Review of British Drama Toolkit by Spitfire Audio

Review of British Drama Toolkit by Spitfire Audio

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Introduction
Spitfire Audio is proud to announce availability of British Drama Toolkit created in close collaboration with award-winning British composer, musician, record producer, and songwriter Samuel Sim (famed for his quality, gritty, and deep television and film drama scores) as an inimitable instrument featuring an ensemble dedicated to capturing the emotionally potent sound he is lauded for, but also presenting a unique way of interacting with the players involved to allow users to compose, arrange, and complete a cue in one pass, thereby setting it apart from anything the high-quality virtual instruments- and sample libraries- creating company has produced to date

British Drama Toolkit can be purchased and digitally downloaded for £199.00 GBP (inc. VAT)/$199.00 USD/€199 EUR (inc. VAT) — from Spitfire Audio

British Drama Toolkit needs Native Instruments’ free KONTAKT PLAYER (5.6.8 or higher) — included in the purchase — to run as a fully NKS (NATIVE KONTROL STANDARD®) supporting plug-in instrument for Mac (OS X 10.10, 10.11, or macOS 10.12 — latest update) or Windows (7, 8, or 10 — latest Service Pack, 32/64-bit), while Spitfire Audio’s free Download Manager application allows anyone to buy now and download anytime.

For more in-depth information, including some superb-sounding audio demos, please visit the dedicated British Drama Toolkit website.

Watch Spitfire Audio Director Paul Thomson’s ‘traditional’ video walkthrough of British Drama Toolkit

Watch fellow Spitfire Audio Director Christian Henson’s helpful British Drama Toolkit contextual video

Watch Spitfire Audio’s touching trailer video for British Drama Toolkit

Background
Pursuing originality in music is one thing; trying to be constantly original in the pressured world of episodic television scoring is something else entirely. By brilliantly achieving both of those traits, talented composer Samuel Sim has won multiple awards as a writer of quality, gritty, and deep television and film drama scores. So, having previously worked with Spitfire Audio to realise his namesake SAMUEL SIM – CHRYSALIS library — launching a unique and inspirational sound set centred around a stunning, deep sampled studio harp, but bent into a collection of fresh sonic tools to critical acclaim in 2015, it is hardly surprising that he (re)turned to Spitfire Audio when wanting to create an instrument that put up no roadblocks between musical ideas and their realisation as ready-to-go cues.

Cue British Drama Toolkit — or British Drama Toolkit with Samuel Sim, to give it its full, highly-appropriate appellation… an instant scoring instrument in the true sense of the word, which provides the most instinctive, immediate, and intense connection to the heart of its user’s composition while helping them find their musical voice in the process. Playing styles that have not been sampled before, with bespoke bowing techniques and breathing patterns, converge to create textures full of dramatic movement. Meanwhile, those same notes, played at a different intensity, switch to characterful lead lines, passing from instrument to instrument in an ensemble that shifts dynamically as the user explores the radical results of this close collaboration.

Comprising a small string and woodwind section recorded in the purpose-built dry stage at Spitfire Audio’s London-based HQ, British Drama Toolkit clearly comes to life from the moment it is first played. Put it this way: when this library is at anyone’s fingertips then telepathy of sorts starts in earnest. Ensembles are mapped across the full length of the keyboard, and the playing styles are tied to velocity — from whispered textures through to bold solos. Saying that, British Drama Toolkit truly demonstrates an innate understanding of the fact that the difference between playing softly and loudly is not just simply down to volume, but also about character and emotion, enabling users to compose, arrange, and complete a cue in one pass. With an eye firmly fixed on the drama rather than the computer, and with one patch capable of such wide-ranging expression, users can respond instinctively to the story rather than getting sucked in to what Samuel Sim semi-seriously terms “…the vortex of the computer.”

Clearly no stranger to the musical joy of working with emotive ensembles as a working composer himself, who better to provide some serious closing commentary as to the virtues of working with British Drama Toolkit, then, than Spitfire Audio Director Paul Thomson: “This is one of the ways that you can convince your director, for example, to spend the money on real musicians, because what you’re hearing here are these incredibly talented musicians playing in a really unique, stylistic, and unusual way, and what better than to have the real live players sitting, performing, and reacting to your music in real time while they do this. But if your budget doesn’t stretch to a full band of musicians, and you can only afford a few musicians, then that’s still going to give you a great result, and you’re going to have these instruments to fill in the gaps, and while your ear is drawn to the live player, you have these beautiful textures floating in the background to help give your music much more depth.”

Director Christian Henson, fellow co-founder of Spitfire Audio, adds, “I’m incredibly excited about the British Drama Toolkit, which is designed by a drama media composer, Sam Sim, for us fellow media composers. It really is an amazing, inspiring, time-saving tool that can be used on a variety of different applications, but it has that kind of gritty, very emotional British drama feel to it. Basically, it’s a bunch of ensembles — some strings, some woodwinds — recorded here on our dry stage, but, instead of using controllers, it’s very much a two-handed thing, whereby different velocities give you different kind of degrees of intensity and movement.”

Musically speaking, the honesty and rawness of British dramatic scoring is ingrained in the British Drama Toolkit library. Lest we forget, though, this is not just a library that plays a composer’s music, but rather helps them compose it. Indeed, all it takes is ideas. Originality, of course, is optional, yet highly recommended… just ask its award-winning designer, Samuel Sim!

Download and installation

The download file is about 7Gb and 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 couple of hours to download and install the library. I downloaded to an external hard drive using USB2 which I’m sure slowed the process considerably. Registering the library in Kontakt Player was a quick and easy process.

Getting Started
Although recorded with a small string and woodwind section, the first thing you notice is that the toolkit has a really good selection of instruments.

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Loading one of the instruments brings up the control panel. The GUI has a clean look and feel that we’ve seen previously from Spitfire Audio.

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The first display has the usual Kontakt settings as well as mic mix, reverb and expression settings with the arrangements below. The main instrument has a number of different arrangements to choose from – tutti long str loud; tutti long string acc; tutti long wds loud; tutti long soft; text str & loud wd; text str & soft wd; text wd & loud str; text wd loud str acc; text wd & soft str; text wd & soft str acc and str & wd soft (alt).

Other instruments have a similar number of different arrangements:

Ensembles – bass & cl long; bass & cl soft; bass & cl chatter; bass & cl chat txt; bass & cl chat loud; flute & pic long; flute & pic soft; flute & pic soft (alt); flute & pic long (alt); flute & pic chaff; string ens long; string ens long acc; string ens soft; woodwind ens long and woodwind ens soft.

Violin, viola and cello – long; long accented; long soft; long loud and long harmonics.

Double bass – long; long accented; long (alt); long accented (alt); long soft; long soft (alt) and long harmonics.

Bass clarinet and clarinet – long; long (soft); long loud and long chatter.

Flute and piccolo – long; long (alt); long (soft); long (soft alt); long loud and long (chiff).

The advanced folder contains accented instruments and individual techniques to further enhance the range of possible sounds.

The second display contains settings, there are options for round robins, loading individual arrangements (to save memory) and also the mic mix, reverb, expression settings and a few other options.

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The third display has a visual indicator of loud, soft and texture settings as you’re playing.

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Using British Drama Toolkit

I’ve been very impressed using British Drama Toolkit. The sound is stunning, a combination of the excellent and unusual arrangements / playing techniques and the velocity sensitivity gives a very detailed sound that can be used individually or layered giving highly expressive results.

I’ve said previously during the Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions review that I’m not classically trained and typically don’t compose my songs in the traditional sense. A lot of my work is experimental and although has a framework it is invariably recorded live with the triggering of samples, synths, changing and editing effects and so on.

In the same way for Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions, British Drama Toolkit encourages a different approach.

My submission for the NaviarHaiku 244 weekly challenged used a recording created live in Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3 based on an insect recording from the Boom Library Urban and Suburban sample pack. I used the original sample layered against two other insect samples and Palindrome (Glitchmachines) all processed with Ultratap, H949 Dual Harmoniser and Blackhole (Eventide) with effect settings altered during the recording. I then used Scalar (PluginBoutique) to create a chord arrangement and layered a number of different instruments and variety of arrangements from the British Drama Toolkit processed with a variety of Eventide effects.

The album ‘arbitrary lines’ embedded at the top of the post is based on the theme of how such arbitrary lines are used to separate, isolate and divide us. I’ve used various instruments and arrangements from the British Drama Toolkit with chord progressions created in Scalar also using Polygon (Glitchmachines) on two tracks, a news recording captured from radio on one track and a heavily processed radio recording on another. The songs have been mixed using a variety of Eventide effects and mastered using Magnetite (Black Rooster Audio), Stage (Fiedler Audio) and Elevate (Newfangled Audio).

I’ve also used it on a submission for the upcoming Cities and Memory Nature Sounds project which launches later in October 2018, in this entry I’ve used a recording of a storm in the Tanat Valley in Wales and layered different instruments and arrangements processed with a variety of effects.

Conclusions
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.

The range of controls and automation / midi control options give a huge range of sounds and the velocity sensitivity gives flexibility to allow you to use it in many different ways.

It’s very easy to produce a high quality, expressive sound. It’s an excellent composition tool that can be used by itself or in combination with other instruments. It would be very well suited to use in tools such as RapidComposer or Orb Composer.

The main limitations are the same as previously found, namely appearing 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 Kontakt 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 or some of the more complex patches. The best option if you don’t have a top spec machine is to only load the arrangements that you’re using because this saves a lot of memory.