October 29, 2007

Sonic Fire Pro 4.5 Network Edition
And New EMI and Strata Series Royalty Free Music $299.00
Music Discs-$99.00 ea.
EMI Discs -$39.95 ea. Or $99.00 for the complete set of 4


Review by Steve Douglas

Sonic Fire Pro has been available for some time now having evolved over the years from its original Smart Sound application. When Sonic Fire 4.0 was first released it came with several new features that were far more than fluff. What they called 'Mood Mapping' was really the ability to affect the tone or mood of any of the Strata series music pieces to fit the needs of the video. You could accomplish this either by simply key framing any section of the audio or ever by taking an even easier approach by clicking on any of the different variations of each music piece. In actuality, you were changing the instrumentation and arrangement of the music to fit your project and your ears. If you wished to raise, lower or delete any of the instruments on a piece of music, you were given the ability to do just that and do it quickly. If you needed to go from a full orchestration to background music where when a narration came in, it was a simple task to add new 'mood markers' at any juncture within the piece. If you changed your mind or wished to change any section within a piece it became a simple 5-second task. No muss, no fuss.

The only complaint was that older Smart Sound discs could not take advantage of this Mood Mapping feature because their data discs did not contain the same layering, as did the new Strata series. However, all discs were perfectly compatible within the 4.0 version. With the emergence of Sonic Fire 4.0 (review) and their Strata series discs of royalty free music in 2006, they have moved far faster, to the benefit of users, than I would have thought in order to enlarge their library of music offerings. Then there were few discs being offered within the Strata Series and within slightly more than a year, there are over 35 different thematic discs within the Strata Series alone. Not to be overlooked are the nearly 100 other Smart Sound royalty free music discs that work perfectly well within the updated Sonic Fire 4.5.

Now a newer, optional version of Sonic Fire Pro has been released entitled 'The Network Edition'. The Network Edition provides an alternative approach to scoring your projects by the use of 'Express Track'. With the Standard edition of SFP you were able to import video into your Sonic Fire interface and score your music to your project. The Network Edition's Express Track allows the opposite approach. The Express Track has its own icon within the Sonic Fire 4.5 application folder. It enables you to quickly choose your music first, precisely select the duration, mood and arrangement almost automatically and export it as a .WAV or. AIFF file to your NLE so that you can then edit to the music. Eliminating the entire Sonic Fire Pro interface and accessing the Express Track Maestro accomplish this. Essentially, the Express Track Maestro is acutely similar to the standard Sonic Fire Pro Maestro in that you can see and preview any of the music or effects in your Smart Sound library, set the duration, variation, and, if from the multi layered Strata series, set the mood and immediately export to Final Cut Pro. This eliminates the need to fuss around with audio loop blocks in the standard timeline. It does prevent you, however, from switching 'moods' within the individual music selection. For those in a rush to get out something quick, or for those who just want to be able to choose their music and get started ASAP on the video editing, the Network Edition really can simplify things.

The Express Track Maestro is almost identical to the standard maestro in Sonic Fire 4.5.

Another new feature found in the Network Edition of Sonic Fire Pro 4.5 is 'Smart Recall' which allows you to edit any SmartSound created WAV or AIFF file made using Express Track. By checking the Smart Recall found in the Express Track preferences you enable or disable the embedding of project data in the music files.

When using Smart Recall to edit music files you will be creating new files in addition to the previous ones.

As are all the royalty free music discs from Smart Sound, the Strata series are all labeled according to various genres of music and come with both 22k and 44k formats. These are easily converted to 48k AIFF files as you export them to Final Cut Pro or the NLE of your choosing.

One new disc, 'World Cinema' contains 10 different pieces reflecting music styles from the four corners of the globe and then some. One piece, the first on the disc, entitled 'Bella Luna' sounds as if it could have been included in the 'Godfather' soundtrack. Its instrumentation is real with no artificial computer generated loops. What's more is that there are 5 different versions to this one piece and 10 different 'moods' or applications for each of the versions. Another piece called 'Green Isle' features a haunting pastoral tune from Ireland. It is genuine and not overbearing in its instrumentation, and with its 10 different versions accompanied by 10 alternate moods, my Irish grandfather would have loved it. Any one of these tunes can then be further customized to your particular tastes by removing or adding the various instruments that make up the full piece. Should you like one version and mood, but want to lower or eliminate an instrument, no problemo. If the number of versions and moods available to you sounds as if it could be overwhelming or difficult to manipulate, have no fear. Sonic Fire Pro is as about as easy and as intuitive to learn as any application, of any kind, that I have seen out there.

The Strata Series, while all going to the same cover design list the disc's individual pieces on the back.
I suggest that they revert to individual covers for individual discs. Imagine if all the Beatle's albums had the same cover? We'd have the White Album, 1-12!

Another new release within the Strata Series that should be popular is the 'Reality Drama TV' disc. Since reality shows have taken over the airwaves with Survivor, Hell's Kitchen, Amazing Race and this year's Hottest new Model, Bachelor, Weight loser, Chef and Editor, it stands to reason that Smart Sound would come out with a disc of similarly appropriate music for any of these shows with music ranging from an energetic 120 BPM to a very energetic 150 BPM. It wouldn't surprise me to hear any of these high-powered slices of music on any number of the aforementioned TV shows.

The Strata Series 'Cinema Standards' first of ten pieces finds its muse from the James Bond series of films and could be easily confused with the original Bond signature music. This is followed by music, 'Taste of Adventure', that came straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. There is also an excellent version of Rossini's 'William Tell' and music for Christmas time's, 'Hallelujah Chorus', a Star Wars sounding epic piece called 'Worlds Beyond' and others, all nicely orchestrated with many variations available for each piece.

Again from the Strata Series, is one of my favorites discs entitled 'Foreboding Episodes'. None of the music really sounds as if it comes from any show or film I am familiar with though 'Rock the Future' could have been included in Harrison Ford's 'Blade Runner' classic movie. It is an up-tempo piece complete with distorted guitar and high-energy brass. Other cuts from this disc include 'City Limits', 'Abandoned' 'Dungeons' and 'Malicious Intent' and all fit the theme of the disc with anxiety ridden, and dangerously prophetic themes. Any of the pieces on the 'Foreboding Episodes' disc could very nicely serve to underscore the action in your film.

From the Smart Sound library of their Producer Series is a collection of 'Classical Favorites' featuring many of the classical pieces we often hear, love and forget the names to. Unlike the Strata Series of DVDs, which contain 10 pieces on each disc, this collection has 12 very well known classical selections from the Blue Danube, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Figaro, and the Russian Dance. While these pieces are not able to access the Sonic Fire 'Mood Mapping' feature, you still have access to different variations of each piece and the ability to have each selection fade in and out with the time limit that you specify.

A release very much a departure from Smart Sound is the offerings of 4 different discs licensed from EMI Music Publishing. Each disc, whose themes are TV Classics, Wars & Weapons, Epics & Thrillers and Movie Classics contain the sound tracks from many very well known TV shows and Movies. Released as 22k discs which can be exported as 48k, 16 bit pieces are licensed only to be used in your home videos, videos you might make for friends or your cub scout talent shows. Unlike any of the other series of music discs from Smart Sound, they cannot be used in any productions for sale, distribution, film festivals or major showings. This does not negate the fun or uses you can have with these. From the 'Epics and Thrillers' disc you have the themes from 'The Good, The Bad & the Ugly' The Day the Earth Stood Still', Lawrence of Arabia,' The Thing', and several more. From the 'Wars and Westerns' disc comes the themes from The Mark of Zorro, How the West was Won, Glory, Zulu', 'For a Few Dollars More' and others.

The EMI 'Movie Classics' disc offers many of the themes that have remained in memory. Themes from Majesty's Secret Service, Ghostbusters, Ben Hur, and Zorba the Greek are all included. And then there is the EMI TV Classics discs with a large collection of TV show theme songs galore. When was the last time you heard the theme song from Batman so popular back in 1965, or the Avengers, a favorite show of mine (I had a thing for Emma Peal). Then there are the themes for The Saint, Bewitched (the late Elizabeth Montgomery was a hottie as well), Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and more.

This entire set left me asking for more volumes featuring all the shows I enjoyed back in the day
and that there was no room for in this collection. I'm sure, once having heard these discs, you will come up with your own suggestions.
Priced at a more than reasonable $39.95 each or all 4 for $99.00, I doubt if anyone would be disappointed with them.

Sonic Fire Pro's music library has not only grown over the years but has vastly improved its instrumentation. The music is genuine with real instrumentation rather than a lot of synth sounds. I suppose there is a purpose for those as well, but when I hear a beautiful classical piece I want real instruments. The new Network Edition adds to the applications' many features and ease of use. It certainly makes a quick Sonic Fire Pro workflow even quicker. For those who have already purchased the standard $199.00 edition of Sonic Fire 4.5, there is an upgrade available for $99.00 Bottom line for either of Sonic Fire's versions is that you just can't beat them for ease of use and quality audio.

Steve Douglas is a certified Apple Pro for Final Cut Pro 6 and underwater videographer. A winner of the 1999 Pacific Coast Underwater Film Competition, 2003 IVIE competition, 2004 Los Angeles Underwater Photographic competition, and the prestigious 2005 International Beneath the Sea Film Competition, where he also won the Stan Waterman Award for Excellence in Underwater Videography and 'Diver of the Year', Steve was a safety diver on the feature film "The Deep Blue Sea", contributed footage to the Seaworld Park's Atlantis production, and a recent History channel MegaDisaster show. Steve is one of the founding organizers of the San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition and leads both underwater filming expeditions and African safaris with upcoming excursions to Kenya & Lembeh Straits in Indonesia in 2007, the Coco Islands, Costa Rica & Truk Lagoon in 2008 and safari in Africa for 2009. Feel free to contact him if you are interested in joining Steve on any of these exciting trips. www.worldfilmsandtravel.com


copyright © Steve Douglas 2007

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