Technology

Field Test: EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs

SAMPLE LIBRARY WITH WORD BUILDER SOFTWARE 3/01/2006 7:00 AM Eastern

The EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs (EWQLSC) virtual instrument will change any preconceived ideas you may have about what sampled choirs can do. This instrument can sing just about anything; no syntho-voices here. The library uses real people singing in the same concert hall used to record the Quantum Leap Symphonic libraries that are also available from EastWest. But how does this system allow you to customize what the choir sings? EWQLSC accomplishes this by combining two core elements.

Samples are played back through Native Instruments’ Kompakt

GIMME A SAMPLE
The first element of EWQLSC is based on high-resolution, 88.2 or 176.4kHz, 24-bit recordings made of every possible phonetic utterance a group of human voices might make when collectively singing in a classical choir style. Each set of vowel and consonant sounds was recorded with various intensities and at multiple room positions for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, as well as for a soprano boys' choir. The collection generates nearly 40 GB of data on DVDs.

The samples in EWQLSC are played back through Kompakt — a stripped-down version of Native Instruments' Kontakt sampler. It works with Windows and Mac OS X as stand-alone applications, or as a plug-in offered in VST, AudioUnits, RTAS and DXi formats. Kontakt/Kompakt optimizes the use of RAM by loading only the leading edge of every sample into memory. Once you play a note, the remainder of the note is streamed from the hard drive.

Phonetically working with Word Builder by speaking in “Votox.”

VOTOX INJECTION
This massive sample library is harnessed by an ingenious custom program called Word Builder. Word Builder allows you to enter what you want the choir to sing using a phonetic language called Votox. For example, the Votox translation for having the choir sing “Long live Mix magazine” is “long lEv mEX mA-gu-zEEn.” Learning Votox can take some time, so Word Builder has a built-in dictionary of more than 100,000 words. This lets users enter words in conventional English, and the corresponding Votox translation is automatically entered. Very smart!

Word Builder also includes a graphical editor that allows detailed tweaking regarding how you want to shape the words. This provides control over the accents and elongations of any part of the word. Simply put, Word Builder is a phenomenal undertaking that puts this sample system into a league of its own.

MAKING IT ALL WORK

Unfortunately, Word Builder is a separate application that's not integrated into the Kompakt instrument. Therefore, configuring Word Builder with your host application and getting into the correct position in the MIDI signal flow becomes less than intuitive. I was using EWQLSC on a Mac with OS 10.4 running Logic 7.1. Although much of the included documentation was clear, the parts that dealt with setting up Word Builder in Logic were confusing and contained inaccurate and inconsistent information.

Once I weeded through the initial setup issues, the system was fairly easy to use. Considering the complexity of what it was doing, using Word Builder seemed remarkably simple. However, having to run Word Builder as a separate application adds some extra steps. This also creates some logistical issues connected with your host application. For example, in Logic, I lost any simple method of freezing tracks once I had the choir sounding how I wanted it. Also, when saving my song in Logic, I had to remember to save my corresponding choir setup in Word Builder.

Another issue: The option of choosing from multiple microphone positions (close, medium or far) is fantastic, and the manual recommends experimenting with blending the various mic positions. Unfortunately, the manual doesn't explain how to do it, and it isn't obvious in the user interface as to how to accomplish this.

THE FINAL WORD
The library's biggest weakness is that it tries to put an extremely unique idea into a preconfigured, one-size-fits-all interface. It works, but it would be much simpler, more powerful and fun if EWQLSC had a customized sample playback instrument with Word Builder built in. However, don't let this deter you from experiencing this incredibly powerful and unique tool. It sounds awesome, and there is simply nothing else like it.

Price: $995.

EastWest, 800/833-8339, www.soundsonline.com.


Robert Brock is an engineer, educator, composer and pianist in the Phoenix area.