It’s been two years since Epica landed in the T+S office. The Kontakt instrument went on to achieve a clutch of awards and top scoring reviews from Sound on Sound, Music Tech, Computer Music and as well as T+S customers.
For the last two years, Epica’s producer Sam Spacey has steadily added more hardware to his synth collection and created Epica Bass – a dedicated synth bass library obsessively sampled from a large collection of all-star classic analog synths and modulars. Here we talk to Sam about the making of the library, the hardware he used, the stand-out features of the instrument and most importantly, the sounds…
A lot of comments were about the interface. On the plus side people said that they loved the freedom to shape sounds using the interface but also that it was easy to use and not over the top complicated. On the negative side I had a few emails from people thinking that the little “LED” lights on the GUI graphics were links to other pages full of more synth options. They were just there to make the interface look more old school… a mistake on my part.
A few users wanted to know how to access the FX units in Kontakt Player which comes with the library. This is not possible and you have to buy the full version of Kontakt to do this. Some presets in Epica also used the built in Arpeggiator from Kontakt, again you needed to have the full Kontakt software to access this.
Why Epica ‘bass’?
Most people compose/produce ‘In the box’ and I just felt that Bass was not being given the attention it needs. Sure there are always bass presets in vsti’s but I wanted to dedicate a whole library to it.
As Spock and Captain Kirk use to say: “Bass the Final Frontier….” seriously though, Bass has to be the hardest thing to get right. Out of all the components in a mix I have always found that when you get the Drums and Bass in balance then the rest is gravy. Trying to squeeze out a satisfying bassline that will sound great on mobile phones, cheap headphones, hi end audio etc is hard… really hard.
Virtual synths and virtual emulations have come a long way and sound great, except you find yourself piling on the plugins to try to get a bassline that sit in the mix and don’t take up most of your headroom.
Your synth/hardware collection has grown a fair bit since creating the samples for Epica – tell us about the new additions.
After Epica was released I went on a hunt for some more quirky synths, these include: A rather beaten up old Oberheim SEM, Roland SH-1000, Matrix 6, Telemark-K, another Sequential Pro-1 to replace my broken one and extended my modular by about 3 times the size which is still growing… I seem to be addicted to soldering.
Non synths and equally important is the 500 series rack packed with Kush Audio Elektra eq’s and DBX160a compression units, mainly for composition but were used to good effect. Another Eventide FX unit, this time the more modern Eclipse. A set of Adam A7x monitors which were a bit of a game changer for me. My wife bought me a pristine Roland D-50 for my birthday which I adore for nostalgia reasons.
Were these all used for Epica Bass?
Everything but the Roland SH-1000 which is need of a bit of repair so did not get used on this library. To use a Roland D-50 for bass would be a sin of great magnitude so that did not get used. Everything else was thrown in like a slow cook stew.
One of the main workhorse synths was my recently converted vintage Arp Odyssey Mk3, I had it rack mounted after breaking the keys off it yet again! This time with patchable inserts like a mini 2600.
The sequential Pro 1 is all over this library and it wouldn’t be a Sam Spacey library without the Yamaha CS range of synths being used mainly CS-30 and CS-15. A few sounds were made with the DX7… I wished I had used that a bit more. My UBK Fatso along with an old Neve preamp was put into good service. Oh… and a few presets use the Future Retro XS analog synth which has a piercing midrange that was quite useful.
The home soldered/built modular was used a lot in this library, incredibly versatile and almost has a soul I swear. Plenty of boutique guitar FX pedals along with lots of DI’s, I really begrudge having to buy so many DI boxes.
During the development of Epica Bass, you’ve often described the sounds to me as ‘disgustingly good’ – please elaborate…
How best to explain this, it’s like having used margarine your whole life then finding out about full fat butter. All of a sudden baking becomes easier and tastes a LOT better! These samples are sonically huge coming from an all analog palate of mostly vintage flavours.
Nothing about this library says diet, it’s full saturated fat all around. Harmonically rich with the added bonus of having the filters from the actual analog synth under your complete control, rather than relying on emulation filters. Everything moves, with up to 6 Round Robins on some preset each key hit on the same note is slightly different as it is from the synths they were sampled from.
The Mod wheel plays a fundamental part in the user experience of Epica Bass – tell us more about that.
This set me back about 3 months, having nearly finished the library I set about enforcing it on my producer buddies for testing. Everyone kept reaching for the modulation wheel… and not to add vibrato either. So I set about re patching all of the 540 presets to do something awesome when the mod wheel was used. Anything from moving the sample start time forward to adjusting FX parameters… so many destinations.
What are the other stand-out features that potential users should be aware of?
I set about this library with the obsessive detail that is usually given to guitar, drums or orchestral libraries. The majority of presets have every single note sampled and with up to 6 round robins per note. 26,657 individual 24bit samples make up this library all from analog synth sources. Nothing digital (except a couple of DX7 bass sounds), nothing virtual and absolutely no plugins were used in this library.
Of course these are just specifications and I would like to think that the library stands on its sound design… and probably more importantly for its ability to create new sounds form the 7GB of source material all hand looped. This gives the user much more value for their hard earned money.
From the first release of Phaedra and then Epica, the interfaces have evolved to give the end user more power to make their own creations. But when a synthesiser becomes too complicated with too many options it kills creativity and can make you just not want to get deeper into a synth.
So with Epica Bass it had to be a very advanced synth that was also very fast to get great results. Each section of synthesis is laid out on its own page with a large easy to grab interface, this was a big improvement of Epica’s slightly cramped interface. With separate tabs/pages I was able to go to town giving the end user all the options they could use to make sounds their own without slowing them down by making them read a manual.
For me the secret weapon is the sample start group of controls, you can control the start of a sample by either velocity , fixed startpoint, random and mod wheel… oh and even LFO by linking the LFO to velocity and velocity to sample start. What is so great about sample start manipulation? Well it enables you to have control over the actual sampled synths filter. The built in upgraded filters in the Kontakt Player engine are really good but nothing beats the real resonant sweep of the actual analog synth you sampled. When you assign velocity to sample start the harder you hit the key the further along the sample it plays. With a resonant sweep from say the CS-30 this gives you full filter control with each key press.
I have also included a full filter section that uses 6 of the best analog modelled filters from Kontakt 5. So you have the best of both worlds.
I’m also really happy about the drift and random note start knobs, for those ‘Boards of Canada’ moments when you want your pitch to wander as if it was being played back on a dodgy tape machine. Random note will changed the pitch each time you hit a key by a variable small amount… subtle but can add a real human depth to a track. Drift also changes the pitch but will do so whilst a note is held.
The all analog synth sources were sampled for long times and looped by hand and ear so as to capture the true essence of analog.
It is what Shaggy is to Scooby Doo, Romeo to Juliet… Epica was all about beautiful synths, pads and lead sounds. Epica Bass is all about the Bass from soft deep bass to dirty saturated don’t bring home to show your mother type Bass. It brings to the table that which was lacking with Epica.
It was primarily designed to bring a new flavour to your compositions without the need for a room full of analog synths and expensive one trick pony hardware. There truly is something about real analog bass that no emulation has yet nailed… it just sits so perfectly as it is in a mix.
Were there any particular challenges you faced when recording the samples for EB?
Other than not going insane from all the editing and sampling the main hurdle was keeping everything in tune and also working. Control Voltages are not the most stable of things to work with at the best of times. Also trying to keep the library fresh and to be brutal with deleting ‘filler’ presets.
The interface was very hard to iron out all the bugs, many times I had thought I was finished only to have to re apply intensive time consuming fixes to all of the 540 presets… oh yes… and my wife gave us twin newborns which, as a stay at home Dad, did slow down the project a bit… and also gave me inspiration.
Anyone who is bored of the same old vsti virtual synth sounds, anyone who is frustrated with having to pile on the plugins of their virtual synth bass to get it to punch through… anyone who wants the very best quality and inspirational analog source material.
From preset monkeys to full on geeky sound designers (funnily enough I fall into both categories when composing) I truly believe that Epica Bass will be an inspirational source of sounds for a very long time. Oh and anyone who is fed up of their analog synth going out of tune whilst dealing with sloppy midi timing… welcome to awesome analog sound with digital sample accurate midi timing.
Like Epica, Kontakt powers Epica Bass – what, if anything, would you like to see changed/added in Kontakt that would help you make a better instrument?
My only real moan would be that the delay FX unit does not have a Highpass filter but then nearly everyone has their own favourite delay plugin/unit so you can easily turn this off.
Being able to assign a midi CC to ‘Next Preset’ would save a bit of time. Maybe in the next update?