February 28, 2008

soniccouture Balinese Gamelan sample set mini-review...

by Chris Randall

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.



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Feb.28.2008 @ 9:49 PM
nice review. i'm also a SC groupie. i don't have everything they make, but most of it.

this one is too expensive for me though. i think the best thing for people complaining about the price is they have the hang drum which still sounds awesome for a lot cheaper.

good to know this one is a quality product though. they're classy guys i wouldn't expect anything less than to make nice packaging and a good manual on top of it all.


Feb.28.2008 @ 10:26 PM
Adam Schabtach
It is worth mentioning, in case there are any gamelan devotees in the audience, that they did the right thing and sampled _pairs_ of the metallophones so that you can accurately recreate the distinctive beating of the paired-and-tuned instruments.

These guys should get some sort of award for ethnomusicology. Nobody has ever done as minute an examination and reproduction of gamelan instruments.

(a gamelan devotee. Feel free to PM me if you have an extra copy of Colin McPhee's book that you'd like to sell, ha ha.)


Feb.29.2008 @ 12:55 AM
They are quite nice. I saw Turangalila performed recently which features some killer gamelan action, as well as some great Ondes Martinet.

The second they posted the pre-release info on this, it instantaneously jumped to the top of my "esoteric, expensive things I would love to buy if I couldn't spend my money better". I think it probably replaced the spot held by the Hartmann Neuron (mostly a conceptual love, I've been a bit disappointed with demos I've heard).

I knew Gamelans were notoriously varied in tuning. I've heard that each has it's own unique tuning, which makes sense given the origins and instrumentation. Have you tried mixing the instruments with our more traditionally tuned western instruments? If so, how much hassle was involved from the harmonizing/tuning/avoiding unsightly beat frequencies from hell front?


Feb.29.2008 @ 1:35 AM
Am i right in reading from your description that they kept the tuning the way it should be and didn't fuck with it to try to make it even tempered? If so, this makes it onto my "to get sometime, when I don't have something more pressing to spend the money on, so probably not for at least a couple of years." list.

Feb.29.2008 @ 1:50 AM
Chris Randall
You're correct. There is even a script included which will tune other Kontakt instruments to the Gamelan patches.

I guess I should have made it clearer in my post, but unless you write in some weird perversions of D minor, you're not gonna be able to fit most of these samples in your shit without some serious moving about. They did include some patches that are shifted down a bit to _sort of_ fit in with Western music, but nothing is explicitly retuned to equal temperament.



Feb.29.2008 @ 3:07 AM
This is going to my "if I was a rich man" list together with the Array Mbira link [www.thearraymbira.co...]">link [www.thearraymbira.co...] ... This being a bit more affordable of course. 300 euros / 500 bucks isn't cheap, but seeing how extensive the sampling job is (22 gigs?!) and considering the quality (based on review here and the demos on their site), I'd say it's pretty damn good value for money if you actually need a gamelan orchestra.


Feb.29.2008 @ 3:26 AM
"About four hours later, my wife tapped me on the shoulder, wondering if I could please stop dinging."

Tell-tale sign of Soniccouture's superb products.


Feb.29.2008 @ 7:28 AM
raoul duke
i can vouch for the quality of soniccouture stuff (for what my opinion is worth!). I just need a better computer to get the most out of their Kontakt instruments. The originality, programming and sound quality of their products is top notch. Ive got hangdrum, konkrete drums and abstrakt vol1 and they are all brilliant. Hangdrum is a total time killer though - its too much fun with a pad controller!

Id say they are almost like the audiodamage of the sample cd industry; innovative forward thinking products for good prices with excellent customer service. Unfortunately gamelan is too expensive and niche for my needs so ill see what they come up with next.


Feb.29.2008 @ 7:53 AM
This would be absolutely useless to me, but I gotta admit, that is some nice packaging. Nice enough to lust after, that's for sure.

I'm I the only one who thinks "ethnic instrument sample set creator" would be a kickass job? Granted, I know dookie about ethnomusicology and what it takes to make a nice sample set, but it sure does sound like fun! I'll file that under "careers I could shoot for if I ever wanted to spend a few years in grad school," right next to "economist."


Feb.29.2008 @ 9:46 AM
Gamelan Grind House?

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