THIS THING RULES: Sonic Zest Ambient Cinematic Guitar 3

Welcome to another installment of This Thing Rules. Today I’m going to be checking back with Sonic Zest. You may remember I reviewed their entire collection of instruments (which I won in a contest) in a previous This Thing Rules. I’ve always really liked their sounds, especially Ambient Cinematic Guitar 1 &2, so when I saw that Volume 3 was coming out, I had to get in touch. Before I dive into the review, take a minute to listen to my demo, “Sacrifice” which was made roughly 80% with just Ambient Cinematic Guitar 3.

THIS THING RULES: CL-Projects Hypernova

Welcome to another edition of This Thing Rules!

In this entry, I’ll be looking at Hypernova, a new polyphonic synthesizer for Kontakt from CL-Projects. This is a little different for me, since it’s straight up synth… Modeled after classics such as the Minimoog, Jupiter 8, Juno 106 and ARP 2600. So expect things to get really synthy when you listen to “Lost In Spaces,” my demo:

Pretty sweet sounds right?! Yea, this thing is pretty wild. The sounds it can get are perfect for all kinds of music from Ambient to House, New Age or even Cinematic stuff. Whatever kind of music you’re making, the instruments fit right in and are sharp, full and beautiful.

Jumping right into the controls page (the top image), you’ll see tons of options for getting the sounds you want. Having all those knobs staring at you right in the beginning could be a little intimidating for a synth novice, so luckily this package comes with 360 total patches (236 are straight insturments and 124 multis). There’s also a great expansion pack called Pulsar Project from SubsonicArtz (whose Omnisphere expansion pack GAIA I’ll be reviewing in a future This Thing Rules segment) which adds 100 more FREE patches… I could be wrong, but I think this could be the first time I’ve seen an expansion pack for a Kontakt instrument… Anything that gets me more inspiring starting points though is awesome in my book.

There are also plenty of effects included in Hypernova. The effects page features pretty much all the options you could want from Reverb & Delay to Distortion and Phaser. Having little preset buttons laid out really lets you quickly try some settings out, before really twisting the knobs up and getting crazy. It’s also got some great ARP settings, which you know I always enjoy.

9654125_orig

So on to the included sounds! Some of what you’re hearing in “Lost In Spaces” are sounds I either created or edited using various patches at starting points. I also used a bunch of the included patches as is to great effect. The arp that kicks in with the beat is a multi called “Black Eagle,” and speaking of the beat, that huge kick drum comes from a patch called “Devil’s Drums.” A fitting name for such a menacing drum kit (something I really didn’t expect to be included at all since this is mainly a synth instrument, but having a few drum kits added in is a nice touch). The big beautiful reverb heavy keys are actually a multi from the Pulsar Project called “3 Stars System.” Another great patch is the awesomely Depeche Mode style bass/key combo of the “Electric Dream” multi. If it seems like I used a lot of multis, that’s because I did. While these sounds all sound great on their own and are hugely customizable, stacking multis really makes Hypernova shine.

Back to creating sounds, there are a ton of options, but as you know, I don’t really dig too heavy into the details of the power-user stuff with these This Thing Rules reviews… These are meant to be more of a basic overview, along with the original track to make sure you get an idea of what you’re getting. But with that said, there is plenty to keep even the most hard-core synth nerd busy. I do wish that this would have been an officially licensed Kontakt instrument so you don’t have to browse through files to get to it, but that’s more of an issue with my own laziness than the software itself (haha).

Hypernova is available now at CL-Projects store for $49.99. That’s a fraction of the cost of some of the “top of the line” competing synth VSTs, and definitely worth a look.

David Rosen is an award-winning music composer. He composes original music for films, commercials, jingles, video-games and all other kinds of media projects. He has a vast music library of original tracks available for licensing and is also available for custom compositions. Contact him on the ABOUT page for pricing and availability for your next project.

THIS THING RULES: Ikarus Ethnicity

Welcome to another edition of This Thing Rules!

You guys probably know by now that I love my Omnisphere expansions, and while there’s constantly a new one coming from one one of the big names, it’s always exciting to find one from a company I hadn’t heard from before. So when I found out about Ethnicity, a pack from composer and first-time sound designer Ikarus, I had to check it out.

Ethnicity takes new sound sources (a recent feature of Omnisphere 2)  including all kinds of organic instruments ranging from didgeridoos to duduks, and runs them through the powerful synth engine. There are 123 presets in all that range from striking keyboards and guitars to lush, beautiful pads and soundscapes, as well as some pulsating patches.

In my demo track “Other Voices” I am using nearly a dozen sounds from Ethnicity. I added a drum beat from another program because I wanted to really bring up the tempo of this particular piece, but otherwise, it’s all Ethnicity.

These sounds have a beautiful liveliness and organic feel to them. Everything rattles and hums in a way that makes you feel like someone is playing these instruments for you… Only in a new and exciting way. Everything is set-up perfectly and you can tell that Ikarus put a lot of time into making these sounds sound just right.

In “Other Voices” I started off with the very funky arp “Pick Guitar Arp 2” and the chill “Ambient EPiano” as a bass. From there I built it up with the absolutely gorgeous pad “Nord Ambient,” and the guitar patch “Egit2” (which would have fit in perfectly on any of the guitar led songs on An Unseen Sky. “Egit2” isn’t a 100% realistic guitar, but it has such a great, natural play-ability to it. There’s a bunch of other sounds from Ethnicity being used throughout, but another stand-out pad for me is “Alone in the future,” which I think is so cool sounding I want to build a full song around it sometime soon.

I’d have liked to see some more percussion type sounds from Ikarus (maybe next time), and perhaps some more pre-programmed arp patterns to go with these instruments. But then again, Omnisphere 2’s incredible arpeggiator already opens the door to tons of possibilities in that department. Percussion is really the only area I felt this pack was lacking at all.

Otherwise what we have here is a solid, unique pack of sounds for Omnisphere 2. A lot of times these packs end up being more of the same (not necessarily a bad thing if it’s done well), but in this case, we’re getting a very specific spin on what Omnisphere can do. It’s a great addition and absolutely recommended.

Ikarus Ethnicity requires Omnisphere 2.1.0d or later and is available now at http://ikarusmusic.com/ikarus-spectrasonics-omnisphere-2-signature-soundset-ethnicity  (and at the time of writing there is a 20% off deal going on, so hurry up and get it!)

David Rosen is an award-winning music composer. He composes original music for films, commercials, jingles, video-games and all other kinds of media projects. He has a vast music library of original tracks available for licensing and is also available for custom compositions. Contact him on the ABOUT page for pricing and availability for your next project.

THIS THING RULES: Gahrn Audio Expansion Packs

Sometimes when I do these THIS THING RULES blog posts, the new music software gets sent to me (if you make music software and you’re reading this, get in touch!), and sometimes I have to go out looking for it. Today’s installment is a case of the latter and I’m so glad I found Gahrn Audio and their new expansions packs Symbiosis (for Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere) and Illusions (for Native Instruments’ Massive). I’m always on the look out for new Omnisphere expansions because as many of you know, it is my favorite synth, so to see a company like Gahrn come out and nail it with their first pack is very exciting… And it’s nice to have a reminder to go back and look at Massive again after I hadn’t touched it in a while…

Before getting into the bulk of this write-up, make sure you listen to the new track, “Seeing Is Believing,” made entirely with these two new expansion packs (except for the drum beat that comes in about 45 seconds in).

This track was especially exciting because it was the first non-score piece of music I’ve done in quite a while. I’ve been so busy with promoting the new album (see what I did there… haha), life, and well, scoring films, that I hadn’t made much stand-alone music. I think it came out pretty great. So what’s going on in that music?

The answer is some killer synths, beautiful pads and awesome arps. These packs aren’t huge by any means (80 patches in Symbiosis and 64 patches in Illusions), but what is there is all top notch usable sounds. Like I said, the bulk of what’s here falls under the synths, pads and arps categories of each respective program, although there are other sounds as well like great Impacts & Hits in Symbiosis.

In this particular song, I’m using about five Omnisphere Symbiosis patches and four from Massive Illusions.  Starting with the Omnisphere pack, two of the arps I used called Outrun (which provides that sick funky rhythm that comes in towards the end) and Still Visible sounded great right at loading, but I decided to play around with the arp patterns to get what I got out of them. The main keys in the song are a sound called Finger Painting which provides beautiful, echoing keyboards, and White Air is a very pretty backing synth pad. I really wanted to use some of the Texture patches in this track, but at that point I felt the song was already busy enough. They’re great additions to this package though and will definitely get used in the future.

Over in Massive, the Illusions patches were also perfect fits for this kind of ambient / electronica song. The big echoing synth you hear is called Dyerm, while another synth called All Transparent was incredibly playable and provides a secondary lead for the track. The main bass line is provided by two alternating versions of the End of Line patch with slightly different parameters that I tweaked at different points in the song. Like I said earlier in this write-up, it’s been quite a while since I’ve touched Massive, but I think I’m going to have to start digging in again because not only do I have these great new sounds for it, but it’s just a really cool program with lots of great content.

So overall as you can see, I really liked what Gahrn Audio has come up with in their first packs, and their inspiration led the way to this awesome new track. I’d love to see a new pack from them that takes advantage of some of Omnisphere 2’s new features, and I’d love to see some more keyboard sounds and maybe some percussion. But for what they are, these are great packs and definitely highly recommended.

Each of these packs are available now in Gahrn Audio’s website store priced very competitively at $23 for Symbiosis and $20 for Illusions. There are also FREE demos available of each pack, as well as more demo tracks and a full walk through of the Omnisphere pack.

Gahrn Audio is run by fellow composer and sound designer Claus Gahrn, so it’s no surprise that he knows what other composers could use. Hopefully he makes some more packs in the future. I’ll definitely be watching for them.

David Rosen is an award-winning music composer. He composes original music for films, commercials, jingles, video-games and all other kinds of media projects. He has a vast music library of original tracks available for licensing and is also available for custom compositions. Contact him on the ABOUT page for pricing and availability for your next project.

THIS THING RULES: u-He Hive PREVIEW

This is something that hopefully will be a rarity for me, but welcome to a mini-preview edition of THIS THING RULES!

As you know, in THIS THING RULES I review a new piece of software and post a brand new piece of original music that I composed either exclusively with or heavily featuring that software. Well I have a brand new entry written about the excellent new synth Hive from u-He, the makers of the amazing Zebra2.

Unfortunately, my computer died. Dead. I am computerless. And the piece of music I made, while backed up and safe, can’t be exported until I have a computer  to export it with. I should hopefully have the computer back this week, but since I planned on this review and track being posted last week already, I decided to post this special preview, because a song from my recently released album An Unseen Sky also features a whole bunch of Hive on it.

The song is called “Into The Black” and was actually the last song I made for the album. There are 4 instruments in the song that come from Hive, and it will give you a pretty cool idea of what this amazing synth sounds like in a track. Check out the song above, and check out the album, An Unseen Sky at: http://www.bydavidrosen.com/albums/unseen-sky

As soon as I’m back up and running, I’ll post the full THIS THING RULES segment with my review of u-He Hive and a track that is made up almost exclusively of Hive sounds. And if you’re a composer, make sure to check out u-He.com for a public beta of Hive that is available to try now!

– David

THIS THING RULES: Sonic Zest Collection

Welcome to another edition of THIS THING RULES. You may remember from my “The Past & The Future” Blog Post that I placed 8th in a composing contest sponsored by music software news site rekkerd.org. My prize was the entire collection of Sonic Zest Instruments for Native Instruments’ Kontakt. I’ve spent the last couple weeks playing with some of the instruments, and so far, I am extremely happy with my prize.

This collection features 22 instruments that are all beautifully sampled. The kinds of sounds that will easily find their way into my music. First of all, the list of included instruments:

  • Acoustic Autumn
  • Cinematic Soundscape
  • Ambient Cinematic Guitar 2
  • Chinese Dragon Bells
  • Glass Hand Drums
  • Indonesian Thunder Drum
  • Vietnamese Lithophone
  • African Tube Percussion
  • Himalayan Water Bowl
  • Tenor Recorder
  • The Glass Absolute Quintet
  • eBow Mandolin
  • Acoustic eBow
  • Maple Mandolin
  • Percussive Guitar
  • Apricot Duduk
  • Moroccan Drums
  • Typewriter of Prince George
  • Bronze Percussion
  • Paper Percussion
  • Lighter Percussion

My reviews here aren’t meant to always be an entirely comprehensive look at all the features and sounds included in any given product, so I didn’t fully explore all of these sounds, In the piece of music I made above, I used Acoustic E-Bow, Acoustic Autumn, Moroccan Drums, Ambient Cinematic Guitar 1, Ambient Cinematic Guitar 2, The Typewriter of Prince George and Cinematic Soundscape. As you can hear, the music is full and lush and of a top shelf quality. When considering that most of these go for $16 right now (or the complete collection at an amazing $125), the sound quality is actually kind of surprising. Everything is also wonderfully playable and natural.

The Moroccan Drums are the first thing that will probably grab your attention in this track. They’re so easy to play and come up with a rhythmic background. The Acoustic eBow creates a gorgeous bed for the various guitar melodies that I then brought in. I obviously really love the guitars that Sonic Zest has sampled here, and use almost all of them in this one piece.  To bring up the rhythm at the end, I used the Typewriter of Prince George which has some great clacking key type sounds that work great when mixed in with the traditional percussion sounds.

Sonic Zest has created a great collection of instruments here. At $125, it’s a ridiculous steal. Get it. You won’t be sorry.

UPDATE: I’m glad I posted this in time for Black Friday, because this collection is available THIS WEEK ONLY for the insanely low price of $89. Seriously. If you make music and use Kontakt (which if you do make music, you probably have Kontakt), get this. You’ll love it.

 

This Thing Rules: The Coil

Before I get started on this edition of This Thing Rules I just wanted to say sorry for taking so long to get back to this series! I had a constant string of composing work, promoting my “If Only Tonight I Could Sleep” Video and Fundraiser, and just lots of other stuff that kept me incredibly busy. I’ve got a backlog of about 6 This Thing Rules posts to finish up, but I wanted to get started getting back into it with something brand-new… The amazing new Omnisphere expansion pack The Coil by Plughugger. Let’s give the song “Fallen Angels” a listen.

The first thing you’ll notice in the track are those sinister, dark drone sounds at the beginning. That’s a preset in The Coil called “The Day After” and it’s just so… EVIL sounding haha. I love it (update: I realized just as I was getting ready to post this that it’s also used in the opening of their promo video)! The Coil is an expansion based all around one sample of electricity.  That’s right… the  people at Plughugger took one basic sample of raw electricity from a Tesla Coil and using the power of Omnisphere, transformed it into 150 new presets including atmospheres, arpeggios, pads, leads and basses. These things aren’t just overly similar sounds either… Everything is completely different and completely playable and usable.  Plughugger claims that the sounds are “set in a zone between the normal and the weird” and that’s a perfect description.

Aside from the drums, every single other track within “Fallen Angels” comes from The Coil. The bass line is a combination of a bass preset called “Distorted Menace” and a very dirty arp called “Quantum Heap.” The main echoing synth line is created with a sound called “Ambiano” which is a lot of fun to play with. I didn’t want to get too crazy on this simple demo track, but I can already tell you that I’ve used “Ambiano” for a solo-like piece on one of the songs on my next album. There’s about 4 or 5 more tracks mixed in there with more sounds from the collection as well and I could have easily continued to layer without running out of ideas.

The Coil

Is there anything missing from this collection? Not really. It’s pretty much perfect, especially for the price of $18.87 (or $12.54 if you get in before October 12th!). Please note that those US prices are roughly converted from the Euro price listing on their website. I’d love to hear these guys make a companion drum kit using electricity based sounds… Although Omnisphere wouldn’t really be the right place for it… Maybe make it for Native Instrument’s Battery or something.

If you already have Omnisphere, there’s really no reason not to pick up The Coil. The included sounds are highly usable in any kind of composition, and the price is absolutely killer.

 

 

 

This Thing Rules: BreakTweaker

Before we start this edition of This Thing Rules I just want to say thank you to everyone in the music forums who have been giving me feedback on this series. I’m really enjoying doing them and I’m glad you’re all digging it. Eventually I’m going to get into a groove and make it a weekly thing, and I’m also toying with the idea of adding some videos to the segments as well, but for now, a couple times a month, each with a new song…

This time I’m digging into probably the biggest piece of software I’ve done yet, iZotope’s brand new “is-it-a-drum-machine-or-is-it-an-effect” BreakTweaker. Co-created with electronic musician BT (who also helped design the excellent iZotope StutterEdit which I use all the time), this is a piece of software that will definitely be working its way into my regular songwriting process.

Before I get into what makes it special, let me give you a little bit of back story about me. For the past 15 years of making music, I’ve stayed away from drum machines, drum patterns, loops, breaks and drum sequencers. It’s just not the way I do things. I will occasionally add a loop into the chorus section to beef up the percussion for a couple bars, but very rarely, and even when I do, it’s only to augment the drum beat I played out on my keyboard. It’s not that I have anything against that way of doing things… The industrial music I got into this stuff because of was all done with sequencers and drum machines, and most of my favorite hip-hop beats all use breaks and loops. Maybe it’s a control freak type of thing, I don’t know, but I just like knowing I hit all the notes (even if it’s on a keyboard and not an actual drum set).

But with all that said, BreakTweaker is just different and for my purposes, worth using. It’s not just taking your kicks snares and hi-hats and making patterns, although you could certainly just use it to do that. The sequencer module is extremely powerful and easy to use. But it’s the other 2 modules, the Generator and MicroEdit Engine that set this thing apart.

BreakTweaker

 

With the Generator you have built in tools to create your own drum sounds. You can combine and tweak until you find exactly the right kind of sound for each piece of your digital kit. The built in kits are already a great place to start though, and for the purposes of my review track up above (you did listen, right?) I didn’t dig into the Generator module too much. Where I had the most fun was in the Sequencer and most improtantly, the MicroEdit Engine.

Playing with the MicroEdit Engine feels like you’re using an instrument that someone brought back from the future. iZotope says you can “manipulate audio at a molecular level” and they’re not kidding. You can take any clip from the sequencer and adjust its pitch, rhythm and texture by adjusting the easy to use knobs. You can take a normal snare drum and pretty much just destroy it… in a good way. Make it stutter, make those stutters pitch shift, transform the changes mid-change. It’s simply insane the amount of room you have to experiment. The Randomizer button adds crazy ideas to your selection which you can then learn from, figuring out how each setting actually effects your sound.

For the sample track, “Broken Glass,” I started out with two instances of BreakTweaker, each with a different but fittingly similar presets (Sin Bass & Tweak Woofer). Each preset loads an already made kit and 12 patterns, with 12 extra empty spaces to add and save your own patterns.  I used a mixture of preset patterns and my own created ones. These are spread across the keyboard so you can trigger them easily, and below the patterns are each of the 6 pieces of your drum kit individually so you can add some custom playing to the mix as well. You can also start completely from scratch creating every piece of your kit and totally new patterns. Of course since this software is mainly for drums I added some other synths into the song as well, but everything percussion you hear is from BreakTweaker.

So as you can imagine I’m absolutely recommending BreakTweaker. The drum tracks you can make with this thing are simply insane and if you even could make them without it (and that’s a big IF), it would take you hours of tweaking to do what takes seconds here. It’s a very specific kind of program and not for every kind of composer, but if you make any form of electronic or hip-hop music, you absolutely will not be disappointed. It’s currently on sale from iZotope’s website for $199 (regularly $249) or an expanded version with extra Expansion Packs for $249 (regularly $299).

 

This Thing Rules: Lounge Lizard & Ultra Analog

Welcome to another edition of This Thing Rules… I should call this one These Things Rule because I’m doubling up this time and reviewing 2 excellent pieces of software from Applied Accoustics Systems (the makers of the also excellent Chromaphone which I reviewed last year): Lounge Lizard EP-4 and Ultra Analog VA-2. As always, make sure you listen to the music sample up above. To be honest I had a little trouble coming up with a way to combine just these two into a piece of music, so I decided that this time around I’d just use them as the main instruments and allow a little extra sources to complete the song. In this case it’s the drums that didn’t come from either of these pieces of software. Everything else, however, is done with either Lounge Lizard or Ultra Analog. Also, since these are very different sound sources, I figured something kind of hip-hop would be the right way to combine them, since when it comes to hip-hop, there are kind of no rules as long as you can bob your head to it and it sounds good. I think I did a pretty good job…

As for the software itself, lets tackle them one at a time. Lounge Lizard EP-4 is kind of exactly what it sounds like… a virtual electric piano with lots of cool authentic Rhodes & Wurlitzer keys, as well as uniquely different sounding presets that provide a twist on these classic sounds. As far as sound quality goes, this thing could easily be used in a live atmosphere. The sounds are rich, and it uses a surprisingly small amount of memory, allowing for greater flexibility when you start layering the keys. And in the studio, the presets are categorized in a way that makes finding sounds very easy. Another plus is that everything loads super snappy making sound selection a quick, smooth process. Most of the track up above is made of Lounge Lizard sounds.

 

Lounge Lizard

Lounge Lizard

The other piece of software is Ultra Analog VA-2, which is a beautifully powerful software synthesizer. It offers all the features and options you would hope for in a classic synthesizer, with tons of presets and effects to play with to get the sound you’re looking for. The sounds range from keys, pads and synth leads to rhythmic percussion loops and and beautiful ambient tones. It also shares Lounge Lizard’s super fast and efficient interface. Another great advantage of these two are their options for expansion. There are many official expansion packs available for them at dirt cheap prices, and a community of members that share new presets. I actually picked up a couple of the expansions during the Xmas sales and there is some great stuff to choose from. Loading the expansions and presets is dead simple, and with this smooth interface, everything is super quick.

These are both great packages and I can definitely recommend either one to anyone looking to expand their virtual instrument arsenal. I would say though, that while Ultra Analog is a really cool synth, most likely you already have some great software synthesizers, so if you’re just going to check out one, I’d definitely make it Lounge Lizard. The quality of the more traditional sounds are excellent and the ability to dial in new versions of the classics really give it an edge. Ultra Analog and Lounge Lizard are both available for $199 each at the time of this blog post, so if you’re making music, go check them out!

– David

This Thing Rules: Chromaphone

Welcome to another edition of THIS THING RULES where I try out some new music software and share my thoughts. This time I’m checking out  Applied Acoustics System’s CHROMAPHONE.

Chromaphone is a really awesome piece of software that I’ve been playing with for a couple months now. I would have written this post sooner, but I was busy finishing up, releasing, and promoting my album (which you can of course check out on the album page). The track you listened to at the top was created COMPLETELY with sounds from Chromaphone. Yes the drums, the keyboards, the bass, the synths, the pads… All of it. Pretty cool, right?

I’m not going to go into my whole process of composing music in these posts (although I may let you in on that in a future blog series). This is more about the specific software and what it’s like using it. Chromaphone is really cool in that you’re essentially starting off with percussion sounds and bending and tweaking them to sound like all different kinds of instruments. Woods, metals and other materials can be adjusted in all kinds of ways for really interesting results. Of course there are tons of presets too. These little reviews aren’t meant to be big, long in depth articles, so I’d like to specifically talk about my favorite feature of Chromaphone… Coupling.

 

Chromaphone

What this does is adjust the amount that two objects would interact. In a real life example, imagine your hand and the desk. Some of the sound you hear when you slap the desk is coming from the desk, and some from your hand. Adjusting the coupling not only allows you to choose which you’re hearing more of, but how the one effects the other. You can use this to make instruments sound more realistic… Or more weird and unique.

In this specific demo track I created up above, you can hear examples of drums and percussive elements, keyboards, strings, bass and pads, all created with Chromaphone. In fact between the included presets and the awesome expansion packs available you can really have fun without even having to dig into the powerful sound creating abilities of the software. I did plenty of messing around with the sounds though in composing this piece of music and it’s a really cool process. AAS has laid out the VST software in a way that is really smart and easy. As you can see from the above screenshot, there are tons of effects and settings to play with right there on the main screen. And where in some pieces of software, you can sometimes adjust things all over the place and not really notice or understand what you’ve changed, tweaks within Chromaphone are instantly noticeable making for a remarkably hands on feel.

If you’re a composer like me, I hope you check out Chromaphone. It’s regularly $199 but they have deals pretty often (until January 15th its $99.50 or half off!). It’s a great piece of software and the possibilities with it are really endless. It definitely digs into your CPU usage, so make sure you’ve got a good, powerful machine if you’re going to give it a try… I had to freeze a couple tracks to stop some crackling that was occurring… but what do you expect with 9 instances of the software going at once. And if you’re not a composer and just enjoy the music, well I hope you enjoyed this track, and I hope you enjoyed reading a little about how it is that I do what I do.

– David

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