Fracture Sounds elevate the humble cardboard box to versatile percussion instrument.
Are you always agonising over whether to hold on to those cardboard boxes from Amazon, to recycle them or because they might just come in handy? The resourceful chaps at Fracture Sounds have found a most creative solution: they’ve repurposed theirs into a stonking 40‑piece percussion ensemble, sampled at multiple velocities and round-robins. Huge, large, medium, small and tiny boxes were variously played with mallets, hands, sticks and brushes, recorded in a concert hall using top‑of‑the range mics from three perspectives. Whilst the natural recordings sound jolly impressive, its pre‑processed samples are Box Factory’s superpower, taking the humble box to corrugated heaven.
The library comprises seven nki patches: the first four ‘Main Instrument’ patches present the full ensemble laid across the keyboard from low to high, culminating with stick clicks at the very top. Each box is mapped to adjacent pairs of white keys for easy two‑fingered playing. These four patches share an identical feature set (discussed later), each patch having a distinctly different character. The ‘Natural’ patch is the least processed of the four, sounding closest to the original recordings. The samples for the ‘Aggressive’ patch were pre‑processed with heavy compression and saturation to bring out the room ambience and add “dirt and girth”. An even heavier‑duty approach is taken with the ‘Gritty’ patch, whose recordings were processed using an “unusual” processing chain (unspecified), including a bass amp. The fourth Main Instrument patch, ‘Snappy’, takes the opposite approach — shorter, brighter and more transient, with a less roomy sound.
All four Main Instrument patches have identical controls that affect the entire ensemble. Those providing perhaps the most significant sonic variation are the Close, Mid and Far mic levels. Below these is a horizontal Perspective slider, which alters the balance from all Close to all Far, the mid position favouring the Mid mics. You can of course set your own mix levels, and there are the usual solo, mute and unload buttons. The Mid and Far mics add the epic ingredient, revealing the hall’s powerful midrange and a substantial bottom end — those boxes suddenly become 10 times larger.
Box Factory offers a unique freshness of sound that delivers the same power, and finds its place in a mix without bulldozing the rest aside.
Further heft and sound shaping is applied with the Sculpt controls. Punch emphasises the attack transients; it sounds very much like Kontakt’s Transient Master at work, although that effect was not visibly evident on a quick inspection under the hood. I suspect some craftier process is going on, as the volume balance between initial transient and the tail of the sound alters with varying amounts of Punch. Decay Trim is useful for shortening the hall’s ambience if it becomes too messy during fast passages; the control works counter‑intuitively — clockwise movement shortens the decay, with the full natural decay in the fully anti‑clockwise position. Saturate adds nice growly distortion, as you’d expect — the clever part being that every box articulation has its own Saturation module, rather than applying the effect globally, the result being ‘clean distortion’ (I do love a creative oxymoron) when everything is thundering away at the same time.
Ensemble Stack boosts the apparent number of players, firstly with the Size control that layers progressively more round‑robin samples together. Looseness adjusts the timing spread between ‘players’, whilst Spread applies randomised tuning and panning to those layers for a more varied, wider sound. This reminds me of similar features on Session Audio’s Taiko Creator and Drum Creator libraries, and it works well here. Spatialisation comprises a Stereo Width control (from mono to super‑wide) and Reverb amount, the reverb offering two algorithms, Hall and Room, accompanied by Size, Damping and Pre‑delay controls.
If the default keyboard layout of the Main Instrument patches doesn’t suit your needs, the Setup page contains all you need to create your own. Any box’s articulation (mallet, stick, hand, etc) can be mapped to any key — or a range (group) of keys. A single articulation can even be mapped to multiple key groups if required. Why might you want to do that? Because every key group boasts its own set of parameters — Volume, Stereo Width, Pan, Tuning, and most importantly, Low‑pass and High‑pass filters — to further sculpt whatever sound it contains.
With these tools a single box can be made to sound like many different ones; the larger boxes, for example, become Taiko‑esque monsters with a floor‑shaking low end by simply tweaking the tuning down and attenuating their high ‘slappy’ frequencies with the LPF. Conversely, squeezing out all low frequencies with the HPF produces a very convincing top‑end clatter — think hot rods on a blackboard. Custom mappings can be saved as presets which can also be loaded into any of the Main Instruments patches.
For the Designed Drums patch, Fracture Sounds took the source samples and mangled them with some seriously weird processing to create an array of distorted, squelching impacts that could scarcely be identified as originating from cardboard. Simultaneously aggressive and cartoon‑like, these can be sculpted and customised with all the same features as the Main Instrument patches, with the exception of the mic mixer — this is a single‑mic instrument.
The last two patches, ‘Booms and Hits’ and ‘Whooshes and Risers’, deal in cinematically flavoured one‑shot sounds, specially curated from the source material by sound designer Karel Psota and trailer composer Benjamin Squires. The Booms and Hits deliver plenty of low‑end oomph and crunchy impacts, certain to find their way into many a movie soundtrack and OTT trailer. Whooshes and Risers include some superb material just perfect for those ‘shock’ moments — rolls rising to an impact and weird, unnerving reversed effects. The start and end points and envelope contour of all one‑shot sounds can be individually adjusted via a waveform display. Fractured Sounds have even thoughtfully included a folder of all these one‑shot WAV files to drag into your DAW as audio, if that method of working suits you better.
Perhaps the most intriguing and creatively stimulating feature of the Main Instruments and Designed Drums patches is the Rhythm Engine. Based on the ubiquitous Kontakt bargraph step sequencer, this employs two separate graphs, one for velocities and one for filter values. The filter sequencer is unusual in that the bars are bipolar; the top of each bar controls the LPF, whilst the bottom controls the HPF. The number of steps (up to a maximum of 16) can be set independently for each sequencer, so the rhythmic and tonal combinations are virtually endless; even a one‑note, one‑step velocity sequence can sound like a variety of different boxes with creative filter sequence settings. The more notes you play simultaneously, the more instruments join in to make a gloriously thunderous racket.
The best bit, however, is when playing notes in ‘Restart Sequence’ mode, where each new note played starts at the beginning of the sequence. With careful note timing, different instruments’ rhythms become offset against the others to produce complex patterns and, as the filter sequencer also resets to its beginning, some beautifully complex interweaving tonalities. Setting different numbers of steps for velocity and filter makes for even greater complexity, where the pattern seems to be constantly evolving. Two Humanise controls randomise velocity and timing; in the case of timing, those randomisations are applied differently to each instrument, adding to the illusion of individual players with their own subtle timing variations. The overall dynamics of a sequence can be further controlled in real time via the modulation wheel, from full blast down to the gentlest tickle.
If I could request two improvements to the Rhythm Engine, they would be to increase the number of steps to 32, and to add a Swing control. Pretty please?
I can’t recommend this library highly enough. Big Taikos and toms are great, and have their place, but Box Factory offers a unique freshness of sound that delivers the same power, and finds its place in a mix without bulldozing the rest aside. There’s no PDF manual, but if you need help the Fracture Sounds website has plenty of useful information, in particular two excellent walkthrough videos by Box Factory’s inventor Will Bedford that explain every detail more succinctly than any manual. Box Factory requires the full version of Kontakt or the free Kontakt Player, v6.6 or later.
The humble cardboard box — or rather a whole host of them — becomes a dynamic percussion ensemble packed with macho grit and attitude.