This week, we were excited to announce the arrival of Umlaut Audio virtual instruments to Time+Space. The LA-based developers started their journey by creating customised Kontakt instruments for composers and, whilst this is still a core element of their business today, the knowledge and techniques gained through doing this led them to start producing their own ‘off-the-shelf’ instruments. We caught up with Umlaut Audio Co-Founder Anne Juenger to find out more…
Hi Anne, so who are the people behind Umlaut Audio?
The company was founded by myself and my partner Marc, but has since grown to encompass an international team of sound designers, audio editors, product-and software developers, and graphic designers. Like our customers, we are primarily creators who share the same passion which is music and technology. We wear many hats but basically, we are all friendly nerds working globally in four different time zones.
How did the company come to be established?
Before releasing commercial libraries, we spent years creating custom sounds and custom Kontakt Instruments. We went from studio to studio in and around Los Angeles, London and Berlin to personally connect and collaborate with Film, TV and Game Composers. This experience allowed us to gain direct insights from professional composers and led to numerous unique projects where we developed tons of ideas and concepts. That’s how we got started on our own Instrument collection.
Why the name ‘Umlaut’?
Umlaut translates to ‘around the sound’ as in ‘Um’ meaning around and ‘laut’ meaning sound. An Umlaut is two dots above a vowel and essentially represents a ‘change in sound’. For a company working with sounds and samples, we thought that was cool.
Umlaut offers both ‘off the shelf’ instruments (now available from T+S) and customisable software – firstly can you tell us more about the former?
Sure, our ‘off the shelf’ instruments were inspired by our work to create custom Kontakt Instruments. Our first Instrument, PADS, was created for composers who value tasteful and organic textures. For more rhythmical material we created the second Instrument, ARPS – a small but powerful instrument that allows you to quickly generate tickers and percussive pulses. We also wanted to create a drum sampler with fat beats and while working on a custom Instrument for the TV-Show Empire we got inspired and a few months later uBEAT was born. This is a drum loop library that comes in three editions: Hip-Hop, Elektro and Hybrid, which is a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds. All our products are as simple or complex as the user needs them to be, so they are suitable for casual users and pros alike.
What do you believe makes these Umlaut products stand out from other Kontakt Instruments?
There are tons of sample libraries out there. Huge libraries, 40GB in size and 10,000+ presets. We’re not like that. We create high-quality niche plug-ins that are intuitive and thoroughly developed for a certain purpose. We believe less is more and therefore provide sophisticated sample libraries with original sounds in easy to use software instruments. Our customers are professional working composers who value boutique style products and inspiring custom solutions that enhance productivity and ease workflow.
Tell us about the process involved with the custom side of the business.
Our custom service ranges from small to big projects. Where one composer may just want audio files of a couple of non-exclusive sounds in a basic Instrument, another may be working on a big blockbuster movie and will want exclusive sounds within a very comprehensive library. We also work with composers’ own sounds to create custom plugins that allow them to quickly access and manipulate their own sounds.
The good news is that everyone can have his or her own custom Kontakt Instrument. To keep everything simple, streamlined, and organized, we use our own confidential web app to discuss any custom projects. The composer submits a simple questionnaire to express their initial ideas, thoughts or needs so we can start brainstorming and provide an instrument tailored to their specifications. We are in direct contact with them to answer any questions they might have, approve sounds and share inspirations and documents. Once the client approves our Instrument outline and budget estimate, we’ll get started.
Can you tell us about the most unusual requests you’ve had for custom instruments?
We have a long list of unusual requests, which is no surprise because composers are very creative people. On one occasion we worked with a composer on a horror movie and the project brief was to create scary tickers and pulses that sounded like someone separating flesh from bones and popping and cracking joints. Our immediate reaction was: “Holy cow! We need to do some real source recordings but how the heck…?” So we literally ended up in a frozen silo in Missouri to record animal bones, turtle shells, breaking ice to metal shells, a bowed banjo, and a water phone. Back in LA, we did some crazy sound mangling with these unique source recordings. This was such a fun project and we ended up with the scariest sounds and a very happy client.
Where have your sounds been used?
We’ve worked on projects across the board for movies, TV-shows and video games ranging from small projects to big Hollywood projects – for example in movies like Disney’s Jungle Book, Zoolander 2, Ride Along 2, Big Eyes; TV Shows like Empire, Criminal Minds, Scorpion, Bloodline and NCIS and games like Call of Duty, Fallout 4, Ori and the Blind Forest, to name a few.
What have been the proudest moments you’ve experienced since Umlaut launched?
Collaborating with A-list composers like Danny Elfman, Harry Gregson-Williams and John Debney on custom projects – and working on favourite childhood movies like The Jungle Book, as well as launching our own commercial Instruments, which made us very proud.
What can we expect from Umlaut this year?
First and foremost, we’ll be continuing to build products that our customers love. The composers we work with inspire us, so we’d like to inspire them. To that end, we’re already hard at work on our new instrument, which will be released in the Summer. Watch this space!