In the dim and distant past, in an era of Sibelus V1-V2 and computers were not very powerful there was a 19 inch rack unit called the Virtuoso 2000, This was essentially a sample based synthesizer with two orchestral sample ROMs inside- with both massed orchestral sounds, single instrument samples at various dynamics, all instruments of the symphony orchestra, incl Harp, complete percussion ensemble, all the strings, woodwinds incl Alto flute, Bass Clarinet, contra- bassoon, English horn, full set of brass and some interesting orchestral effects. For those wanting pop solutions or to audition new sounds there were also a list of 186 riffs. All of this crammed into about 64Mb! There were other models two, with different roms installed, and sometimes different abilities enabled.
This unit was made roughly between 1999 and 2002, was quite expensive when it came out (£800-£1000 in 2000!) and people who wanted more realistic sounding instruments compared to computer sound card midi impressions bought them. Then when computers suddenly got a lot more powerful and Sibelius brought out version 3 which came with a sample sound library this and hardware units like it, were forgotten.
I bought mine when I had a large scale commission for a piece of fixed media music and I needed some orchestral sounds to play with, and the piece I was working on, with multiple softsynths was already caning my modest laptop CPU so this was a quick, immediate and cheap answer (got it for £200), and zero CPU pull..
Sounds were often brilliant, some less so (but this is true of even some very expensive sample libraries, I’ve found) and the percussion, woodwind instruments particularly good.
However on exploring the manual there is much more to this than meets the eye, it will also work as a fully functioning synthesiser with LFOs, the EMU z-plane filter, a two stage ADSR (as A1,A2,D1,D2,S, R1, R2) but didn’t really take this on board…
..until this month! As part of this years RPM Challenge, a thing I do every year in which the challenge is to make at least 35mins of music in the days of February, I wanted some particular sounds, and I rediscovered this unit and its amazing possibilities!
The first thing is this unit uses EMUs 4 layer architecture, so most sounds comprise of four overlaid samples, the idea being the machine can be set to select a particular layer depending on how hard the keyboard (or MIDI note) is hit, so if very gently a sample of the instrument being played at p might be played and if hit hard the instrument sampled played at ff might be used etc.
But the great thing is all four layers can be set to used together! And each layer has its own volume ADSR its own Z-filter shape, its own, LFOs (two of them) and its own effects! This allows for some serious sound design to take place- and if that wasn’t enough it even has a hardware effects send&return! Bargain!
One of the sound design possibilities is to spectralise an instrument by giving each layer a very different filter/ADSR setting so the instrument can be simutaneously divided up into 4 filtered layers which overlap but are phased- so the instrument sound evovles over time, playing different partials taken from the sample by filtering- I did this with the bass clarinet sound here:
Another is to affect the whole four layers together, which is also possible.
One of the issues is the manual is not very user friendly, and the two line screen display, even with a jog wheel, is time consuming, so there is a great open source cross-platform application called Prodatum which is downloadable here which controls all of the parameters from your laptop, and stores them on the machine in the user rom. Be aware this uses the MIDI sysex so both MIDI in and MIDI out cables need to be connected, but other than that, works fine and allows ADSR envelopes to be edited by seeing the graph rather than just turning the knob, also it allows all the internal patching to be done from computer- important as there are complex possibilities here which are easier to see in this way.
Im still experimenting with the possibilities of this under-rated machine, the others in the EMU rom family often have other features such as arpeggiators and different built in effects, and the concept of this machine gave way to a mixture of large sample libraries and modelling systems but this transitional technology, when used a synthesiser to make new sounds based on instrument samples still has some life in it yet, I think.