Arpology combines Sample Logic's wealth of sampled sounds with a sophisticated arpeggiator to create a unique virtual instrument.
Arpology is an arpeggiator‑based Kontakt instrument from Sample Logic. It features over 5GB of samples — courtesy of Kontakt's lossless compression — and comprises over 550 instruments and multis. At its heart is the Step Animator, which seamlessly blends arpeggiation and step sequencing. This, combined with sequenced effect changes and remote control via MIDI or the bundled TouchOSC layout, makes Arpology an interesting new slant on automated performance.
On opening Arpology in Kontakt, there are three categories of single patches — Cinematic, Electronic and Percussive — plus multis divided into 'One Note Glories' and 'Instrument Stacks'. Having loaded a single patch it's no surprise to see the arpeggiation engine in pride of place, with a second tab reserved for effects and effect sequencing. Overall the interface is simple and inviting.
The patches are exclusively intended for clocked triggering and Arpology lacks the in‑depth editing of a traditional synth or sample player. Instead, each patch may be changed using any of the 150 preset animation patterns, which themselves can be edited. By tying this animation to a finite amount of audio material, its quality is paramount and in this, Sample Logic are fortunate to have a huge vault of high-quality 24‑bit samples to raid. The diverse selection included here includes everything from ethnic bells and plucks, ambient field recordings, percussion and synths to orchestral instruments, choirs and human beatboxes.
An arpeggiator, at its simplest, is an automated way of breaking up chords and serving back the individual notes in perfect timing, usually in a selection of speeds and directions. Often there's octave shifting and a convenient latch function too, so you can leave the arpeggio running while making tonal adjustments. Arpology's Step Animator offers rather more than the average arpeggiator and encroaches upon step sequencer territory by adding sequencing of effect parameters too. With a comprehensive LFO section to add extra movement, the end result is a flexible toolbox for interactive rhythm.
The Animator consists of a number of rows in which the velocity, transposition, duration, pan, and so forth may be programmed on a step-by-step basis. If you don't require this level of flexibility all the time, many of the rows feature a chain icon, signifying that you can make relative changes to every value in a single operation. Patterns can be as long as 64 steps, with up to 16 shown on screen at once. Exceed 16 and extra tabs appear. The actual pattern length can be hard to pin down sometimes because of the potential for individual step lengths, but this is a small price to pay for the ability to make one step last twice as long as the next, to give a simple example.
Step Type is the first row and governs the events that happen on each step. As expected, a step can play a note or leave a gap, the length set in a row underneath. Alternatively, the step can 'Stutter', ie. repeat at a rate set specifically for the step. The maximum stutter rate is a 182nd note — a mad buzz — but some of the lower rates are ideal for serving up the kind of fast trills or 'ratcheting' associated with the sequencing genius of Chris Franke (from Tangerine Dream) back in the '70s. The main omission here is some form of random or conditional activation of the stutter effect, for those of us who enjoy a little programmed variation.
Offering an alternative to notes, gaps and stutters, your step can be set to 'glide', whereupon its pitch will glide smoothly to the next note in the arpeggio. Next, 'Free Play' mode is a welcome departure from the generally robotic nature of arpeggios and sequences. When you reach any step set to Free Play, you can perform on the keyboard without timing correction applied by the arpeggiator. My own first animation pattern included a whole note set to play freely at the start of the arpeggio. This leaves a vital gap for unquantised performance before the main arpeggio takes over. Actually, Free Play is the only means of manually playing the supplied patches without arpeggiation. I know it's probably a perverse suggestion, but a simple off switch would have been very nice to have from time to time. Finally, 'Stutter Alternating' is similar to Stutter except, for the selected step, it skips through all the notes currently held down. In a sense it's like an arpeggiator within an arpeggiator. Stutter Alternating only works when the Arpeggio Type is 'Chordal' — in other words, instead of the usual single note plucked from those held, all are played.
The other Arpeggio Types are Up, Down, As Played and Random. As before they're selectable per step, but there's no pendulum or up/down choices. The velocity of each step can be grabbed from keyboard input or is manually determined by sliders, but if you aren't into drawing curves with a mouse, each row of the animator features an 'R' button. Set this to active and the row is 'ready for randomisation' by a click of the 'Random' button. Suddenly you have a completely new set of animation values to audition. If you engage the Auto Quantize function, any randomisation of step length results in a pattern rounded up to the nearest full bar.
In performance, many of the rows' values can be overridden by the mod wheel but, if you prefer, MIDI CCs can be widely assigned. Three keys in each patch provide ready‑allocated shortcuts to the most useful functions. One temporarily freezes the step, overriding the individual step actions to those of the step you're on. Another sets glide active and the last, stutter. By assigning stutter to a pedal you can play on the keyboard, activating stutter whenever the urge arises, and satisfying my earlier desire to introduce variations. Other useful remote control options include restarting the animator pattern, slipping into random playing or flipping the whole arpeggio into half or double time. It's fairly comprehensive without being off‑putting.
Whichever patch you select, the Step Animator presets browser is a fast‑track to radical alternatives, thanks to the use of dynamics or other animation treats. When you hit on something appealing, you're advised to save your modifications under new names rather than overwrite the factory patches.
Unlike many Kontakt instruments, the Effects tab isn't merely a mechanism for adding an invigorating splash of reverb or delay. It supplies a number of parameters that, although they fall short of full patch editing, provide shaping and tone control in the form of a simple volume envelope, a filter, EQ and no fewer than eight LFOs.
By clicking on any on‑screen item, the display reveals its deeper settings. For example, choose 'Filter' and you can adjust and even sequence the resonant high‑pass/low‑pass filter (step automation is available for all controls with a small blue LED next to them). You're free to draw the shape you like with the mouse or grab pre‑made examples from a library of presets.
After filtering comes a lo‑fi section with sample and bit‑rate reduction, then distortion, pitch modulation and a basic wavetable synthesizer. The synth has an envelope and a set of typical synth waveforms, which can be transposed and detuned relative to the patch's main sample. In the mixer you can balance the amount of sample and wavetable synth and even sequence their respective volumes.
With step sequencing of many parameters, it's a shame that both the delay and reverb offer only limited automation. The delay's damping and pan can be sequenced but not the delay time nor feedback. Reverb is offered in excellent digital and convolution varieties, with the latter offering a cool reverse mode.
Effects have one last bonus: Triggers. With these you can instantly apply a choice of 48 effect chains via six on‑screen pads. Despite their preset nature, these compound effects are a powerful feature and any combination of the six chains are available simultaneously.
Sounds In Motion
In many patches, the modulation wheel is pre‑defined to close the filter, and effects such as delay and reverb are used liberally for extra sparkle. Here's a small selection of my sonic highlights to give you a sense of how your 5GB of disk space is used:
- Balinese Java Bowls: sequenced balinese bowls, the metallic patterns are peppered with spaces and stuttered steps, producing an atmospheric backdrop with an ethnic yet contemporary feel.
- Bending Dreams: a breathy plucked string patch with built‑in pitch sequencing and convolution reverb.
- Entering the Planets 1: if Gustav Holst didn't spin in his grave at Tomita's whistling robots, he might enjoy this chordal rendering of the opening bars of 'Mars' (from the Planets Suite), complete with slightly cheesy brass.
- Ethno Crystals: I bet you can guess what this sounds like — an ideal tinkling cascade for establishments trading in dream catchers, joss sticks and tie‑dye shirts.
- Running Water Scales: when you play chords, it's a twangy, mad and slightly tense seven-step sequence. If you don't, it's a simple ascending scale.
- Journey In Time: a punchy echoing sequence that sounds fantastic in the bass registers. Creative use of individual step lengths make this a playable 'ideas generator' for lubricating creative dry spots.
- Mono Fried 1: urban, glitchy and stuttering. Bit‑ and sample‑rate sequencing contribute to the croaky lo‑fi treat.
- Mushroom Infection 3: add a psytrance kick and bass line then lose yourself in the swirling, glitching, gliding and delay‑soaked madness of Infected Mushroom.
- Thick Sirens: a subtle choral, chordal sequence with occasional note glides thrown in. Very nice and surprisingly smooth.
- Beat Boxer: arpeggiating samples spread across the keyboard take a worthwhile excursion into interactive beat‑boxing. Packed with grunts, clicks, hisses and pops galore.
- Hit Suction: a mixed hit and heartbeat groove, velocity driving the opening of the filter.
- Star Destroyer: a deep and insistent chordal pattern. The more notes you play the bigger and more intimidating it becomes.
- The Inferno: the slowly pounding, distorted drums of hell. The step sequencer manipulates distortion drive as it rolls along.
Lastly, and deserving of special mention, the 'One Note Glories' of the factory multis are designed for just that: one‑finger performances. This assumes one finger, someone else's sounds and prepared arpeggios counts as a performance, of course. Creation of user multis is far more rewarding, though, and it's relatively straightforward to add Macro knobs and buttons to control multiple chosen parameters in your stacked instruments.
Arpology, unlike an arpeggiator in the form of a MIDI plug‑in, ties its powerful engine to selected sounds and samples. It's fortunate these are plentiful and well‑chosen because you aren't presented with a mechanism to fully edit them. In fact, these patches are so fine‑tuned to the internal environment of sequencing that there isn't even an off switch for arpeggiation!
To get the most from Arpology, you'll need to become familiar with the supplied sounds, the transformations available from sequenced effects and the generous bank of arpeggio patterns. Creating original patterns is pretty addictive, while external control — either from MIDI or the TouchOSC app — is a valuable means of injecting extra life. Ultimately this is a carefully honed tool for performance‑oriented arpeggios. In that respect, Arpology has absolutely nothing to be sorry about.
Owners of the TouchOSC app for iOS and Android can take advantage of the included Arpology layout template. This provides a rather novel way to control key functionality directly from a tablet. It has four Kaoss‑style X/Y pads for effect manipulation, as well as the main arpeggiator controls via buttons. There are separate keyboard and multi windows too, and if the layout omits any favourite feature, you're free to download the TouchOSC editor and customise it. The template can be especially worthwhile if your master keyboard has insufficient knobs and sliders to exploit all Arpology's nooks and crannies.
- Requires Kontakt 5.3 Player (free from Native Instruments).
- Mac OS 10.7 or 10.8 (latest update), Intel Core Duo, 2GB RAM (4GB recommended).
- Windows 7 or 8 (latest Service Pack, 32/64 Bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 2GB RAM (4GB recommended).
- A versatile arpeggiator and sequencer engine coupled with a quality sample collection.
- Includes some brilliant factory arpeggio patterns.
- Only superficial editing of the underlying patches.
- A simple 'off' switch for arpeggiation would have been welcome.
Arpology offers a combination of classic and contemporary sounds, plus complex pattern generation to inspire composers of all genres.