If you ever use sampled drums and percussion, you won’t want to miss Drumatic Creator.
Media composers who write big, dramatic percussion cues have no shortage of excellent, epic, cinematic drum and percussion libraries to choose from. Consequently, when a new contender comes on the scene, it needs to stand out from the competition. Fortunately for In Session Audio (ISA), their Drumatic Creator does exactly that in a huge way. It takes an inventive approach to recording and programming individual instrument samples. You can combine them in virtually limitless ways to create impactful solo and ensemble performances.
Drumatic Creator (DC) takes a decidedly different approach from other similarly styled sample library instruments that run in Native Instruments Kontakt. Other libraries typically offer a selection of massive ensemble recordings—groups of percussionists playing single hits at the same time—with each of these mapped to a single key, allowing you to get monstrous “instant gratification” results from playing a note on your MIDI keyboard. One limitation with this approach is that the sound of the ensemble is “baked” into the recording; you can’t change it. In the words of In Session Audio, however, they “wanted to turn that [idea and approach] on its head.”
So instead of recording drums in an ensemble setting, they sampled each drum individually and built a robust, feature-rich engine in Kontakt that lets you choose the type and number of drums in a group. You can mix, tune and pan each drum to taste, as well as control the relative timing of the samples to create a looser or tighter ensemble sound. DC lets you easily create new custom ensembles with the press of a few buttons.
Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical of DC’s approach when I first started playing with it. I would play individual notes and the resulting sound wasn’t especially noteworthy. However, the light bulb went off for me as soon as I began playing two or more drums together. It became immediately clear that DC is capable of bringing all the boom and bravado you’d expect from a top-tier drum and percussion library.
Content-wise, 40 drums were sampled with head and rim hits for every drum. The collection includes four bass drums, two surdos, 14 floor and rack toms, four rototoms, six tenor toms, four frame drums, and six snares.
DC also supplies percussion samples for six sets of sticks, three sets of bamboo rods, two hi-hats, three anvils, and two trash cans. Lastly, there’s an “auxiliary” category that boasts 97 samples of sound-designed hits that range from low booms, tonal ambiences, and deep slams to cymbals, processed metals, and more. It all amounts to a broad mix of drums and percussion that can cover a wide range of musical needs, from driving action and simmering tension to tribal pulses and thunderous assaults.
DC is actually the follow-up to ISA’s Taiko Creator. I mention this because if you’re looking for taikos, you won’t find them in DC. (At the time of this review, ISA was promoting a bundle deal with Drumatic Creator and Taiko Creator, so you may want to consider this if you’re shy in the taiko department.) Even so, I was able to get close approximations that evoked certain taiko tones by pitching and carefully layering some of the drums, so it’s worth experimenting to see how far you can take the existing samples using the built-in sound-sculpting tools (more on these below).
Sound and Fury
ISA took great pains to record all of the acoustic drums and percussion from four microphone perspectives—close, mid, room, and far—allowing you to tailor the amount of virtual space or distance at the global level (per preset, not for each individual drum). What’s more, the samples offer an impressive range of velocity levels and round robins.
Sonically, DC leans more toward a natural and organic character, which is a nice contrast to some other titles that are more hyped and processed. As someone who’s a bit of a “cinematic drum junkie,” I appreciate having a variety of aesthetics to work with, and I was able to easily blend DC with other collections to create a hybrid composite sound.
Kits, Groups & Loops
Drumatic Creator organizes its samples into ten ensemble presets, or kits. They’re available as Kontakt snapshots, along with 20 corresponding song starter sets—suites of MIDI loops, complete with intro, fills, ending and variations on core grooves—that you can drag-and-drop into your DAW to quickly assemble performances. The MIDI files are uniformly excellent. I found them to be a great way to reverse engineer how you might want to use a certain kit to program your own rhythm patterns.
All of DC’s drum, percussion, and auxiliary sounds are consistently mapped across the keyboard, with nine drum groups assigned to white keys and six percussion groups assigned to the black keys over the span of C1 to A3, plus a set of auxiliary sounds spanning C4 to F5. Each drum/percussion group is mapped to two keys, making it easy to perform fast rolls and rhythms. Within each group, you can load as many as nine different instrument samples with their own volume, pan, and pitch settings.
Since all the kits use the same mapping scheme, it’s easy to program a rhythm or load a pre-programmed MIDI loop and then cycle through the presets to hear how they might work for your track. The sounds are more or less the same type (e.g., large, medium, and small drums) mapped to certain MIDI notes. That means the MIDI performances will essentially work with any of the presets.
Taken collectively, the level of detail in the sample recordings, the quality of programming with the kits, and the creativity and musicality of the song starters all add up to an instrument that is highly dynamic, flexible, and an absolute joy to play.
At the time of this writing, ISA had released its first expansion pack, which adds another 10 kits and 20 song starter sets. I should point out that ISA intends to continue adding to DC’s content over time—a major bonus and a smart product strategy that many users are sure to appreciate.
The Creator Engine, Drumatic Creator’s custom playback engine and user interface, is essentially the same sound engine used in Taiko Creator and (spoiler alert!) the forthcoming World Percussion Creator. Generally speaking, then, what I note about DC’s sound-shaping controls is applicable to the other libraries as well.
That said, the Creator Engine features three main pages: Global, Groups, and MIDI. Both the Global and Groups pages offer a number of controls with which you can craft a dizzying variety of custom kits.
Starting with the Global page, you’ll find a convolution EQ that runs in parallel, allowing you to blend the amount of the original and impulse response-processed signal. The EQ features 22 presets. According to ISA, the IRs have “been created by referencing drum passages in some of today’s biggest movies.” I found the IRs to impart noticeable yet nuanced tonal changes to the overall character. With the mix control, you’re able to dial in the right amount of “EQ effect” for your track. A four-band parametric EQ with an additional highpass and lowpass filter allows for further fine tuning.
From the Mixer, you can mix and assign each of the four microphone perspectives to specific outputs, as well as adjust the relative distance of each perspective using the Range sliders. These can introduce a delay of up to 40ms to achieve a bigger, more ambient sound.
DC’s convolution reverb features 20 IRs that range in size and tonality. The reverb appreciably adds to the character of a kit. I found the variety and quality of the IRs to be solid, though I do wish ISA included the IRs as separate audio files so you could load them into other reverbs. That would allow you to place other sources in the same virtual space.
The Groups page reveals the settings for each composite drum and percussion sound within a kit. In the example below, the drum sound mapped to E2 and F2 layers four toms and two frame drums, which are pitched up and positioned to create a wide stereo sound.
To my surprise, tuning the drums, even at extreme settings, doesn’t produce the kind of artificial sped-up/slowed-down sound with traditional sample playback. I don’t know what ISA is doing behind the scenes, but the net result is that you’re able to pitch DC’s drums to extremes, and the results simply “work.”
In this short video, I dive into the Drum Group Creation Settings to show you how easy it is to create custom kits from scratch using the randomization features. As you’ll see, DC can be quite the sonic chameleon, sounding like many different ensembles of varying size, tone, and tightness.
If you write music for media, then Drumatic Creator is a no-brainer. And if you need to inject epic percussion into your pop tracks, DC would be a fine choice. It sounds fantastic, is remarkably flexible (thanks to the Creator Engine), and comes loaded with a set of expertly produced kits and related MIDI loops that allow you to get an incredible sound right out of the gate. Given its price point, and that In Session Audio plans to continue adding more kits and loops over time, Drumatic Creator is an absolute steal.
Supported platforms: Native Instruments Kontakt, Kontakt Player (version 5.7.1 or higher)