Mural Volume 2 is the latest edition of Spitfire Audio’s richly expressive symphonic strings from their ongoing orchestral BML series. For those not familiar with the British Modular Library approach, Mural Volume 2 not only provides a second chapter of brand new symphonic string articulations to complement the first volume, it integrates both with enhanced scripting of combination patches, as well as adding sampled content to existing Mural Volume 1 instruments.
In addition to the legato performance that has been vastly expanded with this release, the overall character of this symphonic strings library is further defined with some incredibly compelling long and short styles that make the combined series a more comprehensive string section overall. And the sound is incredible.
Legato Gets Two More Legs
Tightly integrated with the fingered legato of Mural Volume 1 (the only legato available in that volume), Mural 2 now adds bowed (detaché) and portamento across each section, with an ingenious Performance patch that detects velocity when triggering each respective articulation. In short, playing and expression is more fully realized – and inspiring. And herein is the rub of the modular approach: You sense what might be coming in future volumes, and hence what you’re waiting for as well. While I regarded Mural 1’s fingered legato to be dynamic and expressive by itself, the integration of Mural 2 now makes legato playing more expressive, rich, and sweeping.
As with any sampled legato instrument, I immediately scrutinize transitions between notes, and this is where the scripting in Mural 2 feels absolutely refined. There is a true, joyous sense of legato being performed, and not merely programmed. If there is any tentativeness at all, it’s sensing much faster playing that is yet to come (Mural 3?). And yet, there is already great versatility with relatively fast playing between the fingered and bowed legato at hand.
With respect to tailoring performance to individual needs, each legato articulation can be quickly assigned to a specific velocity setting, and for me, this is essential not only with different keyboards, but for my particular touch. By default, Portamento triggers at a much softer velocity – perfect for my lighter playing – but invariably I reassign the bowed articulations so I’m not pounding on the keys. As is, velocity for fingered legato sits comfortably between the two. In addition to this expressively scripted trio, I also rely on the Intensity slider (in the Expression panel) to shape individual notes to be either more deliberate or delicate between transitions. Also worth noting are four velocity curve options (applied globally with each patch) available in the Mixer panel menu.
But there may be a caveat for some with all that wonderful legato. As with all patches in Mural 2, selecting any of the five mics from the Standard Array can increase ram use exponentially. Three legato articulations x 5 mic settings adds up fast, though of course not all positions might be used. But since any unneeded legato can also be disabled in the combo patch (and depending on which mics are used), this potentially saves system resources where that is a concern. For that matter, any articulation in Mural 2 can be loaded individually. So if you want just portamento, go for it (though I can’t fathom why).
A Matter of Personal Tasto
Here is a good place to mention the addition (and implementation) of molto vibrato expression in Mural 2. A big consideration for me is not just how Mural 2 integrates with its predecessor, but any refinements it brings to the quality of the string sections throughout. Though purely a subjective consideration with Mural 1, I have often preferred the tone of the second violins (V2) over the first (V1) in some contexts. Indeed, the sheer size and power of the first violins provides that depth when I need it, but while composing gentle, or even pastoral lines, V2 has been my go-to.
But with Mural 2, the suite of legato and molto vibrato patches provide additional character here. Whereas I might have relegated a line to the second violins exclusively, Mural 2’s legato variations now “sweeten” some edges of the first violins, and this certainly holds true for the molto vibrato longs (for me, applied sparingly), via the vibrato slider in the combo patch. I can’t honestly say I’m compelled to use molto vibrato to a great extent in my work (again, a personal preference), but even just the addition of its subtle use in Mural 2 has made a huge difference already.
One other subjective observation concerns so-called rogue samples that persist (a bow hitting the instrument, a curious reflection, etc.). While Spitfire regards some of these as inherent or even normal, I am mindful of how my most delicate string lines, at the most critical moments, seem to always find these sonic exceptions, nevertheless. I’m torn between this philosophy – even with the COG tool that allows me to isolate some things – and wondering why they are there at all.
Longing For It
Despite legato-mania that has gripped me recently, I still use long articulations in a legato-like way at times. This is not just as a matter of conserving system resources, but because Mural is expressive enough for this task (the release slider can also shape transitions between notes). With Mural 2, there is also an implicit focus on long articulations of different flavors, some of which I’ve found enormously adept at handling divisi-like intervals within the same patch: Paul Thomson’s walkthroughs are full of these examples, even if unintentionally while demonstrating articulations in a new release.
As a self-trained composer, I perhaps do not approach some articulations in the vein of their deliberate or intentional orchestral designation. And who cares? To me, Mural 2 longs reside as a collection of highly diverse instruments, even where the same bowing technique is applied to different sections: In Mural 2, the delicate and brittle flautando of the first and second violins becomes more earthy in the violas; the sul pont evokes distance and subtle dissonance with both violins, while the viola sul pont generates its own, almost distorted characteristics, albeit different from the wonderfully jarring, and deliberately distorted sul pont violins.
And, as with their BML Sable series, combining disparate Mural 2 long articulations is an essential part of how I work, always searching for uniquely distinct sectional coloring. The sul tasto V1 patch by itself is quite alluring; layered with traditional V2 or Va sustains, it transports both. Though technically part of the “decorative” palette, the addition of con sordino sul pont must also be mentioned here, especially the Cello con sordino sul pont that is an absolute gem. It has an incredible glassy resonance all the way into the upper register, with an evocative quality derived from waning bows that push, slightly (and wonderfully), the tuning. To me, it cries out sixteenth-century texture.
Decorated at Last!
Both measured and unmeasured tremolos are now complete in Mural 2, though to underscore a point emphasized in the Mural 1 review, unmeasured tremolos are indeed spread across both volumes. The 150 bpm and 180 bpm measured tremolos (all in Mural 2) provide voluminous and substantial detail, with a bite that has often been elusive for me: Sable is sometimes too meek; some of my other libraries are too static or muddy. For me, all the tremolos in Mural provide double duty for dynamic sustains with the mod wheel, and for fast, connected playing as well. But dare I say that the mid range of the cello measured trems needed my help? Subjective, of course, but this is where a more extensive array of mics actually makes a difference. With the leader, ambient, and outriggers finely tuned, I achieved the detail and resonance I wanted.
Both speeds of the contrabass measured tremolos rumble thunderously with rapid cadence, though one CB note actually pops and stops when played, and I’ve been assured has been noted to be resolved in a future update. Incidentally, a little rattle and bow noise is actually welcome amongst the trems, as the performances of all tremolos feels very much “alive.” And another Mural 2 surprise is the CB tremolando sul pont, with an edgier and brighter – if not toothy – bowing that creates a low underbite, wonderfully juxtaposed against higher resonances.
As for the rest of the decorative articulations, Mural 2’s half and whole tone trills are now complete, and decidedly detailed with both soft and hard attacks. The ubiquitous FX in each section is a nice addition, though for aleatory considerations, this is a modest palette. The tense longs in the same FX patch – also a nice inclusion – are all but hidden amongst Mural 2’s patches. And indeed, I find these to be a poor musician’s trove (meaning, for quick, effortless use) of dramatic crescendos and/or layering of a haunting and moody track. As good as the range of FX sound, I can’t help but think that Spitfire might one day expand these further.
When Short is Big
Sometimes what is actually quite remarkable is undersold in the brevity of a video demonstration. Such was my initial reaction to the 0’5 and 1’0 articulations of Mural 2 while watching the walkthrough online. Once in hand, the pure magic of these was much more apparent, and I’m quite smitten by how these 0’5 and 1’0 additions actually inspire composition. The Mural 2 approach cannot be overstated here: Whether medieval or minimalism, these new tenuto and marcato notes retain a great vibrancy of expression in all sections, with a p – m – f dynamic range. Indeed, I often use a similar patch from another library, but it feels more utilitarian than expressive. With these shorts in Mural 2, the word delicious comes to mind, where the additional magic is in the details. Or I should say, release tails.
And speaking of – as with all BML interfaces which I consider to be very efficient and logical, graphics are often small; the tails I mentioned are tucked into an inconsequential-looking pull down menu that, at first glance, seems inconsequential. Yet none of the smallish features of the BML GUI are ever incidental (read the manual!), and the tails themselves allow for a tighter “timed” release of the 0’5 and 1’0 shorts, or, for a compelling after-tone when left un-timed. I’m wondering if future considerations for assigning cc to these release options might not provide a unique real-time variation when playing as well. A full list of new instruments and articulations in Mural Volume 2 can be found on the Spitfire website.
Patches and Mics – Part Deux
This is perhaps a good place to ride the coattails of Thomas Mavian’s Mural Volume 1 review for FGC, by directing the reader to his overview of Controls and Extras. With respect to his own observations, I have some of my own perspective to offer as well:
Patches in Mural 2 now “seam” aspects of both volumes together (if both are installed). I wish I could say the patch structure is straightforward, and indeed there is a certain logic, once familiar: Three essential categories for Core, Decorative, and Legato palettes reside in various places, designed for loading similar groups of articulations. Economical brushes provide a more streamlined approach; once loaded, the user selectively enables/disables long or short articulations by clicking the respective stanza chips (icons).
But the nki patches could use a bit of tidying up in the folder structure, and the nomenclature between volumes is a bit elusive. Sparing the reader descriptions of identically named nki files and legacy patches that did not get updated (in prepping Mural 1.1 for adding Mural 2), I have been assured by Spitfire that the issues I detailed will be resolved in future updates to both their new downloader and the Mural volumes themselves. Nevertheless, I have found that it’s always wise to keep copies of the older nki instrument files anyway, as the new innovations – adding features onto existing instruments – may actually change the nature of how I interact with a particular, older patch, not to mention ongoing projects still needing to reference these.
As for the Standard Array of mics, these are not only essential for me when balancing a BML orchestra with itself, but also in determining how non-Spitfire instruments work alongside Mural as well. Sometimes even a nudge to the close mics, or trimming the tree, can seat disparate sample libraries together (reverb being another consideration). And though introduced in Mural 1, I’ve now come to really appreciate the leader mic for adding both detail and perspective.
Understanding that FGC readers come from a wide range of professional and economic backgrounds, I would be remiss not to point out how the interdependent aspect of Mural 2 with Mural 1 makes any buying consideration a potentially larger decision than just one volume alone. Simply put, it is expensive. While Mural Volume 1 is arguably a complete option by itself, Mural Volume 2, with its “fundamental” articulations, would also provide an incredible range of symphonic string options, though with the omission of other core articulations (including the fingered legato), if purchased alone.
The “Spitfire Sound” is also a consideration here. Similar articulations can be found in other sample libraries (some great options too), and a preference for a dryer sound is a valid point that I hear expressed. I have worked with virtual instruments for fifteen years, so understand these perspectives. For me, both the patina and talent of instrument and instrumentalist, with the magic of Air Studios itself, is inherent not just in Mural 2, but throughout the BML series as a whole. It is, to my ears, the best sound available.
As with all of Spitfire’s releases, I’ve received personal (and timely) tech support, and though not privy to their development schedule, I’ve enjoyed unexpected enhancements to older products, even as their ongoing commitment to new innovations makes each release feel like an actual investment. This includes periodic updates to their libraries, as well as planned (additional) mic perspectives, though I find myself waiting for these mics to be expedited across the BML line. As with Mural 1, alternative (and some time/resource saving) mixes are also planned for Mural 2.
Mural Volume 2 runs in either Kontakt 4 or 5. It is not a Kontakt Player instrument, but is accessed via the Kontakt file browser. Installation of Spitfire products has been recently transitioned to a designated Audio Library Manager, keyed to each user’s account. Once purchased online, an email indicates that the watermarked product is ready to download via the downloader. As I mentioned, the system still has some glitches to work out, and the download times are a bit of a mystery as it fluctuates wildly between kbps and mbps: My Mural 2 download took seven hours for 30 gigabytes, via a cable internet connection, though I realize that a myriad of factors can impact download times. Even so, faster download speeds were never sustained. But it was worth the wait.