Flying Hand Percussion

Virtual Percussion Instrument

Review by Carlos Garza


In part three of our percussion sample library roundup, I review Flying Hand Percussion, a sample library from a California company by the same name.

As the name suggests, this sample library is all about hand played instruments with a focus on drums, small percussion and cinematic sound effects. The product, which I will refer to as “FHP,” aims for, and achieves, extreme realism through extensive variations, advanced programming and subtle details.

Features

The instruments were recorded with microphones from Neumann, Earthworks, Shure and AKG using a Demeter VTMP-2C mic pre. The 40,000+ individual samples are supplied at 24-bit, 44.1 kHz. There are up to 20 velocity layers with four alternate hits each.

Flying Hand Percussion

Flying Hand Percussion

Flying Hand uses the advanced programming features of the Kontakt sample player (sold separately). Keyboard players should note that left and right hand samples are provided in most of the MIDI mappings while electronic percussionists will be interested in the Zendrum MIDI mappings. Up to three mic positions are available. FHP also includes a set of reverb impulses and the Nitro “FHB Edition” filter bank.

So what about the sounds? Included are frame drums, djembe, conga, timbales, bongo cajon, Indian Naal, clay drum, Boomwhackers, plastic bottle, orchestral bass drum, tam tam, shakers, toys, electronic percussion and cinematic effects. Some instruments, like the ashiko allow selection of top-only or top and bottom mic positions.

Full sets with all velocity layers and alternate hits range from several hundred MB up to 1.5GB but smaller versions are available for low-memory computers or quick sketches.

In Use

This past summer I decided to try my hand at writing in various world styles. I’m also writing music for a film with scenes in India and South America. This gave me a chance to use FHP in different musical settings. I installed FHP on a G5 Quad with Kontakt 3, Logic 8 and Mac OS 10.4. I listened with Mackie HR824 and Tannoy PBM-8 monitors.

The gorgeous package — made in Nepal — is your first clue that this is no ordinary sound collection. The DVDs arrive in a hexagonal box with a lid that is fastened by a string around a button. This work of art belies the high tech product inside.

While not the broadest collection of world instruments, there is plenty to like here. The Clay drum samples range from small bright pings to larger thuds with many variations. The kanjira is an Indian drum with bells – a distant relative of the tambourine. It has a strongly ethnic flavor with a loose sounding membrane. For me it worked with Indian and Gypsy musical styles.

The djembe, mutant and “Morphosis” sets were among my favorite. The Boomwhackers and the bongo cajon were perfect for several spy chasing spy scenes that I scored over the summer.

The electronic sounds did not fit into my action score but they may work in other genres. The spooky drones are ready for prime time TV, film and electronic game scores. I loved the hand played bass drum. Why no dumbek?

The larger drums are engaging but less domineering than similar sounds in Quantum Leap’s Storm Drum 2 [reviewed in which issue?] and ProjectSAM’s True Strike Pack [reviewed in which issue?]. Because of this, it turned out that the FHP drums worked better with symphonic arrangements that were already heavy with low strings, synthesizers and massive horns.

I loaded djembe, Naal, bongos and drones and assigned Kontakt 3’s convolution reverb to an auxiliary bus. I then tried several of the impulse responses included with FHP. The large halls are spacious and detailed. It’s a good starter set but no replacement for Apple Logic’s Space Designer.

Using Native Instruments Kontakt as the sample playback host led to some important features in FHP. For example, a “dynamic resonance” control affects drumhead muting and is triggered by how long a slapped note sample is held. A relatively quick release triggers a sample of the head ringing while holding and then releasing triggers a sample of a hand leaving the drumhead.

The Legato Drumming™ uses velocity and duration to liven up the note tails. The results are not always obvious, especially in a fog of reverb with the distant mic set — and it’s not present on every program. However, this non-random addition of sounds like a hand moving on the drumhead adds a realism that I have not heard in any drum library.

Learning to play the instrument sets was easy because the mappings are very intuitive. I really like the idea of symmetrical mapping for two hands on the keyboard. In general, the sounds made from the middle of a drumhead are mirrored around middle C or D and sounds made closer to the edge of the drumhead are placed symmetrically out from there. Separate left and right hand hits with extensive alternate samples make for a very good time indeed.

Summary

The overall sound quality is as good as anything I’ve heard and then some. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into Flying Hand Percussion and the results are impressive.

I know of no other percussion library with as much articulation control. While the underlying functionality is complex, playing the sounds in a realistic way is as easy as, well, playing a drum. I also like having a choice of mic position and ambience.

Flying Hand Percussion is the one to reach for when looking for a unique sound. In a sea of imitators, Flying Hand Percussion is a rare gem.

Fast Facts

Applications: World, pop, jazz, TV, film and game score realization, composing and live performance.
Key Features: 24-bit instrument samples of hand drums, timbales, Boomwhackers, tam tam, shakers, toys, bass drum and effects; Requires Native Instruments Kontakt 2 or 3 sample player, sold separately.
Price: approximately  $259 USD
Contact:  FlyingHandPercussion.com
SONiVOX MI

Product Points

Plus
• High quality recordings
• Convincing realism and variety
• Intuitive MIDI mapping

Minus
• Long load times for large sets
• Compatible only with Kontakt (not included, note, latest version of Kontakt is a free download)

The Score

Flying Hand sets a new bar for sample realism. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was playing real drums. This is an excellent value.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

ProjectSAM True Strike Pack

Review by Carlos Garza


From suspenseful “heartbeats” to creepy scraping and pounding rhythms, no instrument family speaks with as much authority and dynamic range as percussion. In part two of our percussion roundup, we’ll look at a pair of products from a Dutch company known as ProjectSAM.

True Strike  and True Strike 2 — sold together as True Strike Pack — cover a variety of instruments and ensemble sizes. Together they feature orchestral, world, mallet instruments and unique effects for sound designers.

Quantum Leap’s, Storm Drum 2, is a close competitor to True Strike Pack. We’ll compare their features and see if there is a clear winner. This review is part of a percussion library round-up, which also included a look at Flying Hand Percussion. See reviews on this site.

Features

True Strike includes 51 instruments and requires 17 GB of space. TS2 has 59 instruments and needs 14 GB. The 24-bit, 44.1 kHz products are delivered on DVD-ROM and are integrated with the free Kontakt player.

ProjectSAM True Strike

TS focuses on symphonic instruments with timpani, gran casa ensemble, toms, snares, cymbals, tams, thunder plate and brakes. The melodic instruments include marimba, xylophone, vibes, glockenspiel, celesta and a handful of ethnic crossover instruments. Samples were recorded with close range, stage and large hall ambience.

TS2 adds percussion effects, bowed cymbals and vibes, 7 Asian instruments, including taiko, Turkish, European and over 20 African instruments. Samples were created with close mics and either room or stage ambience. The Cimbalom and prepared piano are a unique bonus.

In Use

In January of 2010, the True Strike products were re-released, dropping integration with several previously supported players to focus on the free Kontakt player (screen shot below).  The move is described as a win-win.  While allowing ProjectSAM to focus their development and support efforts, the move reportedly improves round-robin alternation, navigation, streamlines ADSR control and provides better reporting of articulation features.  See also the review of Flying Hand Percussion on this site, which makes extensive use of scripting features in Kontakt.

The EXS-24 version that I tested in 2009 uses the same sample set as the re-released product. I tested under Logic Pro with Mac OS 10.5 and listened critically on Mackie HR824 and Tannoy PBM-8 monitors.

I tested both sets in an action film score I’m composing. I found the toms and bass drum ensembles blended perfectly with strings and brass from Vienna Symphonic Library. I could have chosen to place all the virtual instruments in the same ambience by using the TS close mic samples with Logic’s convolution reverb but the stage ambience of the TS samples was too good to pass up.

The bass drum is stunning. These massive “thwacks” are detailed and expressive and the softer sounds are sublime. Concert bass drums can sometimes be unwieldy in a dense mix due to overtones and long decay. Thankfully, the tasteful producers at ProjectSAM have crafted a modern sound that works exceptionally well in dramatic symphonic works.

True Strike 2 with Kontakt Player

TS has an excellent collection of snare drums, including a thin concert, a deeper drum and the field drum, which gave my action cues that “official” military sound. The swells in the snare ensemble are wide and detailed.

I had mixed feelings about the mallet instruments. The marimba with stage mics and full hall is spot-on but I wanted more tonal variety — soft and medium mallets, for example. The vibes in TS are useful but the damper sound, while realistic, is present enough to be noticeable when soloed. On the other hand, the bowed vibes in TS2 are wonderfully eerie and the effects sounds and prepared piano are great for suspense cues.

The U.S. company, Quantum Leap, set the standard for thundering ensemble samples in their original Storm Drum 1 product. Naturally, the 24-bit thundering ensembles in TS2 (and the new SD2) have a greater depth and clarity than the 16-bit SD1. ProjectSAM has their own take on the concept and these sounds are perfect for creature features, action game scores and dramatic pop productions.

ProjectSAM also did an excellent job of capturing the nuances in African and Turkish drums. In fact, there is enough variety to make a convincing performance – not always the case in world instrument samples (and never in keyboards). The mind-bending timpani effects will work in game, TV and film scores and contemporary concert works.

As with any sample library, there is a learning curve for playing the instrument. Once you get used to where the single hits, flams and rolls are, you can quickly create a great sounding track. A small gripe with True Strike is the mapping of some non-pitched sounds to a single MIDI note. This is fine for a drum pad but not so great for keyboard triggering. It would be nice, for example to have the four toms available an octave or two apart with left and right hand samples.

These minor negatives do not diminish the overall product value. Using these drums in a compositional setting really paid off for me. The sounds are very musical and composing with them is effortless.

So how does the True Strike Pack compare to Storm Drum 2? The recording quality is excellent in both products. I loved the stage ambience in the TS drums, especially the concert toms and bass drums. It’s a beautiful sound that shines in spare arrangements.

SD2 has more sound effects but there is no redundancy between the two and if you are serious about effects percussion and large ensembles you’ll want the TS Pack and SD2 in your arsenal. TS covers the contemporary symphony very well but SD2 adds royalty free MIDI tracks. TS Pack integrates with your favorite sample player software while SD2 uses the proprietary Play engine.

Summary

The detailed 24-bit recordings and spacious ambiance make these sounds come alive. I found that the recording clarity really helps in a dense mix and the snare roll crescendos made me feel like the drum was being played right in front of me (kind of scary actually). Some alternate sample mappings would help with certain playing styles but this is an inspiring world-class collection in any case.

This is also a versatile collection. The dystopian sounds and range of ethnic percussion make True Strike 2 a valuable resource for film and video game sound designers. Some of Hollywood’s top composers are using True Strike and it’s easy to see why. This is an awesome product.

Fast Facts

Applications:  TV, film and electronic game scoring, pop production, contemporary orchestral realization, arranging and music education.

Key Features:  24-bit symphonic, world and effects percussion samples. Compatible with major sample players for Windows and Mac OS.

US Prices approx.   USD $399 each or $799 for True Strike Pack

Contact: Project SAM + 31-30-2314500, www.ProjectSAM.com, info@projectsam.com; Available in the US from:  HouseofSamples.com West L.A. Music (www.westlamusic.com)

Product Points

Plus
• Great sound quality
• Beautiful hall ambience
• Compatible with major sample player apps

Minus
• Keyboard mappings could be expanded
• Greater mallet variety needed

The Score

True Strike Pack offers pristine audio quality in a reliably useful collection. The recent price drops make this a great buy.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Quantum Leap Stormdrum 2

Review by Carlos Garza


Quantum Leap set the bar in 2004 with the original 16-bit Storm Drum product. If you wanted bombastic samples for action films, games or that “Peter Gabriel” drum sound, SD1 was it. Fast forward to 2008 and Stormdrum 2 brings a range of improvements, including 24-bit samples and 100 MIDI rhythm tracks.

This is the first in a series of percussion library reviews. Future reviews will look at ProjectSAM’s True Strike set, also aimed at TV/film and electronic game scoring. We will also look at FlyingHand Percussion, a set that uses the advanced programming features of the Native Instruments Kontakt player for subtle articulation control.

Storm Drum 2

Storm Drum 2

Features

Over 12GB of new samples, with the exception of the Metallica “Black” drum kit from Ministry of Rock. The drums were recorded at the new EASTWEST Studio 1 (formally United-Western). Quantum Leap reports that SD2 was recorded using vintage Neumann mics and Meitner A/D converters.

Included are toms, cymbals, kits, ethnic metals, small gongs, waterphone, spring drums, brake drums, a metal bridge and whale drum. There are ethnic drums, such as custom congas and bongos, Indonesian bongos, Malaysian djembe, Nepalese two-headed drum, Dholak, timbales, udu. There are rhythmically “glitched” drones, ambient low sounds, “Godzilla Hits,” “psychotic” effects, swooshes, stutters, clicks, clangs and “Rumpfs.”

SD2 expands on the ensemble samples that were the hallmark of SD1. Producer, Nick Phoenix explains, “SD1 had a cool patch called ‘Thunder Ensemble’. This was six musicians hitting large drums in unison in a warehouse. SD2 has the ‘Earthquake Ensemble’, which is eleven musicians hitting huge, large and sometimes smaller drums in unison in EASTWEST studio 1.”

SD2 uses the proprietary 64-bit Play engine rather than third party plug-in players. The Play interface includes convolution reverb, delay and disk streaming management. Wideness can be minimized for precise sound placement and the 64-bit architecture is compatible with 32-bit operating systems.

Play offers a stand-alone functionality and is compatible with VST, ASIO and DirectSound on Windows and VST, Audio Units and Core Audio on Mac OS. Copy protection requires an iLok security key.  Recommended configuration includes a DVD drive, Core 2 Duo, 2.5 GHz or faster, 2 to 4GB RAM and XP SP2, Vista or Mac OS 10.4 or later.

In Use

The installation was glitch-free on my Mac OS 10.5 desktop.  One thing to note is the iLok security key requirement, which makes the set a little less convenient for mobile rigs.

SD2 packs a wallop where it counts, big dramatic drums. I’m sure these sounds are going to show up in role-playing shooter games and heart pounding, escape-from-who-knows-what movies. Among the stand-outs are the “Beast” (a custom 42” Remo tom), Nagado, taikos and the Tong Zi drums.

There are also lighter sounds like the stick hits on the Chinese Kettle drum, the darbuka, dholak and some acoustic chirps called, “Ticki Ticki,” which would be right at home in a percolating action-adventure groove.

The MIDI performances focus on driving rhythms for action scoring with a smattering of neutral and exotic grooves. Each MIDI file comes with an associated multi-patch — up to 16 individual patches. You’ll find well-named beats like, “Malicious Hordes,” “Rampant Carnage,” and “Chasing the Devil” that show off the amazing power of these sounds.

The MIDI tracks reveal a strong collection of rock drum sounds, large dramatic drums and a unique collection of effects percussion. Imagine rock drums with a bleating Chinese noisemaker, “clanking ambient contortion,” Persian castanets and a set called, “radiostatic anomaly.” Cue the black helicopters — this is not a home organ beat box!

The taiko drums are beautiful, especially the ambient Dynasty set. The toms have a very clear sound – great for rock tracks and scoring but the close mic and stick sound makes them less suited for classical arrangements.

sd2_t

Storm Drum 2

If you use Play as a multitimbral plug-in, your DAW channel effects will apply to all the drums. No worries, Play includes its own filter, effects and panning controls for each MIDI channel. There are plenty of sound shaping options, including a reverb section with enough variety to cover any genre.

The built-in effects include a delay, a panning controller, volume and an ADSR for each channel. I found the filter useful for taming the stick sound in the toms and it’s mapped to the mod wheel so you can tweak it as you play or store your favorite setting in the patch.

Of course, you can load one Play instance for each sound and use your own channel strip plug-ins. I’m happy to report that SD2 plays well with others, particularly driving guitars, synths and symphonic brass. The thundering ensemble drums really “super sized” an action film score I’m working on.

The cool thing is that you don’t need a huge number of tracks to get a big sound. A simple arrangement with just a few tracks of SD2 sounds like you rented a Hollywood scoring stage and a small army of drummers. In fact, when I started working on this review I thought SD2 would be perfect for the Terminator 4 score. Apparently composer Danny Elfman felt the same way. Cue the DUH-dum-dum-duh-DUM riff.

The patch collections open up new ways to get a pro sound very quickly. Among the unique sound sets are Ambient Largeness and the Rumpfs. Are you on a tight schedule and need to punctuate the end of a scene? You need a Rumpf, my friend. It goes… “Whoosh…boom.” It’s an amazingly quick way to drop in a polished impact and they come in all shapes and sizes.

There are fresh glitch sounds (that’s a good thing) and blips in the ‘Fuzzbox” set; subtle and hip percussive sounds to keep a pulse going. The many sound design elements include swooshes and “stutter makers,” Asian percussion, such a Vietnamese wooden mallet instrument, Devil Chasers, bamboo sticks and for you Planet of the Apes fans, the angklung.

The congas and bongos are versatile but the sampled nature would be less apparent with more alternating samples, especially when soloed. The mapping works well for keyboard controllers with similar samples across five adjacent white keys. However, the three-octave jump between low and high bongos and four octaves between the congas gave me a workout. Some instruments have mappings for Zendrum but I was not able to test these.

Also reviewed on this site are True Strike Pack and Flying Hand Percussion — related products from other companies. If you have the budget, I would consider owning all three products.  There is less duplication between SD2 and TS Pack than I expected and Flying Hand Percussion is a one-of-a-kind product. TS Pack includes symphonic percussion instruments but SD2 is much stronger in the effects percussion and sound design elements.  Both sets include excellent large ensembles with SD2 offering more options in this category. Both have strong collections of world drums. See the other reviews for details.

Summary

SD2 reflects East West and Quantum Leap’s vast experience in developing professional sample libraries. It’s a thorough collection and the sound quality is flawless. If you need powerful drums, deep atmospherics and some no-nonsense grooves to get your production started, SD2 is a must. If history repeats itself, these fresh sounds are going to be with us for many years.

Fast Facts

Applications:  TV, film, game, rock & ethnic music arrangement; education

Key Features:  24-bit percussion samples including studio kits, ethnic drums and metals, sound design percussion, royalty free MIDI performances

US Prices: $395 list (approximately $350 on the street)

Contact: EASTWEST, www.soundsonline.com

Product Points
Plus
• High quality recordings
• Unique monster hits
• Versatile collection
• Useful rhythm patterns

Minus
• iLok security (key not included)

The Score

Stormdrum 2 is an outstanding and quite versatile collection. Well priced and an excellent value.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Apple Logic Pro 7

Apple Digital Audio Workstation Software

Review by Carlos Garza
Originally Published in Pro Audio Review


Apple’s professional digital audio and MIDI production environment has been updated with new sounds and a new look.  As with other Apple offerings, it is available in both Pro and Express editions.

Both versions of the program integrate digital audio and MIDI recording with software synthesis, sample playback and notation.  With version 7, the improvements include user interface, workflow enhancements, new instruments and effects and, with 7 Pro, distributed processing for networked Macs.

Both products retain their previous list prices of US $999 for Logic Pro and $299 for Logic Express.  Upgrades from previous versions are available and a $19.95 upgrade from Logic Pro 7.0 to 7.1 was recently released.  This review will focus on the features of Logic Pro. 7.0

Logic Pro 7

Logic Pro 7

Features

The core of Logic’s flexible environment is the Arrange window, where recorded regions are visualized and where most editing takes place. MIDI and audio can be edited side-by-side in the Arrange window or in dedicated editing windows. Logic has extensive formatting features for notation printing. Logic incorporates synchronized playback of QuickTime video formats including playback to FireWire devices.

Logic Pro 7 includes four new software instruments. Pro 7.1 adds an additional pair of hybrid synth instruments. Sculpture, a component-modeling synthesizer, simulates the physical properties of acoustic instruments. Models starting with strings or woodwinds are modified by selecting materials, such as steel, nylon, wood or glass. Software “Exciters” are added to the model to modify the sound based on how a sound is actuated — picking, blowing or bowing, for example.

Ultrabeat is designed after the drum machines that were popular in the 1980’s. Sounds are generated through sample playback, virtual analog synthesis and FM for bass sounds. Ultrabeat is capable of 25 voices and incorporates filtering and distortion effects along with swing and human factors quantization. The 7.1 upgrade adds the ability to export patterns from the drum machine to the Arrange window.

Both products include EFM1, a software based FM synthesizer, and a set of instruments from GarageBand. Some of the Apple Loops provided with GarageBand incorporate the original MIDI note information in addition to the segmented sound data. Dropping this type of loop onto a MIDI track allows substitution of the loop segments with new sounds. GarageBand songs can be imported into Logic.

There are several new audio processing plug-ins, including Guitar Amp Pro, a plug-in incorporating tube amplifier and speaker emulations for electric guitar. Pro 7.1 adds a Bass Amp plug-in.  Ringshifter combines a ring modulator circuit with a frequency shifter. The Vocal Transformer separates fundamental frequency from its overtones allowing male-to-female and female-to-male voice changes.

The Pitch Correction plug-in takes a monophonic sound source and enforces pitch conformance to a musical scale with adjustable tuning.  Using an extremely fast setting creates something akin to Cher’s “Believe” effect.

The 7.1 upgrade includes plug-in delay compensation for native plug-ins, support for nine additional control surfaces and a number of performance and workflow enhancements.

The Distributed Audio Processing capability now lets users supplement the CPU resources of a G4 workstation or a PowerBook with the resources of additional networked G4 and G5 machines.  The user picks a lower powered machine as the workstation and then enables distributed processing for plug-ins on selected tracks.  Audio is routed through the Gigabit Ethernet port to the node machines for plug-in processing and routed back to the workstation host for mixing.

Among the workflow improvements is the ability to import audio from Final Cut Pro with XML metadata describing placement of audio clips on the time line.  Logic 7 can detect movie cuts to place markers in the global tracks, import QuickTime movie soundtracks and insert soundtracks in existing QuickTime files.

Interoperability with other DAW applications is expanded through support for Advanced Authoring Format (AAF), which includes information on the placement of audio files in the project.  Bouncing to AAC is now supported along with enhanced ID3 tag editing for bounced MP3 files.

The Arrange window has been enhanced with several new editing modes.  Control of the shuffle and snap modes is available at the top of the Arrange window.  A new cross fade mode automatically fades between regions that overlap on the same track.  A track solo feature is now available in the Arrange window.  While previous versions had a single Autoload (template) song, users can now pick from a set of templates predefined for various project types.

Logic Express 7 has the same visual workspace as Logic 7 Pro and includes 26 software instruments and more than 40 effects plug-ins.  The software instruments include the EXSP24 sample playback engine with a modest sample library, a variety of software synths including analog and FM emulations.  Effects include a preset version of the Multipressor multi-band compression, Guitar Amp, pitch and time effects, reverbs and supports audio resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz and QuickTime synchronization.  Logic Pro 7 supports audio resolutions up to 24-bit/192Khz.

In Use

I tested Logic 7 Pro on a G4 dual 1 GHz under OS X v10.3.7.  The audio interface was a Digidesign 96 I/O going into a Pro Tools HD|1 card.  I monitored through a pair of Mackie HR824s.

I found that Logic pro offers a number of improvements in both the “getting started” stage of a project and the polishing stage.  GarageBand instruments make a nice starting point for sketching out arrangements.  Rather than spending valuable time sifting through hundreds of sounds or hundreds of parameter settings, with the GarageBand instruments you just pick the instrument family and perhaps tweak a few basic settings and you’re making music.  And yes, they sound nice.

The new filmstrip in the Global Tracks is far easier than the older thumbnail tracks.  The improved ability to edit tempo changes graphically against the bar lines and filmstrip was a huge timesaver for me in matching hits to video events.  A lot of my film music uses odd meters to help me line up cues and hits.  Seeing the meter in the Global Track along with the filmstrip was very handy.

The main thing that distinguishes Logic Pro 7 from other professional tools is the sheer number of musically useful instrument sounds that are incorporated.  Anyone looking to Logic 7 for sound design features will be in audio heaven.

The first stop for sound designers is Sculpture.  The random tremolos and otherworldly breath effects make these sounds come alive.  The accelerating and decelerating tremolos are very tempting.  Imagine a plucked string instrument with the attack of a coin rolling on the table or a bouncing ball.  The edgier sounds based on breath models are well suited to film score and alternative music.

I set out to explore the different ways of using Logic as a composition tool.  For example, what if I want to approach writing songs like I did in the 80’s, using a drum machine and a keyboard?  Logic gives you a number of drum and keyboards options that would work in rock, pop, hip hop or electronica.  Ultrabeat has a variety of acoustic and electronic kits.  A word of warning, the ultra low kick drum sounds in the electronic kits will seriously rattle your speakers.

Support for Apple Loops has been expanded to allow more flexibility in importing GarageBand songs into Logic.  However, you can just as easily start in Logic.  I found a jazz/rock drumbeat that worked well with a reggae bass line loop.  But it needed some electric guitar.  So, I turned to Guitar Amp Pro.

Most of the preconfigured settings work fine but you will want to tweak things to work with your guitar and playing style.  The crunchy Woodstock setting put some meat on my Strat copy and enough bite to cut through the swirling electric piano part I had going on the EVP88.

Next, I ramped up an instance of the EVB3 organ emulation.  The “Whiter Shade of Pale” sound would have been perfect in the right setting.  In my case, a grittier sound was needed and EVB3 came through with some excellent sounds.

The Apple Loops drum beat that I picked worked well with the GarageBand fretless bass.  The gritty EVB3 organ and the edge from Guitar Amp Pro made the mix more authentic and much less “MIDI band”-like.  And all of this without waking the kids.

Summary

There are enough sound making and shaping tools in Logic 7 Pro to keep an army of sound designers employed for years to come.  The Space Designer convolution reverb and the EVOC vocoder continue to amaze me.

The workflow enhancements from Garageband song file imports to environment templates make this the user-friendliest version of Logic yet.  The new Arrange Window settings for region placement and crossfading of audio regions make for more efficient editing.

I realize that some may find the price tag of Logic 7 Pro a bit on the high side but I can’t say it’s over priced.  It’s actually a bargain when you consider the extensive features for sequencing, high-resolution audio recording, notation and video synchronization.  I had no trouble on a G4 Mac but if you like to use a lot of plug-ins and a lot of tracks you should consider a G5.

Logic has matured into a very productive and versatile environment.  Logic 7 Pro offers a wealth of features that will be useful to composers, musicians and arrangers.  Both products are a great way to awaken your music and sound design creativity.

Carlos Garza is a film composer who produces and engineers film scores for broadcast and DVD and is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2007 Carlos Garza

Rarefaction – A Poke in the Ear with a Sharp Stick

Review by Carlos Garza

Originally Published in Pro Audio Review
Sound Design Tools Roundup


This review examines three sound libraries designed for postproduction and multimedia effects and three libraries that have roughly equal value for dramatic sound design and contemporary music production.

The “Poke in the Ear…” series has been around for around for more than 10 years and includes three volumes of CD-ROM audio files, an audio CD compiled from volumes 1 and 2 and an AKAI S1000 disc compiled from all three volumes. I purchased an audio CD version 10 years ago and it has remained a favorite of mine. While the company is not producing new titles, they still offer all sets mentioned above. The S1000 disc is the subject of this review.

I tested “A Poke in the Ear…” with an Akai S2000 sampler and Logic 7. In the latter case, I used the AKAI convert feature of EXS-24 to import programs and samples from the disc. Any DAW sampler engine or hardware sample player that supports the AKAI sample format should be capable of loading the set.

A Poke in the Ear with a Sharp Stick

A Poke in the Ear with a Sharp Stick

The sounds are grouped into percussive, metallic, “melodics,” environmental ambient, complex hits, machines, rhythm loops and voice. Most of the percussive programs are set up with each sample (mono or stereo) mapped to one MIDI note. The “melodics” have each sample spread across one or more octaves. The remaining programs have their samples spread across a major fifth (8 keys).

While working through the 1200 sounds can take some time, especially on a hardware sample player, the ability to play many of the sounds across the range of a keyboard makes for an efficient workflow. I found the EXS-24 graphical editor a valuable resource in the absence of key mapping documentation.

The set is not about musical instruments per se, but a few are included. The Syrian Tambourine is well recorded and features a variety of playing styles. However, the basic hits appear with only a single sample, which would lead to the “dreaded machine gun” effect if played repeatedly. Note that none of the programs use velocity layers or filtering. The other percussive sounds include large containers, bottles, jars, glass items, springs and a Slinky. There are some very useful and unusual percussion sounds here.

The “tails” programs use a succession of sounds to build a sound phrase. One of my favorites is a sample called “Fever Dream.” I used the sound in a short horror film that I scored with Silent Orchestra, called Grave Consequences. The eerie dissonant high tones build to a high pitch rattle before resolving into monstrous breathing. “Poke” has quite a few sounds like this that work well in a musical track, especially a film score.

Remember the sound a buzzing ruler on a desktop? It’s here in living stereo. Need the sound of adhesive tape being stretched and smacked? It’s here. Some of these sounds could work as Foley but the intention is to explore the sonic possibilities rather than common sounds.

There are alien boings, whooshes and ambient soundscapes. The “cyberdoom” sounds include both hits and fade-ups — mostly metallic. Some of my favorites include the sounds of heavy things being dragged and abused, something that sounds like a chain saw from hell, low pulsing and throbbing sounds, squeaky wheels, glass cutting, electronic glitches and a few demonic voices.

The rhythmic loops offer a lot of musical possibilities and some very unusual sounds combined into mechanical, world beats and out-of-this-world beats. It would be nice to have these in Garage Band or Acid format.

This product lives up to its name with some very intense sounds. The metallic shrieks could be at home at just the right scene of a horror film or as background for a mechanical underwater disaster (think Poseidon). If you are looking for unobtrusive drones and beds, you’ve come to the wrong medieval castle. While there are a few drones, and some with low frequency effects the majority of this set is in your face (or ear).

The “Pokes” sounds can be used for industrial rock, and sound design for sci-fi, horror, suspense, action adventure TV, films and games. If you are looking for things that go bump in the night, you will be hard pressed to find sounds this interesting for $29.95. Other formats are available for $49.95. Don’t let its age fool you. A Poke in the Ear still has some sharp teeth.


Carlos Garza composes music for films.  His work has been heard on Image Entertainment DVDs, Turner Classic Movies and the National Gallery of Art.  He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review. All of the products reviewed in this article are offered by their respective manufacturers with a one-time purchase fee and no additional usage fees.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Digital Juice Sound FX Library (SFL)

Review by Carlos Garza


This is a general-purpose library of general purpose, human and musical sound effects. The library is distributed on seven DVD-ROM discs, plus a single disc with 1.5 GB of previews in 128 kbps MP3 format. The library itself is provided at 24-bit/96 kHz resolution and would require 55 GB to stored on-line.

SFL includes a software application, appropriately named, “Juicer” that provides browsing, searching and sample preparation. Installation of the complete library at full resolution (55 GB) is unnecessary because of Juicer’s semi-automated batch processing. I didn’t mind loading in the appropriate DVDs when Juicer prompted me because at this point I don’t have 55 GB to spare on my hard drives.

Digital Juice SoundFX

Digital Juice SoundFX

Juicer Audio 3.02 was tested for this review on an Apple G5 Quad running OS 10.4.8. Requirements include a DVD-ROM drive, 256 MB RAM, 1.5GB for previews, Apple QuickTime version 5.0.2 or later, Mac OS10.3.9 or later, Windows 2000 or XP, DirectX8 or later.

Sound FX Library includes 11,500 clips divided into 170 categories. The set includes voice actors and musical logos in addition to Foley and sound effects. The general effects include ambience, animals, crashes, explosions, Foley, horror, household, impacts, office, sci-fi, technology, weapons and weather. The human effects include men, women and children. The topics include exclamations, business, commercial phrases, questions, police, reactions, telephone systems, states, occasions and numbers.

The noise effects include alarms, ascends, beds, beeps, bells, blasts, buttons, computer, descends, distortions, drones, evolvers, feedbacks, filters, hits, lasers, LFE, liquids, fly-bys, kicks and lasers, sci-fi elements, stabs, whooshes and more.

The Musical FX section includes short phrases of electric bass, flute, guitar, organ, percussion, sax, trombone and trumpet. Also included are musical “logos” broken out as: acoustic, comedy, corporate, electronic, jazz, new age, news, orchestral, pop, rock, sports, urban and world. There are sets of related cues organized as acoustic, corporate, jazz, orchestra, rock and urban and longer pieces, or “textures.”

The strength of this product is in the general sound effects and human recordings. These are both well recorded and versatile. It’s hard to imagine what is missing. The animal set is reasonable but not exhaustive. There are four types of dogs, for example. The dinosaur sounds — some made from real animals – are impressive. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park.

There are 328 basic Foley sounds and another 146 just for footsteps. There are rivers, waterfalls, things falling in water, office sounds, sports. By the way, the golf swing makes a nice whoosh that would work in a fighting game. Speaking of which, there are 237 weapons by brand name and bullets going into different surfaces.

The weather sounds held my interest. Thunder is sometimes called “lightning” but it sounds great. The big Hollywood-style explosions would sound at home in a film of any budget. These are BIG sounds. I mean it. There’s even an atomic blast. Where did they get that?

The human sounds are also quite useful for anyone making commercials or corporate sound design, such as telephone systems. The adult voice actors are professional sounding and there are enough words and phrases to make a variety of announcements and commercials.

The strongest musical elements are the acoustic, corporate and orchestral. The rock elements lean towards the heavy side but are very convincing. A bit more variety in the guitar tone and playing styles would help the overall usability. I really liked the orchestral transitions and the variety of moods makes this a go-to set. There are some gems in the electronic and pop logos as well. I can easily hear these used in professional and academic productions for TV and stage.

Juicer’s keyword-searchable index is handy to use but does not always respond as expected. For example, searching for “air” returns plenty of air-based sound effects but also returns “folding chairs” and “scissors cutting hair.” Searching for “boom” or “bang” does not return any of the excellent explosions in the general effects class.

The idea of using an integrated browser is a step in the right direction but it would be nice if users could add their own topic areas, ratings and bookmarks. I found the organization and preview features quite valuable when going through a library of this size. Playing samples and adding them to a batch for extraction is simple.

I noticed only small problems with the interface. The track ball on my Mighty Mouse works in reverse on the left-right volume control. Vertical scrolling works fine, as does clicking on the volume control and dragging it.

On the down side, Juicer cannot be used to browse libraries from other manufacturers and searching is apparently text based rather than semantic. Nonetheless, the effects are excellent and the sound quality is stunning. This is a well thought out set with applications in sound design for film, TV, interactive web sites, theater productions and game creation. The music cues and dialog clips are applicable to corporate, academic and commercial productions.

Digital Juice Sound FX Library is a versatile collection, sounds great and was the easiest to navigate of all the sets I auditioned.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Hollywood Edge The Premiere Edition 7

Sound Effects Library

Review by Carlos Garza

At one time, nearly all composers used pencil and paper while sound designers worked with a mic, tape recorder and splicing block. While that approach clearly still works, today you are just as likely to see both at a computer — trading the pencil and razor blade for a MIDI keyboard and mouse.

This review examines three sound libraries designed for postproduction and multimedia effects and three libraries that have roughly equal value for dramatic sound design and contemporary music production.

All of the products reviewed in this article are offered by their respective manufacturers with a one-time purchase fee and no additional usage fees.

The product includes 10 audio CDs with additional 16-bit, 48 kHz WAV file copies on two DVD-ROMs totaling 1932 sounds (around 1150 files) and using approximately 7.7 GB at 48 kHz.

Premiere Edition 7

Premiere Edition 7

The 10-disc set includes three discs with automobile sounds from sedans, muscle cars, an MG B, SUVs and trucks; four discs of urban ambiences including traffic backgrounds, city backgrounds, construction, train station, retail and services backgrounds; and three discs with footsteps, laughter, child vocals, wind, water, mud, animals, doors, buttons, Foley and medical sounds.

Except for the occasional vintage sound, most of the recordings are clean and accurate. The engine sounds and car doors packed plenty of punch on my Mackie HR824 monitors. I was surprised by the variety and distinction in the auto sounds and the use of stereo. There is a good variety of auto and truck engines in various states or operation – starting, driving and coming to a stop.

The car sounds include tires squealing, horns and highway sounds at various speeds. Also included are hoods closing, power windows, wipers, shifting and dashboard items. Road ambiences were captured in rain, snow, potholes and other road hazards.

The traffic backgrounds tend towards urban settings with several New York scenes in heavy and light traffic. Some traffic backgrounds are listed as London, Paris, an Iranian city and a convincing “early 1900’s street scene.” The settings are well covered but some of the wet road and slush traffic is accompanied by human sounds.

The track listings on the disc sleeves offer simple descriptions, such as “start” whereas the Excel, PDF and text catalogs delivered on the DVD offer details such as, “Engine Problems: automotive starter motor, no start.” At the time of this writing, the CD track descriptions had not been submitted to Gracenote’s CDDB so software CD players, such as iTunes, show nothing more than “track 01” etc.

The construction sounds include a John Deere 750, air compressors, pumps, cement mixer, pneumatic hammers, chainsaws and distant blasting. There are some gems in the squeaky and slurping machine rhythms, which sound like music to me (hint).

The Foley includes footsteps on dirt, gravel, snow, sand and leaves, individuals and groups of two and more people running and lots of laughing. The child sounds are also well represented from younger kids to teens and most are believable, including the screams. However, some of the child dialog tracks are idiosyncratic and less versatile, such as the Spanish counting sequence.

There are a few “vintage” laugh tracks, which appear to be mono and lower fidelity. Most of the newer tracks have big separation and range from small groups to large groups and “slowly getting the joke laughs” to full hysteria. Many useful tracks here.

The wind sounds range from narrow to wide and spooky to peaceful. The water is almost entirely ocean shore-based and ranges from light “lapping on rocks with gulls” to an assault of pounding waves. There are no creeks, rivers or waterfalls but the bubbling lava from Yellowstone would be perfect in a dinosaur film.

The train station backgrounds have the best balance of atmosphere and unobtrusiveness. The school and restaurant backgrounds are even and consistently background (i.e., not too many sounds that would jump out inappropriately in your production).

The animals include seagulls, sea lions, Beluga whales, Galapagos seal calls, dolphins, squirrels, chimps, fruit bats, rats and lions. The Beluga vocals and blowing sounds are excellent for creature design. A few of the samples contain ambience and occasional human sounds. Track notes indicate the recording location (not always in the wild).

The door samples include sliding, revolving, swinging varieties as well as garage doors, prison doors and a very intense large stone door. The same disc has a number of interesting switches, including an excellent set of televisions and radios. The medical effects include dentist office sounds, ICUs, heart monitors and other hospital sounds, such as a gurney and a newborn baby cry.

It’s clear that a lot of time and care went into making this set. The categories provided are covered exhaustively and other parts of the Premiere Edition series presumably complement the categories. If you are looking for the real world, this set is a great place to start.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library Glass and Stones

Review by Carlos Garza

Originally published in Pro Audio Review


Provided on one DVD-ROM with 4.4 GB of samples at 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Glass and Stones includes glass harmonica, musical glasses, verrophone and lithophone. The EXS24 versions were tested with Logic 7 and HR824 monitors.

VSL Horizon Glass and Stones

VSL Horizon Glass and Stones

The glass harmonica includes portamento, sustained and half-step trill articulations played with fingers and short notes glissandos played with mallets. The articulations for musical glasses include staccato, sustained, tremolo and a half-step trill.

The verrophone is a set of glass tubes of different lengths mounted in a wooden stand. The tubes resonate at specific pitches, eliminating the need for water tuning. Verrophone samples are finger played with staccato and portato, sustained notes, tremolos and half-step trills. It’s also played with mallets in several variations including trills and glissandos.

A lithophone is a natural or man-made instrument made of stone. VSL recorded a lithophone constructed with marimba-like bars and resonators. The VSL lithophone program offers a variety of playing techniques, including soft, medium and hard mallets, fingers, fingernails, stones and a bow. There are single notes, mutes and tremolos.

The fingered verrophone has an almost vibes-like quality, especially the tremolo version. The lowest notes seemed very thick until I softened the throbbing fundamental and exposed the high frequency shimmer with an equalizer. The mallet glissandos on the verrophone have a mysterious quality that comes from both the whole tone-like scale and the sound, while the chromatic trills come across as a more metallic take on the angklung (see FX Percussion).

Most of the lithophone articulations remind me of a marimba but are different enough to be distinctive. The low end is very warm and comforting. I lengthened the attack of a soft mallet instrument and, when the lowest notes were played with a slow pitch bend, it sounded like a large sea animal. There are plenty of unexpected sounds in the lithophone effects but my favorite is the bowed low-end sound.

The forte samples of the glass harmonica have an edgy quality. The standard versions are designed to use less RAM but are suitable for general use. I found the versions with separate release triggered samples the most captivating and least “synth like.” For completely “out of this world,” try volume-fading chords or note clusters on the half-step trill sounds. Then throw in a pitch bend. Spooky stuff.

Although the focus of this review is sound design, I have to add that the Glass and Stones set has many musical possibilities. The sustained glass harmonica can serve as an organic cousin of the Theremin. Less electronic but just as haunting. Designing a sound for friendly aliens or the spirit world? You might want to check out these sounds.

(2) 2006 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library FX Percussion

Sound Design Tools for Effects and Music
By Carlos Garza


At one time, nearly all composers used pencil and paper while sound designers worked with a mic, tape recorder and splicing block. While that approach clearly still works, today you are just as likely to see both at a computer — trading the pencil and razor blade for a MIDI keyboard and mouse.

This review examines three sound libraries designed for postproduction and multimedia effects and three libraries that have roughly equal value for dramatic sound design and contemporary music production.

All of the products reviewed in this article are offered by their respective manufacturers with a one-time purchase fee and no additional usage fees.

VSL FX Percussion

VSL FX Percussion

This sampler library is part of VSL’s Horizon series of orchestral sound libraries. It includes musical instruments and acoustic effects devices used in the symphony orchestra and around the world.

The set includes an angklung, bell tree, boobams (drums), brake disks & springs, bull roarer, Burmese bells, car horns, castanets, chimes, claves, cuica, exotic gongs, flexatone, hammer, Japanese singing bowls, jingle bells, lion’s roar, log drum, ocean drum, rails, rainmaker, shots, siren, spring drum, tam-tam, thunder sheets, vibratone, Walteufel, waterphone, whip and wind machine.

It is provided on one DVD-ROM with three GB of samples at 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Instrument mappings for both VSL products in this review are supplied for Logic’s EXS24, TASCAM GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt. They are intended to be played from a MIDI controller, such as a keyboard and in many cases offer various articulations or the same sound at different pitches across a range of keys.

Some of the programs use key switching to select articulations during performance. For example, the angklung, a bamboo instrument from Indonesia is available in short medium and long shakes. The combination program uses keys C1 to D1 to pick from the three.

Many of the sounds come from familiar objects, such as bells, horns and gongs. Much of this set is dedicated, however, to acoustic imitations of the natural world, many of which are commonly used in the symphony orchestra but some have origins that are more ancient.

For example, the bullroarer has a type of whiling aerophone, which is commonly associated with aboriginal Australians (although not by this name). The recordings are very deep sound with a high wind component that is captured beautifully in stereo.

Imitative instruments, such as the wind machine, thunder sheets, rain stick and ocean drum offer possibilities when mixed with recordings of the real thing. For example, thunder sheet mixed with real thunder creates a supernatural atmosphere.

Some sounds evoke a common feeling in different cultures while others do not. To my western ears, nothing says, “scary jungle” quite like the rattling bamboo tones of the angklung, an instrument native to Southeast Asia. The sound was used in Jerry Goldsmith’s original Planet of the Apes score. Goldsmith also made good use of the Brazilian cuica to mimic ape sounds. Here, the cuica chirps like a hairy ape and moans and groans like a wounded cow.

FX Percussion really shows off the acoustical environment that VSL created in their custom-built stage. This is most evident in the metallic pings, scrapes and boings. The Burmese bells samples, chimes are very relaxing and crystal clear. There is plenty of variety in the widely captured bamboo chimes. The Japanese singing bells program uses the modulation wheel to switch from rubber to wooden mallets, an expressive feature that I found very musical.

The more disquieting side is covered by thunder sheets and Peking opera gong. The China gong has more of the mysterious quality associated with tam-tams and is well represented with hits and rolls. However, the lack of bowed gongs and tams is unfortunate.

But fear not, or do fear, because there is bowing a-plenty in the thunder sheets and waterphone. The sound of distressed metal keeps me squirming no matter how many times I hear it. These samples are high quality and well suited to professional applications calling for terror and suspense.

Many of the sounds are explored in depth and the results have applications for sound designers in TV and film genres including comedy, drama, suspense, sci-fi and horror. The sounds are also perfectly suited to contemporary symphonic mock-ups.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza