Review: Bioscape by Luftrum

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When a sound designing master meets superb sound recordists and leading preset programmers the result is the beguiling Bioscape. Created entirely from field recordings and found sounds, it creates a menagerie of sonic wonder.

Jump to the Videos of Bioscape by Luftrum

Jump to the Demos of Bioscape by Luftrum

 

Review: Bioscape by Luftrum

As trends in film and TV scoring move increasingly to creating atmospheric emotion above catchy melodies and other media, such as computer games, require more diverse textures, there has been a range of drone/pad/texture libraries released in the past few years. Some have opted for synthetic sources, others more hybrid and a third category have used purely real world source material. Bioscape falls into the latter and curates some very unusual samples from a range of field recordists, wraps them up in a stunningly complex engine and finally lets a group of talented sound designers loose on Kontakt. The man behind the whole enterprise is Soren Hybel a.k.a. Luftrum. Perhaps best known for his work creating cinematic sounds for the best soft synths out there, the Dane is also fast creating a reputation for his sample libraries. We covered the superb pad instrument Lunaris here at SLR a couple of years back, where it was highly praised; off the back of that comes Bioscape, which shares the same ambient and cinematic trademark, but with none of the analogue synth content.

 

Bioscape GUI

Bioscape sells for $159.00 from Luftrum

Thoughts

The first thing you will notice is that it is made for the free Kontakt Player and the content actually downloads directly from Native Access. For me this makes a difference: it feels more like a premium product, there is less chance of piracy, it installs easier, updates are much easier to handle, plus I love seeing the artwork in my Kontakt library browser!

Bioscape Player Tab

Having played with it extensively and actually already used it in a project, Bioscape is a product of three key areas, which I will look at in turn – the source sounds, the interface, and the presets.

As Luftrum already offers free field recordings on his site, it come as no surprise that he provided some of the content, but in order to get the incredibly varied content in Bioscape he wisely enlisted the help of fifteen other specialists from around the globe, such as George Vlad and Thomas Rex Beverly. As a result we get 345 unique recordings that are divided into a number of categories. In the bowed section, for example, we get distorted diddley bows and even bowed cactus needles! Forests reveals tranquil fauna and various bird songs. On less of a nature ramble the drone collection includes desolated factories, bunkers, turbines, and tape machines. And if you thought the sound of wind was ubiquitous, well think again as we encounter whistling winds, storm gusts, and breezes in the forest canopy. All of them are excellently captured in stereo and continually intriguing. The screen grab below shows just a small selection from the ‘water’ category.

Water Recordings

All of these various field recordings and found sounds are at the core of Bioscape, yet in their raw form have limited use within a compositional context. This is where the impressive Kontakt interface comes into play. Even for an experienced sample user like myself it did appear at first a little daunting, but rest assured it is actually remarkably easy to get to grips with, thanks to a clear and intuitive layout. Anything that I found a little puzzling was quickly figured out via the play-through video (linked below) or after consulting the succinct and well written manual.

Modulation Page

The main concept to get your head around is that any sound in Bioscape can be comprised of up to four separate samples, which are displayed in pairs with waveform views. You need to ensure you have first selected either A-B or C-D before you can edit them. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a larger interface and had each of the four layers always on display, as you can find yourself tweaking and wondering why it is not having the desired effect until you realise you have not selected the correct pair (doh!). Each sample has its own volume, ADSR, filter, filter envelope, tuning, velocity, key track, and pan. The sound itself can be played back a myriad of ways: forward, reversed, looped, and ping ponged, with the option to set your own looping points. This really comes in handy when you want to isolate just a tiny portion of the sound for a transient response, or the opposite for a long, evolving drone. The retrigger function is something I really like as it acts as polyphonic legato, thus you can add notes yet have them play at wherever the cursor is currently positioned on the waveform instead of triggering the sample from the start each time.

Arguably the most innovative feature of Bioscape is the recordable automation. The XY pad acts as a volume fader between all four sounds and you can easily record the movement of this using your mouse so it morphs between them. Once set up you can loop it five ways, slow down or speed up, sync to tempo, and also import or save movement presets. It is worth noting at this point that there is no quick way to solo any of the four sources, so the workaround is to ensure the XY is not in play mode and drag the crosshair to any of the corners accordingly.

Recordable Automation

To the left of the XY pad is the Quick Mod with three sources and destinations, then to the right the Quick FX with assignable send amounts. The exciting thing here is they can also have recorded motion applied to them – I have not seen this so far in Kontakt instruments I have used. All of this combined with lengthy samples enables the user to create a constantly changing sound, be that radically or more subtly.

The final jewel in the crown of the main page is the Mutate section. Now, a number of similar soundscape/pad libraries feature a randomise button, but invariably this feels too much like pot luck in use, so it is refreshing to see a different way of suddenly changing a bunch of parameters that makes more artistic sense. Two separate tabs let you specify a particular mutation of the original patch and they change all sorts, from the individual filters, to the modulation, to the global reverb. You can make intriguing linguistic combinations that sound like they read, such as Frozen Space or Noisy Earth. They certainly take you on a journey away from the original patch, but still retain the essence of what you started with and by simply selecting empty slots in the Mutate section you can easily go back to the initial version.

The Modulation page gives you control over all the mod sources: four sequencers, three LFOs, the modwheel, and aftertouch. There is everything you would expect here, as well as less common features like adjustable fade, retriggering buttons, and a randomize option.

Modulation Page

On the Effects page we get chorus, phaser, distortion, and equaliser which need little explanation, except to mention they work on pairs of sounds only (A-B and C-D); however, the timestop, delay, and reverb are quite unique. Timestop uses the sound bending power of Time Machine Pro to speed up or slow down each sound individually. The delay section takes advantage of the excellent Kontakt 6 addition of the Replica delay and its five distinct sonic characteristics. Again, it applies to pairs of sounds. In practice I never found the effects applying to two sounds at once limiting and if any it adds cohesion to what can be quite disparate sound sources.

Effects

As any fan of ambient and cinematic music will be aware a product like Biosphere is highly dependant on great reverb and Luftrum has included 38 superb custom IRs. Some of these are from hardware reverbs such the Bricasti M7 and the Lexicon 224 that can get to crazy decay times; a range of others come from the recording spaces of the sounds themselves – Forsaken Factories and Cave Bats anyone? Yes please! The addition of decay times is a nice touch too (why don’t more developers do that?). The reverb is global with the option to turn it on and off for each pair of sound layers.

IR Reverbs

Finally, we come to the third main part of Bioscape – the presets. Luftrum himself and a team of world class sound designers (Simon Stockhausen, (Jaap Visser) Triple Spiral Audio and (Stephan Baer) Sonic Underworld to name a few) have crafted 320 presets that show the incredible breadth of different sonic possibilities. As can be seen below there are seven categories covering everything from ethereal wonder to industrial dystopia. I was surprised to learn how it can even do short sounds very well; the Dusty Lights preset being a standout with its inspiring lo-fi plinking. Should you need to get mysteriously atonal, Luftrum’s own Exoplanet Journey will take you to an abandoned alien cavern with its unique blend of Texan desert, icy sweeps and a freighter drone. It’s a nice touch to also have the preset designer initials in the name too – respect!

Presets

There were a few things I would love to see improved in an update, and as it is all done via Native Access, if any updates did come it makes it really seamless for the end user. It would be interesting to see if a bigger interface could work so all four sound sources are displayed together. An instant solo button for each layer would be handy. The sequencer would benefit from supporting imports of preset shapes, as it is tricky to draw in more precise, complex patterns. The final niggle – that could just be a limitation of Kontakt – is that it takes a few seconds for each preset to load up the samples. None of these are serious problems at all; more just suggestions for future improvement.

Pressing the question mark at the bottom right brings up preferences for tune knob steps, pitch wheel range, and category selection options, but what is most interesting on this pop-up is the sheer number of people involved. It reads like film credits – with Luftrum as director of course – as Bioscape is truly a product of the exceptional skills of a number of creatives. There are the recordists, the Kontakt scripter, the graphic designer, the preset designers and even a mentor. I think it is great touch to appreciate all the people involved and it demonstrates the respect that Luftrum imbues to be able to enlist so many talented people on a single library. It reflects the group ethos that is shown in his incredible charity work, where each October he organises developers and composers to auction off products with proceeds going to those most in need (check it out right now at https://go.rallyup.com/musicares and on the KVR forums).

Bioscape is an incredible product for adding an organic, cinematic aspects to your compositions. The obvious appeal will be for composers working in ambient music and musique concrète, but there is plenty of scope for dramatic underscore, sound design, music therapy, and sound healing. With 100% field recordings you can be assured that however much mangling goes on in the engine, at the core is something that always feels real and raw. For occasions when you need to create a long, musically simple composition, but with immense timbral complexity and a constantly evolving nature it is amongst the best tools available for sure. This library is no one trick pony though, and will also produce unique sound effects, evocative pads and playable keys. If, after all that, you still cannot find quite what you are looking for there is support for drag and drop, allowing you to run your own recordings through the very innovative Kontakt engine. Bioscape truly shows how the everyday, natural sounds of our world can be transformed into incredible new sonic creations.

Facts

Bioscape is a 4.5 GB download direct from Native Access. It is an official Native Instrument third party library with NKS compatibility and works in the free Kontakt Player. There are 345 field recordings and found sounds and over 320 presets. It also features drag and drop to process user content within the instrument.

Bioscape sells for $159.00 from Luftrum

 

Demos of Bioscape by Luftrum

LUFTRUM

Videos of Bioscape by Luftrum

Contributor Sam Burt reviews Bioscape by Luftrum
“When a sound designing master meets superb sound recordists and leading preset programmers the result is the beguiling Bioscape. Created entirely from field recordings and found sounds, it creates a menagerie of sonic wonder.”