Product Review | Electri6ity
|Sound On Sound||Nick Magnus|
Pros - Eight classic guitars offer plenty of tonal and stylistic variety.
High level of performance detail, even using the default settings.
Bags of potential for insanely detailed, finely nuanced performances.
Cons - Heavy RAM requirement presents limits for 32-bit PCs. Learning the intimate details requires some time and patience.
Summary - Electri6ity recreates the sound and behaviour of eight classic electric guitar models, to a very high level of detail. While the in-depth parameters offer many ways to add finely detailed nuances to a performance, great results can also be achieved simply using the default setup, which requires only a modest learning curve.
Don't let Vir2's inexplicable '6' put you off: their new virtual guitar instrument is quite special...
Electri6ity is the latest in performance-oriented virtual guitar instruments, and Vir2's take on the concept offers almost manic levels of detail to satisfy even the most chronically obsessive would-be plank thrasher. Electri6ity is based around a 28GB core library, hosted by NI's popular Kontakt 4 Player, and so works with Macs and PCs. Tens of thousands of samples are involved, covering many articulations and playing techniques. Despite streaming samples from hard disk, Electri6ity demands a significant amount of RAM: one Electri6ity instrument with all articulations loaded consumes in the region of 700MB.
Electri6ity offers highly detailed recreations of not just one, but eight classic electric guitars, a summary of which can be found in the 'About The Guitars' box. Over 24,000 24-bit samples were taken of each guitar - clearly a labour of love for Vir2's programmers! The library spans four DVDs, and is supplied with the free Kontakt 4 Player. If you already own the full version of Kontakt 4, installation of the Player is not required. Permanent activation of the library is via the usual Native Instruments Service Center (sic) application. Installation turned out to be a lengthy process, no doubt due to the sheer number of samples involved - in my case it took six hours! An ideal opportunity to watch the DVD boxed set of Brideshead Revisited, then...
Electri6ity's library is very simply organised. The Instruments folder contains two sub-folders: DI and Amped. Within each of these are eight .NKI patches - one for each guitar. These patches are the fully detailed instruments, comprising all articulations. Should you not need this highest level of detail, two further sub-folders provide 'lite' versions of each guitar, offering sustain and muted, or sustain articulations only. The Amped folder is identical in content to the DI folder, the difference being that the Amped versions make use of Kontakt's own multi-effects, amp and cabinet simulations. Owners of Guitar Rig or any comparable guitar-amp simulator plug-in will probably want to ignore the Amped folder and concentrate on the DI patches (with all due deference to NI's effects algorithms, of course!). The Multis folder content echoes the Instruments folder, but offers ready-made 'double-tracked' versions of each guitar. These are constructed using two instances of the same guitar patch, each one using an alternate set of samples to avoid phasing problems, yet still only occupying the same RAM footprint as a single patch.
Vir2 make much of what they call 'Artificial Intelligence', which works behind the scenes of Electri6ity and is all the product of some pretty intense KSP scripting. The AI takes care of many aspects of the sound automatically - chord detection, fret position, upstrokes and downstrokes, string selection, release noises and so on - and makes 'informed' decisions about these based on your playing. Speed of playing, phrasing, even the direction of notes in a phrase all have a bearing on the choices Electri6ity makes. The intention is that nothing happens purely at random, but instead reflects how a guitar would most likely behave in the real world. Individual aspects of the AI can be overridden at the player's discretion, so, for example, you can force a phrase to play on a specific string, or lock the fret position, or play a phrase entirely with downstrokes or hammer-ons if you want to.
Fire Up The Quattro
All Electri6ity's in-depth parameters (and there are many) for controlling the guitar's sound and behaviour are concealed behind three tabs (four for the Amped versions) and drop-down menus. The Performance tab is the default view, and provides easy adjustment of 14 key aspects of the guitar's sound and behaviour: pickup selection, tone, vibrato type, release noise volume, and so on. All the guitars load with the same default setup, which Vir2 have designed to be 'ready to play'. Naturally, once you become more familiar with Electri6ity, you may want to alter this default behaviour to suit your purpose. This is where the Settings tab comes into play. It would be fascinating to examine the KSP scripting required to do what Electri6ity does, but you can't, as Vir2 have (probably very wisely) locked out any of Kontakt's normal editing functions. The sheer number of variable parameters in the Settings tab provide a clue to the complexity of the KSP scripting (I lost count at around 170). Since they are hidden amongst the drop-down menus (and hence not immediately accessible during performance), all parameters are assigned MIDI controllers, so if you wish to alter the strumming angle, sympathetic resonance, fret position, pick position or number of strings being strummed, for example, you can do so using a hardware controller in real time (or using sequencer automation), without recourse to the menus or mouse. Many users, however, will probably be more than happy to play Electri6ity using the default settings.
Morph For Your Money
One notable aspect of Electri6ity that contributes greatly towards its realism is the use of Kontakt 4's Velocity Morphing (VMT) and Articulation Morphing (AMT) technology. This allows seamless morphing between dead mute, half mute and sustain articulations, something not possible on other sample-based instruments so far. You can even morph between sustain and pinch harmonic articulations. I'm not a guitarist, but I'm sure you can't do that on the real thing! This morphing feature is right at your fingertips from the moment you load a guitar. By default, key velocity does the morphing between articulations, while the mod wheel morphs smoothly through the velocity layers. If you don't like this arrangement, it can be reversed very easily from the Performance tab: just click Setup and select the alternative setting. The method you use will depend entirely on personal taste, but this feature alone injects so much life into the sound as you freely vary the amount of damping pressure upon the strings as you play.
Electri6ity employs similar playing techniques to other virtual guitars, by dividing the keyboard into zones; principally, a main zone for playing notes or voicing chords, and a zone for triggering strums. Electri6ity also has additional keyswitch zones, used to access various articulations, making the whole range of performance possibilities available directly from your keyboard without having to shift Electri6ity into different playing modes. Switching between single notes, finger-style and chord strumming is handled automatically - when Electri6ity detects three or more notes arriving simultaneously, it assumes a chord is required, and the chord-recognition script finds a suitable guitar voicing for it depending upon your inversion and position on the keyboard. This chord can then be 'strummed' using the keys in the strumming zone. However, if you play three or more separated notes (an arpeggio or finger-style part, for example), no chord detection takes place, so you can freely jump between the two playing styles without having to think about it.
Electri6ity defaults to playing polyphonically when you load a guitar, but additional monophonic 'solo' modes can be selected via keyswitches. Solo mode makes fluid, legato lines easy to play, whilst articulating the plectrum stroke of every note. Legato mode (sustained or muted) takes this further, playing entirely with hammer-ons, pull-offs and single-fret slides, all automatically chosen by the software in response to your playing. The effect is similar to the Van Halen 'tapping' technique, and sounds remarkably believable too.
Keyswitches & Articulations
Due to the limits of an 88-note keyboard, Electri6ity has more articulations than there are available keys with which to perform keyswitches. Vir2 have come up with a clever way around this problem by extending the functions of the keyswitch keys. Keyswitches fall into four types: Normal, where a keyswitched articulation remains active until a new one is selected; Forced, where the keyswitch is active only for as long as it's held down; Velocity, whereby a low-velocity press selects one articulation and a high-velocity press selects another; and Combined, whereby holding down an 'anchor' key (A1) and pressing any other keyswitch key in the lower red zone temporarily overrides Electri6ity's automatic choice of release samples with specific ones you may prefer. The upper red keyswitch zone comprises the various strumming trigger keys (not actually keyswitches per se). Individual up/down strumming keys are provided for full sustain, half-muted, muted, dead-muted and chuka-chukas, plus six more for arpeggiating each individual string in a chord. Two further keys enable any sounding notes to be 'nudged' repeatedly one fret up or down until the limit of the string is reached. This works for chords as well as single notes, making it possible to perform 'slidey' funk chord riffs, as well as giving an alternative way of performing legato slides with precise manual control over their speed. One typical guitar articulation not covered by keyswitches is unison bend. This is performed very transparently via the pitch wheel, and is activated automatically whenever Electri6ity detects two simultaneous notes a major or minor second apart. Curiously, one guitaristic effect missing from Electri6ity is feedback - something for the KSP scripters to get their teeth into for a future update, perhaps?
Developers of sample libraries such as Electri6ity are clearly aiming towards the 64-bit computer market, where RAM limitations are less of an issue. Windows XP 32-bit users will need to find other workarounds, such as running in 3GB Switch mode, and 'freezing' instruments to free up RAM as they go. In this latter situation, I'd suggest loading each guitar into a separate instance of Kontakt: that way you can freeze and unfreeze them individually as necessary, rather than having them 'tied together'.
Limited space precludes describing every aspect of Electri6ity. Nevertheless, it should be clear that this instrument has been designed to replicate its eight guitars in considerable detail. How much of the subtler details are actually going to be noticeable depends to some extent on how the guitars are used - some amp settings and processes bring them to the fore, others less so. Other virtual guitar instruments on the market (notably Musiclab's RealStrat and RealLPC) are capable of no less believable results within their remit; however, Electri6ity does offer eight distinctive, classic guitar models at its core, all offering high levels of intricate detail, authenticity and tonal variety.
About the Guitars:
ES335: Semi-acoustic, two humbuckers. Widely used for Jazz, blues and funk.
L4: Acoustic bodied, two humbuckers. Dark and mellow, good for jazz.
Les Paul: Two humbuckers. All genres.
Les Paul: Two P90 single-coil pickups. High output, slightly dirty sound, less dark than humbuckers. Popular for rock and grunge styles.
Danelectro Lipstick: Crisp and distinctly American retro. Surf, rockabilly, jangle pop.
Rickenbacker: Semi-hollow bodied, two hi-gain single coils. Bright, jangly when clean, creamy when overdriven.
Stratocaster: Single coils. Bright and wiry, All genres.
Telecaster: Distinctive, twangy sound. All genres, especially country and blues.