Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
The source instrument for this library is a 21-string West African harp called a Kora, which was sampled 18 times per note to create six round robins and three velocity layers. The recordings were captured using a built-in pickup and a pair of stereo mics. In all, there are over 1500 samples in the 2.54GB library.
Within the download are nine separate Kontakt instruments, all of which offer exactly the same simple panel of controls, displayed on one of the most minimal backgrounds I've come across. Here the user can control the levels and relative balance of the instrument's pickup and stereo close mic recordings, as well as the amount of reverb that's to be added. It's usual for Kontakt instruments to provide extensive processing tools, but clearly Sonic Zest have a great deal of confidence in the quality of their core sounds, and are happy to leave it to third‑party plug-ins to provide effects.
At the top of the list of interfaces is one called Main, which has notes assigned to all the keys of four octaves. This is great for composers, but not a true representation of the source instrument's scale. So, to provide a touch of authenticity, Sonic Zest included an interface called Performance, which is particularly tricky to get the hang of, having been designed so that the notes on the keyboard are arranged in a pattern that emulates the layout of the original Kora. In this case the ascending notes F, C, D and E are mapped to the keyboard in a downward direction so that they are played on C5, B4, A4 and G4 respectively. After that, the scale continues going up in pitch in opposite directions, but the sequence alternates between high and low keys. Apparently Kora players use their thumbs to play bass notes, so in the Performance interface the player's thumbs stay in the G4 to C5 area of the keyboard while their fingers tinkle away on either side.
The remaining interfaces focus on different playing techniques and articulations, but don't try to emulate the source instrument's note layout, and instead conform to a standard piano scale.
The interfaces called Staccato and Glissando offer exactly what their names suggest, as does Harmonics, although harmonic articulations are not typically played on a Kora.
The Slow Tremolo interface offers the kind of tremolo that's created by repeatedly plucking a string, possibly with an up/down (or side to side) motion. Interestingly, if a key is held down, the speed of this oscillation changes throughout the cycle, so when many notes are combined the overall effect is quite complex, beautiful and mesmerising. Fast Tremolo is a faster version of the same process.
Lastly, there is the Trills interface, which has two sections: one for upward flurries of three notes, and the other for downward ones.
Overall, Kora has a beautiful sound which can be anything from punchy to delicate. It's easy to imagine artists like Four Tet or Björk using it to add texture to their work. I can't fault its sound quality, but a few more processing options would make a welcome addition.