It is also no secret that he was involved in sound design and user interface design for years at Akai. If you owned an Akai sampler from the S-950 on you have used his sounds. But you may not know that he has also done sound design work for some major artists. For example, Peter Gabriel. Let that sink in for a second or two.
Well he has been bringing out a series of (very affordable) Kontakt instruments based on his vast collection of samples taken from vintage keyboards. Samples from my collection of dusty old signal generators and my sadly malfunctioning Hammond Solovox have found their way in to other Hollow Sun offerings. Some of his recent releases have been delightfully eccentric, highly creative and even one-of-a-kind in nature. But this latest instrument, Sounds Of The Universe, is in some ways his greatest achievement.
It comes as a stupidly reasonable download from the Hollow Sun website. Just 15 GBP which is about 23 bucks in real money. It is a fairly hefty download including 1.2GB of samples and installs painlessly in your Kontakt folder. You will need at least the full version of Kontakt 4 to make it work although, I believe it will run in the player version in demo mode with a time limitation. If you own Kontakt and make electronic music, skip this review and just go buy it now. It's that good.
Rather than me trying to explain it I'll let Stephen do the talking by quoting from the well written and entertaining PDF manual found in the documentation folder of the download
I spent a lot of time listening to the various ‘recordings’ (i.e. conversions) and broke them down into their constituent elements. Generally, there’s a rumble, a sort of mid-range (sometimes almost vocal) component and some high frequency content. I’ve done my best to reproduce these on the HS Towers wonderful Synthesizers.com modular.
The Sea Devils1 VCS3 / Synthi-A filter had a good workout. Originally designed by über-genius, David Cockerell, it’s a clone of the old EMS filter made by the very charming Suit & Tie Guy and it has bags of quirky character and subtle non-linear distortions which were ideally suited (no pun intended!) to this project. So lots of rumbling low frequency noise or noise modulated oscillators, etc., some of which passed through the Dotcom’s Clipper module. Others took a more circuitous route with cross modulations, multiple filterings, etc.. These were recorded and then layered with wind-like noises and HF elements. These form what I call the ‘composites’, the foundation sounds for each patch.
But I thought it would be handy to have other elements that could be layered at random (cosmic chaos theory ... even though the universe is actually quite ordered and subject to ‘universal’ laws of physics) in Kontakt to create richer, denser sounds so I recorded a whole pile of bleeps, ring modulator drones, more wind-like noises, etc.. I used the Dotcom Q127 Fixed Filter Bank for many of these. This is a clone of the old Moog modular filter bank and is great for honing in on some frequencies, emphasising them or cutting them as appropriate and these, of course, were sampled and then messed with.
Many of the samples are very long and largely stereo – one minute minimum, some as long as three minutes! But they aren’t static – they are ‘performance samples’ with me messing with the Dotcom’s controls during the recording to create evolving textures that don’t repeat."
So, like the Alien Device, Pulstar, you have access to making sounds quickly and easily but you can delve a little deeper and tweak them if you choose so to do.
I have to be honest – SOTU is NOT a synth for funky basses, searing leadlines, smooth Prophet 5 or Jupiter 8 pads (we do other stuff that covers those bases) but is a ‘texture synthesiser’ for generating big soundscapes (or ‘spacescapes’)."
The manual does a good clear job of explaining all of the effect, filter, and envelope settings. There is an ample amount of tweaking to be done if you choose to get your hands dirty. There is a way to translate the controls in to English (option and click the edit button below the Scope) so be not afraid. The bottom line is that it really sounds fantastic. Deeply interesting, tweak-able, evolving sounds, at 23 bucks!
I think Stephen has been going from one great idea to another. The use of custom modular synth patches as the basis of the presets that come with SOTU gives it a distinct flavor that I have not heard in other "soundscape" type sample collections. The ability to customize the long, organic samples in to your own unique patches, easily savable, is a giant plus. In a way this instrument is like having a custom modular synth. It is easy to imagine that SOTU will be showing up on video game and movie soundtracks. It succeeds completely as an outer space/scifi atmosphere generator. Simply outstanding!