EastWest Hollywood Fantasy Strings is a magical library of truly rare instruments
A compact yet powerful library that might just become an essential resource
⊕Easy to achieve high-quality results br>
⊕ Rare instruments br>
⊕ Perfect for any scoring project with a fantasy setting br>
⊕ The Opus Player engine remains an industry leader br>
⊖ Pricey as a standalone purchase br>
With its new and upcoming releases, EastWest is immersing composers in a world of myths, monsters and magic. Starting with Fantasy Strings – but soon to be joined by brass, woodwind, percussion and vocal ensemble variants – the company is setting out on a journey to build a brand-new suite of orchestral libraries dedicated to scoring the fantasy genre.
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Offering eight instruments and 147 separate patches, this first instalment is a relatively small library compared to some of EastWest’s other releases. However, the drawcard here is quality over quantity. Boasting historic instruments from the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras, Fantasy Strings unlocks a sonic world that would be hard or even impossible for most composers to replicate.
The viola de gamba is a particular delight. A forerunner to the cello, it has a bright resonance that stands out beautifully in a mix and effortlessly evokes the sunny southern Europe of 400 years ago.
If you prefer a more Nordic feel, there’s the Hardanger fiddle, a Norwegian specialty famous for its use in pop-culture sensations like Marvel’s Loki, the Lord of The Rings trilogy, and Sony’s recent God of War video games. With a range similar to the modern violin, the resonance from the instrument’s non-bowed, sympathetic strings and unique playing style give it a bouncy, lyrical quality that’s perfect for high-energy scoring.
For more percussive or chordal textures, there are two early ancestors of the modern guitar – the lute and the dulcimer. While both excel at producing intricate melodic passages – and both have stand-out tremolo patches – the lute’s larger body gives it a much rounder sound, ideal for more emotive scenes. In comparison, the dulcimer’s sound is thin, with piercing brightness plus an undeniable hint of mystery.
Rounding out the collection is arguably the most distinctive and instantly recognisable instrument of all – the hurdy gurdy. Played using a hand-powered crank to simultaneously produce bass drones and melodies, it has a beautiful yet abrasive sound that has been used by composers across numerous games, films and TV shows. For whatever reason, EastWest have decided to record two of these instruments for the library. The second hurdy gurdy has been recorded in octaves which certainly gives it a weightier sound – however, the differences are fairly subtle. Rather than doubling up, it would have been great to see another hard-to-find folk instrument like the Swedish nyckelharpa included in the library.
The sound quality of these samples is excellent and, as with other recent libraries from EastWest, there’s a selection of microphone signals available within the Opus Player interface should you want to nudge the sound to suit a given mix.
There are also the now familiar macro-level mix controls – termed Moods – which let you quickly change the microphone levels, reverb, and velocity curves to match one of three intensity levels. Customisation of presets is therefore a swift process.
By modern standards, many early instruments are relatively quiet and can sound quite thin when heard in isolation. EastWest has taken two approaches to overcome this. Firstly, in a decision that has to be commended, they’ve opted to record everything as small group ensembles rather than as solo performances. The result is a timbre that has much more presence and gets you close to a finished sound right out of the box. The exception to this are the hurdy gurdy patches which, to be fair, have more than enough presence by themselves.
Secondly, two contemporary string sections are included in the library: violins and violas, and cello and basses. As instruments like the Hardanger fiddle and viola de gamba are distinctly lacking in low-end frequencies, it’s common for composers to layer in modern strings to fill out the sound. By making these instruments available directly in the library, EastWest has largely eliminated the need for any extra tweaking and layering.
The two above approaches, in combination, result in a library that retains an authentically historic quality, while being fast and easy to work with, and capable of providing the full, rich textures that audiences expect from a soundtrack.
As with other recent EastWest releases, the standalone purchase price for Fantasy Strings is on the steep side at $399 and, for many users, a Composer Cloud+ subscription will be the most viable option. However, it’s worth remembering that these are rare instruments that demand specialised playing techniques from their performers. When used to their fullest extent, they’re capable of transporting listeners to a different time and place – it’s an effect you just can’t fake.
If follow-up libraries achieve the same level of quality and usability, EastWest’s Hollywood Fantasy Orchestra collection could well become a must-have for any composer looking to add a touch of magic to their score.
EastWest’s Hollywood Fantasy Strings is available now at an introductory price of $299, moving up to $399 thereafter. You can learn more at soundsonline.com.
8 instruments with 147 patches
Available as part of a Composer Cloud+ subscriptions
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