Fracture Sounds serve up a trio of intimate pianos.
‘Character’ pianos, notably those exhibiting the softer, more intimate side of the instrument, are all the rage. The ubiquitous felt piano in particular appeals to media, film and TV composers looking to evoke mysterious, romantic or dark moods. Many such sample libraries are available, both commercial and free, so it’s worth a look at Fracture Sounds’ take on the subject. The three libraries featured here are Woodchester Piano, Midnight Grand and Glacier Keys.
Produced in collaboration with composer James Everingham, the Woodchester is Everingham’s own German Wilh. Steinberg upright, sampled with the felt pedal engaged. This is the sweetest, most gentle sounding of the three; the mechanical noises are finely detailed, especially in the upper registers, lending it a particularly intimate quality. Four mixable layers offer the raw piano, plus three complementary Atmosphere pads: Ache (warm), Dream (lighter) and Cloud (reversed, reverberant repeats); the overall intensity of these is controllable with the modulation wheel. Volume controls for key release, pedal noise and the random sounds of a fidgety pianist (shifting, creaking) make for a hyper‑intimate sound, with Colour (tone), Stereo Width and a choice of seven convolution reverb types to add the final polish.
Midnight Grand follows a similar format, this time featuring the brighter tone of a Steinway D concert grand prepared with a layer of cotton between the hammers and strings. With a wider range of dynamics and timbre than the Woodchester, the Midnight still displays an intimate character, aided by some onboard compression and finely detailed mechanical noises. Instead of the restless pianist, Midnight Grand offers a Room ambient tone, which can either be running permanently or only when the DAW transport starts. Even at its maximum volume it’s quiet enough to be almost subliminal, unlikely to be heard unless the piano is being played solo, but there if you feel it adds an extra touch of realism. The Atmosphere pads here are Haze (warm, dreamy), Shivers (derived from live strings) and Eclipse (reversed, granular repeats). The settings page includes a ‘Reduce Thump’ option to tame the low frequencies of the hammer action, although I found this to be extremely subtle, even listening on good‑quality headphones. Perhaps an adjustable HPF parameter would have been a more effective option to tailor the thump according to musical context.
Glacier Keys again features a Steinway D grand, but playing harmonics, achieved by gently touching the middle of the strings with a finger, in the same way as on a guitar.
Glacier Keys again features a Steinway D grand, but playing harmonics, achieved by gently touching the middle of the strings with a finger, in the same way as on a guitar. As the pitches produced are consequently an octave higher than normal, the samples are mapped down an octave, so playing middle C still sounds like middle C. The sound is delicate yet quite percussive, not unlike a cross between piano, harp and cimbalom, with lots of mechanical action detail.
The GUI features not only a layer mixer for balancing the piano with the Atmosphere pads, but also a mic mixer, which distils the 14 mics used to sample the instrument down to three faders; close, mid and far. A horizontal ‘perspective’ slider morphs between the mics from close to far, but you can adjust the vertical faders yourself if you want a more specific mix. The close mic produces the most transparent sound; the mid mic, and to some degree the far mic, contain more low‑frequency ‘concussion’ especially around middle C and in the upper registers, which can be reduced by applying some judicious surgical EQ. The Atmosphere pads featured here are Glisten (metallic, shimmering), Frost (evolving, reversed, granular) and Thaw (derived from guitar feedback, almost vocal‑like). Rather than utilising separate pedal up and pedal down samples, Fracture Sounds have managed to isolate sympathetic resonance as a separate layer, allowing it to be introduced with the sustain pedal on notes already sounding, as opposed to notes played after the sustain pedal has been pressed, which is a nice touch. The amount of resonance is adjustable from the GUI.
These three pianos each provide complementary but distinctive characters. The Atmosphere pads are particularly well chosen to suit each piano, extending the core piano sounds in a naturalistic way whilst adding movement, width and depth but without ever sounding messy or overbearing, which can often be the case when using the sustain pedal with layered pianos and pads. All three pianos run in the free Kontakt player, v5.6.8 or later.
Whether bought individually or as a trio, each piano lends its own distinctive flavour. Enhanced by the supporting atmospheric pads, they offer self‑contained solutions to the intimate, close‑up sound sought by any composer exploring the subtler nuances of dynamics.
Woodchester Piano £79, Midnight Grand £89, Glacier Keys £89. Prices include VAT.
Woodchester Piano $79, Midnight Grand $89, Glacier Keys $89.