Orchestral Swells | NFO & Dan Keen


Our friends at Northern Film Orchestra, who we had teamed up with previously on our Score Relief competition, have joined forces with another friend of ours Dan Keen and produced an amazing sound library which is FREE.  The library, NFO:Orchestral Swells, is available for both Kontakt and DecentSampler and can be downloaded from Pianobook.

Archie and I caught up with Jack Hughes from the orchestra and Dan and asked them about the library.  We’ll share the interview in full soon in our podcast, and Archie will share an amazing demo track that he’s created using the library, but here are a few highlights of what they said:

● JH – When I started the orchestra, I had in my head that I’d love to do a sample library of some sort but I didn’t want to just jump in and do any old thing.  Then I remember discovering Dan’s Soft String Spurs and thinking he’d be the right man to ask.

●  JH – A lot of it was relying on what the musicians are willing to do.  Luckily everyone had very clear schedules because of the lockdown and they’re all quite eager to get involved in doing stuff so I just put the the request out to see who’d be interested and people came back and offered up lots of generous recordings.

● JH – It was like taking the kind of Stoller Hall NFO aesthetic and then applying it to samples that everyone could get their hands on if they couldn’t afford to record that.

● JH – I feel like in a way we’ve got quite a warm almost a golden age Hollywood sound where it’s very natural.  I wouldn’t say it’s too cinematically done and too overproduced if you know what I mean.  I think a lot of that is in in my mixing style as well.  The library itself felt really kind of intimate and I really loved that it was so sweet just such a gorgeous sound.

●  DK – We were really surprised by how people were willing to kind of experiment with techniques of their own and maybe they’d try all of that stuff with mutes or they’d try further up the fingerboard or in different positions.  I think it was the flautist who gave us 13 round robins!

●  DK – We were chatting a little while back weren’t we about how actually getting players to perform samples is very different from getting them to perform a piece and while it is kind of one note recorded at a time, you almost have to simplify the performance.  When you start layering these notes on top of each other, you don’t have space for so much nuance that every note is a little bit distracting or jarring.  When you’ve got multiple dynamic layers and you’ve got this sort of blend that you’re applying through the mod wheel, it can get quite complicated quite quickly if every player is trying to make each note sound really otherworldly, so it does take a lot of adaptation.

●  DK – Whenever I work with players for samples, I always say just play slower than you think.  If you’re swelling up to something or you’re applying a bit of vibrato it somehow works better if you can really feel it progressing.

●  JH – I think we were lucky as well.  One of the brass players, so husband and wife duo, and they did trombone, trumpet and euphonium and they had some ribbon mics which I think added a nice detail to it.

●  JH – For a lot of people their exposure to orchestral instruments is through sample libraries so you don’t want to put a paywall through that.  In fact I had someone message me today saying that their 15-year-old son is just starting composing and they’re in and out of their pockets all the time buying Cubase and everything, but they love that our thing was free and they’re asking for the download link so I suppose things like that are nice.  That’s what you want to hear.

●  JH – I guess between us, Labs and the free version of BBCSO, it’s a pretty decent palette you can get, considering when I started it was literally like Logic standard strings then the Kontakt Player ones that it came with.  That string one for me was what I used for ages.  You know I remember the first time I bought a string library that had mod wheel expression I was like – oh my god, that’s it I’m a real composer now!

Check our podcast soon for the full interview and let us know if you create anything with the library.

Interviewed by Bryan Waters
Edited by Yelyzaveta Dembovska

June 2021