Gothic Instruments DRONAR Master Edition
The wait is over!
by Matthew Mann
Gothic Instruments has been around for some time now and have established themselves as creators of cinematic (yet unique) sample-based instruments using Native Instruments’ Kontakt. Their instruments are excellent and unusual and have created a niche for themselves not only in the soundtrack universe, but also in the video game realm. Additionally, creative composers can put these tools to work for non-soundtrack songs and instrumentals as well.
With the release of DRONAR, Gothic Instruments upped their game and gave the world a beast of a virtual instrument. Each follow-on module in DRONAR has provided another tool for creating strange soundscapes. Each module is a sound designer’s sweet dream and a listener’s worst nightmare.
And now Gothic Instruments has released DRONAR Master Edition. This is the culmination of all their hard work over the past 8 modules. DRONAR ME is, quite simply, massive. It contains 30GB (50GB uncompressed) of raw audio and over 2,000 presets from the first 8 DRONAR modules. This provides composers with the ability to create soundscapes and atmospheres from ethereal to nightmarish – all in one package. Let’s take a deeper look at what DRONAR Master Edition has to offer. But it doesn’t just give you access to those previous modules…it combines elements of each into a deceptively simple interface. The boys at Gothic Instruments recommend playing 1 to 4 notes at a time in a preset. Playing a chord spreads sound out over the mid-range. It also adds a bass root note and a high note. Finally, evolving effects are added. This gives simple chords loads of movement and depth. More on all that later.
Here are the modules included in DRONAR Master Edition:
- Live Strings
- Dark Synthesis
- Cinematic Atmospheres
- Vintage Synth
- Metal & Glass
Installation of DRONAR ME is pretty straight-forward. It starts with downloading Continuata Connect file transfer software. This is one of my favorite ways to download large libraries. Why? It’s FAST…that’s why. Once it’s downloaded, run Connect and paste your license number into the interface. Connect asks you where you want your library downloaded and installed. Choose your library area and Connect will begin a very fast download. The DRONAR library is broken down into multiple files and Connect downloads them one at a time. And if you lose connection, Connect remembers where it left off and will continue downloading from there.
Once all the parts are downloaded, Connect decompresses them and installs them to your chosen folder. The only other step would be to launch Native Instruments’ updater to ensure that DRONAR is installed there as well. It’s certainly cleaner to do it there. Opening Kontakt should now present you with your new DRONAR library. Click on the Instruments drop-down on the DRONAR Master Edition panel on the left side of Kontakt and double-click the Dronar Master Edition.nki. This opens the GUI in the main window. Let’s take a walk through the interface.
The main interface of DRONAR ME is, on first glance, rather Spartan. The user is presented with 4 white knobs down the middle (FX, HI, MID and LOW) and one each to the left (INTENSITY) and right (MOVEMENT). Additionally, there are two smaller dials to the bottom right. These are REV (Reverb) and DEL (Delay) and are what they sound like.
On closer inspection, users will notice several tabs at the bottom of the GUI. These are the pages within the instrument and provide all the bells and whistles with which users create and modify sounds.
The tabs are:
LFO & FX
NOTE: The manual mentions that this version of DRONAR has been enhanced over other versions to decrease load times and enhance preset auditioning, as well as reducing the strain on RAM / CPO performance.
In the main interface window toward the top (just under the title of the instrument) is the Presets dropdown. Vintage Smooth is the default selection. Clicking this drop-down presents the user with the Factory Banks and the User Bank. The Factory Soundbank is labeled 0-8: 0 being a list of presets blended from all the modules and 1-8 being each module from the library with presets from each module listed.
I selected a patch from Guitarscapes as a starting point and began experimenting. Pressing one key started an octave drone. Adding more keys (a chord) adds the aforementioned extras. By default, the Mod Wheel on my MIDI contoller was mapped to the INTENSITY dial. This, in effect, sweeps through the velocity layers of the preset. I mapped the HI, MID, and LO dials to my controller’s first 3 faders (Novation Impulse 61) and the FX dial to my 4th fader. This allowed me to bring in the different elements of the patch at will.
I like this because I can play a chord, hold the sustain pedal down, and make a pretty excellent ambient soundbed just by fading things in and out. I went one step further mapping the reverb and delay to knobs on my controller for an additional level of control. I should mention that clicking on the name for any of the layers will mute that layer. Additionally, Alt-Clicking solos the layer. So, if I was composing and wanted the middle layer to drop out suddenly rather than fading it out, I would just click the MID name next to the Mid dial. And if I wanted to drop out everything except the Mid, I would Alt-Click on the MID name.
I played around with the patch and recorded a basic performance in Reason 10. I had to max out the Buffer Size in Reason to keep my system from getting constant performance error messages on playback. I found that Bouncing in Place was the only way to stop this error completely. So….it’s a processor hog. I can certainly see using it, but my workflow will definitely be different using DRONAR.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of reasons to use this instrument – the sounds are excellent and the way that sounds evolve lends itself to experimentation. And if you’ve heard any of the individual DRONAR packages, you’ll know that each library sounds excellent…so bringing them all together in one place is worth the extra bit of hassle.
There are some features in DRONAR that should add it to the sound designer’s toolbox. Let’s jump to the SOUNDS page to see what’s what.
This is where I started to discover the real power in DRONAR ME. The Sounds page of DRONAR shows that each layer of a patch contains two sounds. As you can see from the image below, the FX, HI, MID and LOW layers each allow you to select the Module and then the sounds from that module. It also allows you to set some basic parameters such as layer volume, width and balance between the two sounds in the layer. There’s also a THICK button for adding octave notes to the patch. Just be careful as sounds get really muddy…really fast…and pull even more on system resources.
Experimenting with this section led to some pretty bizarre (and pretty cool) results and I got lost for several hours just experimenting with layering sounds from different module. I already have a pretty healthy set of user patches from my experimentation.
The EXPERT page is where you get into deeper programming and experimentation; although, it’s not by any means complicated. This page features Attack and Release time dials for each layer as well as Filter settings. The filter settings are as follows:
- EàF (Envelope to Filter) – This allows the filter to open as the sound gets louder and close as the sound gets quieter.
- F (Filter Cutoff)
- Q (Filter Resonance)
- MwàF (Mod Wheel to Filter) – This adjusts the cutoff frequency of the filter using the Mod Wheel.
NOTE: As on the SOUNDS page, clicking Layers names will mute them and Alt-Clicking will solo them on the EXPERT page. Also, the THICK buttons are present here, too. This makes it quick and easy to experiment and tweak your patches.
There’s also basic Tone, Width, and Volume settings for each layer here. Additionally, there’s a Smart Bass button. I found this one kind of interesting. When clicked, it determines the root note of the chord the user is playing and plays it. When not clicked, it uses the lowest note of the chord. Cool!
LFO & FX
This is, as the name suggests, where you can create motion and assign effects to your patches. The first section on this page is the LFO section and features a Rate dial, Mod Wheel assignment, LFO shape (triangle, sine, square, and everything in between), panning, filter, pitch….and a Desync dial.
Everything works as expected, but Desync is very cool. Turning this one all the way up basically turns off sync for each sound in the patch. This makes things get pretty random and interesting. I really like this. Everything becomes so much more interesting and organic-sounding when playing out of sync…which is especially important when you’re composing an organic alien soundscape.
The next section is for Drone Effects. Here, you’ll find Distortion and Chorus, each with basic controls that you could expect. There’s also Reverb and Delay Sends here with only an amount dial for each. The Distortion section adds yet another assignment to the Mod Wheel, allowing the amount of valve distortion effect to be increased as the MW is increased. (As you can see, you can do an awful lot at once just by raising the Mod Wheel.)
The Arpeggiator page allows the user to create even more movement out of a patch. The Rate can be set from 1/4 to 1/64 and the number of steps can go up to 16. There are selectors for each of the layers in your patch. When you select a layer (FX, HI, MID, LO), controls for that layer appear on this page. There are controls here for Amount and Smooth.
These provide the strength of the arpeggio and how quickly the individual notes come in. Combine these controls with the Pitch Arpeggiator to go from shimmery chords to full-on gated arps. And you can select different rates, lengths, gating per layer for chords with a ton of rhythmic options. The Amount control on this page is tied to the Movement dial on the Main Page, so it can be assigned to a controller on your keyboard and “played” at will or programmed.
There are several pitch arpeggio options available in the HI, MID, and LO layers.
- HI (Off, Up, and Down)
- MID (Off, Up, Down, Cycle, and Random)
- LO (Off, Up, and Down)
These only work when the THICK button is enabled over on the EXPERT page.
There’s also an Intensity control in the arpeggiator. This controls the velocity of the notes played and can be drawn in to modulate the intensity of the arpeggio. There are some quick editing controls here as well.
The Filter section modulates the filter cutoff frequency. With all the filter options available within DRONAR ME, you can definitely come up with some unexpected results – both good and bad.
Did I mention there’s a Rhythm Editor, too? As I understand it, this is only for the Live Brass rhythm samples. The folks at Gothic Instruments wanted brass with a more natural feel. As such, these samples were performed live. The Rhythm Editor allows the user to modify these “rhythm sample” in real time. It also allows you to use the Mod Wheel to modify the dynamics of the samples. This is a great concept and is pretty cool in practice…I just wish they’d included more of these rhythm samples to experiment with.
The basic controls here are for editing the rhythms and include a button for selecting either a 3/4 or 4/4 time signature, and a button for selecting between 1, 2, 3 or 4 bars for the length of the loop. There’s also a beat divider that lets you select between 3 different note values (8ths, triplets, or 16ths).
You can also select between different trigger modes where the rhythm either runs freely (FREE) as soon as you hit a key….or starting on the next quarter note (BEAT). You can even double or half the time of the rhythm patterns with the TEMPO button.
The Master FX page features the onboard effects for sweetening your patches. This section features the usual subjects: EQ with controls for High, Mid and Low frequencies; a Compressor featuring controls for Amount, Time, Output level, Mix control, and Drive; a Delay return; a Reverb return; and a Gate.
The Reverb sports a couple of digital reverb algorithms and some convolution impulses to play with. They’re nothing especially fancy, but they sound cool and will give you some variety.
DRONAR Master Edition is fully NKS compatible and integrate well with Native Instruments controllers. Additionally, DRONAR ME is easy to configure to work with a variety of MIDI controllers, keyboards, any smart phone and tablet applications that output MIDI Control Changes, and even some unusual alternative controllers.
It was very easy to configure to work with my Novation Impulse and Korg nanoKontrol (Gen 1). It was also easy to setup to control from my Roli Seaboard RISE and Seaboard BLOCK.
I tested DRONAR ME in Reason 10, Studio One 4, and Ableton Live 10. It worked fine once each DAW was setup with higher buffer settings. This makes it difficult to perform in real time for more than a couple of instances unless, of course, you have a much newer and/or more powerful machine than I do. With that said, some DAWs compensate for this to a degree, but the bottom line is having a powerful processor and a fast hard drive (preferably SSD).
I like the flexibility that it offers when it comes to sound design. One button that I forgot to mention is the RANDOMIZE SAMPLES button. This randomizes every sound in each layer and gives you plenty of opportunity to discover new sounds and patches. Not every randomized patch works, but I found that, more often than not, clicking this button served up some interesting results.
I like DRONAR and will certainly find plenty of uses for it. The fact that it makes my computer struggle means I’ll have to write a track, then render it before moving on to a different part of a tune. It’s a little inconvenient, but it’s worth it for the ridiculous number of interesting sounds available. The fact that it’s so easy to map to your controller and the numerous techniques employed to provide movement to your patches means that I will find lots of excuses to continue using it.
If you’re in the market for a sample library that’s not like others and provides lots of exploration of alien landscapes and bizarre drones for your next space odyssey or horror nightmare, then this might just be what you’ve been looking for. -HC-
You can find it at www.timespace.com for $279 at the moment. It’s regularly $349.
Matthew Mann graduated Berklee College of Music with a Master Certificate, Music Production. Matt has been in bands and run studios for over a decade. He had a 3 year stint as a Sales Associate at GC Pro and has more recently been working in technical writing. As the picture shows, Matt rarely takes himself too seriously.