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20 July 2010

CAMEL AUDIO VIRAL OUTBREAK | £39

REVIEW
Oi! Virologists! If one were to splice the DNA of H1N1 and H5N1, might pigs fly? OK, you can go away now while we Muzologists deal with a Viral Outbreak in Scotland that’s being spread by Camel. Which is a round-about way of saying that Edinburgh-based music software developer Camel Audio has [PR-speak alert] ‘brought to market’ a new library of sample-based instruments, the aforementioned Viral Outbreak. It’s the work of Canada’s Nucleus SoundLab, a company more associated with ReFills for Propellerheads Reason and, true to character, Nucleus has already developed a Viral ReFill, as well as a VSTi, both software incarnations of Access Music’s Virus TI, a hardware synth used by the likes of Depeche Mode, Hans Zimmer, Linkin Park, NIИ and many more.


Biologically, the virus is one of the most successful species on the planet (the bacterium, of course, knocks it into a cocked hat) and key to that success is its ability to mutate. What we have in the MuzoBlog bio-facility is a mutation that specifically targets the pandemically popular sample-based soft synth, Camel Audio’s Alchemy. So, is this Viral Outbreak pathalogical or benign? Might it make you sniffy, or cure your electronica-engineering agonies and IDM-induced ills? Have I distressed the medical metaphor to breaking point, or not?

OK, back to the planet. What we have here is a 170Gb library of 150 sounds with 1,200 variations split into eight categories: Arpeggiated, Bass, Leads, Loops, Pads, Sound Effects, Soundscapes and Synths. So that’s 32 synths, 24 pads, 24 loops, 22 soundscapes, 15 basses, 14 leads, 10 arpeggiated sequences and nine SFX, all ultra-tweakable by Alchemy’s mighty synth engine. Or you can use Alchemy Player, a £39 ‘lite’ version of Alchemy that’s bundled free with the £39 Viral Outbreak. A freebie, then. We likes freebies and think Access Music should apply the same marketing strategy to the TI. Some hope.

Designed by Adam Fielding, Shaun Wallace, M Lewis Osborne, Nucleus founder Jeremy Janzen and the curiously monickered Tasmodia, Outbreak is billed an electronica-friendly, IDM-matey collection of pop blips, unison leads, dancing arpeggios, ambient drones and washes, shimmering pads, bizarre formant FX and sci-fi soundscapes. Phew! So without further ado, let’s enliven our lugholes and listen...

Arpeggios & Loops

Arpeggiated patterns and loopy stuff from Viral

Bass & Leads

Low-end squelchiness and a soupçon of zingy lead-lines

Synthetic Pads

Ambience a-go-go with soaring pads just gagging for a gate

Soundscapes & SFX

Viral Outbreak sounds well sick (ie, ‘good’ in yoof-speak) with FX loaded

Synths, Mallets & Strings

Bong and string along as Outbreak outputs the percussive and bowed 

Textures

Ambient again, we’ve evolving atmospherics with a hint of buzz-bass

You got all that? Good. Genre-wise, I've a handle on electronica - you dance to it by sticking wet fingers into a mains socket, right? But I’ve always wondered about ‘intelligent dance music’. Anyone care to name an artist that puts out particularly unintelligent dance music? Declare your dunderheaded dance dork in the Comments panel below, and please include a website address pointing at the numbskull nominee so we can all listen in and feel superior. Anyway, you’ve heard some snippets from the Viral Outbreak library, so what’s the rest of it like?

It has ever been the alchemist’s dream to turn lead into gold. And the leads in Outbreak, when cranked through Alchemy, are pretty precious. My particular favourite from Leads is Wallace’s Bad Order, a zingy, portamento-blessed monophonic affair that warbles excitedly when you hold a low note and stab at the higher end of the keyboard. Advancing to Arpeggiated and Tasmodia’s HypnoTic provides an echoey buzz sequence with a smooth drone in the background, while flipping the modwheel back and forth induces appealing blippyness. Fielding’s In The Machine Bass is a real subwoofer-rumbler, made all the more fun by twaddling with Alchemy’s ModFX Mix which brings in a disturbing chorus-mash that sounds like it could disembowel clubbers out on a loud Saturday-night’s vodka/Red Bull-fuelled barf-fest.

Leaping on Loops and Fielding fields the swell, swelling Increasing Pulse, which is great in the lower registers for truly sinister stuff. Pads plays host to Lilac Ghosts by Tasmodia. It’s ghostly, it’s atmospheric (not sure about lilac), and LP Cutoff can be adjusted via the modwheel for a gasp more breathiness. Sound Effects are, as you’d expect, odd and the most effective of these for me has to be Osborne’s Space Docking, spewing forth a noisy ‘pfft’ pulse with a hollow drone down in there. Cutoff increases the sound’s intensity rather prettily. And Osborne scores again in Soundscapes with Ghost Sprinklers, which sounds like Alchemy is dropping out of warp drive. Use the HP Cut to induce strange mid-range wobbles. The only slightly disappointing category is Synths, but maybe I just have a penchant for the more impactful. That said, I can see how some of the synths would suit step-sequencer treatment for pulse-propelled perambulation. In all, a more versatile sound-set than the marketing spiel suggests and worth getting your hands on if you’ve full-blown Alchemy (not just Player) to mash things further.

Incidentally, while the presets in Viral Outbreak are shiny and fresh, the sample library has previously featured in Nucleus SoundLabs’ Viral Outbreak ReFill and VST. If you own one of these products, get along to the Support area of Camel’s website and email your receipt for a 50% discount on the alchemical version. If you’ve not already contracted a different strain of Viral infection, £39 seems a small price to pay should you be desirous of dance-music mixes, or even ambient excursions. Add a TR-909, or TR-808, plug-in and that’s all you’ll need to scamper across a broad landscape of genres. Classical is probably out, as is trad jazz, but for forging electronica, ambient and even the oh-so-popular progressive, Viral Outbreak is very effective and virulently infective.


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