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Vir2 Apollo 2: the Synth and Software Review



Marty Cutler is so taken by this processed guitar library that he forgets and strums his keyboard

The love affair between guitars and synthesis has been long and fascinating. So many solo synth sounds are modeled after distorted electric guitars, so many guitar pedal boards and racks are like modular synth systems.

As guitar processing grew more sophisticated – and thanks to the efforts of players such as David Torn, Bill Frissell, Chihei Hatakeyama, and Peter Maunu – the guitar’s sonic palette has expanded greatly. The instrument become far more versatile than when it was just playing “lead” or “rhythm” parts.

Vir2 has been at the forefront of guitar-sourced sample libraries. Their Fracture library plumbs virtually every resonating surface of the acoustic guitar. Then Apollo had a huge range of processed sounds derived from guitars.

And now Apollo II continues their exploration of guitars as ambient and cinematic instruments.

Apollo II is a Native Instruments Kontakt library that’s divided into three main groups. Ambient Designer is a construction kit arrangement that maps loops and one-shot performances to a range of MIDI notes. These conform to a single musical key, and the uppermost range of MIDI notes transposes the performances within a range of two octaves.

Color-coded groupings across the Kontakt virtual keyboard guide the selection of performances, which comprise a related batch of arpeggios, drones, strums, phrases, and motifs, all steeped in vibe and atmosphere

Some of these start with a single sustained note, developing into another phrase over time, so it’s best to let them play out when auditioning them. There’s a wealth of variations on a theme laid out in a single patch. But if you aren’t satisfied you can audition any sample from the interface’s drop-down menu, so the patches are a gateway to a rabbit hole of themes. 

It’s not clear whether there is a functional difference between the Instruments NKI or the AD Companion Instruments folder. This is a trivial issue, but the way the programs are organized seems a little confusing.

The AD folder has fully playable instruments derived from the sounds used in Ambient Designer (hence “AD”), and the NKIs are… fully playable instruments. Then there are rhythmic, tempo-synced pads in the pad section, despite the presence of a folder specifically created for rhythmically active sounds – including pads.

Anyway, it’s often hard to believe that the pads are derived from guitar, but a closer listen often reveals something typical of real, vibrating strings – a trace of noise in the bowed guitar samples, or a random bit of momentary string buzz. It all serves to bring these instruments to life. The same sort of chaotic behavior shows up in the more guitar-like patches, especially the distorted and saturated tones, yet these artifacts rarely if ever betray their being looped.

In general, patches offer up to five sample channels (“Engines”), each with a signal path that includes LFOs, filters, envelopes, sequencers, and other controls. Effects are similarly individuated, with the addition of a Master section.

Interestingly, the filter envelopes are AHDSR, but you can select Pad, Natural, or Swell preset shapes as starting points.

Programming your own patches is relatively easy, and an expansive but uncluttered GUI encourages experimentation. In that regard, a few programming amenities such as copying and pasting parameters between Engines and patches would save lots of time. A folder of sequencer templates would also be handy.

However, the minor criticisms here don’t affect my overall estimation of Apollo II. The sounds are rich, animated, and eminently useful for a sizable range of music applications. Building your own sounds is easy and an enjoyable exploration of the library’s vast and mutable resources. 

Film and game composers should own both volumes of Apollo, as should anyone in search of unusual, guitar-derived sounds. Highly recommended.

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