Sonokinetic’s latest library delves into the intriguing world of minimalism. Mark Cousins takes it easy…
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Minimum system requirements – Kontakt 5
Sonokinetic’s unique approach to sampling has delivered a number of interesting orchestral libraries, from the ‘massed ensemble’ sound of Da Capo to the orchestral colours and phrases of Vivace. The company’s latest offering, Minimal, takes a similar approach to that of Vivace, containing a range of tempo-sync’ed orchestral phrases that can be triggered across a variety of keys. The unique take with Minimal, though, is that the phrases have a stylistic bias towards the sound of minimalism, as well as being recorded on a section-by-section basis, making them ideal for constructing ‘hybrid’ orchestral textures.
Less is More
Minimal’s striking interface is certainly in keeping with its musical intentions, looking more like a Mondrian painting than a virtual instrument! Intriguingly, this visual approach makes sense as each colour panel can be assigned its own part of the orchestra – strings, wind, brass and percussion – and you can even choose to double-up a section across two panels. Within each section you can then assign a phase, illustrated by a unique ‘graphic score’ of lines and dots. The phrases themselves cover typical glass-like arpeggios, chugging chords and some luscious legato motifs, all of which work wonderfully when layered on top of each other.
The layered sections are triggered by playing major or minor chords on your controller keyboard or from a sequence in your DAW. As you move around your chosen chord progression, the orchestra weaves intricate, tempo-accurate minimalist phrases to accompany the harmonic movement, even adding a dedicated release sample when you release the chord. Controls on the interface, alongside various keyswitching options, allow further refinement over elements such as level, pan and crossfade time, while a useful keyboard-based presets switching system lets you dynamically move between radically different panel assignments on-the-fly.
In keeping with the other Sonokinetic orchestral libraries, Minimal has been recorded with four different microphone sets – Close, Decca Tree, Wide and Balcony – that you can mix and match as you see fit. If you want to save memory and drive resources you can make use of a special Tutti patch, which presents all the mic positions mixed as a single audio file.
Although it would be easy to dismiss the minimalist approach (especially if you’re not a fan of Philip Glass!), it’s important to note the versatility in Minimal that isn’t explicit in its title. In truth, what Minimal provides is handy, tempo-sync’ed orchestral movement, neatly organised into sections of the orchestra. As such, you don’t need to construct a whole piece from Minimal, but instead use it to provide waves of textural, orchestral movement that’s often hard to re-create using traditional instrument-based multisamples. Indeed, you need only to listen to the interweaving string textures in scores like Daft Punk’s Tron to realise that the sound of Minimal can transplant itself across a range of genres.
As with Vivace, the attention to detail and musicality is superb. All of the various phrases have been scored beautifully, making full use of each instrument set and the techniques of minimalist orchestration. Having control on a section-by-section is also great, offering countless possibilities when you factor in the potential of layering different phrases. Possibly the only criticism are the varying degrees of success when Kontakt’s time compression/expansion is pushed too hard. In that respect, it would be beneficial to have some indication of a phrase’s original tempo, if only to get an idea about where a phrase might sound its best.
Although some purists tend to avoid phrase-based libraries, there’s little doubt that the colour and movement can really help to define and enhance the sonic landscape of your music. In this respect, Minimal is a great addition to the Sonokinetic range, and a surprisingly powerful musical tool.