the world, has introduced BERNARD HERRMANN COMPOSER TOOLKIT inspired by the electric genius of its iconic composer namesake who is noted for his lengthy legacy of fresh film scores such as Citizen Kane, Psycho, Vertigo, and Taxi Driver that continue to inspire today’s composers. Working exclusively with The Bernard Herrmann Estate, Spitfire Audio have curated and assembled a unique set of studio orchestra ensembles informed directly by a legendary orchestration aesthetic recorded at London’s legendary AIR Studios (Studio 1) by Abbey Road Studios Senior Engineer Simon Rhodes (Avatar, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Magnificent Seven) before being ‘translated’ to Native Instruments’ industry-standard KONTAKT PLAYER platform as an orchestral innovation for all.

BERNARD HERRMANN COMPOSER TOOLKIT can be purchased and digitally downloaded (as 225.0 GB of uncompressed .WAV files, featuring 186,742 samples) typically priced at £429.00 GBP (inc. VAT) /$499.00 USD/ €509.00 EUR (inc. VAT) — from Spitfire Audio


Much fuss has been made about Bernard Herrmann and deservedly so since he is one of the great modern composers, after all. His work for TV and film is nothing short of iconic and truly synonymous with mid-20th Century cinema. Collaborating with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane (1941), Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver (1976) and in long term partnership with Alfred Hitchcock on scores such as Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964) and beyond, the sheer magnitude of critical works is breathtaking. But not only did his work have a significant impact on popular culture at the time, more recently those works have been used to invigorate contemporary scores such as Quentin Tarantino’s twist on the Twisted Nerve theme in 2003’s Kill Bill, 35 years after its inception — an eerie whistle which is now instantly identifiable worldwide.

But Bernard Herrmann demonstrated a unique and trailblazing compositional style throughout his celebrated career. His orchestrations were entirely original, daring, and inventive — albeit always appropriate for the context, so subsequently incredibly influential in film scoring. Psycho — famed for its strings-only approach — is an obvious example of a totally new way to score a thriller. The bold selection of specific instrumental ensembles — the infamous Torn Curtain featured 12 flutes, for instance — and choice of interesting combinations — harp and vibraphone in Vertigo; stopped horns and pizzicato strings in North by Northwest (1959) — challenged the status quo. Equally, experimenting with electronic instruments in scores — the Ondes Martenot in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and amplified Moog synths in 1972’s Sisters and Endless Night — brought with them sounds previously unheard in cinemas. However, Herrmann also went as far as to affect change in the performance style of players, requesting that they did not play in the then-traditional, somewhat overblown nature that other Hollywood composers of the time tended towards.

Download and installation

The download file is a hefty 135Gb which decompresses to 225Gb. You need to use Spitfire Audio’s download manager which has a small file size and is easy to install and use. It took a total of 27 hours to download and install the library. I downloaded to an external hard drive using USB2 which I’m sure slowed the process considerably. I was able to pause the download and resume from where it left off without any problems. Registering the library in Kontakt Player was a quick and easy process.

Getting Started

As soon as you load the toolkit you get an appreciation of why it is such a huge file.

BH selection.jpg

There are 24 different arrangements available with an ‘advanced’ folder and all of these are also available as stereo mixes.

This is not a full symphony orchestra as such, it’s a studio orchestra and some of the instrument groupings are unusual, being inspired by the works of Bernard Herrmann. For me this makes the toolkit more useable and interesting and I can see that it would be very useful for a wide range of sounds and styles.

There’s a varied collection of low strings with the inclusion of horns and trombones adding a great interest to the sounds. There’s a wealth of mid-sounds including horns, brass, oboes, trumpets and mid to high sounds including flutes, harps and high strings.

The GUI has a very clean look and feels intuitive to use. Even in the free Kontakt Player there is a high degree of configurability to the sound.


Using the Studio Orchestra as an example, there are controls for the closeness or farness of the orchestra, dynamics, release, reverb and expression. Another really neat feature is that all of the most common articulations are available on this instrument – long; short; a very handy common chords using a single note; exp clusters; cluster stabs; slides; string slides; cluster swells and chatter.

More in-depth controls


The advanced mixer allows you to adjust each signal in the instrument, adjust mic levels and most usefully, you can purge samples that you are not using. I found that Kontakt crashed several times because it kept running out of memory. If you are only using one of the articulations then I’d strongly recommend purging the unused samples by clicking on the ‘squiggle’ below each articulation. For example, a fully loaded Studio Orchestra is 308Mb as shown in the first image above, purging all articulations except for the first long articulation reduces this to 78Mb so you can see how your memory can quickly fill if you don’t purge unused samples. The other alternative is to load the core techniques or individual articulations from the advanced folder which are smaller instruments and use less memory.

Sound quality

The sound quality is superb and many of the effect articulations are excellent for adding dynamics and variety to the sound. You can also automate the dynamics, release and expression for a more natural feel. The different instruments layer together very well and you can achieve some very subtle or more pronounced layering. You can also process the sounds further and they are equally suited to this too, whether it’s a subtle reverb or delay to a more complex effects chain resulting in a delayed, glitchy type of sound.

One of the more unusual instruments is the Ondes Martenot, one of the first electronic instruments invented in 1928. It has an unusual sound like a cross between an organ, theremin and accordion.

The percussion is also excellent, rich and full sounding kick drums, drum roll, snare, snare roll, hi hat, percussive sounds and toms with rolls.

The advanced folder

The advanced folder also contains a wealth of resources containing sub-folders of ‘extended techniques’, ‘individual articulations’, ‘legato techniques’, ‘other patches’ and ‘synths’.

Extended techniques include a number of different articulations including extended chords for common chords, major chords, minor chords and other chords; con sord (muted) techniques for strings; a number of core techniques (results in a smaller memory size). The individual articulations are exactly that as outlined above, an excellent way to reduce memory usage when you are only using one particular articulation.

The legato techniques includes legato and portamento, these are rather memory intensive.

The synths are an interesting and excellent addition, there’s a great range of 36 instruments including basses, leads, pads and effects. The interface is similarly intuitive to use with a range of controls including filters with ADSR controls, LFOs for volume, pitch and filters as well as a number of inbuilt effects including 3 band EQ, chorus, delay, distortion and phaser.


The ‘other patches’ folder includes a time machine patch with a stretch control to adjust note lengths, economic and light resources patches.

Using the toolkit

I have really enjoyed using the Bernard Herrmann composer toolkit. So much so that I’ve created an album using it which is embedded above. I’ve used a number of different instruments and processed them using various effects, an example screenshot is shown below. The sounds work very well as ‘dry’ sounds or equally processed with delays and layered with recorded sounds and glitchy sounds.


The instruments and effects used on the album which was arranged, recorded and mastered in MuLab 7 are as follows:

state of denial – uses midi loops from Mode Audio Escape pack with Bernard Herrmann Toolkit Studio orchestra and horns; Drum loops from Mode Audio Escape pack processed with Incipit (Inear Display)

a field recording processed with Hornet Spaces

drifting: Midi loops from Prime Loops Future Chill pack; a glitch loop created in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3; Bernard Herrmann Toolkit low strings and horns processed with Incipit (Inear Display)

beyond the edges of vision (movement I): Bernard Herrmann Toolkit – Soft Sub Bass; trumpet & xylophone and Studio Orchestra; a field recording processed with Spaceship Delay (Musical Entropy)

beyond the edges of vision (movement II): Bernard Herrmann Toolkit – horns; Ondes Martenot processed with Teufelsberg Reverb (Balance Mastering); studio orchestra; concert flutes; low strings and horns processed with Incipit (Inear Display)

beyond the edges of vision (movement III): a variation of the above, unfortunately the system wouldn’t save the project so I don’t have the exact changes but luckily let me export the finished audio. Phew!.

perpetual awareness: Bernard Herrmann Toolkit : strings processed with Outer Space (Audio Thing)

a glitch loop created in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 further processed with Incipit (Inear Display);

Polygon (Glitchmachines) processed with Incipit (Inear Display). also uses MuDrum.

hypnagogia: Bernard Herrmann Toolkit : strings processed with Outer Space (Audio Thing)

a glitch loop created in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 further processed with fog convolver (Audio Thing) and Incipit (Inear Display); a sample from my Kalipheno sample pack processed with Convex (Glitchmachines); Polygon (Glitchmachines) processed with Incipit (Inear Display).

waiting for the mundane to fade into obscurity: Bernard Herrmann Toolkit – percussion; oboe & bassoon processed with Incipit (Inear Display); harp & vibraphone (processed with Incipit (Inear Display); synth pad processed with Outer Space (Audio Thing)


The amount of effort and attention to detail in producing this toolkit are staggering and clearly evident in both the sound quality and flexibility of use. It is so much more than sampled instruments, the various articulations and controls on the interface provide a very usuable and customisable studio orchestra toolkit. It can be used straight away with the default settings but it also provides scope to fine tune and tweak to your requirements with the ability to easily adjust settings such as release, dynamics and expression and adjust mic placements, relative position of the instruments and also add further processing as required.

It is suited to a whole range of styles, not just orchestral and classical but equally in many electronic styles. The main limitations that I found appear to be related to Kontakt and memory availability rather than CPU usage. My system spec is a dual core 2Ghz with 4Gb ram and it can run about 6 instances of the toolkit before it starts to crash so you need to ensure you have as much memory available as possible to prevent Kontakt from crashing when loading multiple instances.

Audio Gym : Part Three – Mixing Drums — July 11, 2017

Audio Gym : Part Three – Mixing Drums

Why is a well balanced drum mix so important?
Drums, the beat, rhythms and percussion are an important part of compositions in most popular music genres; the skeleton of a song or track, so to say.

So what does well balanced mean here?

Every bone in our body has its place – right forearm, left foot, left hand and skull on top.

So do drums.

Imagine a drumkit, standing right in the middle in front of you.

What do you see?
Are all drums aligned behind each other? Or stacked upon each other in one column, standing in the middle?

No. You will usually see the bass drum in the middle on the floor, a snare in medium height on the right or left, then hi-hats, cymbals and toms, each in its place.

What do you hear?
Deducted from the positioning of the drums you can easily imagine 2 things – if all drums were in the center you would hear a mono mix. But we have two ears, the drums are spread all over the panorama so you will hear a stereo mix. Every bone, ahm, drum has its place.

What else do you hear?
Accents, velocity, volume – these are parameters which describe certain characteristics in a drum mix or beat – different drums usually have different volumes.

Maybe the drummer uses the bass drum very gently while he plays an accentuated pattern on the hi-hats.

We can assume that different absolute levels (measured in decibel) as well as different relative levels (one drum compared to another) are an important factor influencing our perception of a drum beat. This can be relaxed, aggressive, stomping or rolling, to name just a few.

Why are you nodding your head and moving your feet?
The answer is time. Or better timing. Shuffle, groove, quantization are the terms with which we describe the temporal dimension of a beat or rhythm. It can for example be laid back, forward, mechanic, loosely played or uplifting – all depending on the relative position of drum events in a defined time frame like e.g. 1 bar.

Up next I will show one way to build a grooving 16bar downbeat, including mixing chains and single step mixdown example.

Audio Gym : Part Two – Signal Processing Chains —

Audio Gym : Part Two – Signal Processing Chains

We thought for this article that I (Andy) would start by writing my thoughts on signal processing chains and Martin has added his comments and all of the screenshots.

I’d like to start by saying that in no way do I consider myself an expert, I’m very much learning as I go along. I’d also make a couple of definitions just to make sure we’re talking about the same things. A song is the finished item and is composed of a number of tracks. A signal processing chain is what makes up a track and comprises of a sound source such as a VST synth or sampler and a number of effects that may be applied to that sound source.

Ultimately what we’re trying to achieve in a song is a balance of frequencies, timings and stereo space which we can think of as height, width and depth. I think a lot of the time we are trying to do this intuitively without really appreciating the technical terms involved.

Each track plays a vital part in this overall balance (mixing) which can be finalised further (mastering). It is very important to remember that you need to produce a good quality mix because mastering isn’t magic and can’t fix or rescue a poor quality mix but it can make a good mix better.

The frequency of a sound is measured in Hertz which is the number of cycles per second. Generally speaking we can hear sounds from 20Hz to 20,000Hz but there is considerable variation between individuals.

Each sound source will have a particular frequency but sometimes this isn’t clearly defined, it can be spread across the audio spectrum. Some sounds such as a kick drum and bass have similar frequencies which can sound muddy with no clear definition between them.

You can remove unwanted frequencies using EQ. To make matters more complex, there aren’t really any hard and fast rules as far as EQ goes.

Martin’s comments – “EQs basically are the same as filters/work like filters, the border between these two is not too sharp and I’d rather call EQs a combination of different filter types. For example: a 3 band EQ can consist of a low pass filter, one notch or bandpass and one high pass.

You will most likely have an idea how the settings of the simple 3 band (bands 2 and 5 are bypassed) EQ in the screenshot (Bitwig native) will affect an incoming signal.
It’s set to make a 909 snare sound more “slim” and also to damp the high mids noise”.


Generally speaking you’d typically remove bass frequencies below approx 50 – 60Hz; A kick drum you’d tend to low cut at 50Hz and cut at 450Hz; Vocals you’d tend to low cut at 250Hz and boost at around 2,800Hz; Piano you’d tend to Low cut at 120Hz, boost at 300Hz and cut at 2800Hz. These are pretty much starting points, each mix will have its own requirements.

Let’s face it, we all have timing issues at multiple points in our lives whether it’s asking the boss for a pay rise, asking someone out for a drink or telling the misses or mister you’ve just bought a synth. Again.

Music is no different. Sometimes you may need a rigid 4:4 beat for a techno tune, other times a more relaxed groove will suit the mood better.

If everything sits on the beat your song can sound too mechanical but go too much the other way and it won’t sound coherent.

Back in the 70s when synths first became widely available, their analogue circuitry meant that they didn’t tend to keep their tuning very well. Into the 80s, the first digital synths still had a lot of analogue circuitry and a lot were hand-built so similarly had a tendency to drift and each one sounded a bit different. The upshot was a lot of time spent retuning them. This did give a natural movement in sound and some modern synths such as Synthmaster 2.8 even have a feature to apply this sort of drift to give a more analogue feel.

Timing issues are very common in mixes. A couple of years ago I remixed a Maya Wolff piano song and I can tell you she’s got an outstanding ear, it took a few listens before I heard a timing issue she spotted straight away.

Recently I’ve been using Hollyhock II as my primary DAW which records live. This means that to capture spontaneity I’ve learned to accept imperfections. The results might not be perfect but as long as they’re not horrendous I’m happy.

Stereo field
This is quite a complex topic but essentially is considering the height, width and depth of sounds, like creating a 3d object from a 2d drawing.

When we talk about height, this is often perceived as being low for bass frequencies and high for treble frequencies. This is probably because bass frequencies occupy the lower part of the spectrum whereas treble frequencies occupy the higher part of the spectrum.

Width is the position of the sound in the field whether this is central, left or right.

Depth is the tricky one, it’s whether sounds are close or far and certainly not as simple as adjusting volume.

This is a way of altering the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest parts of the signal. They work by boosting lower volumes and attenuating higher ones. Back in the hardware only days, you would tend to use these for mastering and know the controls inside out. These days it’s all too easy to load one on every track and the question of whether to use them in this way is a hotly debated topic.

One of the most popular effects, is very easy to over use reverb. It creates space in your mix by replicating the acoustics of a given space, whether this is a room, cave or cathedral. Hard surfaces tend to reflect sound whereas soft surfaces tend to absorb sound so a reverb effect is all about trying to reproduce these effects.

A different type of reverb is a convolution reverb which uses a different approach. It works by digitally simulating the reverberation of a physical or virtual space. It does this by using a pre-recorded audio sample of the impulse response of the space being modeled and a bit of maths. Ok, a lot of maths. The result is that you can precisely control the reverb response meaning you can have a cathedral, cavern, bouncing ball or tiny speaker response precisely, every time.

Mixing chains
Martin’s comments – “A special and also very basic type of a signal processing chain is a mixing chain.

I will now line out the basic mixing chain based on simple channel strip plugins which include dynamics/EQ in one plugin like on a classic mixing console.

Examples here are one Waves Audio Renaissance Channel and the wonderful sounding free channel strips by Variety Of Sound (preFIX and NastyVCS).




They mainly consist of the following sections: INPUT SIGNAL
-> gain control
-> highpass filter and a low pass filter (to boldly remove rumbling sounds and high frequencies)
-> EQ (fine tuning on frequencies)
-> Gate/Expander (dynamics)
-> phase correction
-> stereo field control
-> output volume control

Some plugins also offer the option to route the sections in different orders (e.g. INPUT -> dynamics -> EQ -> …) which can also influence the sound significantly.

Depending on what plugins are in your tool box you can of course build your own mixing chain.
One simple chain built of 2 Waves Plugins (actually this is enough most of the time):


Most DAWs offer everything you can possibly need as native contents (definitely you’ll find an EQ and a compressor) – here’s a simple chain of EQ and compressor in Bitwig.


Full mixing chains (pre EQ -> compressor -> post EQ -> stereo field and phasing control), built in Live and Bitwig with native effects.”



Audio Gym : Part One – Overview —

Audio Gym : Part One – Overview

I’d like to talk about mixing first.

A topic that people are often asking me about is how to build THE mixing chain. It’s obviously fun, an art and a science at the same time and I really love to talk about it. I’ll build an exemplary mixing chain to possibly inspire you.

We’ll not only talk mixing chains but mixing in general and stereo mixing compared to mid-side mixing. Also we’re aiming to provide you with detailed mixing tips.

Since I first tried mid-side mixing in 2012 a lot has changed in my perception of sound re/ de-mudded subbass, tonal bass and low drums (e.g. Kicks, Toms, Tumba, Djembe, Timpani). The stereo panorama in this frequency range offers interesting possibilities.

The most important thing (IMHO) I can share on mixing is that everything is allowed. Try out everything you consider possible. Imagine – your DAW is a playground and your parents aren’t there. What counts is sound. Don’t invest more work and DSPs than necessary. Pile up and strip back.

If you’re willing to invest some time in reading, listening and experimenting, then you should possibly keep an eye on Andy’s and my thoughts.

Review of Kuvert multi-effect envelope shaper effect (iPad and VST/AU) by Klevgrand — July 7, 2017

Review of Kuvert multi-effect envelope shaper effect (iPad and VST/AU) by Klevgrand

Klevgrand have introduced Kuvert – Swedish for envelope – which is a plug-in envelope shaper effect available for iPad and Mac/Windows (AU/VST) typically priced at $7.99 for the iPad version and $29.99 for the AU/VST version.

In essence Kuvert allows you to draw 5 different envelopes for volume, hi-cut filter, lo-cut filter, glitch and delay. The envelopes can be set up to 8 bars in length and can be drawn on a grid using bars with different resolutions, freehand or a mixture of both. The envelopes are looped and altering the length can give unusual effects.

The interface is clean and very well laid out which is what we typically see with Klevgrand software. Because they design software for iPad, this results in a touch interface designed for ease of use rather than replicating an existing physical interface.


The drawing window comprises the main part of the display with grid and envelope length like an x and y axis. Controls are arranged underneath with separate dials for each envelope. The volume has a range setting, both filters have range and resonance settings, the glitch control affects the timing or latency of the audio signal and the delay has controls for delay time and feedback with a small adjacent display window for setting the hi-cut and low-cut filter settings and resonance for the delay unit.

The envelopes sync to your DAW tempo and the length is set in beats so for a 4:4 bar the envelope length should be 4 to loop at the same starting point. Choosing a different length setting will alter the loop starting point and apply the effects at different points giving the potential for variation and some unusual results. To switch between the effects simply click the label beneath the drawing window or one of the effect control parameters.

Using grid mode to draw envelopes gives a step effect and there are different resolution settings. Turning this off allows you to draw curves freehand giving much more control over the shape of the envelope. Both modes are useful for different purposes and it’s an excellent feature to allow a combination of both to create some really interesting effects.

The effects are explained below.

Alters the value of the incoming signal based on the envelope value although it only lowers the volume. The range parameter determines how much the volume envelope will affect the audio. (For example if you use bars, the maximum range gives a gated effect whereas a smoother kind or tremolo effect results when the range is reduced).

Hi-Cut Filter
Alters the frequency of a High Cut filter. The envelope max value always equals 20kHz, but the min value depends on the Hi-Cut filter range parameter. If the
range is set to max, the envelope min value equals 20hz. If the range is set to
min, the envelope min value equals 20kHz (there will be no changes to the output sound). The resonance knob sets the filter resonance.

Lo-Cut Filter
Alters the frequency of a Low Cut filter. The envelope min value always equals 20Hz, but the max value depends on the Lo-Cut filter range parameter. If the range is set to max, the envelope max value equals 20kHz. If the range is set to min, the envelope min value equals 20Hz (there will be no changes to the output
sound). The resonance knob sets the filter resonance.

This alters the playback time of the incoming audio. The envelope maximum is the current time and the minimum value represents the past determined by the range setting.


This alters the send level to a tempo sync delay. The envelope minimum value means that zero gain and envelope maximum sends the full input signal. Delay time is set in steps of 1/16th and feedback gain can be set. The filter module is a small display with two circles which are dragged horizontally to alter frequency and vertically to alter resonance.

Kuvert is very easy to use and really encourages experimentation. Whilst some of these effects can be done in a DAW using in-built effects, the advantage of Kuvert is that all the effects are together on one interface and you can see at a glance where envelopes overlap and edit them in real time. The bar length setting also allows some ‘polyrhythm’ type effects with looping envelopes affecting different parts of the audio each time. Drawing bars tends to result in a stuttery type of sound, curves give a smoother transition.

I’ve really enjoyed using Kuvert and found it effective on percussion, synth / bass and drone type sounds. It can produce subtle to more extreme filter sweeps; gated and smoother, subtle volume control; subtle to complex delays and the glitch effect can also be subtle to a more complex tape-stop kind of effect. Using a combination of several effects with different envelope lengths can create a great subtle movement or more extreme glitchy type sounds. I’ve created an album embedded at the top of the post to highlight some of the effects that Kuvert can produce on these type of sounds. These were recorded live in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 with changes made in Kuvert during the recordings.