Music Software Review: Spitfire Mural (Vol 1)

I actually had to look up the word “Mural” in a dictionary to be certain I understood what it meant. The dictionary in OSX Mavericks explained it as “a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall”. It’s a good description of Mural, Spitfire Audios symphonic strings for Kontakt 5.

Mural is the last in line of Spitfire AudiosBritish Modular Library” (or BML for short) and it is a symphonic string section. I have some knowledge of a few Spitfire libraries such as the Solo Strings and a whole bunch of the Spitfire Labs titles, but this is my first go at anything in the BML range. Excited.

Spitfire Mural Installation

Actually, I won’t elaborate too long on this, but there is definitely room for some huge improvement in this area. You’ll get a license in your account at Spitfire Audio‘s website and after login you download Spitfire’s own downloader application. I started the download and the installer/downloader calculated that it would take 8 days 17 hours and 34 minutes until the 31.25 GB library would be on my drive. That’s just, wow, ridiculous. Ok, waited some more, no change. This is the first time since the dawn of the 21st century that I’ve actually wanted to order something physical instead of digital. The feeling would then have been one of excitement and joy instead of utter frustration, anger and not understanding why my 100/100 fibre connection wouldn’t go any faster.

After a good 4 hours almost 1 GB had been downloaded, the speed was a whopping 366 kbps. Totally pathetic. I pressed the pause button, waited for three seconds and resumed the download. After a few seconds the speed was 39 mbps, a big improvement. After a few minutes it started to fall again and I repeated the procedure. After a few more stop and starts the speed settled at 15 to 21 mbps and I left it at that. Eventually I got so sick of checking the download so I just left it there over night. Have no exact figure on the time it took but it was way more than 10 hours. I’ll just say that whatever you do, make sure you backup that download to a different drive! If something would happen in the middle of a project and you had to wait for everything to download again you would be in tears several times over.

Starting up Mural

When everything was in place I started to load some patches and began playing with it. At first I thought some patches were missing. I checked the manual and everything was installed as it should be. Apparently Spitfire decided that some articulations is not that important in a basic set so they are instead available in volume 2 (which also is released).

The sections in Mural are as follows: 1st violins – 16 players, 2nd violins – 14 players, violas – 12 players, cellos – 10 players and basses – 8 players. A total of 60 players! Worth noting here is that it is a “real” 2nd violin section, not a faked 1st violin section like in some other libraries. Nice.

Mural comes with quite a few patches (or .NKI’s if you so will). There are shorts, longs, decoratives and a whole bunch of others. It took me some time to understand what I wanted to have loaded and I found the patches most matching my preferred method of working in a folder called “_Other Brushes_”, not the first folder I looked in I can tell you. The patch with the (for me) confusing name “The Punch Cog” has every articulation available. The manual mentioned patches called “All in one” but I couldn’t find those patches anywhere.

The only instruments that can match the 1st violins when it comes to available articulations are the celli. Violins 2 and the violas are “missing” quite a few articulations. Like tremolo. Yes, they are missing tremolo. Yes, you read it right, they are missing tremolos! Also, there is a patch in the “_COG brushes_” folder called “V2 – Decorative palette (vol1).nki” which is completely empty when loaded.

Some patches have exactly the same samples but the release is set in the shortest position. The “Pizzicato” and “Short Pizzicato” patches are using the same samples, it’s just the release setting at it’s shortest, for the “short” addition, and the longest for the others. Sure, the patch list looks a bit better but people using separate tracks for different articulations surely have the knowledge of changing that setting by themselves I think.

When using a blend of three mics (Close, Tree, and Ambient) and all the articulations available in “The Punch Cog” the RAM requirements are as follows:

  • 1st violins 1.86 GB
  • 2nd violins 1.54 GB
  • Violas 1.6 GB
  • Cellos 2.01 GB
  • Basses 1.1GB

That’s about 8 GB in total. Quite hefty but then you are only a few articulations short of a full set (tremolos, hello?!?).

Spitfire Mural Articulations

Violins 1 (16 players)

  • Col Legno
  • Flautando
  • Legato (Fingered)
  • Long Con Sordino
  • Long Harmonics
  • Long
  • Pizzicato Bartok
  • Pizzicato
  • Spiccato
  • Sul Pont
  • Tremolo

Violins 2 (14 players)

  • Legato (Fingered)
  • Long Con Sordino
  • Long
  • Pizzicato
  • Spiccato
Violas (12 players)

  • Flautando
  • Legato (Fingered)
  • Long Con Sordino
  • Long Harmonics
  • Long
  • Pizzicato
  • Spiccato
  • Sul Pont
Cellos (10 players)

  • Col Legno
  • Flautando
  • Legato (Fingered)
  • Long Con Sordino
  • Long Harmonics
  • Long
  • Pizzicato Bartok
  • Pizzicato
  • Spiccato
  • Sul Pont
  • Tremolo

Basses (8 players)

  • Col Legno
  • Flautando
  • Legato (Fingered)
  • Long Harmonics
  • Long
  • Pizzicato Bartok
  • Pizzicato
  • Spiccato
  • Sul Pont
  • Tremolo

Spitfire Mural Interface

I don’t have 20/20 vision but I’m not blind as a bat either. The interface of Mural is “prettier” (subjective, I know) than it is user friendly. It’s small, it’s even very much ok to call it tiny and it’s very soft in contrast. Not a so good combination in my opinion. For instance, I had to read the manual to know where to click, that is an abomination (in my book at least) in this day and age. You should be able to know what’s clickable and what’s not when you look upon a GUI. (Oh, and the manual wasn’t even included in the download, I had to fetch that one myself from the site.)

Spitfire Mural

The contrast of the interface is way to soft for my liking. The small almost invisible icons that acts as toggles are but a few pixels high and a very soft grey in color. When clicked a part of the interface changes but the icon looks exactly the same as before you clicked it leaving you guessing if it was on before you clicked it, or not? Also, the softness of these icons have the exact same appearance as the Ostinatum icon has when it can’t be selected, but the icons can. I mean, what? And again, the various articulations have the same “can’t be clicked” appearance as the ostinatum icon. But that only shows that they aren’t selected. Weird, I know.

The various controllers for dynamics, tightness etc. are very small and with no numbers whatsoever, to be sure to have the same release value among violins 1 and 2 for example you need to hook it up with a MIDI controller and set the value with that controller. Quite often when I reached for the little triangle I managed to grab hold of the whole Kontakt instrument and dragged it of screen a few times. Annoyingly small controls. And the various controls for selecting things have two different looks. A square when it’s microphone perspectives and articulations and some sort of radio button look when it’s about everything else. Strange.

The site mentions the fact that they “have worked for many years to create a simple and uniform GUI so you learn one, you learn them all”. Well, in my humble opinion the user should never need to learn a GUI. Period. It should be developed so the user instantly knows how it works, where to click, what options there are and so on. Simple as that.

In short, I found the interface very confusing. It’s too soft, inconsistent and too small. Room for some improvement so to speak.

Spitfire Mural Sound

How something sounds is very subjective and to describe it in words is even harder but let me just say that in short, Mural sounds fantastic! When you load up a patch and start playing it’s just pure bliss. I believe that “the devil is in the details” and when you think of the combination of everything that makes up the sound of Mural it’s hard to find a “weak” spot. The hall, the players, the equipment and the apparent love for strings from Spitfire makes playing Mural pure joy.

Yes, ok, some of the patches have some small glitches like the violas spiccato patch where one note is stronger than the others but that is purely on the programming side and can be fixed. The sound of the cellos playing legato in the high range or the double basses playing pizzicato is just so damn beautiful!

The legatos are nice and can range from very tight to quite loose. It’s just a matter of tweaking a few parameters, just as you’d like it actually.

The spiccatos at first felt disappointing, probably because I had another sound in mind. They are on the feathery, bouncier, lighter side and when you write some lighter stuff they do their job perfectly.

There is even some choice regarding the vibrato but it’s a basic on/off choice rather than a continuous control over the amount. I felt that it could have been more vibrato though. Looking at whats released in volume 2 of Mural there is a “Longs Molto Vib” patch but there seems to be no change to the vibrato in the legato patch. Too bad.

My biggest gripe with the patches is that tremolo is placed amongst the “decorative” patches and it’s not even present for the 2nd violins and the violas. This alone could be a reason to expand with volume 2 of Mural, if you want to part with the money that is. Sure, call it “decorative” if you will but do include it. In my book harmonics fit better in the decorative category and the tremolo in the core palette, but that’s just me I guess.

Control

You have five different microphone perspectives for your choosing, blend and mix them as you wish. This is brilliant since the range of sounds you get is almost infinite. You can even select a different output for each microphone and do the mix in your DAW instead of in Kontakt. It’s very smart implemented and I wish every developer would implement it this way and let you have this freedom.

Spitfire Mural panning

You also have control over panning and stereo width over the close microphones which gives you all the tools you could possibly want. Since I use Vienna Ensemble Pro to host my bigger Kontakt patches I built a little remote control in Logic which helps sculpting the sound for the very project I’m working on.

The microphone perspectives that are included in what Spitfire calls “Standard Array” are: Close, Tree, Ambient, Outriggers and Leader. Close, tree and ambient speak for themselves but the outriggers and leader mics may need some explanation. The outriggers are placed a bit farther apart than the regular decca tree and as such they are somewhere in the middle of the tree and the ambients.

I found that using just the close and the outriggers could make up for a nice sound with some added stereo imaging. The leader mics are placed on the the leader of each section. They are a nice alternative to the close perspective with a more intimate feel/sound to it and blended with the outriggers you get a very delicate, almost a smaller sound. If you’re low on resources you can get away with using just the tree or the outriggers.

A nice thing is that after you’ve set up a sound you like on the 1st violins, you can simply copy that setting and apply them to the other sections relatively easy. All in all, there is plenty of both options and control over creating the sound you’d like Mural to have. Just make sure you’re not in a hurry, then frustration over the small controls will get to you.

Extra extras

But the amount of control you have over the various articulations doesn’t stop with the sound they make. It’s also about how you want to switch between them. You can layer articulations, make them switch in various ways such as CC range, keyswitch, velocity range, MIDI channel or by speed of playing. If you hit a round robin note you don’t like you can even tweak that. All these things are explained in detail in the manual so I’ll just mention that they exist. And I’ll say that it’s nicely implemented as well but leave it at that.

Spitfire Mural Ostinatum

Included is also what Spitfire calls “Ostinatum”. It’s sort of a blend between an arpeggiator and a mini sequencer. You can quickly sketch some interesting rhythms that could be hard to play by hand. I feel it is more of a gimmick than a real tool and I’d rather use another arpeggiator inside my DAW than to use this. But for some fast and fun sketching I guess it can work.

Conclusion

spitfire mural boxSo, would I recommend it? I’d like to answer that question with “absolutely” but the truth is really that it depends. After I had gone through all patches and got a feel for what Mural was, I felt it missed a lot. Vibrato for instance, none of the patches included have any heavy vibrato. Another thing I miss is “bite”, the sweaty sound of rosin falling of the bows as the players are pounding their instruments in heavy spiccato/staccato passages à la Pirates of the Caribbean. At first I was a bit disappointed but after a while I understood that it was what “I” missed, not what Mural was lacking. If you want to do more dramatic (or dare I use the word “epic”?) I suggest you either plan to spend some more money on the following expansions of Mural or turn to something else altogether. If you on the other hand like me, enjoy the sound of Alexandre Desplat music for “Coco avant Chanel”, “Tree of Life”, “The Painted Veil” or Rachel Portmans scores for “Never Let Me Go” and “The Lake House” you can come very close with Mural. I find it excels in soft and delicate writing. It feels as it responds to this area very well. Or it could just be my imagination.

It’s hard not to compare Mural with other libraries of in the same price range and in other libraries I feel you get a more complete set of articulations. Yes, Mural has harmonics, con sordinos and whatnot but other libraries have tremolo across all sections and in my book that’s a more important articulation to have. The sound of Mural may or may not be of liking to everyone, although I’m hard pressed to try to understand who wouldn’t like the sound of Mural. Yes, you can miss some that’s not there, but what is included is beautiful indeed.

If you want to buy just one string library and you want to be able to write “everything” with it I suggest you look at other offerings. If you on the other hand is willing to invest in the first installment of what looks to become a delicate, beautiful and very competent string library, look no further. I just wish the interface was a bit better/bigger. The sound is Murals strength though, and what a sound it is!

Specifics:

  • Mural volume 1
  • Price: £399 ( + VAT within the EU)
  • Developer: Spitfire Audio
  • http://www.spitfireaudio.com
  • Tested on a Mac Pro 8-core 24 GB RAM with OS X Mavericks 10.9.3, Kontakt 5.3.1 and Logic Pro X 10.0.7. (also hosted inside Vienna Ensemble Pro 5.3.13240.)

Requirements:

  • Kontakt full version only. Can’t find what version of Kontakt they recommend from the developers site but the manual mentions Kontakt 4.
  • From the developers site:
  • PC: Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32/64 Bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • Mac: Mac OS X 10.7 or 10.8 (latest update), Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • NOTE: I feel these requirements are quite low and I’d suggest that you add another 10 GB RAM if you want to use it as it (probably) was intended.
I actually had to look up the word “Mural” in a dictionary to be certain I understood what it meant. The dictionary in OSX Mavericks explained it as “a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall”. It’s a good description of Mural, Spitfire Audios symphonic strings for Kontakt 5. Mural is the last in line of Spitfire Audios “British Modular Library” (or BML for short) and it is a symphonic string section. I have some knowledge of a few Spitfire libraries such as the Solo Strings and a whole bunch of the Spitfire Labs titles, but this is my first go at anything in the BML range. Excited.

Spitfire Mural Installation Actually, I won’t elaborate too long on this, but there is definitely room for some huge improvement in this area. You’ll get a license in your account at Spitfire Audio’s website and after login you download Spitfire’s own downloader application. I started the download and the installer/downloader calculated that it would take 8 days 17 hours and 34 minutes until the 31.25 GB library would be on my drive. That’s just, wow, ridiculous. Ok, waited some more, no change. This is the first time since the dawn of the 21st century that I’ve actually wanted to order something physical instead of digital. The feeling would then have been one of excitement and joy instead of utter frustration, anger and not understanding why my 100/100 fibre connection wouldn’t go any faster. After a good 4 hours almost 1 GB had been downloaded, the speed was a whopping 366 kbps. Totally pathetic. I pressed the pause button, waited for three seconds and resumed the download. After a few seconds the speed was 39 mbps, a big improvement. After a few minutes it started to fall again and I repeated the procedure. After a few more stop and starts the speed settled at 15 to 21 mbps and I left it at that. Eventually I got so sick of checking the download so I just left it there over night. Have no exact figure on the time it took but it was way more than 10 hours. I’ll just say that whatever you do, make sure you backup that download to a different drive! If something would happen in the middle of a project and you had to wait for everything to download again you would be in tears several times over. Starting up Mural When everything was in place I started to load some patches and began playing with it. At first I thought some patches were missing. I checked the manual and everything was installed as it should be. Apparently Spitfire decided that some articulations is not that important in a basic set so they are instead available in volume 2 (which also is released). The sections in Mural are as follows: 1st violins – 16 players, 2nd violins – 14 players, violas – 12 players, cellos – 10 players…

Spitfire Audio Mural (Vol 1)


INSTALLATION – 30%


PATCHES – 80%


INTERFACE – 50%


SOUND – 90%


VALUE – 70%



64%

64/100

If you want to buy just one string library and you want to be able to write “everything” with it I suggest you look at other offerings. If you on the other hand is willing to invest in the first instalment of what looks to become a delicate, beautiful and very competent string library, look no further. The sound is Murals strength though, and what a sound it is!

64

Written by: Thomas Mavian

Thomas Mavian is a Swedish composer, producer and record label owner with a soft spot for virtual synthesizers (which he has too many of already). He is currently involved in leading the design and development of a new music sharing service.

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