Playing a full symphonic orchestra with a MIDI keyboard: Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark Ø

Since early December, film music makers have a new sample set to add to their collection: Metropolis Ark Ø, a collection of three by Orchestral Tools. Metropolis Ark Ø concentrates on large orchestral movements that go hand in glove with majestic scenes, but it can be surprisingly subtle as well.

Metropolis Ark Ø is inspired by Orchestral Tools’ initial concept for Metropolis Ark and gives composers and sound designers the behemoth power of a large orchestra playing as one to create colossal musical moments effortlessly. I took the new set to the test.

Metropolis Ark Ø was captured at the renowned Teldex Scoring Stage in Berlin. There are three orchestra styles in the set — tutti, high, and low — for different playing styles and sonic variations, and as with all Orchestral Tools libraries Ark Ø comes with multiple mic positions.

In contrast with Orchestral Tools’ Berlin series collections, one is playing the same notes with all of the orchestra. With the Berlin series you can play different, longer, supporting notes with for example the basses and celli sections while the lead music is played by the violins and violas sections. Your first thought, as was mine, could be that this allows for a tonally richer, more diversified music piece than Ark Ø is capable of delivering, but then we would both be wrong.

It turns out that, by mixing the high and low sections together with different articulations, you can create quite a rich diversification, although not on the notes level.
To create a piece of 18 minutes worth listening to, an amateur like myself needs roughly three months of afternoons spent trying out all kinds of patterns with the Berlin Series. With the Metropolis Ark Ø set, I immediately felt that I could create something equally worthwhile in less than a month.

The one thing that you can’t create with Ark Ø is very subtle music, like when only a couple of instruments play together. Metropolis Ark Ø always has the largesse of a complete orchestra playing the same notes together. It’s like painting an art piece with a flat brush instead of a fineliner.

By combining the different articulations, you can use Ark Ø despite that largesse and the enormous sound for more than a panoramic scene or one where you want the audience to experience the enormity of what they are watching. Even more subtle, romantic or emotional scenes will benefit from using Ark Ø, unless that scene really needs to be tear jerker.

As with all other collections by Orchestral Tools I have been allowed to review until now, sound quality is stunningly good. There are no artefacts such as the stengun effect that can occur when a digital sample of, for instance, a violin plays short notes quickly one after the other. Such artefacts instantly give away that you’re ultimately dealing with sampled sound.

There’s another, less important reason Metropolis Ark Ø — the entire Metropolis bundle, I imagine — is a desirable collection. One thing I increasingly had problems with when experimenting with sets such as the Berlin collection is that I couldn’t resist increasing the number of tracks used. I haven’t got the latest and greatest Mac on my desk, but it has plenty of internal memory. Even then, after 30 tracks of different instruments, Logic Pro X regularly gets into a cramp, refusing to go on and warning me it ran into a system overload.

That’s less of an issue if you have a complete orchestra wrapped into one instance of the Orchestral Tools plugin.

Metropolis Ark Ø can be purchased as part of the larger Ark series bundle (USD 1575), or alone for USD 150.

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