Ed: Brent’s back, not only with a review of the massive EastWest Stormdrum sample library, but some ideas on how you might use it as a composer of game or film scores. Read on . . . -PK

Where Art Thou, Boomy Percussion?

If you’ve watched any of the more epic-styled Hollywood films lately, no doubt you’ve noticed a musical trend that is taking hold of the industry. Films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Gladiator feature original scores from notable film composers, and all films rely heavily on the use of what I affectionately call “boomy” percussion. This trend of large, hard-hitting and, at times, almost tribal percussion usage has crossed over into television, music, and of course videogames. Original game soundtracks such as God of War, Metal Gear Solid

and The Chronicles of Riddick utilize this same style of western orchestral music, underscored by heavy percussion.

For the contemporary composer and studio musician, it can be a bit of a challenge to create these sounds with existing software, and it is even more of a challenge to find and record the instruments themselves. Anyone who has seen a live Taiko performance can sympathize with the roadies who have to haul those drums from place to place. Orchestral libraries will typically provide bass drums, timpani, and possibly even toms of some kind or another. However, none of these quite capture the sound of those epic soundtracks from Hollywood composers. (Read more . . .)

East West Quantum Leap Stormdrum (product page from East West Samples

Stormdrum at soundsonline.com

Here Be The Boom

Award winning East-West producer Nick Phoenix has set out to solve this problem with a collection of samples created specifically for those seeking all the ‘boom’ without the bulk and weight of a Dragon Drum. Designed to give composers and musicians the biggest, boomiest collection of percussion samples in one complete package, Stormdrum allows you to get that big Hollywood sound easily – with professional quality results. For the enterprising individual, Stormdrum has a vast collection of samples that will allow you to break traditional molds utilizing new, big percussion sounds in any of your compositions.

Delivered on two DVD’s, Stormdrum delivers over 6GB of content in two separate virtual instruments. Compatible with VST, DX and AU formats, the software ships with Native Instruments Kontakt and Intakt players. The Kontakt Player is where composers and beat crafters will turn if they want to carefully construct their compositions, as each of the included samples and kits are mapped chromatically across the keyboard in a traditional sample-playback manner. The Intakt Player contains a wealth of pre-recorded loops utilizing the Stormdrum library, each treated with a variety of effects processors. These are excellent jumping off points for folks looking to add a new flavor to any composition.

In Use

For my style of composition, I spend most of my time with the Kontakt Player. Though I do use loops to add additional flavor and spice to some of my compositions, I tend to be a ‘from scratch’ kind of composer. With that in mind, the Kontakt Player side of Stormdrum provides hundreds of different drum kits, as well as a selection of individual hits that can be used in your compositions.

The Kontakt Player is extremely flexible and can accommodate a variety of setups. You can load multiple kits in a single instance and assign each kit to a different MIDI channel. In this way, you have a typical multitimbral setup. Alternatively you can assign them to the same MIDI channel, which would provide a layered setup, combining several kits into a single wall-of-sound kind of setup.

If you’ve got the extra horsepower (and the Kontakt Player itself is relatively easy on CPU and RAM) I find it easiest to load up a new instance of the player for each kit. This allows you to EQ and effect each track separately, as well as ‘freeze’ the track (provided your host application supports this functionality) to free up extra system resources.

While the bulk of Stormdrum’s focus is on big percussion sounds – Ethnic and traditional percussion such as Bodhran, Taiko, Dragon Drums and industrial hits – East West has also provided several high-quality traditional drum kits, both acoustic and electronic, such as the TR-808 and 909. Out of all the available kits and sounds, my favorite (by far) is ThunderEnsemble, which is comprised of a variety of Taiko drums and similar ethnic inspired percussion. This is the kind of ‘boom’ I’ve been looking for, and this ensemble is worth the price of admission alone. If, like me, you’re still shackled to your traditional keyboard as your only means of note input, a patch like this will really make you yearn for something more expressive such as an M-Audio Trigger Finger or even an Octave Kat.

The Intakt player provides hundreds of loops for your listening and beat-bending pleasure. Though initially I felt that this was an afterthought, I’ve come to really enjoy playing with this aspect of Stormdrum, and found that my judgment of loop-based percussion may have been a bit hasty. The available loops are formed from a combination of several of the Stormdrum kits, though no doubt many of them are played ‘live’ by the performers, rather than combined later in the studio. Some of the loops are unprocessed, which allows for greater flexibility in sonic character. However East West chose to process (delays, distortions, flange, etc.) a number of the available loops and loop variations, which makes it much more difficult to fit some of these into a given genre. For example, the ‘Camel Racing’ patch has a base loop that utilizes tribal/ethnic percussion to create an ‘Ethnic Chase’ effect. However, once you start scrolling through the variations of loops you find that a good portion of the loops are pre-processed. If I wanted to use variation five, but without the high-frequency phasing, I’m out of luck. I’m uncertain why East West chose to pre-process some of these loops when Intakt has its own effects processing built in, and nearly anyone who using the program will certainly have their own host processing as well. While the Intakt player certainly adds value to the product overall, these loops are much more specific in their uses than their single-kit/hit counterparts in the Kontakt player.

The Final Hit

At $399 retail, Stormdrum is a competitively priced package delivering exactly what the doctor ordered. If you act quickly, you can get in on the Group Buy now happening at East West – the price is now at $199 – a fantastic value for such a well produced and useful product. The Group Buy ends on July 6 – so act fast!

For composers of film, television and games, this product is a must-have. For musicians seeking to increase their sonic palette and add some serious kick to their productions, Stormdrum is an ideal tool. This product is not only great from a producer’s perspective, it is simply FUN to play. And from a creative standpoint, that is worth more than anything.

W. Brent Latta likes to make things go boom as lead composer and sound designer for Symbiotic Audio, specializing in music and sound design for games and interactive media.