Quick Pick: Soniccouture Balinese Gamelan (Mac/Win)

Read EM January 2009 Review on Soniccouture Balinese Gamelan Instrument Bundle for Professional Audio Production
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This screen shows Balinese Gamelan with several instruments loaded as it appears within Kontakt. The keyboard at the bottom displays the keyboard mapping for the Kantilan Pair: red -indicates the -keyswitches (to switch between normal and damped articulation), and blue indicates the available notes of the instrument.

A gamelan is a unique type of musical ensemble native to Indonesia. The instruments it contains include a variety of tuned gongs in many different sizes, metallophones (instruments with struck metal bars, somewhat like a vibraphone although much different in sound), and drums. The gamelan has long fascinated Westerners (Claude Debussy famously admired one at the Paris Exposition of 1889), and many Western composers, performers, scholars, and listeners have fallen in love with this great musical tradition. There are now gamelan ensembles around the world — probably more than 100 in the United States alone.

Most of us will never own or even have access to a gamelan, but Soniccouture has created a sample library called Balinese Gamelan ($499) that brings a virtual gamelan into the home studio. The 24 GB collection arrives on 3 DVDs and features superb recordings of some 25 different gamelan instruments sampled in 96 kHz, 24-bit stereo. The collection requires the Native Instruments Kontakt 2 or 3 software sampler (there is no standalone playback engine). The recordings were made on a type of gamelan called Gamelan Samara Dana, and the particular instruments sampled reside at LSO St. Luke's in London (the home of the London Symphony Orchestra's community and music-education program).

After you install Balinese Gamelan and launch Kontakt, the instruments will be visible in Kontakt's main file viewer. Double-click on an instrument to load its associated samples, and you'll see a control panel that lets you adjust the level, panning, envelope, and tuning. Additional controls allow randomizing Velocity and timing. The Timing control offsets the attack of each note by varying degrees of randomness. This option, which is especially effective when applied to pairs of instruments playing the same passage together, replicates the slight imperfections of a live performance. There's a script to apply the tuning system of the gamelan to any other Kontakt instrument, or, if you want the gamelan to conform to Western tuning (for example, if you're using it as just one track on an orchestral score), you can use the Concert Pitch feature to retune the instruments. The excellent documentation includes helpful descriptions and beautiful pictures of each instrument.


The gong samples are gorgeous and are appropriately sensitive to touch — a louder strike stimulates more harmonics, which bloom beautifully after the attack (see Web Clips 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and the examples posted on the developer's Web site; the realism is quite remarkable). The two Kendang drums include samples of left and right hands with different kinds of strikes, as well as hits with a wooden striker called a pangul. (The keyboard mapping makes it easy to play in a left- and right-hand fashion on the keyboard.) There are multisamples at different Velocities, so tone changes realistically as you play with different pressure on the keyboard. If you play repetitively at the same Velocity, the program automatically cycles through different samples to avoid an artificial machine-gun effect. The Kempli, Bebende, and Kajar (small gongs used as timekeepers) have been sampled for both open and damped sounds: playing the closed sample automatically stops the corresponding open sample, as would occur in actually playing the instrument. Ceng Ceng and Gentorak are, respectively, a set of small cymbals and something like a bell tree. The Ceng Ceng has open and damped options as well as a short 2-stroke rhythm.

There are six different metallophones, and all of them have a keyswitch (C1 and C#1) to change between normal articulation and damped. These instruments are typically played in slightly detuned pairs, which creates a characteristic shimmering effect. The sample library includes that option, although of course you can also play each instrument alone. The metallophone samples are beautifully recorded and very realistic in their response to different Velocities. The test for me of a good multisample is that you can almost literally see and feel the instrument being struck in different locations, and that is definitely the case here.

The Pitched Kettle Gongs (called Reyong and Trompong) contain an especially effective release. In performance, these instruments are damped by lightly placing the mallet on the nipple of the gong, and that sound is sampled and played on release for added realism.

In addition to all this, there are two multi-instrument options. The Gamelan Multi Original loads all the instruments in the ensemble mapped to different MIDI channels. The Gamelan Multi Shifted is the same as the Multi Original, only transposed down 35 cents (35 percent of a semitone) so that it is closer to a Western concert D, an option that might work for users who are mixing the gamelan with “tempered” instruments.

This collection isn't cheap, but it seems to be priced in line with what you'd expect for a high-quality sample library. If you've always wished you could have an actual gamelan in your home, owning this beautifully recorded sample library is the next best thing.

Value (1 through 5): 4


Soniccouture Balinese Gamelan