The three CD-ROMs in Quantum Leap Rare Instruments ($499.95) contain samples of 16 ethnic instruments from Europe, India, the Far East, and the Middle East. Most musicians can identify the sound of tablas, Highland bagpipes, and Chinese gongs; this collection also contains several instruments with less familiar names. Even if you are unfamiliar with the sounds of the duduk (Armenian flute), gadulka (Bulgarian fiddle), or launedda (Sardinian triple pipes), you've probably heard them in movie soundtracks.
The string and wind instrument samples on Rare Instruments (except for Highland pipes) use key switching to create various ornamentations or alter the playing style. Although the documentation doesn't detail which ornamentation a specific key triggers, the patch name indicates where the trigger keys are located. Currently in GigaSampler format, Rare Instruments should soon be available in Akai format.
The Gong Show
The Far East disc contains five instruments: Chinese gong, Thai gong (aka nipple gong), erhu (a two-stringed Chinese fiddle), Taiko drums, and rag dung (a 10-foot-long Tibetan trumpet). The 34-inch Chinese gong is played with large soft mallets, sticks, and hammers, providing a variety of excellent tonal characteristics. The 23-inch Thai gong also yields an outstanding assortment of sounds, particularly when struck at the nipple.
The erhu comprises a mahogany sound box covered with a snakeskin membrane. Its two steel strings are played with a horsehair bow lodged between them. Because the erhu's small size made it necessary to close-mic the instrument, the scrape of the bow is prominent in the samples. Although the scrape can be bothersome when playing solo, it's no problem in an ensemble setting or when you use key switching to trigger the ornamentations.
Each of the 18 Taiko drum instruments provides a collection of sounds that you can layer for additional texture or to create ensembles for playing polyrhythmic percussion tracks. For the perfect soundtrack to ancient ceremonial scenes, add the deep tones of the rag dung.
Within You, Without You
The Middle East and India disc features sarangi, tablas, Middle Eastern fiddle, and the duduk. The sarangi is a bowed instrument with 4 main strings and 12 sympathetic strings. If you listen to classical Indian music or psychedelic music from the '60s, you might recognize its distinctive, almost weeping sound. The key to capturing the sarangi's flavor is to layer the resonance trails patch with the main patch. Mastering the key triggers to play the various ornamentations, slurs, and slides is crucial in reproducing an authentic sarangi performance.
The tablas sound excellent, but they're unnaturally panned hard left and right, respectively. Because they are mono samples, though, you can make pan adjustments with an outboard mixer or edit and save their pan positions.
The duduk and Middle Eastern fiddle lend an exotic air to world music arrangements. Because many ethnic instruments aren't tuned to equal temperament, Rare Instruments producer Nick Phoenix used Antares' Auto-Tune 3 pitch-correction plug-in and a Roland VP-9000 sampling effects processor to retune and stretch the dudek and other instrument samples.
The Europe disc contains the greatest number of instruments, as well as some of the rarest instruments in the collection. The gadulka is a Bulgarian three-stringed fiddle with additional sympathetic strings for added resonance. From Sardinia, the launedda is a three-piped flute on which the player plays two-note chords with the left hand and a melody with the right hand.
With a distinctive medieval sound like a buzzing bagpipe-and-fiddle hybrid, the hurdy-gurdy is a stringed instrument that's bowed by cranking a wheel under the strings to create a drone. To play a melody, the fingers do not touch the strings; instead, the player presses keys that activate string stops.
Anyone who's seen a Ricola commercial should be familiar with the deep, rich sound of the Alpen horn, and everyone will recognize the Highland or Scottish bagpipes. To reproduce the various attacks employed in bagpipe playing, Rare Instruments uses Velocity switching rather than key switching. The resulting instrument is easier to play authentically in a single pass.
You should also recognize the mournful sound of the uilleann pipes, or Irish bagpipes, if you've seen the movie Braveheart or heard the music of Enya. Another instrument that can be heard on many soundtracks, the Irish low whistle, is often associated with the sound of the uilleann pipes, but its sound is versatile enough to combine with Indian and Far Eastern sounds.
A Rare Find
Anyone who uses ethnic sounds in their music should check out Quantum Leap Rare Instruments. Although the cost might seem a little steep, the producer points out that many of the instruments on the three CDs are rarely sampled or seldom sampled well. He has meticulously assembled and recorded many performances by expert players. Moreover, he has taken great care to make the samples as usable as possible. Although he has provided the tools to re-create authentic performances, you need to develop a feel for how the instruments should sound, which means learning to use key switching in the stringed and wind instruments. With practice, your efforts will be rewarded.