Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
The Balkan spirit has come to your DAW courtesy of Sofia-based Strezov Sampling, a virtual instrument company founded by composer George Strezov. Billing themselves 'by composers for composers', the creators at Strezov have recently garnered positive attention for their powerful and original choral libraries. Their 'The Performers' series seeks to create virtual instruments "focusing on virtuosic musical performances not possible to create with traditional multisampling methods". In practical terms this entails recording compelling phrases and performances and placing them into a sufficiently editable environment.
Mountain Girl is their second offering in this series, featuring folk vocalist Diyana Vasileva, who received this nickname from none other than singer Lisa Gerrard. In order to keep this product from being just a collection of playable phrases, some customisability and creative flexibility had to be included. The phrases are organised according to type and are accessed through the main Kontakt interface (5.7 full version required). Users can mix and match phrases, assigning each performance to a note on their keyboard. Composers can further change the start and stop locations of each phrase, stretch phrases, reverse them and affect their envelope. Each phrase is recorded on each note of the whole tone scale, and also includes a drone bank for instant accompaniment.
There are three microphone positions on this instrument, allowing the user to mix close, Decca and hall mic arrays. Each array can be panned, has a control for stereo width and also individual high-pass and low-pass filters. When a phrase or melody is selected, its notation is displayed in the root key of C. The blue keys in the keyboard view control the standard drone pitch, while the red keys control at which pitch the selected phrase will be played. Finally, there are multicoloured keys in the C3 to G4 region which trigger any of the loaded phrases assigned to each key — custom presets can be easily saved. As the library allows you to access the original samples, interesting new phrases can also be developed using various pitch modification software packages.
Mountain Girl brings the haunting sound of Balkan vocal styles to composers everywhere.
The instrument is ultimately simple, transparent and functional: transitions between phrases are relatively easy to play, while the crossfade between them is generally effective. Composers will find that compelling pseudo-ethnic phrases are quickly arrived at, while Diyana's vocal performances are pristine and compelling. On the whole, it's a useful and fun item to have in one's scoring toolkit. For the price, however, it'd be nice to have a dedicated legato instrument on at least one neutral syllable in addition to the recorded drones, as such instruments can often bridge the gap between the compelling parts of pre-recorded phrases. The instrument would also benefit from an update including more phrases, as the selection here is somewhat slim.
Despite a few shortcomings, Mountain Girl brings the haunting sound of Balkan vocal styles to composers everywhere, and hopefully will serve as the basis for further such efforts straight from the heart of Bulgaria.