Review: Nouveau Series by Versilian Studios: Bowed Psaltery, Strumstick & Broken Piano.

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The Nouveau Series of three unique instruments delivers that elusive sound of something new yet vaguely familiar. The excellently recorded samples at first glance seem like specialty instruments but they are actually surprisingly versatile due to the wide range of articulations.

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Review: Nouveau Series by Versilian Studios
Bowed Psaltery, Strumstick & Broken Piano.

Versilian Studios are one of a growing number of smaller, boutique companies creating high quality and affordable libraries focussed on orchestral and ethnic/rare instruments. For their Nouveau Series they have taken three unusual instruments and given them a thorough and nuanced sampling. Each one is quite different, but they all share a wide range of articulations that work well as a featured part or layered with other sounds to create a complex timbre.

Instruments in the Nouveau Series sell separately. Bowed Psaltery and Strumstick sells for $39 each and Broken Piano sells for $19 from Versilian Studios

Thoughts

Bowed Psaltery
The psaltery is an ancient stringed instrument harking back to biblical times that has come in a range of forms over the years. In the 20th century, the bowed psaltery was developed in a distinctive triangular shape that enables the strings to be easily bowed. The sound is much like a zither – glassy, cutting and high.

The main controls are basic but perfectly adequate – close and main microphones, stereo width, pan, filters, delay, reverb and attack.

The patch comes up as a succinct one-page affair with two octaves of playable notes and a bunch of lower key switches for articulations. The main controls are basic but perfectly adequate – close and main microphones, stereo width, pan, filters, delay, reverb and attack. There are 13 articulations and 1 multifunctional one which changes between spiccato, short bow and long bow depending on velocity. There are various bows, picks, plucks and my favourites – the mallet hits. The latter gives a sound akin to a hammered dulcimer with less rich overtones. Up to 8 round robins help maintain a great level of realism and the quality of the recording is excellent. An extended range patch also gives you a bunch of lower and higher notes.

There is certainly a strong medieval sonic to this which would suit fantasy and historical contexts, but I do think it has genuine appeal to be used in other genres. The mallets have a chiming music box quality and some of the shorts could be used as tuned percussion. As the longs respond to mod wheel I found that they can layer well with solo strings to give a cutting bite and create a hybrid instrument texture.

Broken Piano
So what do you when a battered Baldwin baby grand is destined to be remade into a bookcase and coffee table? Well if you are Versilian Studios you sample the hell out of it! If you were thinking this might be a just slightly detuned and dusty piano to play melancholy tunes on, well don’t get your hopes up. This is awfully out of tune and very much an effects instrument. Two dynamic layers with 3 different mics (ribbon, vintage and main) give the ability to create dark suspense or jumpscare impacts. Both dynamic layers also have semi tuned patches, but it still sounds like your Granny’s neglected piano in the corner. The GUI comes armed with the same standard controls and key switches as the psaltery.

If you are doing horror and suspense compositions this is sure to come in at some point

If you are doing horror and suspense compositions this is sure to come in at some point, but it is extremely specific and more something you would buy when you really need it, rather than be a ‘must have’. I found the FX patches most useful, in particular the percussive bangs and scrapes, which can be combined to make interesting organic rhythms.

Strumstick
This is a deep-sampled version of a 3 stringed instrument created by Bob McNally. Originally developed to enable musical beginners to quickly play songs, the Versilian version takes it into new territory. The biggest change is that unlike the real thing it is not restricted to a single key. A Diatonic D Grand version was used for sampling but it functions across all notes. Again GUI and key switch controls match those of the other instruments described above.

The timbre is hard to place, but if you somehow combined a banjo, lute, guitar, and sitar you might get something like this. It is not particularly rich and resonant, instead of being more of a plucky nature.

The two main patches are picked and fingered with the modwheel employed across many articulations to select which string is used to play which note. This is quite innovative and as it was strung with a mixture of guitar and banjo strings it means you can control the timbre of individual notes to quite a large degree. Keeping it down favors the low and middle strings whilst fully up engages the top string much more.

20 articulations were captured with up to 8 round robins which gives the user a plethora of options from single picks to vibrato and slides to strummed chords. Most of these have stopped versions which do not include the release samples, which is a very handy option to have. The third patch showcases extended techniques and is arguably my favourite with achingly grainy bows and hammered percussive notes.

Like the psaltery the sound signature is quite historical, but due to the range of imaginative articulations, it really got me thinking how useful it might be in other genres to create fresh and original timbres.

This trio of instruments is truly an odd bunch! At first I dismissed them as decent but specialist instruments of limited use outside of historical, fantasy and horror genres. However, upon further exploration, they could all be secret weapons in a composer’s arsenal to deliver a shot of something different. In particular, I thought The Bowed Psaltery has a scything quality that can punch through dense mixes, the Broken Piano has some great FX and the Strumstick has a superb bowed articulation. The snapshots are another good way to explore the more experimental sounds these libraries can create.

It is worth noting the manuals are amongst the best I have seen. Aside from clear instructions, there is some lovely artwork, photos of the original instruments and plenty of background about the recording process and the gear used. A nice touch I would like to see more developers copy.

I would see The Nouveau Series being best appreciated as a rare spice to add that splash of flavour to whatever audio you are cooking up – that delightful but slightly bizarre taste you cannot quite put your finger on!

Facts

The Bowed Psaltery is 800 MB with 912 samples on two mics, 14 articulations and up to 8 round robins. The Broken Piano will need 1 GB of space and comprises 595 samples across 3 microphones. The Strumstick is 1.4 GB in size with 1,700 samples in two mic positions, up to 3 velocities, 4 round robins and 20 articulations.

Instruments in the Nouveau Series sell separately. Bowed Psaltery and Strumstick sells for $39 each and Broken Piano sells for $19 from Versilian Studios

 

Demos of Nouveau Series by Versilian Studios

 

Videos of Nouveau Series by Versilian Studios