Noir by SonoKinetic… A stylish sound, and an evolution in NKS Access
SonoKinetic have a well respected tradition for creating some innovative and high quality sample libraries ranging from exotic world instruments to more grandiose phrase based orchestral products. We are focusing here on their latest release ‘Noir’ the first in a marked change of style, not only in terms of musical genre but some quite radical implementation of the NKS standard which as a bonus brings some potentially immense benefits for blind and visually impaired users.
Turn of Phrase…
We need to perhaps start by dispelling a few myths about phrase based sample libraries, they have in some cases suffered from a poor reputation amongst musicians with the belief that by using them you are somehow cheating, cutting corners or not being true to the creative muse.
Statements like this are not always clear cut and can have several perspectives. Certainly the ‘construction kit’ approach of products such as those offered by Zero-G can enable the novice user the opportunity to piece together a reasonably coherent musical track, however one could equally argue that any music that utilises pre-recorded samples and content not entirely created from scratch is a form of musical deception – which of course would be a quite ridiculous assertion given the proliferation of music from the past 30 years or so that has done just that and in doing so heralded many new genres toboot.
Sweeping the above arguements aside, SonoKinetic have taken a long hard look at the concept of phrase based music creation and spectacularly turned it into a tangible instrument in it’s own right that occupies a uniqueplace in a very crowded sample library market.
Conceptual Design – Noir in Black & White…
The basic premise of piecing together pre-recorded musical phrases remains the same, however the originality that SonoKinetic bring to the table comes in the form of it’s application and ultimate delivery.
SonoKinetic’s goal in creating Noir was to produce a library that drew it’s inspiration from the jazz influenced orchestral scores that add so much atmosphere and style to the Noir genre of cinematography, think Bernard Herrmann, Michel Legrand and Henry Mancini to name but a few.
The 24 bit, 44.1 Khz library occupies some 74Gb on your hard drive and contains over 60,000 samples. SonoKinetic have consistantly used the same orchestra and hall location at Zlin, in the Czech republic to record all of their phrase libraries, so you can be sure if you plan to mix styles with SonoKinetics other products, then the overall amvience will be consistent.
Due credit should go to the creative team behind Noir, composing and editing the large number of phrases for a product such as this is no mean feat, given that they all needed to have the ability to compliment and intertwine with each other musically, let alone the technical complexiteis of achieving this means there is a lot going on under the hood, I’d liken it to a duck on a pond, seemingly smooth, calm and tranquil on the surface, but below the waterline there is a pair of legs paddling ten to the dozen!
Despite the hidden complexities of Noir, SonoKinetic have succeeded in making the operation of the library as simple and intuitive as possible, true it takes a little getting used to in terms of creative workflow but it’s a short learning curve and you soon get to grips with putting together and matching sounds that appeal to your own taste and style.
In the case of Noir’s ensemble instruments we are given three instrument sections, Strings, Woodwind and Brass. Each section has one of four phrases assigned to a note spread across the range C3 to B3 of your keyboard. Meanwhile the range E0to B2 is available for you to use to play major, minor triads and dominent seventh chords which trigger any individual or indeed multiple phrases from the assignments just mentioned.
A further upper octave (C 6to B6 )is reserved for setting harmonic variations to phrases, whilst keyswitch assignments are strategically positioned on spare keys elsewhere to enable bar syncing and phrase re-triggering.
Noir also sports a solo .nki, offering a further selection of instrumentation which extends to solo phrases of French Horn, Trumpet, Grand Piano, Clarinet and Saxaphone,
Less is More…
You could be forgiven for concluding that SonoKinetic have somehow shortchanged you when it comes to exploring the content of the browser via your Komplete Kontrol keyboard given that ultimately there are only two .nki files in the preset section. however after a short period of head scratching things soon fell into place, actually reading the manual helped tremendously too!
Let’s take a quick walk through both the browser and edit sections of the library via the KK knobs before I then explain why we only need two .nki files…
Knob 1 – Vendor, Knob 2 – Product, Knob 3 – unassigned, Knob 4 – Unassigned
Knob 5 -Types: Bowed Strings, Brass, Piano/Keys, Reed Instruments,
Knob 6 – Sub Types: String Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, French Horn, Trumpet, Grand Piano, Clarinet, Saxaphone, Wind Ensemble
Knob 7 – Modes: Sample based, Tempo Synced
Knob 8 – Preset: Noir Sections, Noir Solos
Page 1 – Quick Edit
Knob 1 – Active Preset
Knob 2 – Offset
Knob 3 – X Fade
Knob 4 – Pan
Knob 5 – Volume
Knob 6 – Release
Knob 7 – Mod Wheel
Knob 8 – Harmonic Shift
Page 2 – Mic, random, Phrase Select and Set Phrase
Knob 1 – Mic Mix
Knob 2 – Unassigned, Knob 3 – Unassigned
Knob 4 – Randomise
Knob 5 – Phrase Select Section
Knob 6 – Category
Knob 7 – Phrase
Knob 8 – Set Phrase (update)
Often at this juncture I would bemoan the lack of edit pages, but truth is after reading through the manual there do not appear to be any big omissions like e.q, filters, reverb impulses etc that you might rightly feel aggrieved about.
Revealing the Magic of the Edit Section…
Ok, so here’s where we adjust our focus and hopefully everything becomes crystal clear to explain why there are only two nki presets.
Due to the musically fluid nature of Noir the need for lots of snapshots or multiple presets is really not necessary, it’s pretty much a given that you are likely to change and alter the phrases everytime you load up the library, and if you really want to start from your own fixed point each time, then you could simply create your own snapshot with your phrases of choice.
If we hold down any of the 12 phrase keys we can individually adjust the volume, pan, sample start (offset) and release of that particular sample, we can also turn off the modulation wheel which is assigned to volume thus removing any phrase from having that parameter adjusted when we have several loops playing at once. Also tweaking the X-fade knob can help with the smoothing of chord transitions with multiple samples.
Likewise changing the sample offset and release time can radically alter individual loops to yield interesting polyrhythmic musical phrases that play against one another and thusfurther extend the creative possibilities beyond the rigidity of the set bar format.
What we have never seen before in any other library, )and SonoKinetic had to do some convincing to allow the bending of a few NKS rules to achieve this), is the ability to select and assign our own choice of phrases from the extended pool of samples available.
This has been achieved by the inclusion of an audio pre-hear facility on the edit side (not unlike that found in the Komplete Kontrol main browser), however rather than these being recorded audio files, they are the actual loops being triggered as you rotate the phrase knob. When yu find a phrase you like, you simply turn the adjacent ‘assign phrase’ control to lock it, and thus replace the previously assigned sound on your keyboard.
In practice this works pretty well, however there is currently one slight caveat for us blind users, in that there are two knobs prior to the phrase selection control designated to ‘section’ and ‘category’, which unfortunately due to the edit side of Komplete Kontrol not having speech beyond knob labelling, means you will not know which section or category you are choosing from when you select your phrase. Actually that’s a slight contradiction as the section type will be self evident from the audible phrase, but it would certainly be desirable to know the category.
This doesn’t make choosing your phrases an impossible task, but it does make it a slightly slower and more hit and miss affair.
One potential solution might be to harness the same audio pre-hear methodology as the phrase knob, but drawing from bespoke pre-recorded voice labels, with an on/off switch so as not to annoy our sighted friends!
The other workaround for this issue, is to spend some time setting up and choosing phrases you think you may use regularly, and then saving the whole setup as a snapshot, which can then later be recalled from the user side of your browser, in fact if you create a snapshot folder within the Noir folder and rescan you could probably have your own presets right there in the main instrument if you prefer to work that way.
Noir has four different microphone positions close, decca tree, wide and far, there is a knob assigned to mixing the mic types, however there is still some GUI and mouse click interaction involved in selecting these, so a dedicated volume knob per microphone type might have been a more preferable approach.
One other ommission that I hope to see addressed is that of phrase timing, using Kontakt’s rather clever inbuilt time-machine engine it’s possible to half or double the tempo of any given phrase individually. Unfortunately this has not been assigned to a control knob, hopefully it’s a relatively easy option to include and will feature in an update.
Working in a similar manner to the Noir Sections NKI, the Solo preset patch offers us the opportunity to add solo instrument improvisations alongside the ensemble parts.
The same volume, pan and mix knobs are present on page one, and selecting a different instrument riff from page 2 is as simple as holding down your key of choice and rotating the knob to hear new candidates until you find one you like. A nice touch here is that there is even a ‘variation’ knob which offers further alternatives based on music pitch direction, so the customisation possibilities are mind boggling especially when the Solo section is paired and played in tandem with the ensemble section.
Noir is a polished great sounding library and perfect if you are wanting to work within this specific musical genre, although having said that I’ve heard a drum & bass pattern added to a Noir generated track which sounded great. I’d recommend listening and checking out the various YouTube videos and walkthroughs to hear the overall sound and creative potential.
The library is recorded to a high standard and the ability to mix and match and pan the various sections and phrases means you can be quite creative in modelling your own soundstage.
The lack of inbuilt equalisation and filters/effects to me is no deterrent, as you then have the choice to add your own within your DAW if so desired.
Overall I think SonoKinetic have done a splendid job both sonically and technically with this library. The introduction of the audible selection feature to the edit side of the browser is a bold move which has paid off particularly for us in terms of accessibility. It’s not often if indeed ever that I can write a review and say that a library is completely usable, aside from the points I’ve highlighted and one or two less significant features I have not bothered to mention we are pretty much going to be interacting with Noir in the same way as a sighted person.
SonoKinetic plan to update all of their previus phrase libraries to adopt this new and innovative NKS mapping, so I am hopeful that the few accessibility issues that exist will be addressed prior to that not insignificant work being done, which will understandably take some time to fully introduce but will win many new friends.
Whether you choose to use Noir as a complete composition tool, or as a genre based orchestral backing to your own overdubbed music parts , you will almost certainly find it to be an intuitive product to use.
There is in my humble opinion no shame at all in using a phrase library of this nature to speed up workfolow. In an era where clients can all too often set unrealistic deadlines for you to deliver the goods, and providing it’s the musical style you’re looking for, Noir may well indeed be your secret weapon!
Noir is available as a download direct from SonoKinetic for €299,90 (€362,88 INCL VAT)
SonoKinetic YouTube Channel
Noir Overview Tutorial
Noir Reference Manual
(c) Chris Ankin 2018
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 as a blind user whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web or product manual.
About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.