If you’ve seen any of David Attenborough’s Life series, or if you were a fan of the band Cabaret Voltaire, you’ve heard the work of Chris Watson. His previous sample library for SonicCouture, Geosonics, combined environmental sounds with DSP, synthesis, and musical scripting.
Watson’s latest project, Haunted Spaces, captures a range of man-made spaces—the Entrance of Hades in Greece, the Vigeland Mausoleum in Norway, and a railway station in Brussels—as well as natural environments such as massive bat caves in Borneo. Here, his field recordings merge with similar techniques as those used in Geosonics, but with a major addition: Vector synthesis is used to create animated and evocative sonic images.
Four tabs at the bottom of the widow access Haunted Spaces basic operations: Jammer, Options, Haunted Spaces (the main window), and Effects. The main window’s four quadrants represent the four instrument cores (called Elements) that comprise a patch; a floating cube in the center drifts between the four Elements in an x/y vector. Clicking on the sample name in each core opens a browser for loading any of the hundreds of samples and synth sounds.
Looking at the sparsely populated main window, you’d be tempted to think that Haunted Spaces is a preset-only collection. In fact, programming details are neatly tucked away and kept from being a distraction (see Fig. 1). Click on the gear icon and each Element’s synth parameters are at your disposal, organized by function: Main, Filter, Envelope, FiltEG, and LFO.
You’ll find dedicated 4-stage envelopes for amplitude and the filters, per Element. You can scale the filter’s response to envelope generators and velocity. MIDI Learn via Control Change messages is available, and if you want to adjust a parameter equally and simultaneously in all Elements, click the Link button or hold down the Option or Alt key while you change the setting: You can see the relevant parameters of all four quadrants. There is no mute or solo button, but holding Option/Alt while clicking on the on/off button for any quadrant shuts off the other Elements.
You’ll appreciate that the vector’s parameter window remains constant whatever edit page you are working on, making it easy to jump between synth and vector edits. The Q button quantizes vector playback to the nearest beat for tempo-synced crossfades, and you get a menu for altering the vector path.
Calling the Jammer an arpeggiator sells its generative aspects short. Apart from note direction, speed, and feels, Jammer can add randomly played notes at the interval of your choosing. The Evolve slider adds randomness to your arpeggio, and Gaps randomly inserts more rests. If randomness isn’t your thing, simply constrain the Jammer’s choices with the Key filter, by clicking notes on the virtual keyboard, or by recording MIDI data. Combined with the vector, the animation possibilities are impressive.
All of this is dressed up in an effects section with a pair of convolution reverbs offering a choice of impulses from studios and conventional spaces to exotic and bizarre sources. The results are deeply atmospheric and evocative, with sounds ranging from quiet, peaceful, romantic, and soothing to mysterious, creepy, portentous, loud, and violent. There’s a high degree of programmability, so it’s easy to forge your sounds the way you want.
SonicCouture Haunted Spaces is a cinematic library in the very best sense of the word.
Extremely playable, musical, and evocative sounds. Highly programmable.
Marty Cutler is the author of The New Electronic Guitarist, published by Hal Leonard.