Review – Three Libraries from Sound Dust
We look at two organ libraries for Kontakt and another unique conglomeration that sets up classic synth waveforms in a structure that allows them to be manipulated with a Hammond-like drawbar interface.
by David Baer, Jan. 2016
Sound Dust is a Kontakt library developer that is, with this article, new to the pages of SoundBytes Magazine. Sound Dust is the brainchild of Pendle Poucher and is based in Brighton in the UK. Pendle describes himself as “composer, sound designer and lover of funny noises”.
The three libraries we shall be looking at here have the common trait that they all have a lot to do with the Hammond organ. If you think “I’ve already got some Hammond samples and I don’t need more”, you really should read on anyway. There’s a lot more going on here than just the recreation of the Hammond sound. For those who are unclear about what makes a Hammond a Hammond, the sidebar below will give you a brief introduction.
The drawbars on the organ correspond to sine waves pitched at various related frequencies. The third (from the left) drawbar is concert pitch. When you play middle C (let’s call it C3) when only the third drawbar is pulled out, what you hear is a sine wave at about 262 Hz. This is called the 8’ (eight-foot) drawbar.
The leftmost drawbar, at 16’, is one octave below the 8’. Immediately to the right of the 8’ is the 4’ drawbar, which is pitched one octave higher than the 8’. The 2’ and 1’ drawbars are two and three octaves higher, respectively. Between 16’ and 8’ is the 5¾ ‘ drawbar which, although to the left of the 8’, is actually higher in pitch than the 8’. If the note produced by the 8’ drawbar was C3, then that of the 5¾ ‘ drawbar would be roughly G3.
To the right of 4’ we have 2⅔, producing approximately a G4 to an 8’ C3. 1⅗ and 1⅓ round out the drawbars. For an 8’ C3, these pitches would respectively be approximately E5 and G5. Only the octaves are exact pitches however. The drawbars with fractional numbers are exact multiples of the 8’ pitch and are actually only close-to the pitches of the equal-tempered scale.
The timbre of an organ “patch” (my term here, not common terminology) is governed by how far each drawbar is pulled out.
Two of these three instruments, HamMR+ and HamMR Growler, are in fact Hammond-organ-like recreations. The third, Orgone, is completely unique. Using the metaphor of the drawbar organ, Orgone allows synth waveform samples to be organized and manipulated in a drawbar-based interface.
The evolution of these three libraries goes something like this. In 2013 Pender met noted rock organist Mike Rowey, who was a fan of Pender’s libraries. Together they embarked upon the quest of the “ultimate” Hammond library, using Mikey’s B3 and Leslie cabinet. After six months of meticulous work, they had the first product of their collaboration, named HamMR+ (for Hammond Mikey Rowe). A companion library named HamMR Growler, which approached the implementation in a very different way, also resulted from those efforts.
The work ultimately produced a third library inspired by the drawbar interface of HamMR+ but resoundingly the product of imaginative thinking. Rather than the mild per-drawbar sine waves of an organ, square and saw waves sampled from a Moog synth were on tap for each drawbar along with per-drawbar filters and more.
I’m going to start with this one because it’s the easiest to explain. Rather than control over individual drawbars, as is oft found in other Hammond emulations, there is just one sound in Growler. There are not individual drawbars with which to fiddle. But that sound was recorded with three individual microphones and one microphone pair. The best way to evaluate how successful this effort was would be to check out the ten-minute demo video here:
In fact, the same will be true of the other two instruments reviewed here. The videos will give you a very good picture of what to expect.
Although there’s just one timbre on tap (and oh what a righteous sound it is!), much audio seasoning is possible. Each of the microphone samples has individual pan, ADSR (yes, ADSR for an organ – it’s there if you wish to use it, as is velocity volume modulation), and finally per-microphone vibrato speed and depth.
The feature set is rounded out with a decent Leslie simulation using native Kontakt FX, dirty contact simulation and a generous number of reverb impulses for cabinet and performance space.
Moving on the HamMR+, we throw tradition to the wind. We have nine individually sampled drawbar sample-sets which can be combined to create all manner of Hammond timbres. But each of them can be individually panned, level-modulated with velocity, modulated with an ADSR envelope and individually be given vibrato characteristics.
It’s not obvious when looking at the UI, but the per-drawbar modulator controls can be set to have the leftmost control be a master to all the others in the rank, or the controls can be individually adjusted. This is done by clicking on the label on the far left to enable/disable master-mode operation.
And this brings me to the only real complaint I have about the Sound Dust libraries. The only documentation is on a UI tab, appropriately named RTFM. The image of the HamMR+ RTFM tab can be seen below.
I did not find this “help” function sufficiently enlightening. But that problem is overcome by simply watching the demo video, in this case to be found here:
Once you see how to drive this thing, it’s easy to create your own sounds or tweak the presets, but the RTFM tab may not clue you in as to how straightforward this actually is.
Tremolo speed and depth are controlled on the like-named tab, as is saturation. The screens are simple and I won’t bother to show them. The key point is that in both cases, the controls are individually adjustable on a per-drawbar basis.
In short, HamMR+ is very like a Hammond instrument but can become very different, especially when mixing and matching ADSR and other per-drawbar settings.
Orgone is a natural (or some might say unnatural) extension of the HamMR+ concept. Rather than sine waves being brought forth via drawbar controls, in Orgone we have a choice of saw and square waves (it’s a choice of saw wave and noise at the 1’ position). Now, right off the bat, those of you who know a thing or two about the makeup of partials in saw waves will be thinking “that cannot possibly work very well – there’s too much overtone clashing and sonic incompatibility if you start mixing those waves at multiples of the fundamental frequency”. And you’d be correct. But there are two ways in which this can be an effective scheme.
The first is to keep the number of drawbars in check. For an organ, where the waves are sine waves that have no overtones, pulling out all the drawbars still sounds very musical. As we add sine waves which are exact multiples of the fundamental frequency, the mind tells us that there are not new notes being added resulting in a chord, but rather that the timbre of the note is changing. This is not the case, however, when the added content has a complete overtone structure of its own, so we need to be a bit stingy on how many drawbars are engaged at any one time. Square waves aren’t as crowded with overtones as saw waves are, so you can be a bit more aggressive in how many drawbar positions are used. But unlike sine waves, restraint is called for when deciding upon how many drawbars to engage, especially with saw waves.
The other way in which mixing waves in this fashion can still be pleasantly musical is to use the Orgone filter section, pictured below. Here, each drawbar has an individually controllable LP filter or formant filter. Using the LP filter to attenuate the higher frequency partials allows for mixing more drawbar contributions while avoiding an overly aggressive tonality.
My only criticism here is that the LP filters would really work better, in my opinion, if cutoff was 100% modulated by keyboard tracking, meaning that the cutoff would always be a fixed distance from the pitch of the associated key. For those that know their way around Kontakt, adding this modulation is fairly easy. The LP filter duties are relegated to Kontakt’s LP4 filter in the Kontakt 4 preset selection and the AR PS2/4 filter in the Kontakt 5 presets. In the former case, a modulation setting of 11.5% gives you close to exact key tracking (where the cutoff remains a fixed distance from the pitch). For the AR filter, a setting of 11.1% seems to be right on the money.
Resonance can be individually specified for each filter. The filters also have individual ADSR envelopes and LFOs with individual speed, depth and fade-in settings.
A tremolo tab, pictured next, supplies individual (per-drawbar) tremolo and chorus. Note the rank called “TREM chaos”. These controls allow a bit of randomization to be introduced (chaos is also available with vibrato on the Drawbars tab).
The delay tab (below) rounds out the processing options with both delay and compression processing on tap. As with tremolo and filtering, individual (per-drawbar) capabilities are provided.
All of this is ably demonstrated in a 22-minute demo video that can be found here:
Orgone comes with a generous number of presets that nicely demonstrate the range of sounds to be had with this instrument. Orgone is a bit fiddly when attempting to program your own sounds at first, but once one gets the hang of how things work, rolling your own Orgone sounds is not only fairly easy, it’s a good deal of fun.
Are Sound Dust Libraries for You?
I’ve been quite impressed with what I’ve encountered so far with the two HamMR instruments and Orgone. As stated earlier, I think the two HamMR options have so totally achieved a superb Hammond experience, I can’t think of ever wanting anything more or different. But of course, they are so much beyond being just a straight-up organ recreation. As to Orgone, there’s absolutely nothing else quite like it as far as I’m aware. The sound-design possibilities are vast, and there’s much fun to be had by an adventurous sound creator. Finally, I commend Sound Dust for the fine demo videos – these should be more than adequate to allow a prospective buyer to judge how suitable they would be for purchase.
All three instruments require the full version of Kontakt. The two HamMR instruments will work with Kontakt 4. Orgone includes two sets of presets. The first will work with Kontakt 4 but the second, an extensive collection of presets to be sure, only work with Kontakt 5.
HamMR+ – $48 USD
HamMR Growler – $48 USD
HamMR Bundle – $80 USD
Orgone – $50 USD
At the time I’m writing this (a week before Christmas) Sound Dust is having a 25%-off sale on everything. This won’t do the reader any good, that sale ending several weeks prior to the publication of this review. However, you can subscribe to the Sound Dust mailing list to be notified the next time a sale happens.