With endorsements from award-winning saxophonist Tom Scott and renowned musician Philippe Saisse, Arturia’s latest synthesizer offering, Brass, deserves serious consideration. As the name suggests, this software provides the synthesizer player with the sounds of brass instruments – specifically, a trumpet, a tenor saxophone and a trombone, none of which are the easiest of instruments to emulate.
Based on physical-modelling technology developed at IRCAM, the Paris-based institute for research into musical acoustics, Brass aims to provide someone using a MIDI keyboard or breath controller with the same control, flexibility and sound that a professional performer of these instruments would have.
Why physical modelling, when many sample libraries offer brass instruments that can sound very realistic? The fact is that samples lack the expression of the instrument that a ‘live’ player can offer. Even whole phrases supplied in ‘loop’ libraries lack the flexibility that composers need. Physical modelling, on the other hand, offers a level of expression that samples and loops simply cannot offer.
Brass offers a Live mode for real-time performance and a Riff mode for playing pre-written, easily modifiable, short phrases. Looking at the user interface in Live mode you see the instruments and presets listed at the left with a file manager section below. The central section shows the synthesizer components: Attack, Pressure, Pitch, Timbre, Noise, Vibrato, Vibrato Frequency, and Mute. If you click on the areas at the right, the central area displays the instrument Configuration, the Spatialisation settings, or the MIDI settings – according to which you select.
The Presets recall all the settings of the synthesis parameters for a particular instrument, along with the configuration and spatialisation settings. The configuration screen lets you select from a variety of mutes (or different mouthpieces in the case of the sax). The spatialisation screen is a joy to use. A small icon represents the instrument on the screen. Simply click and drag this icon to reposition the instrument within the stereo space. You can also add ambience to the sound, which is very useful in standalone mode.
Click on Riff at the top-right of the screen and Brass switches to Riff mode. The lower part of the central section then lets you select preset riffs including Latin, Reggae, Soul, Jazz and other popular styles. These preset riffs show off exactly what these instruments are capable of when used intelligently. A note-editing grid lets you edit the presets and you can save your edits as new riffs.
The trumpet and the trombone are the more convincing of the three simulated instruments, with the tenor saxophone sounding very ‘cheesy’ in its lowest register. In particular, the Pop and Funk riffs that use combinations of trumpet and trombone are extremely realistic sounding. I can strongly recommend Brass to musicians, arrangers and composers working on any type of contemporary music. For orchestral music, I would stick with the sample libraries.