Drones and atmospheres have become big business for sample library developers. These sounds were first heard in earnest in the late 1980s when digital synths gained sample memory sizes allowing us to blend sampled sounds with synthesised elements. The result was the hybrid, evolving sounds made famous by Korg’s M1 and Wavestation. These instruments introduced us to a new breed of atmospheric texture.
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More recently, as bread-and-butter orchestral sounds have become commonplace, sample makers have begun catering to the more esoteric. This includes looking towards the margins of sound design to create sound palettes that help composers further refine their productions.
The latest example to focus on eerie, celestial and horror-laden atmospheric layers is Aura, from Vir2. The subtitle of this instrument is Atmospheric Drone Builder, which begs the question: are all of the elements here designed to let you construct the atmospheric textures of your dreams?
Layers and edits
Aura runs in the full version of NI’s Kontakt 6 or the latest version of its free Kontakt Player. The interface has four engines, each of which can host a different sound. You can move between these engines – or layers – with an X/Y pad that acts as a four-way crossfader. Conveniently, you can automate this motion in your DAW or map it to hardware controllers to free up your mouse.
There’s a wide selection of sounds included, and you can load these into any of the four engines simply by clicking on the current sound and selecting from a pop-up menu. You can either scroll through all options or tailor your selections via 16 categories such as Dark, Tension, or Metallic.
Auditioning from the menu is all in context with your other three layers. However, Vir2 has helpfully made layer mute and solo buttons part of the sample selection process, allowing you to try sounds under the microscope or layered with the other engines.
Next to each sound, a spanner icon reveals settings for each layer, including pan, pitch, low and high-pass filters, overall volume and an ADSR envelope. There are also shortcut links to engage four modulators – more on that later.
In the Edit section, you get a larger overview of the selected layer’s waveform and the ability to choose start point, loop start and end points. You can refine loops with the X-Fade Time for even smoother looping. Here is where you can also Transpose samples easily and even reassign each layer to the Master Output or one of four different output alternatives.
Modulations and effects
The sound layers themselves offer a huge range of possibilities. However, Aura becomes more magical when you introduce modulation routings.
Under the Mods heading, there are four modulatable effects slots. You can set each to Volume, Pan, Pitch, Lo-Pass, Hi-Pass, Bandpass, Multi-Bandpass (all filter types), Lo-Fi, Distortion or Reverb. The only drawback is that you can’t select the same effect type in two different slots, but they’re otherwise fully configurable.
The modulation comes from one of two LFOs and step sequencers. Each LFO has its own shape, tempo sync-able rate, fade and amount controls. Meanwhile, the step sequencers allow you to create offset steps (in either direction), and give you control over speed and amount.
These modulation sources are common to all four effects engines, so it’s easy to decide that you want volume and panning, for instance, to both feed from the same Sequencer to keep their modulation routings locked, whilst independently morphing one of the Filter types using one of the other controllers.
With either careful thought or wild button-pushing experimentation, this section of Aura makes the instrument extremely malleable. To truly personalise your drones, it requires a decent chunk of time to familiarise yourself with the options in this section. Once you’ve found modulated effect nirvana, you can trigger routings from keys on your controller, making it easy to make all hell break loose in the middle of a basic drone part.
There are comprehensive effects options, too, this time without the modulation options. Thrillingly, you get effects for each engine and the master output. Among the engine-bases effects are a 4-band EQ, plus the excellently named Phasis, Flair, Screamer and Rotator modules. On the master output, you get EQ joined by flanging, phasing, saturation, a separate tape saturator, bus compression and a limiter.
Finally, the Keyboard page lets you create key splits and dictate layering for different key ranges. You can also limit the velocity range and set a root key for each layer.
All of this would be impressive enough, but things get even better back on the Edit page for each sound engine. Here, on the right-hand side, there’s the option to drag and drop a sample of your choice. That’s right, your sounds can form the Drone Layers you want, with all of the Modulation and Effects engines ready to then take them to task to sculpt them even more closely to the sounds you imagine.
If drones and atmospheric textures are what you seek, Aura has your bases covered. There is competition out there, not least from your sampler. But, to put this much flexibility under one roof is fantastic. Aura is ready to respond, whether you want to spend three minutes preset browsing or 30 minutes getting down and dirty with importing your sounds and twisting them into new soundscapes.
- MacOS 10.12+, Windows 7+
- Intel Core i5 or equivalent
- 6GB RAM (8GB recommended), 12GB free disk space
- 415 designed drones, pads, and atmospheres
- 127 presets
- Morph sounds in real time with X/Y pad
- Four separate sound engines
- Load any external WAV or AIFF sample into any of the four sound engines
- 4 modulatable effect slots
- 24 separate effects
- Komplete Kontrol & Maschine integration
- Includes the standalone Kontakt Player 6