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19 January 2015


Since foundation in 2007, British sampling specialist Spitfire Audio has forged a feisty reputation for creating world-class libraries of a classical bent for Native Instruments Kontakt. In fact, it immediately became clear, on the release of a debut product line in 2010, that the company’s output would be as characterful and quintessentially British as RJ Mitchell's slightly famous fighter aircraft.

Spitfire’s first outing, the Albion range, demonstrated there’s more to the company’s ethos than combining quality sampling with clever scripting and ingenious interface design by which to challenge the Kontakt engine.

Spitfire’s founders deduced that a sterile, machine-driven approach would result in yet more me-too offerings, indistinguishable from the waves of watery orchestral sample libraries already flooding the market. Rather, they hit on hosing the audience with the sensibilities of wetware (people), liberally dispensing the human spirit and character that do great instrumental performances make. And such is the case with eDNA01 - Earth, the ‘e’ for ‘electronic’, followed by ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ (presumably), along with the library’s planet of origin...

Whatever the reasoning behind the name, squirting all this characterfully human goo around created an an ocean of overmatter; terabytes of stuff amassed during years of product development that other outfits may have just spat into the sink. Not so our resourceful Spits.

From the promo accompanying last October's launch of eDNA01 - Earth, you'd think Spitfire’s hoarding was part of some deliberate strategy to eventually release an other-worldly anthology of instruments so characterful, they'd need sedatives.

Whether or not there was method in the amassing, the important thing is that it’s resulted in a Kontakt library stuffed with timbres you’d expect to hear issuing from a very trick synthesiser, but which sound way beyond the capabilities of an electronic device. The raw material comprises performances by DNA-ridden humans... and there’s little more tricksy than humans.

The developer’s product pages set out in detail the philosophy and scope of this adventure in synthetic genetics, but let’s whittle things down:

Spitfire Audio eDNA01 - Earth vital statistics
● 44.8GB of sample data losslessly compressed to 26.8GB
● 8,048 WAVs - 48kHz, 24-bit
● 34.9 hours of programme material
● 1,900+ basic instruments
● 34 effects slots hosting 3-band parametric EQ; Jump guitar amp sim; limiter; tape saturation; distortion; non-linear saturation; lo-fi bit crusher; stereo modeller; freewheel & host-tempo-locked delay; modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser); standard & convolution reverb; formant filters; 2x vowel filters; ladder peak & notch filters
● 1,001 custom patches
● Six artist-designed patch collections, or 'cartridges'
● Eight factory-collection cartridges with up to 600 sounds each
● Loads in Native Instruments Kontakt Player & full Kontakt 4+
Extensive online manual
£149 plus VAT via download

That certainly appears to be one heavily armed Spitfire, but specs are only a small part of the story. If you've diligently scampered to and from the developer's product pages (that’s what HTML is for, dammit!), you'll have an idea of Earth's immense sophistication.

Essentially, we've two 'oscillators', or sample-based sound sources, ready for EQ-ing, envelope shaping and further processing. They can then be X-faded via the modulation wheel, or by the 'motor' LFOs, fed into a pair of gate sequencers and further mangled with master FX before reaching the outside world. Or, and this is where things go nuts, the two sound sources can be sent to further FX along with the output of the master FX for further treatment.

A video might better describe the workflow and, waddya know, here's one now...

Told you it's sophisticated. Spitfire's super-nifty scripting offers a level of sound-mangling that makes many a competitors' library look a bit pants, although there is one quibble. Some of the control sliders on the interface are tiny, which means expending that little extra concentration when tweaking.

Niggles aside, when you tot up Earth's wealth of sample data and ponder the power of its sound engine, 'awesome' barely does it justice. Mind you, in recent times the impact of that word has been hobbled rather by juveniles and their adult counterparts, marketing/PR executives. Time to resurrect ‘stupefying’, or ‘wondrous’?

Enough with the newspeak already. We're musicians and we demand noise, so it's time to set aside an hour or three for a tour of Earth's sextet of artists’ cartridges, bearing such evocative monickers as Apocalypz, Sound Swamp and Disphoria. With up to 600 sounds each, you could happily dispense with the notion of devising your own, such is the quantity of expertly crafted sonic mayhem already to hand. Here's a playlist of all six artist offerings which, at a running time of approx three hours, does ram home the size issue firmly...

Earth's Factory cartridges, meantime, offer the means by which to get hands delightfully dirty. You can dig into any of the 1,900+ presets and change the sample pairings on which each patch is based, prior to warping them out of all recognition with the extensive processing covered earlier. In this way, you'll be whipping up your own custom cartridges in as much time as it takes to get your head around the widget-festooned interface - it does take some learning, but the effort is rewarded in spades.

The bone-idle will doubtless be happy enough to rely on artist collections, and the good news is that the six bundled with this first incarnation of Earth heralds more to come. Version 1.1, says the dev, rolls out a further four cartridges and one of the the fun things about working on a publication like FellKlang is that we often get to see such stuff ahead of launch.

In this case, we've one of the four newbies, a collection titled 'Wheelspin' which is designed to showcase the potential of waggling the modwheel up and down/back and forth - however your controller’s modulation device is built. More impulse responses also feature, as do enhancements to the XFade oscillator and gate sequencer, so let's take in yet another video to see what's coming up...

With eDNA01 - Earth, Spitfire Audio has taken a busman's holiday, turning its audio curios into a Kontakt instrument that is fun, challenging and just plain weird in equal measure. Just plonking the sample material onto the market untempered would have given us a zany collection of sound bytes, some inspiring; some too silly for sensible use.

However, the developer has exercised scripting smarts with vim to deliver an instrument that produces sounds from the sublime to the sectionable. A large core library is no measure of a Kontakt instrument's worth, although Earth's whopping 44.8GB of samples is impressive. As ever, it's what you do with them that counts and Spitfire's scripting certainly makes for boggling possibilities.

Superb for soundtrackery, scintillating for sound design, well-sick for psychedelic and of no use whatsoever for country and western (wahey!), Earth is a cost-effective addition to one's sonic arsenal and best filed under 'eccentric'.

You'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere such characterful core sounds and trick scripting in other Kontakt titles at this price. And Spitfire Audio's plans for further eDNA resequencing bodes well. All that with not one mention of the phrase 'out of this world'. Ah...
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