Kontakt Effects Processing Master Class

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Native Instruments Kontakt 4 presents a powerful array of effects processors, along with a flexible signal path in which to employ them. Whether you primarily use the factory and third-party content or fashion sampler instruments from the ground up, the addition of a few well-placed effects can give old sounds new legs.

Because Kontakt is a complex sampling environment and understanding its structure is key to using its effects, I''ll start with a quick overview of how and where to plug in. I''ll follow that with examples to serve as starting points for your own instrument construction and modification. Once you''ve added effects, you''ll often want to add elements to the instrument''s control panel so you don''t have to flip to Edit mode every time you need to make an adjustment. That''s a job for Kontakt''s Script Processor, about which you''ll find a “Master Class” in the February 2008 EM.

Like most samplers, Kontakt wraps each imported audio file in a zone containing information about playing the file: MIDI key and velocity-triggering range; root key; and base volume, pan, and tuning. Each zone houses a single audio file, but the same audio file can occupy several zones, which, as I''ll discuss, is useful in applying effects. Kontakt''s Mapping Editor displays zones on a note-and-velocity grid where you can create, move, and resize them. In the standalone version, you can detach and resize the Mapping Editor for more convenient access. Double-clicking a zone opens the Waveform Editor (also detachable), where you can exert minute control over sample playback. Zone information is saved with the instrument, but zones cannot be exported separately.

Kontakt organizes zones into groups. By default, all zones occupy the same group, but managing multiple groups is one key to creative effects processing. Groups also carry a lot of other information, such as playback mode (internal, disk streaming, beat slicing, and pitch- and time-manipulation modes), MIDI input and audio output routing, and amp and pan settings with their modulation routings. Most importantly for effects processing, each group has its own insert-effects chain and send-effects routing. You can save groups to disk for reuse in other instruments.

One of the handiest features of the Group Editor is the red Edit All Groups (EAG) button at the top left. When you have more than one group, turning EAG on will cause all edits—including inserting group effects and changing parameter values—to apply to all groups. For example, when you want to apply the same AHDSR envelope settings to all outputs, turn on EAG and then add the envelope and make its settings. You can then tweak individual group settings with EAG off as needed. You can also manually select multiple groups for editing using the checkboxes adjacent to the group names in the Group Editor.

Signal Flow
Signal flow in Kontakt begins with the Source module, which receives the output from all zones. When the instrument is in Edit mode (toggled by the wrench-icon button at the top left), the Source module appears below any open editors, or at the top if no editors are open. Group insert effects come immediately after the Source module and are followed by the group''s amplifier.

A group''s insert-effects editor has eight slots, and you can toggle the last two slots to be post-amp. When you select a slot with an effect in it, the Edit button to the left of the slots reveals the effect''s controls. Only the selected group''s slots, effects, and controls are shown. (You can use MIDI or the mouse to select a different group.) Most group insert effects have controls to which you can apply Kontakt''s internal modulators (envelopes, LFOs, and special modulators) and a variety of MIDI messages. Instrument insert and send effects support only MIDI CC control, which you set up with Kontakt''s MIDI-learn implementation.

Another thing that distinguishes group inserts is that they are polyphonic: If you play a chord, each of its notes will be processed separately. If, for example, you have velocity or an envelope set up to affect filter cutoff, each note will be filtered differently. (That is why instrument and send effects don''t support internal and note-based modulation.) Of course, polyphonic processing comes at the expense of extra CPU load, so instrument inserts are preferable unless you need special group-insert features.

Instrument insert effects come last in the signal path (after all group processing), and like group inserts, you get eight slots for these. Because the signal flows through insert effects in series from left to right, how you arrange the effects matters.

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FIG 1: The Group Editor provides eight insert slots (labeled Group InsertFX) for filters, distortion, effects, and utilities. Send effects are also routed from these slots.

Going Postal
Eight send-effects slots appear below the instrument inserts, but their relation to the signal path is determined by how their inputs and outputs are assigned. Send effects are fed by insert-effects modules called Send Levels. You can put a Send Levels in any insert slot, and you''re allowed more than one. Kontakt''s default instrument has a Send Levels in the last instrument insert slot. That can come as a surprise when you''re trying to manage effects from group insert slots. If it becomes a nuisance, save a new default from Kontakt''s Files menu.

Each Send Levels has a separate level control for each installed send effect, along with a global return-level control and a return-destination selector. That lets you feed different send effects from different points in the signal path and route their returns back to the instrument output or to one of the four aux outputs in Kontakt''s mixer. You might, for example, use a Send Levels in the first slot to route the signal to a delay send effect and then, further down the chain, use another Send Levels to route the insert-effects-processed signal to a phaser send effect. You could then route the delay and phaser to Kontakt aux outputs for additional effects processing in your DAW. (To route an unprocessed group signal to an aux output, use a Gainer effect in a send slot.)

Kontakt offers one more option for effects processing: installing insert and send effects in the output mixer. Those apply to all instruments that use the same output. The output mixer sports four aux channels, which can hold send effects. Sliders on an Aux Sends strip associated with each instrument controls routing to those effects. Bear in mind that effects installed in the mixer are saved with the Multi, but not with individual instruments.

Effective Options
Kontakt offers 40 effects plug-ins, but not all are available in all slot types (see the Online Bonus Material “Filters and Effects By Slot Type”). The limitations are what you would expect: Send slots are limited to typical send effects such as flanging, reverb, delay, and the like; surround panning, which effects routing to the mixer, is not available in the mixer; and so on.

One of my favorite quick tricks is to layer a sound with itself, applying different group effects and using Group Start Options to keyswitch between groups (see Fig. 1 and Web Clip 1). Kontakt''s selection of synth patches is a good starting point; find an instrument with a single group that spans a large key range and all velocities. (I used Naïve Synth Lead from the Kontakt 4 Factory library for this example.) Everything cited in the example is accessed from the Group Editor.

From the Edit menu, export the group (along with its samples). That creates a file with the extension NKG that you can import into any instrument. Delete the original instrument, create a new instrument, and import the group. Delete any group inserts (click on the X in their upper-right corners), then insert a 4-stage ladder filter in the first slot by clicking the slot''s Add FX button (labeled +) or dragging it from the browser''s Modules > Filters > Synth Flt tab.

You''ll see the filter''s Cutoff and Reso controls along with a filter graphic in the edit area below the row of group-insert slots. Right-click on the Cutoff knob and use the Context menu to add an AHDSR envelope to modulate the filter cutoff. (Alternatively, you could use the Mod tab''s Add Modulator menu or simply drag an envelope module from the browser to the knob.) In the Mod tab, click the Quick Jump button to the right of the modulator name to see and edit the envelope settings. Use those along with the Cutoff and Reso knobs to get a contour that you like.

Use the Edit menu to duplicate the group, and then rename the groups “Layer 1” and “Layer 2.” Ensure EAG is off and turn the Group Editor''s Group Solo button on. Select Layer 2 and add a 2-pole HP filter as the second group insert. Add an AHDSR envelope and Sine (LFO) modulators and tweak the settings so that a slow attack takes the bottom out of the sound and a delayed LFO modulates the HP filter cutoff.

To set up keyswitching, turn EAG on, select Layer 1, and in the Group Start Options tab, select On Key in the top Group Starts slot. Turn EAG off and specify a range of one key (C1 to C1, for example) to activate Layer 1. Select Layer 2 and choose a different key range to activate it. Note that with keyswitched groups, you need to play one of the keyswitches after you first load the instrument; otherwise, no group plays.

For send effects, put a reverb in the first slot and a delay set to eighth notes in the second slot. Turn EAG on and insert a Send Levels in the seventh group-inserts slot (the first post-amp slot). Right-click on the Reverb send knob, select Learn MIDI CC#, and wiggle the mod wheel. Turn EAG off, and in Layer 2 add another Sends Levels in the third group-inserts slot. Set the delay send to around -10dB. Notice that the delay repeats the HP filter envelope contour even after key release, which it wouldn''t from a post-amp send.

Morph or Less
The new Authentic Expression Technology (AET) and the associated AET Filter group-insert effect bring amazing sound-morphing potential to Kontakt 4. AET uses high-resolution FFT to analyze and then impose the spectral characteristics of one sound on another. Furthermore, you can morph the spectrum of the sound source across several analyzed sound spectra with real-time control and modulation. AET morphing comes in two flavors: Velocity, to smooth out velocity zone transitions, and Articulation, to impart the spectrum of one sound on another. Here''s how to set up an Articulation morph of a brass ensemble using the spectra of a mixed choir singing vowels (see Web Clip 2).

The AET Filter requires separate groups holding the sound source and each of the sounds used for morphing. For this example, I''ve started with instruments from the Choir and Orchestral sections of the Kontakt 4 factory library and exported the sustain group for each sound. It''s important that the exported groups have zones covering most of the key and velocity range desired. The individual groups cannot have overlapping zones, but you can resolve overlaps in the Mapping Editor either manually (which is easiest in List view) or using the Resolve Overlapping Key and Velocity Ranges buttons. Be careful to avoid holes in the source group or you''ll have dead spots.

After you''ve exported your source (the brass ensemble in my example) and morph groups, create a new instrument and import all the groups. You''ll need all the groups to be resident in the instrument to create the AET morph maps, but you''ll want to play only the source group, so turn the group amp volume all the way down on the other groups.

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FIG. 2: To use the spectral-morphing AET Filter, you first analyze zone groups to create morph layers (left) and then arrange layers into morph maps (right).

Next, create a Morph Layer for each group. Select the group in the Group Editor, turn Selected Groups Only on in the Mapping Editor, select all the groups'' zones, and then choose Create AET Morph Layer from the Mapping Editor''s Edit menu. Type in a name, leave the default settings, and click OK (see Fig. 2).

Select your source group (ensure EAG is off) and insert an AET Filter in the first group-insert slot. Click the AET Filter''s Edit Morph Map button to create Morph Maps. Make sure the source group is always the first one in the Morph Map and that the Articulation Morph button is active. When you''re finished, exit the Morph Map Editor and choose the desired Morph Map for the AET filter.

The AET Filter''s Morph knob determines where you are in the morphing spectrum—far-left for pure source to far-right for the last morph layer. Its Amount knob is like a dry/wet control: It determines how much effect the AET filter has. Both knobs are good targets for MIDI controllers, and I also like to apply an LFO to the Morph knob with the MIDI mod wheel controlling the LFO amount.

By the Slice
Kontakt is adept at handling pre-sliced loops in REX and Acidized WAV format, and it also offers both grid-quantized and transient slicing of its own. In all cases, you can add, delete, and reposition slice boundaries at will. I find it easiest to do slicing and other sample-based tasks in the standalone version of Kontakt because you can tear off and resize the Wave Editor. (To avoid crashes when dragging and dropping, make sure either the Wave or Mapping Editor remains embedded in the instrument.)

Start by dragging the audio file to be sliced from Kontakt''s file browser to an instrument''s Mapping Editor. (To create a new instrument, drag to an empty area of the Multi rack.) Open the Mapping and Wave Editors and select the zone in the Mapping Editor to reveal its sample in the Wave Editor. For pre-sliced audio, you''ll see slice markers in the waveform display. For other audio, turn on the Grid panel and choose Fix for grid-quantized samples or Auto for threshold slicing. Double-click the Grid panel button to edit REX-file slices. Create the slice configuration you like. (The Kontakt manual gives full details.)

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FIG. 3: The selected group (Low Echoed II) holds the fifth, ninth, and 13th zones of a sliced drum loop. After compression and EQ, the signal is routed to a delay send effect. The undelayed sound has the bottom rolled off with a highpass filter.

Drag slices from the Wave Editor to the Mapping Editor to create zones for those slices, or use the Sync/Slice panel to create zones and a matching MIDI sequence from all the slices. In either case, Kontakt creates a new group for the slices. Creating subgroups with their own effects chains is a powerful tool for wringing new life from tired loops (see Fig. 3 and Web Clip 3).

Kit Piece
Percussion and sound-effects loops are great fodder for drum kits. Simply drag individual slices to the Mapping Editor to build the kit. (Save often when working with pre-sliced loops.) Instead of using multiple velocity layers, try an AET Velocity Morph with one or more broad-spectrum sound effects. First, import the sound effects to new zones on free keys and set their velocity ranges to 64 through 127. Select all the drum-kit zones and resize them vertically to span a velocity range of 1 to 63. Now, move the sound-effects zones above the drum-kit zones, broadening or duplicating zones as desired to fill gaps in the key range of the drum kit. Try to match the sound effects with the spectral characteristics of the drum-kit zones below them.

Ensure all the drum-kit zones (drum hits and matching effects) are selected, and choose Auto Add AET Velocity Morph from the Mapping Editor''s Edit menu. Kontakt will create a Morph Layer and Velocity Morph Map from the zones and insert an AET Filter. For standard velocity morphing, you''d use this group as is, but you can also make the drum hits play across the entire velocity range while still being able to morph with the sound effects'' spectra. Select the sound effects zones and set their volume to minimum (-36dB) and then change the maximum velocity of the drum-kit zones to 126 (not 127). Kontakt sets velocity to modulate the AET Filter''s Morph knob, but you might want to change that to a mod wheel, pedal, or envelope (see Web Clip 4).

Kontakt''s factory and third-party instruments are loaded with effects, and that''s a good place to start searching for new sounds. Digging further down to remap and regroup zones takes a bit more effort but gives you the opportunity to create new instruments by bringing in different samples or exporting groups to new instruments. Before you shell out for yet another sound library, take a closer look at what''s already on your hard drive.

Visit Len Sasso's website, swiftkick.com.