SONUSCORE ORIGINS VOL3 12 STRING AND BALALAIKA – HARMONIC BALANCE
Hi! This week on StudioWise we are taking a close look at a rather clever combination of two similar yet distinctively unique-sounding stringed instruments. Sonuscore‘s 12-String and Balalaika is an intriguing marriage of two cultures and should make for interesting playing.
This is the first of Sonuscore’s products that I have reviewed. I have in the past heard nothing but positive comments about Sonuscore so I was expecting great things from this smaller boutique offering.
12-String and Balalaika is a virtual guitar-type instrument for the full version of Kontakt and the third in the “Origins” series, each featuring unusual pairings. It downloads as a frugal 380MB package and only requires to be placed somewhere logical on your hard drive to work when loaded via Kontakt’s file browser.
The basic premise is you get a 12-string dreadnought-style acoustic guitar mixed with a 3-string Russian balalaika. Though both instruments are guitar types, the tonal qualities couldn’t be more polar opposite.
The interface consists of three tabbed areas. The Main for defining the basic performance levels, volume, pan, attack and release. You will immediately notice the GUI is split between the 12-string and balalaika players for individual control.
The FX tab is for applying compression, EQ, filters and a very good selection of nice-sounding modulation, delays and reverbs. Each instrument, of course, has its own FX section.
Finally, the Arp tab which is where all of the rhythmic arpeggiator settings are controlled. You can affect the swing, timing, pitch and arp order here, as well as design simple stepped patterns for each individual instrument.
At any time you can solo either 12-string or balalaika sides for level checking or for individual performance.
An interesting side note is that you can copy and paste settings between all of the titles in the Origin series, which is a nice touch. As your collection grows I think this will prove to be an invaluable feature.
The first thing that hits you is how lush and wide this sounds. The use of reverb and delay to accentuate the timbres of the guitars is applied lavishly with a handy “Color” fx collection for trialling variations from a pre-made palette.
Of course, my first instinct was to remove all effects to hear how the samples interact with each other in the raw, and happily, still, there is a wonderful harmony between the two instruments.
Focusing only on the soloed 12-string guitar, there is a good level of dynamics using the keyboard velocity, providing plenty of bites if you hit hard enough. The guitar is playable, but not particularly characteristic. This is clearly not a deeply layered sample collection, nor is there much in the way of advanced round robins or articulations to choose from.
The 12-string tone is nice, but I’m guessing not a high-end Martin or Taylor. The ethereal 12-string sound is there, but it lacks the depth of the truly amazing instruments. The recording sounds quite centred, not mono but certainly not hugely stereo to my ears. I don’t mind this somewhat basic presentation, as of course, all the magic happens once you start layering with effects and the balalaika.
The balalaika, considering it only a 3-stringed instrument, has a nice relatively full tone, even in dry mode. The recording is balanced slightly to the right, which is a little annoying. This is mostly blurred out when plenty of reverb is applied and mixed with the guitar, but when dry just a little odd being off-centre in the mix.
I am not an expert in the balalaika, but to my untrained ear, it sounds authentic enough. It is also surprisingly playable, if somewhat banjo-like in its performance. Both instruments extend down to a low C, which pushes the boundaries of reality a little, but they sound convincing with no signs of script pitching.
Of course, the point of this library is for the two instruments to be paired together with good amounts of effect, and to that end this library makes much more sense. The tiny quirks and limited characteristics are totally forgotten when played together in this manner.
Even though you couldn’t get two more culturally different instruments together like this, they complement each other beautifully. The dull attacking pick of the balalaika fits into the 12-string’s rich chorus tone like a glove. I have always thought of the 12-string more as a folk guitar than anything you would use in contemporary music, so perhaps the two instruments have a lot more in common with each other than I first imagined.
Each instrument features an individual 32-step sequencer which really is the main focal point for creating interesting rhythmic textures. This is a very simple, draggable line graph for adjusting the velocity hit for each note. There are no advanced settings for panning, reversing or any of that stuff, but the basics are here and it works surprisingly well to add movement. The modulation wheel on your MIDI control affects the velocity of the steps, effectively a dynamics controller.
A simple 2-note articulation is included to turn the pattern sequencer on or off, which I found remarkably effective while performing to bring in a little movement here and there, all the time using the mod wheel to balance the dynamics, all contributing to a very expressive and pleasing instrument to play.
A huge collection of presets is included, from the wild and aggressive to more sedate light and bouncy styles, and of course, custom patterns can be saved and loaded between guitar and balalaika to match rhythms. Mostly everything is awash in thick reverb and delay which can feel a little overkill as you’re skipping through each of the patches. Pulling back the effects and adjusting the pattern sequencer is part and parcel of setting up the instrument for your requirements.
There are no advanced syntheses or weird morph sequencers here – just the two nicely curated instruments and a lot of atmosphere effects smothered on top. Though there are a lot of effects, modulation and rhythmic controls included, on the whole, the instrument feels very simplistic, mostly because almost everything included gets used mostly all the time.
There is also no erroneous fluff and padding here. Nothing feels tacked on to make the package look more attractive, just a solid collection or really usable effects.
These instruments come from opposites of the world but together sound remarkably harmonious. Instinctively you might use the 12-string guitar as the pad or foundation, while the balalaika performs arpeggiated ostinatos perhaps on top. But much more interesting results come from mixing up the roles and experimenting with alternative patterns and effects combinations.
You might consider this a “world” instrument, but for me, it was surprisingly rich when combined with cinematic orchestral environments. Guitar and balalaika are such an unusual combination but sit incredibly well with strings, voice and even synth arrangments. This tiny 400MB instrument makes an amazing impact on some of my 100+ gigabytes libraries.
Sonuscore’s 12-String and Balalaika is a distinctive and flexible instrument with gorgeous effects and a rhythm section that elevate the already well-paired duo. Thrifty on both purchase cost and data footprint, this is an excellent library to bring unusual textures to your arrangements that won’t break your CPU or your credit card.
Check out the details on Sonuscore’s website right here www.sonuscore.com
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