Sampled saxophone phrases that fit any musical occasion are rare; a snippet might swing with perfect tone and have every note in the right place yet be rendered useless by an unwanted flatted third or fifth sitting smack-dab in the center of the line. Plenty of audio editors can fix these problems, but by the time you are done slicing files, changing durations, transposing slices, and adjusting formants, you've probably decided to hire a live musician or embark on a new career in the food service industry.
With its Liquid Saxophone ($199.95) Ueberschall promises a more flexible sample-playback experience. The company suggests that using the library's playback-manipulation capabilities (assisted by Celemony's Melodyne audio engine) is as easy as editing MIDI data. Although that is not completely accurate, the plug-in is remarkable in its flexibility. When the program doesn't quite meet expectations, it's for genuine musical and esthetic reasons.
Ueberschall's Liquid Instrument series supports Audio Units, VST (Mac and Windows), RTAS, and DirectX. According to Celemony, Version 3.0 of Melodyne (which will be available by the time you read this) will also open Liquid Instrument sound content. Installing the instrument is a mildly convoluted affair involving a Web-based challenge-response scheme that authorizes the sound set. However, the system is tolerant of errors, and the procedure is over quickly. I installed Liquid Saxophone in my dual-processor 1.42 GHz Power Mac G4 with 2 GB RAM under OS X 10.3.9. Hosts included MOTU Digital Performer 4.6, Apple Garage Band 2.02, Ableton Live 5.01, and Granted Software RAX 1.2.
The Liquid Instrument player hosts the sounds. Departing from many other self-contained library-playback packages, samples from all titles in the series share a single player, with subsequent titles appearing in nested submenus. Consequently, there is no need to clutter your hard drive with identical dedicated playback engines. I hope that other manufacturers of software sample players will follow Ueberschall's example.
Saxophone categories break down into the four main variants: baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano. Clicking on any of these categories opens a menu in another column with folders containing thematically related sax solos. Each solo is represented on a very small time and pitch axis. The idea here is not to give you a precise readout of the melody but to convey its general contour. To audition the phrases, you click on the triangle at the right of the phrase's graphic. By default, all samples automatically sync to the host's tempo, but you can override this setting and set tempo in the plug-in.
Liquid Instruments gives you three different ways to audition the material: Plain lets you trigger the phrase by clicking and holding the mouse button; Cycle latches the phrase and loops until you click again; and Folder triggers the contents of a single folder in sequence. You can audition themes in different keys and modes before converting the samples. The process is instantaneous and musical, and doesn't disrupt playback of the file. Mapping a sample moves individual notes to fit a key and mode, whereas selecting Transpose moves the entire line and then alters the scale.
You must map phrases to MIDI notes to trigger playback, as you would with a traditional sampler; just click and drag the file to the vertically arranged virtual keyboard on the right-hand side of the screen, and you have assigned the file for playback. You can drag files from multiple instruments and set sounds to play exclusively or in groups. Tabs at the left side of the plug-in let you toggle between the file browser and the Sound Editor, which uses a screen modeled after a typical sequencer Piano Roll Editor.
In the Sound Editor you can change the start time of individual notes, change note durations, delete individual notes, and change modes and keys for all or part of a phrase. Adjusting the duration or start time of individual notes affects the placement and length of adjacent notes. You cannot insert new note events as you can with a MIDI sequence. That ability might compromise the authenticity of phrasing and the realistic note relationships that the Liquid Instruments format achieves. Still, there are lots of ways to warp sounds beyond recognition, including shifting formants and adjusting pitch in cents, both of which can be automated (see Web Clip 1).
The saxophonist David Milzow coaxes fat, burnished tones from his instruments, and provides a rich balance of jazz, pop, and funk phrases for the collection. His innate sense of swing informs almost everything he plays and lets you adapt, for example, funk riffs to bebop or vice-versa. Realistic elements include the percussive valve noise punctuating the baritone sax riffs on SoulSlap and the rich tenor-sax multiphonics found on the baritone Brazil and Mad Doc samples.
Remarkably, the Melodyne engine shifts the pitch of this potentially difficult material with ease. The soprano saxophone phrases are gorgeous, sometimes recalling the nuanced phrasing of Wayne Shorter. The intimate recordings capture plenty of realistic artifacts — you can hear breath and air crossing the reeds. With the help of Melodyne technology, Liquid Saxophone sets a new benchmark for sample players, and I recommend it highly.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 5