Review: UVI Ether Fields

Sound library or synth? You decide
Author:
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

Question: When is a sound library not a sound library?

Answer: When it is a full-blown synthesizer.

This argument could rightfully apply to a large number of sound sets prepared for software samplers. However, UVI’s Ether Fields stands out among them, perhaps because of its depth of programming and the real-time animation it provides.

The main page of UVI’s Ether Fields is studded with synthesizer controls that are assignable to your MIDI controller.

Image placeholder title

In it, notable synthesist Simon Stockhausen delves deeply into UVI Falcon’s formidable synthesizer engine, fortifying the unique sounds in this Falcon expansion pack with sampling, a wide palette of synthesis capabilities, and a sizable tool chest of customizable features. This allows him to move his sounds well beyond mere sample fodder.

Ether Fields is available as a download and requires an iLok account, which can be used to authorize your hard drive or an iLok key. The UFS file (UVI’s format for sample content) weighs in at a mere 1.87GB; not much by contemporary standards, but its strengths lie in Stockhausen’s programming and Falcon’s powerful synthesis and processing features rather than its sample count.

Once you have added the content to Falcon’s library, Ether Fields shows up in the browser along with other UVI libraries. The browser divides Ether Fields into eight folders—Bells-Plucks, Granular, Hybrid, Pads, Sequencer, Soundscapes, Synths, and Wavetables.

If you are selecting a patch from Falcon’s info window, the first thing you’ll notice is that the controls and settings are largely different for each patch. This is no accident and it underscores both the creative nature of the library and the power under Falcon’s hood.

By turns, patches rely on granular synthesis, analog modeling, sample playback, FM, wavetable, or any combination of the above. Consequently, the structure of each patch is unique.

Despite the inherent animation of the sounds, every patch is studded with macro-control knobs and buttons, begging the use of a well-appointed MIDI controller. Although the functions of most macros are obvious from their names, a few are less evident. For instance, you’ll just have to suss out what “Delay Glitch” or “Warp Bar Chimes” actually does by engaging their controls. The PDF manual is no help in those moments, as it makes no attempt to define what those macros do, other than suggesting a peek at the Info window, which doesn’t always clearly explain the controls.

A LA MODE

What makes Ether Fields remarkable is the stunning quality and multidimensional animation in Stockhausen’s patches. Sounds range from unique lead and keyboard instruments to soundscapes that are almost miniature compositions in and of themselves. In the synth folder, FM Glass is a transparent, crystalline FM-based pad that sounds familiar; until the bandpass filter starts sweeping and a little Aftertouch adds five-voice unison detuning. You can even dial in a bit of waveshaping to add some crunch.

Fig. 1. One of Stockhausen’s Ether Field patches that demonstrates the complex layers of synthesizer engines and effects. The center window shows multiple effects treating the selected layer.

Image placeholder title

The granular patches yield especially satisfying surprises. Lydian Voices Split features vocal tones singing an ascending and descending scale, enveloped in bright, coruscating synth tones, whereas Dorian Scape and Mixolydian Waters are atmospheric pieces with complex, musically intertwined sequences and percolating rhythms adding to the mayhem (see Figure 1).

You could be forgiven for mistaking the folder of pads for a more conventional set of sounds. Queens Throne starts off as a very good send-up of an Oberheim Expander-style pad; at least until you start modulating the sample start/grain position macro. Increasing the Amp Mod introduces a tempo-synched, 16th-note gating effect which becomes more pronounced and increasingly staccato as the effect is turned up.

Fig. 2. The MonoPoly Drive patch relies on a powerful aggregation of drum and analog-modeling synthesizers.

Image placeholder title

CoolQuencer, from the Sequencer folder, could easily have been a song starter from the Jeff Beck Star Cycle period, combining a pulsing hard-sync, analog-modeled bass motif, a mid-range percussive synth ostinato, and wacky, filtered noise (see Figure 2).

MonoPoly Drive is pure metallic robot funk, deploying Falcon’s formidable drum oscillators, sample playback and FM synthesis. The Synth and Wavetable folders are a delight, and the Soundscapes collection harbors singular compositions on a key, any of which can radically change character with a twist of the macro knobs.

ETHER/OR

Simon Stockhausen has exploited the capabilities of Falcon to a remarkably high degree. Despite my complaint about the gaps in nomenclature, the manual is an excellent window into the creative sound-design process and a fine quick-start walkthrough packed with suggestions for programming your own variations, including creating your own macros. Stockhausen’s contributions to falcontinuum.com are loaded with the artist’s tutorials and patches, and it’s a worthy adjunct to the manual, providing more keen insights into his work.

Overall, UVI Ether Fields is a virtual box of sonic wonders that should delight anyone looking for fresh, inventive sounds and instruments. I recommend it highly.

STRENGTHS
Powerful collection of imaginative and useful sounds. Expertly programmed. Macro controls dramatically alter patches.

LIMITATIONS
PDF manual lacks specific descriptions of macro functions.

$39
uvi.net

Marty Cutler’s book: The New Electronic Guitarist is available from Hal Leonard.