Soniccouture Electroacoustic Review – Vintage Drum Machines With A Twist

Soniccouture is an outfit based in London, comprising of two talented chaps who started out making sample instruments for Yamaha and then creating Kontakt instruments in 2005.

Dan Powell and James Thompson have since expanded the company outwards, and although the quality has always been excellent, the quantity of sample libraries has grown with the company. They have created quite a niche for themselves in making libraries that are slightly off the well-beaten path.

So they have some offerings that are standards, like your Rhodes Mk1. But then they add some extra flavor in there by whacking it with Mallets, plucking it, dousing it in beer (There’s no solid evidence for the last one, but it’s quite possible it happened) creating a sample instrument that has more to give than just the standard Rhodes by itself (also, check out our Box of Tricks review, a great example of Soniccouture’s more experimental side!).

Introducing Electroacoustic

Electroacoustic is a new library collection of vintage analog and digital drum machines carefully sampled; the forensic attention to detail coughing up 14GB of useful data. But the Soniccouture twist is the re-amping through vintage outboard gear, and even a full club PA system, and recording those back into the library. You can then blend between straight and ‘live’ versions of each of the drum machines – giving a fresh outtake on what is already a very well sampled segment of musical instruments.

15 kits were sourced for this library, from the iconic to the almost unheard of.
All of them were sampled fastidiously – with 5 layers recorded round robin to get that slight tolerance difference. Each of these drum machines was then re-recorded through 11 different chains, from vintage outboard gear such as 1073s, or Thermionic culture’s valve amp, through to more unusual chains like straight from a club PA, or mic’ing a kit and recording the resonance while the machines are played live. To reflect all these different options, there are 150 preset kits to choose from, whether its the straight dry kits, full live PA versions, or a mix and blend of everything in-between.

GUI

The library is a simple set up of two tabs – one being the drum design engine. You get a visual representation of the drum kit you’ve selected taking up 2/3rds of the Window. The lower third represents all the sound design elements you can adjust for each separate drum, or the set as a whole. As you click on each separate drum element in the picture, it’s framed in yellow and all the adjustment parameters change below to follow your selection.

So, for example, you choose the dry 808 preset, and it loads up a picture of a drum kit in black and yellow (I guess sort of representative of the colours on the original machine…). But let’s say you want a 909 kick. Click the image of the kick drum, then go to the bottom left, From there, you can click on the 808 kick title, and a list of all the 15 kicks comes up. Select the 909 kick, and the image of the kick above changes, to reflect that.

Next to that, you can choose how much, if any, of four different preamps signal should be blended in, two different room tones, a kit resonance, and a ‘rattle’ tone -which is the mic’ing of various different bits of kit, or kit with rattly objects on it, such as spoons, or an exit sign??? Next to that, you can bleed in Low, mid and hi tones of the PA system as the drum machine is played through it.

But the sound though. It’s so great having some legit alternative sounds shaped by putting machine drums through serious outboard, and recording the outcome properly. When you put the valve preamps to work, the gorgeous round tones just fatten up the sound in an extraordinary way.

Combine that with the huge womp as you boost the low end coming out of the PA, and you’ve got a really huge sounding drum kit. I’m not sure how using this will reflect if you’re planning on getting your track out in the club, and you’re playing it through a PA again – if anyone’s done that, and wishes to comment below, I’d be interested in thoughts.

You can repeat this selection for each drum sound in the machine, giving you unlimited tones and timbres to your Franken-kit. Each of the drums has its own envelope, pitch and velocity sensitivity. These, I believe are all sampled, instead of using the Kontakt software engine, giving further realism (and data) to the library.

For example, the 808 kick, with all the delay and tuning differences sampled round robin through 11 different channels spat out 13,310 separate samples. For one drum. That is a logistical nightmare right there. But you have it at your fingertips.

This can get heavy with the RAM, so one workaround that Soniccouture came up with was to have a lock on the Tone knob. When you unlock it, all the samples for different tones are loaded. When you have selected the tone you want, you lock it, and Kontakt unloads all the unused samples, lightening the RAM usage.

If you want to adjust all the drums to have the same chain – it’s a click with ALT pressed, and all the drums will have the same amount of 1073 channel blended in, to save you the time of adjusting each drum separately.

There’s also a mixer for each separate drum instrument, with its own set of effects per channel. You can set the mixer up to multi out through Kontakt, so you can bounce to separate tracks, and further treat in the DAW.

Beat making

The other tab is the beat, or pattern tools. This is a selection of 3 really well-designed sequencers with different algorithms and mathematical rules to produce different types of pattern production. Euclidean generation is trendy at the moment, coming from the modular world especially, and it’s put to great use here.

Each drum has its own looping step count, with the amount of hits you choose spread equally between the total amount. It’s represented as a circular pattern, perhaps the best way to visualise it. Polybeats is really interesting, dividing a total stepped loop into subdivisions of your choice per drum instrument.

So a 16 step loop can have kick and snare on regular 4 or 8 beat patterns, but then hihats on 5 and 7, or 13 and 2, creating some really cool polyrhythms. My favourite, however, is the Beatshifter which applies chance, in a few different forms to each drum pattern. When something happens you like, you can freeze it, and of course from each of the different pattern makers you can click and drag the midi into the DAW when something pleasing happens that you want to lock down to the song entire.

These three pattern makers combined make some really inspiring tools to create unusual beats, and are well worth the time investment playing around and experimenting with.

There’s a useful playlist on youtube that Soniccouture have put together to walk you through the various elements within Electroacoustic, check it out here below…

Conclusion

It’s safe to say that ElectroAcoustic has become my goto Vintage drum machine library. The standard drum machine sounds are so well sampled that there’s no need to turn anywhere else in my book. But then beyond that are so many sound design opportunities – to create an in-the-club moment, with live sounding 808 or 909, to mix in different preamps and desk compressors and give those sounds immense welly and beef, and a bit of live clatter and rattle if you so desire.

But even beyond that, I love the creative use of scripting, and the truly inspirational pattern editing tools that create ideas in their use, and ensure rhythms that are constantly evolving, be it subtle or wonky, to keep the rhythm dynamic in your music. Highly recommend this library as a serious consideration for those looking for drum machine samples. It’s got the base(drum)s covered.

Soniccouture ElectroAcoustic is available as a download. It is a Kontakt Library and works on both full and player versions. It costs £139. For more info and to buy this library, visit the ElectroAcoustic web page.

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Soniccouture Electroacoustic Review – Vintage Drum Machines With A Twist

by Andy Dollerson time to read: 6 min
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