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Review of Quantum Leap's
StormDrum

by Tweak

OK, you eventually do find a reason to leave the studio.  If for anything, to appease the significant other who says "Honey, we need to go out more".  "Ok, dear", you smile, "lets go to a movie".  Of course you are thinking 'I'll see anything they want as long as it has a good soundtrack.'  Hehe.  Don't worry.  I won't tell.  You might be thinking a lot about soundtracks.  I am.  And when I get to the theatre, all immersed in surround sound, I can't help wonder why my sound is not like their sound.  I mean really, how to they achieve that HUGE sound?  I don't have all the answers (yet), but I do have some.  (You see, the Tweak himself is a student; we never stop learning).

 

Browse StormDrum through Tweak's Audio Pro Shop

Part of the answer is the sheer numbers of professionals involved.  There are music supervisors, often several composers, companies that do nothing but foley and sound effects, top notch recordists, musicians, and mix engineers.  That's a lot of hats to wear for a single person in their home studio.  It might seem strange to the newbies here, but much of the sound you hear at the movies is created on the same tools you may have in your studio. 

Another big part of the sound equation is the quality of the recorded sound itself.  The best mics, preamps and signal processing are used.  That's stuff we may never afford. Hiring a string section, percussion ensembles, virtuoso musicians--another element we are unlikely to be able to afford. To the rescue are sample libraries.  Many of these are so good that people making soundtracks use them.  Go ahead turn on the TV to HBO and Cinemax and scan through the movies.  Is that a real string section?  Or is it sampled?  Most of the time its the latter. 

The software sampler is the modern solution to inexpensive music production for film.  The sounds are, depending on the package, recorded in top notch studios and halls by experienced engineers and producers.  They come already mapped for you and accessible to your sequencers by MIDI as a VSTi or Audio Unit plugin.  Not that many years ago this was impossible.  Film composers had multiple racks of 16 bit samplers, each holding only 128 megs of samples recorded at 48khz tops.  Now we can gang up multiple computers and run hundreds of virtual instruments if we want with a separate track for every instrument in your imagined orchestra.  Even on a single fast computer you have enough horsepower to make big sound, given that you have the right sounds.

This is exactly where StormDrum fits in.  I've had it at the TweakLab about a month and have used it in about 4 compositions.  I'll tell you now, I like it.  Storm drum has the percussion hits and action beds you need for dramatic, action-oriented film scores.  Some of the hits are huge and perfectly treated with just the right blend of reverb to be monstrously cinematic.  Heh, when I hit the F1 key in the Kompakt preset "Taikos Earthquake" the room rattles and shakes.  Many keymaps, when viewed and dissected in Kontakt, show the richness of the mapping.  Some drums have different samples for 8, 10, 12 levels of velocity.  This lets each key respond beautifully to your touch, something you won't find in inexpensive sample sets or in synths. 

StormDrum is so easy to use it feels like you are cheating.  The kind of feeling you may have had when you first started using audio loops in Acid or Ableton's Live.  But Storm Drum is much more than audio loops.  You actually get two soft samplers with it--special versions of Kompakt and Intakt designed by Native Instruments. 

StormDrum Kompakt lets you work with individual drum hits.  The samples are laid out across the keyboard in the familiar drum map.  You sequence like you would any synth's drum kits, in the grid, piano roll, matrix or drum editors depending on which flavor of sequencer you are using. Like the full version of Kompakt, you can have 8 keymaps active at any time in each instance, addressable by 1-8 midi channels.  StormDrum Intakt loads audio loops that play when you press a key and stop when you let it up.  As with Intakt, the loops play at whatever tempo your sequencer is doing.  You can use multiple instances both at the same time in your sequencer.


Audio demos

Stormdrum Kits

StormDrum Loops
 

The Kompakt Side

You get lots of stuff, all percussion based, from classic and vintage drum kits to esoteric world percussion.  There's some strange stuff in here too, a couple of maps called "Metal Shop" and a very clacky but cool prepared piano.  The major categories for the presets are

1. Acoustic drums 2. Electronic Drums 3. Large Percussion 4. Metal Shop  5.Prepared Piano and 6. Small Percussion

On first look this does not appear to be much, until you start to dig through the directories.  There are tons of samples. About 6GB total.    Many of the kits follow the GM standard for mapping, making it easy to audition different kits without changing the pattern you made in your sequencer.  There's stuff for Rock, pop, vintage, dance and hip hop.  Plenty of snare sets and toms cymbals.  In the Large Percussion, the standout instrument is called "Big Hits" which is exactly as those two words describe.  Ideal for making your own movie action bed.  The world percussion includes stuff you won't find in may other collections, like the Chilean Bombo, Temple Rain drum, Azerbaijani Doira and Taikos which all have a unique sound.  Unique sounding Small Percussion favorites are, for me, the Iraqi Talking drum, Nigerian Udu, the Kohl Drum, Talking Coconut.  There's lots of ot

 

her stuff, these are just the highlights for me, who has been sampling world drums for many years.  There's a definite African, central American and Middle Eastern slant to the collection, unlike other traditional world sets that focus on Latin and Indian samples. (Might want to consider Yellow Tool Culture for those.)  You won't find congas or tablas; you will find dumbeks and batas.  And one very nice ThunderEnsemble.  Perhaps the biggest strength of the collection is not that it does an encyclopedia or drums, but for those it does do, it does them extremely well.

The Intakt Side

On the Intakt side of things you have the following categories:

1. Action Beds 2. Big Beats 3. Ethnic Chase 4. FastBreaks  5. Film Tech, and 6. Thunderous

The Action Beds, as you might guess, are perfect for action sequences in film dramas.  Many of the loops are 16 bars and you get 8 or so variations on adjacent keys.  This keeps your track from sounding too canned, like what you get using typical 2 bar loops. Big Beats has stuff that can work in a variety of contexts.  These are well-baked loops, resplendent with FX, often distorted hits (which I personally have had enough of).  The Ethnic Chase loops are cleaner, though staying with the film motif, are generally fast and energizing.  FastBreaks are even faster, providing for a drumNbass kind of sensibility using worldly samples.  Film Tech has loops with more of a film score flare.  My favorite category is last, called Thunderous.  Check out the beauty of Ape City and Around the Island, Assassins, and Evil Minions.  Heck, you might get some strong ideas as to what film shots you need to complete the picture. 

Some Limitations

There are some limitations to these "special versions" of Intakt and Kompakt.  The main one is that they only load the supplied sounds. Building new instruments out of the samples is not available. The special versions do not have a browser that lets you drag in samples like the full versions.  However, if you do have the full versions of Kompakt and Intakt, these restrictions are freed and if you have the full version of Kontakt you have total control to build presets from the sample level up, including velocity switching. (The Full Kompakt only lets you build keymaps with one sample per key).  So if you want total flexibility you really want all 3, and at that price you might as well go whole hog and get Komplete2 along with StormDrum.  That's the marketing angle.  But if you are just loading preset instruments and adjusting their filter and effects, the supplied special versions are fine.

Summing Up

So is StormDrum right for you?  Of course it depends on what you are doing.  If you are just after typical hip hop beatz, yes you can do them with StormDrum but you might be disappointed, depending on how conventional your hip hop is.  The more open you are to true African and Middle Eastern type drums the happier you will be.  You'll also like the variety of snares.  Ditto for the trance masters.  Cool stuff?  Yes.  But it is not going to fit the standard mold.  Rockers and Poppers?  Stormdrum will work and well because the drums are so well recorded and effected. The hats and cymbals all work together and the toms are gorgeous.  However, if you like to work with dry samples, this may not be the package.  Nearly everything has ambience, if not full reverb, imbued in the recording.  What is nice is that they got the reverb right for many professional-sounding productions.  But at the end of the day in the mix, the sampled treatment will either work or it won't. 

That brings us to the world percussion and the film oriented hits and beds, which to me, are the crown jewels of the set.  The drums are rare and not easy to find, let alone find someone who can play them, and they sound fantastic.  The film oriented sound takes work to make--hours on each sample--if you were to do these yourself from raw drummage.  Here again we have things recorded with lots of ambience and high quality reverb, which is the nature of the beast in terms of getting the big blockbuster sound.  Here it is all done for you, sort of like having your own personal sound effects company and audio engineer.  Folks that are too busy with the visual aspects of the film and just need great sounding audio will find the Intakt loops a godsend.  Those who want to take control of the audio and build sequences from scratch will be using the Kompakt side.  Either way you'll find that massive sound you may be looking for to perk up your movie.  The hardcore tweaks will enjoy the addition of a great library to their Kontakt collection, which can be mixed and mangled with their other Kontakt files. 


 

EastWest Quantum Leap Stormdrum  

 

 


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