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UVI World Suite 2 or Around The World in 40GB?

Marty Cutler

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Synth and Software contributor Marty Cutler reviews UVI World Suite 2 (UVI Workstation, Falcon).

Creative musicians have explored and borrowed from music and instruments outside of their own cultures for ages. With the advent of sampling, the prospects for adding exotic (to us) musical flavors has expanded beyond measure. One byproduct of unrestricted access to sounds outside of our experience is the misapplication of these sounds, sometimes due to misunderstanding as much as artistic repurposing; either approach can yield interesting results.

Nevertheless, the more you know about the instruments and techniques, the more effective the music. Whatever your approach, UVI’s World Suite 2 ($299) offers inspiration in a number of uniquely fluid and dynamic ways. 

As a library for UVI Falcon and the free UVI Workstation, World Suite 2 (WS2) is compatible with Audio Unit, AAX, and VST hosts, and can operate as a standalone instrument. Both hosts offer access to the collection’s full array of expressive features, however Falcon has a seemingly bottomless well of synthesis resources for creative sound design and performance applications.

WS2 provides easy, real-time access to a variety of ways to perform authentic articulations, and a uniquely fluid and dynamic approach to construction kit assembly, to the tune of over 65,000 samples, 369 instruments, more than 10,000 loops and phrases. The library claims to be the “largest and most complete collection of traditional instruments ever in software form.” Large though it may be, for almost any globe-spanning collection of instruments, completion may be a tall order. Nevertheless, WS2 is a generous and mostly well-conceived gathering of articulate and beautifully recorded instruments. 

WS2 groups its patches in several ways

WS2 groups instruments handily in several ways: by Region (Africa, Asia, etc.); by Type (Fretted, Keyboard-type instruments, and others); Loops and Phrases; Travelers (a collection of construction kits grouped by region); and Vocals – which presents more phrases sub-grouped into Ambience Vocals and another sub-folder arranged by region, along with a pair of their own Travelers.

Although Travelers are functionally comparable to the loops, their construction kit nature allows mixing and matching of its component loops, providing a more dynamic performance. Travelers are triggered by MIDI notes, adapt to tempo, and are laid out in multiple keys. Loops are simply audio files you can drag into audio tracks on your DAW, and these are earmarked to specific tempos (although many DAWs can adapt loops to the project’s tempo).

Keyswitched instrument patches

Our plucky friends: Instrument patches contain keyswitched variations, with clearly highlighted MIDI notes at the lower end of the keyboard or loaded via a pull-down menu on the UI. Sampling quality is mostly excellent. One of the guitars has a bit of body noise transposing with the guitar notes, and African Guitar 2 contains a slight glitch in notes B2 to C3, in which more forceful keystrokes engage a poorly set loop causing an audibly unnatural vibrato, in an otherwise sweet-toned nylon-string guitar. Given the relative profusion of acoustic guitars, I miss the inclusion of electric guitars – notably Vietnamese and African instruments, whose playing styles and often construction impose notably different processing and timbres. Some of the loops and Travelers use electric guitar, so they’re conspicuous in their absence among the playable instruments. I found the WS2 banjo to be tinny and cheap-sounding, but as a professional banjoist, I’ve rarely heard a well-maintained, state-of-the art instrument in any collection.

By far, however, the majority of patches – at least the ones I am familiar with – sound authentic and play beautifully. One of my favorite keyboard instruments is Naeshult Piano, a Swedish keyboard played like a music box that oddly enough sounds like a piano, albeit one with a subtly chorused sound, and a slightly hollower tone, at times sounding a bit like an acoustic Wurlitzer. 

In the percussion realm, the Udu shines, with a lively low end and plenty of playing variations under hand, including flams, rolls, and flurries mapped to some of the sharp keys, placed adjacent to the single-hit version. The Handpan and Opsilon are sonically interesting hybrids of steel-pan and tongue drum instruments.

WS2’s Garrahand is a warmer, wood-toned variant of the handpan, whose body resonance adds an earthy, slightly out-of-tune dissonance. Don’t overlook the keyswitch variations, as in some cases these are related, but different instrument types. All of the WS2 patches place plenty of tweaking controls within easy reach. Velocity curves, high- and low-pass filters, panning, EQ, reverb, and the like are displayed prominently.

The Travelers (not an insurance company)

The Travelers are a piece of work. Six columns comprise elements of a Traveler groove, each with a number of variations. For instance, the Cuban Traveler consists of Drums and Perc, Percussion 1 and Percussion 2; Shaker; Bass; and Piano columns. Forward and backward arrows select a variation, so for Piano, the arrows move through assorted Tumbao figures and tonalities. Percussion 2 offers Guaguanco Claves, Salsa Claves, and a few rhythmic variations of cowbell.

Looking for loops imbued with nuance?

The grooves are very human, and the feels are imbued with nuance. You can, of course, automate your variations or use MIDI learn to keep the groove from sounding static. The Randomize button offers a tremendous creative kick in the pants, shuffling the individual elements for unexpected and often compelling grooves.

My world and welcome to it: My biggest concern about UVI World Suite 2 is in the documentation, which offers excellent detail about the way samples are played, but zero information about the real lives of the actual instruments: are they tapped, played with a quill, or plucked? How are they tuned and what modes are they typically played in? The MIDI keyboard is the great leveler in that regard, laying all of the notes out chromatically, unlike the guitars, bouzoukis, kotos, or erhus.

The vocal phrases and travelers deserve some translation as well; do we really know what the singers are chanting? To be fair, these issues are not endemic to WS2. I’ve seen no collection that outlines those details. It would be unreasonable to expect any sound library to provide a doctorate thesis in ethnomusicology, but a bit of musical background in addition to how the buttons and switches work would go a long way. Sampling bestows the ability to play an instrument any way you please, but a bit of actual musical background is so useful to a genuine performance.

Apart from my personal soapbox regarding sampling indigenous instruments, UVI World Suite is a treasure trove of sounds from around the world. Instruments are recorded with intimate detail, and Traveler grooves are lively and compelling. Whether you want to create authentic tracks or imbue your own creations with intriguing timbres, World Suite 2 is one of the best sources to explore.

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