Review: Amethyst, Sodalite, Citrine, Celestite & Bloodstone by Heartwood Soundware
Heartwood Soundware are an exciting new sound design company on the scene, who are swiftly carving a great reputation for their left-field take on cinematic synthesis. All five of the u-he packs we checked out are right up there with the best on the market for modern cinematic scoring. You can tell the man behind them is an experienced composer in his own right, who understands what works and is acutely aware of the current zeitgeist.
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Review: Amethyst, Sodalite, Citrine, Celestite, Bloodstone by Heartwood Soundware
This feature is part of a new series that we are doing here at Sample Library Review, which will profile sound designers and sample library developers and get a little more behind the scenes to discover the man or woman behind the machine. Of course, as sound junkies we still want to know a bit about their products too, so we’ll also be casting our eyes over their latest releases, albeit a little less in depth compared to a regular review.
Our first foray into this new feature will look at the intriguing work of Jonathan Sharp, aka Heartwood Soundware. He is one of a select group of sound designers who specialise in creating patches for various soft synths that are geared to the tastes of media composers.
Amethyst, Sodalite, Citrine, Celestite & Bloodstone sell for €15.66 from Triple Spiral Audio
Although he is now increasingly programming synths and playing with software, Jonathan comes from a traditional musical background, having learned piano and violin as a child and later teaching himself to play guitar and learn all about synthesis. As samplers got cheaper into the 90s he then found himself playing less in the various bands he had gigged with and more interested in music technology. He started to work solo and spent most of the decade making industrial electro records and touring on both sides of the pond.
Jonathan took some time out recently to chat with Sample Library Review and told us about his journey from 90s noise maker to the cinematic sound designer of 2019. In fact, it was actually his time working with the first generation of samplers in the early 90s which inspired him to make everything from scratch. Back then, without the 50 GB libraries we are used to now, it was the only option and it planted the seed. In 2001 he found himself introduced to the world of production music and Jonathan spent a great deal of time writing for a variety of publishers and in recent years he has begun to focus more on trailer music. The creation of sound effects in this type of work really resonated with him far more than writing the full tracks and in combination with other factors led to the creation of Heartwood Soundware.
He had already cut his teeth in this side of the business writing demos for developers, making sound design albums for Gothic Storm and Must Save Jane and creating presets for Gothic Instruments excellent Dronar series. Even with this experience, it is another thing taking full control of your own product and Jonathan is keen to stress how critical the feedback from his peers was in the early stages. Matt (The Unfinished), Jaap (Triple Spiral Audio), Stephan (Sonic Underworld) and Pendle (Sound Dust) were hugely supportive and alongside great feedback from professional composers gave him all the impetus required. It’s great to have more sound designers making these types of sounds that work so well for film, TV and games and whilst inspired by his fellow synth boffins, Heartwood Soundware are definitely treading their own path of a more alternative cinematic identity.
Jonathan is a hardware synth enthusiast, having started out with a Roland SH101 and recently building a custom modular rig. It is this understanding of what a good analogue synth should sound like which led him to focus on u-he synths for his first five collections, as they share a similar usability and versatility to their hardware brethren.
Amethyst is a dark and occasionally sinister preset pack for u-he Diva. With definite Boards Of Canada references we are in dirty, retro territory here as exemplified by the Home Organ With Broken Speaker preset. Many of the leads and pads have a very tasteful amount of detuned grit and the basses get pretty aggressive too. There is loads of modwheel action to jump straight in with and quite a few patches interestingly evolve if you hold the key down, which I really like for saying more with less.
Sodalite works with u-he Repro-1 and takes us on a journey Marty McFly would be proud of – we are back to the first wave of electronica and then forwards to make them bang on trend for contemporary media scoring. We get plenty of raw, tinkling arps, powerful basses, disturbing drones and much more. However, the sequences are the star of the show here and are hugely inspirational to play. The Haunted By The Past preset below sums up the nature of this particular set rather well both in name and sound – distinct nods to classic electronica like Cabaret Voltaire, but reinvented to be as modern as Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross scores.
Citrine consists of 111 presets for u-he Repro-5 and channels Clint Mansell, Cliff Martinez and Jon Hopkins to great effect. Seeing as I love all those composers it comes as no surprise this soundset is a big hit with me. It can do heavy and epic very well with beefy basses and scything leads, yet also excels on the subtle side, having some beautifully muted and floaty pads. Charity Shop Bonanza I could play for days with its wonky tuning and dusty filters surfing on the edge of breakup. This is a great pack for hybrid work and would work well for gritty sci-fi as hinted at by a less than subtle reference to Blade Runner in one of the lead patches.
The debut pack from Heartwood Soundware for u-he Zebra 2 is Celestite. In contrast to the other three synths, Zebra 2 is far more of a super flexible workhorse, which can make it more of a challenge when trying to come up with a signature sound for a preset collection. However, Heartwood Soundware really nail it here with what they coin a ‘glorious destruction’. In practice what this means is that the patches start out as relatively pure cinematic sounds that can be pushed via the modwheel and the X/Y performance pads to a total frenzied collapse. Thus, the playability of these patches is off the scale and I have rarely seen the X/Y pads implemented as well as Celestite does. As such, it includes no WTF patches (see below for what they are) as any preset can get into the crazy territory using modulation. The Tyre Kicker preset, for example, starts off as a dark bouncing pulse but can be easily morphed into a distorted resonant bassline from hell. Heartwood Sounds cites influences from witch house (not sure what that is, but sounds interesting!) to underground noise. So, yes this is quite a varied pack, but it is unified in the superb ability to mangle, morph and to simply get creative with the raw sounds so they can best fit your composition.
Jonathan’s final pack in his range so far is Bloodstone for Zebra HZ. Inspired by the likes of Hildur Guðnadóttir it explores the darker side of cinematic synthesis across a wide range of categories. The overall aesthetic can be described as warped, broken and dirty. Like Celestite the XY pads are used deeply for each patch and can easily push the sounds into more extreme territory. The Woolly Mammoth bass patch surely takes its name from the popular Zvex pedal, which has the elusive ability to distort a bass guitar whilst also maintaining all the low frequencies. This patch shares just the same characteristics, having a powerful low end coated in grungy nastiness. This punchy and modern sound is very indicative of all the presets in Bloodstone and would be the one to reach for if you need dark and synthetic sounds.
The non-Zebra packs also boast a WTF section which showcase a selection of wildcard patches that often defy classification. There is all sorts of sonic mayhem going on here, from disturbing soundscapes to bizarre sound design. Preset names like Another Failed Experiment say it all really. And speaking of names, one thing I really like with all of Jonathan’s packs is the sense of humour in the names and descriptions – sometimes daft, sometimes just surreal they certainly appealed to my inner silliness. My faves include Suzy Creamcheese (Frank Zappa Anyone??), Underlying Problems and Belgium Chainsaw Combo. This is office banter for the poor composer stuck in a studio on their own!
When not making soft synth presets Jonathan finds time to compose for libraries (anything from 70s funk, to children’s music, to sound design) and also to pursue his own artistic project, The Heartwood Institute. Intriguingly described as ‘lofi hauntology’ this project was another reason behind his passion for sound design, as constantly frustrated by not being able to find the sounds he wanted, he simply started making them himself. Plans to release a mix of modern classical and glitch electronica under his own name are afoot for later this year too. Busy year then!
Heartwood Soundware are already branching out beyond u-he synths, with soundsets now available for NI’s Massive and TAL’s U-No-LX synth (a homage to Jonathan’s long lost Juno 60!). This will continue with plans to create sounds for Spectrasonics Omnisphere.
The business side of things is quickly developing too, with Jonathan recently announcing an exciting new partnership with Triple Spiral Audio, which will certainly help to elevate his profile and spread the word. This means that all Heartwood Soundware products can now be bought from www.triplespiralaudio.com/heartwood-soundware/ as well as heartwoodsoundware.com.
All five of the u-he packs we checked out are right up there with the best on the market for modern cinematic scoring. You can tell the man behind them is an experienced composer in his own right, who understands what works and is acutely aware of the current zeitgeist. They are also excellently priced, coming in quite a bit lower then competing collections, albeit a little smaller in terms of numbers of presets in each set. I am really excited to see how Heartwood Soundware grows, not least because alongside the exceptional synthesiser programming there is a maverick eccentricity and daft sense of humour that is a real breath of fresh air.
Each of the five current u-he soundsets come with 111 presets. You must own the synths in questions to be able to use these. Amethyst is for Diva, Sodalite works with Repro-1, Citrine takes care of Repro-5, Celestite provides presets for Zebra 2 and Bloodstone is designed for Zebra HZ.
Amethyst, Sodalite, Citrine, Celestite & Bloodstone sell for €15.66 from Triple Spiral Audio
Contributor Sam Burt reviews instruments by Heartwood Soundware
“Heartwood Soundware are an exciting new sound design company on the scene, who are swiftly carving a great reputation for their left field take on cinematic synthesis.”