An Orchestra in My Pocket

Well, in my bag anyway. Close enough. And astonishing.

Back when I was studying composition in high school and college, I regularly used to say that I really just wanted an orchestra I could carry around in my pocket and deploy some or all of on demand. (Joking, yes, but only because it wasn’t possible!) New idea? Think it would work well with the combination of bassoons and trombones? Click: the orchestra appears and I hand the players a quickly-jotted sketch and see how it actually sounds.

I have reflected a few times over the past 18 months or so: modern sample libraries actually get pretty close to that dream. Obviously there’s no substitute for real players. For one, sample libraries will absolutely not teach you what a given instrument is capable of; in that regard, sample libraries can be actively misleading: they will produce glorious-sounding nonsense that is quite impossible for an actual instrument to play! For another, even the best sample libraries performed most expertly will not sound as good as real instruments. But they do sound very good, and if you have a good sense of the instruments already, they are an absolutely astonishing tool.

These days, any time I have my laptop with me — and that’s most places I go for anything but church — I by definition also have Spitfire Audios BBC Symphony Orchestra with me.1 That means I can open my laptop and have incredible samples — samples which sound extremely true to life! — up and playing whatever I sketch, in Logic or in Dorico in under a minute. I do have that orchestra in my pocket — or at least, my bag. This is still both utterly astonishing and truly delightful.


  1. I have the full Pro version, but even just the $50-or-free Discover version is great, and the Core version covers 95% or more of my actual composing needs; I bought Pro for its extra samples and could not care less about the extra microphones and mixes! ↩︎