Alex Holmes checks out a versatile sampled-piano instrument from Native Instruments that will add the ethereal to your material…
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System Requirements Mac OS X 10.9 to 10.11, Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM, Windows 7, 8, or 10 (latest Service Pack, 32/64-bit), Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD AthlonTM 64 X2, 4 GB RAM, Free Kontakt 5 Player or Kontakt 5 (version 5.5.1 or higher)
Piano instruments are like drum samples for the modern producer; you’ll likely have more than you need of various styles, sizes and quality that you’ve collected over the years.
Una Corda from Native Instruments is a little different, though, and offers up a deeply sampled version of a unique piano, hand-built by David Klavins in collaboration with composer Nils Frahm. It only has one string per note, which gives a much purer sound than the usual three strings found on your average piano, and allows the user to easily slot in different prepared materials to dampen and affect the way the hammers hit the strings.
The technical side of this massive 10GB Kontakt Instrument has been put together by Uli Baronowsky and Galaxy Instruments, who are also responsible for The Giant, and Definitive Piano Collection for Kontakt. The one-of-a-kind original instrument was recorded using an array of mics and kit in Saal 3 at the Funkhaus in Berlin, a famous old broadcast studio in East Germany.
You get three different Kontakt patches with the pure piano sound, a prepared piano with felt between the hammer and string, and one with cotton, plus 100 incredibly varied snapshot presets saved across all three versions.
Essentially, the pure sound is closest to a normal piano, with a more resonant and clean tone; the felt has a more gentle, electric piano-esque sound with softer attack; and the cotton is more percussive, with hints of harpsichord. Where things get really interesting is in the huge tweakability afforded by the Kontakt GUI. There’s a basic front page with tone, dynamics and space, and three more for deeper sound design.
More Than Meets the Eye
The first page is the Workbench, which allows you to sculpt the primary characteristics of the instrument. Here you can add harmonics, reverse samples, control the tonal depth, and add a second fabric to the prepared piano sound. You can also choose from a long list of ambient background noise, dial in mechanical and pedal noise, and even add in the sounds of the pianist moving and breathing. These interesting textures can even be brought to the forefront by removing the main piano sound.
Next, you have the Response section where you can control how the instrument responds with controls for dynamics and overtones, and finally, you have the Finish section. It’s here that the sound-design opportunities really open up, as you can choose from a large number of vintage-effects-chain and convolution reverbs.
You can give the instrument a shimmering electric piano or toy-speaker effect, then feed it through simple reverbs or complex, swirling space convolutions to create some incredibly deep, pad-like tones. You’ll also find controls for EQ, compression and saturation, transients and stereo image. It’s the more ethereal textures where Una Corda really shines. There’s a richness and depth to the instrument that sounds infinitely beautiful and cinematic. The flexibility of the GUI and excellent convolution options make this a great sound-design tool for soundtracking.
If prepared pianos are your thing, then you could check out the IRCAM Prepared Piano from UVI ($399), which is more expensive, but has 45 different preparations. Alternatively, there’s VSL Prepared Piano (€65) at a much cheaper price, but neither has the deep, ethereal quality of Una Corda.
Strike a Chord
Una Corda is more expensive than NI’s other piano instruments, but it’s also more versatile. It’s been created with love and attention, and the results are often breathtaking. This is an inspiring instrument that oozes class and with very few tweaks can be morphed from a gentle, upfront piano, to a swirling, dissonant and clunking beast.
● Prepared piano instrument for Kontakt 5 and Kontakt 5 Player
● 10GB of audio
● Three Kontakt Instruments, with 100 snapshot presets
● Clean, plus felt and cotton preparations
● Deeply sampled from a one-of-a-kind handcrafted instrument