Ambience Impacts Rhythms (A.I.R.) is one part sample library, one part virtual instrument and one part music supervisor on loan. Geared toward experimental and soundtrack work more than strict pop-music composition, its title somewhat ambiguously describes the variety of accomplishments of which it is truly capable. Wrapped in a customized version of Native Instruments Kontakt Player 2, A.I.R. may be used stand-alone or as VST, RTAS, Audio Units or DXi.
No other library I know of is organized into the three basic building blocks of the electronic-music composition process with quite the same sonic interchangeability. More than 300 ambient tones, 100 impact instruments and kits and 300 rhythmic beats and looped phrases work fluently together thanks to some ingenious considerations that blur the line between music and sound design. The mix-and-match nature of A.I.R.'s contents makes writing music a much simpler and more convenient process, particularly when you're starting out with absolutely no clue of where you're going.
The two-DVD set installs more than 6 GB of material, roughly categorized within the Kontakt Player 2 library by genre, timbre and the mood they evoke. This is a quick method for scoping out sounds, but by no means are the sounds limited to these categories.
Within the Ambience folder are 19 highly emotive categories such as Blissful, Terror Tensions and Frightening and descriptive textures such as Distorted, Electronic, Whooshing Airs and Sci-Fi. Because they are transitional-type sounds, the majority are drones, swells, sweeps and pads. They're largely electronic-based, sourced from classic analog, digital and wavetable synthesizers, as well as early samplers such as the Fairlight. Others are multisampled layers of actual orchestral and real-life sounds, craftily treated with studio effects.
Within the Impacts folder sit another 15 categories, including Airy Whisper, Blood Curdling, Electronix, Low End, Piercing, Scrapes, The Big Bang and Woods. A folder of percussive kits is also included. The main difference between Impacts and Ambience, as the name would imply, is that these are percussive sounds suitable for changing moods on a dime, or with an inherent abruptness aimed at creating gradual buildups, turnarounds and so forth. The material reaches far beyond the typical door slams, windstorms and explosions of other libraries; effects like the enormous Spacedock Doom and the scraping Rip Cord are a lot of fun.
The theme of the library at this point leans toward electronic, sci-fi and cinematic fantasy; it should not be confused with a general-purpose sound-effects collection of gunshots, Hollywood foley stages, car chases and explosions. You won't find anything remotely realistic here; it's all extremely conjured, heavily effected, twisted and synthetic (even the orchestral stuff is “dreamified”). On a downside, the Impacts folder is a little slim on variety to complement the enormous scope of A.I.R.'s ambient and rhythmic offerings.
Speaking of which, the Rhythm folder is perhaps the most versatile, not only to soundtrack composers, but also to musicians and remixers. Nine descriptive folders house 300 tempo-adjustable beats and melodic rhythms that range from twisted drum-machine patterns, modular analog-synth step-sequences/arpeggios and electro-mechanical/robotic pulses to gorgeously cinematic ethnic percussion and native drumming. In terms of beats, the Distorted-Tension and Experimental categories are particularly useful and fun, with decimation and raunch served up aplenty (“Dirty Milkshake”). The abundance of vintage beatbox quirkiness (“Pushing Squares”) and experimental noise — generated house rhythms (“Style Sprinkler”) were also tons of fun. I couldn't find a single loop in the rhythm section that I'd call a waste of hard-disk space or that I couldn't put to good use in an edgy pop track, club remix, motion picture, TV drama, national radio spot… you get the point.
My only gripe with A.I.R.'s rhythm section is that there aren't any beat-setting loops with more defining kicks, especially since the very well thought-out Hat Like/High End category (containing highly inventive electro-acoustic hi-hat tricks) cries out for a folder of driving backbone beats. Then again, adding your own kick sequences is a pretty simple task.
BREATHING NEW LIFE
A.I.R. won't be the only sample library or virtual instrument you need, but it'll do a fantastic job building on your collection. The production is absolutely stunning across the board: aggressive, punchy, wildly dynamic, expertly EQ'd and production-ready right out of the box. I also like that these libraries are instantly accessible in my fully blown Kontakt 2 workstation. For live gigs, the compact, stand-alone application provides a simpler, more straightforward user interface that lets you grab sounds quickly.
To sum up the sound of this kind of ambient, world-beat, electronic, dream-sequence fodder, tune into a prime-time TV drama such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (the sole composer of the show is already using A.I.R.) or listen to any of Delerium's CDs. From haunting drones, searing TB-303 resonance and frequency-modulated arpeggios to trademark choir samples and sheets of euphoric, polyrhythmic modular sequences, it's all here. I'd bank on hearing A.I.R. on many records, movies and video games in 2007.
A.I.R. > $299
Pros: Huge selection of top-quality, evocative material. Mostly geared toward sci-fi and fantasy genres, but also ideal for edgy and experimental pop, remixes and multimedia productions. Clean, simple and intuitive interface.
Cons: Not quite enough variety in Impacts to balance the library's enormous offering of Ambience and Rhythms.
Mac: G4/800 MHz (G5/1.8 GHz recommended); 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended); OS 10.2.6 or later
PC: P3 or Athlon/1 GHz (P4 or Athlon/2.8 GHz recommended); 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended); Windows XP