Action Strikes by Native Instruments
Need a drum/percussion tool for tight time schedule scenarios that can deliver highly realistic sounding ensemble patterns? Maybe Action Strikes is just the thing.
by Alex Arsov, May 2017
This is a cinematic percussion/drum library with a huge number of preprogrammed cinematic rhythms along with a decent number of kits and hits. But the main reason I like this particular instrument is not just because of the fact that it’s easy to use. Yes, it is pretty easy to find an appropriate rhythm, and within a minute you can compile a full drum arrangement by choosing one of five variations for every rhythm, having more rhythms easy accessible inside a common window. You can add separate rhythmical elements from high, mid or low, along with ones that contain all three parts, allowing you to build tension and density over time.
That’s all true and amusing, but the thing that hooked me was the general sound of the whole library. I have a great collection of cinematic percussion libraries. Some of them are really aggressive, and others really versatile, while Action Strikes distinguishes itself by having very well-balanced overall frequency structure, having a big, well-defined low end along with a crispy but not aggressive high end, and sounding mellow and mighty at the same time. Kits are just perfectly touched with reverb, going perfectly along with most of the other orchestral material without any major need for further mixing. It seems that the color and timbre of all the kits really fits with the color of most of the other orchestral libraries, meaning that Action Strikes rhythms are present in a sound for most of the time without an overlapping string or brass section. They simply go well with orchestra, having this Hanz Zimmer sound where drums sound big and wide but still being in line with the orchestra. It’s the ideal solution for me, as I’m kind of a lazy person who likes composing but hates loosing the additional time mixing. With Action Strikes, I simply browse through presets to find suitable rhythmical combinations, adding a few additional hits, making a few variations by changing stuff through key-switch or by different percussion sections through different octaves, and that’s more or less all. Equalization and compressors can be used here just for spicing up the whole thing a bit. It’s a kind of a plug-and-play library.
The whole library/instrument is divided into three general sections: Instruments, Hits and Ensemble. This shares similar windows and functions with Action or even Emotive Strings libraries, allowing us to change rhythm parts on the fly, building the whole percussion arrangement for your song in just a few minutes. When you come to grips with the whole system everything seems so easy and handy.
Every Ensemble comes with a five-staff note sheet presented in the main window. Clicking on the “6 – 10” button at the bottom you get another five staff rows where you can add additional individual rhythms to the set that is currently open. Every staff contains one rhythmical combination: the upper staff contains rhythms that have accents on a whole note, the second one has accents on a half note, the next one on quarter notes, the fourth staff brings some syncopated variations, and the last one is preserved for individual ends. All rhythms are accessible through low note key-switch. With those you can walk from one staff row to another, changing rhythm variations on the fly. The whole Ensemble engine is perfectly synced with the host, so there is no need to be very precise while triggering notes, and secondly all transitions between different rhythms are very smooth and natural without any gaps or inconsistencies. There are around 100 different rhythms organized into 32 rhythm sets that are accessible through the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner. Rhythm sets are organized by style and meter. After choosing a set, changing individual rhythms or even adding a new one is quite an easy task. Double clicking on any staff, those that already contain rhythms or empty ones from the “6 – 10” section, will open a rhythm browser where we can preview every individual rhythm adding it to our set by clicking a check mark button at the top.
From the General to the Particular
Every individual or so-called “main” rhythm contains five different rhythmical variations along with the same variations performed by a particular percussion section – Low, Mid and High. On the lower white keys we find five variations played by the complete percussion ensemble along with two white keys reserved for the most significant hits, accents allowing us to add individual hits to this rhythm. In the next octave everything is repeated but now just for the low ensemble section. Same for mid and high section. It is so easy to develop an arrangement with these elements by building tension starting with just the high section and adding variations from the mid section and than finishing with all three or just with the lowest one already containing all three sections. You don’t need to be a skilled keyboard player to record the whole arrangement from scratch playing long notes for general rhythmical variations and banging individual hits for fills, making it a bit more individual in every section. In the “Ens & Mix” section we can even change ensemble for every percussion section by choosing one from twelve different ensembles, making the whole percussion section quite unique. Those ensembles cover quite a wide timbre spectrum from cinematic to the more snare war oriented one.
Most of the rhythms that we can find in Action Strikes are mostly inside the range of those classical big percussion rhythms that are quite common for the majority of cinematic arrangements that can be heard daily in movies and documentaries. There are rhythms with 8th or 16th note feel having fourth, half or whole note accents along with some triplet rhythms, and then all those rhythms with more exotic time signatures like 5/8, 6/8, 7/8 and 9/8, along with the classical 4/4 and 3/4. No matter that there aren’t any unusual, more complex, exotic syncopated rhythm combinations, there is little chance that you will not find a rhythm that will not go nicely with your arrangement (that’s assuming, of course, that you are’nt a big Frank Zappa fan).
Instruments and Hits Sections
In the instrument section we can open the instrument browser and choose one from quite large number of ensemble sub groups. Pressing the info mark, we get a keyboard monitor showing us how loops, rolls, flams and hits are sorted along the keyboard – quite handy to quickly build some basic combinations from loops, rolls and hits. This is a bit of a different approach than in the Ensemble part, offering a bigger selection of ensemble parts and subgroups, but not so versatile loop combinations as are presented in the Ensemble rhythm sets. Also. there is no Low, Mid or High sections available for loops that are inside the selected instrument part.
The Hits section offers hits for all twelve ensembles ranked over the keyboard, where we can set volume, tune, microphone position between close and room position, along with pan. More or less that’s all.
The Other Things Around
More or less, that was about the sounds. We only forgot to mention that dynamics can be controlled through the mod wheel, so building tension is just a one pass drive through the whole arrangement, or, since most cinematic songs build tension toward the end of the song, you can simply draw an increasing line inside the controller editor window and that’s all there is to it.
All other important controllers are inside two additional basic sub windows. First, a there’s Playback page in which we can set double or half-tempo speed for all rhythms, choosing between Phase sync or Free triggering mode along with a Feel knob for adding a 16th feel swing to the rhythms (didn’t try this one, after all, this is mainly for cinematic music where everything is straight from beginning to end).
The second one is Ens & Mixer where we can change ensembles for Low, Mid or High percussion sections, allowing us to build our custom unique ensemble. Every section comes with its own set of controllers for setting the amount of delay, reverb and stereo-width along with a level slider and microphone knob for setting the balance between close and room microphone positions.
There are also a number of additional effects that could be set as send effects for every section or commonly as master effects. Filters containing low and high-pass controllers, two band parametric EQ, transient with attack and sustain options and a simple compressor with threshold, attack and release controls.
The whole library is well optimized and preprogrammed, so there is no major need for tweaking any of those additional effects and parameters. I only decreased amount of reverb whenever I decided to use common reverb for the whole arrangement, and that is more or less all.
Action Strikes is a great sounding timesaver. It provides highly professional sounds and rhythms that can be controlled with just a few keyboard clicks. It is not only a tool for tight time schedule scenarios, since it also delivers highly realistic-sounding ensemble patterns that would take you a good amount of time to program any other way. I even changed some of my older preprogrammed rhythms with Action Strikes patterns, since those sound more in line with other orchestral instruments. There are percussion libraries/instruments that offer more aggressive or even more specific or unusual sets of sounds and patterns, but I’m sure there is no better tool when you just need a proper cinematic percussion set that should simply support an orchestral line, building a more compact, jointed, bigger-than-life orchestral wall of sound. I’m quite impressed how fast this can be achieved with Action Strikes. This is a tool that’s worth every penny you’ll spend on it.
A Kontakt Player based instrument. €299 EUR