EastWest Voice of the Empire – Cinematic Phrasing
Welcome back to StudioWise.
Voices of the Empires is a new solo vocal phrase library from EastWest founders, Doug Rogers and Nick Phoenix. This latest offering looks to blend nicely with their current ensemble choir libraries, offering traditional operatic and more esoteric vocal styles.
EastWest has always had the upper hand in the sample library game due to their extensive heritage and incredible resources. But the bar has been raised in recent years so even the industry leaders can no longer rest on their laurels.
A change from the usual large-scale ensemble released, Voices of the Empire is an intimate solo library with unique voicings.
Voices of the Empire is a solo voice sample library for EastWest’s Play 6 Engine. It consists of slightly over 12 gigabytes of install content and features the voice of Mongolian native Uyanga Bold.
The library includes 84 phrase instruments separated into five categories (legato, combo, sustain, words and phrases) and a master Keyswitch category containing multiple articulation patches.
EastWest’s Play 6 Engine is similar to Native Instruments Kontakt in that it runs expansion instrument libraries within your DAW. However, unlike Kontakt, Play 6 is essentially a self-contained mini studio. Each MIDI channel within the platform features a full mixing environment, SSL channel strip with essential effects, microphone routing and entirely context-sensitive browsing system.
You can load and merge as many patches as you like, even patches from other expansion libraries. External processing is usually not required, allowing you to keep within the box and retain the high quality.
Each expansion library includes a unique player skin, often containing specific effects and layouts relative to the instrument. Though each is unique they all follow a similar basic workflow and layout, so (unlike Kontakt), you will not need to relearn a new interface each time you install an expansion.
Voices of the Empire features a blend of Western, Mongolian and Bulgarian-style multi-sampled vocals phrases. It is a solo instrument by default, though you do have the option to play polyphonically if required.
The library comes with three microphone recordings and requires only 12 gigabytes of hard drive space.
I resisted the urge to watch online demonstrations as I prefer to experience products from a fresh perspective if I can. I am the first to admit my limited experience with Mongolian and Bulgarian vocal styles, but I am reasonably familiar with the Western-style operatic elements of the library.
Firstly, the product is a dream to install. It includes a fully automated Installation Center hub that focuses on the companies Composer Cloud system. Subscribing to the service allows users to download and install any of the hundreds of products as needed. The system monitors updates and allows users to free up hard drive space by removing unused libraries, but retaining all the settings and presets.
It’s an excellent system, even if you purchase individual items outright like the version we have, the same principles apply.
Voices of the Empire is a relatively small library (for EastWest, that is), installing at under 12 gigabytes and containing essentially only a single category of patches required to play.
My first impression was the exceptional recording quality. The library comes with three microphone recordings, close, rear and room – all of which are quite intimate and dry. I was also surprised by how dry the source material is when the reverb effect was disabled.
The close mic recordings are wonderfully warm. There is no mention of the microphones used in the recording sessions, but I can only assume from the promo photos they are “the best you can get”. Rear mic position brings a lot more warmth and body to the sound, with the room mic adding width. Out of the box, these mics and the provided reverb effect result in a quite aggressive upfront vocal with a cleverly contrasting atmospheric reverb wash.
The included reverb processor is outstanding – easily one of the best that I have tested. The default reflective church preset is ideally suited to Uyanga’s voice in my opinion, and there is a considerable number of impulse patches included for creating almost any environment.
The library comes with six folders containing 84 individual phrase instruments. The first five are unique articulations for each of the play styles, including sustain, legato, mod wheel or velocity sensitive combos, word performances and note specific phrases. A final Keyswitch folder contains multi-articulation patches of all five folders.
The “Words” patch has a mod wheel trick that is particularly good for splitting multi-constant words over your keyboard. With the mod wheel you can define where the sample begins playback or for dividing syllables over two notes. It takes a little practice to get the action down pat, but it is a nice way to add more variations to the phrases. Unfortunately, this is a triggered effect, you cannot use the mod wheel to scrub through the articulations.
The phrases category contains the most varied selection of voicings, covering all of the styles separated by key and offering and with the same mod wheel sample start feature. The phrases are placed randomly across the key range, so it takes times to figure out where to find the ones you like. Some colour coding system would have been beneficial here to show the placements.
The legato patch is a bit hit-and-miss for me. I adore the “Ah Mong” and “Oo” articulations, but “Oh” sounds a bit too synthetic on smaller semitone intervals.
Melisma patches again were not quite as dynamic as I was expecting. Phrases only pitch a semitone or so, performing more as a legato instrument with a slight slur. You cannot, for instance, play the first syllable of a word and stretch it out over some notes to end on the final syllable as you can in Hollywood Choirs.
As a solo instrument, Voices of the Empire does not have the immediate gratification that you get from Eastwest’s Hollywood Choirs. But Uyanga’s vocal timbre cut through all backing arrangements I tested beautifully, never sounding lost or weak.
There are no fast staccato phrases, and most patches require time to evolve.
It also takes time investment to learn the phrase sounds and locations. Though most sound good overlaid on any soundtrack randomly, finding the specific tone and performance is a matter of familiarising yourself with the library.
The western style is very operatic, but I found less distinction between the Mongolian and Bulgarian phrases. Uyanga’s characteristic performances stood out for me more than the actual music genre itself.
Most of the more energetic words and phrases respond well to effect processing. Uyanga is very proficient in creating dynamic swells and movement with her voice, all of which sound wonderfully exotic. The library lends itself more towards moody cinematic atmospheres.
Voices of the Empire sat well in the mix with everything I tested it with and was an ideal accompaniment with orchestral arrangements. The library will not be your first instinctive go-to for urban hip-hop or pop projects, but I found that the western operatic phrases worked particularly well with the symphonic metal/prog rock type material that I also write.
In use, this library is deceptively simplistic when compared to EastWest’s monstrous Hollywood Choirs. Other than the microphone mixer, ADSR, simple pan and stereo doubling there’s not much else to affect the samples.
I find EastWest’s Play platform cumbersome to navigate. One-third of the primary player page is dedicated to sensitivity and envelope settings. Perhaps this could be changed to the patch browser eliminating much of the tedious back and forth switching between these two tabs.
There is no way to set keyboard shortcuts to the browser, mixer or player tabs, so you have to mouse-click your way around the hard way.
Also, there is no way to automate any settings in the FX or mixer window. You cannot MIDI assign controller or even set bypass MIDI CC’s for anything. This is not necessarily an issue with Voice of the Empire directly – I had frustrations with this limitation when using Hollywood Choirs and Ministry of Rock 2 in the past.
Also – and I say this with the utmost respect for the original intent of the library – due to the sound design focus some creative synth controls would be handy here. Perhaps a sample reverse, LFO or even stutter slicer would allow the library to more unique. Cutoff and resonance filters would be an excellent addition to apply pseudo-dynamics if one desired. Even a delay effect could produce some exciting results!
Of course, you can apply third-party synth processing to achieve good results, but to preserve the workflow some built-in tools would be beneficial.
The voice behind the voice
Mongolian born vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Uyanga Bold is a Los Angeles local with a long list of credits for live performances and soundtrack recordings. Gamers might be familiar with her voice from Overwatch and league of Legends, she is better known for her contributions to Chinese game and film projects.
I am never disappointed with EastWest’s production quality. The masterful recordings on all of their sample libraries are absolutely world-class. An ensemble group will mask a fair amount of poor recording technique, but with a solo instrument, there is nothing to hide behind.
Years of experience in both engineering and performance are evident in the sound. Coupled with probably the best convolution reverb processor, EastWest presents a very high-quality product all round. In my view, they have created an industry benchmark.
Though the clever use of mod wheel controlled sample offsetting is interesting, I feel there is a missed opportunity here to provide more creative control over the phrases with sound design filters and synth controls. Compared to what Output are doing with Exhale, this feels positively old fashioned.
But as a simple sample playback device, there is plenty of scope to manipulate the provided phrases as you need. The included mix facilities allow total high-end processing directly within the plugin, which is a definite advantage.
Voices of the Empire is an intimate and beautifully recorded phrase library perfectly suited to film, TV and multimedia production scoring. A worthy addition to EastWest’s already extensive catalogue and a boost to the already fantastic value Composer Cloud service.
Full details on this and other EastWest products, check the main site www.soundsonline.com.