Getting started: Library basics

A microphone setup during one of our recording sessions

Just installed your first ProjectSAM library? Perhaps your first orchestral sample library altogether? This page introduces you to a selection of the design concepts and controls that are shared between many of our libraries.

Microphone channels

Back in 2001, ProjectSAM was the first developer to implement multiple microphone sets into their sample libraries. Since then, the majority of our libraries are recorded in the natural environment of a concert hall using a variety of microphone setups. For example, microphones are placed close to the instruments, around the conductor’s spot as well as the very back of the hall. The corresponding sample sets are then mapped as individual mic channels in the Kontakt Instrument. The interface gives you full control over each individual mic channels. In the background, you are changing the relative volumes of the Kontakt Groups holding each sample set.

In the Symphobia 3: Lumina interface below, 3 mic channels are available:

  • D – Direct (closeby)
  • A – Ambient (around the conductor’s spot)
  • W – Wide (way in the back and to the sides)

These mics can be mixed independently. Also, by clicking the D, A and W icons underneath the mic faders, the entire mic channel can be unloaded, freeing up a potentially large amount of RAM. Note that the exact number and naming of the mic channels can differ per library.

Microphone cross-fader

Most of our libraries also feature a microphone cross-fade slider. Using this slider, you can gradually morph between a drier (close) and a more ambient (stage) mix using the individual mic sets available. The cross-fade slider controls all of the individual mic channels at once, as you can see in the video below.

Switching articulations

Most Instruments hold more than a single type of sound. These are often different playing techniques that we recorded for a musical instrument: bowed notes, plucked notes, slapped notes, bending notes. But also: long notes, short notes, accented notes or special, avant-garde effects. In orchestral libraries, these different variations are often called articulations. Sometimes, a number of articulations are needed to build a simple melody or motif.

When multiple articulations are available, you will see these listed in the library’s interface, either vertically (eg. Symphobia) or horizontally (eg. Swing).

You can switch between articulations by simply clicking on them using the mouse, as you can see in the video below. However, if you would like to switch articulations within a piece of music, one popular way of doing this is through keyswitching. Each articulation has a keyswitch assigned. Since keyswitches are actual MIDI notes, they will be recorded as part of your MIDI sequence.

As you can see in the Symphobia 2 Instrument below, each of the seven articulations has a MIDI note next to it. By pressing this note on your MIDI controller (or recording it into your DAW), the Instrument will switch to the corresponding articulation. In the video, you can see us first switch articulations using the mouse cursor, then using keyswitches. Keyswitches are always coloured red on the Kontakt keyboard. Depending on the range of the Instrument, keyswitches can be positioned either on the left or the right of the playable Instrument range.

Note that the currently selected keyswitch is latched (pressed down and staying down) on the Kontakt keyboard.

The following video shows you a French horns sequence that uses two articulations: staccato and marcato. The articulation switches halfway the musical phrase. You can first see us record the sequence (using Logic Pro as a DAW), including the G#6 and G6 keyswitches. We then playback the sequence. You can see the articulations now switching automatically, because of the keyswitches recorded as part of the sequence. Of course, it is also possible to add or adjust the keyswitches after having recorded the musical phrase.

It’s possible to change the assigned keyswitches by clicking on them. When you click a keyswitch, it will start blinking. If you now press a new key on your MIDI keyboard or controller, this key will get assigned.

Dynamics

The majority of our samples have been recorded in multiple dynamics: the intensity of the player’s performance, from very soft to very loud. In sample libraries, there are two primary ways to control dynamics and switch/change the balance between the different recorded dynamic layers:

  • Velocity
  • Continuous controller (by default: modulation wheel)

Sounds that have dynamics mapped to respond to velocity often have a suffix VEL added.

Sounds that have dynamics mapped to a continuous controller often have a suffix MOD or DYN added. Using a continuous controller, you can change the dynamic level/mix of a sample after the start of a note, eg. to make a crescendo or diminuendo. This is not possible using velocity.

Round robin

When a note is repeated on a real instrument, even when the intention is to repeat it as identically and mechanically as possible, each note will turn out to be completely unique. The attack, timing and timbre will be slightly different each time. In the case of a sample recording, when the exact same sound is repeated, our brain instantly recognizes this as unnatural. Because we are normally trying to achieve a realistic simulation of a real instrument or orchestra playing, we, therefore, want to avoid repeating the exact same sample. This is why we record multiple versions of each note for each articulation and dynamic. The Instrument in Kontakt automatically cycles through these versions: a round robin cycle.

In the Symphobia 2 Instrument below, you can hear the difference between a repeated set of French horn notes with round robin turned on, off, and on again.

Release triggers

The vast majority of our samples was recorded in a concert hall or otherwise large studio environment. This means there is natural reverberation at the end of each note. Normally, when you release a key on your MIDI controller, the sample mapped to that key is stopped, often with a short fade out (the release envelope) and, optionally, with a bit of artificial reverb ringing out after the note.

There is the option to use the original reverberation tail from the recordings. The samples used for this are called release triggers or release trails. When you release a key, these dedicated samples can be triggered seamlessly. The result is not only more realistic sounding but more musical too; the reverberation tail often includes musical information too, such as the dampening of a note or the release click on a harpsichord.

In the Symphobia 3: Lumina instrument below, you can hear the difference between releasing a suspenseful texture with release triggers turned on, then off (short release envelope and no added reverb), then on again.

Automation

There are multiple ways to record controller changes within the course of a song, eg. slowly increasing the reverb level over time, or changing the microphone mix halfway a track.

Smart controls

Each Instrument has a set of predefined automation controls that can be read and written by your DAW. These controls have been selected by the developer. Where to find these so-called smart controls differs slightly per DAW. In the video below, you can see us automate the mic mix control of a Swing More! Instrument in just a few clicks using the DAW Logic Pro X:

Default CC controllers

There are a number of MIDI continuous control (CC) numbers that are used so commonly that they have been assigned by default. These are:

  • Modulation wheel, or CC#1, linked by default to cross-fade dynamics (see above)
  • Volume, or CC#7, linked by default to Kontakt’s Instrument volume
  • Expression, or CC#11, linked by default to a secondary amp modulator that can be used alongside volume

MIDI CC learning

If you desire, you can change these MIDI CC assignments, link to them to other controllers, or add additional ones. This is often called MIDI CC learning. With a few exceptions, you can ‘learn’ each controller visible in the Kontakt Instrument interface by right-clicking (context-clicking) it. A contextual menu will appear, showing you the existing MIDI CC assignment if there is one, and the option to ‘learn’ a new one. If you choose to ‘learn’ a new MIDI CC number, give the MIDI CC you would like to use (eg. a slider on your MIDI controller) a nudge and Kontakt will link it. This is illustrated in the video below.


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