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Sample Library
Published December 2008
By Dave Stewart & Martin Walker

Project SAM Symphobia

  • Kontakt 2 Player

What's missing from the orchestral sampling market? Wild rips and improvs, combined strings and brass unisons, tutti hits, mad effects, dreamy and percussive sound design textures? Actually, no, because Project SAM's terrific 17.4GB library Symphobia contains all this and more. SAM say that all their libraries are specifically created for film, TV and game composers, and since they work in those industries themselves, the producers (Maarten Spruijt, Vincent Beijer and Marco Deegenaars) have a shrewd idea of the value of atmospheric orchestral sound (are sonic effects the new chords?). With this in mind, they've made a point in Symphobia of procuring unusual performances that will make listeners sit up and take notice.

New Releases On TestRather than segregating instruments by type, SAM recorded them playing together. Thus, Symphobia's string sections feature basses, cellos, violas and violins blended in unison according to range over six octaves. Similarly, the four principal members of the brass family were recorded together in a vibrant live mix. No artificial layering was done and no programming is necessary — you can instantly hear the effect of a full, well–orchestrated string or brass ensemble, a great boon for musicians who like to compose music by playing it.

The string sections seem to be of chamber rather than orchestral proportions, and as a result the ensembles sound tough and wiry, rather than lush and romantic. But they still sound big, and play with attitude, commitment and aggression. The low strings have enormous presence, and if you need a driving short–note articulation for a film action scene, the full section's loud staccatos will blow your head off.

Certain patches feature the classic combination of cellos and double basses in octaves — always a handy option. The strings also play a set of conventionally–voiced major, minor, fourth and fifth chords — nothing revolutionary there, but the bowing has an expressive ensemble feel that you won't achieve by playing the same chords with single–note multisamples. Also included are solo strings: although restricted to a handful of basic articulations and a single dynamic level, their accented sustains and marcatos are surprisingly emotive.

SAM have an excellent pedigree with brass ensembles, and those in Symphobia sound wonderful, with sonorous tubas, blasting trombones, soaring horns and regal trumpets, recorded together in a fine concert–hall acoustic. 'No trumpet' ensembles allow the pure sound of the horns to shine through in the upper register, while a bright–sounding horns/trumpets combo is ideal for Olympian fanfares. I was also impressed by the tightly co–ordinated timing and forceful delivery of the brass crescendos and forte pianos.

Mirroring the strings' articulations, the brass feature low–register patches consisting of tuba and trombones in octaves (incidentally, there are no bass trombones in the library), plus a set of straight major and minor chords performed with very nice tuning. Topping off the ensembles are massive–sounding tutti patches, featuring the brass and string ensembles playing in unison. My only minor criticism is that the tutti bass notes are played almost exclusively in octaves: although that adds power, it can muddy chord voicings.

Symphobia's effects section constitutes about half the library and contains some truly far–out stuff. I've never seen such an extensive collection of string clusters, and these atonal events range in pitch from low, grinding discords to fingernails–on–the–blackboard screechers, all with a variety of articulations. Some of the strings' massed glissandi are amazing, and there's a grandiose quality to these turbulent, chaotic, slithery performances that I've not heard elsewhere. The brass play their own 'X'–rated collection of eerie clusters, weird repetition effects and disconcerting pitch bends, plus some great, uninhibited horn rips for ribald comedy moments. By way of a finale, the brass and strings join forces and perform some cataclysmic clusters and 'gliss rips' which will make your trousers flap.

SAM are refreshingly non–purist and occasionally throw in a bass synth, banging timpani or loud piano as an option to bolster the low end, and this is used to great effect in 'Full orchestra hits & rips' — a tremendous collection of violent noises created by layering percussion from SAM's True Strike with instrumental performances. Taking the idea several steps to the left, Symphobia's 'Dystopia II' section is a sound designer's paradise: a large menu of heavily processed orchestral and percussion noises ranging from beautiful other–worldly pads via quirky, futuristic electro perc to huge–sounding, apocalyptic soundscapes. Fabulous. In addition to all this super material, the library's 'cluster generator' is an innovative and fun idea: when activated it randomly creates a new cluster chord of user–definable size and range each time you play a single note. The clusters can be stored in a bank and recalled later.

Most of the library is presented in a choice of ambient and close mikings. To complete the instrumentation, all the samples from SAM's downloadable Woodwind Ensemble Orchestrator and Woodwind Ensemble Effects are included: the woodwind patches have been re–programmed and the ambient miking is wetter than in the individual titles. In a non–orchestral vein, a bonus ethnic winds section offers phrases and effects played on duduk, Native American flute and shakuhachi. The duduk is the most usable of the three.

This is a major release, packed with top–notch multisamples, effects and noises that could successfully underscore any on–screen event, from a minor traffic collision to the destruction of the universe. Symphobia screams 'cinematic'. Dave Stewart

£899 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

www.timespace.com

www.projectsam.com

www.symphobia.com

$1,499.

Steptime Ware +1 866 567 5955.

www.steptimeware.com

www.projectsam.com

www.symphobia.com

Propellerhead Reason Electric Bass

  • Reason ReFill

The Reason Electric Bass (REB) ReFill is the latest offering in Propellerhead's collection of 'hypersampled' instruments for use exclusively with Reason — and it is impossible to describe this library without some consideration of what Propellerhead mean by hypersampling. Essentially, it is the process of recording through several simultaneous signal chains (DI plus multiple microphones), and then giving the user the ability to mix and process the individual signals, providing plenty of scope to shape the sound to fit a track.

New Releases On TestThe recording sessions for REB featured eight iconic, mostly vintage, bass guitars: a 1968 Fender Jazz Bass, a 1965 Fender Precision, a 1972 Gibson EB–0, a 1969 Gibson Les Paul, and a 2001 Music Man Stingray 5–string fretless, all played with the fingers; as well as a 1978 Fender Precision, a 1963 Kay Hollowbody, and a 1974 Rickenbacker 4001, all played with a pick.

The basses were recorded through an Ampeg Portaflex all–tube 'flip–top' amp or a 1964 Fender Showman 'Black Face' (brighter than the Ampeg and easy to overdrive to distortion) — or sometimes both. The DI signal came courtesy of a Fairman TRC MkII or a Reddi Tube, and recordings were taken using the following mics simultaneously: AKG D12, Coles 4038 ribbon, Didrik De Geer M49, Neumann U47 FET, Shure SM57, and Yamaha SKRM–100 Subkick. The mic preamps used were Chandler TG2, API 512C, Avalon U5 and Fairman TMA.

The signal chain sounds impressive enough, but what of the resulting instrument? Well, REB includes several features designed to make your MIDI bass sequences sound realistic. Not only are there several velocity layers for each note, but the entire note range is mapped twice on the keyboard (once for the left hand, once for the right), with slightly different samples for each hand, further helping to avoid the possible 'giveaway' sign of repeating the same sample over and over.

For additional realism, the lower register contains an octave of noise effects, which include up and down slides of different speeds, fret noise, and ghost notes (muted 'thunks'). There are some additional slides mapped an octave above the highest octave on an 88–key controller. There are also two modifier keys (one for hammer–on, and one for glissando) which, when depressed, change whatever notes you are playing accordingly (hammer–on instead of picked or plucked, or a whole–step slide up to the note you play).

Every note also includes release samples: when you release a key on your keyboard, another sample is triggered of the subtle sound that's made when a string is released with the fret hand, while the strings are muted at the bridge by the picking hand. If you want to ride on one note, you can disable the release samples by holding down the sustain pedal. The modulation wheel controls the amount of string damping, except for patches using the Stingray fretless (where the wheel controls vibrato). On all the factory Combinator REB patches, vibrato is mapped to aftertouch. However, the vibrato is pitch modulation of the sample after the fact, so it's not nearly as realistic as actual sampled vibrato.

Of course, for people who prefer to program with their mouse instead of a MIDI keyboard, all of the effects and modifiers can be easily drawn in with additional note lanes or automation lanes in the Reason sequencer. In fact, I found that simply drawing in straight eighth notes and then overlaying groove templates in the ReGroove Mixer produced some surprisingly lifelike results very quickly. In general, I found that it was possible to achieve very realistic bass tracks playing the parts in live on a keyboard, or by programming (or a little of both).

The integration of the REB sample library with the effects processing and signal routing in the Reason rack really gives you plenty to play with. You can choose the combination of DI, microphones and pickup you want to use for a particular bass, running different signals through compressors, parametric EQ, reverb, and so on. But if you just want a usable sound in a hurry, several of the presets are quite good.

The printed manual is well written, clearly explaining functionality while also including interesting details about the recording sessions, as well as notes on what each patch was designed to emulate. Often specific songs, bands, or bassists are mentioned (ranging from the Beatles to Queens of the Stone Age). To try a comparison, I listened to 'National Anthem' by Radiohead, and then tried the 'Anthem Rock' patch. It was only reasonably close to the sound on the Radiohead track, but I did find it to be suitable: a pleasantly aggressive Rickenbacker tone, with plenty of growl and some nice metallic string buzz. There are also plenty of presets featuring lovely warm, round tones, as well as some very distorted, overdriven amp tones and some wah/envelope–filter basses. A folder of effects patches with signal processing ranging from subtle to way out there is also included.

The bottom line is that although I wouldn't suggest going for a solo on the high notes, or trying to use too much vibrato, there are some very good sounds here. With skilful use of this product, you should be able to create a solid bass–track with nothing to tip off the listener that you're using samples. The choice of basses and recording equipment, the quality of the recordings, and — most of all — the sound quality and usability of the resulting patches all combine to make Reason Electric Bass convincing evidence that Reason is growing up to be a very powerful, versatile production tool for a variety of popular music styles. Matt Piper

£89 including VAT.

Sound Technology +44 (0)1462 480000.

www.soundtech.co.uk

www.propellerhead.se

$129.

Line 6 +1 818 575 3600.

www.line6.com

www.propellerhead.se

Big Fish Audio Found Percussion

  • Apple Loops/REX/Acidised WAV

Found Percussion abandons conventional instruments in favour of almost anything that you can hit, scrape, drop, or otherwise activate to make a sound. Big Fish have trodden this path before with their Junk Box Percussion (882MB) and Tool Shed Percussion (1.2GB), but Found Percussion is an altogether more ambitious collection, comprising 2.46GB of 24–bit data. Presented in 85 'construction kits', ranging in tempo from 49bpm to a frantic 190bpm, each kit is conveniently housed in its own folder and presented in both 'full mix' and individual looped elements formats, while the folder names helpfully include the tempo. Most kits offer between four and eight elements, and a few up to 16. The library is presented in AIFF (Apple loops), RX2 (Recycle), and WAV (Acid) formats.

New Releases On TestWhile Found Percussion offers some very quirky–sounding grooves, they've all obviously been assembled by some very creative and musical individuals. I started out being intrigued, expecting plenty of novelty sounds with little practical application, but almost immediately found kits that I really liked — and after the first hour I was thoroughly hooked by most of the collection.

The kit names reflect the sound sources rather than the groove style, so that (for instance), 'Happy Hour' is created entirely from tapped glasses and ice cubes dropping into them, while 'Drag Creek' manages to encompass drag car engines and race commentary, as well as air sprays and coffee cans. Ocean Dub is an inspired combination of scraping beach sand, frisbee knocking, hair clipper startup, inkjet printer in action, metal bowl (it sounded like a waste bin to me), the twang of silicone–rubber string, and two flavours of scraping styrofoam. Listed blandly like this, you'd expect chaos in combination, but in fact the results are quite funky in an offbeat sort of way, and eminently musical.

More traditional–sounding combinations are also generated from unusual sources. Flutecussion combines slapped PVC pipes and various tapped objects with a bell–like brake drum and fingered flute–keys, to create wonderfully delicate Eastern–influenced riffs, while Vegas includes poker chips and mallets on clay pots, plus suitcase drumming and a hand swishing around in a bowl of lentils, for a lively Indian–inspired workout. One of my favourites was Blade Rack, combining plastic tub lids and storage racks with struck saw blades, which sound rather like singing bowls.

Au naturel, I'd imagine most of the kits would make wonderful backing for contemporary dance performances, and as soon as you load the loop elements en masse into an application that lets you drop them in and out on demand, you immediately gain huge flexibility for world music and many other genres.

Even if you didn't want to base entire tracks around such kits, they'd still work beautifully dropping in and out under a more traditional groove, and while there are no individual hits, I soon found myself cutting them from the various elements to create tuned instruments in my sampler.

Found Percussion won't suit everyone, but if you're searching for some new and inspiring sounds it could prove just the job! Martin Walker

£55 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

www.timespace.com

www.bigfishaudio.com

$99.95.

Big Fish Audio +1 800 717 3474.

www.bigfishaudio.com

Project SAM Woodwind Libraries

  • Multi-format

Plenty of orchestral libraries contain multiples of the same instrument (three flutes, three bassoons and so on), but hardly any offer mixed–woodwind ensembles. Project SAM's Woodwind Ensemble Orchestrator addresses this gap in the market; the 1.1GB library consists of blended multisamples of two flutes, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, bass clarinet and contrabassoon. The instruments are mapped according to range, so starting at the top end you hear a flute playing from G5 down to F#4, unison flute & oboe from F4 to C#3, unison bassoon & clarinet from C3 (Middle C) down to D#2, solo bassoon from D2 to C1 and contrabassoon & bass clarinet in octaves from B0 to A–1. The blending and key–mapping has been skilfully done and the changes of instrumentation, although fairly obvious to the listener, sound both natural and musically agreeable.

New Releases On TestThe samples are played staccato, staccatissimo, portato and sustained, the last two available in a choice of vibrato and non–vibrato. I found these performances very helpful in recording a recent film score. In fact, the staccato patch sounded so good that it inspired me to improvise an entire two–and–a–half minute cue on the spot. OK, the samples are mainly one–dynamic (filtering is used to simulate the softer tone of quieter notes) and the articulations aren't nearly as extensive as in bigger libraries, but the realistic and colourful musical effect renders those limitations academic. I recommended this title to composers who want to instantly hear the effect of a woodwind ensemble without having to painstakingly program each individual instrument's part.

Woodwind Ensemble Effects (1.38GB) is a collection of clusters, phrases, textures and effects played by the same group of players. We're not talking tasteful MOR licks; these samples are eerie and mad, just the thing for a horror or suspense film. The ear–grabbing, vivid phrases sound like Stravinsky on acid; the clusters comprise nasty contrabassoon and bass–clarinet bass drones, scary, atonal, multi–instrument, middle–register noises, and high–pitched, squealing discords from the two flutes. Every cluster is lovingly replicated in sustained, note–bending and pfp styles. Chasing deadlines on my film job, I was delighted to discover the 'multiphonics' patch, a collection of subtly overblown noises that perfectly convey the weird sense of alienation portrayed in Polanski's Repulsion. Hit 'record', press a few keys and the cue was done. Simple, and fast.

The 1.23GB Flute & Piccolo Effects brings you much the same kind of thing played by two flutes and a piccolo. Although some of the flutter–tongue and overblown samples evoke Jethro Tull flute solos (aargh!!!), there's a good selection of abstract, arty avant–garde performances, including atonal runs and flurries à la Rite of Spring, two–flute improvisations, harmonics and mournful downward bends, all atmospheric soundtrack material. As with SAM's other orchestral libraries, these three download–only titles were recorded from different microphone positions and feature a very nice hall ambience. A unique, reasonably–priced set that should spark the imagination of creative composers. Dave Stewart

$159 or 99.99 Euros each.

Project SAM +31 (0)30 231 4500.

www.projectsam.com

Published December 2008