Review: Cloud Viola 2 by Sound Dust

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Sound Dust’s Cloud Viola 2 is a trip into a parallel universe of the humble viola. This is a place where unusual playing techniques, hardware reverbs and sampling trickery combine to reimagine the viola for the modern musician. The result is a tragic beauty – gritty, textured, deep and emotive.

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Review: Cloud Viola 2 by Sound Dust

Viola 2 is the latest creation from one of the best kept secrets in the sample library world. Although it is an update from the original Viola the improvements are significant enough to warrant a full relaunch of the product at a very reasonable price.

The enigmatic Pendle Poucher is the one man band behind UK based Sound Dust who have been quietly creating a range of quirky and esoteric libraries for a few years now. They also release soft synth preset collections, such as the superb new Friction soundset for Diva. Firmly eschewing the heavy marketing and branding of the big companies, Sound Dust have instead focussed on creating niche products that have spread more by word of mouth. A growing army of fans view them somewhat as secret weapons in their palette of sounds.

Cloud Viola 2 continues Pendle’s ethos of taking traditional instruments and sampling them in bizarre ways. For Cloud Viola 2, a length of garden twine is combined with a retractable dog lead to create a raw and rough sustained note. He then goes one step further and takes these original samples and processes them through a Strymon Big Sky Reverb pedal to give us the ‘Cloud’ articulations. Not content with just this however, these sounds are then presented in a very detailed Kontakt engine enabling them to be further morphed in very complex ways, in particular with grain oscillators.

Cloud Viola 2 sells for £40.00 (inc VAT) from Sound Dust

Thoughts

One thing I really like about Cloud Viola 2 is that we have a one page nki for the entire library. Snapshots are used to give the user a range of excellent preset starting points (users should carefully heed the readme file for installing snapshots). The only other page is a built in manual, which will need consultation every once in a while.

For me, I mostly used it to discover what each articulation was, of which this library boasts an impressive 8. Moving left to right we have a normal bow accent, bow through a grain oscillator, palm mute pluck (new for version 2), col legno through a grain oscillator, twine bow room mic, twine bow contact mic, reverb through a grain oscillator and finally, standard reverb. The reverb articulation has been upgraded in this new version to include 5 additional multi-sampled and heavily processed variations.

Also as part of the update are 3 XY pads which relate to their corresponding grain articulations and enable you to vary the speed and size of the grain in real time. Moving the cursor to the bottom left of the pad for example, gives you very slow speeds and small size grains, resulting in increasingly synthetic tones.

Each articulation also has its own channel strip with volume, pan, tape saturation, reverb send, ADSR, filters, EQ and tremolo. Once you have created your perfect balance of articulations the signal chain then passes to the global effects which feature unison, velocity intensity, aftertouch, tempo synced delay, rotary speaker simulation, saturation, filters, EQ, speaker convolution and reverb. The latter of these is worthy of noting as Sound Dust have impressively created 74 bespoke convolutions ranging from an opera house to a hardware spring reverb.

This all makes for the ability to create a wide range of sounds, but where Cloud Viola 2 shines is in spacious and imperfect pads and lead lines. The garden twine always dials in a dirty scraping quality and the reverb articulations give that huge cinematic feel. In making my own sounds I found starting with that combination and then adding in the accented bows and/or the percussive samples could give me additional options for the attack portion of the sound. The presets are great starting points and are well named to describe each sound. With the addition of the XY pads it can feel expressive, though I would have liked to see the modwheel already set up to control the global filter and the expression cc to control volume, thus making performance of swells and sweeps a more immediate experience. Solo buttons for each articulation would also be really useful, so you can quickly isolate them when working on complex patches.

Cloud Viola 2 fits excellently alongside ‘proper’ orchestral libraries as the timbre still originates from a similar organic source. For composers wanting to add an unusual layer it really does blend well and can also be used to help melody lines cut through a mix. I also think it will find a home amongst electronic producers who work with the softer side of synths and would be ideal on hybrid type productions – think Arcade Fire, James Blake and Lykke Li. Personally I intend to be using it in the first half of trailers and in my own work as Border Scout with our 2nd album now underway.

I recently watched a Q&A with a very esteemed musician saying that if we all have access to the same sample libraries we will all start sounding the same. There is no doubt recording your own live sounds will always give a unique touch to compositions, but when I play with instruments like Cloud Viola 2 this kind of comment is simply nonsense! The sheer range of articulations and manipulation on offer here truly enables the user to create entirely unique sounds, given a little bit of knob twiddling.

In terms of pushing the boundaries for boutique sample libraries, what Sound Dust is doing with Cloud Viola 2 is right on the bleeding edge. It is experimental for sure, but without ever being too odd to use in a musical context. Playing Cloud Viola 2 you can often get lost, not just in the amazing sounds, but also in the inspiration it gives you for new ideas. From the videos of garden twine in action, to the cheeky RTFM tab in the GUI, it is the epitome of English eccentricity brought to the sample library world. I for one will be joyously diving headfirst down this fascinating rabbit hole.

Facts

Cloud Viola 2 downloads with 3 GB of 24 bit content. It features a single NKI instrument containing 60 snapshots across a three-octave range (G2 – A5). A full version of Kontakt is required.

Cloud Viola 2 sells for £40.00 (inc VAT) from Sound Dust

Demos of Cloud Viola 2 by Sound Dust

 

Videos of Cloud Viola 2 by Sound Dust