Wave Alchemy – Evolution
The Drum Machine has Evolved – Evolution puts beats in your bytes!
It was on December 27th 1982 when as an 18 year old new romantic, I walked into a music store called ‘Vroom’ in Watford in the UK, with a bunch of hard saved money, and then left soon after £150.00 lighter with an at that time state of the art Soundmaster Stix ST305 drum machine cradled lovingly under one arm.
Now I haven’t told you this just to demonstrate how old I am (although embarrassingly that has now been revealed, surely having confessed to being a new romantic is far worse !), but I wanted to demonstrate my longterm affection for drum machines, and as such why that day is etched in my mind.
Like many of us I’ve had my share of hardware beatboxes over the ensuing years and now some 18 years into the millennium my penchant for artificial beats is still with me, but has moved squarely into the realm of software instruments instead, they take up far less room and you never need to dust them!.
Drum sample librries have naturally got progressively better as audio quality has increased and with the advent of our beloved NKS format the market has yielded some interesting and mixed offerings in the beats department.
There have been many notable libraries ranging from Native Instruments own Battery to Heavyocity’s cinematic masterpiece ‘Damage’ and a host of genres inbetween which cater for the likes of Glitch, Trap, Dubstep and most probably some I’ve never heard of…. there’s that age reference again!
When I heard that Wave Alchemy had come up with a revolutionary or should I say evolutionary new drum engine that was NKS compatible, my interest was peaked and I knew I had to investigate further, thus another NKS access review is born.
Wave Alchemy are a small UK based library developer whose output has very much specialised in drum content, they have progressed from offering more conventional drum sample bundles in various formats, and now fully embrace both Kontakt and Komplete Kontrol with their own fully fledged bespoke user interfaces.
Revolution their previous library gave access to 14 classic drum machines and is also NKS ready, Evolution extends the sample content greatly and increases the ppossibilities of the interface still further.
Evolution occupies 4.57Gb on a hard drive and boasts more than 28,000 sample sounds and over 400 presets. Installation was easy with the direct download of 3 RAR files which unpack into a single Evolution folder (no inaccessible downloaders to wrestle with!). After that it was a simple matter of adding the library through Kontakt’s add library, pasting in the serial code into Native Access and then browsing to the Evolution folder and rescanning in Komplete Kontrol Standalone and you’re in business!
Some libraries you can pretty much dive into and learn within an hour or so, Evolution was very much what I term an ‘onion skin product’, on the surface it appears straightforward and could easily be written off as ‘run of the mill’, however with the investment of time I found more and more things about it that were unique, innovative and pretty accessible, in fact the review took longer than I anticipated to write as I seemed to be having way too much fun experimenting!
When I first read the spec and saw there were over 400 kits, then noticed that the kit preset names had been duplicated in each of the four banks, I hastily jumped to the conclusion that this probably meant there were only 100 presets but they were being counted again in the banks to bump up the specs, how wrong I was and I feel ashamed of my presumptiousness. I then physically counted them and found that there were in fact around 468 kits in each bank, and these were duplicated for each bank, so there are actually over 1850 with 4 variations in sound treatments being applied to each of the banks. Oh and I neglected to mention that there is a fifth ‘Instruments’ bank which thoughtfully includes 10 initialised versions of the main kit types.
Beats in the Bytes
Evolution is very much a beatbox style library, the intent is to enable you to create and evolve your own drum sounds. You won’t find ultra realistic acoustic kit emulations such as those in the Abbey Road series, the content is made up of literally hundreds of classic drum machine and percussive synth sounds, as well as found, foley and experimental content. In Wave Alchemy’s own words the sample content has been a labour of love for over 5 years.
Getting Into the Groove
I’ll employ my usual formula of describing both the library browser section followed by the edit section, and then flesh out in more detail how this library works.
Knob 1 and Knob 2 is of course Vendor and Product name,
Knob 3 hosts banks which are Clean, Tape 1, Tape 2, Tape 3 and Instruments. Clean obviusly yields pure unprocessed samples, whilst Tape 1 to 3 sees the same content with 3 varieties of saturation, Instruments has initialised versions of the main bank types these being the underlying .NKI files on which the preset snapshots are based.
Knob 4 has Sub Banks, which are genre based titles as follows:
Abstract & Experimental, Drum & Bass, Electronica, Garage, Hip Hop, House, Pop & Indy, Techno and Trap.
All of the above headings do have suggested bpm figures with them that suit their genre, however they will naturally transpose to tempo’s of your own choosing.
Knob 5 is Types which is simply Drums (well it is a drum library….predominently!)
Knob 6is unassigned
Knob 7 is Modes which are all Sample Based (no arguements there!)
Knob 8 is home to that huge selection of presets, surely you don’t want me to list all those?
Page 1, Mixer & Sample: Knob 1 Volume, Knob 2 Pan, Knob 3 Delay, Knob 4 Reverb, Knob 5 Sample Drum, Knob 6 Transition & Layer, Knob 7 Sample and Knob 8 Select
Page 2, Macros: Knobs 1 through 8 are labelled Macro
And that’s all, just two pages!, but wait if this is all we have why am I extolling the virtues of this library?
The power under the hood of Evolution lays in it’s clever combination of both key switch assignments and knob parameter mapping. We have seen similar key switching in various other products, but I haven’t yet seen all these techniques brought together under one roof as it were.
I could simply have copied and pasted the NKS section from the well written manual (Which in itself is very welcome as few libraries even give mention to NKS mapping within their pages), however for the sake of review uniformity and increased descriptiveness I will step through how the key switching links to the knob mappings.
So the 12 keys from C1 to B1, are designated to 12 drum sounds, however in conjuntion with the 1 to 8 knobs of Page 1 of the edit section, each individual drum sound can be changed and tailored to meet your personal requirements.
For example by tapping D1 you will hear the initial snare sound for the chosen preset, but you can slowly turn Knob 7 (sample) to step through a large variety of snare sounds until you find one you like. Continue tapping D1 and add some reverb, or a little Delay, or adjust Knob 5 (Sample/Drum) to mix between your chosen drum and a second or even third complimentary drum laer.
Continue this methodology for each of the 12 drum voices and before you realise it you have completely changed and tweaked the original preset kit into something quite different, and more importantly something personal to you.
Keys C2, C sharp and D2 can be pressed to select between 3 separate tabs of the library, Drum, Transition and Layer, where again depending on which is chosen the knobs perform a different function. This is where access is gained to the other layers, so you can for example choose a kick from a TR808, then add another transient layer giving you say a sub, then select the layer key and add a white noise tail, then mix between all three until you’re happy.
Holding D2 Sharp while tapping one of the 12 drum voice keys will select a random drum voice from a selection assigned to that key, and pressing E2 will lock a drum voice to a key when pressed in combination.
Evolution includes it’s own step sequencer with pre-created patterns for each preset. These presets occupy keys F2 to E3 on the keyboard, F3 will stop the pattern playing whilst F sharp 3 will restart the pattern at the beginning of the bar.
Hit G3 and the sequencer is in record mode enabling you to add your own rhythms to the proceedings. G sharp 3 when pressed will reverse the currently playing pattern for as long as you hold down the key.
A3 copies the playing pattern into memory, then plays it again when patterns are switched. A sharp 3 when held stutters the first beat of the bar ideal for fills.
Pressing and holding B3 and then selecting one of your 12 drum sounds will chromatically spread that drum between C4 and C6, this is a great feature as it means you can create cool little melodies depending on the sound you use, or more conventionally can simply just add a bit of tonality to an otherwise dull fill!
I’ve never given much credance to inbuilt library sequencers simply preferring to perform this task within my own DAW, however Wave Alchemy’s implementation via key switching gave the feature a new dimension as a rhythmic sketchpad while composing. You can also record your doodlings into your DAW and go back and do some further tweakings and gradually build up your drum track that way.
Thoughts & Conclusions
I have to be clear that there are certain limitations for the blind user with this library, but to be fair there isn’t a single library that doesn’t, the important thing is that there are workarounds. We cannot for example simply click and select any of the huge collection of drum samples, however if we choose a preset that generaly matches the style of music we are working with, the sample selection knob offers a large range of drum sounds for that given genre.
The mapping of macros to page 2 of the edit section yields little or I should say no joy, as the edit section of Komplete Kontrol does not speak other than the title of the mapped knob parameter, fine if selecting a sound as our ears tell us all we need to know, but of no use when used in association with the onscreen GUI which is the case here.
The sequencer presets have a ‘sync to DAW’ button, where currently the default is off, I have raised this with the developer as it is just a question of saving out a new .NKI with the sync button enabled.
There are a host of other parameters that could be mapped to a few more pages to extend the creative possibilities such as EQ, Filter, ADSR, Delay/Reverb selection and feedback time. Again I have raised this with Wave Alchemy in the hope that an update may follow (Particularly as Revolution the brother/sister to this product appears to have considerably more pages mapped).
The attraction of this library for me is the ability to be able to create and save your own kits, taking one of Evolutionss presets and then swapping out the snare and hi-hats, perhaps choosing a glitchy modular sound and using it to create a rhythmic melody, then adding a touch of reverb or delay to certain sounds is tremendously creative and satisfying. Saving the whole kit as an .NKSN preset of your own for later recall is a real boon.
The clever combination of key switching and parameter mapping is in my opinion quite innovative and it’s clear that Wave Alchemy have given a lot of thought to the design of this concept. It actually makes me wonder if key switching could be employed to simulate physical mouse clicks within user interfaces as this methodology seems to have been used with good results here.
Included within the ‘extras’ folder of Evolution are some thoughtfully prepared DAW templates for Kontakt,Maschine, Ableton and Logic to allow for multi drum outputs which some users will I’m sure find useful, although I confess I cannot testify as to their accessibility.
If you are looking for a drum machine library that offers different sounds to the traditional analog classics, then Evolution could be for you, if however you really want to get a hold of more straighforward classic beatboxes then Wave Alchemy’s ‘Revolution’ library may be more of what you are searching for.
In either case a nice touch with Wave Alchemy is that they offer downloadable demo versions with the NKS implemented so you can try the interface and determine whether it’s for you, something I wish more developers would allow before you splash your cash. To this end Wave Alchemy even offer a 14 day refund policy if you are not happy, what else can I say to finish other than beat that!
Evolution is available as a download from Wave Alchemy at the link below, the usual cost will be £149.95 but is available at a launch price of £119.96 until January 19th 2018
A product demo can be downloaded from https://www.wavealchemy.co.uk/evolution/pid182/
Link to Product Page
Sequencer & Effects
(c) Chris Ankin 2018
The author accepts no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based soly on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web or product manual.
About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.