Review of the Garritan Personal Orchestra
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Review of the
Garritan Personal
Orchestra

 

Garritan Personal Orchestra Soft Synth (Macintosh and Windows)
Personal Orchestra includes a comprehensive orchestral sample library, Native Instruments' KONTAKT sample player, GenieSoft's Overture LE Notation Program, Cubasis VST Sequencer (for PC), GPO Studio and AMBIENCE Reverb.

Read more about GPO at www.garritan.com where you can listen to demos and examples of each instrument.

Works with:

Native Instruments Kontakt (Macintosh and Windows)
Now in its third incarnation, KONTAKT 3 builds on its reputation as the industry standard for professional sampling. The outstanding audio engine and state-of-the-art modular architecture provide unlimited sonic potential for your music. Universal file import ensures global compatibility.

 

 

It has been said before about music technology.  You know, "Beethoven would have killed for this software".  Probably not, says one muse.  The man, after all, was deaf in his later years.  And he didn't need any stinkin' software.  It was all (Tweak taps his large forehead) "up here".  But think again, says a contrasting muse.  Those guys back in the day had a huge problem getting played.  How many composers lived and died having never heard their magnum opus?  Imagine, you, a composer in the 19th century telling your compatriots "Yo, Homeys, I got some killah tunes in my head, lets get together and make a 100 piece orchestra!"  Back then the rock stars of the day were the church organists (heh, the first synthmaster's who tried to emulate the orchestra on pipe organs).  Only the chosen few made the MTV equivalent of yesteryear--virtuosos born into aristocracy, whose families could afford the best schools, met the right people, and like Beethoven, had immense and uncontainable nerve, as well as verve to walk the whole world into totally uncharted musical territory.  Imagine the difficulty getting a symphony orchestra to play your works!  No wonder many of them were madmen!

Centuries pass.  The torch is passed from Bach, to Mozart, Beethoven to Berlioz, Liszt to Strauss, Debussy to Bartok', Stravinsky to Glass, and maybe in a way, them to you.  Can we hand you the torch?  Do you have the imagination, the vision, the soul, the verve to compose for orchestra?  Remember what it is all about.  The combination of sounds to create a beatific vision larger than life itself.

It seems almost cheap to mention a product in this context.  But that is what the wonder of technology has brought us with today's super orchestral libraries.  You pay a small price of admission and you get the tools that let you build your own symphonic masterpiece.  We can thank Gary Garritan for that.  He managed to capture and distill the basic elemental sounds of the classic orchestra and get them all in a usable format for Mac and PC users, called the Garritan Personal Orchestra.

Ok, stop the violins.  Lets talk about this product.  If you are unfamiliar with how this stuff works, I'll fill you in.  Basically, GPO is a sample library that can be used as a virtual instrument on your computer triggered by MIDI data from your keyboard.  You can use it standalone, and just play it on the keyboard, or you can load it into your composition software, where you can build multi tracked compositions.

 

My package came bundled with a version of Cubasis VST, an older stripped down version of Cubase, but useful for those who don't have recording software.  There were other applications too.  GenieSoft's Overture LE (a notation program), GPO studio (sort of a shell for combining many instances of GPO for use in Overture), and a great reverb plugin called Ambience (which will be useable for other instruments as well, not just GPO).  GPO itself came in the form of a Kontakt Player, made and suported by Native Instruments.  The Kontakt Player loads as a plugin in your sequencer.  Each player can hold up to 8 instruments.  You can create as many instances of the Kontakt player as you need till your run out of computer power.  Its not like the full Kontakt soft sampler, but one that appears designed for GPO. 

Do you need a powerful computer?  To get the most out of it, yes.  The library is 2gb of memory which is a good size.  That's 20 times the size my Emu E5000 Sampler holds and 40 times the size of the Roland Complete Orchestra expansion board.  Yet its small enough to work well on most desktop computers of the past few years.  The overall health and speed of your hard disk is pretty important here, as the samples stream from hard disk as they are called up. 

Using GPO is quite straightforward.  There is a minimum of knobs and tweaks on the interface.  But you get what you need.  The big patches use key switching, where you get an different articulation of the instrument by pressing a key your MIDI keyboard outside the useable range of the instrument.  This lets you switch easily with your left hand while playing with your right. Interestingly, the mod wheel functions as a volume control on many instruments.  The instrument loads at a low volume and the mod wheel must be raised to set the desired level. For those who automate their midi sequences you have to remember to use controller 1 and not 7 for channel volume (7 affects all channels).  I was initially bothered by this, but am getting used to it. 

One nice feature of the Kontakt player is that you can set midi channels for each instrument.  So you can build huge sections for strings, woodwinds, whatever, by putting several instruments on the same channel.  Imagine pressing one key and having The Cellos and Violas and double basses play one melodic figure on one channel and on the next channel having the 1st and 2nd violin sections (22 players)  playing a counter melody.  Now that's what I call 2-finger music power! 

GPO is a complete orchestra.  Here, take a look at the list.  You get strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and keyboards and harps.  The instruments Mr. Garritan sampled include millions of dollars worth of finely crafted vintage instruments, including a  Stradivari solo violin.  Indeed some of the instruments sound stunning.  My favorites are the solo violins and solo flute.  They are the best I have in my vast collection.  I am a bit jaded as i do have lots of orchestral expansion cards in my Triton and Fantom, EXS and Emu sample libraries, but I've never been able to play solo violin or flute like I can now. The other instruments are good sounding, well tuned and have the neutrality necessary to make the the instrument work in many kinds of music.  The instruments also blend well with each other, allowing to you create those beautiful sounding symphonic washes.  I am in appreciation of how much work this must have been.  Hats off to Mr. Garritan on getting a whole symphony in a plugin. 

Other nice features are that instruments do not play outside their natural range, which tricks the ear towards assuming authenticity.  Samples never sound stretched as they do in synth collections.  Another great feature is the GPO manual, which is a useful bunch of words on instrument placement and orchestration that will really help you get started.  The whole product is friendly and superbly designed.  A good manual, a supporting website, easy updates and registration, easy install on Mac an PC, all the software a newbie could want, and a great main feature that works as advertised. 

But GPO is not only for newbies.  Even the most die hard studio hack will appreciate it and use it.  If you already have synths that feature orchestral sounds, the GPO makes sense as a high quality add-on to your arsenal.  While the Kontakt player lets you create as many instances of GPO as you like, in the real world of CPU and hard disk activity, your computer will feel the pinch after a few instances.  Orchestral compositions on a sequencer benefit from having many instruments playing at the same time, so I use an approach where the sounds are divided up among my Fantom's Complete Orchestra and Symphonique strings, the Triton's Peter Siedleczek Orchestra and let GPO sit front and center.  If you already have other orchestral collections on sample cd roms, the GPO will stand out as a quick and easy way to work up big ensembles.  If there is a weakness here it is compared to libraries that cost 5 times the price, which include more articulations of instruments allowing one to create unique moods and effects.  But hey, we are under 300 here, you can't expect everything.  The hard core tweakmeisters will be pleased to know that the instruments will also load into the full version of Kontakt, in case you get the desire to do wicked things to these pristine sounds with LFOs and filters. 

To sum up, I give it a rating as a good buy for newbies and pros alike.  Do keep in mind the system requirements.  This is a big cpu and disk intensive virtual instrument, so check carefully.  To quote: "To play the entire orchestra, we recommend 1 GB of RAM. There is a direct correlation between the number of instruments that can be loaded and the amount of available RAM. Loading the entire orchestra requires 1 GB of RAM. The more RAM available the better."  There is support for VST, DXi, RTAS, and OS X AudioUnits.  That covers all the major sequencers. 

The question is back to you.  Can you build a symphonic masterpiece?  At least for you, unlike our unknown musical predecessors of the 18th century, you won't die with your composition unheard.  The modern tools are here, easy to use, and ready when you are.

I remain,
Rich the TweakMeister

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