The Christian and Lane Ultimate Timpani sample library of four CD-ROMs ($349) was produced and performed by professional percussionists Donnie Christian and Sean Lane. It contains just about every kind of timpani performance that you can imagine. The samples derive from a set of Hinger Touch-Tone timpani with calfskin heads.
You get six types of timpani performances: Hits, Hand Muffled Hits, Rolls, Crescendo and Decrescendo Rolls, Timpani Effects, and Timpani Extras. Each performance features playing with five types of mallets: cartwheels, which have thick, soft heads; three mallets with felt-covered heads, each with varying degrees of softness; and bare wooden mallets. The library also offers a set of timpani performances created by striking the timpani with fingers and hands. The combination of performances and mallets yields a complex matrix of sound choices.
The Hits Keep Coming
The five mallet varieties each have six kinds of Hits performances: Hits, Hits Light, Pan, Pan Light, Bass Timpani, and Soprano Timpani. All Hits have eight Velocity levels, giving each hit a wide dynamic range. Hits, Hits Light, Pan, and Pan Light have separate left- and right-hand samples ranging from MIDI Note Numbers 36 to 57 (C to A) on the left to 60 to 81 (C to A, one octave higher) on the right. That keyboard layout makes it possible to play sustained crescendo, and decrescendo rolls in real time. Hits Light performances simulate the effect of a light cloth placed on the timpani head, which is useful for creating articulate passages. The patches' hit and fade levels can be controlled with the Mod wheel. Pan and Pan Light performances map the timpani pitches from right to left as you move up the scale.
Ranging from C36 to A57, the Bass and Soprano Timpani hit patches offer nice special effects. The Bass Timpani is a standard timpani pitch-shifted down one octave. You can use the Mod wheel to control the samples' attack and release times. That can provide some cool, eerie effects, especially if you use some of the effects processors available in GigaStudio. The Soprano Timpani is a normal timpani sound, but it is pitch-shifted up one octave. It has an interesting, almost Oriental-sounding tone; I used it to play a Chinese-inspired melody, and it sounded great.
Each time I played A45 on the Green Soprano Timpani patch with a hard velocity, the sound erroneously switched to a regular timpani instead of soprano sound. However, you can go to Christian and Lane's Web site (www.dssoundware.com) to download an articulation file that corrects the problem.
The Hand Muffled performances contain single hits that are muted with the hand after the initial stroke. The Hand Muffled performances are arranged similarly to the Hits performances, with the following exceptions: there are no hand-muffled Bass or Soprano Timpani patches, and there are no separate left- and right-hand hits. That's as it should be — in performance, one hand would be busy muffling the head.
Merrily We Roll Along
Playing realistic rolls is possible using the Hits patches; however, doing so uses considerable polyphony. The Rolls patches reduce polyphony demands and generate smooth rolls. Each note (C36 to A57) in the Rolls patches (Rolls, Rolls Light, Rolls Pan, and Rolls Pan Light) is mapped at four Velocity levels. Furthermore, rolls in the softer dynamics of the lower pitches are slower than rolls of the higher-pitched notes, which is how they occur when performed live. Each note has a release trigger that allows for a realistic release when you need a roll shorter than the actual sample. Considering that each Rolls note lasts about 30 seconds, you often will need shorter releases. You also can control the release time with the Mod wheel.
The Crescendo and Decrescendo patches let the user generate smooth, realistic crescendo and decrescendo rolls with a minimum of polyphony. As in the Rolls patches, notes are mapped from C36 to A57. The speed of each roll (short, medium, and long) and its dynamic direction are determined by playing notes C60 to A69 before playing the desired roll note. Again, the Mod wheel can control release times.
The Timpani Extras patch includes glissandi, bowl hits, and my personal favorite, a glissando with a cymbal on the head. It's an eerie sound, but I like it. The Fingers and Hands performances are similar in many ways to the Hits. Both have Hits, Hits Light, Pan, Pan Light, and Bass patches, and each corresponding patch is laid out in the same way on the keyboard. However, the Fingers and Hands performances have only four Velocity levels, ranging from a tap with a single finger to a fortissimo hit with the entire hand. Additionally, the Alto Fingers and Hand patch is pitched lower than the Soprano Hits patches. Even though probably no music is written for those patches, they are fun to play.
Most of the performance parameters are pretty straightforward. However, more specific information concerning mapping and key switching would be nice. Unfortunately, the only documentation provided is a Microsoft Word file that duplicates the information in the CD-ROM booklet. Nonetheless, the Christian and Lane Web site offers additional information and tips about creating realistic performances.
Despite that and the easily corrected patch glitch mentioned previously, Christian and Lane have labored through a Herculean project to provide the best timpani sample library you could hope for. If you need to access a variety of timpani sounds on a regular basis, get the Ultimate Timpani Library. It truly lives up to its name.