One of my earliest musical experiences was jamming with salsa and Latin jazz on the radio by banging on the sheet-metal post of my bed. As a five-year-old amateur conguero, I tried to emulate the changing timbres and rhythms I heard. Although my skills didn’t quite match up, I came to appreciate the value of found objects as percussion. Decades later, I find myself doing something similar with Vir2 Sticks, a sample library of found percussion.
Sticks is a relatively simple instrument. Its diverse library is driven by step sequencers, and everything is accessible from a single window. Pencils, brushes, mallets, hands, and sticks of all kinds collide with cardboard boxes, coffee cups, paint cans, cardboard tubes, and other sticks as one-shot samples.
The samples are intimately recorded with up to four velocity layers and multiple round-robins. Four engines host individual percussion components, each with its own bank of 10 Scenes. Engine settings include volume, pan, tuning, attack, and release. Those last three settings can radically repurpose a coffee cup into a glassy snare or turn a cardboard box struck with a mallet into a punchy kick.
The global effects include EQ, phaser, delay, compressor, convolution reverb, and an especially effective transient shaper that is useful for sharpening envelopes on low-tuned samples. There is no mixer page and, consequently, there are no independent sends for the Engines or Scenes.
A Scene comprises a step-sequencer pattern, with sequencing for pitch and panning as well as note-on velocity. Scenes range from 1 to 32 steps with values (expressed as Rates) of quarter-notes to 32-note triplets. Each scene can have an independent number of steps, though you cannot set independent Rates within an Engine; if one Scene is set to 16th notes, all Scenes for that Engine follow suit, but each Engine can have its own Rate.
Scenes for the four Engines are sequential on the keyboard, with a one-shot for each Engine followed by the ten scenes; D5 acts as the Play All key and triggers all four engines, whereas F5 through B5 mute individual Engines. Sticks makes it easy to create interesting grooves, but it doesn’t let you arrange composite patterns into a song form. If it's hard to memorize which key triggers a Scene, you can embed the triggers in DAW tracks. This method of constructing songs created pattern variations I hadn’t considered.
Additionally, if you hold down the Play All key, you will need to retrigger it in order to hear your Scene change (or hold down the Scene’s key). A workaround when sequencing is to click on the Scene list to latch the Play All button. A separate latch button would help here. Global patterns-witching would be a time saver, too.
Altering the length of a scene, coupled with adding pitch variations per scene can add exciting and musically dynamic changes in feel, so the lack of independent note values is frustrating. According to Vir2, some features were omitted to enable a lower price point. And while Vir2 Sticks’ lack of presets is balanced by its ease of use, it’s not quite up to the level of a drum machine.
Nevertheless, I have very high hopes for this virtual instrument. Vir2 Sticks would increase its value immensely if the above issues were remedied, allowing it to become the top-of-the-line rhythm beast for alternate sounds that it was meant to be.
Detailed sampling. Easy-to-use step sequencer with pitch and panning steps. Independent triggering of Engines.
No independent Rates per Engine Scene. No Presets. Effects are strictly global. No latch feature. Scene changes can be unwieldy.
Marty Cutler is the author of The New Electronic Guitarist, Published by Hal Leonard.