Sunday, August 21
Soundcells Greenhouse Review!
I've been a fan of Soundcells since picking up their Bitbumper Deluxe Reason ReFill a few years ago. In fact it was one of the very first commercial refills I picked up, shortly after buying Reason 4. So when Soundcells CEO Harald Karla sent me an e-mail last week wanting me to review one of his refills here on Resonant Filter in connection with his August 20% off sale I was stoked, but had a hard time deciding which one. Digital Genome, with it's crunchy Commodore samples is one I've always meant to buy. But then again after listening to Adam Fielding's "Docking Procedure" demo for Pads - the BIG Box V.2 that could have easily been my pick. However, I ended up going with Greenhouse a Reason ReFill based on Sonic Charge's Synplant soft synth. I've loved the sound of Synplant since first watching a demo on youtube and was really intrigued by the idea of a Reason Refill based on it. Now I know on paper the idea of a soundbank based on a soft synth seems strange. Why not just pick up the original? Well for one many people like myself love the work flow in Reason. And secondly some of my favorite sounds in Bitbumper came from samples Harald culled from reFX's quadraSID soft synth, which I was sure must have come from a SID chip until I asked him! Speaking of asking Harald, I questioned him about his choice of Synplant for a Reason ReFill upon embarking on this review:
"To use Synplant as the basis for a ReFill has simply to do with my personal taste. I really like the different approach of "programming" Synplant in comparison to other software synthesizers. Synplant lets you create new sounds in no time, and in a totally different way than other synths. Furthermore - and that is of course a very important point - the quality and style of sounds is awesome. The success of Greenhouse is proof that apparently many people think the same way about Synplant and like to have a taste of these sounds in their Reason rack :0)"
Alright let's get into this, shall we? The Greenhouse Refill is split up into three folders: Combinators, Modules and the Samples folder housing the wav files. In Combinators you have Pads, Keys, FX & Textures, Bass and Drums. The majority of the combinators have the same set-up with Rotary 1 controlling Attack, Rotary 2 controlling Release, Rotary 3 FX Dry/Wet and Rotary 4 over all volume; while Button 1 is generally used to turn on a High Pass Filter, Button 2 controls a Scream Device set to different distortions depending on the patch, and finally Button 3 and 4 control different effects devices (generally reverb and delay.) The Mod Wheel is set to mostly control the Frequency of a Low Pass Filter on the initial NNXT device.
The Pads folder has 33 different patches in it and features sounds from the modulated Tremolo Pads to the lush Floating patch which has layered wav files routed thru two Thor State Variable Notch Filters. My favorite patches in the Keys folder were the three Cotton Keys patches, which all feature the same 16 Cotton Horn samples, key mapped from C1 to C6, and would make an interesting replacement for electric piano type sounds. The first one has a lovely slight vibrato, the second a thick phaser and the third a classic Tape sound. After playing with patches like Cotton Keys 1, I was left wondering how Harald from Soundcells went about sampling Synplant, auto sampling software? - "No Autosampling software is used - all sampling, editing and looping is made with Wavelab. Soundcells ReFills are really "hand made" :0)))"
One of my favorite parts of Greenhouse is the FX & Textures folder. 34 unique patches of experimental sounds from blips and bleeps to more understated ambient patches. For blips and bleeps the Synplant FX Kit patch really shines. 38 different samples mapped from C1 to C#4! The four Plant Set patches were also really interesting. The fourth of which uses the looping function in the NNXT to great effect with some keys stuttering sounds and others slowly repeating. Cool! On the more ambient side in the FX & Textures folder is the Chimes patch, which features nine different wav files loaded into an NNXT with different Attack, Amp Delay, Filter, Pitch and Pan settings to create a cool landscape of sound - a sound design technique I'm going to have to implement in some of my own work ;-).
The smallest of the folders - Bass, has 12 patches that vary greatly in sound. From the angular sounding Simple Thin Bass (which sounds killer with Button 2, Bitcrusher On engaged) to the thick and mean Aggressive Bass patches. My favorite Bass patch is definitely the Attack Bass 2 combi! Attack Bass 2 has a "rubbery" type of sound that would work great in Dancehall or dub and though the patch uses only one sample it sounds great all the way from C1 to C4.
While this refill is advertised as a Synplant refill one of my favorite parts has to be the Drums folder which has sounds based on not only Synplant, but Sonic Charge's other famous vst's microTonic and BIT Speak! These 14 patches have some great straight forward electronic drum sounds, courtesy of microTonic; as well as some glitchy bizarre samples from both Synplant and BIT Speak. 6 of these are "Run" combinators that feature 8 different drum patterns assigned to Rotary 1 (with the far left of the dial reserved for Off); each of these Run combis also have a Matrix device assigned to control pitch set up on Rotary 2 with 8 different patterns. This can lead to some very interesting results!
Beyond the Combinators, Greenhouse's Modules folder contains not only the NNXT and Redrum instruments used in the Combis, but the RV-7000 reverb patches and a dozen or so fantastic Rex Files made with microTonic, Synpant and BIT Speak! I really like having the instruments set up like this individually because many times when working on a track CPU becomes an issue, especially for those of us running on laptops made a few years ago... so that's a plus ;-).
Now if you've been following the work of Soundcells for long you know they're known for not just great refills, but ever growing updates - bitBumper V.2, Salad Bar V.5, etc... I asked Harald about future plans for Greenhouse:
"Of course there will be an update for Greenhouse! But before this happens a new ReFill will be released in September or October. So - Greenhouse version 2 should be ready later this year..."
In closing I really dig Greenhouse. The sounds are fantastic as shown with the amazing demo tracks on the Greenhouse product page (check out "Death of a Salesman".) I've been using many of the patches in my own recent work, in a sort of post-dubstep vein, but could easily see the patches being successfully used in Techno, Pop, Ambient and Indie Dance music. And with Soundcells offering 20% off on all individual ReFills until the end of August now is the perfect time to pick up Greenhouse!