I enjoyed Sampleson’s Alienize when reviewing it in the January 2023 issue of SOS, so I was more than happy when their latest offering — Sandstorm — arrived in my in tray for review.
Like Alienize, Sandstorm is a virtual instrument running as a VST/AU plug‑in (or standalone) via Sampleson’s own engine/UI and includes the intuitive mouse gesture control system for sound modulation. However, the sonic target here is somewhat different as Sandstorm provides an easy‑to‑use platform for creating evolving soundscapes and sonic textures... although, as we will see in a minute, there are some melodic possibilities available also.
The concept is straightforward; the UI offers you 17 sound sources — a combination of three granular synth engines, two wavetable engines, eight sample‑based layers and four other synth‑based layers. The sonic flavour of each source is indicated by its abbreviated label — Str, Bas, Pad, Tub, Wind, etc — and you create a sound by simply blending your chosen combination of these sources. However, you can also modulate the blend by linking the level of each source to either the left/right axis of the upper part of the UI (where you then drag with the mouse) or to a MIDI CC number (such as your mod wheel). A good set of presets gets you started and demonstrates the possibilities.
While each sound source is essentially fixed in overall character, clicking on the small pencil icon for any source opens a compact set of additional controls that can shape the sound. For some layers this provides attack, release, reverb and pan controls. However, for others, it can be different options such as timbre (a sweepable filter), while the two sub layers offer LFO options and the three textures have a selection of different sound types you can pick between. And, while most of the layers produce soundscape‑style elements, the arp layer provides a simple four‑step arp sequence that can produce some interesting melodic content over the top of the more textural sounds. It’s a shame that this layer doesn’t also offer a wider range of sound types to pick from, although it does include a timbre control so you can change things up to some extent.
What’s particularly impressive, however, is how user‑friendly the modulation system is to use.
While the overall concept is, therefore, straightforward, by mixing and matching between the layers, you can coax a surprisingly diverse range of sounds from Sandstorm. What’s particularly impressive, however, is how user‑friendly the modulation system is to use. This makes it very easy to customise your soundscape/texture and give it a sense of motion. For composers looking to add tension to a scene and to ‘hit’ the key moments in the action, this works very well.
OK, so Sandstorm may not be the be‑all‑and‑end‑all of soundscape texture creation, but it sounds very good, has enough sonic options to keep things interesting, and offers a very straightforward modulation system. For the budget‑conscious composer, it’s also accessibly priced. Well worth auditioning.