When I was in college, my freshman music history teacher introduced the class to avant-garde by playing an excerpt from John Cage's a piece composed in
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Soundlabel''s Piano Attack features -samples of pianos that have been -modified, scraped, hacked, and beaten. The collection is -available in one -edition for Reason and another for EXS24 and Kontakt 2.

When I was in college, my freshman music history teacher introduced the class to avant-garde by playing an excerpt from John Cage's “Bacchanale,” a piece composed in 1938 for prepared piano. Half the class was fascinated, and the other half was appalled — typical reactions from listeners first exposed to prepared piano. Although Cage wasn't the first to place foreign objects (called preparations or treatments) on or between piano strings, hammers, and dampers, he brought the technique to prominence. Since then, prepared piano has become an essential element in avant-garde's repertoire.

Creative composers and other progressive artists are always looking for ways to expand their palettes, and Dutch soundware developer Soundlabel aims to fulfill their desires. Piano Attack is a prepared-piano sample library that's available in two editions: a DVD-ROM supplying samples and patches for Apple EXS24 and Native Instruments Kontakt 2 ($279.95), and a CD-ROM supplying a ReFill for Propellerhead Reason ($229.95).

Sound the Attack

Piano Attack's creators went far beyond Cage's vision of inserting screws, paper clips, folded paper, chunks of wood, and various other muting materials into a piano to change its sound. They did things to acoustic pianos that Cage probably never considered — banging on them with hammers, slicing them with handsaws, hacking them with axes, and generally abusing them to the extent that one piano was completely destroyed. While it's true that traditional preparation significantly increases a piano's percussive qualities, the possibilities are so much greater when you're willing to risk permanent damage.

The end result of all that mayhem is 2.9 GB of data comprising 274 patches for Kontakt 2 and 1.18 GB of data comprising 210 EXS24 patches and 411 Apple Logic 7 channel strip presets. The EXS24 and Kontakt 2 edition also includes two folders full of REX files: Rex Beats, which is on the installation disc, and Rex Phrases, which you can download after you've registered your soundware. The 574 MB Reason ReFill (available on disc or as a download) has 207 NN-XT patches, 157 Dr:rex beats, and 21 Dr:rex phrases. Because the ReFill format uses lossless compression, the files are quite a bit smaller than the other versions. Registered owners of the Reason edition can also download additional material.

The Logic 7 and EXS24 version supplies data for Logic's channel strip as well as for the sampler. Along with the sampler data, the channel strip presets recall any assigned plug-ins and other settings. The difference between the same patch with and without plug-in processing can be quite remarkable (see Web Clip 1). Because Kontakt 2 furnishes its own effects, separate files aren't necessary. Piano Attack makes the most of its effects programming, which gives Logic 7 and Kontakt 2 users an advantage over anyone importing the content into samplers such as HALion and GigaStudio.

Sounds are divided into classifications such as Instruments, Drums, Bells, Chords, Atmospheres, and Melodic Elements. The Instruments directory contains leads, pads, and other sounds you might never guess came from a piano; some are quite playable (see Web Clip 2). Drums are divided into various kits, loops, and sounds with names like Hitchcockbeat and Go Ahead Wreck It! The drum loops are especially plentiful and are arranged by tempo, from 40 bpm to 320 bpm. Some are quite evocative and will likely inspire compositions on their own (see Web Clip 3). Many of the Drones are downright spooky. The Sound Effects directory contains lots of patches — Piano Crash, Ocean Side, and Blow Your Piano, for example — that don't fit well into other categories (see Web Clip 4).

Of special interest are the Menu Patches, which map as many as 30 different patches across the keyboard. If you're using Kontakt 2, a collection of nine Multis provides quick access to hundreds of strange and occasionally beautiful soundscapes. All in all, the programming is very well conceived and brilliantly executed.

Be Prepared

Piano Attack isn't the first sample library of prepared-piano sounds, but it's certainly the most extensive. Like avant-garde music itself, Piano Attack requires an open mind. Not all of the sounds are as challenging as John Cage's music, and many are quite lovely (you can hear examples of music produced with some of them at If you want to inject some truly original sounds into your music and you don't mind exploring experimental timbral materials, Piano Attack might be just what your music needs to get out of its rut.

Value (1 through 5): 5
Soundlabel (distributed by Big Fish Audio)