soniccouture Balinese Gamelan sample set mini-review...
Let me state from the outset that this is a really nice package. Normally, when you get a multiple-hundreds-of-dollars sample set, the company producing it takes the whole "well, you're paying for the samples, not the box" concept to an extreme. Soniccouture have a bit of class, however, and this 3 DVD set ships in a metal box, as it should. With an incredibly nice manual that is actually worth reading. Go figure.
Let me also state from the outset that I'm a Soniccouture groupie. Not to the point of fucking everyone in the band, but I go to all the shows, and get there early so I can be in front, if you know what I mean. I have everything they've made, and their products comprise roughly half of my latest album, in some form or another. So, it's not like this mini-review is gonna be bad or anything.
Now, with those two facts stated, I should mention that I hadn't devoted more than two brain cells to gamelan in the last, oh, two decades or so. At least, not to the point where I thought "hey, this song could use some mad dinging right about... here!" What I didn't know (which will come as a surprise to all of you, because I'm fairly certain I know everything ever) is that "gamelan" isn't an instrument as such. Rather, it's like saying "barbershop quartet" or "jazz combo." A gamelan ensemble comprises 10 distinct instruments, from shukka-shukka cymbal thingies, to little and big drums, a whole heap of xylophone-kinda-things, and what have you. I had no idea.
This sample set, in true soniccouture fashion (which we'll remember from the hang drum episode) is exhaustive in the inclusion of pretty much every possible ding, whack, and bang from the whole kit and kaboodle. All samples are 96K 24bit stereo, and there are multiple velocity layers (up to 20 where appropriate) of each note. In addition, there are round-robin stacks for stuff that gets whacked or dinged a lot, so you don't get the normal "machine gun" repetition common to sampled material. Nice feature, that; the hang drum had the same thing, and I found it fairly slick in execution.
I had a lot of time to kill while copying the three (3!) DVDs to my hard drive, so I went through the manual, which is more or less a tutorial about what each instrument does, the range it is capable of playing, and what role it takes in a gamelan ensemble. The manual could be considered a mini-primer on the structure of gamelan music, and it even includes some simple charts.
Once the 22 (!) gigs of samples and such was copied, I opened Cubase, instanced Kontakt 3, and began to ding. About four hours later, my wife tapped me on the shoulder, wondering if I could please stop dinging. Once you get the feel for the layout of the various instruments (and I'll be the first to say it's odd in the beginning, because the instruments of the gamelan don't necessarily map to our equal-tempered scale with the greatest of ease), it is quite logical, and the Kontakt instruments and KSP scripts included are, in the usual soniccouture fashion, top-of-the-line. They are, in my opinion, the best thing going when it comes to utilizing the features of Kontakt to the maximum, and the gamelan set is no exception to their normal representation in this regard.
So, in summation, the packaging? Stellar. The manual? A must-read. The samples? Indescribably perfect. The Kontakt instruments? Top notch. In short, this is a fantastic package. Brutal honesty time, though: it is not cheap; you're not going to get something like this, with the time they spent on it, and the volume they can expect to sell it at, for a pittance, and that's a fact. This is a specialty item, for a specialty audience, and it has a specialty price. Now, that said, I've heard (and bought, natch) sample sets that cost far more that weren't even close to as good as this. This is the sort of thing that makes buying Kontakt worthwhile.
If you do soundtrack/scoring, or if you make ambient or "ethnic" music, you'll be incredibly well-served by this set, for certain. It is US$499, and is available in the sharp limited edition tin (as pictured above) direct from soniccouture. Go forth and rock the samples, at least.