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16 March 2011


Sequencing a realistic-sounding guitar performance is not an exercise for the faint of heart. Programming piano, drum, glockenspiel or any other percussion instrument is a splash of urine compared with the scope of nuance that can be wrenched from a guitar. Listen to any one of numerous demo performances in which keyboard players attempt to emulate a rock guitarist and you’ll hear the giveaways. Bent notes appear synthetic; power chords antiseptic; twiddly runs a tad too neat. From Al Di Meola to Slipknot’s Jim, the raw sweat, grind and accidental grunty bits are what make guitar-sound possibly the most expressive howling short of the human voice.

So, in devising a Propellerhead Software Reason 5 and Record 1.5 barrage of guitar ReFills, what did Nucleus SoundLab do? In its typically atypical way, NS hung a wild left-turn at the traffic lights and appears to have thought: “Soddit. Let us make guitar-like scapes and to Hell with emulation.” GuitarScapes is the result and, speaking as a guitarist of many years, I’m rather glad that NS founder Jeremy Janzen exercised his ever-novel take on the world’s most popular instrument. What we have in this elegantly constructed duo of ReFills is the essence of guitar tone, but warped beyond reason. Mentioning which, if you don’t have Reason 5, then there’s no reason to read further. The $59 installation won’t work with Reason 4 or earlier, and has its limitations (like, 46 hobbled Combinators) if you don’t have Record 1.5, but do check out the note at the base of this post.

Are you still with me? Excellent. For a change, I’ll have the developer attempt to explain what GuitarScapes is all about: “Sampled guitar has always been a bit of a conundrum in the audio industry. Either it doesn't sound realistic in the slightest, or it’s very complex to sequence and perform with. Many experienced producers will tell you, for those requiring absolute realism there is still no substitute for a real guitar. So our goal with GuitarScapes is to let go of the realism requirements imposed by past sample libraries and instead focus on creating bold, new and exciting sounds. GuitarScapes takes the sampled guitar to a new universe [steady on, Jez - ed], while still keeping the spirit of guitar sound intact. GuitarScapes is built upon a very solid foundation of sampling. A variety of guitars was sampled in detail at 24-bit, 96kHz quality (before careful downsampling). Multiple pickup positions as well as up/downstrokes were captured on two of the most detailed samplesets. Besides this realworld sampling, a wide variety of analog, FM, additive and physical modelling synths were used to create a rich and complex set of guitar-like timbres. All of these samples were then hand-processed for perfect trims and loops, before being imported into the Reason 5 environment for patch creation.” 

Mr Janzen, in cahoots with Reason patch-design supremos Adam Fielding, Shaun Wallace, Lewis Osborne, Tom Pritchard, and Joseph Mizelle, took about two years to concoct this 1.2GB+ monster ReFill, so engage occipital and absorb their efforts via the following vid...

Having engaged with Jeremy’s Canadian accent, you’ll be in proper mood for lots of numbers, right? OK, GuitarScapes has 233 custom Combinators, each unique and sporting all four rotaries, buttons and modwheels mapped to, allegedly, intelligent assignments (yes, I checked). Some 46 of the Combinators work in conjunction with Reason 5 and Record, so there’s another great excuse for dropping by the Swedish developer and ReWiring Propellerhead excellence into your DAW. We’ve 55 NN19 digital sampler patches, 25 NN-XT patches and some rather neat demo songs bundled. Want to hear some? I feel a SoundCloud moment coming on...

GuitarScapes ReFill Demos by Nucleus-SoundLab

That’s GuitarScapes in context of actual compositions and I think you may now have grasped what Nucleus SoundLab is about. The nucleus of guitar sound has, under laboratory conditions, been liberally mashed. To my ears, as a die-hard guitarist with synthesizer sympathies, this is glorious stuff. If ever you’ve subjected yourself to Steve Hillage, Steve Hackett, or Steve Vai in one of his more adventurous modes, then the detour from trad guitar sound offers welcome diversion. I mentioned earlier that I’m glad this ReFill has been devised. It won’t replace my guitar anytime soon, but may tempt me away from tap-dancing on the many stomp boxes to which I am pathologically addicted. I can see NS’ latest as a big-league boon to those desirous of atmospheric pads and arpeggios, while metal-heads might like to hook in an extra Reason 5 Scream 4, or four, to really annoy the neighbours.

At the price, it’s a steal. And on that note, there’s no copy protection, so if you like what you’ve heard in the above demo tracks, do splash the cash and pay for the software you use. Otherwise, Jeremy and his friends might just get all Canadian ice hockey on your ass. Believe me, it hurts. And before you ask, I wasn’t paid to write this post, nor was I threatened with insertion of a puck into an unseemly cavity. I just believe in sound-design excellence, which SoundLab has in spades. Get Reason 5, get Record 1.5, get GuitarScapes and do what grooves you.

*Note: Your $59 is for the downloadable Reason/Record ReFill. For another $10, you’ll also get the samples on which GuitarScapes is based so they can be loaded into whatever flavour of sampler you favour. And for $79, you get the whole lot on a DVD which can be shipped anywhere on this planet at no extra cost.

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