REVIEW: Spitfire’s Albion V Tundra

By Antoine Fafard

You only need to take a quick look at the top-notch cinematic teaser of Spitfire Audio’s Albion V Tundra to understand that this virtual instrument is aimed at film composers looking to add rich and subtle sound textures to their arsenal.

Spitfire
Spitfire Audio has been in the virtual instrument business since 2007 and was formed by British composers Paul Thomson and Christian Henson. In 2010, Spitfire launched the entry-level Albion range to a worldwide audience.

A large part of Spitfire’s output is recorded at the hall in Air Studios in London, commonly regarded as one of the finest scoring stages on the planet. Spitfire also experiments in other great studios and venues London has to offer and has recently built its own series of dynamic spaces for more intimate recordings. Spitfire has now a portfolio of over 50 products and a royalty distribution chain of over 200 musicians and technicians. They are now based in a purpose built HQ with its own state of the art recording facility in central London.

Albion V Tundra
As it names implies, Albion V Tundra is the fifth entry in Spitfire Audio’s widescreen range of compositional tools. This range was designed as a tool to make film music out of the box. This specific latest edition was inspired from the minimalist work of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, recording a 100-piece orchestra recorded to tape at Air Studios, capturing what Spitfire describes as the “Scandinavian zeitgeist”. Ablion V is fully compatible with Native Instruments’ industry-standard KONTAKT platform.

The Albion V consists in 56.8GB of uncompressed .WAV files featuring 27,860 samples. With figures of that range, it’s a first indicator that we deal with some very serious sampling. Once you load the product in Kontakt, the library is divided into five groups: Albion V Orchestra, Brunel Loops, Darwin Percussion, Stephenson’s Steam Band and Vral Grid Evo. The orchestra group is the core of the product and is itself split into eight sound presets. Once you’ve selected a sound preset, you can then select from a series of articulations and microphone mixes and add integrated reverb in order to shape the desired sound.

I highly recommend the serie of video walkthroughs presented by the Spitfire team demonstrating many of the features available in this library, covering all the main components and sound textures included.

“At The Edge of Silence” is used by Spitfire to describe this library and is in my opinion very accurate. This is not a library with sounds that are designed to explode in your face as you hit your keyboard. In fact, some of the patches are so subtle that at one point I thought that there was an issue with the program, only to realise that there was a very long crescendo to that specific sound.

Demonstration
In the following demonstration (see embedded video below), I wanted to use some the key sound textures available in Albion V and provide a short showcase which hopefully adds to the examples already provided by Spitfire. A total of 13 patches were used to create the demo which begins with a Low Strings patch using the Travelling Trems option, which alone probably resumes best what the orchestral part of the library is about – rich, subtle and with an “edge of silence” texture.

I then used a patch from the Stephenson’s Steam Band collection which contains sounds derived from the orchestral collection but heavily tweaked. I associate this part of the library as the Vangelis/Blade Runner sound section. Shortly after, the Low Brass – which I highly enjoy – kicks in and will come back moments later. From 0:35, I integrated a chord progression which I’ve recently composed for a totally different context and applied it to the Albion V. The percussion elements come from both the Darwin preset and some of the Brunel loops.

This short demo also features some of the Low Woods preset with the Overblown articulation, as well as some Ricochet articulation from the High Strings preset which seems to me another clear signature sound available in Albion V.

Conclusion
Having had some personal symphonic music recently performed by a full orchestra in the Czech Republic, I was very attracted with the idea of exploring Spitfire’s latest product.

The music production process has transformed over the recent decades, and perhaps anyone with limited knowledge of music theory can purchase an array of virtual instruments and make it sound like John Williams himself assisted in the orchestral direction. But used wisely, virtual instruments won’t replace creative minds, but assists them. And it’s up to the composer to use the tools available in a clever, original and musical way.

Spitfire was set-up with the intention of revolutionise sampling with the belief that the people who make the best sounds are not software developers but artists. Albion V Tundra is certainly a virtual instrument that features exactly that. It’s clear that Albion V wasn’t designed to cater music which requires fast attacks and rapid passages (although some presets can certainly handle it), but it is a library that is there for a certain subtlety which perhaps wasn’t available up to now in the world of sampling.

A compositional approach can consist in either working with conventional instruments and compose knowing pretty well what the end product will be, or working with new instruments and let yourself inspired by the sounds that they offer. These two approaches aren’t the same and I’m tempted to think that a composer’s best work is probably when he or she masters the sound possibilities that are out there prior to do the composition work. But there is no doubt in my mind that Albion V provides a vast collection of sounds and possibilities that will definitely trigger inspiration. And understanding more what the library can offer over time, Albion V can become one of the main tools in any composer’s arsenal and bring out some of the best work out of any composer.

Many pieces of music in history have sound textures that sometimes catch-on and that get utilised by many artists. These specific sounds becomes universal, part of a trend and associated to an era. The two questions that I ask myself when I come across a music library based on sampled instruments are: was the purpose to make it sound as the real thing, so the library becomes consequently a useful and very affordable compositional tool… or are the sounds distinct enough because the way they have been captured and treated so that a listener familiar enough with the library would be able identify it in any given context? In the case of Albion V, I would say that the product contains both elements. With Albion V, you have access to inspiring, pure, real, rich and top quality orchestral sounds with integrated orchestral phrases. But you also have an overall clear sound signature about it.

In my mind, one thing is sure: Spitfire has done some superb work here capturing the Scandinanvian zeitgeist and if you are especially in the film soundtrack business and looking for a rich, subtle and effective soundscape that will elevate your music production to higher grounds, you’d be crazy to ignore Albion V Tundra.

More about Spitfire’s Albion V Tundra.

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