Heavyocity soar into orbit with a collection of dramatic scoring elements.
Continuing their incursions into the weird and wonderful world of mangled sound, Heavyocity’s latest library is a collection of dramatic hits, pads, risers and stings designed with the modern media composer in mind. As with Heavyocity’s previous collections, the accent is on powerful, unpitched sound–design elements, augmented by a large and highly varied menu of pads and drones.
To understand Gravity’s heritage, it helps to know a little about Heavyocity’s product history. Having set out their stall with the Evolve cinematic percussion library in 2008, this adventurous outfit branched out into darker territory with the Evolve Mutations series before hitting new heights of sonic brutality with Damage, a library of ultra–aggressive, distorted, unpitched percussion. In contrast, the two–headed Aeon Collection introduced a large set of tempo–synced melodic loops and a smaller companion volume of percussive hits, kits, noises and textures. More recently, Heavyocity‘s DM–307 virtual drum and groove instrument featured a collection of modular–synth drums, live percussion and processed classic analogue drum machines, all given a 21st–Century cutting edge by some merciless processing.
You can read the SOS reviews of these titles at www.soundonsound.com. Since many of Gravity’s technical features were originally developed for these products and have been explained in the reviews, we’ll concentrate here on the new library’s musical and sonic content.
Giving the lie to the old adage ‘what goes up must come down’ (clearly coined by someone unfamiliar with UK rail season ticket prices), Gravity’s collection of dramatic and complex effects places a big emphasis on risers. In the EDM world, a riser would normally be a stirring siren–like tone, often consisting of a single strident synth note steadily gliding up in pitch, which builds tension and excitement in anticipation of a chorus or banging drum entry.
A quick listen to some of this library’s risers confirms that we are not in standard dance territory. These noises are far more frightening and momentous than your average club riser, sounding less like the precursor to a hands–in–the–air dancefloor jolly–up than a portent of some hideous impending disaster. Though achieved by non–traditional means, Gravity’s risers have a similar effect to grandiose, tutti orchestral crescendi, with big, sonorous dynamic builds intensified by cunning sound design. When conventional synth glide effects put in an appearance, they’re usually buried under big, juddering noise–drenched soundscapes which sound like half–speed recordings of space ships taking off. Heavy, man.
Speaking of orchestral sound, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Heavyocity hired a 12–piece string section featuring violas, cellos, double bass and eight violins for this library. Although you might not immediately recognise their contribution, the string players can clearly be heard in the Organic Risers section, performing ascending, descending and harmonic glissandi and atonal ensemble slides. These are uniformly scary–sounding, and the descending versions are particularly unsettling.
The library’s risers are presented in three main categories: Organic Hybrid (featuring the strings and other unidentified instruments); Synthetic (featuring synthesized sounds); and FX (featuring atonal and noise–based sounds). Some samples in the synth set sound not unlike racing cars, motor bikes and helicopters, while others resemble industrial machinery. There are also some beautiful synth confections such as the ring–modulated ‘Star Crossed’ and stellar ‘AgroCrux’.
The FX samples are generally more unpleasant (in a good way), and show off Heavyocity’s programmers’ penchant for creative sonic destruction via over–the–top digital distortion. If you’ve ever found yourself alone on a tube station platform late at night and experienced the slight frisson of fear on hearing the menacing rumble of the approaching train before it explodes into the station in an overwhelming onslaught of noise, you’ll know what to expect from these reverberant, inexorably building, complex and dynamic risers.
Riser Breakout patches map each of the three riser categories chromatically over one keyboard octave, giving you three octaves (36 notes) of playable samples. If you fancy a spot of creative layering, a cool Designer page lets you choose one sample from each category and assign the three–way layer to one of 12 trigger keys positioned at the bottom end of the keyboard. Solo and mute buttons are provided so you can audition the individual samples.
Snapshot Menus positioned directly underneath the patch name allow you to load alternative versions of preset parameter settings, in this case the duration of the riser. You can also customise duration by clicking on the Length tab, which conveniently displays the sample’s name and waveform as you play it. You can set the sample to play over a certain number of bars (in which case the sample syncs to your host tempo) or fix its duration in seconds. The Length tab also contains a slider to adjust the sample’s start point and controls for semitone tuning, level and pan.
Not recommended for those of a nervous disposition, Gravity’s Hits section is divided into Sub, Impact, Tail and Whoosh categories. Presets combine all four into a single cataclysmic event: first you hear the approaching sonic threat of the Whoosh, then the combined slam of the Impact and low–frequency Sub hit (which brings to mind Damage’s explosive percussion), followed by the reverberant aftermath of the Tail, which more often than not has been subject to some kind of devastating processing.
As with the risers, the Hits Breakout patches map each category over a separate octave, with 12 selector keys provided to trigger the four–layer presets. The layerings sound absolutely mad: if you’re scoring a sci–fi film and need (say) a reasonable approximation of the sound of gigantic alien missiles wreaking mass destruction on a starship fleet, this prodigious set of noises will work a treat.
Once you’ve amused yourself, frightened the cat, trashed your speakers and alienated your neighbours with the histrionic layered hits, you can go into the menus and pick out individual hit samples that will work for general musical applications. Some that caught my ear were ‘Dark Landing Tail’ (a great bass sound for an industrial track); ‘Full Metal Mission Impact’, which sounds like someone hammering on an outsize anvil in the Taj Mahal; the hugely ambient, slamming giant bass drum impacts of ‘Dropout Force’ and ‘Tom Stomp’; and the tremendous dramatic build of ‘Clangon Whoosh’. I also enjoyed the supersonic 1950s space–rocket whizz of ‘Re–Entry Whoosh’.
If you don’t find the kind of impact or whoosh you’re looking for in the Hits folders, Gravity’s Stings section houses many more options. With atonal, tonal and metallic hits, sweeps and whooshes, presented in straight and reversed forms, the Strings section contains a large number of potent noises which would make great horror, fantasy or sci–fi film sound–design material. There are too many highlights to list, but I liked the subtly disquieting effect of ‘Hollow Bends’, which sounds like a processed cymbal mallet crescendo roll wedded to a metallic synthetic undertow. ‘Disturbing Metals’ patches feature a sprinkling of delicate, high–pitched percussion samples amid mutated backwards cymbals, while the intense short crescendo build of ‘Angry Gates’ is a great track–opener. The ‘hits and drones’ version of this patch contains a few noises reminiscent of those lo–fi sampled orchestra hits which peppered 1980s pop tracks, but the processing used here has rendered them fresh and agreeable.
For quick auditioning and ease of comparison, the stings are laid out across the keyboard in collections called Menus. Here, Heavyocity have continued the sensible practice of mapping bassy, subsonic timbres to the lower end of the keyboard and higher–pitched noises to the higher end, a great aid to finding the right sound. Once you’ve found a sample you like, you can shift it up or down by up to an octave in semitone steps to fit the key of your track by pressing the appropriate transpose key at the bottom end of the keyboard. Alternatively, you can load individual samples from the Elements folder and play a full chromatic mapping with control over the sample’s fine tuning and start point.
While the stings’ reverses are impressively dramatic and ear–grabbing, using them to herald a chorus in a mainstream pop or dance track would arguably be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. In such situations, a simple reversed crash cymbal hit placed a few beats before the downbeat usually does the trick. But if your track calls for a terrifying, apocalyptic build which will rattle the ornaments on your mantelpiece, then look no further than Gravity’s massive, ear–bending hits and stings.
Gravity’s pads come in two flavours. There are simple pads, and then there’s the Complex type, in which three pads are layered to form a composite super–patch. As with the stings, the former are presented in Elements folders, helpfully named so that you can see which Complex pad they appear in. This is a welcome improvement on Heavyocity’s Damage, where identifying the individual components of a loop can be difficult.
Being of a complex disposition, I gravitated (pun intended) towards the layered pads. A patch called ‘Modded Aggression’ caught my ear. It starts with a wah–type filter modulation before settling into a sternly serene, floaty Hammond/Leslie–like timbre. All remains calm until you push up the mod wheel, whereupon a massive distortion effect kicks in. Better still, you can bend the pitch down an octave for guitar dive–bomb effects. I wasn’t crazy about the wah effect, so I was pleased to find that rather than being baked into the sample, it’s a filter–mod effect inside the patch which can be easily bypassed.
The ‘Sinister Craft’ Complex pad is another good slice of aggression. It’s a frighteningly powerful, distorted synth bass patch that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Prodigy track — apart from its big reverb and swimmy delay, which one can swiftly disable in the main window. In a more ethereal vein, I liked ‘Play The Major Octaves’, an alluring amalgam of a sampled choir and a mysterious flute-y synth timbre, both playing a major chord. This patch also has a digital vocal–like noise mapped in the high register, which I felt was surplus to requirements. Happily, it’s easy to mute or solo any of the three pad elements.
So, the sci–fi film you’re writing music for has a scene where the crew, having landed on some dodgy–looking planet, spotted a vast alien construction nearby and wandered inside, are examining a collection of weird–looking pulsating eggs. What could possibly go wrong? Easy job for the composer: a single quiet note on Gravity’s ‘Alien Landscapes’ pad, which combines the deep–space rumble of the Nostromo, the ghastly grinding of alien machinery and the wailing of lost souls, will alert viewers to the faint possibility that something bad might be about to happen. The nicely eerie, more understated ‘Dead Space Creeping’ has a similarly unnerving effect. Less frightening but equally evocative are the ghostly tones of the experimental ‘Live Long And Prosper’ patch, a beautiful and spooky timbre though its atonal overtones probably wouldn’t go down well on The X Factor.
A quick glance at Kontakt’s mapping window reveals that Gravity’s pads use relatively few samples. While that might be a drawback in an orchestral library, it’s not a major concern here (synth pads don’t need a lot of multisamples to sound good). However, it can on occasion restrict the pads’ usefulness in the high register, where the pitch–shifting of the samples tends to be most apparent. That said, I found that for mid–range work, and particularly for bass sounds and drones, these pads are an inspirational, atmospheric and versatile resource.
Always keen on a spot of maniacal on–board processing, Heavyocity have thrown the kitchen sink at Gravity’s effects facilities. The Master Effects section on the front page includes chorus, delay, distortion and reverb, the latter featuring a choice of 23 different impulse responses, some of which are impressively lavish.
The amusingly big Punish control instigated in Damage has become a permanent fixture in Heavyocity’s subsequent libraries and it features again here. Basically, Punish adds a satisfying combination of compression, distortion and tape–like saturation, making everything sound heavier and more vicious. Punish now has a new companion, Twist. The name remained an enigma until I activated the effect and twirled its magnificently large, gaudy dial, revealing it to be a powerful phase–altering device with variable modulation speed — a bit like a chorus effect, but distinctly more evil. Other features carried over from the Damage era include an updated Trigger FX section that allows you to unleash multiple effects (including the sick Lo–fi bit–crusher) on the fly via a set of trigger keys.
Replacing the step sequencers used in Heavyocity’s earlier libraries is a sophisticated new modulation sequencer called Motion, which can change volume, pan and pitch over time. It can automate tempo–synced volume swells, rhythmic pulsing patterns and auto–panning, and if you crank up the speed and select a fast note value, it will generate stutter and glitch effects. In addition, Motion also works as an arpeggiator. A large menu of pre–programmed arpeggiated patterns is available, covering both rhythmic and pitched territory. The latter ranges in complexity from simple Philip Glass–like major and minor chordal arpeggios to more irregular interval–based patterns. Add stutters and glitches to these arpeggios and the world’s your lobster.
As is often the case with new features, I got the best results by diving straight in and taking a lucky dip. Having turned on the Motion effect of the gnarly, three–layer ‘Epic Distortion’ patch, I was immediately entertained by the syncopated, pulsating and stuttering rhythmic racket that emerged. This preset pattern contained no pitch variation, but by opening the three components’ Pitch windows and drawing a crude waveform–like shape across their pitch slices, I managed to generate a great atonal note sequence. Unsurprisingly, the pattern sounded slightly random, but it would be relatively easy to edit its pitches to diatonic notes if that was what was required. However, you’ll need good eyesight to read the tiny numbers that are used to display the slices’ semitone pitch values!
As an aid to programming, Motion includes 12 Sequence Edit buttons which allow you, among other things, to randomise the sequence values and insert ramp, triangle, comb or sine wave patterns. Though I suspect most users will be happy just to use Gravity as a sample player, such extensive editing facilities should encourage those who like to experiment.
Not to be confused with the film of the same name featuring the adventures of a space–walking Bullock, Heavyocity’s Gravity emerges triumphant from the black hole of sound design with some exciting discoveries. Though big, cinematic impacts and hits are nothing new, the library’s set of heavily processed, creatively enhanced booms, wallops, smashes, grinds and crunches pushes the boundaries of sheer percussive power, while its risers add a welcome experimental dimension to some massive builds and crescendos. Feeding these sounds into an arrangement will immediately give it a turbo–charged boost, while the atmospheric pads can exert a more subtle, left–field influence with useful applications for songwriters and pop producers.
A contemporary media composer can no longer get by with an orchestral library and some drum loops. In order to meet the needs of modern productions, the vital element of sound design has to be factored in. Heavyocity have always been good at that, and Gravity maintains the company’s standards. Though it’s not cheap, it is highly effective. Gravity sounds great straight out of the box, can be configured to your heart’s content and deserves the attention of all creative users with an ear for iconoclastic sound.
While there is no exact equivalent to Gravity on the market, Spitfire Audio’s Redcola Trailer Giant Vol 1 (17.2GB, £299$449), comprising sweeps, rises, falls, atmospheres, hits, pads, drones and effects, is in the same stylistic ballpark. Smaller libraries with a correspondingly lower price tag include Native Instruments Rise & Hit (5.9GB, £129$149), a ‘cinematic tension toolkit’ based on heavily processed orchestral and acoustic instruments, orchestral percussion, synths and field recordings. Over the water, Soundiron’s Sick 6: 666 — The Sickening [sic] (4.44GB, £79.95$99
) is a horror–themed cinematic and trailer sound effects library containing stings, impacts, hits, swells, risers, playable pads, drones, ambiences and effects. (All titles are Kontakt 5 format.)
Available as a download only, Gravity runs on the free Kontakt 5 Player and the full version of Kontakt 5 (version 188.8.131.521 or later). The makers recommend Mac OS 10.9 or higher and an Intel Core 2 Duo machine, while PC users are advised to use Windows 7 or higher (latest Service Pack, 32-/64-Bit), and an Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2 CPU. A minimum of 4GB RAM is recommended. Due to Native Instruments’ lossless compression, the library’s 12GB sample database compresses down to around 9GB when installed.
Since the release of the library, Heavyocity have released two sample packs in Kontakt 5 format to expand Gravity’s sonic horizons. The first, GP01: Natural Forces (3.2GB uncompressed), combines natural ambiences (Pacific Ocean recordings, rain and the like) and synthesis with the natural resonances and overtones of everyday objects such as drill bits, singing bowls, dry ice, and electric razors. These elements have been woven into pads, harmonic stings, tonal beds and textures.
Meanwhile, GP02: Vocalise (4GB uncompressed) is Heavyocity’s first-ever dedicated vocal instrument. It features a roster of pro singers (including Siobhan Magnus of American Idol Season 9 fame) performing moving vowels, phrases and ensembles, which the makers have converted into playable pads and phrases.
- The risers, hits and impacts are very powerful, and many of the pads are highly atmospheric.
- The sound processing used in the samples is masterful.
- User–customisable risers offer great flexibility.
- The library’s new Motion sequencer, automated effects and deep sound–design features will satisfy the most tweak–happy experimentalist.
- It’s fairly expensive.
Heavyocity’s Gravity continues the company’s tradition of spanning the gulf between music and sound design, thereby giving composers the tools they need to compete in today’s media music marketplace. Huge–sounding hits, impacts, trails, whooshes and stings, monster crescendo risers and an atmospheric set of eerie and powerful pads can be combined and blended in an infinite number of ways. Throw in the sophisticated Motion sequencer and some great effects, and you have one of the most flexible and configurable libraries you’re likely to encounter.