It won't write a Katie Price novel for you, but Ghostwriter is just the ticket for high-quality, Porcupine Tree-style quirkiness.
EastWest will need little by way of introduction to most SOS readers. They've have built a catalogue of high-quality and highly desirable sample libraries and have an equally high-profile list of users and endorsees. Many of these sample libraries provide composers with top-end orchestral palettes and SOS author Dave Stewart has given glowing reviews to libraries such as Hollywood Strings (September 2010) and Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds (July 2013) in these pages before. However, the company also cater for less conventional and non-orchestral instruments with titles such as Gypsy, Fab Four and Ministry of Rock.
The latest addition to EastWest's bulging catalogue is Ghostwriter or, to give it it's full title, Steven Wilson's Ghostwriter, as it represents a collaboration between EastWest main man Doug Rogers and the eclectic and prolific Steven Wilson, who is probably best known as the leader of Porcupine Tree, but who has also worked with metal monsters Opeth and drum & bass giants Pendulum. Given this background, it ought to come as no surprise that Ghostwriter is not an orchestral collection. Instead we get guitars, basses, keys, drums and vocals, but, given Steven's roots in creating experimental sounds to use in his own music, these are all delivered with a hefty twist. However, they are also delivered with the same attention to detail and multiple performance articulations that might be found in a typical EastWest orchestral library; if you want to 'compose', but with a more contemporary sound set, Ghostwriter may be just the tool to let you do it.
Given the library title, there is one thing we should make clear right from the off; Ghostwriter is not a ghostwriter in the sense that you can buy this virtual instrument, pour yourself a large drink and then lounge by the pool while it scores your latest film music commission. Indeed, just like an EastWest orchestral library, if you want to create some music with Ghostwriter, then you are going to have to put in a decent shift.
However, if Ghostwriter was a real-life collaborator, they would be an imposing individual, as this is a weighty library with 60GB of sample data spread across 800 multi-sampled instruments; think twice before you opt for the download purchase options, unless you have a super-fast Internet connection! Fortunately, there is a DVD-ROM version (put the kettle on) or, at a slightly higher price, both Mac- and Windows-ready hard-drive versions. I was supplied with the latter and the library therefore came pre-installed on a fast USB 3 external hard drive.
While the minimum system specifications listed here are fairly modest, a slow hard drive is not an option given the level of detail in the sampling. The Western Digital USB 3 drive supplied ought to be more than adequate if connected directly to a USB 3 port on your host computer, but the documentation suggests that an SSD would be even better. For the purposes of this review, I placed the sample data onto a Thunderbolt-based RAID array connected to my iMac and, in terms of the sample streaming, the performance was flawless. The Play front-end provides both stand-alone and plug-in versions with support for both 32-bit or 64-bit and its installation proved painless. Authorisation of the library does require an iLok but, again, this is now a very smooth process and I was soon up and running.
EastWest's Play provides a sophisticated sample playback system offering both a custom interface based upon the specific library being used, comprehensive key-switching, mixing and effects and multi-timbral playback. Kontakt users coming to Play should find all the core concepts to be very familiar, even if their exact implementation is different. Users new to the world of über-sophisticated sample playback engines might find that there is a bit of learning involved, but at least EastWest provide a very useful PDF manual; do 'RTFM', as it will help!
Menus and core settings aside, the Play interface is spread across three key panes; the Player, the Browser and the Mixer. There are some very powerful and detailed options once you dig in. For example, in the Mixer, not only do you get the usual volume, pan, mute and solo controls for each virtual instrument instance you have loaded, you also get a very well-featured virtual recreation of a Solid State Logic channel strip, plus a rather good convolution reverb supplied with a huge number of impulse files that cover everything from a simple plate up to a Hollywood scoring stage or a live cathedral. If you want to mix and process your Ghostwriter sounds within Play (perhaps if using it in stand-alone mode rather than as a plug-in), you will not be short of options.
The Browser is easy to navigate and, usefully, you get a list of the currently loaded instruments at the top left of the screen. When you select a new instrument to load within the Browser you are offered the choice of adding it to this list or using it to replace one (or all) of the instruments currently in the list. This is all very straightforward in use.
Once you have loaded your instrument (or instruments), the Player window allows you to further modify the sound. This rather smart-ooking interface is also very well featured. At the base of the window, as well as the virtual keyboard that shows you the key range and key-switch options for the currently selected patch, you get a very useful system summary to keep track of Ghostwriter's demands on your host computer and a list of the various articulations available in the currently selected patch.
The upper portion of the Player window provides access to the rather excellent EP1 Delay emulation (it sounds wonderful), the Reverb (with additional controls to those available from the Mixer window), a high-pass/low-pass filter and an AHDSR volume envelope. The very central portions, aside from some rather nifty virtual VU meters, includes a patch volume control and a Round Robin Reset button. The latter allows the absolute perfectionists to ensure any sequenced parts always start with the same choice of multi-sample.
Worthy of special mention are the Stereo Spread and Amp options. The former allows you to take any of instrument patches (even the monophonic ones) and give them a real sense of stereo perspective. Use it with caution, though, because the sound is highly addictive. The Amp section gives you a choice of approximately 80 different amp presets based around models of about a dozen different amp types. These include some classic guitar amp models (Marshall, Vox, etc.), bass amp models such as Ampeg, and a range of different virtual mic combinations. Essentially, you have a pretty sophisticated amp-modelling effect built into Ghostwriter and you can apply different settings to each instrument you have loaded. Oh, and it also sounds pretty good.
So, Ghostwriter's Play-based front-end is beautifully presented and fully featured, but what about the actual samples? As indicated earlier, these are organised into some fairly conventional instrument groups covering guitar, bass, keys, vocals, drums and a final 'miscellaneous' category. However, while each of these main categories contains some fairly conventional-sounding instruments (there are some excellent acoustic and electric guitar instruments recorded via DI, for instance), the more you dig in, the more you discover that conventional 'band' instruments is not really what Ghostwriter is about. For example, in the guitar category, aside from the excellent DI'd steel-strung acoustic, Les Paul and Telecaster, each with multiple articulations from which you could easily build a more conventional guitar performance should you wish, you also get the likes of a Baritone Les Paul, an EBow guitar, a selection of guitars played with a volume pedal and a 'Sigur' guitar (I'm assuming after Icelandic band Sigur Rós?). All of these come beautifully sampled and with multiple articulations available. I particularly enjoyed the EBow and volume pedal instruments. The former can create some eerie melodic soundscapes while the latter includes some brilliant chord options with different rates of volume swell. A number of the guitars also include muted chords or 'chugs' that are great for building riffs from; just dial in as much of the amp modelling as you require.
The basses, while perhaps less voluminous than the guitar selection, are split into three sub-categories: Obliterator Bass, Spector Bass and Tunnel Bass. As you might expect, the Spector Bass does provide you with something for more conventional electric bass sounds (and very good it sounds too) but, whether by applying some of Ghostwriter's processing options or dipping into the Obliterator or Tunnel bass categories, something more left-field is never too far away. Particularly impressive was the 'Monster Fuzz' variety of the Obliterator bass; ideal for scaring animals and small children!
The Keys category provides the same sorts of content — the occasional 'conventional' sound, but a collection dominated by the weird and wonderful. Patches such as Death Piano or Evil Piano Skeletons take you to darker territories, while the various Floyd Piano and Glock & Vibes patches offer something more soothing. You even get a touch of dubstep with the rather magnificent Dirty Wobble Master.
The drums category is pretty well served. Indeed, there are some kits within the 'dry' sub-category that could be turned to almost any use. They sound great and would give a decent dedicated virtual drum library a run for its money. Again, though, you also get the less-conventional options with a large number of gated, amped and heavily processed kits to choose from. I particularly liked the 'Explosive Drums' and 'Big Room' options, with the latter having a great room ambience.
The vocal and miscellaneous categories are perhaps smaller than the others, but they still contain some interesting and creative material. Both of these are dominated by less conventional sounds, so don't expect lots of pristine vocal 'ooohs' or catch-all extra guitar patches. Instead, what you get are processed vocals with an edge of synthesis. In the Misc category, my personal favourite was the Dr Who Guitar. I'm not exactly sure how I might ever use it, but it is great fun to play with.
So, the interface is great and the samples equally impressive. Given all of the above, perhaps the next question is who might Ghostwriter appeal too? If you are just looking for a quick fix of slightly unconventional sounds, I suspect there are easier — and cheaper — options you could turn to in terms of loop-based sample libraries. However, for demanding media composers wanting both high-quality sounds and who are used to having the ability to work with multiple articulations and key-switched instruments, Ghostwriter provides a suite of instruments that you can 'orchestrate' in the same way that you might a top-of-the-line orchestral library; it's just that these instruments are closer to those of the rock band than the orchestra.
Equally, songwriters or producers looking to introduce something just a little left-field to their sonic palette, whether for some audio ear candy or just to create something with more of an experimental edge, ought to find Ghostwriter a fabulous resource. Not, perhaps, for pretty pop tunes or no-frills classic rock but, if you are more Nine Inch Nails than AC/DC, then there is plenty to get your teeth into here.
Given the price — and often the dedication required to fully exploit the potential of such a detailed virtual instrument/sample library — this is perhaps not a sample library for someone at the start of their music production journey. However, for busy media composers or the more experimentally minded music producer, Ghostwriter is a brilliant source of inspiration. It might not actually write the tunes for you, but it certainly can help you realise your own musical ideas in a distinctive and, in audio terms, very high quality fashion. The sounds are interesting, atmospheric, sometimes scary, but always of a very high-calibre and the Play interface is both powerful and a pleasure to use.
If these sounds represent what goes on inside Steven Wilson's head it must be a very interesting space to occupy. If you have the budget, and are comfortable with the fact that you actually have to do the composing yourself, then Ghostwriter comes highly recommended.
- Mac: 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM, OS 10.5 or later, 7200 RPM or faster hard drive for sample streaming.
- PC: 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Dual Core 2, 4GB RAM, Windows XP SP2, Vista or Windows 7, sound card with ASIO drivers, 7200 RPM or faster hard drive for sample streaming.
- The Play engine provides a powerful and flexible front-end.
- Detailed sampling and sonically top-notch.
- Brings an orchestral sample library level of detail to 'rock band' sounds.
- Price will put it beyond some.
- Detailed sampling and multiple articulations require some effort to fully capitalise upon.
- It's a massive download; buy the hard-drive format if you can.
Ghostwriter isn't really a ghostwriter, but it is a fabulous and inspiring range of contemporary but slightly unconventional instruments that any serious media composer or more experimental music producer could benefit from.