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.
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