I've been checking out Symphobia (extensive demo listening, reading up on instrument and program lists, video tutorials from Maarten and others, etc.) and finding myself torn. There's no question about how good the library sounds, but, for me anyway, there are questions about how good the library might be for the scoring industry.
For those who don't know, this is a library that combines ensemble recordings of the orchestra to recreate in vivid realism the acoustic space and natural positioning of a true live recording. Instead of recording individual sections, the library has recorded various sectional groupings together to capture all the natural sonic idiosyncracies found therein. In their words, "the real thing just sounds better." (i.e. when two sections play together, it is a different sound than layering individually recorded sections on top of each other). There can be no denial that the demos reveal a natural "live" sound unparalleled in the sample world for orchestral libraries.
However, in my opinion, there are several negative factors that this library introduces to the world of film scoring anew:
1. The library is the first "serious" orchestral volume to begin controlling orchestration for the composer. It limits orchestral choice based on the mapping of the various patches. And while the instrument list is fairly extensive for what kind of library this is (though nothing compared to other more thorough libraries dedicated to individual instruments and sections) using this library will require you to defer to the orchestrational doubling choices laid out for you. Now I realize that the whole point of this library is to hasten to the workflow while maintaining high sound quality, but, as a self respecting composer, I take fundamental issue with this. Orchestrational choice is paramount to individual style, and frankly, I find that this library defaults to the unfortunately limited orchestrational "style" of the Zimmer camp et al. Where everything is doubled to egregious levels and the orchestrational sophistication is diminished greatly. Doubled (or tripled) triads across sections does not good orchestration make, an using this library, it seems you will be relagated to just that with very minor exception. This is perhaps the biggest case of a library that requires that you write for IT and not YOU. If you want total control over your orchestration this is not the library for you.
2. Forced style. Related to the above, this library clearly has strengths, but because of the "sound" it dictates, it will bring about more of the same thing from most who use it. It's an unfortunate truth that commercial scoring is squeezed stylistically as it is, based on a few (sometimes very limited composers') offerings. This library seems to perpetuate that common style by forcing it's "sound" on those who use it. If you want subtlty in texture (vlns playing one thing, high winds another) you might not be able to achieve it here. The more this library finds its way into composers' arsenals, the more carbon-copy music will be produced as a result, at least with regard to orchestration. It seems to me that this is a library imposes a very specific sound on those who use it. Of course that's exactly what it was designed to do, but the result is that more and more composers who might have otherwise been more creative with their writing will defer to the ease and speed of loading up a full ensemble patch and playing block chords--a sound that Hollywood has been shoving down our throats for too long now as it is. With Symphobia, it seems that that sound is now even more easy to achieve than ever, and I fear the result will be a continuation of the "rock keyboard player" orchestral sound that has been taking over film and commercial scoring for years now.
3. Leveling the playing field. The scary thing is how good this library sounds out of the box with almost no effort on the part of the composer. This is the kind of library where you can load up a couple patches and play a few chords (or even a single note) and get a full symphonic ensemble sound. As a result, anyone who can pony up the cash can start generating finished sounding cues. A lot of the 'inside" writers tricks are all recorded for you here, so anyone who has no clue how to actually go about writing some of these effects can end up with pretty realistic sounding demos as a result. Which may seem like a great thing to an up and comer, but to the composers who actually can write it for the scoring stage might find themselves fighting for gigs against very limited writers with great sounding demos. I guess this delves into the whole ethical question of using these kinds of libraries. There are a few libraries like this that have begun to do some of the writing for you. As a film and TV composer, I realize that this isn't always art music we're making here (usually not!) but as composer, I've always felt that the craft you develop is essential to your artistic output. That no artist should ever be limited by his tools, and a library that begins to dictate the output, the creative choices for you, is a limiting factor. If that library allows those who have not necessarily developed the craft to "pass muster" as it were, to me anyway, it seems very misrepresentative of that composer's ability and creative vision, and might result in many composers all cranking out the same thing, even if they'd need ten orchestrators to write it for the live session. Once upon a time, being able to compose for film required a comprehensive musical understanding. A highly specialized job that only the best writers could break into. Thanks to some technology, not anymore. With the right "user friendly" libraries anyone can make something that sounds at least professional. And because "anyone" is now scoring blockbuster films (and as a result, setting the trends), the quality of the music has diminished. Unfortunately, I fear this library may fall into that category.
4. Translation to live. Tying in to that is the way this library doesn't translate to a live score. Loading up a 4 section patch and playing chords does not translate to a conductor's score. For those who have no idea who's playing what, the transcription will be vague and inaccurate. For those who do know, or for orchestrators given a sequencer session using this library, the workload will be increased, picking apart the patches and transcribing from ear. Needless to say, a midi import into Sibelius or Finale would be pretty useless. To say nothing of the fact that this library almost forces you NOT to think orchestrationally when writing. You load a patch, play, and there you have a full orchestra. Sounds good enough so no need to over think it. As opposed to a library where all instruments are individually sampled. There you have to actually think about your choices, and as a result it will be YOUR choice. You actually have to compose it yourself--what a novel idea! I guess this ties in with the same ethical question...
So I guess my bottom line is that Symphobia seems to be part of the newest trend of libraries that are beginning to make the choices for the composers for the sake of speed and ease, that are possibly limiting the writing, and allowing those who don't really know what they're doing to generate professional sounding music and potentially enter the already overcrowded composer market in Hollywood. at the same time continuing to limit the already shrinking variance of commercial music in terms of style, orchestration, and creative direction in an industry that does enough of that on its own.
Again, I think this library sounds amazing. The demos are fantastic, but my guess of course is that they are all written to the specific strengths of the library. I'd like to hear a demo of this utilizing the Williams/Spencer orchestration style and see where it stands. Obviously Symphobia was designed for composers to have a quick and easy way to crank out a very specific thing, and to that end it seems on point. For a professional composer, especially a writer well versed in orchestration, I think Symphobia could be an invaluable addition to an existing orchestral pallet. But I fear a possible negative offshoot of this library might be the continuation of a trend where the library does more and more of the writing for you, and more and more composers, or even musical neophytes, are all cranking out the same (very realistic sounding) music. In a line of work inherently limited by by trends, producers, what's on the screen, and an already tiny amount of creative wiggle room stylistically, it seems the one thing we don't need is our own tools telling us what to do at the drawing board.