Rating: 5/5 Stars
It’s a harp Jim, but not as we know it. In addition to a full‑blown version of that majestic stringed instrument, Toontrack’s latest EZkeys expansion pack features a folky line‑up of ocarina (a simple ceramic flute improbably featured in the Troggs’ ‘Wild Thing’), two harmoniums, a bowed glockenspiel and a Swedish nyckelharpa (a mad‑looking ‘keyed fiddle’, also bowed). These diverse sources are woven together in a set of unique hybrid sounds which include some fabulous electronic textures.
The man responsible for this crazy concoction is Toontrack’s head of sound design Mattias Eklund, whose aim here was to blend the traditional, rustic instruments of his youth with esoteric contemporary scoring elements. In a bid for environmental realism, the producer also recorded squeaking chair and creaking floorboard Foley effects, which can be turned off if you don’t require them. In keeping with the quirky homespun feel, the samples are housed in a mad‑looking, steam‑driven interface straight out of the Heath Robinson design school.
Though the 47‑string concert harp incorporates fewer velocity layers than one might desire, it’s beautifully recorded, highly playable and contains a nice set of delicate harmonics. The excellent harmoniums wheeze out their reassuringly melancholic, reedy tones, while the ocarina and bowed glock add breathy and glassy high‑pitched timbres. My ‘Weirdest In Show’ award goes to the nyckelharpa, a strange contraption which variously sounds like a cello, a violin, an accordion and even a harmonica as you move upward through its pitch range. Though its wiry, sul‑ponticello‑like sustains aren’t exactly easy on the ear, its staccatos and percussive key noises have rhythmic potential.
If you thought the EZkeys range was all about vintage keyboards and acoustic pianos, think again — this imaginative instrumental collection sounds utterly fresh and unclassifiable.
Hybrid Harp’s 53 presets cover an impressive sonic range. Those seeking ambient cinematic atmospheres will enjoy ‘Flowing’ (an awesome, spacious pad combining harp plucks with a high‑octave sustain layer); the ethereal, echoey harp harmonics of ‘Slow Mood’; and ‘Lights In The Sky’, a big, icily regal, unpredictably mutating pad with glacial pitch‑shifted upper octaves. Ticking the ‘TV drama spooky music’ box, ‘Cabin Feel’ melds harmonium key noises with other instruments to form another eerie pad texture, while some unprocessed patches evoke the simpler sound of small pipe organs and Mellotron flutes.
Effects play a big part. Hall, room, plate, spring and reversed reverbs, delay, vintage tape echo and modulation, chorus, vibrato effects, filters and extreme pitch‑shifting transform raw samples into other‑worldy soundscapes, while heavy distortion and manic bit‑crushing effects reach their zenith in the massive ‘Extreme Bass’ patch. Patches load with a few pre‑selected effects in place — you can’t alter the selection, but you can tweak the effect parameters.If you thought the EZkeys range was all about vintage keyboards and acoustic pianos, think again — this imaginative instrumental collection sounds utterly fresh and unclassifiable. Though its specialised nature may limit its appeal, I’m giving Hybrid Harp five stars for originality and inventiveness.