Although many instruments can be forged into pads and other atmospheric sounds, it’s hard to beat the chaotic behavior of guitar strings. Vir2’s Apollo Cinematic Guitars is a new 22GB sample library for Native Instruments Kontakt 5.3 that takes advantage of the nonlinearities of strings to provide a wide range of sounds derived from processed acoustic and electric instruments.
You’ll find numerous ways to build tracks in Apollo. In addition to top-level folders such as Swells, Pads, and Instruments, the Ambient Designer folder holds loops and one-shots arrayed in key maps, with a focus on processed sounds and chords, while Phrase Builder contains clips of guitar performances, focusing on licks and arpeggios.
Ambient Designer offers reversed sounds, bowed and sustained chords, white noise, and radio effects, among others. You can latch these while layering them for elaborate, animated, guitar-driven soundscapes, a la Boards of Canada. Each group has a mixer where you can set level and pan positions for individual key assignments or assign MIDI Control Change to automate them. Transpose parts by clicking in the upper octave of the instrument’s keymap. Phrase Builder automatically syncs to tempo, and the parts are short and simple, so you can build complex elements by layering the sounds assigned to each key.
The Instruments folder holds conventionally mapped guitars, basses, harmonics, and even an electric sitar. The patches sound lively and realistic. My only quibble is that each instrument category uses the same sample set with different effects settings. The effects are easy to use and readily accessible, so it seems like an unnecessary duplication of effort. Swells and pads offer simple ADSR envelope controls, but you must use the full version of Kontakt to get top-level access to filters and filter envelopes. (Apollo ships with Kontakt 5 Player.)
Most of the swells and pads are derived from assorted pedals, bowing, e-bows, and similar techniques. Remarkably, individual notes sound and behave differently, with maybe one sample spitting out subtle amounts of feedback at a slightly different time and level from another.
Every pad and swell sounds breathtaking in unique ways. Some have organ-like overtones; others sound like warm bells and strings, or vocals emerging from the ocean depths. You will also hear subtle artifacts such as string or bowing noise, or a bit of manual vibrato—sounds that add the spark of life when you grab a chord. Pads have the added luxury of two sample channels, allowing you to mix and match sounds.
Swells benefits from a Chords and Notes subfolder, which divides the keyboard map into groups of major and minor chords in different inversions. The Single Note folder replicates sounds in a conventional keyboard layout. Swells also offers tempo-synced modulation with a choice of waveforms, and you can change the modulation pulse width for nice staccato effects.
With Apollo, Vir2’s sound design team has released a focused, yet vast collection of guitar-driven beauty. The pads and swells are drenched in the human element and, alone, are easily worth the price of admission. The Ambient Designer and Phrase Builder folders provide great song starters, and you can create an even more personal touch with the guitars and other instruments. Any composer of electronic music, cinematic or otherwise will find Apollo an inspiring musical companion. I recommend it highly
Gorgeous, animated pads and swells. Ambient Designer makes it easy to create interesting soundscapes.
No tempo sync for Ambient Designer. Instruments folder is somewhat redundant.
By the time you read this, Marty Cutler will be at work on a new book for electronic guitarists. Stay tuned.