Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
While retro sci‑fi has been a thing since... well, since it wasn’t actually retro, the blockbuster success of Stranger Things has certainly bought it right back into the film/TV scoring mainstream. Sampleson’s latest release, Alienize, is pitched at this genre and they describe it as a cinematic sci‑fi instrument with mouse gesture‑based modulation (although you also get the option for MIDI CC control of parameters).
An Alienize preset is built from three sound elements and these are drawn from 41 underlying ‘sound modules’. Under the hood, these modules utilise a combination of sample playback and granular, subtractive and wavetable synthesis. However, the vast majority of this is kept well away from the user as the streamlined UI (with its alien‑themed graphic) contains a fairly minimal control set. The key elements of this are the preset browser (where the 120 presets are categorised via some suitably useful tags) and the three sound slots, each of which can draw from a different subset — Pedals, Generators or Textures — of the 41 sound modules. Module names such as Retro Bass Arp, Simple Flute, Arp Violas, Alien Speech, Metal, Hit, String and Tuned Bass Drum perhaps give a sense of what these sonic building blocks provide, and they span both playable (melodic) elements, pad/sustained sounds and sound effect elements. And, yes, there is a Theremin sound module — with the pitch controlled by mouse motion — if you want to go fully ’50s sci‑fi B‑movie.
The upper half of the display is where you can use left‑right motion of your mouse to modulate some pre‑configured elements of the sound, whether ‘live’ or by recording the mouse motion as automation data alongside your MIDI note data (this worked a treat in Cubase). This real‑time mouse‑based sound modulation is very nicely implemented and, as a means of easily sync’ing crescendo‑style sound design to any visuals, it’s very intuitive. A good number of the modules offer further settings accessed via a small pencil icon. For example, in the Retro Bass Arp module, you get a mini step sequencer, plus speed (sync’ed to your host tempo) and a filter cutoff control. As appropriate, these offer MIDI CC control (and a MIDI Learn function) allowing further sonic modulation.
Quirky, fun to use, and sonically right on the money for the retro sci‑fi target.
While there are plenty of sound possibilities to be had from combining 41 sound modules, sonically, Alienize is perhaps not the most diverse sound palette you might encounter. That said, whether you want to create a complete musical cue, or layer it with other sounds, it has plenty of suitably retro sci‑fi character. A PDF user manual would be a useful addition to the package but, that aside, at a very accessible price, I suspect busy media composers will happily take a punt, even if only for occasional use. Quirky, fun to use, and sonically right on the money for the retro sci‑fi target.