Review – Sonokinetic Grosso
Grosso is Sonokinetic’s follow-up to Minimal that lets composers perform a series of elaborately divided string, woodwind, brass, percussion and choir loops by playing triads on their keyboard.
by Per Lichtman, Jan. 2015
Last May I reviewed Sonokinetic Minimal, a departure from my usual reviewing emphasis in that it relied primarily that got my attention through the an unusual emphasis in the material performed (that being on minimalist style ostinati and the like), the strong vibe of its performance and the high recording quality and variety of material. Today I’m covering it’s spiritual successor, Grosso (available at Sonokinetic.net for approximately $354 USD for new users, though there’s an upgrade credit available to Minimal owners). In fact, when I originally signed on to review Grosso, I basically expected Minimal with a different set of sounds, but it turns out that my underestimation was “grosso”.
What Makes Grosso So Different from Minimal?
While Grosso and Minimal share a lot of things in common (large loop based orchestral libraries in the same space by the same developer, played by holding triads on the keyboard, etc.) there also many important distinctions. For instance, Minimal was recorded in 4/4 at 110 BPM, while Gross was recorded in 12/8 at 135 BPM (though setup to be compatible with both 4/4 and 12/8 sessions).
Grosso also adds a “transition builder” for the strings and winds, still performed by playing chords – though instead of being limited to major and minor triads like the other patches, it adds support for diminished, augmented and dominant 7ths. The transition builder creates a transition by playing and sustaining consecutive notes in different instruments as the chord sustains, in an order showcased by the diagram graphic that is used to pick the pattern. At its simplest, this means two consecutive notes with a player each but others use up two twelve players in more complex variations.
Where Minimal integrated the standard four orchestral sections into four squares in a single patch (strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion), adds a choir and sub-divides each of these five sections into two or three parts (each with its own set of phrases on offer, many of which have several further variations). Thus each section of the orchestra gets its own patch and for sub-division of that section, you can map four patterns to individual key-switches. Thus, you can switch between them at will.
Furthermore, some of the sections have swelled in size. The string and woodwind sections remain the same size but the brass section has expanded from eleven players to fifteen, while the percussion section (which now includes six taiko players) has surged up from five players to twelve and switched from a more melodic emphasis to un-pitched percussion. These are all joined by the aforementioned forty person choir.
The emphasis here is on big dramatic motifs designed for trailer work and similar cues, but there’s definitely still a very noticeable 20th century classical influence that I enjoyed. Neither Minimal nor Grosso sound like what many other developers market as a “big Hollywood sound” in their loop collections, except in so far as they use a large ensemble – and that’s an asset. As you layer the parts together, you can quickly and easily create a “battle at the base of Yggdrasil/fall of Valhalla” type of vibe by simply routing the same simple triadic chord progression to a number of a different sections, adding them one by one.
Some Things Stay the Same
In most other respects, the library remains very similar to Minimal, meaning that I like it for all the same reasons: the four mic positions, the great vibe, how quick it is to use, variety of content for the money, the ability to purchase a conductor score, an unusual GUI… the list goes on (and might be a good reason to take a good look at my earlier Sonokinetic Minimal review).
A Few Small Notes
When I first started using the library, I was using an earlier version of Kontakt 5. I ran into some unexpected crashes and e-mailed Sonokinetic. Their fix was to install Kontakt (or Kontakt Player) 5.4.2. To my surprise, that completely fixed all the problems, so I mention it in case any readers encounter the same thing.
Also, while I initially had some difficulty getting the most out of the choir section, I found two things helped a lot. 1) Make sure that you don’t have it too loud relative to the rest of the orchestra as the ear intuitively picks up something is off when 40 human voices come off as too much louder than a fifteen piece brass section 2) By layering different longer phrases into the three sections, you can create a sense of movement and make it more difficult for the ear to latch onto the repetitions and fatigue.
If you liked Minimal, then you owe it to yourself to check out Grosso’s evolution of the same concept into something bigger and more powerful. Even if you never tried Minimal, you should check out Grosso if you have any need for an unusually powerful orchestral loop product that emphasizes grand and majestic material at a brisk tempo while offering a variety of colors. The transition builder patch also adds something I hadn’t seen in an orchestral loop library before and is well worth a closer look in and of itself.