I have had a lot of questions about Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 from readers, colleagues, and friends. Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 (GPO5) is the latest version of the incredibly successful orchestra library that is the best bargain in its category.Version 5 has so many improvements and additions to its predecessor that I have decided to do a series of posts rather than write one book-length post (and yes, there is that much new and worthwhile in this upgrade).
The most noticeable and important feature is the sound: all of the instruments just sound better than previous versions. They are more life-like, react more like the physical instruments, sound more ‘present’, and in many cases include more playing techniques. One very important feature that might be overlooked is the number of different solo versions of certain instruments. This allows you to create sections of a specific size without merely duplicating the same instrument, a practice that results in phasing and gives a poor result. With different sampled instruments you not only get rid of the phasing problem, but gain from the richness of the slight differences between the instruments, just as you would with a physical group of them. This can be handy from creating duets with two different versions of the same instrument, to creating specific-sized groups. For example, say you are writing for string orchestra and want to split the strings into two groups, i.e. two sets of first violin, second violin, viola, and cello (a technique called divisi). The problem here is that you end up with a string section which is twice as large as the original, and the sudden increase in size is disturbing to most listeners. With four different solo players, you can create a section of just four violins, and use two of these groupings when divisi is called for in an eight-violin section. This is the attention to detail given to GPO5 by Gary Garritan and his team.
All of the instruments come in two versions: notation and standard. The sounds are the same, but a few commands are handled differently in notation software than they are when played live from a MIDI controller. Notation programs automatically choose the correct version. When using the free ARIA Player that comes with GPO5, you would usually choose the Standard version. Playing from a controller such as a keyboard calls for the standard set, but if you choose to load a MIDI file that was created by a notation program you probably want to load the notation patches. The ARIA Player is a powerful control instrument on its own, with many subtle (and not so subtle) effects that can alter the overall sound of the instruments. Newer versions list all of the Garritan libraries on your system, making it easy for you to choose sounds. There is also a default setting that loads the instruments of your choice at startup, as well as an Ensemble section that loads full sets of instruments for many standard groupings. The Controls page has an optional 3-band equalizer with user-defined mid-range. This page also has handy access to MIDI controls that you may not be familiar with, including portamento and subtle variations in pitch and timing. You can also choose Auto-Legato to smooth out your lines, and Stereo Stage to give a wider sense of stereo to your stage. (All of these can be controlled via MIDI, and the MIDI control numbers are included beside the controls.)
Under Effects you will find the new, powerful Garritan Convolution Reverb, in addition to the standard Ambience reverb, EQ, and damping controls. The Ambience reverb is a synthesized version of the reverberation characteristics of a space: a hall, a room, a club, etc. A convolution reverb is a sampled set of “impulses” which record how a given space actually reverberates in the real world, and can give a more realistic sound to your music. Of course, each has their place, and you might even want to combine the two for special effect. There is a full-fledged mixer to set the volume for each channel as well as the master, and includes Pan and Send controls, as well as Mute and Solo switches. The Settings page is for more advanced users, but it gives you the option to change the type of tuning your instruments use as well as the base frequency; it even tells you the current versions of the player and engine and allows you to update directly from this page.
One of the most useful parts of this excellent player is the keyboard that is always at the bottom of its screen, allowing you to play any sound with the mouse, and showing you the playable range of each instrument. You can also choose keyswitches with it, which are shown in red. GPO5 uses keyswitches to change patches (or types of sound) for the same instrument. This entails hitting a key well outside the playing range of the instrument, which immediately changes the sound of the instrument. For example, a very low note might change a piccolo from a straight sound to flutter-tonguing, while a very high note might change a double bass from bowed to pizzicato.
The ARIA Player has still more to offer. You can load a MIDI file into it and play it back using whatever combination of instruments you like. I find it a good idea to delete Program Change and other Control information unless it was created with GPO5 because it can cause unwanted effects. You can also record from the ARIA Player, either a version of a MIDI file you have loaded or yourself playing. I will use it for later posts to demonstrate instruments, keyswitches and other goodies.
If you have specific questions about GPO5 or just want to see the entire list of instruments before you buy, you will be glad to know that the GPO5 User Manual is online at http://www.garritan.com/UserManuals/GPO5/Content/Contents.htm. This is a change from GPO4, which had a downloadable PDF manual. While this is a problem if you have a question when you are not online, it is a benefit in that it can be updated immediately if problems are found, information is missing, or new features are added.