What is it?
The Nordic or ‘wintery’ sound has, of course, become a thing in recent years thanks to a glut of Scandi-Noir TV dramas. Usually comprising (in equal parts) beautiful landscapes, gritty inner cities and plots so twisty you need a slinky to navigate them, they feature ‘cops on the edge of the law’, ultra violent murders and stunning, often low-key scores.
These (the scores, that is, not the murders thankfully) have almost created a genre of music in themselves. Not particularly defined, they can be anything really – moody, terrifying, a whisper of pad here or orchestral tension there – as long as they ladle on the atmosphere and drama, and make you feel inadequate about living in a rain-soaked city in the UK.
The professionals have quickly climbed jumped on the bandwagon, including the likes of Spitfire (whose Albion Tundra is described as an orchestral library ‘on the edge of silence’), Loopmasters et al.
Now Orchestral Tools are in on the action, but rather than get their usual (and rather brilliant) local Berlin orchestra to try and recreate some Nordic chill, they went up north to track down the real thing. And Tallinn: Baltic Voices and Strings, is the result.
Tallinn, in case you didn’t know, is the capital of Estonia and sits on the Baltic sea, gazing out over to Finland to its north, St Petersburg in Russia to its east. Orchestral Tools captured both the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir for the vocals on Tallinn plus the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra for the strings. (There’s a great background story and video to enjoy on the OT website should you wish.)
The collection makes use of OT’s excellent SINE player, a kind of stripped-back Kontakt which is in its early years of development – and some might say all the better for it. Essentially you can use it to manage whatever OT titles you have a license for. It’s pretty elegant, a bit monochrome, but very practical.
What you get with Tallinn are instruments in the form of the aforementioned vocals – male and female choirs with 16 singers – plus a chamber string ensemble with five violins, four violas, three celli, and two basses. Almost as a bonus, OT recorded two church organs at the venues. While there isn’t the full orchestral here, the focus on strings and voice does give you all of the atmosphere you could ask for.
SINE allows you to download individual mic positions and articulations or group them together and download all the same type. Some will load individually across the keyboard; or load others like the chamber basses as key switches (where different key presses change the articulation played back). It doesn’t matter either way as SINE allows you to automatically assign keys, MIDI channels, MIDI CC or program changes to play different samples.
Orchestral Tools’ SINE player is a standalone or plugin ‘instrument’ although really a shell like Kontakt that allows you to manage your Orchestral Tools libraries.
Once you purchase a library you can browse all of the instruments within it in their various articulations and room mic positions. You can then choose to download individual parts of an instrument, or the whole thing, which is a neat way of avoiding downloading chunks of content you’ll never use.
Once downloaded, simply head to the Library tab and double-click an instrument or articulation to play, which is then accessed via the Performance tab.
As you load in more articulations, they appear in the Articulation List to the right hand side of the UI (see above) which can then be edited according to note position, MIDI cc and so on.
One other neat feature is the Mixer tab which has all of the loaded articulations spread across a virtual mixer. In this way you can set up complete performances, using multiple Orchestral Tools titles all controlled and played within one environment, creating huge walls of sounds, or individual multi-parts all from one instance of SINE either on its own or within your DAW. SINE focuses on practical rather than flash looks.
Performance and verdict
The recording quality and the no-nonsense approach in both choirs are striking – no attempting to cleverly recreate words or vocals phrases, this is pure instrumental atmosphere.
You’re also stuck with the reverb of the church in which they were recorded; but as this is the choir’s ‘home’ church, you are talking about a building and group of people that have been together, as it were, for years, and in perfect harmony. SINE offers little in the way of added effects, nor in this case, should it.
Of the strings, the sustains and portatos stand out – a single note of the former or a simple riff of the latter creates an entire score, the tremolos coming in when things get ‘dangerous’. The chamber basses also offer an incredible dynamic to underpin our score which is rapidly coming together. All you need are some quality actors and subtitles.
As this is a vocal and string collection, the organs feel a little like they’ve barged in, and if there is a criticism it’s that perhaps it would be better with less of them and more vocal variations in the choirs. This is a minor observation though, as even the organ sounds get you after a while, and you start to hear how they fit in with the remainder of the library.
Tallinn loud and clear
Tallinn is absolutely stunning, make no mistake. Stripped back, perfect in execution and sound. It won’t be for everyone, mind, and some may want to combine it with other instruments and libraries for perhaps a fuller sound, although that might be missing the point.
It is aimed at starker scores, the kind of thing where one note or voice delivers more weight than an entire arrangement – think any 21st century drama with the word ‘killing’, ‘bridge’ or missing’ in the title. This isn’t for depth, or complete fulsome happiness, more tension and intrigue.
That said it would be great to combine it with something else anyway, just to hear the results. A damn great synth perhaps, just to see how an electronic backdrop will sit with it (although it may ruin everything), or more likely, one of OT’s own Creative Soundpacks like Umbra or Amber.
Either way, and probably best used alone, Tallinn is delicate, uncompromising, dramatic and will make you think, and even rethink your compositions, the mark of a great title.
MusicRadar verdict: Restrained and beautiful, Tallinn captures incredible strings and vocals in their perfect home environments.
The web says
"Tallinn is a superb addition to any media composer’s template since it is the kind of library that goes beyond its technical constraints by making perfect use of the inspiration it can bring. Musicians who are looking for vivid, breathing samples will indeed find a lot of life and movement in the recordings."
"The intimate acoustic of the church lends Tallinn a sombre dignity that you may struggle to find elsewhere."
Sound On Sound
Sample Library Review
- Works with Orchestral Tools’ SINE Player—NOTE: Very latest version required!
- 92GB of samples (43 GB SINEarc compressed)
- 24-bit / 48KHz patches
- System requirements SINE:
- Mac OS 10.13, i5, 4 GB RAM (16+ GB recommended)
- Windows 10, Intel Core i5 or similar (Windows 7 is not officially supported)
- Interfaces: VST, AU
- CONTACT: Orchestral Tools