*PLEASE NOTE, THE REVIEWS BELOW REFER TO THE...
*PLEASE NOTE, THE REVIEWS BELOW REFER TO THE VIRTUAL INSTRUMENT VERSION OF SOUNDS OF POLYNESIA, whereas only the sample library is included with this download version.
"... The Intakt engine is a very capable Kontakt-based sample player, offering three distinct modes of operation: sampler, Beat Machine and Time Machine. Intakt is already becoming one of the most popular licensed ROMpler engines with sample providers, and it's easy to see why. Native Instruments have taken some of the best elements of Kontakt and squeezed them into what is arguably one of the most powerful ROMpler interfaces on the market today... In Sounds of Polynesia, Time Machine mode is used for vocal wails, wind instruments another 'extended' sounds - most of the non-percussive stuff, basically. But it's Beat Machine that makes for Intakt's greatest draw, and the lion's share of Polynesia's loops have been set up with this as their default engine. Loops are sliced and spread across the keyboard, with each successive hit mapped to a progressive series of notes. A MIDI file can then be exported - an upward run of notes laid out according to the timing of the original loop. This allows you to play back the loop at any tempo and rearrange it using standard MIDI editing techniques... There's no doubt that the Intakt engine makes for a powerful and sonically impressive ROMpler... Some of my favourite sounds were actually drum kit loops, but the conches, hand drums, vocals and others are also impressive, offering up some highly imaginative material with which to add a bit of authentic South Pacific flavour to any music in which such things would be viable..."
"...Sounds of Polynesia is large, powerful and...
"...Sounds of Polynesia is large, powerful and inspirational. In our testing, we encountered no stability problems or problems with the sample editing. It's amazing that Zero-G can provide a library of this depth and breadth at such a reasonable price. While not a bread and butter virtual instrument, it could easily be used in music ranging from soundtrack work to hip-hop..."
"It's fair to say that news of this sample...
"It's fair to say that news of this sample library's arrival provoked some excitement - after all, it's not every day that someone puts together a collection of instruments and grooves from Polynesia and stuffs them into a sample playback engine that can handle beat slicing, intelligent time stretching and offers decent DSP effects, too. So, dusting the sand from our laptops, we opened up the box to take a look....
Sounds of Polynesia (SOP, for short) is a new sample library from Zero-G which ships as an Intakt sample player (made by Native Instruments) and operates as a plug-in for VST-, RTAS-, DXi- and Audio Unit-compliant applications. It also functions in standalone mode.
The sound library focuses on Polynesia, Melanesia and Australia. Polynesia includes among others, the islands of Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and Fiji. Combine this with the Melanesian territories of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Maluku and Timor, and that's a huge swathe of Pacific cultural diversity. But why buy a sample player/library (also called a ROMpler) at all - why not just buy the library on its own and use your own sampler?
Ready for action
A ROMpler has the entire library primed and ready to go, so you don't need to search your computer's hard discs for sample banks or keep reaching for CD-ROMs from the shelf every time you want to dip into the library. With a ROMpler, the sounds are all there in the one plug-in for you to access via simple menu selections. This dedicated approach is very similar - some would say derived from - the hardware sound modules that once dominated studio rack space. Units like E-mu's Proteus family of modules, for instance, were specialised workhorses that operated in the same one-stop-shop fashion.
The advantage of specialised ROMplers like SOP is that you can take advantage of the processing power and storage capabilities of your computer. The old hardware modules had an average of 32MB of sample library inside their cases. SOP, on the other hand, has 1.2GB of sample library, plus the software ROMpler format offers real-time DSP processing power that no hardware module could ever get close to.
So, in essence, ROMplers such as SOP are a natural progression that mark a logical and necessary step in the evolution of specialised tone modules and sample libraries into something that is both a powerful and intrinsically an 'art-based' tool. To this end, Zero-G has allied its SOP library to Native Instruments' Intakt virtual instrument, which promises cool functionality such as beat slicing, as well as intelligently time- and pitch-stretching loops and phrases so they automatically lock to your sequencer's tempo.
Inserting the DVD and double-clicking the Start-up icon takes you through the (mercifully few) steps necessary to install and set up SOP, and enables you to choose where you want to store the 1.29GB sample library. Authorisation is a painless task which takes only a few minutes using the now-familiar System ID and Authorisation Key method. If you do not have internet access, then SOP can still be authorised by fax or post and will run for 14 days - fully functional - before authorisation becomes mandatory.
SOP's front end displays four distinct rows of editors - familiar to anyone who has used the Intakt sample player before. For anyone unfamiliar with it, the screen layout is coherent and user friendly. The Intakt player's hierarchy is constructed like this: at the root is the sample. Each sample is also a Zone. Both of these contain information relating to original key and pitch data. Each Zone can operate in one of three distinct modes: Sampler, Beat Machine, or Time Machine. The way in which Intakt handles and plays back the samples is dictated by which mode is selected for a given Zone. So, let's look at each mode in more depth.
Modes of sampling
Sampler mode works like a typical sampler: it provides basic sample playback and editing with simple options for setting up pitch and output. Beat Machine mode, however, is where things get interesting. This mode offers comprehensive beat-slicing facilities in a similar way to Propellerhead's ReCycle. By analysing a loop and then placing markers at prominent transient points, Beat Machine can literally slice up a loop into its component beats. These slices are then mapped intelligently to a range of keys across your MIDI keyboard. Intatk will then spit out a MIDI file of your key mappings so you can tweak the sliced groove to your heart's content.
The final mode - Time Machine - is described in the manual as a granular synthesizer intended to alter a sample's speed while retaining its original pitch. Time Machine's submenus offer the right amount of control without over-complicating the process by offering too much choice.
Related Technology - Keeping it simple
There are three DSP effects modules within Intakt and they are Delay, Lo-fi and Distortion. The 'keep it simple' philosophy works well here because each effect is easy to use yet aurally pleasing, and we found that in combination with the filter sections, you can re-sculpt the sounds into all manner of sonic topography. For example, a basic percussion loop was transformed into a dirty, gritty arpeggiator sequence. The human feel of the loops combined with their exotic timbre makes for interesting and new textures when you start to warp them in the effects and filter modules. However, it would have been nice to see a dedicated reverb module, too, as this may well be something that those who will be using it in standalone mode might need.
Method Spot - Composing on the move
The Intakt sample player has a really great feature up its sleeve. As well as the standard MIDI keyboard method of playing'triggering samples, Intakt can be played from a QWERTY keyboard. This is great news for laptop users who want to compose on the move, and as the core of SOP's library is loop-based anyway, it's not the kind of product that requires MIDI keyboard virtuosity.
But what about the sounds? Clicking on SOP's File tab brings down a menu of available sound categories as follows: construction kits, long blows, percussion loops and vocals. The construction kits are subdivided into two categories: Intakt and Original samples.
All of the construction kits in the Intakt menu have been optimised for Beat Machine and Time Machine modes. Conversely, all kits in the Original Samples menu contain raw samples that have been left untouched. For instance, the 090 Pipeline1 preset found in the Intakt menu features loops that have been perfectly beat-sliced and play seamlessly at whatever tempo your sequencer is set to. However, the Pipeline1 preset from the Original Samples menu plays identical loops at their original tempo, regardless of your sequencer's tempo.
Mix and match
One thing is for sure: getting grooves together by mixing and matching loops from the Intakt menu is an absolute doddle. The Beat Machine and Time Machine modes take all of the hard work out of it. We opened up three construction kits and had a groove going in seconds, all in time and with great human feel (these loops are typically around eight bars in length). So, what happens if you change tempo mid-song? To test this, we dropped the tempo from 120BPM to 75BPM, which is quite a jump. There were big smiles all round as SOP played back the same grooves at the new tempo without a hint of glitching or clicking.
Next up we added more percussion, but this time it was a loop that featured a fair amount of swing that clashed with the straighter feel of our existing groove. Again, the experiment proved that SOP can handle almost anything you want to throw at it.
As we've already said, the Intakt menu hosts a list of construction kits and each one has a submenu of its component loops, enabling you to load up just a single loop if you want to without loading the whole construction kit. When we tried this with a swung conga loop, we were delighted to find that as well as placing said loop on MIDI note C1, SOP also gave us the same loop already beat-sliced and mapped across the rest of the keyboard from F1 up to B4. This is a really nice touch as were expecting to have to do this manually. But what about the MIDI file? Well, all you do is click the Command button, select Export MIDI File and choose your destination. Importing the MIDI file into Cubase and hitting Play demonstrated the ease with which SOP and Intakt handle these tasks - there was the loop playing perfectly, as before. Now all we had to do was hit Quantise (set to straight 16) - suddenly the conga player was grooving with the same feel as the other guys and girls!
Get the feel
Of course, sometimes this will result in the right feel, but you'll hear a slightly jagged edge to the mix as each slice turns out to be too short and the silence between quantised notes sounds unnatural. Fortunately, delving into SOP's interface reveals yet another labour-saving panacea.
The ADSR volume envelope seems to act on each slice so that opening up the Release parameter causes a pre-defined portion in each slice to sound, with its decay time determined by the ADSR's release setting. In practice, this introduces a reverberant quality, masking the gaps and offering a great alternative to simply lowering the pitch of each slice instead.
We reckon that the method you use will be determined by the style or sound of the loop you are working on, but either way it's quick, easy and you get to hear the results in real time. Further perusal of the construction kits reveals a diverse mixture of Polynesian instruments including mambu, split cane, conga, kundu, harp, garamut, coconut shells, pahu, pate and shakers - plus a whole host of things we've never even heard of before! On top of that there is a selection of vocal, conch and horn samples, plus a special section of bamboo percussion rolls which feature some excellent tremolo work.
While some of these sounds may strike many of us as being a little 'left field', they represent a sonic window on a musical world that's seldom visited. Their rhythmic nature could breathe new life into anything from rock to tribal house and, of course, the film/game score and production possibilities are obvious. Coupled with Intakt's excellent DSP and filtering sections - not to mention intuitive interface and ease of use - SOP becomes a creative genie just waiting to be released from its bottle.
Verdict: Exotic instruments, great human feel and an intuitive and powerful playback interface make for a product that is capable of breathing new life into a mix and generating fresh inspiration. 8/10"
"Here's another virtual instrument in from...
"Here's another virtual instrument in from those busy folks at Zero G. It's presented in the now familiar Intakt instrument form and is compatible with a great many different recording and sequencing platforms. It also works as a stand-alone application. It's also pretty quirky!
Polynesia covers a vast amount of territory and encompasses a great diversity of cultures. It includes American Samoa, The Cook Islands, Nuei, French Polynesia, Pitcairn, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and last but not least the Wallis and Futana islands. This is a vast spread of islands with a wide variety of cultures and musical traditions but this collection doesn't really take in the whole region.
Although advertised as "The sounds of Polynesia, Melanesia and Australia" - it should really be called "The sounds of Papua New Guinea," for that is what it is. You'll be disappointed if you're looking for any Australian ethnic instruments like didgeridoos for example.
Actually this is pointed out on the box and it's not the end of the world because there's fine selection of material here. You get just over 1.3 Gigabytes of instruments, rhythms, vocals and other indigenous samples in four categories - construction kits, percussion loops, voices and long Blows, which are conch shell horns.
All of this is presented in the now familiar Native instruments Intakt instrument format, which allows a vast amount of sonic manipulation and tempo locking. I've printed the Intakt specs later in the review along with the compatible software.
The two producers behind the collection are Airileke Ingram (Papua New Guinea and Australia) who plays all instruments (except guitars) and does vocals, programming and sequencing and William Hatch (Fiji and Australia) who provides guitars, vocals and additional percussion. There's a whole host of fascinating indigenous instruments featured here and even some village ambience from Airi's village.
The construction kits run from 75 bpm to 166 and there are 42 of them. The original samples are provided in a separate menu. There are only eight percussion loops but the construction kits abound with percussion material. There are 12 of the conch blows and fifteen vocal samples, most of which are long shouts and calls.So the big question. What does it sound like and how useful is it? First off it sounds very good. I've no idea if this is a combination of field and studio recording but the sound quality is great.
The usefulness of the package will entirely depend on your taste and area of musical operation. If you're in film of television scoring I'm sure you'll have a ball with this. It's obviously perfect for any kind of wildlife documentary or travel program. Apart from this I'd use it in a film score to inject some different colours - these sounds are very fresh sounding to my ears.
The conch horns sound a bit like mutant tenor saxes blown softly and are great for atmospheric chord pads. Some of the construction kits are pretty much instant film cues, which is great if you're up against a deadline.
If you want to inject some unusual sounds into your project this is a great place to look for inspiration. I'm sure someone is going to come up with an Ibiza anthem with the vocal calls. They're really atmospheric. A lot of the sounds would be great in a chillout, ambient context too.
Once you start messing around will Intakts' effects and filters you can be sure of some really insane soundscaping. Get tweaking!
To conclude - this is something of a niche product but that is a point in its favour. Personally I'd rather have an instrument that does one thing well than one which tries to do lots of things and doesn't shine at any of them. It's also very good value at £59.95 ($99.95 US)"