Archive for February, 2011

Instruments of Navigating History: Egypt – Part 2

Posted on February 14, 2011 at 10:42 pm, by Ben



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I bought East West/Quantum Leap’s RA some time ago, a sample library including a wide range of instruments from around the globe, from Australian Didgeridoo licks to Sitar to Highland Bagpipes. I have been so happy with it over the years that I jumped at the opportunity to buy another East West ethnic library, SILK.

While SILK offers a smaller spread of ethnic instruments than RA, featuring only Chinese, Indian, and Persian sounds, SILK focuses on making the instruments from those regions extra special… the sampling process was much more in-depth and the instruments are more playable in a greater number of articulations and styles–there are also more instruments per each region than in RA. For Navigating History: Egypt, I primarily pulled from SILK’s Persian palette, which offers a range of bowed, plucked, wind, and percussive instruments from the middle east–ideal for this project. Every SILK instrument also comes with great-sounding and mix-friendly phrases and articulations that were recorded by expert musicians at East West Studios and Capitol Studios.

The Indian instruments sounded good too, which I was expecting… but the Chinese winds and strings blew me away. I mean, they’re really great. Buying SILK has led me to half-hope that the next destination of the Navigating History team will be China, if for no other reason than having an excuse to splurge on arrangements saturated with these expressive and evocative sounds.

While we’re speaking about EW/QL, I should mention that there is a Valentine’s Day sale running currently offering 3 instruments for 60% off… there’s good stuff here and it ships on a 1TB HDD. This is a pretty good deal, but don’t cry if you miss it– (the site that carries EW/QL instruments) has similar deals every couple months. Unless forced by a pressing project, never buy any of their instruments (newer libraries excluded) for less than 40-50% off. Waiting is usually worth it.

Back to the review… In sum, Silk is awesome. All the ethnic instruments you hear in the above demos that are bowed, plucked, or blown came from SILK. You can also hear some electronic sounds from KOMPLETE 7, a dash of ProjectSAM’s Symphobia, and a healthy helping of my favorite EW/QL library, Hollywood Strings.

And in keeping with the law of this site (EVERY POST MUST MENTION AUDRI BOTKIN AT LEAST ONCE), I’m including a little medley of cello music Audri recorded for me.

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Here’s how this sort of thing goes:

BEN: “Hey Audri, Can you play this for me?” (*plays little melody on keyboard)

AUDRI: (*plays little melody on cello) “Want me to add some grace notes?”

BEN: “YES… lemme get the recorder. Play around with that idea for a minute until I find it.”

Can you blame me? It’s Valentine’s Day! <3

Instruments of Navigating History: Egypt – Part 1

Posted on February 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm, by Ben

I will be putting up a couple posts on the instruments I used in the Navigating History: Egypt series, with clips from the score that feature the instrument in review. Look out for an upcoming Navigating History: Egypt DVD release.

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The human voice offers something no instrument does. Authenticity, life, passion… something the music for Navigating History needed.

I looked around for a while and found exactly what I was looking for. Sonokinetic offered a series of vocal packages that focused on quality vocal phrases and performed by vocal professionals from Middle-Eastern/African regions. For Navigating History, I used their Desert Voice, Tigris and Euphrates, and Voices of Israel packages. These are offered as a digital download, so if you have a decent internet connection, you don’t have to wait for shipping and handling when you purchase them.

I know you’re wondering: “Does having access to pre-recorded phrases and performances (rarely more than a couple notes long) take the composing out of composition?” Not really…having access to pre-recorded phrases and performances like those found in these libraries are not a replacement for creativity, because, at the end of the day, you still have to figure out how their inclusion in your mix meets your goals as the composer. Instead of sapping creativity, sounds like these can inspire it.

The only problem (if you call it a problem) is that there are so MANY performances in these three libraries it can take you a while to find exactly what you are looking for… but that is a price worth paying. Sometimes when writing an instrumental passage I’ll throw a short vocal phrase in the background because it adds an incredible sense of depth and authenticity to a mix even when the vocal is only there for a second! I think these libraries are at their best when they are used to add color and that extra %5 to your mix.

It’s good to keep in mind that this library, like most, was created to meet a very specific need in a composer’s sonic palette. Sonokinetic is a perfect model of this specialized philosophy– if you go to their site, you will see a number of other libraries that are very unique… crafted to perform one task extremely well. As composers, we tend to want every library to be the end-all-does-everything package, but libraries often float between mediocrity and un-believability when the developer tries to do everything at once.

The ethnic phrases in each of these three packages (when they’re not generic phonetic sounds) are sung in the language of their native culture, which can open up some humorous musical possibilities when you have more than one library going at the same time. At one point in the score, I actually had a woman singing snatches of an Israeli song layered on top of a man chanting the Quran. Ironic, but it sounded great.

To sum up, Sonokinetic’s libraries saved this project’s musical bacon. (Mmmm… musical bacon…)

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Another package I purchased was Native Instrument’s KOMPLETE 7, a very complete (hence the name, I guess) collection of sounds, audio tools, and effects, including the KORE 2 and KONTAKT 4 sample players. Over the last five or so years, KONTAKT has become the industry standard interface for sample libraries. Some of the bigger sample library players, like East West Quantum Leap and VSL, still use proprietary interfaces, but most of the other developers have jumped aboard the KONTAKT bandwagon because (a): everyone owns and knows how to use KONTAKT, and (b): it saves a developer a ton of time/money/energy to use a tried-and-true solution instead of developing his own bug-free, user-friendly and cross-platform-compatible interface.

Most places offer KOMPLETE 7 for around $500, which I think is pretty good bang-for-your-buck. Once you own KONTAKT, the door opens to a number of smaller or more specialized libraries from developers like Sonokinetic, Tonehammer, and others.

I also purchased Heavyocity’s Evolve Mutations Bundle from the Native Instruments online store. These sounds are split into four categories: Rhythmic Suites, Percussive Kits, Stings and Transitions, and Tonality and FX, which can add a very Zimmer/Bourne quality to your mix, as these are mostly electronic and processed sounds. Very cool.

Aside from the Evolve Mutaions Bundle, most of the ethnic drum loops, electronic sounds and drones I used in Navigating History came from KOMPLETE 7’s 90GB+ of sample content, which means it will be a while before I even understand everything I’ve got here and know my way around properly.

WARNING: Many of the 24 instruments and effects included in KOMPLETE 7 run inside the KORE 2 Player, which is 32-bit only at the moment. This means that if you are running a 64-bit OS you will need to make sure you have a solid way to run 32-bit plug-ins in a 64-bit sequencer environment. There are pieces of third-party software like jbridge which apparently bridge (ho ho) this gap pretty well if your sequencer doesn’t have a good way of doing this.

To be continued…