Monthly Archives: September 2013
Creating drum patterns from scratch can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. This primer in the subject introduces the basics to novices wishing to give it a try.
by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2013
Creating drum patterns from scratch can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Loops are quick and easy, but not as flexible as making your own beats. Doing it this way, you can create anything you want instead of using some pre-made wav loop files that take much of the control away from you. Even the MIDI clips that may be included with some drum plugins can be useful, but if you just drag-and-drop them into your tracks most of the time, you might wonder: how is that beat made, and how can I make my own, or get a more realistic sound?
In this article, I’ll go over the fundamentals of setting up a basic pop/rock beat using a drum plugin in a DAW (digital audio workstation). For this example, I am using Battery 3 for the drums, and SONAR Producer as my DAW, but won’t go into the details of how those operate. This will be more about how to set up the drum beats themselves, so you can apply this in your own gear.
The Basic Beat
I usually start out with one or two measures of a basic beat, using a hi-hat, snare and bass drum. Then I just change that to my liking later on; adding fills, and sometimes maybe even will use different time signatures for certain changes. I will touch briefly on how time signature changes are used later in the article.
A lot of pop/rock music is based on a simple 4/4 beat, which just means there are 4 beats in each measure. In the simplest drum beat, the bass drum (sometimes called kick drum) may be hitting on the 1 and 3 count, and the snare usually hits on the 2 and 4 count. The hi-hat usually hits once on each 1/8th beat. While the main count is 1, 2, 3, 4, the hi-hat using 1/8th notes will be hitting twice as many times, like this: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & . The “and” being the off-beat, so the hi-hat is hit 8 times per measure. Very often the drummer will play the main beat of the hi-hat louder, while playing the off-beat quieter.
You can change the velocity settings for each note in whichever DAW you are programming the drums. That lets you imitate how a real drummer might play. Say 0 is the quietest velocity setting (no sound) and 127 is the loudest (hardest hit sound). For the hi-hat part I mentioned above, you can use those same velocity settings, and change them up for every other note.
You might set the notes velocities like this: 110, 45, 110, 45, and so on. You can also make it more realistic by changing the velocity a little each time, but keeping the basic pulse the same, so it could be 117, 50, 111, 45 … etc. This gives it a more human feel to it.
For the snare and bass drum, the velocities usually should stay more on the louder side. I don’t keep it totally full-blast all the time, as I don’t want it to be too robotic sounding. A range anywhere between 110 and119 would work well for both of those drums. Depending on what drum plugin and sounds are loaded in it, the highest velocities on the snare (right around 122-127) may change to a rim-shot type of sound. That sound is a bit hard to describe, but it’s a louder “crack” type of sound that really cuts through the mix. If you use that kind of sound here and there in a track, it makes more dynamic/realistic, and can also be used to emphasize a certain part.
Another basic type of beat that is used pretty often is where the bass drum hits on every quarter-note, and the snare on 2 and 4. The real big change is that the hi-hat is hitting on the off-beat, so instead of 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, like in our first example, now it just hits on the “&” part of the beat. This pattern is frequently used in dance tracks, electro, trance, and some other styles. To make it more interesting, drummers usually hit two 1/16th notes on the hi-hat once in a while. They would be hit on the & part of the beat. You’d count 4-e-&-a and you just hit the hi-hat on the &-a beats.
Once you have your basic pattern setup, you may want to add a crash cymbal hit every now and then. Usually they hit once every 4 or 8 measures, but not always. If you want, just throw one in on an off-beat, but that’s up to you. Just don’t overdo it! Listen to a few songs, and hear how they are used in a track. Usually drummers will use the regular crash cymbal more than other types, and they have straight metallic sound to them. Sometimes you hear a drummer using other specialty types of cymbals which aren’t used as often. A couple of those are the china-type, which is sometimes a bit gong-like and/or “trashy” in sound, and the splash, which is a just a small crash cymbal, so it’s a lot higher in pitch.
For certain sections in a song (musicians usually refer to them as changes), the music may have a half-time feel to it. It’s basically the same as our 4/4 beat we went through earlier, but the “feel” of it is stretched out twice as far. You may switch the hi-hat’s beat to the ride cymbal and keep its basic notation the same. For the snare and bass drum however, you would hit the bass drum on the 1st beat, and the snare on the 3rd beat. Sometimes drummers will also step on the hi-hat’s pedal control in time with the beat, if they are using a ride cymbal instead of hitting the hi-hat. Drummers may also do this for the intro to a song, with just that stepped hi-hat sound playing. Or it might be in between different sections, and they want a different instrument to stand out more during that bit of time.
Another method drummers will occasionally use is playing what sometimes are called “ghost strokes”. To play those, you just play a lot quieter in between the other louder hits, and they’re mainly played on the snare drum. Typically they are used to fill-in the spaces between the hits of the hi-hat and bass drum, and can give even more feeling to the basic groove. You can hear this method in many styles of music.
Time to Change
Using different time signatures can be good for a change in a song, but usually they aren’t used very often. Most pop/rock/country songs don’t really use them much, but they are great to use once in a while to make it more interesting, and switch up the feel of the track. If you ever heard songs by certain groups like Rush, King Crimson, or Yes, you will hear many different time signature changes in their music. You will also hear them in jazz and classical music now and then.
What is a time signature change? It just means you switch to a different count for one or more measures in the song. So instead of counting up to 4 for each measure, you count up 5 (for example). The simplest way to change your basic beat to 5/4 is to add one more bass or snare hit drum hit on the 5th count, while the hi-hat or ride keeps the same pattern. In some more complicated music, the signature might switch back and forth between 2 or 3 different times signatures. For an example of this, there is a Rush song called “Jacob’s Ladder” that has one part where the group switches repeatedly between 6/8 and 7/8. It can really add a whole different vibe to a song. We won’t get into all the complexities how to apply all that here, but I will say it can make the interaction between the instruments really stand out, instead of having a straight-ahead 4/4 beat over and over.
Panning, Effects, and Realism
One thing I always like to do is to use a bit of the pan control for some parts of the drums/cymbals. The snare and bass drum I will usually leave centered, but I try to spread out the cymbals a bit from left to right. Same goes for the toms, so it all seems more like a real drum set would be. You may notice it more when you listen to a song with headphones on, how a cymbal may be off to the left or right just a bit. Or the drummer does a fill, where he hits each tom quickly. You may hear it starting with higher toms from the left side, and gradually as he keeps going along with the fill, it goes over to the right side, ending up on the lower pitched toms.
With some drum plugins, the pre-made drum set “presets” you load in might already be set that way, but if not, go ahead and tweak the pan knobs a bit.
Another great thing about making up the parts yourself (versus using loops) is that you can have control over each separate sound that the drum kit makes. For example, you could put a snare on one track, bass drum on another, the hi-hat on its own as well. This lets you mold the audio to your liking using compressors, EQ, effects, you name it. You can use a Send in your DAW to have the drum or cymbal’s sound go to a Bus, where it can then be treated with effects. Using some automation, you can add all kinds of great variations to the sound, and have it change in time with the rhythm of the song.
One thing to remember (which helps with the realism) is that drummers only have two hands and two feet. That may sound really basic (and why am I even mentioning it?), but when you are setting up your drum patterns, you could accidentally have some impossible parts setup. For instance: try to avoid having two different crash cymbals plus a snare all hitting at once, or a snare drum plus two other toms all the same time. Of course, you could say that the extra hit of a crash or drum could have been overdubbed if it was a real drummer playing. That’s possible, and sometimes they actually do that. Usually though, it is just a regular drum set on the track, and then maybe they will throw in extra sounds in the studio; like maybe a tambourine, congas, or maracas.
Hopefully you will find this article useful, and it will stir up new ideas for you to use on your own. Don’t forget to really listen to music, hear how the drums are being played, and how they interact with the other instruments. It can definitely help with your own creativity when you check out how others set up their beats.
There are other more advanced topics I could go into, such as more detail on using different time signatures, using side-chaining, more realistic drum fills, and more on “humanizing” the patterns. In addition, there are many types of music that I didn’t even mention, and all kinds of styles to play the drums in. Your new drums tracks are just waiting to be created.
When Nomad Factory introduces a new product, it’s definitely worth checking it out. Recently they did just that with Cosmos. We look at Cosmos in this review, along with NF’s Echoes and Magnetic II plug-ins.
by David Baer, Sept. 2013
Bundle of Joy
LA-based Nomad Factory is a plug-in effects developer of the first rank. It has an extensive catalog of offerings, some of which are generally held in very high regard. Their software is available in all current formats (VST2, but not VST3), and their authorization system is extremely customer friendly. Lastly, and although it’s immaterial with respect to sound quality, many of the plug-ins sport gloriously vintage interfaces that are a joy to look at.
So, when Nomad Factory introduces a new product, it’s definitely worth checking it out. Recently they did just that with Cosmos, a multi-purpose effect whose main mission is its function as a multi-band exciter. We’re going to look at Cosmos in this review, but because it’s a fairly simple effect, we’ll also take the opportunity to examine Echoes and Magnetic II. Why those three? The reason is simply that this trio of effects is available in a bundle for a reduced price, so a prospective buyer of Cosmos may want to consider picking up the bundle while they’re at it.
Let’s start with the new kid on the block. According to the promotional material on the NF web site, Cosmos “is the ultimate tool for sonic enhancement and low-end fattening that will elevate the sound of your tracks to soaring new heights. This audio sweetening plug-in faithfully emulates legendary audio hardware that is used in professional studios worldwide. COSMOS can be used in virtually any application”.
There are four individual functions. Two of them, the limiter and stereo imaging (widening) functions are commonplace. Their presence here is a convenience but nothing earth-shaking. They work just fine in my estimation and nothing further need be said.
The third function is a tunable sub-generator. The documentation doesn’t tell us a lot more than that about what this feature does or how it goes about it. The sub-bass tuning control “dials in the frequency of the sub-base generator” and the sub-bass drive control “boosts the drive amount of sub bass”. So are we all clear?
As best I can tell by looking at the output of Cosmos in the Span spectrum analyzer, the sub-bass processing involves a resonant filter, the cutoff of which is specified by the sub-bass-tuning control and the resonance by the sub-bass drive. But that’s just a guess. If it’s correct however, the function could easily be supplied by an EQ. So, for me this all is of little value.
But now we get to the final function, the harmonic enhancement capability. This is where Cosmos shines and proves it worth entirely. Once again, the documentation is not very generous in telling us what’s going on under the covers. We have two controls, Bottom Drive and Exciter Drive, that dictate the amount of sizzle added to two bands. That’s all we know.
But as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, and in my estimation, Cosmos can do amazing things in adding some clarity and/or excitement to a mix. Whatever its secret voodoo is, it’s something different than what you could achieve through EQ. I can think of situations where you’d want to use Cosmos on the occasional individual track, but suspect most of the time it would end up as a master bus effect.
One thing for which the Cosmos designers deserve credit is their restraint. Too often effects sound good when “drive” (or whatever) settings are in the lower ranges but go way over the top to the point of seriously degrading the sound quality at higher settings. Not so Cosmos. Extreme settings are “well-seasoned”, not “overly-seasoned”. And the factory presets (not that such are really needed on a device with so few controls) are actually practical and usable as is. What a concept!
Words are often inadequate in conveying qualities of sound, and that’s certainly the case here. All I can say it that I’m impressed with the quality of sound that Cosmos adds and I can readily suggest that you download a demo to see if it has a beneficial effect on your mixes. Don’t expect it to perform miracles – if you got a track that’s already over-driven and screaming, it won’t make it better. But when used at the right times, it can certainly earn its place in your plug-in collection.
Echoes is a delay unit claiming to offer the warmth of vintage delay effects. In the grand spirit of Nomad Factory interface design, the single user panel is a tribute to the electronic gear of yesteryear. And the rust corroding the unit’s front panel is a well-chosen visual embellishment. Echoes sounds vintage by anyone’s standard.
Echoes provides five different vintage models based on real-life devices:
- PLX-1 is based on the Maestro Echoplex. This device came on the scene in the early 60s. It used magnetic tape and featured a moving head that allowed changes in the delay time. The electronics were tube-based.
- PLX-3 is modeled on a successor to the Maestro Echoplex called the EP3. It first appeared in the early 70s. The EP3 abandoned the tubes of its predecessor in favor of transistors.
- The EXH-DM is modeled on the Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, a highly popular transistor stomp-box that offered chorus and vibrato effects in addition to echo.
- The OILCAN is modeled upon the most fascinating contraption of the bunch, the Tel Ray Echo. This unit incorporated technology that sounds like something out of steam-punk science fiction. It used a rotating platter of carbon particles that acted as a massive number of tiny capacitors to capture the signal to be repeated. The “oil”, which acted as both insulator and lubricant, is said to have been a nasty carcinogenic brew full of PCBs. Ah vintage gear!
- The ADM-2 is based on the Boss DM-2, another extremely popular stomp-box from the early 80s that incorporated solid-state electronics.
The interface could hardly be more straightforward. A stereo spread control is situated between the input and output level knobs. On the bottom we have knobs for echo time, left/right Ping-Pong control, echo model type, repeats (i.e., feedback) and wet/dry mix.
There are three knobs in the center row. What these control depends on which model device is selected. For example, the EHX-DM, which had a chorus capability presents modulation speed and depth controls. For the PLX-1, we have wow-and-flutter and tube drive. In all cases, the rightmost knob is the echo level.
Do they sound like the originals? Since I have none of the physical units to compare them against, I honestly can’t say. Of one thing you can be certain: each of these options has a distinctive sound. And part of that distinctive sound is a fair amount of “grunge” in one form or another.
The real question that a prospective owner will need to answer is whether the grunge provides the vintage character you’re after. We’re not talking just about “low-fi” or narrow bandwidth processing (although that’s part of the perceived result in some cases), but actual distortion. The PLX-1, for example, can easily be overdriven. In fact, all models but the ADM-2 produce a bit of distortion that is difficult to suppress. For that reason, I’m not sure if Echoes is for everybody. But for those who get excited about a delay that offers distortion in the feedback loop, Echoes may totally be your cup of tea.
I couldn’t resist comparing the Oilcan setting in Echoes with another Nomad Factory plug-in I own, the Blue Tube Oilcan TLE2S. Although I found that I could coax similar sounds out of both, my preference would be for the BT Oilcan, which did not go into distortion no matter what I tried with it (and yet it sounds pleasantly antique). You may want the ability to coax distortion out of a delay, in which case your preference would probably be for the Echoes implementation.
Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you have actual hands-on experience with multi-track studio tape machines? Let’s face it, not many of us really have, and therefore most of us would not confidently know if a reproduction of the sound quality obtained when using such a machine was faithful to the original. And if most of us would not know that, how many of those who listen to our music would?
So in talking about Magnetic II, an analog audio tape warming effect, I’m going to assert something up front. It’s not important if it does or does not sound identical to classic tape consoles. What is important is that it makes our mixes sound better. And (spoiler alert!) Magnetic II does that indeed.
Magnetic II’s primary role is to introduce a tape-saturation-like quality to whatever is run through it. To that end, it would most normally be found on the master bus. But since it can simulate speeds down to primitive levels, you might occasionally want to use it on individual tracks that you wanted to make sound low-fi and ancient.
But mostly, we’d of course want to use it to improve an already good sound, and to that end, we’re going to be more interested in the higher speed simulations.
We should mention that Magnetic II supplies some limited EQ capability and a mastering limiter (which seems to perform splendidly), but those are not the reasons you’d add this effect to a mix. No, it’s all about the tape. And how well does it perform in that regard?
I’ve already given away the answer. I love this effect. I do have to say some things that might be interpreted as negative. But my criticisms are merely to point out things in the product that I think are inconsequential and that are unnecessary bells and whistles, but are essentially harmless.
At the top of that list are the various models of tape console being simulated. To be completely frank, I could not hear any difference in any of them when using tape speeds at or above 15ips. And I’m not sure if I could actually hear variations in the sound when playing with the tape color control. Admittedly, my age is such that I cannot expect my hearing to be as acute as someone a good deal younger, so maybe that’s a factor. But in the end, once again, the proof is in the pudding and Magnetic II works magic, even to these sixty-five year old ears.
As with Cosmos, I quite appreciate that the factory presets are practical and usable as is (is it a coincidence that they all use the generic tape model and none of the specific real-life models?). If you download Magnetic II for a demo, you need not even read the documentation (not that it’s all that lengthy), but instead just start calling up factory presets. You’ll get an immediate sense of what this plug-in does and whether it would fit with your way of mixing.
Are These Plug-ins for You?
Let’s look at the numbers. The current listed prices at Don’t Crack (not the only place to buy these, but one of my go-to sellers) for Cosmos, Echoes, and Magnetic II are respectively $129, $99 and $99 USD. The bundle of all three (labeled the Magnetics Bundle) is $225. So, nothing here is in the no-brainer range. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if owners of Cosmos and Magnetic II found themselves reaching for those two effects with some frequency, so the price might easily be justified. In my estimation, Echoes is a much more specialized plug-in and may be considerably harder to cost-justify for the home music producer.
But even if the prices right now are a little out of your range, you should check out these plug-ins by downloading demo version from the Nomad Factory downloads page:
Significant discounts for Nomad Factory gear do come along from time to time. If you can’t afford them immediately, a little patience may pay off handsomely. Do yourself a favor. Make like a Boy Scout and “Be Prepared”.
Lumina is not a standard orchestral library, but if you make music for media and want to give it a try, you may easily find that it is worth every penny you pay for it.
by A. Arsov, Sept. 2013
Lumina is not a standard orchestral library. It actually offers all those sounds that we usually miss in our standard orchestral packs. The typical string orchestra is just a string orchestra. You can write perfect action music for all battle occasions with such an orchestra library, the same for all big scenes where orchestral music shines, but somehow all those orchestral libraries are a bit short for all those magical romantic moments, those lyrical, mystical cinematic scenes. They simply do not provide enough color to our music.
It is a pretty expensive library, but when you start toying with it, you can easily find that it is worth every penny you pay for it. OK, let’s face it, it is not aimed for rock – pop – electro musicians, but if you make music for media (or even for a stock libraries), then this is a good deal for you.
The quality of ProjectSAM’s material has never been questionable, and this library is not an exception. All instruments sound rich, vivid and realistic. The content is also finely compiled: A few instruments are pretty unique and are rarely seen in such libraries. The whole library is totally to-the-point, as they claim in their advertising – a true storytelling. For all TV, video or game composers Lumina is almost a must-have. The combination of orchestral pads and rich choirs, combined with some stunning legato woodwind instruments, along with an impressive soprano opera voice, bring some new emotions and colors to your orchestral collections. There are also plenty of building elements and orchestral phrases, along with some cartoon sounds. There is a ton of essential sounds combined with a few odd, “you never know, maybe you will need it” combinations, which I’m thankful are here, as those cartoon sounds are really not easy to find. I need them only once in two years, but when I need them, there is always a problem in getting them. So, I’m not the right person to complain regarding that.
The whole library starts with so-called “Stories”. It is a purpose-oriented combination of instruments and ensembles layered in a group of octaves over the keyboard, a nice solution for making something in advance without searching for appropriate combinations that could go with our desired instruments. The specter of stories goes from the scary moments to the most lyric gentle ones. Names of the stories could be misleading sometimes, but overall there are eight combinations, beyond just interesting, that could be easily used on various occasion, very versatile and useful. There are also a lot of interesting orchestral effects along the instruments. In one story you can even hear the bowed string downfall almost identical to the scary bowed guitar riff effect from the live Whole Lotta Love version of Led Zeppelin.
The next sample folder is called “Textures and Gestures,” buffed with plenty of magical orchestral drones, phrases, effects. cartoon-related sounds and some melodic phrases. Most of them sound really great, only here and there do I miss a bit wider range for some sounds or presets, whatever they are called. Other than that, you really find almost anything in this folder: Some nice brass strong end notes, woodwind ups and falls, harp phrases. The whole library offers you plenty of musical shortcuts with some prerecorded solutions which come in handy, saving you from hours of additional programming just to add some special cinematic effects. We can’t call that cheating as some specific orchestral things that we hear in many movies are almost impossible to recreate just with pure sound presets. Maybe not so interesting for ordinary pop musicians, but it could be a nice lifesaver for all soundmedia composers. At the end of this directory we can even find some tin-flute phrases which give us a strong impression that the whole library is really made especially for the “Hobbit” sort of movies. It is not far from the truth, as Hobbit is a pretty typical fantasy story, and Project SAM claims that Lumina is a specialized library for making fantasy, mystery and animation soundtracks. It is a pure truth.
Playable instruments is the next folder, where we can find a solid number of nicely complied collections of instrument that are necessary for making such sort of music: Harp chords, various percussion, some chamber instruments. I wish that double bass was a bit more velocity sensitive, but OK, we can’t have it all.
My favourite folder in this library is Legato Soloist with soprano voice, oboe, flute, clarinet and basson, trumpet and two or three more instruments. Soprano voice is a more-than-welcome addition to any soundtrack arrangement, and it works perfectly with a combination of orchestra and other instruments from that folder. Some of those instruments have nice, clever programming, where soft notes are legato while hard are staccato. After few minutes of practice you can play nicely varying melodies in real time without sounding artificial.
Two final directories contain various sounds from ProjectSAM Dystropia, a collection of various cinematic scary sounds, some of them sounding pretty epic, especially some heavy reverbed drums, or scary pads and drones. Definitely very useful, and in the case of the last directory for that folder, we find some vintage, melotrone-like orchestral instruments, very charming.
The last folder contains some time-stretched prerecorded phrases. Some of them are orchestral, some cartoon-oriented. A bit odd, but it can come handy when you need some special sounds or phrases for spicing up a video.
For All Control Freaks
The whole library is Kontakt-player-based, and every sound or preset comes with a more-than-satisfying number of controllers sorted into three main menus: Global, elements and advanced. All sounds are recorded with three basic microphone positions, ambient, direct and wide. So, in those menus you can fine-tune almost everything, from equalizing the preset, to adding the reverb amount, to switching on and off some articulations, to adjusting attack and release, plus a few more that are preset-specific. The only thing that I’m missing is an additional keyboard velocity controller for some of the presets, but OK, that could be fixed directly on most keyboards nowadays.
All in all: A very specialized library, and a good choice for any movie, soundtrack or stock library composer, especially if you already have some string orchestra library, as Lumina offers the whole spectrum of instruments and sounds that you will need to cover all movie genres and really unmissable if your aim is to compose some music for a fantasy or mystery movie. Those genres will be always popular, so I’m sure that ProjectSAM will not go out of a business. The overall quality is top-notch, the same as comes with all ProjectSAM products, so the only dilemma that you could have regarding this library is: Do you need those specific libraries compiled for those specific niches or not? It is up to you.
Stories that Lumina can tell us are affordable for €849 EUR or $1099 USD (not for every pocket, I know) and will eat up 39 GB of your hard disk. Available through the ProjectSAM home page or through the Bestservice.de.
P.S. Two days before the release date of our issue I got a free Lumina update with 7 GB of additional material. There’s a new Stories “chapter”, now 16 in a total. The update includes an option to split the instruments into various groups inside the textures, so now we can use only string, choir or any other section inside any texture. There are also some new textures added. All in all, excellent library has become even better. Nice one, Project SAM.
The String Essential 2nd Edition has recently gone on a diet in pricing. That might not be good for its seller but it’s great news for prospective buyers, so you might want to take a closer look.
by A. Arsov, Sept. 2013
Do you know the proverb “Everything bad is good for something. That’s our motto.”? That was an answer I got when I’ve asked a friend of mine, the owner of a funeral company, if she could tell me any joke about their business. The sample library world is a nice and tidy place where everyone knows his position, being strict about what you should get for your money. Cheap string libraries sounds pretty good, surprisingly good, but they can’t compete with the expensive ones. For less than 200 bucks, you can get a more-than-decent library, but if you push it too hard, things start falling apart. However, use it wisely and no one will notice.
So what is my story? The fact, my dear fellows, is that the Peter Siedlaczek String Essential 2nd Edition, which is a part of a Complete Orchestral Collection, is not some cheap string library. It used to be fairly pricey. I’m not so sure, but as far as I remember two or three years ago it used to be around 400 Euros. Peter Siedlaczek was a big legend in his time and even that price was a really nice one for that library back then. It sounded as good as those even more expensive libraries in the range of 800 to 1000 Euros.
What’s Going On?
I don’t know what was happened – to be a bit mean, I don’t even care. Maybe they broke a contract, maybe the library went out of fashion, maybe just Peter celebrated his jubilee … I just hope that he is good and well. Anyway, I don’t know what happened, possibly something not so good for Bestservice, because they dropped the price so dramatically, even adding plenty of additional material to the String Essential initial edition. But it is definitively good for us, the raven funeral musicians that eat only bargains.
So, for 180 Euros, or 199 bucks, we get the heavy-weight String Essential 2nd edition. I have made plenty tunes using this. I recently switched to String Ensembles 2, also from Bestservice, but still use String Essential for some arrangements as it has different dynamics and it can bring some extra excitement in fast passages if you use an expression controller synced to the modwheel. In String Essential 2nd edition you can find full presets along with light versions of all articulations, (except the full orchestra patch) and it is an ultra-nice solution if your computer is not loaded with large amounts of RAM. All strings are recorded with three mic positions, ambient, normal and dry. Ambient presets sound quite realistic, but I found that they can sound even better if you add a bit of additional convolution reverb ambiance. The end result can be heard here: Action Hero. All strings are from PS String Essential 2nd edition with a touch of EQ and additional convolution reverb, the one that comes with Studio One 2.5.
My dear friends, that is only the beginning. In the Complete Orchestral Collection you get a ton of extra material, the stuff that was pretty famous back in a hardware sampler days. So all additional things are ultra-light (by today’s standards). It still sounds surprisingly good.
The first extra is Classical Choir which maybe can’t compete with new ultra-big libraries which can be programmed so precisely that Choir can even spell your name through the harmonies. But still, there are an enormous number of articulations that sound very realistic in big arrangements. And it is not just a standard oh-and-ah collection. You don’t want to know how much this thing cost ten years ago. It sounds very far from your typical General MIDI bank, and it comes even in a smaller size than most of those GM presets.
A similar case is Advanced Orchestra, Strings from that package. It’s not something to write home about, but you already have your Strings Essentials 2nd Edition, so there is no room for complaint. The Woodwind section is pretty good. It doesn’t sound fake, and it is good enough that you can add extra colour to your string arrangement. Of course you can’t make solo brass bravura – not for that money. But adding a big brass part to strings is more than satisfying. They are somewhat dry, but spice it with convolution reverb and compressor, and no one could tell if they are real or fake. The problem with cheaper libraries is that dry instruments are extra thin, and when you add some convolution, they sound big, but still somehow fake being so soaked in reverb. Instruments in Advanced Orchestra sound boring when they are dry, but they are not thin. Therefore when you soak them in reverb, they don’t sound fake. You don’t get those well-known feelings from Roland keyboards where instruments are drowned in reverb, they sound great, but you still know that something is wrong. Advanced Orchestra also offer you Woodwind, piano, mallets, harps and choirs (but you already get those in Classical Choirs). In a Notation section of Advanced Orchestra you get even some key switching sets with nice number of basic articulations. There are also two additional very handy collections in this Classical Orchestral Collection. The first one is Smart Violins, offering a nice and very useful collection of runs, licks and similar bangs. You know the procedure, convolution, compressor etc…
Almost the last addition is the Orchestral Colours library where you could find various orchestral phrases, ends, crescendos, small phrases in few essential scales. Over the time I found this very useful, especially when you come up on a dead end where you simply can’t programme some extra parts. Those phrases also come in very handy for colouring pop arrangements. This one is like a basement – you simply can’t believe what you can find down there: everything from some wild glissandos, low ends, or nice baroque small phrases to various pompous finales.
OK this leaves only Total Piano library as the last part of this collection. Let’s say that there are plenty of interesting and unusual piano patches. I could not say that the grand piano from this library would be your main to-go piano, but in all of those piano patches I’m sure you will find something useful.
All in all, for that money all you need is a touch of compressor and convolution reverb and you can feel like you’re driving a Mercedes. This is definitively not one of those typical under-200-dollar libraries. It sounds far better, and those parts that do not sound better are still far more useful than they might seem on a first sight. For 199 bucks you can compete with all those boys that use expensive toys. Yes, you will need some extra programming as those new expensive libraries are more and more on point, but the end result will be almost the same.
This is definitively one of those great flea-market buys – one that you will never regret. Everything bad is good for something. Their “bad” that they have to drop the price so radically, even adding some extra material to prolong the selling period, and our best for getting such a good product for such nice a price. It happens, every now and then.
Visit, Bestservice buy the library and enjoy your Orchestral quality time.
The Harmor software synth from Image-Line debuted several years ago, but it has just recently matriculated to 64-bitness. As such, a fresh look at this instrument is warranted.
by David Baer, Sept. 2013
Harmor Grows Up
The Harmor software synth from Image-Line debuted several years ago, but it has just recently (at last!) matriculated to 64-bitness. As such, a fresh look at this instrument is certainly warranted. But let me say up front: Mac users, read no further or you’ll just end up very disappointed. I’ll be saying some extremely complementary things about Harmor. But it’s PC-only, and that’s never likely to change.
Harmor’s author is Didier Dambrin, a brilliant (and I suspect slightly mad, but in a very good way 🙂 ) software innovator. Harmor is written in Delphi, a powerful development environment, but one that will never find life on the Mac platform. For a geek moment, read the sidebar “Why Delphi?”. Harmor is a thoroughly unique innovation. There’s nothing quite like it out there, except for its predecessor, Harmless, which also just got the 64-bit upgrade treatment. Harmless is a worthy instrument in its own right, but it’s overshadowed by its vastly more competent successor, Harmor.
Harmor offers an additive synth engine. So what’s all the fuss about? Other synths like Alchemy and Image-Line’s own Morphine are additive synths. But Harmor does something unique. It maintains the sound representation in an “additive state” much longer than more conventional additive synths.
If this is making no sense, let’s review how additive synthesis works by working backward from a single cycle waveform. Any such single cycle can be decomposed into component sine waves with frequencies that are exact multiples of the fundamental wave. These are called “partials”. Partials may be in phase with the fundamental frequency, but they do not have to be. When all the partials are summed, the result is a single-cycle wave that is invariant as long as the partials all retain the same characteristics of amplitude and phase.
If we alter the characteristics of partials over time, which is standard operating procedure for additive synths, we get a changing or evolving sound. Alchemy does this, as does Morphine. But those synths sum the partials fairly early on in the signal chain and pass them on to the familiar processes that are staples of subtractive synthesis, filters in particular.
What makes Harmor stand out from the crowd is that it keeps the sound in the form of component partials much longer, or as Image-Line would put things, it keeps the data in the frequency domain. And it does this up to and including the filter stage. Filtering in the frequency domain dramatically rewrites the rulebook. This feature is emphasized not to demean other additive instruments, but Harmor does things rather differently than the others. Frequency-domain filtering is by no means the only reason Harmor is an innovative wonder, but it’s a highly significant reason.
First, let’s look at the big picture. The figure above shows the GUI for Harmor. Yes, it’s crowded and a bit intimidating, but there is oh-so-much functionality. There are two identical parts that independently produce sound that is combined (if both parts are enabled) and passed on to a global effects section. The effects available are a typical collection of delay, distortion, et.al. They are of good quality but are nothing unique, so we’re mostly going to overlook then in this review. The area of immediate interest is in the parts, the area in the upper portion of the interface with a purple background.
There’s a lot going on here, and it can be a little overwhelming. We’ll look at the individual components in varying amounts of detail, but the important thing to keep in mind is that everything here is operating in the frequency domain.
Let’s start with the dual “oscillators.” Into these you can select a stock waveform. You can also open an additive editor that lets you designate individual partial levels, and there’s a randomization function that should allow you to come up with arbitrarily complex single-cycle forms. Finally, you can supply your own single-cycle wave.
Whatever the single-cycle waves look like in the end, they are not used in that form. They merely serve as the source of the amplitude and phase characteristics of the partials, upon which further manipulations will be done in the signal chain in the part.
There’s more here that’s worthy of note, such as the sub-oscillator capabilities, but there are just so many capabilities in Harmor that we can’t discuss them all.
Moving on, we have the Blur process. Horizontally (that is, in the time dimension), Blur can affect the attack and decay of partials. This can be set to favor the processing of upper or lower frequencies. Blur is not something you’re likely to have seen elsewhere, and like any number of other things in Harmor, it takes some work to come to grips with what it does.
Next there’s tremolo … at last, back in familiar territory! This is very basic. Too bad this wasn’t taken a little further in terms of leveraging the frequency domain possibilities. On the other hand, there’s not a whole lot of room on the interface for more controls.
Three other easy-to-grasp processes are the Harmonizer section, pictured, the Unison section and the Pitch section in which frequency, detune, vibrato and legato behavior are controlled. There’s nothing too far off the beaten path here, so we won’t linger.
Harmor Filter, the Great and Powerful
And now we get to the filters, where much of the Harmor magic is enacted. Here’s the thing about filtering partials: the filter can be anything you can imagine. Want an infinite-slope filter? Easy, just completely mute all the partials above the cutoff frequency. There are unlimited possibilities, as you’ll see.
Because the filters work as per-partial, time-variant amplifiers, the results are quite pristine sounding. If you’re looking for a cruder analog filter experience, Harmor is not the synth for you.
Two filters are provided which can be combined in some combination of parallel or series mix. For each of these, there are stock filter types of all the usual variety on hand (low-pass, high-pass, etc.). Things start to get a bit unfamiliar when we look at resonance, where the choices include such options as “Cuberdon,” “Pedistal, “Sedge Hat,” and so forth. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. And if you don’t find a filter that fits what you need, you can simply draw one of your own design.
If you want a demonstration of how uniquely Harmor’s filters can affect sound, check out the Pads/Dreamland preset. One of the parts uses the Noise resonance-type in such a way that a wondrous wind-chime type of randomness is achieved. I don’t believe there’s another synth available today that could do this sort of magic.
One final note, a single knob marked “Pluck” is part of the filter section. It applies a pre-configured time/LP-filter pattern that allows easily programming a pluck-type sound. Extremely convenient and useful!
We need to take a detour from the upper panel now to look at another key part of Harmor – maybe its most powerful feature of all. But before discussing that, it’s time to bring up Harmor’s most problematic issue. This is a complex and powerful instrument with much that is non-intuitive. Such an instrument requires first-rate documentation and lots of it. Sadly, Harmor’s documentation comes nowhere close to being adequate. It’s far too sketchy throughout, but nowhere more so than in the area we’re about to look at.
There’s an obscure thread on the KVR forum ( http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=347624&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=harmor+resynthesis&start=0 ) that talks about the resynthesis/image-synthesis (hereafter R/IS for brevity). The expert (who I understand is an Image-Line technologist) talks about how the R/IS acts as a time-variant filter that operates on the composite wave generated by a part’s two oscillators. Seems like this might be important information, right? However, there’s no mention made of this in the documentation, and it’s a critical aspect of how this feature works.
Those familiar with Alchemy’s resynthesis capabilities will have a clue as to what’s going on with R/IS here. In this, Harmor and Alchemy do have some common ground.
R/IS operates in two modes: resynthesis and image-synthesis. In the former, a wave file can be loaded and analyzed such that it can be reproduced with reasonable accuracy using Harmor’s additive sound generation capability. Once so decoded, playback speed and various other time-related manipulations can be applied. A decoded audio clip can be converted to images (one for amplitude and one for frequency). These can be copied and pasted into an external image editor for further manipulation. Or, you can just court serendipity, import any random image, and then see what kind of sound is produced.
There is a very good demonstration of this starting at 6:40 in the following video:
In fact, this video does a very good job of demonstrating a number of Harmor’s synthesis capabilities, a far more complete picture than I can paint here. I recommend it highly.
Finally let’s look at modulation. While Harmor may implement this in a way that’s a bit different from what you might be accustomed to, it’s thorough and powerful. Once again, the video above does a nice job of illustrating how modulation is applied. Both envelopes and LFOs have some capabilities that are extremely powerful (I seem to be using phrases like “extremely powerful” a lot in this review!) LFOs give you as the ability to apply an envelope of arbitrary complexity to an LFO wave sequence. For envelopes, you can drag and drop an external wave file onto the envelop panel and its amplitude envelope is analyzed to create a complex Harmor envelope. Both LFO and Envelope functions are pictured.
Is Harmor for You?
Harmor is one of the most impressive instruments in my collection. It provides an ample list of factory presets, but so far there seems to be little activity in the sound design community for third-party preset libraries (hopefully the 64-bit version availability will change this). Harmor has a decidedly digital sound, as you might expect, so it’s not going to be a “this is the only synth you’ll ever need” type solution.
I hope I’ve been able to convey just how remarkably innovative this synth is. There’s honestly nothing else quite like it (at the moment anyway … who knows what Alchemy is cooking up for their upcoming Alchemy 2.0 which we’ll hopefully see in 2014). If you purchase Harmor, you’re guaranteed to not be duplicating something close to what you already might have.
Image-Line uses a customer friendly authorization scheme. In fact, when I downloaded the 64-bit upgrade, I didn’t even need to reapply the authorization. And Image-Line generously has a free-upgrades-for-life policy. You rock, Image-Line!
But there are some downsides to Harmor, the inadequate documentation being the principal one. If you’re a preset-only type musician, this shouldn’t be of concern. But if you like to dig into an instrument and do some of your own sound design, be prepared for a non-trivial learning curve. You’re probably going to need to do a lot of reverse engineering of factory sounds to get your head around how some of these features function.
Harmor currently lists for $149 USD at the Image-Line site. Sales of Image-Line gear are not unheard of (in fact, all four of the Image-Line synths that I purchased were obtained with very attractive discounts), so patience may pay off for you.
Find out more here:
Why Delphi? A Geek Moment
Some of you may wonder why a developer would choose a Windows-only development environment and lock themselves out of the Mac marketplace. The cross-platform C++ language is the conventional choice for use in plug-in development. Having worked with Delphi extensively in the 90s (and having been a regular contributor of articles for The Delphi Magazine to boot), I know something about it. I can say without reservation that I have never encountered anything more productive and enjoyable to work with than this technology. For some of us anyway, Delphi, now relegated to a fringe niche, was at one time the most effective technology for rapidly developing complex, efficient and graphically complex software. I can’t fault Mr. Dambrin in the slightest for making this choice, even though he realized that it would limit the potential customer base.
Gino Legaspi looks at Exoplanet and Deadspace from Bluezone in an ongoing series of such reviews.
by Ginno Legaspi, Sept. 2013
Bluezone Corporation – Exoplanet
This Bluezone Corporation offering is part of their ever-growing catalog of atmospheric and cinematic releases, and continues with a wide range of inspiring alien and sound-effect samples. The innovative sound designers at Bluezone used source materials such as clean nature sounds, forest ambiences and alien voices fused with analog pad, organic textures and dark soundscapes resulting in this 846MB (download size) unique library. Exoplanet includes 124 files of WAV samples in high quality 44.1kHz/24-bit format. These are ready-to-play samples if you want to loop them in any DAW or you can load them in soft samplers such as Reason’s NN-XT or Native Instruments’ Kontakt for further tweaking and processing. You’ll find lots fantastic atmospheric sounds for beds, beastly gurgles and growls, layered synth tones and FXs that are well thought out, programmed and executed. What’s impressive is that the loops are very organic sounding, yet at the same time futuristic. After auditioning its content, I would say Bluezone did a tremendous job in creating Exoplanet – its materials are very versatile, flexible and fits perfectly to the TV/film/soundtrack genre. I just hope that Bluezone would consider Exoplanet 2 as a future release.
Bluezone Corporation – Deadspace: Sci-fi Ambiences, Drones & Soundscapes
Focusing on futuristic, dark soundscape elements, Deadspace: Sci-fi Ambiences, Drones & Soundscapes delivers a selection of twisted FXs, deep soundscapes, transitional pads and textures and out-of-this-world drones to help you craft your own ambient compositions. The content has plenty of good, original samples. It is so highly versatile that it covers all ground – whether it’s dark ambient, drones, drum and bass or game music. Weighing in at 1.3 GB, this library includes more than 90 files in high-quality 24-bit. The samples are offered in different audio formats such as WAV and AIFF. The things that stand out in this pack are the desolate drone samples. They are programmed and seasoned with just the right amount of wash and ambience (i.e. big, spacey reverbs) without sounding ‘too distant’. The FXs are also superb with a lot of punch and are suitable for modern electronic music – especially industrial and dark wave. This is a fine mini-collection of sci-fi sounds, so I highly recommended it. At £14.95, this is hard to beat and won’t break your bank.
Ginno Legaspi: www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi
Power Tools for Studio One 2 and Studio One for Engineers & Producers from Hal Leonard Publishing House.
Publishing house Hal Leonard brings us two new books for Studio One users. Our reviewer initially wasn’t expecting very much. He now stands corrected.
by A. Arsov, Sept. 2013
Studio one, two, three… let’s go.
Publishing house Hal Leonard brings us two new books for Studio One users. Power Tools for Studio One 2 is written by Larry Oppenheimer and Studio One for Engineers & Producers by William Edstrom Jr. Both books come with companion DVDs in which you can find additional material that expands upon what is in the book. For a small price you get video pleasure along with the reading material. So, what do we get for our money?
Two months ago I got my Studio One, having spent ages using Cubase. During all those years I also checked out most of the other current DAWs on the market, so I think I can claim that I’m not a newcomer in this field. Studio One was love at first sight. The program is very intuitive – you don’t need a PhD to master it. But at the same time, it’s very deep and has much more to offer than what you see on first glance. I didn’t have problems understanding the whole working process and started effectively producing music with Studio One in just a couple of days. But here and there I came across some issues anyway without finding a way to solve them. Both books start from scratch, letting you know how to install the program and additional content. During the following chapters they both dig deeper and deeper, disclosing some things that even an experienced DAW user like me had overlooked, missed or simply found other ways to work around. While the both books cover similar material, there are enough differences regarding some tips and in-depth advice that it is not a waste of your time to read them both. Is there any big difference between the books? Is one better than other? Nope, both are well written, and the additional video content is very professional and instructive.
Power to the …
Power Tools for Studio One 2 goes into far more detail in some areas, covering some additional techniques that go beyond the essential ones. Therefore it may be a bit more useful for the more experienced user. On the other hand, if you are a novice in field of sequencers, you still should be able to follow chapters without any problem. The book will lead you from start to finish, from the “strictly for rookies stage” to the “experienced veteran” stage. It offers more, but it also costs more: 39.99 USD to be precise. So if you want more for your money, this is a good choice for you.
Engineers & Producers
Studio One for Engineers & Producers is far cheaper, costing 16.99 USD. It offers somewhat less instruction than Power Tools for Studio One 2. It also covers the full process, everything from installation to the mastering and exporting the album, but it doesn’t go into as much detail, mostly explaining the basics that you need to become a moderately accomplished user. It is recommended to have at least some basic knowledge of DAWs/sequencers as a prerequisite. So if you are on tight budget and want to know your new DAW a bit better, then this can be a good starting point.
I would recommend that you get Studio One along with either book. Otherwise you will spend too much of your time browsing through the web, searching for some getting-started video clips instead of laying in your bed, drinking warm milk and learning lessons while listening to the radio while you read.
If you are an old fashion fellow, one willing to spend some time with a book, then this is the just the thing for you. Even I, a video tutorial fan, find plenty of pleasure learning something that I didn’t know before
I acquired these books. I initially thought that I would just glance through them, being convinced that they wouldn’t offer me anything that I didn’t already know. What a mistake!
If you are a TV, video, game or stock library composer, you will find more than enough reason to start dreaming about AEON Complete if you want to stay up to date with current soundtrack trends.
by A. Arsov, Sept. 2013
AEON Complete simply sounds dangerous. It comes stocked with all up-to-date sounds that you might hear in many current blockbusters, or at least crime, mystery and action ones. It cuts like a knife. It is punchy and somehow distorting and shaggy and, thanks to the additional controllers, it is also quite versatile. If you are a TV, video, game or stock library composer, you will find more than enough reason to start dreaming about AEON Complete if you want to stay up to date with current soundtrack trends.
The whole library is more on the bright, cutting side sound-wise – there are not many romantic sounds about sunrise and eternal love. They will chase you, they will kill you, there will be blood and plenty of action and intense, unpleasant moments, but at least everything will be properly layered with great background music. It is mainly intended for media soundtracks, but it could be easily abused for everyday production.
The whole library is divided into two main parts: AEON Melodic and AEON Rhythmic. The first, melodic one contains a solid number of various processed instruments and hits. Most of the sounds go nicely together so there would be no problem in making an entire soundtrack just from those instruments. There are some processed traditional instruments as well as distorted ones and other effect-laden, spiced synth sounds. And yes, there are epic hits that can pull your trousers off. Over the Hybrid, Organic and Synth sections till the arpeggiated sections for Organic and Synth sounds. All in all, there are 315 good, round-sounding “drilled in your brain” aggressive sounds. Not that this could be your one-and-only sample library, but it most definitively will bring a fresh element of chaos to your music.
The other part is AEON Rhythmic, where we can find 315 synced loops – definitively not those sorts of loops that you can use for making a groove for a pop song. But if you want to scare your family members to death, then this is the right collection for you. All loops have some tension in them and are mainly intended for those gripping, suspenseful moments like being eaten on a hostile planet. Nevertheless all loops and instruments are top-notch, clear and especially strong in the mid to high range. They won’t go unnoticed if used in such a production.
All those sounds, presets and loops are just the starting point. AEON Collection has one of the better set of controllers that I have ever seen in a sound library. The graphical interface of this library really shines in its own unique way. We have many different windows stocked with controllers, and whatever you touch here can drastically change the sound. I usually don’t tweak many things on sample libraries, but here just with a touch or two you can change much of the character in the sound. You have arrived in a “no limit land” where you can get a whole array of new instruments from the main one. Basically the whole window is a bit like a web page, where we have a main window and menus on the top to reach the other windows with further controllers. Very impressive for a Kontakt player library.
By default, the main window is the one where we can find three various groups of controllers, a master effects section where we can turn off or on one of the four effects. With one knob for tweaking one parameter, you can easily get impression that this is not a big deal, but this one-and-only knob can change the character dramatically. The next group is comprised of three main sections called Twist, Mix and Punish. Twist and Punish are blessed with one big button and, trust me, “nomen est omen”, those twists and punishments are really enjoyable things throughout the whole library. The middle Mix section offers a few essential controllers for changing the character, mixing the various parts of the sound spectrum. At the bottom there is an arp window for switching on the arpeggiator, with additional preferences button which open the whole new window where all dirty arpeggiator details could be further fine tuned and tweaked. This is a small arp heaven where you can change any step of the pattern dragging sliders up or down for velocity, length or pitch. If you are not in the mood for such task, there are a nice number of pre-programmed patterns available.
The next web submenu (as we called it earlier) is the FX section. I could write about those controllers forever, but I’ll make a long story short: there are five effects, each with off, on, two main knobs and an advanced window for each effect. In the advanced area we can freely draw the steps in a pattern window for each of the two main parameters. If that is not enough, we can find a few additional controllers there for changing attack, decay, sequence rate, selecting between a few pattern modes, range, smoothness, etc. This may sound complicated but it is not. It is a matter of seconds to change the sound of the instrument in a desired way. Most of the instruments have a long decay and evolve during time, so all those parameters bring a different character or at least change the flow amplitude of the evolving circle.
The last one is the EQ/Filter section. I’m a bit tired of describing the endlessness of this tweaking heaven. So let’s just say that for each of the three main channels along with a common master window: tweak till you drop.
All in all, everything that you can hear in an action or crime-oriented movie blockbusters could be recreated with this library (except the orchestral parts). I have to admit that I’m very impressed with much of this library. It sounds like pure danger on steroids. It is totally on target, and it is versatile enough that you could abuse the rules and use it in almost any genre. The quality of implemented material is very high. You don’t need the full version of Kontakt to drive endless numbers of wisely-chosen additional controllers that can change character of the sound with single move. Well-programmed and well-recorded, this is not an overpriced library from a well-known library company. What do you expect in life – someone to compose something for you? Come on, spit on your hand and make something dangerous, something unique. AEON Collection could help you to achieve that. It is aggressive, hitting like a brick and biting like a mad dog. After all, we are SoundBytes. So this library is somehow connected with us. … from the bites to the last bytes.
Price: 399 USD or 359 Euro along with 14 giga on your hard drive.
Hollow Sun has come up with a brilliant idea, but one so very obvious it begs the question “why didn’t somebody think of this a long time ago?”. Introducing GUI Shell.
by David Baer, Sept. 2013
Kontakt is an extraordinarily powerful instrument. But let’s be honest – it’s never going to win any awards for having an intuitive interface. Now, I confess that I have not undertaken the hours of study required to learn how to program this beast. After all, I have far more user friendly instruments in my collection which are so much easier to understand if I want to do my own sound creation.
In a perfect world, all my Kontakt sounds would be unencrypted SFZ files. Any time I wanted to do some programming of my own, I’d just transport them over to Alchemy (my first choice but there’s also Synthmaster, Rapture, Dimension Pro, and no doubt a few other synths I’m overlooking) and get down to business. I understand Alchemy sound programming far, far better than I do Kontakt. Sadly though, it’s not a perfect world, and my Kontakt samples, of which I have an impressive and ever growing collection, are encrypted and are only available for use within Kontakt.
Well, it’s Hollow Sun to the rescue! Hollow Sun’s recent offering, the GUI Shell, has such an obvious value that it’s amazing no one thought to do something like this a long time ago. The concept is simple. Rather than offer an interesting collection of samples with a custom graphic front end, as is normal practice these days for Kontakt sounds suppliers, GUI shell is a fully functional synth interface into which you can insert any Kontakt samples you have handy. Of course, you can import “foreign” types of sample files that are Kontakt-compatible. But the real value in my opinion is that GUI Shell offers a mechanism for easy programming of your captive library of encrypted Kontakt sounds – the ones you can’t play outside of Kontakt.
GUI Shell requires the full version of Kontakt 4.2.4 or later. It costs a meager twelve dollars (USD) or thereabouts. Included are some simple waveforms which are usable. But the real payoff is when you use GUI Shell with more complex and interesting sound samples, which Hollow Sun also has on offer in abundance (and at no-brainer prices to boot).
We’re going to take a close up look at the GUI Shell here and I’ll pass on a couple of not-so-obvious techniques to make your experience potentially more fulfilling.
It’s fair to say that GUI Shell does require some basic understanding of classic subtractive synth programming. If you don’t know what filters, envelopes, LFOs are all about, you better just stick to presets the way you must do with all your other synths. But if you are comfortable with basic synth programming skills then GUI Shell is a piece of cake to use.
The pictured interface should tell most of the story, so let’s start with the non-obvious aspects of this. The idea is that GUI shell offers you a framework into which you can insert one or more sample set layers. As stated earlier, these can come from any resident Kontakt library or from outside Kontakt-compatible sources. We’ll look at setting up the individual layers in more detail in a bit.
You start by selecting a template. There’s one for two, three and four layers (if you just need one layer, use the two-layer template and leave the second layer empty).
Once you have your layers in place, you can program them as you would any subtractive synth. The programming can be done on individual layers or on all layers by selecting from a drop-down (see illustration). You can program some parameters as layer-specific and others as all-layer-applicable. For example, you could slightly detune several layers (layer –specific) but have them share a common vibrato under LFO control (all-layer-applicable). And it could not be more straightforward!
Synth Programming Ease
Because the envelopes and LFOs are “hard-wired”, sound design using the GUI shell is about as easy a synth programming exercise you’re ever likely to experience. The top rank of controls is for “Oscillator”, Filter and Amplifier. I wrote “Oscillator” in quotes because it’s obviously not a tradition VA oscillator but a Kontakt group playing samples (we’ll look at setting those up shortly). We control tuning and level here and can modulate the pitch with an envelope or LFO. The Balance control lets us give more weight to lower or higher notes. There’s an interesting possibility here in using this in complementary fashion between two layers, the cross-fading varying according to keyboard position.
Next to this we have Filter with the standard Cutoff and Resonance controls. On offer are conventional low, band and high-pass filters, two vintage modeled devices and a band pass filter. The vintage options are a Moog ladder filter and NI’s filter from the late, lamented Pro53. The LED between Velocity and Keytrack, when clicked, exposes controls to dictate the amount of modulation of cutoff from the filter envelope and LFO.
Finally, we have Amp controls for Volume, Pan and Velocity sensitivity. The LED between Volume and Pan, when clicked, exposes controls for modulating volume and pan position with the Amp LFO.
The next rank contains the controls for three identical envelopes. ADSR. Need a more detailed explanation? I thought not.
And under the envelopes, we have three identical LFOs, dedicated to pitch, filter and amp/pan respectively. Once again, this requires almost no explanation. The three radio buttons on the right allow you to modulate the LFO depth with either mod wheel or aftertouch, or simply let it run at a depth controlled by the destination’s modulation-level controls.
Finally we have the row of effects: distortion, chorus/flanger/phaser, echo and reverb. Everything is largely self-explanatory here other than the reverb radio buttons, which stand for Hall, Plate and Spring.
And there you have it … right there on a single panel. The documentation goes into things a little more deeply than I’ve done here, but there’s not much more that needs explaining. Until, that is, we have to dive into the depths of Kontakt to set up our samples. Then, things can get a bit scary for the Kontakt neophyte.
The documentation does a decent job of leading you through the basics, but necessarily skips the great detail needed to explain how Kontakt’s groups and zones are architected. In particular, the documentation is written as if the user will set up the samples into zones by importing samples and mapping them accordingly. My experience in the past when I’ve tried it is that it’s hard work, prone to error and no fun at all, especially if the same file names don’t tell you the root key of a sample.
But I’m going to suggest that the typical GUI shell user will want to go about things differently anyway. Rather than setting up your own zones, it’s far easier to copy an existing group’s samples, for which all the hard work has been done for you. You just want the samples all properly mapped to be made available to GUI Shell for your own tweaking.
It’s easy to do this, although not obvious. But just follow these instructions and you’ll enjoy success. The GUI Shell documentation already shows how to put the instrument into edit mode by clicking the “spanner” icon (“spanner” is a British word which in English means “wrench”).
To grab an existing set of samples from another instrument, bring that instrument into the rack, and put it into edit mode. Click the Group Editor and Mapping Editor buttons (step 1 as pictured). Select the group whose samples you want to grab (step 2). Next right click in the zone window (step 3) and click “Select All”. Finally, click “Copy zones with samples”. We’ve got what we want, so close the “from” instrument at your convenience.
Now we go back to GUI Shell and put it into edit mode. Select the group you want to provide samples for, right click in the zone window, and click “Paste with samples”. That’s the whole process. You’ve now got a group that’s ready for action. Let me suggest that you rename the group accordingly at this point. It’ll make your sound design session run a lot more efficiently. Don’t worry if the names don’t seem to “register” with Kontakt immediately. They may still appear as “Group 1” or whatever for a while, but they will eventually become fixed.
One caution. When you’re playing about with this, you might notice that you can just click on a group name and copy it (with samples). Quick yes, but it does not work with GUI Shell. You can paste the copied group into the GUI Shell group edit window, but the control panel will not recognize the new group. Just stick with the copy-zones approach outlined above and you should have no problems.
Let’s take this opportunity to suggest that you decide to purchase GUI Shell, you should spend another couple bucks and get Hollow Sun’s JayPea instrument, which contains a small but delightful trio of multi-samples that will make your GUI Shell experience an immediately rewarding one. But anything you’ve got available in Kontakt is grist for GUI Shell’s mill. Between my Hollow Sun and Hideaway Studio libraries alone, I’ve got an unlimited amount of potential just sitting there waiting to be unleashed.
Just Like Keith
So, now you’ve got all you need to proceed using Kontakt for your dazzling Keith Emerson impression, right? No? Oh, you mean the fact that there’s no proper portamento capability like that found on any respectable analog synth. Well, never fear, there’s a solution for that as well, and it’s easy as can be… once you know how to include it.
Kontakt ships with a collection of utility scripts, but the manual documenting them does not bother to explain how to access them. And, yes, we have to go back into the scary waters of Kontakt’s edit mode to get things accomplished. But honestly, once you see this done, you’ll understand how un-scary it really is.
Just do the following. Take GUI Shell into edit mode, if not there already, click Script Editor (step 1 as pictured), select the second tab (the first unused one), navigate the menu structure and select Unisono- Portamento in the Performance category (step 2). This will add the panel pictured below. The portamento controls are obvious (plus you have some unison fattening thrown in for good measure). The only downside is that you need to open up GUI Shell in edit mode to adjust the portamento settings. While this is a bit annoying, there is something you can do to avoid this. Any of the portamento knobs can be MIDI-learned and used from the main panel.
So now you’re all set. Or at least you should be. For some reason, I still can’t quite get my Keith Emerson impression to come off as really convincing. I know, you’re probably thinking the same thing I am… there must be something wrong with my MIDI rig.
Wow2, by renowned plugin company Sugar Bytes, while capable of doing regular filter tasks, it is also taking the idea of the filter into strange new places. Care to explore them?
by Robert Halvarsson, Sept. 2013
Not Your Average Run-of-the-Mill Filter Effect
There are audio filters which provide the basics that a filter usually is associated with. They reduce the volume of audio above or below a threshold, usually referred to as the cutoff frequency, commonly referred to as high-pass or low-pass filters. They often also let the user create varying degrees of resonance to emphasize the position of the cutoff in the audio material.
Then there are alternative designs. In a sense Wow2, by renowned plugin company Sugar Bytes, is precisely this – while capable of doing regular filter tasks, it is also taking the idea of the filter into strange new places.
The problem of innovation is that sometimes going too far will make things suck. But knowing the pedigree of Sugar Bytes, I was quite confident when first trying it out that this one wouldn’t, and for the most part, using it is interesting and rewarding, to say the least.
Here you will find the assorted league of LFOs to manipulate a staggering range of modulation parameters. You get an internal step sequencer, a distortion/saturation unit, and seemingly endless ways of wreaking havoc on your audio – all in all, it should keep the most blasé of users occupied for quite some time, and then some.
Instead of the two or three standard filter types, you get comb filters, and all kinds of fascinating designs, adding up to 21 (!) filter types in total. It becomes clear when you start mixing it up that this is where Wow2 starts to shine. But it can be challenging; you could very easily turn your precious sound into an overtly aggressive teenager – screaming his lungs out at a bad rock concert.
In other words, it all takes some practice to get the best out of this effect. Also, contrary to what some paradoxically hail in the virtual era as much-sought-after “analog warmth,” this will more likely smash the sound into bits and pieces in a characteristically digital fashion. It’s very easy to dial in something hard and unrelenting; the challenge is rather to get the right amount of mojo going on.
So I stay at moderate levels, where the distortion and filtering can add quite a lot of spice and let things pierce through the mix.
And while the term might get passed around too much, it makes quite a lot of sense to see this as a boutique-effect, capable of achieving very special tasks. While I would want to combine this with a more standard offering, it makes perfect sense to use this as a second, or perhaps even third filter – and for users looking to cook up some more extreme sounds, this will take you there. It could provide the electro or dubstep producer with a tool to take the sound even further.
In addendum, Wow2 can be viewed as a good compliment to a more standard effect type unit, and can be had for 99 Euro at the Sugar Bytes web shop. It will with all likeliness be very different from most of what you have tried, so do yourself a favor and check it out.
The Good Stuff
- Characteristic distortion-ridden filter sweeps.
- Getting that bass to talk to you, i.e. there’s a wovel mode.
- You can modulate pretty much everything in here.
Keep in Mind
- It can get quite complex.
- Presets are tailored towards aggressive production.
- Larger than average resource usage.
All in All
Wow2 is an original filter-effect that is bound to turn some heads around.
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