To date, our rock/metal-focused electric guitar libraries Shreddage and Shreddage 2 have been the most popular instruments in the Impact Soundworks family. We’re extremely proud of these releases, particularly Shreddage 2, which pushes the limits of how realistic a virtual guitar can be. But while we’re thrilled with the aggressive, heavy tone of these libraries and how well they handle rock/metal music, we’ve always wanted to explore the softer, more dynamic side of the 6-stringed spectrum.
Enter Archtop: Hollowbody Electric Guitar, our upcoming release. We’ve collaborated with virtuoso guitarist and session musician Josh Workman to produce an incredibly detailed library capturing the sounds of a Sadowsky Jim Hall Model archtop hollowbody guitar. This gorgeous instrument is one of the world’s finest guitars, particularly for clean styles like jazz, pop, R&B. It’s also quite capable for many rock and alternative genres as well.
When we set out to find an excellent player for the library, it wasn’t long before Mr. Workman’s name came up. His incredible career spans over two decades, including hundreds of performances around the world with neo-swing band Indigo Swing, touring with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, hundreds of thousands of album sales, and a critically successful solo release. However, we needed not just an excellent performer, but one with a tremendous versatility and a deep understanding of their instrument. Here too, Josh fit the bill, being equally masterful in genres ranging from bop and Latin jazz to Brazilian, blues, gypsy jazz and more.
As with all of our releases, we prefer to collaborate with musicians to design our libraries. Over the course of many months, we refined and established a detailed plan for Archtop that covered all essential articulations, techniques, and intricacies. Once actual editing began, we continued to work with Josh to improve and iterate upon our concept to make it as comprehensive and realistic as possible.
A masterpiece instrument and a player with killer chops demand an excellent recording setup, which is exactly what we created for Archtop. Unlike Shreddage 2, and using custom-modified electronics, the neck and bridge pickups of the guitar were recorded simultaneously; the end result allows the user to seamlessly switch or blend between both pickups, just as you can on the real guitar. We also integrated “The Brick” into the signal chain, a true vacuum tube-based triple-stage DI box which gave our 24-bit recordings incredible warmth.
As with Shreddage 2, all recordings are totally, 100% clean/DI. Our #1 goal when designing the signal chain was for it to sound as rich and warm as possible even with no effects, amps, or cabs applied. Of course, the Archtop library also sounds excellent with either its internal effects or any external amp sim, and has various tools like virtual “volume” and “tone” knobs to further sculpt the sound to your liking.
Sampling & Articulations
The single biggest difference between Shreddage 2 and Archtop is that the latter features up to four dynamic (velocity) layers. With Shreddage 2, our philosophy was that the instrument should be amped with hi-gain settings, and thus subtle dynamic changes were not as important. On the other hand, we wanted Archtop to be adept at handling intimate, expressive playing even with no amp at all. This alone offers a wealth of possibilities for new playing styles.
We chose to focus on a slightly different set of articulations as well. Archtop features such techniques as thumbed octaves (a staple for many jazz styles), natural harmonics, “artificial” harmonics, 3-string chokes, and less aggressive palm mutes. Some techniques more relevant to rock/metal music were not included, such as powerchord playing, wide pinch squeals, and extra layers of ultra-short and biting mutes. However, the fundamentals are all still there: sustains, staccato, portamento (glissando) slides, hammer-on and pull-offs, tremolo, and various release noises.
Engine Features & Scripting
Archtop offers much of the same advanced functionality as Shreddage 2, such as adjusting the fretting engine, release noise volumes, splitting MIDI channels (for greater compatibility with MIDI guitars), envelope times, pitch bend range, and many more features. However, it was actually scripted completely from scratch; we wanted a fresh slate given that it’s a totally new and different instrument.
One of the new and exciting features included is the ability to more deeply customize how the instrument is played. A smooth velocity curve knob instantly changes the response (or “touch”) of Archtop from very light to very heavy and everything in between. Articulations can also be custom mapped to either any velocity range OR custom keyswitches. For example, you could assign harmonics to low velocities and sustains to high velocities, but use a low G note to trigger palm mutes as long as it’s held down. This versatility is essential given the breadth of articulations included.
Another feature is the ability to play polyphonic legato, either with hammer-on and pull-off articulations or portamento slides. This is particularly useful when combined with the Split MIDI Channel functionality, which assigns notes from separate MIDI channels to separate strings. Lastly, new humanization features have been added, included random sympathetic resonance. This emulates the open string vibrations caused by a guitarist playing quickly and striking adjacent strings accidentally. Though this may sound silly at first glance, having a small amount of ‘human error’ greatly adds to the realism of the instrument.
More To Come
We can’t wait to share more information about Archtop including price, release date, and audio demos. To give you a hint for each: the price will be comparable to Shreddage 2, with a generous crossgrade discount for S2 owners. The release date is slated for sometime before 2014, and audio demos will be released in the coming weeks.
Thank you for reading, and please leave your comments below or on our Facebook page!
What’s in a name? With so many virtual instruments and sample libraries available for composers and producers today, it’s important to pick a name that is both descriptive and memorable. We decided to switch the name of the library previously known as “Cinematic Synthetic Drums PRO” to JUGGERNAUT: Cinematic Electronic Scoring Tools. Why the change, and what’s the difference?
- JUGGERNAUT truly communicates the size and impact of this flagship instrument.
- Cinematic Synthetic Drums did not do justice to all of the non-percussive samples in the library.
- Scoring Tools best describes the range and purpose of all the sounds included.
As we approach the release of JUGGERNAUT it’s important to note that we plan to keep the instrument updated and fresh over the coming years with various patches and expansions. The engines we have created are ripe for the addition of much more sonic material, from drum kits, to cinematic effects, to tonal elements. Stay tuned for the forthcoming release!
Creating a modern virtual instrument requires more than just great recordings, editing, and programming – the user interface and layout of the instrument can make the difference between a great library and an unusable one. This is especially true with libraries that have a great variety of sounds, such as Cinematic Synthetic Drums PRO. Together with Constructive Stumblings, we’ve been building, testing, and iterating on an intuitive and powerful UI for CSD PRO, and we’d like to talk about that process here.
One of the first questions we had to address was how to make it as easy as possible for composers to pull up ready-made presets. There are two distinct approaches to this: one is to have each patch (in this case, a drum/FX kit) as a separate .NKI file on the hard drive. The other approach is to have presets switchable within the instrument interface. We decided to use a hybrid of these two options to get the best of both worlds. From the main patch, you can easily switch presets using up/down arrows and thus audition sounds very rapidly…
… but by hitting the Load button, you can browse for presets (in Kontakt’s NKA format) on your hard drive, allowing you to see at a glance all available options in a manner of seconds.
With this solution to patch browsing, the user gets immediate satisfaction from quickly paging through presets, but also the power of being able to quickly load something specific from a list of both factory & user kits.
At the heart of the percussion/FX patch of CSD Pro is the ability to customize presets or create your own from scratch. With over 400 (!) individual sounds in 14 categories, making this process intuitive and fast was no easy task. Our early prototype for the library used a rather unwieldy method where you would bring up sound menus, find the sound you want, and then click a button on the interface to map it. You would then click “Kit Mode” to actually play the constructed kit.
However, this setup required quite a few clicks to put a kit together and was less than intuitive. We sought to address this problem by presenting the current kit in a “mixer” style interface, with each key getting its own channel strip. A channel strip can be assigned its own sound category, individual hit/drum, tuning, volume, and panning with a minimum of effort. Additionally, sounds can be browsed either by “sliding” the drum #, typing in a value, or using the up/down arrows.
Reaching this solution did take several iterations and plenty of testing. For example, originally, there were no up/down arrows below each drum sound and new sounds could only be selected by ‘sliding’. There was also no way to type in a specific sound, which is fairly important when some categories have 40+ unique drums or FX. The iconography for the category (kick, snare, thip, slam, etc.) proved to be an effective means of communicating the sound type without using text. A “key” is provided on the right side of the interface, which allows users to auditioning entire categories with a single click.
Clicking these buttons switches out of the normal kit mode and instead maps every sound within the selected category across the keyboard. The preset selector then displays the specific sound being played at any time (“Snare 5″, “Splash 12″, etc.), so finding a sound you like and mapping it to your current kit is very straightforward.
Effects and Processing
A few months ago we wrote about the sound design process for CSD PRO, and how much effort and care goes into each individual sample. However, no matter how polished a drum or effect is, there is always room for additional processing – especially when combined with other sounds! Kontakt is more powerful than ever when it comes to FX, and we made sure to use a lot of them in the preset design for this library. To make FX tweaking intuitive for the user, we created a “rack” of things like saturation, transient shaping, delay, reverb, and filtering, with individual controls available within each processor.
While many composers have their own suite of effects plugins to use in their host, we “pre-tuned” many of these controls to hit a sweet spot that works well with our samples. The “1-click-hype” button, for example, instantly makes any sound phatter and louder with a combination of saturation, transient design, and EQ shaping. Most preset kits take advantage of least one of these effects, leaving lots of possibilities for further tweaking beyond the actual design of the kit itself.
The Complete Package
The overall look of CSD Pro is inspired by the clean, sleek design of modern hardware synthesizers, which we felt was appropriate given the synthetic nature of the library. Gritty textures like metal didn’t quite fit the sound and feel of CSD, while emulating the look of analog synths is something we consider a bit overdone. Our goal was to design something that looks very clean and streamlined without much ‘fluff’ and I believe we’ve achieved just that!
In our first blog post, we talked about some of the high-level concepts involved in making a single sound for a library like our upcoming Cinematic Synthetic Drums PRO. Now, we’d like to give you an introduction to some of the very talented and creative sound designers involved in crafting this behemoth.
Jordan’s talent for creating fantastic sonic worlds is evident in the high praise for titles like Super Meat Boy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Hotline Miami, The Binding of Isaac, Jamestown, Wind-Up Knight, and 20+ other film & game credits. An experienced sound designer, foley artist, and sound mixer (among other things), Jordan brings his skill and passion to the table and has already designed over 60 sounds for CSD Pro, primarily trailer-inspired FX such as impacts, slams, reverses, sweeps and textures.
Of his work on CSD Pro, Jordan notes: “I’m finding inspiration from watching trailers and films with unique synthesized elements, such as Skyfall, Iron Man, After Earth, and Oblivion. For sound sources I’ve been using my recording arsenal along with NI Absynth, Skanner, Razor, Reaktor 5, u-he Uhbik, Izotope Alloy, and the Massey L2007 limiter.”
Erik EkholmWith recent trailer credits like The Dark Knight Rises, True Blood, Last Resort, Top Gear, Castle, Scandal, and Greys Anatomy to name just a few, Erik is a master of emotionally-charged, high-impact music & sound. His diverse, epic compositions blend acoustic, vocal, and synthetic elements to great effect. As a longtime user of Impact Soundworks libraries like Shreddage, we were very happy to have Erik contribute custom, unique synthetic sounds to CSD Pro.
We asked Erik about his sound design process for the library: “When designing my sounds I aimed for an organic modulated approach. All filter sweeps and motion was done by manually turning knobs and faders on the gear! The signal chain consisted of an Arturia Minibrute going into an EHX Flangerhoax and Boss GT10, then patched into my Engle Gigmaster 15 for that sweet tube overdrive. Coming out of the ENGL’s FX send the signal went through the Ibanez FL9 Flanger, Hardwire SP-7 Phaser, MXR Analog Chorus, EHX MicroQ-Tron and EHX Memory Man analog delay.
From the pedal board, the sound passed through an Eventide SPACE with custom room patch for stereo depth, then from there into a stereo pair of Golden Age COMP-54s (Neve 2254 clone) for some sweetening, especially in the bass and highs, that these compressors do so well. The final stop in the chain is my MOTU 4pre interface. No plug-ins or automation… all manual, analog signal processing!”
Another longtime user of ISW libraries, Mick is an incredibly in-demand composer and sound designer, well-known for his cutting-edge electronic and hybrid scoring work in particular. His vast list of credits include such games and trailers as Need for Speed: The Run, Shift 2: Unleashed, The Last Airbender, Dead Space 3, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Crysis 3, F.3.A.R and many, many others. We loved with Mick’s contributions to the original Cinematic Synthetic Drums library and jumped at the opportunity to work with him again on PRO. (Plus, we love his Australian accent!)
Andrew AversaAs lead designer and producer of CSD Pro, Andrew is responsible for a large portion of the library’s content, as well as supervising the collaboration between everyone involved. In addition to his design, editing and scripting work at ISW, he is also an award-winning electronic artist (‘zircon’) and media composer with credits for companies like Bandai Namco (Soulcalibur V), FOX (Touch), NBC (Heroes), Disney, LucasArts, Capcom, MTV, and many others. Inquiring synthesists can find on Andrew’s website a variety of synthesis tutorials for plugins like Zebra 2.
Welcome to the first post of the official Impact Soundworks blog! We hope to give you insight into the process of designing, recording, and editing sample libraries and virtual instruments.
The idea for the Cinematic Synthetic Drums (CSD) library was perhaps originally inspired by the soundtrack to Tron Legacy by Daft Punk. As an electronic musician myself, I found the blend of grand orchestral elements with highly electronic synths and drums to be very interesting and effective. What pushed me to actually construct and release thsi collection was the free, high-quality work of people like Blake Robinson (Blakus) on VI-Control who deserve great respect for their contributions to the TV/game/film music community!
After seeing the great response to CSD, I decided to take the concept and run with it for a full-scale library with hundreds of sounds, more variety, and a sophisticated UI. There are now multiple talented sound designers working on the project instead of just me, while Iain Morland is assisting with a number of editing and programming tasks. So, what goes into making a single sound? Our workflow looks something like this…
The first stage of the process, Synthesis is of crucial importance. This is where most of the magic happens, and it’s also quite challenging given the complexity of synthesizing percussion in particular. To craft a percussive sound, there must be a specific focus on the envelope or shape of the sound – its amplitude, pitch, and any filter and/or modulator.
For example, a standard kick sound may begin as a humble sine wave – easy enough – but it is not a static sound. There is usually a sharp spike in pitch at the beginning of the sound followed by a rapid drop along a carefully-tweaked curve, followed by a rapid decay in volume. Another oscillator (perhaps noise) might add an extra bit of buzz and ‘click’, with a third envelope controlling the cutoff of a resonant lowpass filter. The second oscillator may have its own volume envelope as well, cutting it shorter than the pitch (fundamental) envelope of the first oscillator.
These considerations are only the beginning. Through additive and FM synthesis, one can create much more complex interactions between multiple oscillators and modulators, in which case one must meticulously balance harmonics and overtones. A little too much of a spike can quickly turn an FM sound into pure noise… though that may be useful for something later Granular and wavetable synthesis introduce many more possibilities in creating evolving percussive sounds like crashes, or unusual overtone series for exotic snares and thips.
Layering comes next – but not all the time. In some cases, simplicity and minimalism makes for a more effective sound. In other situations, the use of multiple patches on multiple synthesizers creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, we might use FM synthesis to generate a highpassed series of overtones while an analog synth handles the thunderous low-end with a lowpassed, rezzy triangle. Layering is also particularly useful with some of our complex, dubstep-inspired bass sounds which often have violent and chaotic middle layers, but rock-solid subs.
After the skeleton of the sound has been created through synthesis and layering, we move on to Processing and really get into the nitty-gritty of sound sculpting. Processing encompasses tools like EQ, compression, limiting, saturation, distorting, amping (or re-amping), spatial FX and much more. While not every sound necessarily uses layering, every sound in CSD Pro uses quite a bit of processing to achieve an end result that is immediately usable. I have personally purchased many drum libraries that have fairly ‘flat’ sounds which can be brought to life with plenty of multiband limiting, tape distortion, and re-rendering, but that was definitely not our goal here.
From the screenshot you can see that we use quite a variety of tools, from renowned commercial plugins to some very handy free processors that we find to be competitive with even the very best commercial options. However, we’ve also taken processing outside the box with hardware compression / limiting, such as with the finicky and extremely temperamental Valley People Dyna-mite stereo limiter. Though we are keen on making sure every sound is polished to a mirror shine with a custom signal chain, we’re also avoiding a common annoyance among many other drum libraries by generally leaving out spatial FX. Nothing is worse than finding a great impact tone only to find it has baked in cathedral reverb!
At this point, the sound asset has been created (with possibly a slew of variations) and the Editing work begins. Percussive sounds tend to be easier to edit than many other instrument types due to the lack of a human ‘attack’ such as a thumb or bow gently touching the string or the tonguing of a brass instrument. That is not to say that there are no decisions to be made; sloppy editing can truncate a juicy transient sound, while over-editing multiple variations of a sound can make them more sterile and lifeless (ironic for electronic noises, but it really is true!) Meanwhile, sustained sounds such as basses cannot be edited automatically – proper loop points can only be made through very careful work and lots of listening.
Once sounds have been properly edited, it is time for Programming & Integration. As with the free version, CSD Pro will of course include 24-bit WAV files that can be used in any sampler, or dropped into a project as-is. However, we are also creating an advanced, intuitive and useful Kontakt 5 patch that we think will be very useful and time-saving. To do this, our first task is setting up individual samples (WAV files) into groups, and then mapping them across the keyboard in zones. We plan on segmenting the library into two patches: tonal material and percussion. The percussive patch will be playable drum kit style (one key = one drum sound, velocity sensitive) while the tonal patch will have layerable sounds spread across the keyboard with deeper editing options on a per-sound basis.
Kontakt scripting is an arcane art unto itself – though quite powerful, it is also severely lacking in documentation, often creating much consternation on the part of developers. That said, the feeling of compiling and applying thousands of lines of script and not getting an error message is pretty magical and makes it all worthwhile! As far as our script design, our goal is keep the needs of the modern composer in mind (it’s right in our slogan!) and that means creating tools that reduce, rather than add, complexity. We want to simplify and streamline things like post-processing, filter/EQ and modulation, not just by making those controls available on the UI but by creating sub-presets WITHIN a patch that let you create unique combinations of variations instantly, with a minimum of effort.
In the coming weeks / months, we hope to show you even more from CSD Pro, from demo songs to individual patches, video and more. Thank you for reading, and please leave your comments below or on our Facebook page!
- Andrew Aversa