Soniccouture deliver a powerful drum sampler engine where you provide the samples.
Soniccouture have a catalogue of sample-based virtual instruments that lean to the left of field. That even applies to their virtual drum machine offerings such as Electro-Acoustic and Moonkits, reviewed respectively in the September 2017 and March 2020 issues of Sound On Sound. Both of these are excellent, and from a sonic point of view, offer something with a very welcome unconventional edge to it. Both are also built on a powerful Kontakt-based sample engine and equipped with a trio of very expressive beat-creation and sequencing tools.
It's the sample engine and beat creation tools that are at the heart of their latest virtual drum instrument. Appropriately titled Blanks, it includes no samples at all, apart from a few intended to get you started. Instead, Soniccouture are giving you all the tools to build your own sample-based drum kits using the same powerful beat-creation and sequencing tools that are found in Electro-Acoustic and Moonkits. So, if you prefer a DIY approach to your sampled drums, is Blanks a suitable platform?
Blanks was made possible by NI adding the option for sample drag and drop in Kontakt 6.2. You can use this to build a kit of up to eight of your own samples, and you get a range of editing options to customise their playback. On a per-sample basis, this includes sample pitch, various emulated sample engine modes, envelopes for amplitude, filter and pitch, a range of filter options, compression, EQ and saturation. A choke group feature is included to keep your hi-hat patterns realistic.
A master effects section is also included, with compression, EQ, tape emulation and a limiter. You can bypass this master channel by using Kontakt's individual outputs if you wish to do further processing of each sound in your host DAW. Whichever route you take, you will need to add reverb or delay externally, as Blanks does not, in this first iteration at least, provide them.
Spread around the various controls are small orange 'V' symbols which allow you to apply a degree of random velocity-based modulation to these parameters. This is actually very easy to use but also very effective, and can be key to adding sonic interest to your underlying samples. For special effects, you also get the Drill option. This can be configured on a per-sample basis and is similar to the glitchy results made popular through things like BreakTweaker. The effect is also keyswitchable and can be programmed into Blanks' various beat-creation tools.
And once you have created a kit, you can use Kontakt's Snapshots feature to save it. Providing you don't subsequently move the samples within your folder system, Blanks will find all the samples if you wish to re-load the Snapshot in a future project.
Blanks will get you dragging, dropping and grooving in no time.
Drag and drop aside, the other highlight is the inclusion of Soniccouture's three different beat-creation engines: Beat Shifter, Euclidean Beats and Poly Beats. All of these offer different means of generating your own drum patterns, and all three are genuinely creative in their own way. Poly Beats allows you to construct polyrhythmic patterns by dividing a bar up into different step numbers for each of the eight drum sounds. This is perhaps something for the more musically adventurous and does take some mastering, but the results can be fascinating. The Euclidean Beats tool provides an intuitive, semi-mathematical, approach to pattern creation, but is super-easy to use and experiment with.
Of the three, my personal favourite is the Beat Shifter. This provides a more conventional, step-based sequencer environment but adds a number of subtle randomisation options including the ability to shift individual lanes of the pattern forwards or backwards as the pattern loops. This can create some really nice variations in your pattern. For example, if you keep your kick and snare locked in place, gradually shifting your hi-hat groove can produce great results. And, as all the beat tools can capture the results of a pattern looping through a user-defined number of bars, you can then export all this beat variation to your host DAW for later playback and/or further editing.
At one level, Blanks is a very straightforward concept: a DIY, eight-sound virtual drum sampler. As that simple description suggests, it keeps the workflow very straightforward; but, thanks to the clever velocity modulation of sounds and its excellent pattern creation tools, Blanks is a pleasure to use. OK, if you like your drum samplers stuffed full of pre-made sounds, then maybe it's not for you — in which case you should try Soniccouture's Electro-Acoustic, Moonkits or Konkrete 3 instead. However, if you enjoy the DIY approach of building kits from your own samples and want a modestly priced, no-fuss environment within which to do that, Blanks will get you dragging, dropping and grooving in no time.
- Drag and drop your own sounds in a Kontakt-based drum sampler.
- Effective velocity modulation of sounds.
- Very creative beat-creation tools.
- No samples!
- Reverb or delay has to be added in your host DAW.
Blanks is an easy, inexpensive and effective route into DIY drum sampling.