The Shadow Hills gear definitely has a visual aesthetic of it’s own. Always noticeable when in a rack, especially when alongside more vintage pieces, it’s got a kind of death star technology vibe going on. I’d be lying if I said I had tried the hardware counterpart of the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, but I have heard their GAMA mic pre in person.
Anyway, back to the mastering comp. It’s designed to be used on a master bus, as these things tend to be and is said to be extremely musical and versatile. Firstly, noticing it has both stereo optical and discrete processors on board, I can start to imagine the interesting combinations of tones you can coax with this thing.
On my first venture with the plug-in, it took me a minute to realise why the VU (Very Useless?) were not representing what I was doing. There is a switch to change the display to represent either the optical, discreet or output levels (duh). Once I had that sussed, things became a lot more fun!
The optical comp has that classic two knob control for threshold and gain parameters and works nicely for just running over the entire mix with the compressor just working at a few db of reduction. This sounded great on the different source material I tested it on (some ambient and some techno tracks) and had a noticeably pleasing curve to how the volume recovers from attenuation.
The discrete section takes a more ‘modern’ approach, with a greater degree of control over ratio, attack, recovery and gain. To be honest when it comes to using mastering plugins on my own tracks, I tend to lean towards using a light combination of simpler tools (like the optical comp section here) that sound good and gravitate toward dynamic processors with a greater degree of control on individual instrument tracks during the mixdown stage, but that’s just my personal preference.
What surprised me the most is the output transformer modelling, where you can choose between Nickle, Iron and Steel. To be honest, I had to look up what these referred to as I had no idea, but I could certainly hear the difference. On some ambient material, the Nickel setting worked really well and sounded really smooth and classy, but when I ran some more beat-orientated music through Nikel, I wasn’t so keen. The Iron and Steel settings seemed more chunky in this regard and imparted a bit more character, which suited the techno tracks I was testing very nicely!
Without the original to compare, I cant say how exactly this matches up as a digital clone. But as a master bus compressor, with a lot of character and a lovely interface, with little to distract you from the functionality, I would say this is a testament to both the original hardware design, as well as Brainworx’s ability to create a great sounding and attractive plugin. Kudos goes to the developers involved here.
Going under my Duke Slammer guise to play some tunes at Acidelika Festival in Czech Republic next weekend. This will be my 8th visit to the country to play music since travelling in the back of a van to CzechTek in the early noughties.
Complex poly rhythms? Cyclical scales? Inspired by Terry Riley and Philip Glass? That was more than enough to get me interested.. Along with the Johannes Kepler title reference, it felt like this sample library was made specifically for my own tastes!
Spitfire Audio’sKEPLER ORCHESTRA — like many of their top tier libraries (such as the Bernard Hermann toolkit review I posted a while back), was recorded at London’s legendary AIR Studios’ Studio 1. The entire polyrhythms feature is centred around their newly developed and rather impressive sounding, “interactive Systems Grid articulation mapping tool”, based on its innovative Evo Grid technology, which apparently will “allow anyone to easily write and create complex polyrhythms a la late-20th Century composers like John Adams, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley”, that’s me basically sold then!
The ‘Evo Grid’ is a fairly novel matrix approach to creating the poly rhythms, something I like about using modular synthesisers is running a sequencer module alongside a traditional DAW sequencer and this feels a along those lines, breaking out of the linear comfort can often result in an interesting (or accidental?) spark of inspiration. The grid itself is split by time divisions — duplet (pair of equal notes to be performed in the time of three), triplet (group of three equal notes to be performed in the time of two or four), quintuplet (group of five notes to be performed in the time of three or four), and septuplet (group of seven notes to be performed in the time of four or six), tempo locked to the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), which allows users to quickly create sophisticated combinations of different rhythms. I’ll be looking into mapping this to my Kenton midi controller to jam on-the-fly.
In practice, one thing I did notice using the evo grid, is some of my arpeggiations/polyrhythms would result in audible clicks when changing chords, even after some meticulous quantising and aligning, this was with only one track and hitting around 38% CPU. I’m hoping this is a bug that will be remedied in an update, because it made some of my takes unusable.
Also included, is the complementary ‘warped’ instruments, which is a welcome surprise! A really nice sounding ambient synth with lots of variations to accompany the ‘main’ orchestral section, these ran without any of the glitches I was experiencing earlier.
Kepler Orchestra will be available at a special promotional price of £199 direct from the Spitfire site until 6th June 2019.