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Stratos: Drones & Atmospheres | Recording Magazine

Reviewer: Mike Metlay Back to Stratos: Drones & Atmospheres product details

Stratos: Drones And Atmospheres is a library of texture/drone "construction kits" created by Steve Sechi of Funk/Soul Productions for Big Fish Audio. It's unusual in that there is practically nothing beat-oriented in the entire library, nor are there single-hit sound effects per se. It's all, well, drones and atmospheres-useful bed/texture elements for creating music for visual media, commercials, or for adding magic to more conventional mixes.

The library consists of over 4 GB of 24-bit WAV files on a single DVD, organized into five major folders-Mysterious, Ominous, Ethereal, Sombre, and Experimental. Inside each of those folders is a set of ten subfolders, and inside each of those subfolders is a set of two to five individual sound elements (most have four) plus a demo mix file using them all. In general, the samples are 60 to 90 seconds long. Installation is a simple drag-and-drop affair; just move the sounds onto your hard drive and start using them in your DAW.

The sound quality is impeccably clean and Steve used a lot of imagination in creating the diverse sounds in the library. There are lots of synthesizer pads and textures, as one might expect, but also unusual percussive elements like wind chimes, gran cassa drums (a gran cassa is a large bass drum mounted high for playing with mallets), bowed cymbals, struck metal objects, and more, all processed with lots of echo and reverb to turn them into washy atmospheric elements.

The more atmospheric and static elements are sometimes supplemented with gently rhythmic pulsations and arpeggiations-none are marked with a key or tempo, but programs such as ACID and Live will usually have no difficulty picking out transients and guessing at an accurate tempo, and transposition of these unusual sounds can be accomplished over a pretty wide range before glitching is really audible as such. Some of the elements start and end with silence for easy looping; many don't, starting with a dramatic initial sound, but then have a descent to silence and a repeating "theme" soon after, allowing for loop points to be set later on in the file.

The four-page introductory PDF that comes on the DVD encourages experimentation with mixing elements between the folders; because each subfolder has at least one unpitched file and there's a common tonal center for most if not all of the pitched stuff, elements can easily be swapped around to multiply your options (with tempo adjustment as needed).

As an electronic/experimental musician with three decades' experience in synthesis and sound design, I give Steve props for great work, but I wouldn't slather his sounds all over my own compositions any more than an established guitarist would bring in a studio ringer to cover his parts. That being said, though, I see Stratos as a resource for particular sound elements that might be difficult or impossible for me to create on my own. For example, I don't have the resources to easily obtain and mike up a tam-tam and process the results, so it's nice that I can find a processed tam-tam in Stratos if that's what I really need.

Perhaps more to the point, if you have a relatively conventional set of instruments in your studio, and don't consider yourself much of a synth programmer, and a client asks you for "a little something attention-grabbing and out of the ordinary" to spice up a track... Stratos has "Make me look like a genius in a flash" written all over it. In mere minutes, you can find just the right ominous drone, moody percussive touch, or sprinkling of pixie dust to take a straightforward mix into the realm of the magical, all without having to set up a synth rig or program a virtual instrument.

Perhaps the best way to phrase my conclusion is: If you need Stratos, you'll know it, and when you use it to fill your needs, you'll be pleased with the results.

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