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.