Has John Krogh uncovered the best epic/cinematic BIG DRUMS library?
It’s not hyperbole to say that with LA Modern Percussion, Audio Ollie has created what is arguably the best epic/cinematic drum library for achieving “The Hollywood Sound,” bar none. Teaming up with legendary A-list scoring mixer Alan Meyerson (Gladiator, Transformers, Man of Steel, Captain America: Civil War), Audio Ollie (AO) set out to produce a sample library that puts Alan’s iconic, hard-hitting sound at your fingertips while giving composers a powerful Kontakt-based instrument with a dizzying array of sound sculpting tools to craft larger-than-life drums and percussion.
Four of LA’s top percussionists were recorded and mixed at Warner Bros. Eastwood scoring stage using the same microphones, preamps, and other outboard gear that Alan has used on countless blockbuster soundtracks. This resulted in no less than nine microphone perspectives, which can be enabled and mixed from the Mics page shown here.
Beyond this, Alan mixed the various mic perspectives using a process based on his signature workflow to create five 2-channel mix perspectives – Close Mics, Mid-room Mics, Room Mics, Ambient Mics, and Stereo Mix– which are available from the Mix page (see below). AO’s intent was to provide premixed signals that reflect Alan’s aesthetic, and to my ears they’ve delivered in spades. The overall sound has clarity and punch as well as body and heft, with a tasteful amount of room sound, which you can adjust with the various perspectives.
You can choose between the Stereo Mix or a combination of the other four mix perspectives, and by adjusting the volume, pan, EQ, compression, transient shaping, and saturation for each perspective, you have a lot of flexibility for tweaking the composite sound. Once you have a custom mix you like, you can save it as a preset for later recall, or you could start with any of the included Close, Mid, and Room mix presets and dial in to taste.
Dramatic Drums & More. As for the source instruments, the bulk of LA Modern Percussion (LAMP hereafter) consists of what have become the “usual suspects” of dramatic drums: taikos, daikos, bass (kick) drums, orchestral bass drums (gran casa), djuns, surdos, dumbeks, toms, and more. For good measure, a shaker ensemble and piatti cymbals ensemble are also included, along with many of the larger drums performed with conventional sticks or mallets as well as with puilli (i.e. bamboo) sticks, which produce a lighter and higher frequency timbre. I was a bit surprised frame drums weren’t included, but this is hardly a deal-breaker, just something worth noting, as this is also a drum of choice for driving percussion.
Most of the drums are presented in both ensemble and solo format. Some of the solo patches are created from “true” solo performances, with other patches created by ensemble samples that were recorded with an identical close mic array in front of the individual players, which allows you to isolate the “soloists” within the mix. In practice, the ensemble/solo presentation is quite useful. For example, it’s easy to create ensemble rhythms and then drop the groove to a single solo instrument for dramatic effect, with the results sounding completely convincing.
Programming Delight. Patches are divided into four main categories based on the type of sampled performance (e.g. fills, single hits, etc.) and/or programming method. For example, the Dynamic Hits patches feature an average of 25 dynamic layers mapped across the keyboard from low to high. One benefit of this approach is that you can create perfectly consistent sequences, because each note is mapped to a single velocity without multiple round-robin samples, which naturally vary from one sample to the next. These patches also have multiple velocities and round robins mapped higher on the keyboard, allowing you to mix and match between “velocity-controlled” samples and dynamic hits.
Alternatively, the Traditional Hits and Rolls patches use the more conventional approach of mapping velocity-switched round robin samples to individual keys (C3 and D3) for single hits, and rolls mapped to C4 with mod wheel set to control intensity. You’ll also find fills and improv patches that feature the ensembles performing a wide range of rhythms and musical gestures that you can combine to good effect. In addition to the individual drum instruments, LAMP offers 16 Master Patches, which combine various drums within a single patch, such as “All Toms and Bass Drums.”
Kudos to Audio Ollie for taking a multifaceted approach with their programming and giving users a choice in the way they work with the sampled instruments. To learn and hear more, check out our Patch Overview Video below.
A complete list of instruments, patches, and multis can be found HERE.
Groove Update. AO recently released version 1.1, which introduces the new Groove Engine, a pattern sequencer that makes it ridiculously easy to create dynamic percussion parts with minimum fuss.
The sequencer functions slightly differently depending on the type of patch that’s loaded. For example, with Dynamic Hit patches, the sequencer functions as you’d expect, with pattern length, note resolution, and swing producing predictable results (e.g. step amount affecting velocity). However, with Fills patches, the step amount is used to trigger specific fills, so as you increase or decrease the step value, it will trigger individual fills mapped across the keyboard. Very cool.
You can also map continuous controllers to affect velocity, allowing you to “ride” a pattern to create crescendos and decrescendos. What’s more, sequences are triggered by a user-defined key, so by loading multiple instruments, you could map a set of related patterns across the keyboard and improvise percussion parts by triggering different keys. AO puts this concept to excellent use in the Groove Multis that are included in the add-on Percussion in Motion groove pack, which features layered instruments and all manner of bombastic rhythms in even and odd time signatures. More on these in the next section.
Other v1.1 additions include entirely “re-mastered’ noise-reduced samples as well as an expanded set of sound design-oriented multis that showcase AO’s talent for crafting cool and inspiring drum sounds that will undoubtedly be heard in countless scores for the next few years.
Evolve & Expand. One of the more interesting aspects with LAMP, in my opinion, is that AO intends to keep developing the instrument as an ongoing project, not a static product. This is reflected in the aforementioned Percussion in Motion, an expansion pack of 173 multis that highlight the Groove Engine’s creative potential. (Presumably more expansion packs are in the works.)
The multis have fun, descriptive names such as “Mission Rotos 140bpm_4/4” and “Kryptonic 165bpm_7/8,” which give you an idea of what to expect, though you’re not limited by the suggested tempos or time signatures, of course. You’re free to change the sequencer’s step length and resolution to suit your musical needs.
These audio/video examples from Percussion in Motion will give you some idea of its vibe.
For Consideration. AO has realized a winning concept with LAMP, and while it’s an ambitious and impressive package, there are a few caveats for consideration. I may be showing my age here, but I found the lack of a user manual a bit of a miss. AO’s comprehensive walk-through video does a good job running through LAMP’s many features, but I would have preferred a searchable PDF user manual, as the interface isn’t entirely intuitive. Fortunately, the Info panel is a handy alternative that I found helpful in learning how to use LAMP.
My other niggle is that sequencer patterns can’t be quickly copy/pasted from one instrument to another. Patterns can be saved to your hard drive and then loaded into other instruments, which is an effective way to catalog custom grooves. However, in practice, saving to and navigating through a file hierarchy requires more mouse clicks than simply clicking “copy” on a source pattern and pasting this into a destination. This would make building ensemble performances faster, and I suspect it’s a feature that could be easily implemented. Fingers crossed this makes it into a future update.
Conclusion. LA Modern Percussion is undoubtedly one of the best cinematic percussion libraries on the market, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for any composer or producer who wants to inject the unmistakable drum sounds from legendary score mixer Alan Meyerson in their tracks. It has a clarity, punch, and professional polish that nails the type of fully produced sound that characterize many contemporary soundtracks.
The programming is first-rate and shows a level of taste and creativity that’s sure to inspire.
And thanks to the varied and generous complement of built-in sound-shaping tools, it’s possible to craft a wide range of drum sounds to suit your needs.
When I started my review process, LAMP was being sold for $499, which seemed expensive in my opinion, but during the review period AO lowered the price to $299, which I feel is a very fair price and represents great value. Stellar collection that is getting better with age!
Supported platforms: Native Instruments Kontakt (full version) 5.8 or later