Performance Samples continue to forge ahead in their quest to create uncomplicated, easy-to-use Kontakt instruments focussed on a specific task, designed to get the job done quickly but impressively. Oceania comprises two choirs — men and women — which can be used independently but are at their imposing best when played in tandem. No ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here — at least not in the traditional sense.
These choirs each comprise the same set of 10 syllables, performed with gusto at ff and with molto vibrato. The syllables play in cyclic rotation, advancing to the next syllable when all keys are released. The syllables are also accessible via keyswitches, so you can easily reset the cycle with a simple key press, or make it start on a specific syllable, or make them sound in any order you wish — very convenient if there’s a certain syllable you want to emphasise in a particular chord or note. There are no dynamic layers: volume is controlled by CC1 by default, though this can be reassigned to any other MIDI controller. Soft and angelic it is not — this is lusty fishermen battling against a storm, feisty Valkyries sending dead heroes to Valhalla.
Like Performance Samples’ Caspian Brass, Oceania is considerably more flexible than the old-school Kontakt 2 era GUI might suggest, having some under-the-hood trickery involving splicing appropriate attacks and releases according to how you play. Want staccato utterances? Play it that way. Want long sustains? Just hold the notes for as long as you want. The pitch wheel also gives additional control over releases: pull it down to shorten them for even tighter staccatos, or push it up to provide extra glue to make a ‘phrase’ more fluid. You can also add an ‘s’ consonant to the end of syllables in various ways, either manually using key velocity or the sustain pedal, or let Oceania do it for you, randomly or using one of two ‘suggested’ settings. Two microphone positions, close and far, with volume, pan, mute and solo controls, can be routed to individual outputs if required.
When playing both men and women together on the same MIDI channel, a ‘shift’ feature offsets one against the other, up or down the octave. A quick-start preset Multi is included that sets the men an octave below the women — a very effective combination. There are also two separate patches of Mens’ Shouts and Rises, always useful for adding that touch of belligerent chaos. Notes in the low range are naturally quieter than the upper, but if you want them to be on a par there is a Flatten Dynamics option that evens things up.
Oceania might be considered expensive for its singular remit; however, busy composers could find it pays for itself in sheer terms of time compared to how long it might take to achieve the same results using a more weighty library. It’s ideal for epic, energetic choral passages, or if you’re writing music about flogging monks and burning heretics at the stake. Which, as it happens, I have been.