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Camel Audio, based in Edinburgh in the UK, was created in 2000. They’ve gone from strength to strength, building some powerful audio software, that has garnered much recognition throughout the music world. In this, the first of 2 reviews, I’ll take a look at 2 of the 9 Alchemy Sound packs available from Camel Audio. These sound packs are additions to their award-winning synth, Alchemy; but all the packs come with the Alchemy Player included (a cut-back version of the synth), so the packs can be considered instruments in their own right.
Camel audio state on their website, that their intention is to create software that strikes .. “the optimum balance between control, flexibility and ease of use” With the Alchemy synth, I think they’ve hit an absolute home run. The sounds are great, but the way that you can tweak the sounds is what gets my attention. As you can see in the picture above, each sound has 8 parameter knobs in the control area that are instantly tweak-able. The 8 effects change with each preset, and are carefully chosen by the sound designer to compliment that particular sound. There are two xy pads, to further tweak those parameters. The part I really like, however, are the 8 remix pads. Each pad is a variation on the original sound. You can morph between the variations, by dragging with a mouse, or midi-designated controller. This manipulation of sound is available for EVERY preset that you get. So there may only be 150 sounds. But there are 1200 variations literally at your fingertips. No digging or diving to try and squeeze out a musical gesture or evolution from the sound. It is possible to filter effortlessly from a massive warm pad down into a harsh distorted pulsing arpeggio in one sweep of the mouse. I was very impressed. All of this is automat-able, so you can tweak the movements you make after recording the gesture into your DAW.
Often, as a composer, I’m under pressure to work quickly, so I’m looking for preset sounds that start off sounding killer, but can then be manipulated and changed easily, intuitively and musically. I have experience to some extent with a lot of the softsynths available on the market today, and I found that this synth provides the best immediate and accesible sound manipulation of any synth I have ever used, full stop. It really is a fantastic design.
Biolabs: Alchemy Labs
Biolabs: Alchemy Labs is a soundpack created by the sound designer Biomechanoid. A well-respected sound designer, Biomechanoid (Colin Fraser) has credits for films such as Crank, Turistas, and Vacancy, as well as sound/sample pack design for top-quality softsynths including Absynth, Massive, Kore, and Alchemy. The bumpf on the Camel Audio website describes the sound pack as covering…. “ a huge range of sonic ground from genetically enhanced synths to mutant machines, tapping directly into the subconscious with cyber-organic hybrids and neural circuitry. “ Now while I’m not exactly sure what that means, there is a definite direction in terms of the 150 preset sounds available. I think it would fit in well with the IDM and ambient crowd, but I can see this also being useful for composers of film,TV and game music. So yes, there are 150 presets. Now wait. Before you start complaining that in this day and age, any sound pack worth its salt would have at least 1000 presets, take a step back, and consider the $59 alchemy player, that comes free with your purchase!
The sounds are clearly divided up into the various instrumental categories – pads, sfx, drums, bass, keys and so on. The overall sonic quality is pristine, with a wide range of timbres across the different instruments. There are dark, spacey, warm, ethereal sounding pads. Some siney sounding keys, and thick rich bass sounds. there is a ‘Vocal’ category, which consisted of pad-like textural sounds that have been created from granular re-synthesis of vocal samples. An example of this kind of sound can be found on the music player on this page. In this particular soundpack, the drum and loop categories really stood out to me. There are 10 full kits with names such as ‘Cup of tea kit’. They are all a great blend of quirky, clicky, or glitchy sounds. The samples are of excellent quality, and are situated across a nice large range of keys – not just a measly one octave. The loops are also excellent – interesting to the ear, and well-recorded sounds that sync to host tempo, and I think are very use-able. The real reason that these particular categories stood out to me was the way the 8 effects parameters had been chosen specifically to be useful to drums in this vein of music. There were the usual filters, lowpass and other, but then there were comb filters, delays, reverbs, reverse effects, time stretch, buzz, and many other inventive effects depending on which kit you chose. You could record a great loop, and then quickly create infinite varieties of fills just by moving the mouse around the remix pad. Very cool.
Here’s a track using only the sounds from the Biolabs:Alchemy pack.
The Cinematic pack is aimed at providing inspiration for film, TV and ambient composers. Several sound designers who contributed to this pack, including Junkie XL, Antonio Blanca, and Martin Walker. As with the Biolabs pack, there are 150 sounds. With the performance patches, there are also instantly 1200 variations at your fingertips. Again, as I played around with the pack, I found a lot of inspirational stuff there. The sounds are divided up into similar categories – keys, pads, sfx, arpeggios, bass, and so on. I found the pads to be a little bigger and warmer sounding than the Biolabs selection. There are also more of them. Reverb and delay are prevalent across the selection of presets – helping to create the atmospheric sounds that film/tv composers are often looking for in contemporary scores. Another strong element to this soundpack are the soundscapes, and soundeffects. They are a great blend of sound design and tonal pads, the soundeffects lending themselves more towards slow evolving, spacey atonal atmospheres, and the soundscapes more toward tonal pads with interesting rippling textures. Personally, I was hoping for more percussive or drum elements in this pack. A large amount of film, TV and game music scores contain strong percussion. There are a couple of percussive loops in the pack, but that’s it. The soundpack seems to cover all the other bases effectively so why not have percussive stuff in there? But that was just a thought. It doesn’t change the fact that this is an excellent set of presets, that any composer would be able to find useful material from. Here’s a track using all Cinematic sounds, aside from the percussion, which was provided by East West’s Stormdrum and Stylus RMX, from Spectrasonics
Again, this soundpack comes with the Alchemy Player included. And, as with the Biolabs sound pack, the performance controls, and remix pads provide great depth and variety to the provided presets. There is one slight and inevitable downside to the Alchemy Player, however. The effects available to be morphed on each preset are fantastic, but (with the player) you’re limited to those specific parameters, and you can’t go any deeper into the synthesis side of the presets. So you’re eventually going to want to delve into the sound, which requires an upgrade to the full synth. I hope I don’t come across as over the top, but this really is a fantastic piece of design, and you will probably find, as I have done, that you will start to reach for the alchemy synth over and above most other of your software instruments. It is well worth the upgrade.
I really enjoyed the soundpacks, found them wide in scope, and very intuitive. Although this isn’t a review of the synth, I highly recommend the full version of Alchemy. And on top of all that, Camel Audio gives a percentage of its profits to charity. So the more you buy, the more help is being given where it is needed. Everyone wins. Another positive note: I was very impressed with the conservative use of CPU by this synth – I had 15 instances of Alchemy running on my computer, and it was using just over a third of my processing power. Which for the amount of synthesis happening all at once is very impressive indeed.
Price 49 Euro for each soundpack (includes the Alchemy Player). Serial number protected, no dongle required. To buy the soundpacks click here A trial version of the full Alchemy synthesizer is available here.
..It will be an invaluable asset to your music writing
Alchemy player included free ($60 worth)
Wide range of useful presets for the musical genres the soundpacks are aimed at
Excellent sound quality
So so easy to create evolving, gestural sound.
LOVE IT OR HATE IT
Once you start playing with these Soundpacks, you will probably forget to leave your room for the next few days. But you’ll want to buy the rest of the packs – and the full Alchemy synthesizer.
Unless you have the full Alchemy synth, you’re limited in the amount of manipulation you can create.
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.