Format: Gigastudio. Score = **** 4/5 stars.
Played with two, four, or more mallets, there's something immediately evocative about the throbbing jazz sounds of a well-played vibraphone. What makes it unique are the motor-driven resonators that sustain the tone and add true acoustic tremolo. Like the well-known combination of Hammond organ and Leslie rotary speaker, these are difficult to recreate by pasting effects onto a static synth sound. Enter Cool Vibes — a Giga-format library from the developers of the Malmsjo Acoustic Grand that I reviewed back in SOS December 2001.
The sampled instrument is a Yamaha 3.5-octave Gold Tour vibraphones played with soft mallets and with its motor engaged. Cool Vibes consists of a single GIG file containing 80 patches organised into 16 instruments, each with five stereo placements. Like Malmsjo Acoustic Grand, all the sounds include acoustic ambience to recreate the sound of a live performance, and you can choose from the original wide recording, Center (which reduces the stereo width), Right, Left, and Narrow (which collapses the stereo image even more). Using the Gigastudio Instrument Editor, I was able to ascertain that these don't just duplicate what you could do with pan controls, since (for instance) the Center setting folds the pan positions of the instrument's high and low ranges back into the middle. The differences are subtle but useful.
The full Cool Vibes instrument contains eight velocity layers, and can be switched between damped and sustained samples using the mod wheel. Vibraphone damping is somewhat different from that of the piano, since the player can damp individual notes using a mallet or a spare hand, but Cool Vibes uses the more familiar piano-style sustain pedal system to control which of the sustain samples remain ringing. The damped samples always have a fixed length. If this doesn't suit you, an articulation file is included to shift the sustain/damp switching to the sustain pedal. Another pair of articulation files let you switch the global tuning between 'A' at 440Hz and 442Hz.
Compact Vibes has four velocity layers of sustained and damped samples, again switched via the mod wheel, while Pedal Vibes just utilises the eight sustained layers, Economy uses four of them, and Micro just two. These are all useful variations for those with less RAM.
Instruments five to eight are creative variations on a theme. Soft Vibes uses the four quietest sustained layers at boosted levels, for a much smoother and more rounded sound, while Space Vibes uses just the two lowest velocities for an even more intimate effect. Finally, Ocean Vibes takes these same two quietest layers and rolls off their attack for the ultimate 'smoothie'.
The remaining eight instruments are identical to the first eight, except that they have 'ML' appended to their names, and are calibrated and programmed for use with Don Buchla's Marimba Lumina mallet MIDI controller. This would seem to be the perfect partner for this library, although I didn't have access to one to try it out.
I can say that the sounds are uniformly well recorded, and still extremely expressive when played via a standard MIDI keyboard, particularly when you're using the instruments containing eight velocity layers. For overall tonal balance, Cool Vibes uses the Gigastudio high-pass filters, accessed externally via MIDI Continuous Controller number 16. By default, this is at its zero setting, rolling off the bottom end for a crisper tone, but to regain the full body of the original sound you need to whack it up to 127, either using an external controller, or via the MIDI Control Surface page.
While it's perhaps too specialist to sell in huge quantities, Art Vista have certainly squeezed the last drop of versatility out of this library, and, for those who want the unmistakable sound of real vibes, I've not heard better.
$100 plus p&p.
Art Vista Productions +1 310 398 4625