Heavyocity's latest contender delivers a winning one-two combination.
I don't usually pay much attention to artist endorsements, but when leading lights such as sonic wizard BT and Liam Howlett of the Prodigy go out of their way to sing your praises, you know you must be doing something right. These musicians' plaudits were directed at US company Heavyocity, creators of the Evolve and Damage sample libraries (read the SOS reviews at /sos/oct08/articles/heavyocityevolve.htm, /sos/sep11/articles/evolve-mutations.htm and /sos/apr12/articles/heavyocity-damage.htm). Having landed a knockout blow with Damage's explosive impacts and all-round percussive mayhem, Heavyocity are now back in the ring with the Aeon Collection.
This actually comprises two sample libraries, which can be purchased separately or together as a bundle. By far the largest of the pairis Aeon Melodic (25GB uncompressed, 11.9GB installed), which contains tuned hits, multisampled instruments, analogue modular and digital synths, and hybrid instruments which combine real instruments and synths to create evolving textures. A little over 1GB when installed, Aeon Rhythmic comprises hundreds of pitched, tempo-sync'ed and beat-sliced loops, melodic grooves and patterns. Both libraries have advanced arpeggiator and effects sections that allow users to creatively manipulate the pre-programmed material in a practically infinite number of ways.
The two libraries are download only. Both run on the free Kontakt 5 Player and the full version of Kontakt 5, which must be version 220.127.116.1166 or higher. The minimum system requirements are Mac OS 10.7 with an Intel Core Duo processor, or PC Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32/64 Bit) with Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64. 2GB of RAM is required for both operating systems.
We'll start by looking at Aeon Melodic's eclectic array of 'organic' (ie. real) instruments. Unlike the clean, correctly played versions found in conventional libraries, Heavyocity favour unusual performance styles and built-in processing, which in some cases has a radically transformative effect on the sound source. A good example is the steel-string acoustic guitar: rather than pluck it with fingers or plectrum, the producers struck it lightly with an implement, creating an ear-catching hammered attack. The dulcimer-like piano samples layered in some patches also sound like the result of striking piano strings with a light beater.
While the library's straight piano patch won't win any prizes for playability, the inclusion of backwards piano swells adds a welcome psychedelic touch. A toy piano also gets a makeover, courtesy of some elegant reverb processing. For grown-ups, there's a somewhat over-percussive Wurlitzer electric piano and a modest Fender Rhodes which seems to have been sampled with a subtle, built-in phasing effect. Both are comprehensively out-muscled by a manly, overdriven and supremely inflexible Hammond B3, which switches to a cheesy vibrato when you push up the mod wheel, and a great set of rocking, palm-muteddistorted guitar chugs.
A useful spread of recognisable acoustic and orchestral instruments includes a good, playable upright bass with a strong attack (it also plays harmonics), timpani hits (strong in the low register but weak higher up) and small-ensemble strings. While the latter are more Cricklewood than Hollywood, they can be successfully used for pads. More delicate orchestral timbres include a pretty harp (sounding more like a Celtic or folk instrument than a full orchestral concert model) and a delectable glockenspiel.
The artful processing used in some patches is a treat, and in some cases elevates the instruments from the familiar to the otherworldly. The delightful 'Harmonic Delight' acoustic guitar patch gets its atmosphere from the mysterious surf-like wash that swells up after every note, while the wafty, psychedelic chimes of 'Dobro & FX' are more likely to find their way into an arty Bjork-ish pop production than a bluegrass track. Not wishing to push their luck, the programmers have wisely left the library's banjo in its natural state.
I loved the distant Alpine chimes of 'Cowbell Floaters', created by adding a beautiful chorused reverb to a set of tuned cowbells. In a similar vein, the hazy, pitch-shifting ambience that floats up behind the tubular bells' decay gives them a tremendous, magical presence. The heavenly, high-end tintinnabulation of 'Frozen Music Box' and spirit voices of 'Crotales Dreaming FX' (featuring bowed, tuned mini-cymbals subtly layered in octaves) also sound positively celestial. While we're in the spirit realm, an honourable mention must go to the 'Psaltery Dream Tails' patch, which adds the wailing of a lost choir trapped in Purgatory to the steely plucked chime of this ancient zither. And why not?
Heavyocity have created some great, atmospheric layerings of these processed instruments: the 'Crotales-Harp-Piano Swells' combo is splendidly ethereal, combining dreamy, backwards-sounding harp and piano swells with the ultra-high-pitched bowed crotales. Sounding serene and slightly solemn, an unlikely combination of glock, crotales and Hammond B3 (this time sampled without distortion and vibrato) provides another cool pad sound.
Aeon Melodic also has a good Hits section containing big, portentous tuned impacts. Combining forceful attacks with long evolving textures, they have the weight and gravitas of tutti orchestral stabs, but the layering of distorted, sub-bass synth drones, distant mangled bells and grinding, detuned tambura-like twanglings gives them a contemporary electronic edge. These noises will shake a cinema or stadium audience out of its seats, the perfect musical warning that something momentous is about to happen (whether it be the emergence of a giant CGI serpent from an inky subterranean pool, or Lady Gaga landing on stage in a Boeing 787).
The other main section of Aeon Melodic's musical warehouse is a large set of patches created by multisampling a variety of modular analogue and digital synths. The application of Heavyocity's trademark intense processing to the raw, untempered waveforms has created some ferociously aggressive patches, many of which have great potential for in-your-face bass and lead lines.
Standouts among the synth-bass patches include 'Angry Squares Sustain'; one long, loud low note on this big, distorted noise would be enough to get any film cue jumping. 'Dirty Bassynth Filters' has much the same ferocious intent, mutating into a filthy modulated snarl when you push up the mod wheel. 'Fried Green Synth' takes the brain-shredding aggression to new levels, while the misleadingly named 'Pleasant Fuzz' epitomises the uncontrolled distortion that comes from running a synth through a fuzz box. Less harrowing but no less powerful, the built-in eighth-note 'disco bass' octaves of 'Red Alert' produce tremendous rhythmic momentum.
Cataclysmic lead patches abound: tuned in major thirds (despite its name) and with pitch bend set to an octave in both directions, 'Decimated 4ths' is a great patch for screaming solos. 'Saw The Aggression' evokes the golden age of the Prophet V with ripping 'oscillator sync' modulation and mod-wheel-driven filter sweeps. I think the 'saw' in the title refers to the waveform rather than the film, but there is something about this patch that makes you want to saw your own leg off. While you're waiting for it to grow back, you can amuse yourself by playing zappy Space Invaders-style effects on the 'Layzr Pointer' patch.
Thankfully, Aeon Melodic's synths also include more subtle and evolving textures that are suitable for quieter music. The massively reverberant, rounded and gently percussive octaves of 'Cloud Nine' have a comforting Utopian feel; 'Rolling Swells' is a majestic orchestral pad with a massive bottom end, and the flutey, church-organ-like 'Soft Hybrid Pad With A Pulse' more or less describes itself! By combining the real instruments described earlier with these synths, Heavyocity have created a set of 30 'Hybrid' patches which range in sonic size from the gentle plucked throbbing of 'Clinking Kalimba Pulsations' to the big, dramatic Vangelis-like synth washes of 'Running The Blade Swells'.
At first glance, finding your way round the vast array of tempo-sync'ed grooves and melodies contained in the Aeon Rhythmic library is an intimidating prospect, but its five 'Menu Suites' (each containing 60 or so loops) make navigation manageable and enjoyable. The loops in the Menu Suite folders are mapped chromatically across five octaves and default to playing in the key of C, but you can instantly transpose them to a different key by pressing one of the 24 keyswitches positioned directly below the loops' play zone. When you play a loop its name flashes up on the Kontakt GUI display, a helpful feature which really speeds things up.
Once you've found a loop you like, you can make a note of its name and re-load it from the library's 'Single Loops' folder. In this presentation, all the individual slices of the loop are mapped chromatically in ascending order (ReCycle-style) across the keyboard, enabling you to play the loop in its original rhythm, or in a new pattern of your own devising. (The loop can still be played in its entirety in any key simply by pressing one of the 24 keyswitches.) An ingenious 'MIDI to Host' control (found in the 'Advanced Loop' window) allows you to drag a MIDI file of the original pattern into your DAW for editing. I had an almost indecent amount of fun playing these tuned loops: being tempo-sync'ed and constructed from single-hit samples, there's no danger of them playing out of time or out of tune, and you can freely overlay them to create great rhythmic combinations. In common with Heavyocity's other libraries, low-pitched, bassy patterns are mapped to the bottom end of the keyboard, with high-pitched material mapped at the top end. This musically intelligent, intuitive approach is a great help when programming.
Aeon Rhythmic's loops contain so much great material, it's hard to know where to start. Standouts for me were 'Synpholo', a fabulously funky, driving, syncopated single-note overdriven bass pattern, 'Meta Wub Skill' (based on a currently fashionable, howling synth racket, which I suspect is a Native Instruments Massive preset) and 'Stubble Rider', a buzzy, guitar-ish timbre with an irresistibly hooky rhythm.
More outstanding examples of the library's filth and fury include the excessively fuzzed-up 'Trent Punch' riff pattern, 'Screw Driver' (a hard, electronic Bo Diddley-esque beat), 'The Barker' (mad electronic funky bulldog), 'Psybervibe Synbass' (bonkers filter 'thips') and the belligerent, come-and-get-it drive of 'What The'. Last word in this department goes to 'Terminatocity', which sounds as though the synth in question is being ritually destroyed.
The patches described above are dirty and edgy: pulsing and shuddering, robotic, harsh, fat, bassy, glitchy, bit-crushed, distorted, and featuring viciously strong attacks, they bristle with attitude and menace. By contrast, Aeon Rhythmic's higher-pitched loops contain a fair amount of clean, child-friendly material: I enjoyed 'Meta Broken Glass' (a sonically complex, semi-melodic pattern), the soft, disembodied choir-like pulsing of 'Game Over' and the pleasant arpeggiated patterns of 'Analogasm'. Such is the artistry of the programming that several of the clean loops (notably 'Stutter Haven', 'Chopped Chimes' and 'Ghost Haven') reminded me of the beautiful, entirely artificial sound world of Brian Transeau (aka BT), which in my book is a good world to be in.
Generally speaking, low-pitched bass-line loops use the fewest pitches: many consist of single repeated eighth notes or 16th notes. As you move into the higher register, more melodic movement is introduced; this is usually of the minor-key variety, with the occasionalminor second interval thrown in to add a Middle Eastern flavour. Though there are a few real instrument loops, the use of Vocoder-like timbres, 'sample and hold' filter modulation, white noise and tempo-sync'ed stereo delays throughout mark this out as a strongly synth-based loop collection.
I wasn't sure what to expect from the Aeon Collection. Since I cut my musical teeth (so to speak) programming real analogue synths, I tend to be sceptical about new-fangled sampled versions, and having heard more than my fair share of dodgy rhythm loops, I'm also somewhat cynical in that regard. Turns out I needn't have worried: between them, Aeon Melodic and its sidekick Aeon Rhythmic easily meet the high standards of professional composers and producers, and in some respects they exceed expectations. This is an imaginative, entertaining, unpredictable, cutting-edge collection of processed instruments and tuned loops with huge creative potential for many styles of music, which no doubt has already found its way into numerous scores and pop/rock tracks. If you're into electronic sound and wicked melodic grooves, prepare to be knocked out.
Alternatives to Aeon Melodic include Spectrasonic's Omnisphere software synth, which combines sampled instruments, synth waveforms and an advanced programmable arpeggiator. The same company's Trilian bass module also features real instruments and synths, and can generate muscular arpeggio and step-sequenced patterns reminiscent of those in Aeon Rhythmic. However, though both products benefit from a powerful effects section and a large sound palette, neither has the same out-of-the-box manic aggression that characterises the Aeon Collection.
Having heard the imaginative uses made of arpeggiators in some contemporary sound libraries, I've become an admirer of their creative potential. Aeon Melodic and Aeon Rhythmic score highly in this regard: both contain an advanced arpeggiator-cum-step sequencer offering complete control over the velocity, length and pitch of each note. Arpeggio patterns of different rhythmic values may be chained together to create complex, dynamic evolving sequences, and the musical results are great.
The factory preset arpeggios in Aeon Melodic divide into 'Groove' and 'Melody' types: the first sort feature highly syncopated, danceable rhythms cheerfully hammered out on one note, while the second contain pre-programmed melodic sequences of equal danceability. You can store 25 of your own presets and use them in conjunction with any of the library's instruments. Aeon Rhythmic offers the same arpeggiation facilities, but ups the ante by adding control of the tune, pan and level of each loop slice, a fruitful creative facility the producers call 'Loop Mutator'.
Those who like to tweak and mutate their sounds will have a field day with the Aeon Collection. The libraries offer the same set of sonic-mangling devices found in Heavyocity's Damage, including the Amp Sequencer for gated effects, programmable Trigger Effects and the sick 'Punish' knob. For a detailed description of these features please see the review of Damage in the April 2012 edition of SOS.