Monthly Archives: March 2015
Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion is a library designed as a one-stop-shop for orchestral percussion. It works very well for the purpose, but several things about it may prove useful to composers that already own another library.
by Per Lichtman, Mar. 2015
A Percussive Rhapsody
Impact Soundworks Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion (ROP) is a new orchestral percussion library for owners of Kontakt 5.3 and higher. It’s available in two versions: Full ($199 USD) and Essentials ($89 USD). This review covers the Full version, which uses 44.1 KHz 24-bit samples. The library contains 50 sampled instruments to cover bread and butter orchestral percussion needs (as well as offering some additional hand drums) and over 21GB of sample content, with three microphone positions (close, stage and hall). Depending on the specific patch being loaded, there can be up to ten round-robins and five velocity-mapped dynamic layers. Let’s take a look at how that plays in practice.
Make It Easy
First, I must say that the user ROP interface is just full of the sort of usability enhancements that I really appreciate as a reviewer. If you’re playing a patch with multiple instruments, the GUI shows an icon and the name of the instrument played by your last note. You can load and save presets for the patch, instrument or mic settings using a simple menu in the lower left corner of the main GUI. Everything is contained in a single tab and the instrument GUI doesn’t take up too much space.
Additionally, the mapping and organization of the instruments themselves makes the library user friendly and accessible. Sure, you could go into the Single Instruments folder and load instruments one by one – or you could load all fifty instruments in just eight combination patches. I certainly gravitated toward using the combination patches, especially since the GUI made it so easy to tell which instrument I was playing when several similar ones were mapped next to each other.
The eight combination patches mentioned above are Aux Percussion; Cymbals and Gongs; Drums and Ensembles; Hand Drums; Marimba; Timpani; Tubular Bells and Crotales; Xylophone and Glock. In each case, related instruments are placed next to each other on the keyboard making it easy to get to many instruments at once (except the Marimba and Timpani). This approach favors live performance, as opposed to certain other mapping schemes that are more conducive to copying and pasting parts between different instruments. At the same time it means that some of the pitched percussion is transposed on the keyboard, so be prepared to transpose by octaves if you’re mapping a pre-existing part.
I found I really enjoyed the simplicity of the organization, especially in combination with the dynamic layers and round-robins. Constructing a template took much less time than usual, especially in comparison to what I spent on Hollywood Orchestral Percussion or Spitfire Audio’s HZ series. There’s a real “fire it up and forget about it” quality to working with the percussion, even as the interface offers lots of flexibility through the multiple mic options.
- Bass Drum
- Gran Cassa
- Snares (4x)
- Snare Ensemble
- Toms (3x)
- Tom Ensemble
Cymbals & Gongs
- Cymbal Scraped
- Gongs (2x)
- Piatti Mute
- Ride Cymbal
- Ride Cymbal Stick
- Tam Tam
- Viennese Cymbal
- Tubular Bells
- Finger Cymbals
- Sleigh Bells
- Temple Blocks
- Bongo High
- Bongo Low
- Cajons (2x)
- Conga High
- Conga Low
- Conga Muted
- Darbukas (2x)
- Djembes (2x)
The hand drums are a real highlight, with both Latin American and African instruments coming to the fore and expanding the library beyond the standard orchestral palette. This might be the first library I load up next time a track I work on calls for Latin percussion.
The un-pitched large percussion works well and is especially friendly for reverb use given both the close-miking options (which have an “open” sound to them rather than a hyped or thin one) and the less reverberant hall. You can either throw on extra verb to make it sound massive, or you can really get up there right next to the percussion and use it as dry and intimate as you want. It’s sort of surprising just how well the large percussion can be made to fit into a smaller mix.
The only things I really missed from other orchestral percussion libraries were the celesta and vibraphone, neither of which is included in ROP. However, I didn’t find it too difficult to re-orchestrate ideas I had for the celesta to the crotales and glockenspiel, and there were times where I could use the marimba and xylophone in place of a vibraphone (though obviously with a different sound.
I’ve been a fan of Impact Soundworks products in the past, such as when I reviewed Sitar Nation years ago, so it’s interesting to note both the similarities and differences in the sound of Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion as compared to the percussion in Sitar Nation and Groove Bias. First of all, this is their first library that fully combines multi-mic position recording with a hall. The hall itself is rather intimate and warm without overly strong reverberation or long tails, making the library flexible in the mix. The emphasis on a round, warm sound over an edgier or wetter one is something it shares with earlier Impact Soundworks libraries and offered a very different starting point from libraries like Hollywood Orchestral Percussion or Spitfire Audio’s percussion offerings. Since reviewing gives me the opportunity to work with several such libraries, I am happy to say that Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion offers the sort of character that kept me coming back to it, even as I used it alongside competing libraries, depending on the demands of a project. This is one case where the developer seems to have gotten the most important sonic and scripting elements right in their first major orchestral outing.
The library sounds natural and usable out of the box but also works great with additional reverberation. Since a very conservative approach has been taking in regards to processing the recordings, many users will find that the use of additional EQ can really help tailor it to your mix.
The close mic recordings work very well for using many of the instruments in all sorts of mixes well outside the orchestral genres, even in radio friendly mixes and genre since there’s no strong hall imprint on them. Since the close recordings are stereo miked with a full sound in mind they can easily be used in an up-front position in the mix. The library differs from many other multi-mic offerings in the extent to which close mics provide part of the main usable sound: these are not simply spot mics. Many users may find themselves relying on the close mics in whole (or in part) for the bulk of their sound.
I know many readers may be thinking of Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion in comparison to other libraries, EastWest or Spitfire Audio so let me take a moment discuss the difference in sound. Compared to the Spitfire Audio libraries it’s much drier and more intimate and a comparative chameleon in the mix. ROP has fewer mic positions than Spitfire Audio’s range and users wanting the hugest hall sound out of the box (as opposed to those that prefer to rely on external reverb or prefer a more intimate hall) will find the library is less well-suited to them.
Compared to EastWest & Quantum Leap’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion, the sound is somewhat more similar in character but still quite different. While ROP was recorded in an intimate hall, HOP was recorded in a large studio and their respective reverberation imprints reflect that. In addition, while HOP offers five microphone positions and ROP offers three, they also differ greatly in the sonic character of each of those positions. There’s a very relaxed and natural quality to the ROP recordings that I don’t really find anywhere else while HOP offers more of a glossy sheen. Both are desirable in different contexts and I found myself enjoying going between the two depending on context.
Suffice to say that ROP holds its own against these other libraries by offering a different sound and a simpler user experience all with high quality recordings.
Is ROP Right For You?
Impact Soundworks Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion is the sort of mature, stable product that I would expect from a developer with many orchestral releases under its belt and has been a complete pleasure to use. If you are looking for a bread and butter orchestral library, and especially if you also have use for the Latin and African additions, I would strongly recommend checking out this product. It’s competitively priced, fun, easy to use, flexible in a mix, and has an effortlessness to the recordings that communicates well to the listener.
by Per Lichtman, Mar. 2015
Perc+ is a percussion library specializing in cymbals, metal, unusual sounds and some world percussion instruments – oh, and by the way … it’s also a noble undertaking for a worthy cause.
What Is Perc+?
This one is for a limited time only: donate at least $25 USD at this VI-Control page before April 1st, 2015 it. Now here’s what it is. Sometimes as a reviewer, you get a chance to review something really unique and Perc+ is certainly a great example of that. Lux Nox, consisting of Chris Ons and Chris Harris, have made a percussion library that has been raising money for the Mr. Holland’s Opus foundation (still accepting donations before April 1st, 2015 at this VI-Control page, courtesy of Fredrick Russ). The library is called Perc+, a 14.5GB Kontakt 5.1 library (after the inclusion of XP1) that raised $10,555 USD in December 2014. Rather than being a bread and butter orchestral percussion library like Hollywood Orchestral Percussion or Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion, specializes in cymbals, metal, unusual sounds and a handful of world percussion instruments, always to great effect. The library includes content both for traditional percussion writing and for more esoteric sound design, with many recordings being full of vibe.
A Lot of Content
With the recently released free XP1 update, Perc+ has nearly doubled the number of NKI files from 64 to 128. Consequently, the instruments are now organized into nine folder categories and considerably easier to navigate. The update was handled intelligently by putting the new organization into an XP1 folder, preserving the original v1.0 structure and compatibility for any legacy projects users may already have been using. I appreciated the forethought since that included me.
The sample pool has also grown to roughly 14.5 GB, an increase of over 50% in size from the original release. When you consider that the bulk of the library’s content is single mic position, you start to get an idea of how much there is to work with. The library often uses two alternating round-robin samples but several instruments have less or more (including the viola gamba with up to ten round-robins). The patches differ in how they map different dynamics: in most cases, different dynamics are mapped to adjacent keys so that as you play consecutively from left to right the dynamic grows louder. In other cases, the dynamics are mapped using more traditional velocity layering, with the most extensive case featuring twenty dynamic layers on some notes.
The emphasis is firmly on a combination of both traditional metal instruments and a variety of unusual ones (I suggest starting with the stringed ones), rather than on trying to be a complete orchestral battery. Nonetheless, the scope of the library is greatly expanded by the inclusion of several “world music” drums in the skins section, which includes some of the most extensively sampled velocity layering in the library. Also of special note, the “tuned” section refers to mapping the instruments in other folders to respond to pitch rather than sampling “pitched vs. un-pitched” instruments being sampled in the first place.
The manual gives equal weight in documenting every patch, dedicating a page to each one and showing the keyboard mapping for it along with explaining how dynamic layers and round robins may have been used, among other things. It’s great to see a small developer go into so much detail and a nice surprise.
The Instrument List
Perhaps one of the best ways to understand Perc+ is simply to look at the patch list. I’m not sure if I’ve ever encountered another library that even approaches this degree of emphasis and variety for the cymbals.
- Ride Cymbal: expressive, expressive 2, prepared stick brush short 1+2, prepared rolls, fist perc soft-dark, creative x close tunable.
- Crash Cymbal: expressive, combistick felt, nylon brush, metal brush, metal brush far, extra light hits swipes, prepared stick light, prepared metal brush, prepare metal far, prepared stick hand, fist percussion, creative x-cose tunable, chain drags design, string drags design.
- Crash Cymbal 2: expressive, mallets, wool-nylon mallets 2, combistick felt, brush-stick light overtones, prepared stick, hand percussion soft, fist percussion, muted metal brush.
- Hi-hat: top cymbal stick light 1+2, bottom cymbal expressive.
- China Cymbal Large: normal, overtone rich far, overtone rich light close, fist percussion.
- China Cymbal Small: stick-brush, Combistick felt, varied percussion.
- Splash Cymbal: expressive, stick muted.
- China Splash Cymbal: spinning, spinning, spinning design.
- Trashformer Cymbal: normal, var percussussive 1+2, muted 1+2+3.
- Cymbal Stack: light, swirl design, mixed, gong stack.
- Finger Cymbals Bronze: normal, effects.
- Finger Cymbals Metal: normal, variation.
– Toy Cymbals
- Bell Cymbal: normal, prepared.
- Tam Tam: edge far, scraped far, mallet far, fingernail hits design, hand percussion.
- Wind Gong: normal, rolls performances, hand percussion 1+2, stick light perc.
- Chinese Opera Gong: normal, soft perc 1+2, design.
- Brass Bowl: mallet normal-prepared.
- (There’s also a Tam Tam and Wind Gong ensemble patch)
- Bowscape Elements Examples
– Bowscape Elements China: large (far and closer), small far
- Bowscape Elements Trashformer: far, closer, upfront, upfront 2
- Bowscape Elements Crash: far-extras, close
- Bowscape Elements Ride Upfront
- Bowscape Elements Splash Mixed
- Bowscape Elements Gongs: rubbed far, design
- Airduct Hand Percussion
- Vacuum Flask stick-mallet
- Vacuum Flask 2 Assorted
- Industrial Coffeemaker: normal and extra-close
- Little Percussion 1
- Little Percussion 2
- Tambourine: headless, headless rattle for design
- Oriental Tambourine: headless, headless auditorium
- Rainstick Short
- Rainstick Long
- Frame Drum Small
- Frame Drum Large
- Darabuka (MW)
- Tambourine Head – Expressive
- Upright Piano: percussion and abuse
- Viola Da Gamba Percussion
- Brass Bowl: tuned (MW), tuned pad (MW)
- Finger Cymbals Bronze Tuned
- Finger Cymbals Metal: tuned, tuned (MW)
- Toy Cymbals Tuned (MW)
- Bell Cymbal: tuned (MW), prepared tuned (MW)
- Bell Finger Cymbals Pad (MW)
- Bowscape Elements Pad Example: 1 and 2
- Vacuum Flask Tuned
Anyone that got that for just a $25 donation in December got way more than their money’s worth. This really is a collection unlike any other.
Perc+ makes extensive use of Kontakt effects by default but I found the recordings sounded great when all the effects were disabled (which as a mixing engineer with an array of my own FX is my normal sample library preference). The Kontakt effects are mapped to a pleasant two tab GUI, with some falling into the main tab and others the Effects tab. Different patches start with different FX settings tailored to that specific sound. The Kontakt effects used include limiting, EQ, saturation, compression, transient modification, tape saturation, chorus, flanging, a rotary effect and reverb. While I didn’t use these much, I will say that the GUI Lux Nox created is a lot more visually appealing than what Kontakt itself uses when you enter instrument edit mode.
I used the library both in a more traditional orchestral setting, in world music tracks and even in some drum and bass tracks. The large frame drum offered a great amount of heft and variety both in a raw state, and when processed for a more industrial sound, offering some of the “biggest” sounding samples in the library. Perc+ altruistic origins and low donation price belie a real heavyweight percussion library here.
Pleasantly, the quirks I sometimes found in the sampling of the library all appeared to be intentional and the sonic quality was very high.
As I mentioned earlier, this library is only issuing new licenses until April 1st, 2015 and the process is a little unusual so read carefully.
Step 1: Donate a minimum of $ 25 on this url:
(Note: disregard the text about “upgrading” – for a minimum donation of $ 25 you get the original library + the expansion. But of course, everyone is welcome to donate more if you want.)
Step 2: Forward the e-mail receipt (that you receive after donating) to email@example.com.
Within 48 hours, Lux Nox will manually send you the download links.
Is It Right For You?
Perc+ offers much value for the money. If you have Kontakt 5.1 and like cymbals, gongs, world percussion, prepared percussion or unusual sounds I would definitely advise picking it up. It’s quirky and full of vibe but often surprisingly professional in the degree of sampling detail. If you want something a little different from the normal orchestral percussion libraries or “big sound” percussion libraries, this is a great one to check out.
Diva is u-he’s magnificent homage to the world of analog synthesizer gear. It begs us to ask the question “who needs hardware?”. Find out why in this close-up look.
by Per Lichtman, Mar. 2015
The increasingly competitive software synthesizer section of the virtual instrument market asks each product one deceptively simple question: what makes you special? For u-he Diva ($179 USD), the answer starts with “sound quality.” Diva meticulously models the eccentricities of the core components of several of the most desirable vintage (and in the case of “Digital” mode, somewhat more modern) synthesizers in the form of their oscillators and filters (typically low-pass and high-pass, but there’s variation) at a level that few other plug-ins even attempt, let alone succeed at. If you’ve never used zero-feedback filters before, you are in for a treat. It follows that up by offering features not found in the emulated synthesizers (for example continuous waveform variation in one case and FM in another) and by adding the ability to use up to a 6x stack (unison) mode on the oscillator output section (which means a max of 18 voices per note if you’re using the Triple VCO mode, for example). It further builds on this by offering an arpeggiator tab and several FX, all without leaving the main screen – while several more advanced options (like oscillator drift) are quickly accessible through additional tabs. It’s fast, it’s fun and it sounds really great.
Let’s take a look at where each oscillator draws its inspiration from. The Triple VCO section is based on a MiniMoog with some important additions and differences (which I could probably talk about better if I had spent more time with the original).
The Dual VCO mode uniquely offers “ideal”, “analog 1” and “analog 2” variations of its waveforms, so it possible multiple synths were used as models for the emulation. The oscillators appear to be drawn from a Roland Jupiter 6 or Jupiter 8 but I lack experience with the original hardware, so I cannot be completely sure. Confusingly, Dual VCO really has nothing to do with Dual VCO Eco – one of the very few counter-intuitive design decisions I came across (a point I’ll address shortly in the respective section).
The DCO section appears to take its cues from a Roland Alpha Juno, and users looking for that sound will do well to avail themselves of the chorus options in Diva’s FX section since the Juno’s chorus played such an important in part in many of that synth’s sounds. Additionally, those looking for further chorus variations can independently supplement Diva’s own chorus options with the free Tal-Chorus-LX chorus effect from Togu Audio Line (taken from their own Tal-Uno-LX synth), which emulates the chorus options of the closely related Roland Juno-60. I enjoyed the variety of colors that combination gave me.
The Dual VCO Eco oscillators bring the sound of the Korg MS20 (originally an analogue synth with its own patch bay that almost seemed drawn from a more traditional modular) into a simpler semi-modular environment. As the manual explains, “Eco” does not refer to CPU savings (as modern virtual instrument users might expect) but rather to the economy of the original unit being emulated.
Initially I overlooked the power of the “Digital” oscillator section since it was added in an update and I made the mistake of assuming that “Digital” might mean simply “idealized waveforms” (which might have lacked the individuality of the many other synths Diva emulated). Instead it turns out that the Digital oscillator section emulates the Roland JP-8080, including the well-known SuperSaw sound. As a quick note on the SuperSaw, the oscillator section includes controls to manipulate it without using Diva’s supplemental stacking mode (and in my testing I found that CPU usage went up rather intensely if both were used together, so I would suggest disabling stacking when using the SuperSaw). If you want to hear a comparison of Diva’s Digital oscillator mode and the Roland JP-8080, you can hear how close they sound in Sadowick Production’s YouTube video “JP8080 vs U-He Diva – Real World Trance Lead”. I won’t say they sound exactly the same (among other things, the filter models being used in that example differ notably in character) but the oscillators are surprisingly similar in sound and I was definitely impressed by the authenticity.
For any oscillator module except Triple VCO, there are four high-pass filter choices available: Feedback, HPF Post, HPF Pre and HPF Bite. Feedback mode bypasses any filter and simply offers a knob to control the feedback level.
When using the Triple VCO oscillator module, the HPF module is replaced by a Mixer module that shows five knobs and one switch. On the left side, there are three volume knobs to control the level of each of the three oscillators. Rather than using labeling to identify each of the volume knobs, the group as a whole is simply labeled “volume” and each knob is simply placed directly to the right of the oscillator it controls. To the right of these three knobs you’ll find feedback and noise knobs, with a rocker to switch between pink and white noise below it.
For each of the remaining modes, the controls vary from mode to mode. HPF Post is the least flexible, offering five cutoff frequencies: 3, 2, 1, 0 and boost (with boost actually accentuating the lows rather than cutting them). HPF Pre offers continuous cutoff. HPF Bite has the most controls by far, offering cutoff, peak (resonance/Q) and bi-polar modulation knob (mapped to envelope 2 by default but re-configured via drop-down menu) and a menu to switch between Rev 1 and Rev 2, from the respective Korg MS20 models.
VCF Filter Section
Let me start by saying which filter originally pairs with each oscillator section. Multimode pairs with DCO, Cascade pairs with Dual VCO, VCF Ladder pairs with Triple VCO, Bite Pairs with Dual VCO Eco. The wildcard is the more recently added Uhbie; I’ve heard other users say this emulates the OB-X/SEM, but I don’t personally have the experience to confirm or deny that. As such, it probably pairs most naturally with the Digital oscillator section, but should sound different from the JP-8080 filters. Anyway, these are the pairings to use when you are trying to most accurately emulate the sound of a particular piece of original gear as authentically as Diva can. However there’s great fun to be had in mixing and matching.
Diva is a synth that really encourages you to get your hands on it and start tweaking. The preset library features many different sounds, but it was when I start molding them to my own tastes that I discovered both how quick and easy the process was and yet how deceptive that simplicity was at the same time. You see, even if you put both the high-pass and low-pass filters into Bite mode, you still have individual control over whether each one emulates a “rev 1” or “rev 2” incarnation of the Korg MS20, and simply changing one of them between Rev 1 or Rev 2 drastically alters the character of the sound, even with identical settings (and that the VCF section has variable FM), there are innumerable permutations from the Bite modules alone. Once you start getting into swapping the VCF for Ladder, Cascade, Multimode and Uhbie options (each of which has a quite audibly distinct character) you realize each seemingly simple swap offers access to a huge range of sounds (not to mention that a high-pass filter has almost as many modes). Diva really gets how important filters are to the sound and it’s difficult for me to give it enough kudos for its excellent execution, which is among the best I’ve ever tested to date. Hearing the zero-feedback filters do their magic with the “divine” accuracy settings selected and extreme resonance really helps show off what the engine can do.
Let me walk through an early highlight for me. In Triple VCO mode with the VCF ladder, I enjoyed using about 63% FM in the oscillator section and 100% FM in the VCF section, with the feedback and pink noise cranked up to 100% in the mixer. With those settings, I turned down the volume, turned up VCF emphasis to max and then swept the cutoff while listening to synth sequence. As mentioned above, this is one of the scenarios where you will really hear the difference between the accuracy modes, and divine does a great job of rendering the extreme settings, making the filters feel far more grounded and smooth than the lower accuracy/CPU ones. Perhaps the greatest accuracy mode gap is between “draft” and any of the others, so if you have the CPU, I would strongly advise using “fast” or higher, unless you want to use the less natural sound of “draft” as an effect.
At the very top we find a maroon strip with a handful of controls that stay the same, no matter what’s being worked on. Starting from left to right we find the patch save button (which calls up a save dialog), the Diva logo (which can be clicked to change the skin scheme or overall GUI resolution/size), a MIDI activity light. Continuing right, we find the streamlined version of the best patch browser (with both a list that can be accessed by clicking the patch name as well as left and right navigation arrows) – this is also where Diva initially displays your registration info and the software version number when you first open an instance of Diva. Note the bulk of the review was written using Diva 1.31 Rev 2165. To the right we find undo and redo arrows for patch editing (which work even if your DAW doesn’t offer the capability), an overall output level knob (the position of which is saved with each patch) and a clickable u-he logo with links to the various company sites and social media pages.
Moving downward, we come into the black area, which is where you’ll find the primary synth controls. This black area is divided into four columns (with envelopes sub-divided into two parts), allowing for a semi-modular approach. From left to right, we usually find the oscillators, high-pass filter and the main VCF section and then the two envelopes. Notably, the Triple VCO oscillator mode replaces the high-pass filter module with a mixer that includes controls for the oscillators, as well as noise and feedback. Additionally, the modules are always shown in the same order from left to right, even if the actual filter routing order changes (as some models do not place the high-pass filter before the VCF).
The bottom section goes back to the maroon color. Here we find (in the top row, from left to right) “LFO 1 (vibrato)”, Tuning, Amplifier and Pan, and Effect 1 (Chorus, Phaser, Plate, Delay and Rotary modules are offered, many with several modes to choose from). In the next row, there’s “LFO 2 (Mod)” on the far left and Effect 2 on the right (which is an additional slot that can choose from the same effects as Effect 1). These are all of the most basic sound-shaping parts, but between LFO 2 and Effect 2 there are three panels. The first includes several patch settings: play mode, note priority, voice count, stack count, real-time accuracy and offline-accuracy settings and a multi-core switch (which lets Diva use multiple cores at once instead of relying on your DAW to distribute the cores among different VIs). The next sets the division, clock multiplier and swing for the arpeggiator. Finally, the third houses the arpeggiator controls, including an on-off switch (looks like a light) mode pull-down, octaves pull-down, progression pull-down and sequence restart trigger pull-down.
Beneath the aforementioned controls, toward the very bottom, are five black tabs. The above descriptions are what you see when the leftmost “Main” tab is highlighted, but to the right are four more tabs: Modifications, Trimmers, Scope and Patches. Each of these only changes the controls housed in the maroon section between LFO 1 and Effect 1, except for Patches. When Patches is selected, the situation is reversed, and everything except that central maroon section changes to show the patch organization.
Scope is an oscilloscope of the current playback with update frequency and vertical amplitude scaling controls. Trimmers lets you adjust many manner of minutiae to fine-tune the sound of the synth: oscillator voice detune, voice map modulator, detune amount, voice drift, stack tuning, reset phase, transient mode, bipolar noise and variance (for cutoff, envelope, pulse width, and glide) – oddly, LED color is also modified here but I’m not sure where else it would make more sense either. The modifications tab is where most of the modulation options are and is divided into two rows: the top maroon row has five knobs and menus provide access to VCO, Filter and Feedback modulation sources; the bottom black row modifies the values of the top row using modifiers best explained in the manual.
To the right and left are wood panels and in the lower corner is the version build number. In the DAW Cockos Reaper, I sometimes found it necessary to click on these wood borders in order to regain keyboard control of the DAW transport since in certain modes highlighting the Diva window would cause all computer keyboard input to control Diva navigation (even when the Reaper setting “Send All Keyboard Input to Plug-In” was not selected). I mention this in case any other users experience similar issues and benefit from the workaround, especially when navigating patches.
The Patches Tab
Patches are divided into several folders on the hard drive and Diva makes it easy for the user to move them around at will individually, rather than relying on a monolithic database system. When a folder is selected in the lower left pane, the large patch list shows up on the black background near the top, while patch information is highlighted on the right. Right clicking on the patch list or in the lower left pane’s folder will bring up helpful context sensitive actions. For the patch list, these are Make Favorite, Mark as Junk, Select All, Deselect and Show/Hide Junk (it’s a toggle) and “Reveal in Finder” for OS X users, with an equivalent command for Windows users. For the folder list, the right-click commands are Refresh (which displays any changes to folder structure you may have made), Create New Folder (allowing you to create sub-folders if you choose or new ones entirely) and Reveal in Finder (with the Windows equivalent on respective systems).
The emphasis is on working quickly with this system, rather than on advanced tagging or sorting. The save dialog for a preset fields for Preset Name, Author Name, Preset Description and Preset Usage, so additional info can be entered here. However, the information is not searchable, unlike virtual instruments designed around large libraries, like Omnisphere or Kontakt. I didn’t really find this to be much of an issue, since the patch library was of a size I could take the time to browse through comprehensively (especially since the patches all consist of synth settings and didn’t require taking time to load large sample sets).
In short, the patch organization system is rather quick and simple but overall more on the functional side rather than a selling-point.
The “Hype” Question
If you’re used to certain other soft synths, you may find Diva’s sound is less “hyped”, with comparatively less of an emphasis on the highest frequencies. Depending on the specific synth being used for comparison, I found this often came down to one of three factors: the absence of an exciter, anti-aliasing and the specific waveforms used.
Several soft synths use internal exciters, for example the much older reFX Vanguard (which I first used over a decade ago) offers a switchable exciter that many users leave on for a brighter, hyped sound that Diva users would need an external exciter plug-in to emulate. It hopefully goes without saying that while such a hyped sound may be pleasing, it is not representative of most of the synths Diva seeks to emulate. In addition, some other synths have an “edgy” high end from aliasing that you won’t get out of Diva when using the “Divine” real-time or “Best” offline modes, since those modes in particular do such a great job of preserving audio fidelity and preventing and controlling artifacts. Equally important, the waveform signature of most synthesizers provide significant variation spectral balance and their respective waveforms, so while the waveform of softsynth like Sylenth1 may tilt a bit more towards the upper end than an “idealized” waveform, while the output from Diva goes the opposite direction and often emphasizes the fundamental or sub-harmonic frequencies in a given oscillator, lending the synth a warm sound that more directly mirrors the original sound of the synths it draws inspiration from. At this point I’d like to thank my friend Ernest Cholakis at Numerical Sound for his assistance in my oscillator research as I worked on this section of the review.
So what does all of that mean? It means that by default Diva gives a warmer, analogue sound that more directly follows in the footsteps of the gear it mirrors but that you can give a brighter sound through exciters, enhancers, EQ or whatever else you might like if you so desire. Consequently, I found Diva to be both full of character and flexible in a mix.
Not a Jack of All Trades
Diva is primarily designed for creating great sounding analogue (and Roland JP8080 style) sounds that use a simpler envelope structure, like a standard ADSR for example. While it augments this several modulation options, those looking primarily for powerful envelopes and routing or more digital timbres would be better served by other offerings, something u-he readily acknowledges through its variety of other available instruments. And while Diva comes with many patch presets and there are many more available from third parties, at a fundamental level, this synth tries to do something different from workstation synths like reFX Nexus and Spectrasonics Omnisphere, both of which offer varied sampled sound libraries for playback (though Omnisphere offers live VA as well). It should be noted that conversely, Diva offers more accurate emulations of the dynamic control of the vintage synthesizers it draws inspiration from than workstation synths like that, especially the filters.
While I personally am more concerned with how Diva models the eccentricities of the oscillator and filter sections of the synths from which it draws inspiration and I appreciate the modern additions and flexible “mix and match” approach, I know that some people want more “one-to-one” emulations. The first one that springs to mind for those users would be Togu Audio Line’s TAL-UNO-LX, which offers a strikingly accurate emulation of just one of the synthesizers to which Diva pays homage (the Roland Juno 60) at a lower price than Diva. On other hand, I will note that while I certainly haven’t heard every vintage emulation out there, exempting the aforementioned TAL-UNO-LX, many of the emulations fall far short in emulating the gear from which they draw inspiration and pale audibly in comparison to the oscillator and filter stages Diva offers.
I know that many vintage synth users enjoyed routing external audio through their synths, and this another segment to whom Diva doesn’t currently cater. However, if you read through the manual, you’ll notice that u-he gives special thanks to Andrew Simper for his knowledge of zero-feedback filters. Andrew Simper also happens to be the author of Cytomic The Drop, a dedicated filter effect plug-in that covers some of the very same models. I met Andrew Simper at NAMM a couple years ago and can happily say that his passion for filters exceeds even my own. Given how much I like the filters in Diva and enjoyed my brief demo with The Drop, I definitely hope that I get the chance to put The Drop through with Diva at some point in the future. For now, I can only say that my separate experiences with each lead me to believe they could be quite compatible in sound.
Finally, in regard to the specific models emulated, between the Korg, Moog, Oberheim and Roland modules on offer, Diva covers many of the most commonly requested virtual analog sounds, but there are certainly others users may go elsewhere to find. For instance, you won’t find models of other analog synths from Sequential Circuits or Dave Smith offerings, nor Yamaha’s classic the CS-80 or an OSCar – on the VA side it doesn’t model Clavia or Access offerings either. At the same time, in the past I saw virtual instruments that charged as much for one model as Diva does for a whole variety and every model Diva does include really has a lot of character, so it never feels like they are simply interchangeable. So basically, unless you have a very specific model you’re looking for outside the ones already offered, I don’t see this as an issue at all.
The Bottom Line
Diva’s high quality sound, ease of use and strong character makes it the sort of soft synth that I wouldn’t be surprised to keep finding on my tracks years from now. I’ve enjoyed using it on many tracks and plan to use it on many more. It offers some of the best analogue emulation that I’ve ever heard in a virtual instrument and the ability to really change a sound simply by swapping a filter or oscillator section without ever tweaking another setting. This is a process made simpler thanks to surprisingly intelligent parameter equivalents between many of the modules, especially the filters. If you want the sound of vintage analog synths or a great emulation of parts of the Roland JP-8080 sound, this is simply one of the very first soft synths you should look at.
Band In a Box grew up and became very mature software, offering a whole new world of possibilities – and we all just missed the progress, thinking that it is still the old toy that we used to know.
by A. Arsov, March 2015
Our proofreader, Dave, an old and faithful user of Band in a Box, told me that this is probably one of the most underrated music programs in the music industry. That was actually the first thing he said to me when I announced that I’d be reviewing this software. Well, it turns out that he might have been right. Band in a Box 2015 is a very powerful and highly impressive tool with a zillion options and additions, but I can’t think of anyone I know who actually owns it. Except Dave.
I have a great number of friends, professional musicians, and we can talk for hours about various musical tools, but we’ve never ever discussed Band in a Box. It simply falls outside of our scope of interest. Some years ago I tried out an older version and I remember it as a fairly compelling and interesting program. But with that corny pure MIDI sound emulation of real instruments it seemed to me more like a toy than a proper production tool. I bet that when you mention it to most people they have the same recollection. But it looks as if things have dramatically changed over the decades.
I don’t know when exactly they added those “Real tracks” integration, but with real instruments, professionally recorded in a big studio, and with even better musicians, renowned instrumentalists in their genre, this becomes a killer tool. Can you imagine a tool where you can simply type in your harmonies, define which well-known instrumentalist will play a particular part, and after choosing a style by simply pressing the “Generate” button you get your song baked and served to perfection?
It happens that when I tell people I’m a producer, an electro musician, they simply imagine that I sit in front of a computer telling the software what I want and the software just spits out the result. At least that’s what rock folk think about electro musicians. “Anyone can do that!” they cry. But here’s the thing: with Band in a Box 2015 realization of that fantasy comes very, very close.
How it works
In the main editing window, a kind of arrangement window where bars are sorted in a time-line, you can freely type names of chords, building your arrangement from bar to bar, adding as many chords as you like inside a bar or even just using one chord for several bars. You can even define where fills should go, and then, using the style picker, find the exact musical style you want. There is an endless number of styles (from 400 in the Pro edition to 2,300 in all other packs), not many electro ones, but otherwise almost every other style you can imagine, such as jazz, salsa, rock, pop, country, blues, reggae, Hip Hop, R&B, even some techno.In addition you get a ton of various sub-styles.
OK, so plenty for rock, jazz, country and similar “live” geeks and freaks, but is there much for electro, EDM, Dance musicians too? To tell the truth, even more than you think. Imagine that you set Band in a Box to the same tempo as your song, typing in the same chords as in your EDM electro song, then picking some crazy Real track style (like Bluegrass–you need to hear it to believe it. Total madness). All you need to do is export some of the tracks, like mandolin or double bass, or even some lead instrument, packing it like a sandwich in your DAW of choice (it could even be RealBand, a DAW that comes with Band in a Box) between your uber fancy four on the floor beats and your synths. Using that technique, you will become some kind of Avicii on steroids in an instant. And that’s only one of many ways to use and abuse this program. You can export MIDI files, or even some of those Real tracks. In fact, you can even record your own Real tracks. Just grab your favorite instrument, download a Real track template from the PG Music website, and record a basic progression in a few different keys (all information can be found inside the template), and your old bass / guitar / piano etc. will become a Real instrument ready to be used in your future arrangements—in all chord progressions and in all tempos. Pure magic. And musicians think that Live and Reason have the best time-stretching algorithms on the market.
A great number of additional free Real tracks can be found on the Band in a Box forum. Actually with some more advanced packs you also get a ton of Real tracks, professionally recorded by known professionals (from 101 up to an impressive 1,800). There are plenty of video clips on the PG Music website where you can listen to some of them. Using Real tracks or even using MIDI “super tracks”, as real tracks are not the only “real thing” in Band in a Box 2015 – those MIDI super tracks are actually MIDI tracks recorded by well known professionals. – It’s almost like hiring the world’s best musicians for just a few bucks to play in your song.
As we mentioned video clips, there are tons of tutorials divided into several basic categories, from those aimed at beginners to those for experienced users. Actually, I was up to speed with the whole program in a just few hours simply by watching the videos. At first, the main program interface can make you feel like you’re sitting in an aircraft cockpit, but actually things are arranged in a very logical order. What is even more impressive is that most of those controls are well-chosen and rather useful (not always the case with those cockpit-style interfaces).
With Band in a Box 2015 you also get an integrated version of AmpliTube guitar amp and SampleTank sampler. SampleTank comes with a good number of high quality instruments, so MIDI clips don’t sound as lame as they use to years ago. Of course, Band in a Box and RealBand both support VST instruments and effects, the only drawback being that you need to buy a VST bridge if you want to use 64-bit VSTs. (extra $10 USD on PG Music site)
We also mentioned RealBand, a program that comes with Band in a Box 2015. RealBand is actually a fully featured DAW, not exactly on a same level as Cubase or Live, but it allows you to record tracks, edit the arrangement and even make use of most of the features available in Band in a Box. So it’s an ideal tool for making part of your song by typing in chords, using the style maker along with some Real tracks, and adding your own parts after that. Definitely something you can afford alongside your almighty DAW from Steinberg or Ableton. Of course, there are still things that can be done with those high-profile DAWs that can’t be done with Band in a Box or RealBand, like intricate audio or MIDI editing, or mixing and mastering to the same degree. But we should be fair and admit that RealBand has a really nicely designed and fairly powerful mixer, so it’s not so far behind the competition. And secondly you can use all of your VST effects on any track or on the master output.
Did I mention that Band in a Box can extract chords from an audio file? Of course, there’s no such algorithm that can do it perfectly, especially if the song is a bit complicated, but with most simpler songs it comes pretty close. Actually, the whole package can also be a very useful learning and practice tool.
No more “more and more.”
I fear this could become a bit of a boring article if I were to go through all the features of Band in a Box, as it can so easily turn into a never-ending story. Like when you ask an elderly person the innocent question: “So, how are you?” and you get back a full and detailed medical report, covering all their symptoms, diagnoses and surgical procedures.
Well, I should mention there’s an option to export lyrics along with a melody line and send it to a site which has a certain agreement with PG Music. In a flash they’ll send you back a Vocaloid version of your lyrics. And this is just one of many additions—drag and drop for export or import, chord builder and so on. It is almost impossible to name all the things that Band in a Box offers.
So, is there anything that’s not so great about Band in a Box 2015? I didn’t find anything that could ruin my positive impression. The worst thing that you can say about it is that all songs sound like a typical American band. …So, this is the moment when the whole of America stands up and asks what the hell that’s supposed to mean. Here in Europe every band is trying to find its own sound, to sound unique. Meanwhile, at least in the opinion of many Europeans, most American bands have great instrumentalists, but somehow all the songs sound as if they’re emanating from the same source. A bit too “normal” for European tastes. Therefore you won’t find any weirdo indie styles in Band in a Box. On the other hand, almost everything that comes out of Band in a Box carries a high-quality, professional sound, almost identical to what you can hear on the radio—at least from the more “normal” radio stations. And having such an advantage for a pretty reasonable price is a blessing, even for atheists.
I really enjoyed discovering Band in a Box and hope I will find a bit more time in the near future to use even more of its features and implement it into my productions. Hell of a good job, PG Music.
There are several versions and packs of Band in a Box 2015, from Pro, that will set you back for only $129 USD, to the Audiophile edition, offering heaven on earth at $699 USD – and all things in between.
More info about the packs can be found at:
and general info about Band in a Box 2015 at:
Breaktweaker is a different kind of instrument, one that will surely become a favorite amongst electronic/dance musicians. It’s a worthy companion to Izotope’s Stutter Edit, and yet it’s a completely different beast.
by Suleiman Ali, Mar. 2015
The electronic dance producer is currently spoiled for choices given the large variety of virtual instruments and plug-ins available, most of which cover all aspects of electronic music production, from the beat makers to the bass synths to the samplers to the slicing and mangling of audio.
Izotope’s BreakTweaker was designed by famous musician BT and developed by Izotope’s team based on his initial design specification. BreakTweaker was originally supposed to be released with Stutter Edit, but due to various reasons the release was delayed. Well, it’s here now, so let us see what Izotope and BT have cooked up this time around.
I used an i5 based HP Laptop with 6 GB RAM running Windows 8 (64 Bit) alongside a Roland Tri-Capture audio interface. The DAW was 64 Bit Reaper version 4.77 and the plug-in itself was 64 Bit.
The installer downloaded quickly, as did the 2 GB of content. Nevertheless, a reasonable internet connection is required to ensure smooth downloading. The installer itself worked without any issues. You can direct the installation path of the VSTi and the content. The best news in this regard is that there are no security hoops to jump though (dongle or complicated activation procedure) and the authorization takes very little time.
Starting up the VSTi in your DAW for the first time loads the instrument and a helpful welcome screen is seen. The welcome screen points out the main sections of the instrument, as well as allowing you to load a demo preset. The demo, when combined with a reading of the very helpful pdf manual (also accessible through the “?” button in the interface), amply illustrates what BreakTweaker (henceforth to be referred to as BT) is all about.
I will just describe the interface itself in this section, and the details will be tackled in an appropriate section later on.
The GUI is very elegant and futuristic looking in general, and maintains Izotope’s reputation for clear and intuitive user controls that ooze sleekness. The overall theme is a black background with everything else various shades of neon blue. Think TRON and you are on the right path.
The bottommost part of the interface shows the preview button (allowing to playback your patterns as well as host sync and MIDI Latch features).
The instrument shows six rows or channels with the associated step sequencer lanes for each. The leftmost side of the interface shows the name (user editable) for each of the lanes. Clicking the next GUI item (small illuminated sine wave symbol) opens up the sound source details for that particular lane. This allows you to use samples as well as the built in synths as a sound source. Pressing the tab key switches between an active layer’s sound source controls and the sequencer.
Just before the step sequencer lane for a particular row, there are five distinct controls that influence the behavior of the step sequencer’s playback for that particular layer. It includes play/stop, preset browser, speed, track gain and pan.
The sequencer itself is simple enough, and allows you to turn on any of the steps for that particular sound. The step size can be increased (for longer sounds), and the velocity can be dragged up or down as required for each step.
The beating heart of this instrument is the micro-editing capability. This is easily the main selling point of BT, as it allows you to implement stutter/gating like effects on a per-step basis. A little playing around with the controls here while the preview button is engaged will quickly clarify what level of tweakability is available to the user.
You could spend all day just playing around with the presets, as they are great starting points for a new user. These presets can be the instrument presets or the generator presets. The instrument presets include all the relevant generator settings, the sequencer settings, the micro-edit settings and usually 24 variations on that theme. So these can be considered as starter kits for people to get their groove on.
The individual tracks can also be quickly assigned sounds (complete generator settings) by using the folder icon on the left of the tracks. These include a large number of generator presets that cover most bases.
But a better way in my opinion is use them to get an idea of the controls and dive right in to make your sounds and beats from scratch.
Using the top menu (“Preset”), a click on the NEW button leads to a completely blank slate. You are free to assign each of the six track’s sound sources. The aforementioned bright sine wave icon next to each track opens up the generators interface. The sources can either be a sample or a synth, and you can layer up to three of either generator types. Quite a number of options are open to the discerning tweaker, from a basic amplitude ADSR to complete multi-modulation madness. There are three main types of filters and a number of distortion effects available (all modulate-able by the three available LFO’s or the four envelopes). Basic tuning is available here in the form of coarse and fine controls. The sampler has various playback modes and all other essential options that should make fine tuning it to your needs quite simple. If that is not enough, an internet connection can enable you to use the “Discover” function, finding similar sounds (based on analysis, not tags) quickly.
The included library of sample WAV files can be accessed by selecting sample as a generator source and then clicking on the folder icon. It is a pretty thorough collection and may be all you need to lay down the grooves for your next EDM, Drum n Bass, Pop, Hip Hop or Dubstep track. The versatility is such that I was even able to use the provided drum samples and percussive sounds in a rock context. You can also import your own samples by placing them in the content location as defined in the settings. The acoustic drum loops I imported made for hours of break-beat enjoyment.
Now we come to the synthesizer sounds. The sheer number of waveforms available should be enough for most needs. Combine the fact that there are two oscillators per generator (which offer AM and FM synthesis, among other options), three generators per track, four LFO’S, four Envelopes, very nice filters, a variety of distortions and easy modulation options, and you have pretty much a dream synthesizer built right into BreakTweaker. I was soon wishing that there some way to play it directly with the MIDI keyboard instead of the current sequencing only option!
I found some of the included oscillator waveforms (accessed via the folder browser icon) to work pretty well in a variety of situations with minimal tweaking. They are full yet warm sounding and once you apply the micro-edit magic on them, they are hard to beat for futuristic sounds.
Once you have the sound dialed in, you can start sequencing it by returning back to the main sequencer interface (either by pressing the tab key or by pressing the bright sine wave icon again). Sequencing is as easy as clicking to add “on-step” rectangles as required. The velocity can be varied as can be the length of the individual rectangles, by clicking and dragging up or right respectively. A dummy “hit” called a choke does exactly that to a generator’s sound (similar to an open-close hi-hat setup).
I laid down a kick drum, snare and hat groove quickly, and then decided to play around with the possibilities before using the remaining three tracks for bass and synthesized effects. Just with these three tracks of drum sounds, I was experimenting away happily for a while. Why, you ask? The pleasure of varying the loop points and play speed for each individual track opens up a world of morphing polyrhythms, that , if you are not careful, will quickly exceed your ability to map them to known time signatures. Yes, it’s the prophesied Rhythmic Singularity, and it got here via a deceptively simple sequencer interface. And should you further need to be amazed, you can open the generator interface again for a single track, and now notice that the sequencer lane for that particular track is open on top, so you edit the sound and sequence from a single interface.
Micro-Edit for the Win
If you click on any single-step/rectangle in the sequencer, it opens the previously mentioned micro-editing features in the bottom half of the screen. That means that you can apply a wide variety of glitch/futuristic-sounding stutter/gating effects just by clicking and dragging your mouse left or right. Fine tweaking can be done by the associated dials, such as building the tension towards the left or the right by bringing the slices closer together in either direction. I really hope that you understand this point: you can do this for each individual step in the sequencer! It definitely works better with longer steps/rectangles of more sustained sounds such as the included synthesizer generators. Even a single-bar loop can get a great amount of excitement and movement by wisely using the modulation and the micro-editing features.
One important point to note here is that there are three kinds of pitch controls: the generator settings pitch (coarse and fine dials), the individual steps pitches and finally, the micro-edit pitching that calculates the required slicing for a particular pitch. This makes programming melodic motifs in the sequencer a breeze.
The patterns, numbered from 1 to 24 can be copied and pasted, by right clicking anywhere on the sequencer grid and selecting copy/paste. This allows you quickly build variations on a theme, and develop a full song quickly. The preview button can be kept on to hear the changes you make as you build your track.
The instrument worked perfectly with my DAW, with the sync feature ensuring that the DAW tempo changes are followed to the letter. MIDI Notes C2 onwards trigger the patterns 1 through 24, allowing you conveniently build up your song in the DAW’s MIDI editor. Furthermore, the individual sounds assigned to the each of the six tracks can be triggered via MIDI Notes C1 to F1. There is an option for a latching mode as well.
Onward to the DAW
One of the utilization-enhancing features in BT is the multi-out mode. In Reaper, it was breeze to get all six tracks routed to individual tracks. The first step was to “Insert Virtual Instrument on new Track” option in Reaper. This presented me with the below dialog:
Upon selecting “Yes”, the DAW set-up the six tracks and the relevant routing automatically with the BT VSTi on a seventh master track. If you select “No”, you get BT on a single stereo track, and this can later be manually configured for your own choice of multi-out setting. The automatically-enabled multi-out setup in Reaper is shown below:
This enables you to apply more surgical specialized equalization, reverb, delays, compressors/limiters or any other effects that you deem fit to the six tracks individually directly in your DAW. And you will need to, because none of these effects are available in the virtual instrument itself. There is single knob labeled “Intensity”, but to date I am not sure exactly what kind of compression it implements.
Room for Improvement
I have to mention couple of minor quibbles before concluding the review. Editing the sequencer tracks’ looping points or speeds on the fly leads to the tracks getting out of sync with each other, which could have been prevented by some kind of auto-syncing feature at the start of each loop. At present, this makes it less than ideal for live use if you plan to do a lot of on-stage rhythmic tweaks.
As I mentioned before, the synthesizers sound fantastic and I wish there was a way to play them with a MIDI Controller. A possible method could be to utilize MIDI Channel 1 for the normal triggering of patterns and samples as mentioned above, and MIDI Channel 2 to 7 for pitched playing of the synthesizer or sample generators for tracks 1 through 6.
My initial impression of BreakTweaker was one of a drum-machine-like plug-in, but it turned out to be a feature-loaded rhythmic instrument that can get you from zero to a full song’s worth of grooves quite fast once you get the hang of it. The learning curve is actually rather gentle, especially if you save time by taking a look at the demos/tutorial and read the provided (and exhaustive) pdf manual.
The software itself is rock-solid, with absolutely zero issues or bugs that I could discern despite repeated and thorough usage. CPU performance has been optimized, with BT using a very small amount of processing power, even when things are in full swing.
Aside from some of the above mentioned criticisms, this is a fully formed virtual instrument and is one of the few options that can be placed on an electronic music project template without much thought. From simple dance rhythms to glitchy, complex rhythms, BT has you covered. There are a number of expansions available at the Izotope website, offering a variety of content. There is a trial version available on the website, so what are you waiting for?
I look forward to what else Izotope may have in store for us in the future.
What can we do with a bunch of Foley effects? Actually, plenty of things. When inspiration doesn’t strike, just use our recipe that can spice many a desolate musical moment.
by A. Arsov, March. 2015
Strange, why should we cover a box of sound effects full of surrounding and ambient sounds? This package is aimed mostly at productions of film, advertising and games and we are not exactly that sort of magazine since we are mostly oriented to pure music production.
OK, let’s make a few things clearer. No, Bestservice didn’t offer me this one; I asked for it. Why? Actually, I must tell you my little secret. In the last ten or maybe even more years, whenever I run out of inspiration, not for a basic part of a song, but just for a part where phrases sound too repetitive – and it always happens that there will be some part that you really don’t how to make a bit more interesting – then, yes, there come the effects. Not musical effects since I will have already filled other gaps with them, but those of nature, ambiance, crowds and other sorts of human or industrial audio . I’m talking about all other sorts of familiar sounds that can push things a bit further without banging your head with additional melody. Even if they are almost so quiet in a mix that you are not sure what’s really going on, at the same time they can add something familiar that will be ringing in your ear.
My second sweet little secret is that whenever I make any music for advertising or movies, I always add some Foley effects synced with the picture along with the music. No matter that final effects will come later at the end of the production process, and that my job is strictly to provide just music. I always use this trick to sell the track. When the client hears the music along with some real life effects that support the picture, they automatically think that music is really in line with a story.
After they have bought the music, I send it without any effects to the Foley-studio, as they are experts in that field and they can make that sort of thing work much, much better.
One way or another, this little trick has helped me to sell many tracks. So, Long live Studio Box Mark III, summer is coming and I definitively intend to add some seaside, human, nature or even industry sounds to my upcoming songs.
We’re talking about almost 30 GB of well-organized everything, and not only well-organized but also sounding first rate. Yes, I know there is a huge quantity of free effects available for download to be found on some specialized site, but the quality is not assured. I’ve tried some of those free effects and even a deaf person can hear the difference between what’s there and what should be there. After all, you pay for top microphones, stereo recording, years of experience, clarity etc., etc., the end result is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem with those free Foley effect is that you can’t nail them in a mix since they can hum and contain low level additional dirt that is revealed when you try to equalize or compress them.
All effects are arranged into the main categories: Cinema + Game, Human, Nature and Technical.
In the first one, Cinema + Game, we can find a large number of effects that you can simply throw into your music production, since they are tamed and fine-tuned for just that particular purpose. Then there is a mountain of artificial, unnatural effects, similar to those that you can find on some synths. The main difference is that they are sorted by logical names, like Dangerous, Distorted, Dark and the like, so it is much easier to find what are you looking for. We must also mention the collection of exotic Foley effects, like various alarms, guitar feedback, sword fighting, and metallic sounds along with all sort of impacts, sweeps, blasts and even carton voices. It is a pristine, well-organized madness, a bit different than those that you’re likely to find it in your own sound trumpery.
The next category is Human. Amongst all the footsteps, snoozes and hiccups there is also a load of specific sounds of people in different situations and ambiances. So, if you wish to involve the sounds from a police station in your song, you will find it here. The same is true for sounds from a boat, casino or even from various sport events. Laughing, crying or just pure mystical human sounds are also there. Actually, there are plenty of such sounds that I use almost in all of my music, especially in a last beat a before break or in a quiet parts. Those human noises can really humanize any instrumental song without adding any real vocal line.
For all nature lovers there is also the Nature category which includes fire cracks, water falls, splashes and all sorts of animals and natural ambiances. I know that you can recreate wind with filtered noise on many synthesizers, but this one offers so much more variation that it is almost impossible to recreate it with any digital contrivance. There is plenty of first-rate material for all musical quiet parts. Various water and wind sounds along with some crickets are some of my favorites.
The last directory is a technical one. Cars and airplanes can be a perfect substitute for various risers and falls. While other office, submarine, machine and varieties of engine and industry noises can be a good solution for spicing a drum loop or for enlivening various melodic phrases, adding unexpected sound at the end. Use a word like “travel” in your song and sound of a train can bring a whole universe of the memories by adding some personal associations to the listener.
All in All
Actually there are so many subcategories in each category that it could take forever to name them all. There are 10,000 effects in this collection; this should be more than enough to cover all your lifetime musical and cinematic, game or similar video editing needs. After all, a good clip of recorded thunder can be better than some other artificial impact. It is a well-rounded collection that can cover all your Foley-effects need for many years to come. It is suitable for all sorts of other purposes, but it is so sweet to abuse things by using them in an unexpected context. And, of course, if you ever start to mess with video (and as a musician, you probably will do so sooner or later), this big collection will definitively be your best friend.
I don’t know if you realize this, but in a movie you never ever hear the actual sound. Almost all dialog is rerecorded in studio. Close your eyes during the movie and you will hear the well-known color of a studio recording. In case of ambient, even if the original sound is OK, there is always some doubling, adding extra color or impact. So good sound will take you a long way toward good video.
And what if you are a video-game professional? Then I can say to you only this – do you remember Series 1000 and the later 6000? This one is on the same level, but significantly cheaper. So, the final decision is yours.
The package weighs in at almost 30 GB and includes 10,000 Foley effects for € 299.25 EUR or $ 299.25 USD.
Find more info on Bestservice site:
A long hot summer is coming, so, it is time to arm ourselves with new set of tutorials, TB 303 clones, bass instruments and some vocal packs that will help us to survive the season.
by A. Arsov, March 2015
OK, no more winter please. The snow has gone, time to prepare ourselves for a Tropical summer. As you probably know, Big Room is slowly fading away while Trop House is climbing up the charts. For this reason, in this issue we’ll concentrate more on Tropical House tools, presenting various packs that directly target Trop House, or at least genres that have some common elements, like Deep House. We’ll make one exception with the Dance vocal pack, as good vocals are always in demand no matter which genre they’re intended for.
A good song needs good bass, so we’ll also explore some low frequency options with two instruments that can shake walls and shatter windows. And secondly, having solid bass and a strong vocal line is not enough if your mixing skills are more at the beginners end of the scale. So, for good measure we’ll also include a pretty cool mixing EDM tutorial.
Sample Magic – White Label – House Vocal Tracks
Ten different vocal arrangements sung by a male vocalist in different tempos (from 120 to 126 BPM) and in different keys. Every arrangement also offers some additional sub-harmonies. House Vocal Tracks is a breath of fresh air among all those “Ladies only” packs on the market. Not a Tropical House tool as such, but still a very useful and interesting one. At the time of writing, Sample Magic is also releasing House Vocal Tracks 2. Obviously every good story gets a sequel.
Dance Midi Samples
Searching for Tropical material, I found these two Deep House vocal packs from DMS, and they may just be what we’re looking for. These Producer Loops packs are available on the DMS website.
Deep House Vocals Vol 1
A very well-organized pack with five different arrangements, bundled together with all musical background elements and appropriate MIDI files. Every arrangement contains a standard number of vocal variations. (At first I was a bit surprised how little variation there was throughout all the packs, not just these two. Still, there’s enough material for your average Tropical House song.) All vocals are divided into various groups, as adlibs, bridge, verse and chorus.
Deep House Vocal Vol 2
Same number of arrangements here, and ditto for all other elements. The only difference is that this one brings you even more appealing vocal phrases. More or less, these two packs are the most solid material that I’ve got for this issue. You can definitely find something useful in either of them and you should easily be able to create a new arrangement using any combination of their features.
Tropical Deep House Acapellas
Five construction kits with everything you’ll need. Very cool drum elements, nice instruments and effects and, of course, acapellas. To be honest I expected more vocals – each construction kit brings just a few short phrases in both wet and dry variations. I’ve got mixed feeling about this pack. Instrumental parts are inspirational, while vocal parts are a bit too short for my taste, especially considering the name of the pack. At least you also get some MIDI parts with each kit, just to help get you started building your own patterns.
The funny thing is, all loops are actually whole stems, aimed at beginners just wanting to lay elements together and get their arrangement started. But OK, it’s no big problem to cut out a short loop. It just grabbed my attention, the size of all these loops being 27 MB.
SHARP – Tropic House Paradise
Similar to the previous pack, this one also contains five construction kits, three of which are accompanied by very interesting male vocals. Good loops, MIDI files, effects and melody elements, but a limited collection of vocal phrases. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I prefer these vocal lines over the previous pack. At least this male voice has some sort of character, somewhat soaked in all sorts of effects, but still quite interesting.
Time for the very low end of frequency range but also very affordable end of our article
It looks like that Roland TB 303 sound will never go out of fashion. Searching for some VST clones I found this one. It’s fully featured, boasting even more functions compared to the original, and is very reasonably priced.
€59.00 EUR and three YouTube video tutorials later and I had already managed to make my first patch. Initially it looked like rocket science, but after I’d seen the video from our old friend Sadowicks, programming Phoscyon became a pure joy. Years ago I thought programming the TB 303 was a nightmare – I lost my temper every time I went near it. But now Phoscyon has become my new best friend. It sounds almost identical to that classic synth and it offers plenty of additional features, like exporting MIDI notes – good for doubling your lines with some other virtual instrument. Then you get an arpeggiator with even more programming ability than the original, not to mention the ability to record directly into the arpeggiator with a keyboard. Next, there’s a distortion section which allows you to add some soil and dirt into your sound. And there are a number extra knobs and buttons to play with that further distinguish this machine from the original.
I can’t remember when I had such a good time with an instrument, as I had with Phoscyon.
Most definitely the best money spent in this issue.
TAL Bassline 101
I’ve been using TAL freeware for years and its Bassline ends up in many of my songs. I ordered this advanced version as it’s so handy to have a synthesizer that’s fairly simple but still very versatile and powerful. For $60.00 USD you’ll get over 300 presets – from leads and effects to pads – but my favorite reason for using this instrument is still bass, as the TAL Bassline 101 can produce really deep and powerful bass tones.
It is a single oscillator virtual beast with one sub oscillator and self-resonating filter, just like an original hardware bass synth. Actually, it nails the emulation of a Roland SH-101, sharing the same programming ability – you can easily make a good patch out of nothing.
Programming or just playing around, it’s so easy to find a good bass or produce an interesting effect with this synthesizer that it would be pure sin not to use it.
Talking about TAL we can’t overlook the Roland Juno emulation with funny name U-no-LX. It sounds totally retro and totally dangerous. Check out the demo tracks on the TAL website and it will bring back memories of songs from the 80’s. U-no-LX doesn’t sound as colorful as modern synths can, instead it sounds fat and aggressive, and that’s something I miss on many modern synths.
Maybe not for everyone’s taste, but for $60.00 USD you get a synth that doesn’t sound like any of your standard fancy modern ones. I played on a Juno many times in the past and the U-no-LX sounds almost identical to it, with all the advantages and disadvantages. Anyway, you get 300 presets and a bunch of additional free presets on the U-no-LX website. You definitely won’t already have those sorts of sounds.
And for good measure, for all beginners or semi pro fellows, a detailed video course of EDM mixing.
If you’re not a skilled producer, this video course could be just the thing for you. OK, I should be fair and confess that even I, as a more experienced producer, learned a good few things from watching these video clips.
You’ll notice that you probably don’t own some of the specific tools in these tutorials, but the general approach is the same. At the end of the day a compressor is compressor and an equalizer is still an equalizer, no matter how it looks or who made it. You can find these sorts of tools in more or less every modern DAW, so I reckon you’ll have no problem following the course.
There are plenty of video clips on YouTube about mixing, but the advantage of this course is that it goes through all stages of the mixing process, explaining some advanced tricks that I hadn’t spotted in any other freely available YouTube video. Maybe it’s not the cheapest video course on the market and maybe it doesn’t cover some up-to-date EDM sub genres, being more on the Dance side, but this course simply makes you a better producer. No matter that I already knew a fair amount of the presented tips and tricks, there’s always something new that you can learn. Especially if you are working with vocal tracks.
Till the next issue
It’s synth power month this time around as we take a close look at three fantastic freeware virtual synthesizers along with an awesome free percussion sample pack.
by Tomislav Zlatic, Mar. 2015
It’s synth power month this time around in the SoundBytes Freebies section, as we take a look at three fantastic freeware virtual synthesizers, along with a free percussion sample pack which is there to help you add a rhythmic foundation to your new synth-based masterpiece.
SUPER-7 by CFA-Sound
Although CFA-Sound describes SUPER-7 as a “little side project for fun and learning”, they’ve actually done a surprisingly good job with this one. SUPER-7 closely emulates the famous supersaw oscillator which originally appeared in the Roland JP-8000 hardware synthesizer and quickly became the foundation of many classic lead and pad patches from the nineties.
The SUPER-7 supersaw comes very close to the sound of the original Roland JP-8000 supersaw oscillator, arguably more so than some commercial virtual instruments on the current plugin market. The rest of SUPER-7’s synthesis engine is quite rudimentary to say the least, but this free virtual instrument was never meant to be a versatile workhorse synthesizer in the first place.
Apart from the oscillator section, SUPER-7 features a simple ADSR envelope module for the volume, a resonant 4-pole low pass filter with an AD envelope and a handy envelope shape control for the filter envelope. The plugin also features a built-in preset manager with a small set of 20 factory presets. The preset manager probably wasn’t a necessary addition to the plugin’s feature set, considering the fact that the synthesis engine is rather minimal.
The great thing about SUPER-7, apart from the fact that it emulates the original supersaw oscillator so closely, is the fact that it’s quite easy on the CPU. You can layer several instances of this virtual instrument and use them to create some insanely huge supersaw pads and fat leads, without much impact on the overall CPU hit of your project.
SUPER-7 is released as a 32-bit VSTi plugin for Windows based host applications. The plugin was developed with SynthEdit.
Cybermath by Ricardo F. Gomes
In contrast to the minimal and streamlined design of the aforementioned SUPER-7 synthesizer, Cybermath by Ricardo F. Gomes features a complex and versatile synthesis engine which is set to become a powerful sonic weapon in the hands of talented sound designers. Cybermath comes with a pair of wavetable oscillators, offering two wavetables and a dedicated envelope per oscillator. The oscillators also support phase modulation, which is a quick route to unusual and exciting sounds.
Other highlights of Cybermath’s synthesis engine include eight modulation envelopes, an arpeggiator and a set of eight effects, all of which can be combined in a powerful and flexible modulation matrix. It’s worth noting that the eight modulation envelopes are fully customizable – it’s possible to draw almost any shape and use it to modulate various parameters of the synthesis engine.
Cybermath is still a work in progress, which is the main reason why the CPU hit is a bit too high at the moment. The developer is continuously releasing new versions of this great freeware instrument and we’re more than excited to see what the final product will be like. For now, Cybermath is certainly worth a look if you’re a sound designer in search of a flexible and powerful tool for creating new and unique sounds.
Cybermath is available as a 32-bit VSTi plugin for Windows hosts. The plugin was developed with SynthMaker.
4 Tune by Noizefield
4 Tune is an interesting modern virtual analogue synthesizer which was designed for creating EDM style sounds with ease. It is optimized for creating contemporary bass and lead patches, although it can also be used to make some of those classic subtractive synthesis sounds such as analogue style strings and pads.
This freeware instrument provides a solid mixture of classic subtractive synthesis elements, packed in a nice looking and easy to use interface. It doesn’t really stand out in comparison to most freeware virtual analogue synthesizers out there, apart from the fact that the workflow is really well optimized for creating modern lead and bass sounds with just a few mouse clicks.
The highlight of this instrument is probably the factory sound bank which includes a large amount of useful presets, offering a great starting point for beginner sound designers and EDM music producers.
4 Tune is released as a 32-bit VSTi plugin for Windows hosts. The plugin was made with FlowStone.
Percussa Toolbox by Richard Gould
Percussa Toolbox is an interesting collection of percussive sounds which were recorded and edited by Richard Gould and published as a free download on 99Sounds. The sample pack provides a wide variety of percussive hits, ranging from standard percussive instruments like shakers and rain sticks to some rare and unusual ones such as the thunder tube and ocean drums.
The sounds are provided in 24-bit WAV format (96 kHz stereo) and are certainly a worthy addition to any music producer’s arsenal of percussive hits. It’s worth noting that the library also includes a NKI patch for Native Instruments Kontakt 4.
Percussa Toolbox is available for free download via 99Sounds.
Tomislav Zlatic: http://bedroomproducersblog.com/
SoundBytes interviews Andrew Souter of 2CAudio which developed the algorithmic reverb products Aether, Breeze, and B2, and most recently has introduced the highly innovative synthesis software Kaleidoscope.
by Warren Burt, Mar. 2015
Andrew Souter is the cofounder of 2CAudio, producer of such algorithmic reverb products as Breeze, B2, and Aether. They have just released their newest product, Kaleidoscope, which is a radical reinvention of several sound synthesis techniques. Andrew is also a composer, and a pianist. His music is available on his Soundcloud site:
Andrew is pictured right, working on Kaleidoscope somewhere in the Gulf of Finland between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki in August of 2014.
SoundBytes: Tell us a bit about your background. Musical background? Did you study anywhere, and if so, with whom? Technical background? Where did you learn your digital craft? Which came first (if any) the music or the tech?
Andrew Souter: I have no formal education in music composition, performance, sound-design, DSP, computer science, advanced mathematics, or other related discipline. I am for the most part self-taught in all of these areas, and I am a big believer in self-directed learning. With enough determination and obsession, I truly believe a reasonably gifted individual can make meaningful historical contributions to his field within 5 to 10 years of deeply focused effort and sacrifice of blood, sweat, and tears. It takes a certain iron will, some might stay bordering on obstinacy, but if you have this, and believe in yourself, and refuse to accept no for an answer, pretty much anything is obtainable.
I started my journey into music via an interest in ambient music and film scoring in my mid teenage years — around 14. I could not afford a synthesizer at the time, so I resolved to teach myself piano to begin with. Piano composition and performance are true passions of mine – first loves, if you will. They are my original art. Ambient music, electronic music, dance music, scoring, sound-design, and eventually DSP and software development all followed directly from my desire as a composer to improve my craft. I am inspired by many things. Yes, I thoroughly enjoy highly technical things, and I am proud to say I love mathematics and geeking-out deep in DSP research in pursuit of developing never-before-heard, futuristic sounds. However, I just as thoroughly, if not more thoroughly, enjoy making music. I find it is necessary to remain balanced, and sometimes when we become out of balance, it can be good to go back to our first passions and do something purely human. I am ultimately interested in telling effective emotional stories and exploring what it means to be human. This is what matters most to people in the long run. Technologies come and go, but the human narrative remains. I go very deep into the trenches of technology very often, and do so with vigor and passion, but the motivation for this is to discover new ways to tell powerful stories. It is very important to remember this. Technology is designed to serve humanity, not the other way around. Thus, by practicing purely human creative acts once in a while, one can gain a critical perspective on the proper hierarchy of needs within musical creativity and product development.
I have an undergraduate degree from the University Of Southern California in Los Angeles, where I completed the Marshall School of Business administration and the Lloyd Grief Entrepreneur program in three years while on academic scholarship. I was accepted to USC for computer science, but I switched majors before classes started to go through the prestigious Entrepreneur program because a) I always knew I wanted to have my own company and could hire people with higher technical pedigrees than my own as necessary, and b) I wanted to have enough free time to score student films to practice my passion of film scoring. I did take a few classes on an elective basis with the Music Industry program at USC, and I did have a general education freshman class on Ethno-Musicology taught by a professor who had come from Yale and taught the graduate early music and Baroque classes. I also took a student job in both the music library and the university computer store so that I could spend my time learning as much as I could about classical music theory and technology. I read everything and anything I could on music and technology, and continue to do so today! I wrote an extensive business plan for a music software company based around the idea of algorithmic composition. I was 19 at the time. I also was already beta testing for companies like MOTU, Waves, Prosoniq, Sound Toys etc.
I did learn some great things from USC and I am proud of my time there, so it would not be fair to not give some credit, but generally speaking I am self-taught in the technical areas of music and technology. I have never had a single piano lesson in my life. Sometimes I regret this, as I would like to attempt to give concerts one day perhaps if time allows, and it would be nice to have some form of rigorous training to avoid the possibility of performance train wrecks, but until someone invents time travel so that I can go back an enrol in a conservatory somewhere, I will have to live with the humble skills I do have if ever that day comes to give performances. I have however, put in thousands of hours at this point — maybe tens of thousands, including many lonely nights playing in an empty church on the USC campus late at night while my friends where all out at keg parties. I do the same now with DSP research, and I once lost a finance, whom I actually loved very much because I was so focused, she might say obsessed, on achieving greatness at what I was working on (Aether 1.5 at the time). Sometimes this is simply what it takes to be truly great at something.
The math, and science side of things comes naturally to me. I read Curtis Roads’ 1,000+ page book The Computer Music Tutorial completely while still in high school. Several times. Again and again until it actually made sense. I read the MIDI specification book during calculus class in high school. I subscribed to the Computer Music Journal, the Just Intonation Network, all the regular magazines, etc. Basically I read and absorbed everything I could on the subject beginning around 14-15 years of age.
As I got into technical sound design as mentioned above, this lead to me coding eventually. I would say however, that I to this day, I am not a “proper” computer science person. I am a hacker more than a proper coder. Denis Malygin, my partner in 2CAudio is the proper computer science person of our team. Today I code a couple thousand line test algorithms in C, and work out the mathematics of things we use. I know enough to be dangerous, but I could not code our products completely by myself. I know very little about things such as memory management, optimization in assembly language, systems coding, and host integration. I am the idea guy, the creative visionary if you will, and additionally I work out the research and development and am very deep into the mathematics of the things we use. You could say I specialize in the mathematics of aesthetics. I know intuitively what is necessary and interesting to achieve the type of perfection that the world’s best composers, artists, producers, and sound-designers demand. I know this because I am all of these things myself. And somehow I can usually manage to heuristically determine how to accomplish our mathematical goals, even when my formal level of mathematical sophistication generally lacks the credentials one might think are necessary. My advanced placement calculus class in high-school was the highest level of formal mathematics training I have ever had. That did not stop me from learning Linear Algebra via MIT open course-ware on YouTube a few years ago, or reading all the DSP books from Julius Orion Smith at Stanford’s CCRMA (which I actually applied to in high school not realizing it was a PhD program). You simply have to have the will to do such things. And you might have to do it 50 times before it makes any sense at all, but that’s OK. The information is out there. Imagination is more important than knowledge as Einstein said. Knowledge is now available to anyone who would seek it.
One might summarize succinctly that I am artist with a highly scientific and analytically-oriented mind.
SB: Some of your tuning files say “2000-2005 Andrew Souter” in them. These are the rather complex ones with irrational numbers divided into N equal intervals, etc. This suggests to me that here was a period when you were very deeply into tuning. Is that true? How did you come to be so involved in exploring the world of tuning?
AS: Dividing irrational numbers into equal parts whether on a logarithmic basis or a linear basis seems to me quite simple these days compared to some of the other things I now explore. 15 years ago in 2000 or so, however, this seemed highly advanced to me at the time. LOL.
Yes, there was a time when I was deeply interested in alternative tuning. I still am. I was introduced to these concepts while in high school by listening to ambient music legend Robert Rich’s early work. Robert, whom I recently had the honour to work with on a film score, is a big proponent of the system of tuning called Just Intonation which uses simple whole number ratios to define musical intervals. This is in fact the most pure tuning method, in that it aligns most perfectly with the harmonic series which is fundamentally the basis of all tuning methods. For example, a “Perfect Fifth” in Just Intonation is exactly 3/2. In 12-Tone Equal Temperament this ratio is 2^(7/12). This is quite close to being exactly 3/2, but it is not exact. Other intervals including minor and major thirds can diverge by pretty severe amounts comparing Equal Temperament and Just Intonation. Nature, and humans who are singing or playing non-fretted instruments tend towards Just Intonation. It is the simplest solution, and often this is what nature prefers. Equal Temperament is a compromise made to allow instrument builders to produce instruments with fixed pitches such as piano and fretted string instruments so that they can play in any key and handle harmonic modulation without requiring the instrument to be re-tuned.
My interest in non-musical tunings followed from this as effort to generate novel special effects and sound-design elements for sound-design and scoring projects I was working on at the time. The culmination of this research led to the Waveform tuning method in Kaleidoscope which effectively gives an unlimited pallet of experimental tunings within Kaleidoscope. I am not a fan of atonal music, but there is no rule that says sound effects must be musical. Simply consider sound-design for film for example. Musical sound is a very small sub-set of all sound that is possible.
I have, in fact, just expanded the tuning systems in Kaleidoscope even more this past week and we will put this into Kaleidoscope 1.1, which will come shortly. It is then about perfect IMHO and don’t see how to improve it much further at any point in the future.
SB: In Abode of Light on your Soundcloud site, are those scratching sounds at about 16:00 in frog recordings processed through Kaleidoscope?
AS: There are no recordings at all! What sounds like frogs, or crickets, or any other natural thing is actually Kaleidoscope. Wayfarer, Abode of Light, Cocoon, Sunrise in Bali, Kapteyn B, Elysian Fields, and the rest of the upcoming Art Official Life, are all entirely created with Kaleidoscope and our reverbs. There are no additional source sounds from any other source! Kaleidoscope generates all of the raw sound, completely by itself using only the internal white noise generator as the source signal. All of sounds you hear are a direct result of power of the Kaleidoscope tuning, timing, and image modulation systems. This is quite a deep thing to think about philosophically. How is it that a visual audio effect/synth can generate very natural sounding results which emulate things we hear in nature, biology and space, as well as common musical structures? There is no spectral analysis happening. There is no sampling. We are effectively synthesizing pure mathematical and logical rules, and yet they sound like nature. Perhaps this is an indication that these are some of the same rules that govern everything that is found in nature?
SB: A lot of your own work with Kaleidoscope is drone oriented. I’m wondering if you’re aware of some of the earlier workers in the drone-fields, such as Charlemagne Palestine, Eliane Radigue, and Phill Niblock, among others.
AS: I would add one little correction actually: a lot of my EARLY work with Kaleidoscope is ambient/drone oriented yes. Now that everything is working almost perfectly I am exploring all other uses as well.
But to answer your question, this is partially because during development and testing of Kaleidoscope I would listen to white noise inputs to it as a control signal so that I knew what to expect as an output signal more or less, in effort to eliminate variables so that it was easier to find whatever was not working correctly. It is quite hard to know if something is behaving correctly or not if you don’t know what that the correct answer should be. So feeding Kaleidoscope complex audio signals often results in very complex outputs. The sound Kaleidoscope produces is a complex interaction of the characteristics of the input signal, the resonator settings, the current tonality or tuning, the visual performance data in two independent Image Maps, and the timing for each. So if we can eliminate some of these variables during development it helps to understand the process.
I spent a few years feeding it white noise for many hours per day. And in this case, the result can be considered a pure synthesis application. It is no longer really an FX processor, as there is no incoming audio signal. In this case it like a subtractive process, like sculpture. We feed it an all-on signal which is spectral flat, like a big block of marble, and then we use the resonators to carve away whatever we don’t want.
In the process of doing this, I came to realize quite quickly that these type of results are perfectly suited for ambient music and drones. Of course, this is perfected even further by feeding the result into one of our reverbs such as B2 or Aether. Kaleidoscope into Aether or B2 produces simply unbeatable results for ambient music and film score ambiances. I have dreamed about this stuff for 20 years and have now developed tools to make anything I can imagine in these areas creatively with a precision and fidelity better than anything I know of on the market. It’s very exciting for me!
I actually don’t know any of the names you mentioned. Sadly I am sometimes a little bad in keeping up with the creative work of my peers even though I respect their accomplishments deeply. The simple truth of the matter is that when you spend twelve or more hours a day working on your own sound in some form, whether software, or content libraries, or music, it does not leave a lot of time for listening to a lot of other music. My early ambient music heroes were Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Michael Stearns, Brian Eno, and everything else that was played on the Hearts of Space radio program here in the US. This is the music that started me on this journey when I was 14 or so!
SB: I’m especially curious about what causes someone to gravitate toward such an ephemeral specialty as reverb. That immediately leads to the question about the inspiration led to B2, Aether and Breeze. What led you to dream up the notion of putting two independent reverbs in the same effect and chaining them or running them serially?
AS: I have personally always been extremely aware of spatialization in audio engineering. This probably is a direct result of my early interest in ambient music, where reverb is often used so extensively and so pervasively that it may as well be considered a band member. LOL. I was also interested in things such as Binaural Beats and the “brain wave entrainment” via auditory stimuli at an early age. I was interested in such things already in high school, and I had called the Monroe Institute, which was leader in this field here in the USA in the 1990s, and interviewed the lead developer there around the age of 17. I remember he was concerned I was some competitor trying to gain IP from him, based on the sophistication of my questions. If you ask me how or why I understood this stuff at such an age, I really can’t answer. I have no idea. I just did.
I bring this up to illustrate that at a very young age I was already effectively thinking about things such as spatialization, inter-aural phase, timing, gain, and spectral differences, and similar concepts. In my Architecture Volume One library which I started development of around 1999, I already have audio samples that are designed to create Binaural beats for example. My work in sound-design and electronic music, and dance music always had me thinking spatially. Over time I became quite good at audio engineering, and I eventually did some mastering engineering. A large part of this process for me was thinking spatially. It is easy to make things loud these days, and really this has been the case ever since Waves L1, or L2 was available in the 90s. A large part of making things sound BIG however, not just loud, is thinking spatially.
I did not necessarily set out to become an expert specifically in reverb. My partner in 2CAudio Denis Malygin, had a former company, Spin Audio, before 2CAudio times. Spin Audio made a few reverbs including “RoomVerb”, which was quite good for the time it was released. Denis developed the very first test algorithm of what eventually became Aether 1.0. Denis provided us with a reasonably good working basis. Together we made it truly great. The 0.9 algorithm was very heavily Denis’ design. Denis is also another person who did amazing things at a young age. He was 22 or so when he formed Spin Audio.
From the point of Aether 0.9 in December of 2008 to where we are now on the reverb side of things, I would say generally my obsession and perfectionism took over and started to lead development in terms of research and development, algorithm deign and feature additions. A lot of Denis’s time is spent having to work on “Systems Coding” as we call it. The general “glue” that makes everything work together and not be completely broken when Apple or Steinberg, or Avid decide to change plug-in standards etc. As I do not handle these sort of things, and as they inevitably slow us (and everyone else) down, this lead to me becoming impatient with the rate of feature implementation, so I began to learn more and more of these topics myself. Today I handle this aspect of our business almost exclusively. However, we have involved another developer as of the start of 2015, so we hope to find more research time for Denis as well going forward.
I suppose you could say it was Denis’ idea initially to do reverb, as he already has some experience in developing reverb, but it was my idea, insistence, and willingness to do what it takes, to make our reverbs the best the world. A lot of our competitors glorify the glory days of yonder and try to emulate the great companies that came before us 30-40 years ago. We have a completely different approach. We respect the work of these companies, but we do not want to emulate them. We want to become the company that everyone else will emulate 30-40 years from now! We seek to be the modern equivalent of what Lexicon and Eventide etc. were in the 70s and 80s, and we seek to do so using the latest and greatest tools and technologies of the 21st century. Perhaps that sounds arrogant, but I see little point in striving for anything less than perfection, and as crazy as it may sound, the evidence of our track record so far seems to indicate such things may indeed be possible. We are now working on 2.0 versions of our reverbs.
Aether is a reasonably traditional reverb design, albeit a VERY flexible one with many unique features. It has an early reflections engine and a late reflections engine. They are two completely different technologies technically and they could very well be two separate products. This is a very good design for modelling the behaviour of real concert halls etc. in a reasonably efficient manner.
A lot of the music we listen to in modern times however is absolutely not strictly authentic in terms of the spatialization of the instrument components used in the mix. What is the natural equivalent of a synth pad, or a flanger, or an auto-panner in the real world? When we use such instruments and effects in a mix, the authenticity of the totality of the spatial image of the mix is already compromised from the perspective of the acoustic purist. So, why worry so much about physical emulation? It seems better in some cases to study all the psychoacoustic cues that are possible with stereo effects and build a system that spans the potential parameter space to give extreme creative control to artists, producers, sound-designers, and composers. If you are scoring the Superman movie, or Tron, or Oblivion, why should all of your mix sound like it is recorded in a Baroque chamber? It shouldn’t. Often it is highly desirable creatively to be able to have things that are larger than life. Such things elicit powerful emotions both in the composer who is inspired by the space to go creatively in a direction they might not have chosen otherwise, as well as the audience who are the eventual consumers of their message. These are the things B2 focuses on.
SB: You mention that your recent pieces were made using just the white noise input to Kaleidoscope. I’ve noticed that having complete control over tuning, and having two interacting image maps, puts Kaleidoscope well ahead of all the other “Graphic Synthesis” applications out there. What led you to make the (what I see as) the two major innovations of Kaleidoscope – the use of two image maps, and the use of resonators, rather than samples or wavetables for the individual “line-voice” generators?
AS: You are correct. As mentioned, the sound Kaleidoscope produces is a complex interaction of the characteristics of the input signal, the resonator settings, the current tonality or tuning, the visual performance data in two independent Image Maps, and the timing for each. I would say each and every one of these points offers major innovations compared to what else is on the market.
First consider the input signal. The fact that there even is any input signal already differentiates it from pure additive synthesis. If the input signal is itself already a complex signal with complex organization in time and frequency, the result produced by Kaleidoscope will be much more diverse than is possible from using only a pure additive synthesis modality.
Second, our resonator models themselves represent major innovations in my opinion. We did not simply look at the Karplus–Strong algorithm and stop there. No sir! Instead we looked at the great minds that have come before us and we asked ourselves: how can we do something new and unique in this general family of things? How can we advance the art? So within the sole context of the resonator models, we have done thing such as employing double modes which reduce transient response and drastically increase filter selectivity. We have added band pass filters and variable Q, including resonant filters, to damping. We have added Spring resonator models which are arguably even more powerful than String models when dealing with a large number of voices. We have added an FIR mode. We have found ways to achieve perfect tuning in all circumstances, when such things do not exist in the normal academic literature. And we have invented methods that vastly augment the utility of using hundreds or thousands of resonator voices, which are so unique AFAIK, that I would prefer not to even mention what they are, as it took it quite a bit of time to figure this stuff out since there was no precedent as far as I can tell.
Third, our tuning system is utterly unique and unprecedented in terms of the vastness of its scope. This should be fairly self-evident, but will be even clearer when you see Kaleidoscope 1.1, and Architecture Volume Two.
Fourth, our image formats allow 16-bit per channel, and non-destructive remapping and manipulation of the Image Map performance data. Our interpolation methods are highly precise, and our scanning time of images is sample accurate. All combined this is a vast improvement over everything else on the market in these areas.
Fifth, and perhaps more directly to your question, yes, we use multiple images with independent scanning times to control the sound. This is completely unprecedented. Why do we do that? We found, specifically when dealing with the more generative uses of Kaleidoscope where we are creating completely new content from scratch by using the built-in white noise generator to excite the resonators, that patterns obtainable within a single 1024*1024 image are quickly assimilated by the brain when dealing with shorter periods (i.e. faster scanning times.). If for example we use the entire image to supply a one-measure pattern, regardless of how complex the image itself is, the listener’s brain quickly adapts to and assimilates the pattern it is being offered by Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope is all about creating new musical (and sound-design) surprises. We found that if we wanted very fine, short-duration time control to create nano-details in time-organization, it was desirable to have a method to make these details evolve over longer periods of time. Simply put, if you concentrate inhuman complexity into the time span of one second, the human mind still desires to have some form of evolution of the structure over larger time periods. So if we want fast details, we needed a way to achieve this. We could simply use huge images, but this not efficient. If for example we have one image that has a scanning period of one measure and another that is 256 measures, and both images are 1024*1024, in order to achieve this with a single image, it would need to be 262,144 pixels long/wide! This is simply way too huge to be practical. By using multiple images, the complexity of the performance data we can achieve is vastly augmented and we can have precision control over both micro and macro details, as well as establish highly interesting musical time structures such as poly-rhythms and other things.
SB: The use of the combination of feedback, damping and “soft” wave-shaping curves creates quite a variety of timbres. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on how and why these kinds of controls evolved, and if you are planning to introduce any other kinds of timbre controls in future versions of Kaleidoscope.
AS: One of the problems of many of competitive products that deal with additive synthesis and/or image-based generation or manipulation of sound is that most of them have no intelligent way to manage high frequency content. There is a tendency for users to perceive additive synthesis as being harsh, shrill, or thin sounding. All of these adjectives really mean one thing: there is too much high frequency energy in the output signal. Simple tools such as low-pass filters on the output can of course be used to reduce high frequencies, but a 1st order filter has a slope that loses energy at 6dB per octave. A second order filter has a slope that loses energy at 12dB per octave. A first order filter would convert white noise into brown noise. Generating a filter that converts white noise into pink noise, is surprisingly difficult. There is no simple filter that will do it. Pink noise loses energy at 3dB per octave. It is also called 1/F noise, as the gain at a particular frequency is generalized to be the reciprocal of its frequency. This also happens to be the spectral weight used in Saw and Square waves.
1/F noise is universal throughout the universe. It is pervasive. If you want create sounds that emulate nature, you should generally follow this rule. There are variations of this theme in nature as well, and one can generalize and say there is a family of spectral weights that is (1/F)^p where p is some power between 0 and 2 or more. It is therefore highly desirable to have a simple way to scale the gain of a voice based on some form of inverse relationship to its frequency. This is exactly what the Soft control does. The Harmonic mode provides exactly (1/F)^p weighting. Once this is accomplished, it is a short step to realize other weightings might have some creative merit as well, and thus we have several Soft Modes in Kaleidoscope.
The Damping and Feedback controls are simply fundamental to the nature of resonators, and they are explained very thoroughly in the Kaleidoscope manual. There is not much more to say about them, other than to say, yes, in general we do intend to expand the timbral possibilities of Kaleidoscope even more in the future.
SB: I’m intrigued by the contrast between the beautiful simplicity of some of your piano music (on your Soundcloud site), and the wondrous complexity of Kaleidoscope. Can you make any comments about that?
AS: My piano music is my most personal and intimate music. This is music that is much more about intuitive feeling than it is about logical thinking. It is highly emotional, and extremely human music that aspires to help us all, particularly us males, be more introspective. If we talk about concepts such as Yin and Yang energy in Chinese philosophy, my piano music generally aligns more with the Yin energy – the feminine creative spirit. If we speak in terms of the language used by film director Terrence Malick in his film, the Tree of Life, my piano music is more aligned with and aspires towards the path of grace, and attempts to let go of the path of nature, or the Yang energy. This is sometimes a hard thing for a competitive and analytically, logically, mathematically, and scientifically inclined male such as myself to achieve. It requires a certain state of Zen “unconscious competence” to achieve. You must let go of yourself and simply let the creative energy guide you. If simplicity is the result, as it often is, and the still small voice within says this is correct answer, you must learn to obey it, even when the male ego is begging you to let it show off more and use all the fancy tricks it has pridefully acquired over its transient experience here in this lifetime.
Conversely, I am also very much interested in logical thinking, and intellectual exploration and discovery. I am interested in the totality of human experience. I am in interested in scientific and mathematical understanding of the universe. I am interested in universal truths. I am interested in what it means to be human and our place in the universe. Studying the organization of sound, whether it is euphonic and harmonious, or challenging, dissonant, and atonal, can give one glimpses into the nature of reality. Music perception, and indeed perception in general, is based on experience. Exposure to complex and unusual sets of organizational principles can train the mind to make sense of more complex sensory inputs and data sets. This can, at least idealistically, serve as an impetus for novel thought patterns and discoveries in other disciplines. Music and organized sound trains the brain to think in new ways. Music can remind us how to feel, as well as inspire us to seek out new levels of intellectual discovery and analytical understanding. As technology evolves at an exponential or greater rate, certain aspects of humanity may struggle to keep up. Music and organized sound can both help us to remember what it means to be human and where we come from, as well as push the bounds of what we are capable of and where we are going.
Part of the fundamental design and purpose of Kaleidoscope is exploration. Some of the many uses and applications of Kaleidoscope that I find most rewarding myself are these sort of grey areas between Yin and Yang, or perhaps it is better to say when grace and nature are balanced and in harmony with one another. These sort of states can usually be described as an almost mystical balance of predictability and surprise where tonality and timing is both familiar and comforting to some degree like some benevolent motherly force, and at the same time slightly beyond standard human comprehension pushing us to challenge ourselves to grow like a loving father. These are the truly magic moments in Kaleidoscope for me. I find these sort of results are invaluable to communicate emotions such as awe, and wonder, humility, and some form of respect for grandeur of the universe which is itself a perfect combination of Yin and Yang. This is what my Wayfarer ambient music releases aspire towards, and it was also a very large part of the impetus of Kaleidoscope.
Gino Legaspi looks at eleven libraries from Sony, Samplephonics, Bluezone, Big Fish Audio and several other sound purveyors in an ongoing series of such reviews.
by Ginno Legaspi, Mar. 2015
Sony Creative Software – Smoldering Scores: Cinematic Electronica
One of the benefits of being a modern musician nowadays is the plethora of composing tools at our disposal. Smoldering Scores is one of those cool tools for newbies and advanced composers/musicians alike. It is a library designed for making music for films, TV series, game soundtracks and electronica scores. This sample pack weighs in at 1.4 GB and is delivered in 44.1 kHz, 24-bit Acidized WAV format. There are 12 construction kits included, and each kit is comprised of several loop elements that you can use to construct a song or to augment them in you mixes. The possibilities here are endless…mix and match, of course, is a popular way of using these loops or simply using them as stems for the foundation of your songs. What’s great about the pack is the inclusion of the folder called “Emotional Piano Motif”. The rich sound of the piano loops is top-notch and the performance evokes emotions. I wish there was a full-mix file included in each kit to demonstrate what the files sound like when mixed together. But other than that, this is one slick, sophisticated library with plenty of inspiring sounds to play with.
Samplephonics – Javier Barrios: Latin String Loops
Latin String Loops by Javier Barrios is a stunning library from Samplephonics that features instruments such as nylon guitar, ukulele, whistles, shakers, drum hits, percussions and Latin vocal phrases that is sure to put some fuego (fire) into you compositions. The samples are delivered in 24-bit audio format, including Acidized WAV, Apple AIFF and REX2. The performance is absolutely stunning, and Javier has stamped his signature sound in each sample. There’s an array of ukulele solo chops that are awe-inspiring, but for me the beauty of this library lies in the bossa nova loops folder, in which I think are very useful. If you fancy learning a bit more into Spanish/Latin style of music, this sample pack you easily be your ticket to get you started. Two thumbs up.
Acid/Wav/Rex2/Aiff Apple Loops
Bluezone Corporation – Neosphere: Dark Ambiences and Textured Sound Effects
Neosphere is an ambience, soundscape and texture library that fits the Bluezone mold. It combines synth-sourced SFX, out-of-this-world atmospheres and innovative drones useable for film scores, TV series, video game soundtracks and electronic music compositions. At 1.5 GB, its 168 total samples are split into two folders of textured sound effects and dark ambiences with long, sustaining one-shots. Soundwise, Neosphere has bold sounds and is consistent to the genre to which it caters that plenty of producers might find interesting. I happen to like many of the dark ambience samples as they employ big washes of reverb. For its price, adding this library to your sample vault is a good move.
Big Fish Audio – Impulse: Cinematic Guitar Series
Impulse Cinematic Guitar is a massive 5.5 GB sample library from Big Fish Audio created using real acoustic, electric and ethnic guitars. As the title suggests, it is geared for soundtracks, video games, film scores, TV series music, sound design and contemporary cinematic music. Impulse is comprised of 15 construction kit filled with intros, verses, bridge, chorus, outro and a full mix file for reference. Guitar loop styles include picking, tremolo, baritone, ambient, swells, slides, SFX and pulses. There are plenty of melodies, hooks and rhythms to play with but overall the loops (how they were performed) are still very ambient in nature. You know me; I love ambient music, so I’m particularly drawn to the ambient side of Impulse. The resonator ambient guitar loops are so awe-inspiring and when processed further, they can be good for drone music. If you like guitars with loads of delay, the chimes guitar loops will satisfy your need with its soothing emotional vibe. Overall, this is a useful library with endless possibilities.
Samplephonics – Soulful Brass
Funky, soulful and jazzy are some of the words that I can use to describe this library from Samplephonics (via Timespace.com) but man oh man, this library is incredible. Soulful Brass is a horn library filled with trumpet, flugelhorn, alto and tenor brass loops. These instruments were captured using the finest vintage analogue gear, resulting in a more raw sound with lots of warmth. This sample pack is split into three folders of Funk, Jazz and Soul. The three main folders are then broken into four sub-folders of different tempo (from 90-140 BPM). The samples are clearly labeled and have tempo and key information for easy use. I instantly fell in love with this library after I started auditioning the samples in Sony Acid Pro. It’s clean and beautifully recorded, not to mention the performances of by Simon Beddoe and Rob Mitchell rocks.
Acid, Wav, Rex2, Aiff Apple Loops
£34.70 including vat
Sounds of Revolution – Transformation
SOR returns to the scene with an epic, massive library called Transformation that is based on complex mechanical sounds. This pack can simply be described as futuristic sound source for today’s modern producers. Most of the samples were captured using outdoor field recordings, heavy machinery and engine sounds. They were then meticulously processed using top-end software and hardware studio gear. The result is a 1.45GB (3.12GB in 96 kHz) sample library full of atmospheres, basses, robo voices, SFX, impacts, swooshes, subs, mech sounds and junkyard percussion elements ready to drop in various compositions. What I love about this pack is the superb programming. It is tight, as they say, and plenty of studio trickery was applied for the sounds to be created. Overall, this is a great pack that has plenty of uses in multimedia projects and in experimental electronica category. Also, the 140 previously-released bonus samples are a nice addition and showcases excellent other SOR offerings. Highly recommended.
Sony Creative Software – Complex Electro-Funk: Eight Kits
This pack is influenced by the sounds of 80’s electro funk with a modern twist for producers of current dance music. As the name suggests, Complex Electro-Funk is comprised of eight construction kits containing different elements for song construction. Loops have been properly labeled with tempo and key information – enabling the user to audition or preview samples is as easy as 1-2-3. You’ll find killer bass loops, analogue synth riffs, cool arpeggios, banging drum loops, SFX and other electro sounds that will have you creating music instantly and add unique flair to your productions. On top of the kits, a folder of “one-shots” is also included that has a variety of perc hits, drum hits, synths, basses and vocoder FX voices.
So what do I think of Complex Electro-Funk? Even though this is a construction kit-type library, I was surprised as how useable the sounds are. They are up-to-date that would fit in today’s modern productions. This is one nice package for anyone looking for authentic electro samples.
Big Fish Audio – Ambient Pop: Pop, Ambient and Cinematic Rock
This pack comprises 8.1 GB of 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV samples divided into 20 massive construction kits. Sonically, it’s pure dream pop territory, with instruments including Acoustic Guitars, Electric Guitars, Ambient Guitars, Basses, Bells, Synths, Wurlitzers, Rhodes, Pianos, Pads, Drums (Stereo and 24-bit WAV Multi-Drums), and plenty more. You’ll find the drums useful, ambient guitars inspiring, piano passages emotional, soothing pads excellent, laidback acoustic guitars vibey and sunset synths impacting. Soundwise, the loops are well created and the recording is very crisp and clean. If the sound of Coldplay, Beck, One Republic, Cliff Martinez, Moby, Explosions in the Sky, Bon Iver, Thomas Newman, Fleet Foxes floats your boat, then this well designed library is aimed squarely at you.
Samplephonics – Melodic Realm
Melodic Realm is a superb sample pack from Samplephonics that offers plenty of loops and phrases that would cover different genres and styles imaginable. This collection is mostly guitar-based and was created by George Baldrin – who also has other great Samplephonics titles. From inspiring melodic tapestries to jaw dropping guitar textures, you’ll find plenty of materials to play with inside your DAW. There are two folders available in this library: first are the construction kits and second, the loops folder. The construction kits are song kits consisting of different elements and a full mix file. On the other hand, the loops folder comprises miscellaneous samples thrown in for good measure. These would be good as starter loops if you’re brainstorming for some ideas. Expect top-notch here, and I expected that from Samplephonic who’ve always been in the forefront of bringing quality samples to the masses.
£34.70 including vat
Sounds of Revolution – Clicks & Glitches Vol. 3
As the name suggests, Clicks and Glitches 3 is a library suitable for making IDM, glitch and experimental music. Although it only weighs in at 190 MB, this micro pack includes some seriously good sounds to choose from. Loops are presented in 24-bit WAV and REX2 formats, and instrument patches for EXS24 and Kontakt samplers are thrown in as well. In all, you’ll get 100 loops of great esoteric drum sounds, which have been programmed well and meticulously crafted. All loops are recorded in 127 BPM, so it’s safe to say that Sounds of Revolution also geared this library for house and other dance sub-genre similar to its predecessors. I expect nothing less when it comes to SOR sample libraries and this one delivers. It’s great for layering with other drum loops.
Zero-G – Nu Disco
Dubbed “authentic vintage sounds for the modern dancefloor”, Nu Disco is a sample pack inspired by the sound of classic disco and club music of the 70’s and 80’s era. Mainly, this library is built around the 35 construction kits folders that are packed with pumping drum loops, bouncy bass loops, funky guitars, e-pianos, warm synths and many more. But there are also additional folders of drum loops, drum hits, bass slides and chord progression and guitar wahs thrown in for good measure. Each construction kit has a full mix file as well as the different loops elements. The individual instrument loop will allow you to construct a track from scratch or use them individually as a starter file or as an inspiration to you next composition. Fans of modern retro disco will love this library because the samples sound delicious and highly authentic. Thumbs up.
Acid WAV, Kontakt, EXS24, Aiff Apple Loops, Reason NN-XT, Logic
£59.95 including VAT