Native Instruments – THRILL
Making a drama out of an axis!
Thrill caused quite a stir when it was released a few months ago, it was the first major release in a new breed of sample library instruments that allows for realtime manipulation via the use of x and y axis controls, which lets the user create atmospheric scores ‘on the fly’ by riding the controls whilst simultaneously recording live, making intuitive and reactional soundtrack production a possibilityy.
Galaxy Instruments are the developers behind Thrill, they have a fine stable of pedigree and well respected sample libraries under their belt such as Rise & Hit, The Giant and Unicorder all being important members of Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate 11 software package.
Thrill is a big library which wil take almost a 30Gb bite out of your hard drive, but given the sheer volume of content and quality of sampling involved this is understandable. There is only one single NKI file, with the preset content being provided in the form of snapshots. The accompanying user manual stretches to 38 pages giving and indication of the extensive options available.
The heavily orchestral oriented content includes copius amounts of string,brass,woodwind,percussive and vocal samples with a further bunch of modular, synthetic and ambient electronic material thrown into the mix for good measure, providing over a thousand sample sources in fact, THE ORCHESTRAL CONTENT WAS RECORDED SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS LIBRARY USING THE 80 PIECE Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.
So what is Thrill and who is it aimed at? This library is definitely one for the film, game and trailer composer, or theatre, soundscape and atmosphere creator. There’s no law against who can buy and use it of course, but I can’t see it finding a place within many EDM or popular music styles, but stranger things have happened! Having said this, the sounds also lean largely toward the horror, sci-fi and thriller camp, so even if you do write for picture, then this may also influence your buying decision, for example if you only score music for rom-coms or CBeebies!
The sounds are predominently Aleatoric in nature, if you take a listen to the orchestral risers featured in Galaxy Instruments Rise & Hit library, you will get a good measure of what to expect here, expand that premise and add significantly more control and you will be somewhere near the mark.
The concept of how the library works is straightforward in it’s simplest form. There are essentially two layers of sample source material, and the X and Y axis pads/knobs are used to morph and modulate between the two, however the powerful processing engine behind this seemingly basic task is far more complex and introduces amazing sonic tensions and suspense by manipulating pitch, velocity, panning, tone and sophisticated sample layering put all these elements together and you have an aatmospheric performance instrument at your fingertips.
Komplete Kontrol is what we’re all about here, so let’s take a walk through the library section and find out what it has to offer.
Going through the knobs from left to right, Vendor and Product of course, followed by Banks which consist of Atmosphere and Cluster.
The Atmosphere category are atonal non-pitched presets that are subsequently grouped into types made up of bowed strings, brass, mallet instruments, percussion, plucked strings, reed instruments, sound fx and vocal. These then have further sub types consisting of string ensemble, brass ensemble, glockenspiel, shaker, small metal, timpani, wind ensemble, metal, noise, destructive, gloomy, hypnotizing, insanity, wind and noise, female choir, mixed choir, solo voice, synth choir. The penultinate knob is mode which predominently displays either long evolving or sampl based (no suprise there for a sample library!).
The last knob here under the atmosphere section is presets of which I counted a healthy 300 (which I won’t list for soporific reasons!).
As these presets are not melodic it doesn’t matter what note you press on the keyboard, and for this reason I found it a little puzzling that the whole keyboard had been assigned to that one sound, it could for example have been mapped to a central octave leaving room either side for some keyswitched effects.
The cluster section provides us with tonal samples in the following categories. Bowed Strings, brass, reed instruments, soundscapes with sub types of string ensemble, brass ensemble, wind ensemble, gloomy and wind and noise. Again the are predominently sample based and there are 65 presets to be found.
I did find on playing these pitched sounds that if I got a little greedy in the number of notes I played at once I came up against some crackling from my audio interface. I have a MOTU 24I/O and my PC has a decent processor with 24Gb of RAM and all SSD drives, I don’t genrally have problems even when I use large sample libraries such as those from Spitfire Audio, although some big Omnisphere multi’s have been known to produce CPU demands, so this is something to be aware of, and if nothing else demonstrates the size and processing involved in manipulating some of these patches.
The Edit Section
Page 1 (X & Y pads, Thrills, Space A & Space B), X linear, Y Intensity, Volume A, Volume B, Reverb A on/off, Send A, Reverb B on/off, Send B.
Page 2 (E.Q. low, med, high) , On/off, Gain 1, Frequency 1, Gain 2, Frequency 2, Gain 3, Frequency 3.
Page 3 (Saturation & Dynamics) on/off, drive, output, on/off, preset, amount, output.
And that’s it folks!, unfortunately despite the size and potential complexity of this library we only have three pages of mapped controls which when considered from an accessibility perspective is somewhat limiting.
In defence of the developer and once again they are not alone here, we have to conceed that access to blind users is scarcely on the radar if at all when this and other libraries get developed and mapped. They only appear to put together the essential controls that a sighted user or performer would find useful whilst using the GUI in conjunction with a physical mouse.
This leads us to ask the question of ‘what are we missing’, well quite a lot actually. I’m not here to berate the developer as I have outlined this extended functionality simply isn’t on the agenda, and I can only urge that whenever we buy an NKS library and find holes in the mapping features that make a big difference to us for access, then we make contact and politely make them aware.
I will prioritise what I believe to be the most significant omissions and updates required for us to gain a more reasonable level of interaction with Thrill.
The presets are the only means for us to get to the sounds, however there is an absolute tonne of samples that go into making up those presets. We cannot get to these sources individually in order to create our own patches, which is a trmendous part of what this library is all about. Certainly the presets they have given us are fantastic, but there is nothing quite like that sense of ownership and satisfaction gained when you create your own sound and know that it is truly yours and unique.
To this end further pages need to be added in order to hopefully assign knobs to these additional sample sources, of course we won’t get audible feedback when selecting them, but we can isolate the part inorder to browse by ear as the control knob is turned.
Similarly there is no mapped access to reverb, delay, phaser and other modulation presets which could also be addressed with further page and knob assignments.
There is within this library the capability to create custom risers by setting pitch, time and glide controls, again I believe these could have been mapped to dedicated control knobs along with basic ADSR and sample reverse options.
There is also a cool ‘random’ button which generates patches when a dice icon is clicked, however I’m not certain how this could be implemented as it would necessitate a button click rather than a knob rotation.
there are no keyswitches used in this library as far as I’m aware, as use of this option might have spread the choice of control possabilities beyond the edit knobs if necessary. Also there seems to be no mapping of the pitch and modulation strips which might have proved useful if there was a master frequency cut-off for example.
The implementation of these points would make a big difference to the overall access and creative experience of a blind user. Naturally there may be factors and mitigating circumstances why these elements have not been addressed already. The GUI I suspect from the outset would be designed foremost with onscreen use in mind. Komplete Kontrol mapping may simply get added in the best way possible at the end, which leaves accessibility considerations and subsequent opportunities some way down the list of priorities.
Make no bones about it, this is an amazing library, it has heaps of creative potential. If you haven’t used write automation in your DAW before then this is the ideal scenario to do so, as you will be able to record your track and move the X & y axis controls to capture morphing and modulation events either when first recording or in a second automation pass through. You will hear your track come alive in a way previously impossible with pre-baked atmospheric sample libraries, this is actually a proper instrument that gives you realtime control over expression in a unique way that would otherwise have taken a lot of layering and careful manipulation from traditional static Kontakt sample libraries. It effectively lets you become the conductor of your own effect orchestra.
The downside is in the lack of edit mode mapping options. We have become used to having at least 10 pages of controls to tweak particularly in high end libraries from developers such as Heavyocity and SoundIron. I consider Galaxy Instruments to be up there amongst those leading lights in terms of innovation and product quality, so to only have 3 edit pages feels like we have been short changed in the accessibility department, almost like standing outside a sweet shop that is closed for the weekend, there is so much sound design potential here if only we could get through the door.
I would be hopeful not withstanding any prohibitive limitations imposed by the GUI, that these issues could be addressed in a future product update, adding the additional mapping should involve only the editing of the master NKI file, as I’m given to understand that all snapshot presets would then also contain the revised mappings.
This library is a must have if you create for the genres outlined earlier in this review, however if you are blind or visually impaired, you will need to decide if you can live with the current caveat of it’s limited personalised sound design potential with not being able to create patches from scratch, and will be content to tweak the excellent selection of presets using the current knob assignments.
Thrill can be purchased from Native Instruments as a download for £239.00 (check pricing for your country).
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(c)Chris Ankin 2017
The author accepts no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based soly on information perceived whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web.
About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review writer with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.