Upon a time, a man named Doug saw a huge, gaping hole. Peering into its murky depths, he neither saw nor heard a thing. Not a peep, ping or wobble-bass. Then and there, he avowed to fill this hole with sound. But not with the pristine timbres of real-world instruments - he wanted something more edgy and with a dollop of bedlam. So began his journey towards The Dark Side - a product addressing a hole in a market crying out for banged-up, distorted, ouchy-sounding sonics. Says our protagonist Doug Rogers, founder of specialist sample-production powerhouse EastWest: “The Dark Side idea came to me when I was mentoring a young alternative group about some demos they sent me. To my ears, the tracks didn’t sound tough enough for their intended market, so I told them they needed to toughen up their sound.” Trawling the sample library market, including EastWest’s considerable catalogue, he couldn’t find the “mass aural destruction” required to finesse the band’s ditties. So, partnering with Grammy-winning producer and famed doyen of distortion devotees everywhere Dave Fridmann, he set about trashing the timbres of traditional instruments in order to achieve full-on sonic mayhem in a neatly organised EastWest instrument.
Heavyocity or Zero-G library might produce. Well, they do, but there’s something else afoot. The best word with which to describe a fair proportion of the sounds on offer is ‘creepy’. MIPA Award at this year’s Frankfurt Musikmesse. Before we get onto the sounds and examine how an entire track can be built from a single instance of this Windows and OS X-compatible, 32/64-bit standalone or VST/AU/RTAS plugin instrument, let’s look at the underlying architecture.
As with a number of EastWest offerings, at the core lies PLAY, a software engine that draws upon themed sample libraries and presents them for manipulation via whichever interface is appropriate to the library you've bought. The Dark Side sits alongside such titles as Fab Four, another MIPA Award-winning product, plus Quantum Leap’s Goliath, Gypsy, Ministry of Rock and Voices of Passion. When you buy one of the above, typically from the US and Europe-based internet retailer SoundsOnline, it’s bundled with a license for the PLAY engine that drives them all, and a whacking great load of samples upon which each interface draws. Incidentally, if you’re wondering, Quantum Leap is a division of EastWest set up by Doug in partnership with composer/producer Nick Phoenix and appears to lean more towards high-end sample libraries and the kind of virtual instruments used to score such blockbusters as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. Quality movie-soundtrack stuff, then, and this is reflected in each product's price, although it seems like every week a special offer arrives in MuzoBlog’s emailbox promising huge discounts on wedges of EW/QL’s product lines. There are also discounts to be had when buying additional licences for products you already own and wish to run simultaneously on additional computers.
|An iLok 2, yesterday - say g'bye to a USB port|
Native Instruments Kore, or Absynth, or Massive, as well as Apple Logic Pro’s Apple Loops, is made all the easier thanks to the facility to zone in on a tone type using keywords. For example, selecting Soundscapes > Heavenly > Synthetic in Kore Player will whittle down a gazillion-patch database to a short list of presets appropriate to the adjectives chosen. In The Dark Side, as with other EastWest titles, some of the .ewi filenames are fairly sensible: Fuzz Bass, Backwards Distorted Guitar and Verb Kit Verb 1 give a reasonable indication of what you’re likely to hear. But Chameleon Morpher, Psycho and Dark Dirt, as labelled in TDS’s instrumentation lists (click Instrumentation on this page for a gander at the gamut), makes finding the right sound something of a guessing game on occasion.
CamelAudio Alchemy’s Factory Pads listing?). Whatever, once you’ve hit on something promising in TDS - ClockworkO.ewi, perhaps, or Mandamadness.ewi - there are some neat tools in the Player interface that will warp your selection beyond the warped imaginings of Rogers and Fridmann having a warpy day in trans-warp drive. Stereo Double, Delay and a Resonance and Frequency-adjustable Filter reside at left.
Now then, words can only say so much about an audio tool, so it’s time to listen most carefully to what a talented troupe of composers can do with The Dark Side’s raw sounds and deformation devices. Co-producer Doug suggests that the sounds on tap are well-suited to adding extra oomph to parts of a track, implying that you'd not want to base an entire arrangement on TDS's instruments. With that thought firmly in mind, the writers of the works below have based their arrangements entirely on TDS instruments. Hurrah! Zennor Alexander’s The Wizard of Darkness features by far the most instrumentation, but I’ll point out his Ex Vita Morte (clever bit of Latin wordplay for you Oxbridgians there) because we’re taking it to the movies later...
Timothy Eilers & Terry Michael Huud: The Other Side
Robert Abernethy: Dark Days
Zennor Alexander: Mechanica Industrialis
Zennor Alexander: It’s Hell in Heaven
Zennor Alexander: The Wizard of Darkness
Zennor Alexander: Ex Vita Morte
That little lot gives you some idea of what happens when expert muzos turn to The Dark Side. In places hard as nails, in others subtle as you like; the works above demonstrate the instrument’s versatility in a musical context, albeit that EastWest was also keeping soundtrack composers and videogame developers high on its hit list when screwing up the original sound sources. Some processed patches do appear overcooked, especially the odd percussion hit, prompting me to check the clipping indicators on the mixer, and that a disgruntled former girlfriend hadn’t taken a razor blade to my monitors’ cones. And that my bunny rabbit hadn’t found its way into a pan on the cooker’s hob. However, one clever feature is that the velocity sensitivity of some of the presets doesn’t merely govern how loud a note will sound. Certain devices actually change timbre depending on how rapidly you hit the key, and those whose labels are appended with ‘mod’ actually mix between timbres as you manipulate the modulation wheel.
With many of the other sounds available, ModWheel is assigned to a filter sweep, which is rather more adventurous than merely inducing vibrato. And this leads me to a bit of a gripe. The manual is thin on coverage of MIDI implementation. Yes, it tells you which continuous controllers alter modulation, expression, volume and the like, but what if I want to, for example, tweak just the Resonance knob, or engage ADT by remote from a MIDI controller or sequencer? I haven’t figured this out yet and if I’m to post further articles on PLAY-based titles (Ministry of Rock 2 is up for the MuzoBlog treatment very soon, y’know), then EastWest’s tech support and I really ought to be having words. Meantime, let’s actually see how the final demo track, Ex Vita Morte, was put together for insight into the interface’s operability. All the best trilogies come in threes and EastWest’s video demo is no exception. So microwave some popcorn, sit back and ogle..
Neat, if unnerving with those soulless eyes staring at you. And soul is maybe a genre with which The Dark Side is not on side. The same could be said of swing, C&W, reggae, folk, blues and other more laid-back stylings. But for the laid-forward, there’s plenty to be had. Doug Rogers puts forward toughening up a pop song’s hook or dabbling in ‘alternative’ (alternative to what, though?) as ideal fodder for casting into darkness. Industrial, metal, progressive, jungle, neo-classical, synth-phonic and more also spring to mind. Just bear in mind that you’ll have to exercise patience, not only in installing it (six dual-layer DVDs for the PLAY engine and content, for Heaven’s sake), but in extracting the max from certain of the less instantly gratifying raw presets. In this case, percipient use of the The Dark Side’s sound shapers in Player view pays dividends. It could be, and has been, argued that you could extract similarly insane sounds from a number of soft synths and FX plugins. But when working on a commercial TV or movie soundtrack, adding audio to a videogame, or when creative juices are gushing forth impatiently, time is not on your side. Hence rapid access to a wealth of audio wreckage becomes a must, and this is where The Dark Side scores when you're scoring to a deadline or attempting to keep up with musical machinations gone manic. The instruments load good and quick and, if you've a decent number of cores to your computer's processor, PLAY doesn't make too much of a hit on system resources. EastWest may be better known for accurate renderings of trad timbres, but this step toward the merciless mauling of sound shows that the company is not afraid to embrace its Darth side.
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