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23 February 2013

HYBRID TWO PROJECT ALPHA | £149

REVIEW
When dying on a film set, as you do, it's de rigeur to vocalise the Wilhelm scream. It's a kind of yodel-shriek that features in numerous movies, having become an in-joke among filmmakers, and illustrates a phenomenon that could be called dialog-replacement fatigue, but isn't.

The sound itself is from a series of audio takes named after the unfortunate Private Wilhelm who, in 1953 movie The Charge At Feather River, copped an arrow. Nowadays, barely a film goes by without some unfortunate having it dubbed over their demise and, of course, the knowing in the audience will eagerly listen out for it.

While all terribly hilarious, such readily recognisable sounds are a pain for those applying music to movies and other media. When one composer hits on a fabulous boink, drone or gargle, lo! Everyone else copies it, which leads to what some call patch fatigue. A reedy, swelling synth patch reeks of Vangelis, while an expansive arrangement using Spectrasonics Omnisphere is likely to Zimmer forth, despite that synth's diverse sonic capabilities.

There's the challenge for the developer - the relatively new Hybrid Two in this review - when putting together a collection of cinematic sounds: How to present film-friendly patches of such quality that everyone will want to use them, while offering sufficient diversity to avoid ubiquity.

12 February 2013

TOONTRACK THE BLUES EZX | £51.95 / €69

REVIEW
Anyone remotely interested in the Devil's music will know from whence the blues comes. That's right, it's from middle-class 40-somethings who, having given up trying to be rock stars in their 20s, persist in taking to the stage at local bars to keep their hands in should a long overdue call arrive.

Armed only with three, maybe four chords, a handful of pentatonic licks and as gravelly a voice as can be coaxed from a throat that gave up smoking stogies when the kids arrived, today's blues artist howls in grief at falling victim to the wage-slave trade. Or that their baby done left them. Or they've had too many babies which are lately demanding the latest consoles and mobiles. OK, so the story of the blues is rather more involved, taking in tell of hideous inhumanity and the music that helped sustain those crushed by the free market. But for all the horrific backstory and depressive outlook, it's still a pretty popular genre. Blues acolytes, while not as cataclysmically morose as country artists, have good reason to be fed up.

They've accepted loss of liberty and the fierce lash of the paymaster; the real downer is that many in the modern era will never be authentic. They're not old enough, or of the wrong heritage, or are insufficiently hard up. However, as with people, shades of authenticity can be bought and here's a blue-hued comestible in the shape of Toontrack's latest EZdrummer expansion, The Blues EZX.

06 February 2013

VIR2 STUDIO KIT BUILDER | £99*

REVIEW
Today's muzo is positively spoiled for drums, from basic rock kits, through orchestral and electronic percussion, to world timbres and SFX. So how does Vir2 aim to apply its, thus far, left-field take on sample-based instruments to the needs of the recording musician, trigger-equipped player or both?

The developer has a sterling reputation for adventurous sampleism, oft times taking traditional sounds and warping them into the bizarre. Electri6ity, for example, mangles the electric guitar into new territory with a host of treatments at sample level, further tweakable by some cunning coding for Native Instruments' Kontakt engine.

For virtual violin, we've the distinctive eructations of Violence; for acoustic guitar, Fractured. It's not all strum, Drang and smack your pitch up, however. The company's Acoustic Legends HD, presenting a host of plucked and fretted instruments, has been around for a while and has picked up numerous plaudits for its realism and the control offered. So let's learn of Vir2's virtues with acoustic percussion.