Review: Esraj & Erhu Ethnic String Phrases by Sonuscore
Samples recorded with high inherent musicality
UI clearly laid out
Part of a series, so expect more like this
“Playable” instrument patches limited in scope
Scripting of Legato in Erhu causes some difficulties
Phrase UI has minor bugs
“Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases” is a lovely, though limited, collection of phrases and traditionally-sampled playable instruments which continue Sonuscore’s Ethnic Phrases series (itself a continuation of their Lyrical Phrases series). True to its pedigree, “Ethnic String Phrases” excels in slow, lyrical, emotional writing, and will instantly transport both composer and listener to another liminal place.
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Review: Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases by Sonuscore
Sonuscore’s “Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases” is the next offering in their emerging lyrical world instrument series Ethnic Phrases. Featuring the Indian bowed instrument esraj (a modern variant of the classic dilruba) and the Chinese two-stringed spike fiddle erhu, “Ethnic String Phrases” is full of pleasant and flexible melodic phrase content performed in an expressly useable style. Also included are two playable patches: a legato erhu and a polyphonic longs esraj.
Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases sells for 99€ from Sonuscore
For close to a decade, Sonuscore has been making quality virtual instruments for a wide variety of use-cases. Their catalogue covers everything from a traditional full orchestra to highly-effected trailer design sfx—and, increasingly, everything in-between.
“Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases” is part of this third category. It is the continuation of their Ethnic Phrases series, which began with their “Ethnic Flute Phrases” library—itself an offshoot of their Lyrical Phrases series. This whole meta-series focuses on lovely, organic, highly-expressive melodic phrases that cannot be quite emulated by stringing together a series of shorter samples (although they do include some; more on this later). Thus, the focal point of the library is its “Ethnic String Phrases” patch, and so we will begin our review here.
As you can see, the UI is slightly on the dark side, but overall clearly laid-out. A look at the manual explains the keyboard color scheme:
Red: Tonality—pitch-shifts the phrase over 3-4 semitones
Blue: Openings—‘introductory’ phrases
Yellow: Middle Parts—‘continuing’ phrases
Purple: Endings—‘concluding’ phrases
Green: Short Endings—‘concluding’ single notes (on the tonic)
The manual also indicates the region on the keyboard C5 and above as “Change Phrases,” here you can select multiple phrases or themes and key switch them. It is also important to note that, though there are six green “Short Endings” designated on the keyboard, they all point to the same sus sample (per theme).
Coming back to the top of the UI, underneath the Sonuscore logo, there is a sample waveform view called the Phrase Progress Bar. Dragging the sample start icon (initially set on the very left of the waveform view) changes the start-point of the sample playback. For example:
Underneath the waveform view is the list of themes—basically, songs from which the corresponding phrases are drawn from. These are given descriptive names and tonalities (e.g., “Ethnic Min” or “Major”), both of which act together to be very helpful and intuitive in choosing the right sound. Eight esraj and five erhu themes are given, but each instrument also has three “bonus” themes. I cannot determine what makes these themes distinct from the “main” themes; but, in the case of a phrase-based instrument, the more choices, the better, so no complaints here!
Rounding out the themes list area is a speed knob, which controls playback from 50% speed to 150% speed, with 100% speed (i.e., normal playback speed) at 12 o’clock.
At the bottom of the UI is a page-selector. Clicking “FX Page” brings up the effects UI:
The logo and Phrase Progress Bar are maintained from the Main Page, but instead of a list of phrases there are three effects control areas: EQ, Delay, and Reverb. After clicking the “on/off” button at the left of each section, these all work exactly as expected—EQ gives four bands of control; Delay allows various tempo- or time-synchronizations at different feedback and wet/dry mix ratios; Reverb uses one of a handful of Kontakt reverb IRs at different predelay times and wet/dry mix ratios. By default, only Reverb is enabled.
Overall, the Phrases patch is lovely, with only one small issue: the theme selector UI is buggy, such that selecting a new theme does not automatically visually deselect the previously-selected theme. The patch plays as expected, but I can see how this could be confusing.
The “playable” instrument patches use the FX Page as their base UI. Here is the Erhu Legato patch:
And here is the Esraj Sustain patch:
The blue notes in the keyboard view show the range of the instrument, and the effects function as above. The only real differences in the UIs are the range (in blue) of the respective instrument and the background image.
One would guess that these two playable patches are included to help “tie together” the phrases in the phrase library. It is in these patches that the main issues of the library show through; however, it is important to note that these two patches are not the primary focus of “Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases,” so some of the issues may be immaterial. Also, I believe that most of these could be solved with a scripting change, so there is nothing inherently wrong with the samples themselves.
1. There are no “shorts” at all; in fact, there is only legato for the erhu, and there is not even legato for the esraj. An interesting choice, considering the popularity of legato patches, but it’s actually the esraj that comes out ahead here: The erhu legato seems to cause more issues than it’s worth, exhibiting a strong “click-glitch” on dynamic crossfades (DFX). It is also completely incapable of doing anything “fast”—this is a “lyrical” library after all, but it would have been nice to have something more agile, since the physical erhu is capable of some wonderfully nimble performances.
2. Relatedly, there are some artifacts in the erhu as the legato samples transition in and out of audibility; for example, when alternating between A3 and D4, even at the slow tempo necessary to capitalize on the usability of the patch. If one uses these patches knowing these limitations, however, both are still very useable. The erhu has a vocal, mystical quality that can bring on tears, and the grittiness of the esraj is somehow both delicate and strong.
All in all, Sonuscore has released an admittedly-niche but incredibly musical offering. I would like to see some minor scripting fixes—the theme selector UI bug, the two erhu legato issues. Despite these easily-rectified shortcomings, I would not hesitate to use “Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases.”
Requires at least 2.5GB of free hard drive space.
Comes in .nki format for Kontakt (full) 5.8.1 or higher.
Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases sells for 99€ from Sonuscore
Demos of Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases by Sonuscore
Videos of Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases by Sonuscore
Contributor Kent Kercher reviews Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases by Sonuscore
““Esraj & Erhu—Ethnic String Phrases” is a lovely, though limited, collection of phrases and traditionally-sampled playable instruments which continue Sonuscore’s Ethnic Phrases series (itself a continuation of their Lyrical Phrases series). True to its pedigree, “Ethnic String Phrases” excels in slow, lyrical, emotional writing, and will instantly transport both composer and listener to another liminal place.”