- If you've followed the works of the sample library gurus at London's Soniccouture, you know that many of their releases have an adventurous or experimental tilt to them. Rather than simply recreating traditional instruments, they tend to source more unconventional sounds and twist or alter them to produce something completely unexpected. Their latest release is called Geosonics, and it takes this experimentalism to a whole new level. At first glance, it looks like Soniccouture's most ambitious work yet, blurring the lines that have historically separated field recording and music. We were curious to hear what the result would be, so we installed the massive six-gigabyte Kontakt instrument and got to work.
Even if you're not familiar with Soniccouture's collaborator on Geosonics, Chris Watson, there's a good chance you've heard his work. He was one of the founding members of the prolific Sheffield group Cabaret Voltaire, who helped to form the foundations of dance music with their tape-based electronic experiments in the '70s and '80s. In 1981, Watson left the group to go into sound recording for TV, working on programs for the BBC and Tyne Tees Television in the UK. His passion for natural sound translated into a career in found sound and field recordings, culminating in four solo albums of the stuff.
The Geosonics collaboration takes advantage of Watson's long history by drawing from his catalog of sounds, which were recorded all over the world. The results are segmented into four different categories. The Ice and Water group features sounds collected at the North Pole, Iceland and other frigid climates. The Wires sounds feature recordings from the Wired Lab, an organization of artists who capture sound from long stretches of wire. The Swamp samples capture the swamps of Madagascar and Venezuela, along with all of the creatures that live there. The final set, Wind, features the sound of wind moving across both sand in the Kalahari Desert and snow at the North Pole.
Nedless to say, these samples are much more than the product of a simple recording project. This is a curated selection that provides a glimpse into the life's work of a dedicated student of natural sound. In a set of interviews on the Soniccouture YouTube channel, Watson says it took repeated attempts over a ten-year period for him to find the right recording technique to capture the sound of a glacier moving in the Ice and Water set. This astounding level of dedication is reflected in the quality of the samples.
In order to transform these field recordings into playable instruments, Soniccouture turned to their weapon of choice, Native Instruments Kontakt. As with many of their other recent products, they created a new Kontakt instrument for Geosonics with KSP scripting holding everything together behind a custom GUI. The instrument takes Watson's field recordings and makes them playable by zeroing on a section of each soundbed and mapping it chromatically across the keyboard. The sound generation capabilities are enhanced by adding another two pitched layers, which can consist of traditional synth oscillator waves as well as processed grains of Watson's samples. Each of these three layers has its own tab in the Geosonics UI, with knobs to control sampler, filter, envelope and LFO parameters. Although it is nice to have independent controls and sonic shaping tools for each layer, I found it odd that there was no way to optionally tie the filters or envelopes together for easy tweaking.
Each instrument preset within Geosonics uses a sample from the four categories of Watson's library for the main layer. (There are also presets for Watson's unenhanced samples for future use.) You'll find two modes for this main layer: focus mode and non-focus mode. In focus mode, the field recording is duplicated on each key, and each has its own filter, envelope and FX settings. This allows for 127 possible variations of the original raw sample. When you exit focus mode, the last selected variation of the main layer is then active—meaning it can then be played chromatically across the keyboard and mixed with the pitched layers. The only downside to this process is that there is no way to visually zero in on small parts of Watson's soundbed, and as a result Geosonics is somewhat limited for percussive sound creation.
Despite these minor complaints, I was very impressed with Geosonics. Watson's sounds pluck you out of your chair and transport you to the far corners of the earth, allowing you to experience the natural ambience of places you may never physically reach. If you're looking for a sample library that'll give you something truly unique, it's worth a listen.
Ease of use: 3.5/5