Cycling '74's first audio library, Sustained Encounters ($99), delivers more than 130 files of loops and evolving textural sounds that range from a few seconds to two minutes in length. Ron MacLeod, developer of the Poke in the Ear libraries, culled these darkly evocative tracks from his personal archive. Sustained Encounters was designed to be aurally and emotionally compelling, without intruding on foreground material when used in a multimedia work.
The library comes with a DVD-ROM containing 24-bit WAV files and an audio CD for convenient track auditioning. The files on the DVD are available in 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz sampling rates. In addition, the Immersion folder has 5.1 surround versions of ten of the library's textures, as well as 6-channel Broadcast WAV files for SMPTE/ITU use.
The DVD audio files are looped end to end for use in programs such as Sony Pictures Digital Media Acid, Apple GarageBand, and Cycling '74 Radial. Because the files tend to be long and atmospheric — not requiring pitch and tempo matching — no specialized looping formats (such as Acid and REX) are provided. A detailed index of the contents of each disc are supplied in PDF and Microsoft Excel formats.
The library's audio files are grouped into the eight categories — Other Realms, Atmospheres, Evirons, Lifeforms, Textural Complex, Textural Events, Textural High, and Textural Low. Other Realms contains 18 evolving passages, some of which can stand on their own as complete compositions with satisfying dramatic arcs. Atmospheres is a collection of lovely sustained and immersive textures. Evirons are loops that suggest physical locations. The Lifeforms files are intended to channel imaginary sonic life forms.
Textural Complex contains multilayered loops that have a broad sound spectrum, while Textural Events are single shots that have a definable dramatic shape. Textural High consists of files with strong high-frequency components, while Textural Low's loops have strong low-frequency elements. (MacLeod recommends using a subwoofer to hear the full bandwidth of many of the sounds in the latter folder.)
Using Acid, I crafted a gorgeous one-minute scene straight out of Alien in about 20 minutes. For the foreground I chose two textures from the Other Realms folder — Ghost Station and Emergence. For the background, I used three loops from the Textural High folder — Cockroach Radio, Hi Sizzleshower Sust, and Neutron Star — to balance the strong low end. All I had to do was apply volume curves to the three loops; the foreground textures already have convincing dynamic curves — long fade-in, climax, long fade-out — built in (see Web Clip 1).
In Cakewalk Sonar, I created a convincing gothic-industrial passage using only three Sustained Encounters tracks. To set the gothic mood, I chose two files from Textural Low — Vfx Com Drone and Lethargadrone. To industrialize the mix, I added TransradiaL Glitch 70b from the Other Realms folder. Besides dynamic curves, I added a 4-tap delay to the TransradiaL Glitch 70b track (see Web Clip 2).
Overall, the tracks on Sustained Encounters are a bit heavy on the low end, something you can easily verify by running the audio files through a spectrum analyzer. At best, this makes for a rich (sub)basso profundo. At worst, it can muddy a mix.
The strong low end is not a show-stopper: if you don't like it, you can use an EQ to even out the spectral balance. But to my ears, the dominating bass energy gives the library a sameness when taken as a whole, and I found myself wanting many of the audio files to sound crisper, with stronger midhigh- to high-frequency components.
The file names used in the collection are abstract, suggestive, and often quite evocative. However, they were not helpful in terms of directing me to a particular type of sound.
I also noticed that a small portion of the 44.1 kHz files have a faint but audible click at their looping point. Many users won't mind these pianissimo clicks, but audio obsessives will want to remove them.
Sustained Encounters is full of rich, imaginative, and unique sounds. There are dozens of textures and drones to choose from, most of which can be used on their own or mixed effectively with other files in the collection.
Overall, the library is well designed, well produced, and well organized. And most of the sounds are unobtrusive enough to make effective background textures without obscuring lead musical lines, dialog, and sound effects.