A normal upright piano has three strings per key in the upper registers, two for the mid octaves and usually one for the lowest octaves, but to create the 10GB Una Corda virtual upright, Native Instruments sampled a custom-made 88-note piano that has just one string per key, an open frame and a thin, rib-free soundboard. Fitting one string per key instead of several resulted in a cleaner tone, and the open frame design tidied up the sound even further, so purity is the Una Corda’s chief characteristic.
The design of the source piano also enabled panels of various fabrics to be inserted between the hammers and strings. Recordings were made with cotton and felt panels installed and also without any material at all, resulting in three different sound textures and three separate, but near-identical, Kontakt interfaces.
When an instance of Una Corda is open in Kontakt, its interface only shows three controls. The first, called Color, adjusts the sample mapping so that the sound’s attack and hardness are increased or decreased depending which way the virtual dial is turned. Next to it is the Dynamic Range knob, which compresses when turned one way and expands the other, and lastly there is a convolution reverb level dial called Space. Color in particular is a very effective tool for making a fast but dramatic change to the character of the sound, but for those who want to dig deeper, Una Corda provides three pop-up pages packed with options.
The Workbench page has controls for altering the level of things like the mechanical noise of the notes being pressed and released, the sound of the sustain pedal, dampers and string vibration, and the noises created by the physical actions of the pianist. Further textural tweaks can be made by moving the Harmonics and Tonal Depth sliders, and for a pleasing psychedelic effect there is a Reverse function which plays the note tails backwards!
The tweaking options are continued on the next page (called Response), where there are sliders governing overtones, resonances and the attack and release of the note samples, plus there’s a lower-octave level booster and settings for re-pedalling and half-pedalling. Response is also the page where global changes are made to the piano’s velocity curve and tuning.
The final page, titled Finish, is the home of an equaliser, a compressor with tape-emulation settings, and the controls and presets for the convolution reverb. This page also includes a rather unusual processor called Style, which offers a bunch of preset effects chains, most of which are based on vintage tremolo and modulation effects of varying speeds and textures, and this is a great tool for atmospheric creations.
It’s clear that Una Corda is a very flexible instrument that offers the user control over almost every kind of noise a piano and its player can make, but most importantly it sounds great. It’s tighter than a typical wooden upright, but there is an openness and clarity to the notes which is very appealing. Sound designers and producers will definitely want to try it out.