IDIOPHONES by Sonokinetic Review

IDIOPHONES by Sonokinetic Review

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It’s been a long time since we’ve taken a look at a percussion library like Idiophones. For most who have made the transition from real orchestra writing to “in-the-box” writing, percussion was the first thing to go fully digital. Generally, percussion is easy to sample and easy to make sound perfectly “real” in a synthetic orchestra. I don’t think I’ve used a percussion player in a score since “The Jesus Film” in 2011. And why? For the most part, orchestral percussion is buried in the back of a stage reverb with high frequencies rolled off due to proximity. There’s also not a great deal of change in percussion instruments or nuance once struck so sampling can be limited to a few round robins and dynamics, maybe a couple of mallets and microphone choices, and no one is the wiser. 

So it was with no small amount of cynicism that we opened up the new Sonokinetic percussion library “Idiophones.” We honestly didn’t understand why anyone would create a library which has been covered so many ubiquitous and unnecessary times. But what we discovered made our cynicism evaporate.

Idiophones' Crotales are jewels of performance dynamics

In order to fully rank as a library to replace my current set of slightly-aged percussion libraries, a new one would need to have a clear sonic signature, high round robin count, clean sonic signatures with unlimited microphone capabilities and a low CPU count – as my current orchestral template takes over 1 TB of hard drive space and nearly 100 GB of RAM. It would also need to be easy to move from one performance style to another. It’s a pretty tall order on which any library should make do.

The first Idiophone instrument in the Kontakt folder was the Crotales. I deploy crotales often enough that they need to be of the right sonic culture to blend with my setup. My initial response to these samples was that they didn’t have the same kind of deep aural presence that I’m used to hearing from my sampled crotales. But after a quick moment, I realized that they actually sound far MORE like REAL crotales…and I’d just become accustomed to listening to my sampled ones. “Temp Love” basically. 

The amount of round robins are so many that it’s nearly impossible to tell when they cycle. The rings are nearly infinite musically. And the nature of the samples are completely musical in a full range of sonic clarity. 

The other three instruments, glockenspiel, marimba and xylophone invoked identical responses. Not what we’re used to hearing from our comparatively limited mallet libraries, but far more real. The Marimba patch has an especially poignant dynamic and musical nature. From extremely soft malleted pianississimos to strong hard malleted fortissimos…it’s clear and musical.

The brilliance of the coding regarding the multiplicity of microphone choices is seamless. With everything from generically named “small diaphragm” stereo mics to my personal favorite: the binaural head, there are unlimited combinations of mixing these together. Deploying them is sort of fun. You just “pull them up” from hanging cables. As if you were pushing them up as a fader. Of course, the more mics you deploy in the mix, the more samples and CPU power are required. But it will suffice to say that with a simple convolution reverb, the stage upon which these instruments was recorded beautifully blends into my orchestral pallet.

The binaural head "mic" is my favorite overall

The addition of organic equalization and other effects allows the instruments to punch through a mix or lay back into the shadows. These mix elements can be chosen on the fly during performance from cleverly deployed key switches. Key switching is a major component of the performance capabilities of this instrument as you can switch between single hits, clusters, tremolos and rhythmic table sequences. 

Eq/effect settings can be selected via key switches

Although there is countless round robins available on all patches and instruments, the ability to create from slow to extremely fast “sequencing” of notes is valuable for all manner of non-idiomatic playing (which is absolutely a pleasure to engage in). Jumping into the “sequencer” capability of the instrument is as easy as selecting a new key switch. Pre-programmed sequences are available as well as the ability to select one’s own customized selections.

The ability to sequence rapid notes is easy to recall and program.

Whether one has great samples or not, whether one has percussion, strings, brass or woodwind samples or not, the most important aspect of creating realism is placement both in panorama and depth. Here, in this manner, the Idiophones percussion library creates a maximum flexibility. 

Not only are we able to have infinite mixing capability with the microphones sampled, but we have infinite placement ability in the hall and stage. One can actually drag the microphone of choice anywhere on a map from deep to shallow reverb; close to far position. It’s both elegant and powerful. Combined with multiple microphones and multiple positions, it makes curating the sound one wishes for blending or bombarding the rest of sampled instruments a joy.

Instrument position is created by an elegant 2D matrix.

To be fair, I would wish that they had outfitted a larger percussion section in this library which might have included timpany, piatti, gongs, toms etc. But given that this covers the bulk of the pitched percussion in the percussion section (save piano, tubular bells and timpani), I’ll be inserting these samples into my template and putting to bed my CinePercussion and even old Vienna Ensemble instances.

Where does this library fall short? It loads quite slowly due to the amount of data required for all round robins, and it does take up no small amount of memory when fully loaded. But as with all of my orchestral samples, I strip all loaded samples out of them from within Kontakt when saved into the basic template, so the only samples which are loaded are those which are performed. In so doing, it loads no slower than any other Kontakt instance.

I greatly appreciate Sonokinetic for rousing me out of Cinemasound slumber to bring this review to you all. Happy writing. Happy programming. And I’ll see you in post.

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