For some listeners the cool, drifty, slightly detached sound of the vibraphone will forever be associated with great jazz players like Gary Burton, while classical music fans will recall the instrument's emergence in symphonic works such as Messiaen's Turangalîla. Forward-thinking SOS readers (is there any other kind?) will be more concerned about what the instrument can bring to contemporary arrangements, and the good news there is that an excellent sampled version is now available, courtesy of UK samplists Soniccouture.
To capture their latest prize, the intrepid sound couturists took themselves off to Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in deepest Wiltshire, where they enlisted percussionist Harriet Riley to perform an alarming number of single-note samples on a Yamaha YV3910M vibraphone. As well as sporting a blingy gold satin finish which would catch the eye of Elton John, this particular model's low register extends five semitones lower than a standard three-octave vibraphone.
As with Soniccouture's Grand Marimba, a deep (as in 22 velocity layers), ultra-precise sampling job has yielded a superior, pristine and very playable instrument. The vibraphone's clear, strong, glassy bottom notes support a delightfully transparent middle register and crystalline top end, while the slightly metallic 'ping' of the mallet imparts rhythmic definition without overpowering the inherent warmth of the note sustain. Equally great for melodic, chordal or rhythmic work, such a fabulous timbre should inspire immediate creative activity.
Faced with the perennial challenge of replicating the vibes' trademark tremolo effect, Soniccouture innovated: having deactivated the tremolo, they sampled the vibraphone twice, first with the rotating fans static in their vertical position, then again with the fans in horizontal position. An LFO is used within Kontakt to crossfade continuously between the two sample sets. Result: totally authentic-sounding, adjustable-speed tremolo.
The producers also recorded the vibraphone in 'pedal up' damped mode, nabbing a complete set of ultra-short, bright-sounding hits. While those somewhat 'clinky' multisamples have their uses, you're far more likely to want the full tone and long sustain of the undamped samples; these can be accessed by unchecking the 'Map Sustain to Pedal' box on the GUI.
An interesting sound-design section transforms the raw samples into cavernous, detuned church bell clangs, high glockenspiel-like chimes and floaty, ethereal quasi-bowed sustains. Other vibraphonic delights include classy on-board effects, a potent resonant filter, scarily extensive micro-tuning tables and a nifty beat-matching detune function which replicates the hallucinatory 'shimmer' of Balinese gamelan instruments tuned slightly apart. I also had constructive fun with the 'Phraser' mini-sequencer, which stores and plays back single-line phrases in a variety of musically intelligent ways.
All in all, this is a superb sampled specimen that may well become the yardstick by which sampled vibraphones are judged. Formatted for Kontakt 5 and the free Kontakt Player, Soniccouture Vibraphone is a 15GB, download-only library which compresses down to 7.5GB on your hard drive. Dave Stewart