Review: Auras by Slate + Ash

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Slate + Ash have shown that the ability to create and manipulate sound is not finite and with the right minds and technology, the world of sample libraries and the music they help produce will continue to expand and dazzle the senses.

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Review: Auras by Slate + Ash

Slate + Ash promote their sample library, Auras, as one that explores the world of formless and undefinable sound. While I’m not totally in agreement with “undefinable”, there is definitely a contemplative and expressionistic palate to the atonal sonic universe of Auras where it is difficult to pinpoint the source of the sound. It’s a Kontakt instrument unlike others I have listened to or tried playing. In a way, it is, hopefully, a ground breaking library for more MIDI Polyphonic Expression to come, not only from Slate + Ash but other developers as well. Owners and/or musicians who own such instruments as a ROLI, Linnstrument or Haken should definitely check this library out. It is definitely made for the adventurous sound designer or avant-garde composer who isn’t afraid to cross over the boundaries into a world of the atmospheric abstract.

Auras sells for £179 from Slate + Ash

Thoughts

When you first visit the Slate + Ash website the first thing you’ll notice is that there isn’t a whole lot of detail included. The website developer is definitely not going to win any awards. If you scroll down and go to the fine print, you will notice that Slate + Ash is William Slater and Simon Ashdown who are experimental composers from Bristol in the UK. A couple of films are credited such as Annihilation w/ Natalie Portman and Arrival w/ Amy Adams, neither of which I’ve seen so I can’t give any impression as to the soundtracks. There are 3 products listed, including Auras. The product consists of numerous .NKI files broken down into 2 categories: Auras, which are multi-layered sounds and Colours, which are the singular components that comprise the Auras presets. The sounds which comprise the library run the gamut from oscillated waveforms to bowed strings to bells to plucked pianos. In Auras, one or more of these sounds are assigned to each controller key and, combined with the various modulation abilities of MPE, produce a variety of interesting and abstract sounds. Depending on how one applies strike, glide or touch, the sound may even vary when the same key is depressed in succession. In the case of using my ROLI, it’s not just the key you play it’s how you play it. Stacking multiple presets will take you into a world of sound that can be unpredictable and even a bit frightening for the novice. It can also be a world so rewarding and inspirational that it will allow the composer to produce an atmosphere of sound never before thought possible.

The first time I launched the GUI for Auras the first thing that popped into my head is ‘just what the hell am I looking at’. It seemed like hieroglyphics for composers; it would be even worse when I opened Colours. Fortunately, within Kontakt, there is this little used function called “information” which is indicated with an “I” to the right of the preset name. This proved to be pretty invaluable, as did the summary page on the Slate + Ash website. In a matter of minutes, I was able to break through the “Code of Auras and Colours”. So, without further ado, I present the Auras GUI and I will briefly explain it in all of its grandeur.

Just as an aside, all the presets within Auras, regardless if they contain a single layer or whether they contain 4 layers, are .NKM meaning they a multi-layered. Any time you stack an additional preset, you will be prompted to either replace or combine with the already loaded preset(s). Selecting “NO” will combine the multis.

To make this easy, I will begin by going top to bottom on the left. In the preset, Sleep Tapes, as in all the Auras presets, there are 4 elements: Volume, Reverb, Attack and Release. The circle with the numbers directly to the right signifies the amount applied, ranging from 0 to 100. So, in this instance, Attack is set to “08” which is a pretty fast attack and Release is set to “34” which is a fairly quick release. To see what kind of reverb is being used, you’ll have to check under “the hood”, in the Kontakt engine itself. To the right, one can assign the Pitch Bend ranging up to 12 semitones and the Stereo Width ranges from 0-10. Underneath, is where you find what is assigned to the 3 MPE elements. In this case, the transients (the peak amplitude of a waveform, typically the initial sound it generates) is controlled by “slide” which, on a ROLI, is the running of the finger up and down on one or more keys, Wobble is assigned to “strike” or the velocity in which a key is hit. In my personal experience, you have to experiment with touch as some sounds are much more velocity sensitive than others, and the last, Pitch Bend is assigned to “glide” which is sliding up or down the key range on the slide platform directly above or below the keys. The amount of bend is dependent on the number of semitones you have assigned.

On the horizontal, 1 to 4 signify the layer (to see what sound belongs to which layer, you will need to open the Kontakt engine). Further to the right are 3 controls which are enabled or disabled with your mouse. The first being the “Reverb”, the second being the Hard Limiter and the third being the Low Pass Filter. You can assign the LP to one of the 3 parameters assigned to MPE: Transients, Wobble or Pitch Bend, in this case. In the example above, the LP is assigned to “strike”, so it effects the Wobble.

Alright, on to the Colours GUI…yes, more hieroglyphics. For my next feat, I will learn how to read the Book of the Dead in its original. I will start in the upper left quadrant: here we have the Envelope section which contains a Volume and a Filter Envelope with your typical ADSR. The circles, within, regulate the amount applied. Just below is a Low Pass filter where you can assign Velocity to the AMP Envelope and Cutoff, Resonance, Amount & Velocity to the Filter Envelope. The slide controls the amount applied. To the right, are your global settings. Pitch Bend is up to 12 semitones; Stereo Width is from 0-10. The rest of the controls are from 0-100. There is a 2nd page where you set the amount on 4 different types of Reverb, ranging from a small room to a Cathedral. In addition, there is a Convolution Reverb labeled “Space”. All settings are from 0-100. If you are curious to know what the IR wave file is being used, you’ll have to go into the Kontakt engine. The complete list of IR files can be found in the Samples folder. You should have the ability to change the IR from within the engine.

The really cryptic portion of the GUI is the Mod Matrix. What I’ll do is start in the vertical on the far left. From top to bottom is the “X” randomizer for the parameters to the right, Slide, Strike/Touch, LFO 1 and LFO 2. There are 6 distinct wave patterns you can assign to each LFO.

On the Horizontal, to the right of the Randomizer, is Volume, LP Filter, HP Filter, Saturation, Bit Crush, Harmonics, Detune, Reverb and Delay. You can select any one of these with the mouse and change the parameters, manually, or click the Randomizer to the left. The “X” at the right end will randomize all of the parameters in the Matrix. The ones at the end of each row will Randomize the modulation assigned to that row only.

At the bottom of the page is a basic arpeggiator, Frankly, with the complex sounds being generated, I seldom use this. In many instances, it just makes for a murky, dense sound. I’d suggest using this on fairly simple presets like Synth or Waveforms.

Speaking of Colours presets, there are 6 assigned categories: Pads, Synth, Waveform, Noise/Texture, Organic/Acoustic & Bowed. There are so many presets within this collection you can, literally, spend months just experimenting with the sounds and combinations.

Overall, I feel the Auras section of the library could use for some expanding, maybe much in the way the Colours section includes LFOs and Randomization. Auras to me, is primarily for the MPE sound designer as it relies so much on glide, slide and touch to produce the dynamics while Colours is not so dependent on MPE and can be easily played with any keyboard controller.

This is a really adventurous undertaking which, I hope opens the door for further Slate + Ash development as there is a brilliance here you don’t normally see in a lot of other experimental Kontakt libraries. The only other developers that quickly come to mind are 8DIO and Sample Logic and, hopefully, they too, will look to produce some libraries that go in this direction. If anything, Slate + Ash have shown that the ability to create and manipulate sound is not finite and with the right minds and technology, the world of sample libraries and the music they help produce will continue to expand and dazzle the senses.

Facts

Auras from Slate + Ash downloads as 9 GB and contains 205 patches (65 Auras patches and 140 Colours patches). Auras requires the full version of Kontakt 5.6.5 or higher. While an MPE controller is recommended, it is not required.

Auras sells for £179 from Slate + Ash

 

Demos of Auras by Slate + Ash

Videos of Auras by Slate + Ash

 

 

Contributor Raymond D Ricker reviews Auras by Slate + Ash
“Slate + Ash have shown that the ability to create and manipulate sound is not finite and with the right minds and technology, the world of sample libraries and the music they help produce will continue to expand and dazzle the senses.