Points of Kontakt – Blue Street Brass from Indiginus

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Indiginus has done it again. Here’s yet another inexpensive, easy-to-use Kontakt library – but this one may be their slickest (and most unique) creation yet.

 

by Dave Townsend – Sept. 2017

 

“They don’t give a damn about any trumpet-playin’ band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll.”

  • Mark Knopfler, Sultans of Swing

 

 

Trumpets. Who knew they could be so cool? Seriously, the first time I loaded up Blue Street Blues I suddenly wanted trumpets in every production.

Of course, sampled brass instruments are everywhere, especially in epic “trailer music”. And frankly, it’s not hard to stick in a grandiose brass section; just get your CC11 swells going and listeners will accept sampled brass as legit.

What we don’t hear as much of is expressive solo brass, because, well, that’s harder. A committed “serious” composer will take the time to master the subtleties of expensive high-end brass libraries, but what about the rest of us, the casual user who just wants to embellish a piece with a nice trumpet lick? For us, Blue Street Brass is just the ticket.

Plus, if you happen to need a 1930’s/1940’s Film Noir feel or an authentic Big Band sound, look no further. Want to recreate a vintage radio broadcast or smoky speakeasy? Here ya go.

 

The Backstory

Brass is a new direction for Indiginus, which made its name primarily on sampled guitars such as the original Torch, the rockin’ Renegade and several expressive acoustic guitars (not to ignore my personal favorite, the lush synthetic-orchestra Solid State Symphony, but that’s not a guitar and doesn’t support my point). The point is, developer Tracy Collins knows all about guitars. Trumpets, not so much.

Fortunately, Tracy hooked up with a fellow named Tom Gauger, a guy who definitely knows about trumpets. And Flugel Horns, Euphoniums (Euphonia?), tubas, trombones, bugles and anything else made from a brass tube.

In addition to being a top-notch player, Tom is also president of Impulse Record, a long-standing jazz label based in New York City. He has recorded such luminaries as John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong (“What a Wonderful World”) and Ray Charles.

Where Tom’s and Tracy’s stories converge is that Tom also records and sells impulse response files of vintage reverbs, signal processors and amplifiers. It was in this context that the two met, when Tracy approached Tom about licensing his IRs for Indiginus products. It was Tom’s idea to create a brass library. He knew a lot about recording and brass instruments, but not much about Kontakt scripting and sample mapping, so Tracy was the perfect collaborator for such an endeavor.

Tom, like many musician/recording-engineers, is a collector. The vintage instruments sampled for Blue Street Brass are from Tom’s personal collection, as are the vintage microphones. When you select “1920s Carbon” from the microphone list, you’re getting an IR from a genuine 1920’s-era carbon microphone.

Tracy’s main creative contribution – aside from the grueling process of assembling more than a thousand individual samples into a workable instrument – was scripting an excellent adaptive legato. More on that later.


 

What’s in the Library

Solo trumpets are the main forte of this collection, but not the only thing in there. There are also three brass ensembles and thirteen discrete instruments in total, all wrapped up in a single .nki. You select the instrument from a menu within that nki’s UI – which means you can also automate the instrument selection (by default CC#15 is mapped to instrument selection).

There is a pdf on the Indiginus site that gives additional information about the instruments.

(Pictured at right: 1930’s American Standard Mellophone)

 

 

Here’s the list:

1920’s Ludwig Trumpet

1907 H N White Cornet, mute

Ludwig Trumpet Plunger Mute

Flugelhorn

Mellow Plunger

1894 Besson Euphonium

1920’s Wm. Frank Trumpet

1865 Jules Martin Saxhorn

Wm. Frank Trumpet Harmon Mute

1930’s American Standard Mellophone

Wm. Frank Trumpet Cup Mute

1908 Trombone with vibrato

Soaring Trumpet, with vibrato

Brass Ensemble

1905 Conn Orchestral Cornet

Low Brass Ensemble

1907 H N White Cornet, light vibrato

High Brass Ensemble

WW2-era Slingerland Bugle (G)

Civil War Bugle

WW2-era Bugle (D)

1940’s Boosey and Hawk Alto Horn

 

1900 Henry Marchand Tuba

 

Some of these are quite novel; to the best of my knowledge this is currently the only Kontakt library in the world to offer a civil war bugle.

But don’t assume that this is just an arcane historical collection for period pieces. In particular, the ensembles, which stack all the instruments into one, are fat and juicy enough for an epic orchestration or over-the-top movie trailer. The expressive trumpets are suitable for anything from traditional jazz and blues to Mariachi to progressive rock.

 

Microphones

Here’s where Blue Street Brass really stands alone: an eclectic assortment of 12 vintage microphones from eras spanning over 80 years.

These aren’t some crude approximation achieved through filters and distortion, they are actual impulse response files taken from actual rare microphones. When you select the 1920’s Carbon you really are getting a 1920’s carbon microphone that would have been used in a radio broadcast of that era.

I wasn’t able to confirm this prior to publication, but it appears at least some of the reverbs are custom IRs, too, with very specific names such as “Austrian Spring Reverb”. Since IRs of vintage gear is Tom’s specialty, I’m assuming these were made by him as well.

Here’s the microphone list, with annotations for those I was able to find additional information on. (Thanks to Tom Gauger for being patient with me as I pestered him about this!)

1920’s Carbon

1950’s Crystal (Sonotone)

1950’s Dynamic (Argonne AR-54 Harp mic)

1950’s Dynamic 2 (Electrovoice 630 omni-directional pictured above)

1950’s R-A KN-1B (“Pressure” microphone commonly used with indoor paging systems)

1960’s Ribbon (RCA 2350 H “His Master’s Voice”)

1960’s Ceramic

1960‘s Telefunken D9A (a cheap but transparent-sounding dynamic that would have come with a late-50’s/early 60’s-era tape recorder)

1970’s Dynamic (Sony F-87)

1980’s Dynamic (Shure SM-57)

1980’s Soviet (Octava MD-201)

 

Adapative Legato

All of Indiginus’ libraries are designed for ease of use. You can jump right in and start playing any of them without reading the manual, thanks largely to the clever use of scripting and velocity-based changes to instruments or articulations. For brass instruments, the key to right-out-of-the box playability is an intuitive legato. They are, after all, monophonic instruments, so much of the expression comes not just from the notes you play but how the notes are chained together.

Blue Street Brass features a new legato script designed specifically for brass. It’s called “Adaptive” legato because it adapts to the way the melody is being played to automatically figure out how best to blend each note into the next. As clever as it is, you still may want to tweak it a little to fit your melody. So let’s take a look at how the legato works and the parameters you can adjust.

The term “legato” refers to the way notes connect from one to the next, specifically implying a smooth, gapless transition. That’s a challenge for sampled instruments, which consist of discrete recorded notes. You therefore have to devise a way of switching between samples such that they form a cohesive unbroken tone. Rather than abruptly ending one note and jumping straight into the next one, scripted legato employs two main tricks to accomplish this: volume fading and pitch-gliding.

The real trick is to deftly insert these transitions without drawing attention to the trickery. Unfortunately, transitioning between notes in a fast run has very different requirements than slow, sustained notes. If you want to quickly switch between those extremes, the legato rules have to change on the fly. Hence, the “adaptive” part of adaptive legato.

Some libraries use separate samples to implement these transitions, recording actual note-to-note changes that are then inserted on playback. This can deliver very realistic-sounding legato transitions, but the downside is that they’re static, and make libraries extremely large and expensive. Blue Street Brass does not do this, instead performing all the magic in code instead of dedicated transition samples. Why should you care about this distinction? Well, the biggest reason is that you can pick this library up for $79 instead of $500, and download it in minutes instead of days. And in most pop/rock applications you absolutely will not notice the difference.

 

Legato in Practice

There are four controls you can use to modify the way legato works: Time, Amount, Fade In and Fade Out, plus a switch to select constant or adaptive legato.

The Time knob sets the speed of the transitions. With adaptive mode enabled, the script looks at note durations to get a clue as to how quickly they should switch – faster playing means shorter transitions. Legato speed can also be controlled via a MIDI CC for more precise control. Turn the Time knob fully counter-clockwise for instant transitions (no legato), or clockwise for slower, more obvious transitions.

The Amount control sets the volume of the glide effect between notes. I ended up leaving this at its default value.

Fade In / Fade Out adjust the crossfade envelope, or how quickly the previous note fades out and the next note fades in. Again, this is adjusted automatically in adaptive mode, but you can use these two controls to bias it toward faster or slower fades.

I found that little or no tweaking was needed for most parts. To put it to the test, I created a trumpet solo that was a mix of long and short notes and brought the part right up front in the mix so that all its flaws and subtleties could be easily heard.

Although I felt it sounded pretty darn good with default settings, I experimented with each of the legato controls to see if I could further boost the believability factor. I tried it with and without the adaptive legato and decided the adaptive mode was definitely better-sounding.

In the end I was happiest with a slight increase in the Time parameter, fade-in and fade-out slightly shortened, and Amount left at its default value. The shorter transitions made the fast notes more distinct, at the expense of the long, slow notes, but I felt it was a reasonable tradeoff.

Then I took it one step further, and automated the legato. Each of the legato and dynamics controls are already pre-mapped to CCs, so no MIDI learn is required unless you want to change the assignments.

20           Time

21           Amount

22           Fade-in

23           Fade-out

24           Velocity-sensitivity

25           Mod wheel sensitivity

26           Constant / adaptive switch

 

I tried automating each of these parameters, mainly with the aim of making my short, fast notes more distinct while keeping the long, slow notes smooth.

First, I used CC#26 to switch adaptive legato off and on, but that didn’t work out well because you don’t have separate settings for constant and adaptive modes. What I really wanted was to switch between short and long transitions, and I found the best way to achieve that was to shorten or lengthen the Fade-in parameter (CC#22). Adaptive mode does this automatically, but I wanted a little more extreme differences in certain places, and automation did the trick.

But in all honesty, simply letting the adaptive legato script do its thing worked just fine. For quick ‘n dirty horn parts, leave the controls at defaults and only tweak them if you feel like it.

 

Demo MIDI Track

Be sure to check out the demo song on the Indiginus website, simply called “Blue Street Blues”. It’s a pretty impressive demonstration of the surprising breadth of sounds in this library. It features a beautiful backing track recorded at Impulse Record by Tom Gauger and horn parts programmed by Tracy Collins.

After you’ve purchased the library, you may want to have a closer look at this demo and play around with it a bit. For the curious investigator, they’ve included everything you need to load that demo into your DAW and examine it in detail.

There is an eleven-channel multi-track MIDI file called Blue Street Blues.mid (a separate MIDI track for each instrument), a Kontakt multi with all the Blue Street instruments, and an accompaniment stereo wave file of orchestra, drums and piano.

Open a new project in your DAW, insert an instance of Kontakt 5 and load Blue Street Blues.nkm, a Kontakt multi consisting of separate instances of each instrument, assigned to MIDI channels 1-11.  Next, import the .mid file into the project. Your DAW should create eleven MIDI tracks labeled with the names of the eleven instruments. Route each of these to Kontakt, channel 1 to the first track through channel 11 for the last.

Lastly, import the accompaniment wave file to an audio track. If you’ve loaded the MIDI tracks and the audio track at measure zero they should all sync up.

The demo does not use any of the microphone IRs, and the reverb is “Large Hall” for everything, so you might want to experiment with some variations on those two things. Try the “1920’s Carbon” with the “Music Club” reverb to instantly transport the piece back in time!

To make experimentation easier, CC #28 can be used to automate the reverb IR selection, and CC#27 for microphone selection. In one experiment, I punched in a short melody into my DAW’s piano roll view and then duplicated it ten times. I then added an automation lane on CC#27, which allowed me to audition the same part with each microphone model.

NOTE: I experienced a minor issue when doing this. There was an audible pop when the microphone was switched, so if you were to do this in an actual production you’d want to momentarily mute the track during the switch. Although I don’t know why you’d want to switch mics mid-song, except for this particular scenario.

 

Summary

Bottom line: this is a very inexpensive ($79) but instantly useable brass instrument. Like all Indiginus libraries, it’s just plain fun to play in real time. And like all Indiginus offerings, it’s not a do-it-all monster with every articulation in the book – you’ll have to pay a LOT more money for that – but rather a reasonable compromise between versatility and ease of use. Most important, it sounds great with zero effort.

You can only buy it directly from Indiginus, it’s only available as a download (1.5 GB), and you will need the full version of Kontakt 5.5.2 or higher (it is not compatible with the free player).

I’ve admitted many times that I am an unabashed fan of Indiginus instruments. Renegade, Delta Blues Slide Guitar, Strum Master 4, Renaxxance, and Acoustic Guitar Collection pepper all my projects. Solid State Symphony is my favorite tool for working up compositions. But I have to say that Blue Street Brass is now near the top of the list.

Now, I’ve just got to find a place for a trumpet in that current rockabilly metal project I’m working on …

 

 

 

 

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