Sonuscore transform the sounds of the orchestra into cinematic soundscapes.
Sonuscore have carved an enviable reputation for their virtual instruments such as The Orchestra, Action Strings 2 (in collaboration with NI), Elysion and Dark Horizon. These products offer media and film composers a range of orchestral, processed orchestral and non‑orchestral sounds within an innovative and very creative performance engine. Their latest release is Time Textures and, while the underlying sound sources are orchestral in nature, this time the engine is something new, aimed at transforming the sound of the orchestra into evolving, complex soundscapes. So, is it time to add some texture to your Sonuscore composing toolkit?
Under the hood, Time Textures is built from a selection of orchestral string, brass, woodwind, piano and harp sound sources. Samples for each of the 12 main instrument types included feature a number of performance articulations, up to six round‑robin samples and up to five dynamic layers. However, while this sampling architecture might sound like a conventional orchestral instrument, Time Textures’ sound engine brings a number of twists to the sonic plot.
As shown in the screenshot, a Time Texture preset can use either one, or a blend of two, of these underlying sound sources. In the first of those aforementioned novel twists, Sonuscore refer to these two sound slots as ‘sound‑emitting devices’, emitting ‘particles’ at different ‘seeds’. While the documentation doesn’t detail the specifics of how the engine works, I suspect there is some sort of granular synthesis and resampling of the sample base being used during playback.
Over 200 preset patches are provided. This includes categories for Natural (the original orchestral flavour of the sound is more obvious) and Cinematic (more processing and modulation applied), as well as Single (a single sound source) and Couple (a blend of two sound sources). A useful set of character tags — dark, ambient, rhythmic, evolving, magical, etc — let you easily identify the sort of mood you are seeking.
The sound creation process is visualised in real time within the UI, with the sound particles for each of the two emitters being shown in their own X/Y displays. In each case, the X (horizontal) axis shows the left/right pan of each particle, while the Y (vertical) axis indicates the different dynamic layers. The shape used to represent each sound particle reflects the articulation from which the particle is taken, and the engine’s modulation system allows you to control how particles are drawn from the different articulations to shape the sound texture in real time.
The modulation system is perhaps where the second twist in the feature set appears, and it’s a twist in a literal sense as well, given that much of this is linked to the large Macro knob that dominates the centre of the UI’s Main page. By default, this is linked to your hardware’s mod wheel (via CC11, although you can change this to another CC number if you prefer) for hands‑on control. You can link almost any parameter within the engine to this Macro control and the range over which each parameter is mapped is represented by an individually coloured line running around the knob itself. While the engine includes an LFO for each sound emitter slot for further modulation (this can target either an EQ parameter or the overall gain level of the slot), and you can also use automation within your standard DAW for further modulation options, this Macro control is very much the start of Time Textures’ sound evolution show. Pretty much every preset includes several key engine parameters that can be simultaneously modulated via this control.
The key targets for this modulation process lie within the Control tab (the icon with three horizontal faders) and Emitter tab (four circles icon) within the Main page. On the Control page, Dynamic lets you influence which of the sampled dynamic layers sound particles are drawn from during playback, while Movement influences which articulations might be used, with both allowing you to ramp up the intensity of the sound generated at higher values. Octaves adds in sound particles pitched one or two octaves above the note(s) played, while Speed determines the rate at which sound particles are emitted by each slot, changing the density of the resulting sound.
Within the Emitter tab you get Attack Volume, Seed, Note Select, Pan, Spread and Gain controls. The latter three are fairly obvious. Attack Volume provides a means of intensifying the initial attack of the sounds (it’s especially noticeable when playing chords), while Note Select allows you to constrain which pitches within a chord are triggered by each of the two sound slots (so, for example, if you have a Cello patch selected, you could force this to just play the lowest note, or lowest two notes, in any chord). While it can’t be automated, Seed gives you an element of control over the underlying random elements within the sound particle generation process. The effect is generally quite subtle but, if you want to ensure that your Time textures preset is at least going to start at exactly the same sonic point when you open your project, this is apparently the way to do it.
Assigning a parameter to the Macro knob is fairly straightforward, allowing you to specify both the range of mod‑wheel motion over which a parameter is automated, and the range of values for the parameter controlled by the specified mod‑wheel range. Some of the controls are a little on the small side but, once you have got the hang of the various options, the sound‑design potential is considerable.
There are further options within the LFO and FX pages. The former actually contains both a three‑band EQ and an LFO modulator option. All the parameters here can be linked to the Macro knob (so you can add EQ shifts to your sound design) although, as mentioned, the LFO (which offers sine, rectangle, triangle and sawtooth shapes, all with beat‑division tempo sync adjustment) only has a limited number of targets (EQ and gain). The FX section offers separate, send‑based, convolution reverbs for each sound slot, as well as options to define your own bank of four effects based upon Kontakt’s built‑in processors that span dynamics, distortion, modulation, filters, reverb and delay. And, again, individual effects parameters (for example, a filter cutoff/resonance, or overdrive level) can all be linked to the Macro knob for real‑time control.
Even on first pass through the various presets, it’s clear that Time Textures is very well stocked with ethereal, evolving sounds, with plenty of options for creating dreamy, romantic, mysterious, magical or tense soundscape moods. The preset names draw heavily on geology, ecology and biology, and this perhaps reflects the somewhat organic nature of the underlying textures the instrument features. There are presets tagged as distorted or aggressive, but perhaps not in the hyped way an action movie trailer composer might routinely require.
That said, if you are seeking some inspiring textural elements or delicate melodic parts to add to your compositions, Time Textures has some truly wonderful options. And, in almost every case, there are additional beautiful details within the sounds to be revealed by appropriate use of the mod wheel. Whether used on their own in a cue that requires a more minimal underscore, or combined with more conventional orchestral sounds (such as those of Sonuscore’s The Orchestra), Time Textures sounds fabulous.
Sonuscore have done it again; Time Textures is highly recommended.
In use, I would make two additional comments. First, some of the presets do seem to be pretty CPU intensive. In fairness to Sonuscore, they do state this in their marketing material for the instrument. That said, given just how good the sounds are, a little of Time Textures can easily go a long way in a typical cinematic music cue. Second, I’d love to see some additional targets available for the LFO, and perhaps even a step‑based pattern modulation option? The latter may be particularly greedy, but I had a lot of fun adding some further processing to Time Textures’ sounds via Cubase’s FX Modulator plug‑in (in the same ballpark as Output’s Movement or Lunatic Audio’s Narcotic, for example), particularly for creating rhythmic effects.
Time Textures undoubtedly suits a more thoughtful musical context and it’s not designed for crash, bang, wallop cues. And, while it might be somewhat niche in sonic nature, it does a wonderful job of managing to add fabulous orchestral textures to a composition but without just sounding like another conventional orchestral cue. This is both an impressive trick and very inspiring to use.
While the price might put it out of reach of the more casual user, I suspect busy media composers are going to lap it up. Sonuscore have done it again; Time Textures is highly recommended.
Time Textures delivers some beautiful, often delicate, orchestrally-inspired sounds with fabulous sonic details that can be revealed via the powerful macro‑style modulation system. Busy media composers will love it.