Big bangs, shattering impacts, unabated racket, sonic mayhem, deliberate destruction... Pass the earplugs, it's Heavyocity's new library!
One of the so-called 'cultural connoisseurs' on the BBC's Review Show the other night was complaining about the recent Hammer film adaptation of Susan Hill's terrifying novel The Woman In Black (starring, as you will have heard, Daniel Radcliffe, lead squirt in the notoriously under-performing Barry Rotter film series). One of the many things that irked the guest was the film's soundtrack: "They made you jump by having extra, diegetic* sound, by making a loud noise that had nothing to do with the story... just putting a 'bang' in the soundtrack which would make anybody jump, but that's not actually clever film‑making.” (*A cinematic term meaning 'relating to the characters' inner world or narrative'.)
Clever film-making it may not be, but there can't be many media composers who would spurn the opportunity to insert a gratuitous bang in their soundtracks if it helped the screen action along a bit. I'd also wager that the same composers wouldn't turn up their noses at some driving, hard-edged rhythm loops, nor turn their backs on a large collection of iconoclastic percussive sounds, noises, textures, hits and kits. Happily for them and the rest of us, Damage, the new sound library-cum-virtual instrument from Heavyocity, combines all three.
If you're wondering where you've seen the name before, Heavyocity are the US team Neil Goldberg, Dave Fraser and Ari Winters. As well as collectively trading under the name of Heavy Melody to produce music and sound design for film, TV and video games, the trio are also the driving force behind the virtual instrument company Heavyocity Media. Back in 2008, they brought us the film-friendly Evolve sample library; this was followed in 2011 by the all-new sequel Evolve Mutations, and its evil twin Evolve Mutations 2. (See the SOS reviews at /sos/oct08/articles/heavyocityevolve.htm and /sos/sep11/articles/evolve-mutations.htm.)
The Heavy guys' latest offering fulfils its threatening title by focusing on hard-hitting percussion, with the emphasis on big, explosive impacts. Hundreds of rock, ethnic, industrial, electronic, junkyard and 'found sound' percussion sources were used, often in tandem with extreme processing, with a view to making the samples as aggressive and in-your-face as possible.
Recording sessions for Damage began at 'The Church', a facility owned by Prism Sound Studios of Massachusetts. The reverberant acoustics of this old building provided the requisite large, ambient room sound for drummer Mike Mangini's performances. Later sessions took place in a lively-sounding, 1000 square-foot wooden room at New York's Skyline Studios, while more intimate and detailed sounds were recorded in Heavyocity's own studio. The sample quest culminated in a Connecticut junkyard, where the producers captured clanking metals, exploding car windscreens and even falling school buses!
Damage is formatted exclusively for Kontakt 5 and the free Kontakt 5 Player; software for the Player is included with the library, and can also be downloaded from Native Instruments' web site. The library's 30GB of samples have been losslessly compressed using NI's NCW (Native Compressed Wave File) algorithm, which uses a 2:1 compression ratio. An advantage of this system is that the samples remain compressed when loaded into RAM, with decompression occurring only at the playback stage. This reduces all the patches' RAM consumption by 50 percent, and also means that the samples require only 14.9GB of disk space.
The library is divided into two main sections, the first containing loops and the second housing single hits. Heavyocity have grandly titled the first section Rhythmic Suites, a rather highfaluting name that belies the wild, banging nature of some of the material it contains. The loops are divided into four stylistic categories: Epic Organic, Epic Tech, Industrial and Mangled Pop. Each category has a 'Full' patch and three 'Elements' folders; the Full loops (which number 195 in all) are made up of between three and five layered elements, each of which is a full-blown loop in its own right. All loops are four bars long, beat-sliced and tempo-sync'ed, which means that they faithfully track song tempo changes without altering their tuning. Bliss!
I quickly found material that I liked a lot in the full loop menus; the Epic Organic set is strong on dramatic, bustling, martial action-scene loops, many of which feature aggressive-sounding toms and big, ambient snares driven by 16th-note, hi-hat-like parts played on unidentified metals. By way of contrast, the more spacious, open quality of 'Tiger Eye' (based on a ride cymbal quarter-note pulse punctuated by large, slamming, reverberant toms and ethnic drums) provides a perfect rhythmic setting for a brooding orchestral accompaniment. I also enjoyed the mysterious 'Stealth Pulse', in which light hand drums and brushed metals ride over a shuddering 16ths pulse created by rhythmically noise-gating the reverb tail of a large, native drum-like instrument.
The fun continues with the Epic Tech loops: 'Shrpshtr' (sic) is driven by a combination of a berimbau-like stringed instrument and a niftily-programmed clay drum, both given extra momentum by an eighths delay with lashings of feedback. To this are added a massive electro kick, a cross-rhythmic cowbell part and a severely degraded, ultra-lo-fi hi-hat, creating an unusual and enticing sound picture which combines old-world acoustic with modern electronic. Electronic sounds come more to the fore in the Industrial section, where scary, Eraserhead-esque foundry hits rub shoulders with low-res 'Son of Tron' amusement-arcade synth noises, BT-style stutter edits and some truly walloping, heavily processed drum samples.
I'm always on the lookout for new kicks and snares, so was pleased to find some very tasty specimens in the Mangled Pop Full loops. This category's sound palette may be somewhat less complex than the others, but the beats are no less strong. 'Snoop', for example, uses clacky bamboo hits in place of a traditional hi-hat part, creating a fresh, new kit sound and a loop that swings like crazy. Great stuff.
While Damage's stacked full loops are inspiring and fun to play, they only scratch the surface; to get the best out of the library, you'd be well advised to delve into the individual loops in the Elements folders. Rather than grouping these together according to their usage in the full menus, Heavyocity opted to map them from low to high pitch, with kick and low tom-based loops at the bottom end, and hi-hats and metals (and so on) at the top. This pitch-based layout (which was instigated in the company's earlier products) is logical and intuitive, and facilitates speedy programming. With over 700 loops to choose from, I shudder to think what would happen if they were randomly mapped.
Notwithstanding the sensible keyboard layout, finding the most effective musical combinations in a patch containing 60 or so loops you've never heard before is challenging. I found the best approach was to play around at the top of the keyboard till I found a continuous hi-hat-type pattern, then add a kick loop from the low end of the patch. Once you've got those two going, you can hunt and peck in the mid-register till you find a snare/distorted hand drum/synthetic percussion/mutated girder-clang pattern that tickles your fancy — always bearing in mind that, since snares usually fall on an offbeat, snare-only loops usually start with a silence!
The range of sounds used in the individual loops is astonishing, and a little experimentation can produce fantastic results. I greatly enjoyed the heavily processed, sometimes reversed, unidentifiable sound slices that permeate the library's loops. They bring the rhythms to life, and help to transform run-of-the-mill patterns into irresistibly funky beats.
Heavyocity have made it easy to re-program Damage's loops by providing ReCycle-style 'single loop' patches wherein each beat slice is mapped chromatically in ascending order. When you load a loop, a waveform screen on the GUI shows the progress of the song position line through the slice points. Using the Loop Modifier page, you can skip a slice, and randomise or reverse the slice playback order. The latter option sounds the first slice before playing through the remainder of the slices in reverse order — somewhat counter-intuitive, but it has the significant musical advantage of preserving a strong downbeat at the top of the sequence. My favourite function on this page is the 'freeze playback on a slice' effect, which allows you to (amongst other things) create stutter edits on the fly. You can also control the level, panning and tuning of each slice.
Although I suspect that many users will be content to use Damage's loops as they stand, fussy buggers like myself will inevitably want to rearrange their contents, sometimes radically so. (Personally, I find this usually arises from a need to simplify — sound-library programmers, eager to demonstrate their hot new samples, often overdo it a bit.) In this library, such reprogramming is a doddle: each single loop has a corresponding MIDI file, which, when loaded into your sequencer. will play that loop's slices in the correct order. If you're running Damage as a Kontakt plug-in, a very handy 'MIDI-to-host' button outputs the MIDI file directly to your host sequencer. Once the MIDI data is in place it's a simple matter to edit it according to your requirements, whether it be moving a snare beat, deleting a fill or adding a crash — in the immortal words of Big Brother's Marcus Bentley, you decide!
Overall, I found Damage's loops to be extremely well programmed, sonically imaginative and brimming with feel, excitement and musicality. While the musical content is exemplary, I feel the presentation has one minor flaw: the only way you can readily find out what elements are employed in a full loop is to open Kontakt 5's mapping editor, locate the active zone and make a note of the names of the samples inside it. Since the Kontakt 5 Player lacks such editing facilities, that procedure can only be done by owners of the full Kontakt 5 program. This means that if you're running the library on the Player and want to identify the individual elements of a 'full' loop, your only recourse is to wade through the elements patches, playing the samples one by one in order to identify them by ear, which is a little tedious.
Moving on to the single hits section, we find a total of 60 kits featuring hundreds of percussive sources and textures. The kits are divided into five sub-categories, the first three of which (Epic Organic Drums, Ethnic Drums and Metals) are devoted to multisampled, round-robin hits. There's a large amount of excellent material here: ambient orchestral bass drums, hefty mallet toms, belting snares and deep, resonant frame drums for your next moody soundtrack gig.
Other items that caught my ear include a high-pitched, zingy Hex cymbal (whatever that is), dramatic, tension-building crescendo snare rolls, some nice industrial bell-like sounds, slithery, screechy bowed cymbals, and a tidy selection of expressive cymbal performances which include crescendo mallet rolls. Drummer Mike Mangini also distinguishes himself with some ridiculously fast rototom and octaban rolls, proof (if proof were needed) of why he has held the WFD (World's Fastest Drummer) 'Fastest Hands' title for the last 10 years.
The Damage Kits section of the library houses a tremendous collection of processed percussion hits presented in 13 chromatically mapped patches. Massively powerful, distorted and brutal kicks and snares, heavily tweaked hi-hats, clangs, crunches, glitches, electro-industrial noises and a huge array of electronic percussion sounds make these kits a programmer's paradise, and no-one with a pulse could fail to be excited by them. I particularly liked the fact that most of the sounds are so mangled as to be unidentifiable. Though that adds to the descriptive burden for your humble reviewer, it gives the kits a mystique which would be lacking in a more traditional percussion collection. All in all, a great collection of first-rate hits with a hard, fresh, contemporary edge.
It's not all crash, bang and wallop: the Damage Hit Tails patch provides a fine set of evolving atmospheric textures, created (in part) by removing the initial attack transient from big percussive hits. These ghostly, groaning, tortured-metal soundscapes would be ideally suited to film scenes involving a haunted tube station or spooky abandoned factory, and will make very effective building blocks for all manner of creative sound design.
The massive impacts, explosions and bruising, ultra-heavy clangs in the Hybrid FX Hits sub-category are another highlight of the library. If you want to bludgeon your audience into submission, look no further! Some of the content is actually quite alarming: in addition to the usual waveform display, the 'Damage Hits MW' patch sports a second, disturbingly flickering black and white TV screen on which one hopes a ghastly, Ring-style apparition will not appear any time soon. With this patch, pushing up the mod wheel adds wild, twisted after-effects and mad-sounding trails to the decay of the impacts. More agony is piled on in Damage Hit Impacts, wherein gigantic, industrial slams and bangs are given added clout and angst by some pretty wild processing.
Though no living creatures were harmed during the making of this library, I can't say the same for some of the sound sources. A piano gets a terrible battering, and has its strings cruelly scraped and bashed into the bargain; a large, unidentified drum is also severely abused, creating a disconcerting set of creaking and moaning noises which have been immoderately detuned and doused in over-the-top reverb. My advice: if one of the Heavyocity team ever asks to borrow your musical instrument, make an excuse.
The coup de grace is Damage's Exploding Cars patch, surely one of the most ear-bending collections of samples ever recorded. Let loose in a Connecticut junkyard armed with improvised metal weapons, the producers smashed, bashed and crashed everything in sight. Disturbing promotional images depict a car's windscreen being shattered with a sledgehammer, while an online video depicts a yellow school bus suspended from a crane and dropped from a height onto the ground. I do hope that this wanton display was actually a cleverly-conceived protest against the materialism of modern capitalism, but fear that it's merely a mindless orgy of destructive violence. Either way, the impact noises sound bloody great.
The Damage user interface is designed so that you can manipulate and morph sounds without having to use any external processing. To this end, the producers have incorporated a full set of effects, some of them transformative: the user-programmable, 16-step 'Amp Sequencer' offers a wide variety of rhythmic gating effects, including timed crescendos and diminuendos, stutters and glitches, shuddering tremolo and syncopated rhythm patterns, all sync'ed to your song tempo. You can manually set the level of each step and create up to six user patterns, which may be saved as part of your edited patch.
A comprehensive master effects section contains distortion (satisfyingly savage, with its own tone controls for adding boom and/or bite), Lo-fi (which can reduce the sample and bit rates to the point of destruction), compression, a reverb rich in early reflections and a 16th-note-based ping-pong delay. Over on the EQ/Filter page, a central, hard-to-overlook feature is the big, glowing orange 'Punish' control, which adds a combination of compression, distortion and what the makers call 'saturation' — the compression sucks up the decay, while the distortion makes everything sound louder, heavier and more vicious.
Creative fiddling with the twin high-pass/low-pass filter controls in the EQ/Filter section produces tonal variations ranging from a tiny, tinny telephone-speaker signal to muffled, hand-over-the-mouth booming bass frequencies completely devoid of any top end. Both filters have a resonance control which, like all self-respecting analogue filters, self-oscillates at high settings, producing unpredictable and disquietingly dominant frequencies at an objectionably high volume — not unlike that guest on The Review Show.
These effects came into their own when I applied them to the Studio Drum Kit. Unlike most Damage patches, this sounded fairly conventional out of the box, but after liberal application of distortion, top and the good ol' Punish knob, the clean kit sound was transformed into a rowdy, dirty and thoroughly banging racket. I was impressed that each sample can be assigned its own effect settings, a facility I've never come across before.
As in Heavyocity's earlier Evolve libraries, 'Trigger Effects' allow you to activate multiple effects on the fly via a set of 'trigger keys' (aka keyswitches). You might think the musical applications for that are limited, but these effects are very attention-grabbing. 'Punch' adds heavy compression, 'Lo Fi' and 'Glitcher' both mess up the sound completely (I mean that in a good way), and even normally tame phaser and rotary-speaker effects sound pretty drastic. My personal favourite is the Pitch Envelope effect, which scoops the pitch of the samples up an octave or so when you're least expecting it. Trigger effects are implemented only for the full loops, loop elements and Damage Kits sub-categories.
As the Amp Sequencer and Trigger Effects both use multiple keyswitches, Heavyocity supply a set of stickers listing the note assignments, to help you remember which keyswitch does what. This can be attached to a conveniently located flat surface (no, not your forehead) and used as a memo.
It's interesting to note that the collection contains hardly any pitched material; usually one finds a few samples that need re-tuning to fit a track, but this library maintains a tight focus on unpitched percussion. There are no timpani, orchestral snares nor piatti crash cymbals, although of course those instruments have been extensively covered by other libraries. The only strictly orchestral item I found was a concert bass drum (which maintains the impressive weight, force and ambience of Damage's other low-pitched drums). Another notable characteristic is the relative lack of performance samples; most of the library is single-hit-based, the exception being Mr Mangini's drum performances and cymbal improvs. This is reflected in the composition of the loops, which, as far as I can tell, were largely programmed from the ground up using single hits.
Working with Damage in Kontakt 5 is a smooth ride; due to the NCW 2:1 sample compression and the fact that most of the sounds are relatively short, patches load quickly and are generally ready to play within 10 seconds or so. With so much material to choose from, the options might seem overwhelming at first. However, a little perseverance pays dividends (as always), and demanding composers and programmers will be delighted to discover the sheer depth of the collection. That said, if you're itching for some instant hot rhythmic action, the loops provide it straight out of the box.
If you're the sort of person who hisses 'shhh!' in the cinema when someone tears open their Galaxy Chocolate Minstrels packet a little too vigorously, you may find Damage hard to take. It's an unapologetically loud, aggressive-sounding collection that sets out to melt faces and devastate ears, but it would be wrong to typecast it as yet another 'cinematic' action-movie library; certain loops and hits will work extremely well for modern pop production, and the more delicate, subtle and atmospheric textures hiding in the sub-folders will be of great benefit to experimental music scores, including those that require creative sound design.
Despite the title, I managed to come through the auditioning process with my face intact and my ears still attached to my head. However, my brain was seriously affected, buzzing for hours afterwards with creative ideas sparked by these excellent loops and samples. Although the price tag may put off some entry-level users, I feel the sheer mass of high-quality, usable material represents good value for money. If we were talking boxing scores, I'd be inclined to give Damage the maximum 10 points for every round, although with samples packing this much punch, I think a knockout in the first is a distinct possibility.
As The Kaiser Chiefs almost said, 'Everything is cinematic nowadays'. When applied to contemporary percussion-sound libraries, the adjective usually translates as big, ambient ethnic drums, orchestral bass drums, toms and assorted world percussion. In that vein, we can count EastWest's excellent Stormdrum 2 (17GB including the Pro Upgrade) and Sonivox's 12GB Big Bang Cinematic Percussion. Occupying the same price range, Project SAM's 13.8GB True Strike 2 centres on ethnic/world percussion and also includes some massive hits, spooky atmospheres and creative piano abuse. If those three are beyond your budget, check out Big Fish Audio's Cinematic Percussion (2.6GB) and Epic Drums I & II. The more specialised Drums Of War and Cinetoms titles from Cinesamples and 8dio Productions' (formerly Tonehammer) Epic Tom and Dhol Ensembles are also worthy of consideration.
Most of the percussive kits in Damage feature close, room and hall mic positions which can be balanced, soloed or muted via a three-channel mixer on the GUI. Patches load all three mic positions and you can purge any unused ones, thereby decreasing the patch's RAM footprint. Unlike some libraries, where I've had to listen very closely to differentiate the miking positions, these three perspectives sound distinctly different from each other: the close position sounds up-front and fairly dry, the room miking is way more distant, and the hall position sounds both distant and very reverberant!
There's so much going on in the library's Kontakt interface that I almost overlooked the 'Stage' tab incorporated in some of the multisampled single-hit patches. This offers a rectangular grid of 35 stereo stage positions for each hit. To set a stage position, simply select the sound and click on a position with the mouse. Placing a sample towards the back of the grid increases the amount of hall miking in the mix, creating a similar effect to panning sounds into the rear speakers of a surround setup. Of course, if you're actually mixing in surround, the three mic positions will give you plenty of panning options.
Damage is formatted exclusively for Native Instruments' Kontakt 5 sampler and will run on the free Kontakt 5 Player and the full version of Kontakt 5 — it will not load into Kontakt 4. Presented on DVD, the 30GB of samples are losslessly compressed and require 15GB of free disk space.
The Kontakt 5 and Kontakt 5 Player engines run stand-alone and as VST, AU, DXi or RTAS plug-ins on Mac or PC. Native Instruments recommend a minimum 2GB of RAM; Mac operation requires OS 10.6 (latest update) or 10.7 and an Intel Core Duo machine, while PC users need Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32-bit or 64-bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64. After installation, the library must be activated using your supplied serial number at Native Instruments' online Service Centre.