Straylight by Native Instruments
KK-Access Review by Chris Ankin
The latest release from Native Instruments takes the complex algorithms demanded by granular synthesis and juxtors them alongside the more conventional sampling techniques most of us are familiar with, to deliver a unique instrument capable of some truly stunning sounds which would be ideal for the big screen.
The concepts behind granular synthesis are nothing new, in fact it was first employed of sorts way back in 1958 in works like Achorripsis by composer Iannis Xenakis, of course at that time the sound was not created using processed digital audio data, but by the painstaking and methodical cutting and splicing of magnetic tape. The principles remain the same to take sound in it’s initial state, disassemble it, then reassemble it into something new which may or may not retain tones and timbres of the original.
These days the technique can take several forms from editing a vocal performance by digitally manipulating it’s pitch and timing in a very controlled way such as in programs like Melodyne or Auto- Tune, to using deconstructed samples in musical instrument plugins like Reaktor, Absynth and Omnisphere. Whilst those latter instruments certainly employ granular synthesis in their operation in full or in part , they don’t always wave a flag about it, whereas Straylight takes the idea and very much pushes it to the forefront as it’s unique selling point. It’s also a testimony to modern computing that we can now harness the significant amount of processing power that granular synthesis demands, to actively take a digital sample, smash it to smithereens, then reassemble it into something quite different, and then play it back in realtime with no discernable latency is quite amazing!
Straylight Production Team…
Collaborating on the creation of this library were FRANK ELTING who for the Native Instruments historians among you may recall as being synonymous with the development of Kontakt and Massive, and alongside him Paul Haslinger, an award winning TV and film commposer with a huge list of credits to his name, and being somewhat of a horror buff myself Underworld and Fear the Walking Dead are among his list of scores!
Straylight will occupy 2.47Gb of space on your hard drive (3.86Gb uncompressed), and uses either the free Kontakt 6 player or the full version of Kontakt 6.1, naturally being a Native Instruments licensed product, it is NKS ready and works within the Komplete Kontrol environment. download and installation is done entirely through Native Access.
I already mentioned what a CPU hog granular synthesis can be, and Native Instruments do recommend an Intel i7 processor or higher, I did witness my CPU at around 16% when playing a single instance of Straylight, which is certainly higher than in some cases several instances of other KK instruments,admittedly I did hold down and max out the polyphony as part of my test, but it’s still something to be aware of if you are below that spec recommendation.
Straylight provides just a single Kontakt master NKI file, with a further 350 preset snapshots which if unfiltered will all appear on the far right of your Komplete Kontrol keyboard browser.
Buried within that master NKI file, are 319 grain source sets, and 50 sample sets (more of which later).
Browser & Parameter Mapping Walkthrough…
Straylight boasts quite a number of presets, and these have been sensibly categorised into various genres and types to help get you to the sounds you need, here is what you will find within the Komplete Kontrol browser.
Knob 1 & 2 – Vendor & Product
Knob 3 – Bank, Atmospheres, FX, Keys, Lead, Pads, Pulses, Sub, Transition, Utility
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Types, Ambience, Sound Fx, synth Lead, Synth Pad, Bass, Sweep & Swell, Utilities
Knob 6 – Sub Type, Synth
Knob 7 – Character, Acoustic, Airy, Bass, Bright, Chord, Clean, Deep, Digital, Dirty, Distorted, Evolving, Glide/Pitch Mod, Keys, Metallic, Pads, Percussive, Piano, Plucks, Processed, Sample Based, Sequenced/Looped, Stabs & Hits, Strings, Sub, Synth, Synthetic, Vocal, Wah,
Knob 8 – Presets x 350
Plug-in Edit Mode, Parameter Mapping…
Straylight has thirteen pages of NKS parameters mapped to the Komplete Kontrol hardware, I will step swiftly through them, and be back to discuss the pro’s & cons,
Page One – X & Y Pad, Layers & Macros
Knob 1 – X Control
Knob 2 – Y Control
Knob 3 – Layer 1 Granular
Knob 4 – Layer 2 Sample
Knob 5 – Macro 1
Knob 6 – Macro 2
Knob 7 – Macro 3
Knob 8 – Macro 4
Page Two – Grain Layer Mix & Sample Layer Mix
Knob 1 – Grain Volume
Knob 2 – Grain Delay Send
Knob 3 – Grain Reverb Send
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Sample Layer Volume
Knob 6 – Sample Delay Send
Knob 7 – Sample Reverb Send
Knob 8 – Unallocated
Page Three – Delay Send FX & Reverb Send FX
Knob 1 – Delay Replica
Knob 2 – Time
Knob 3 – Feedback
Knob 4 – Amount
Knob 5 – Reverb IRC
Knob 6 – Level
Knob 7 & 8 – Unallocated
Page Four – Grain Cursor & grain Range
Knob 1 – Grain Cursor Position
Knob 2 – Scan
Knob 3 – Jitter
Knob 4 – Mono
Knob 5 – Grain Range Minimum
Knob 6 – Maximum
Knob 7 – Link
Knob 8 – Bounce
Page Five – Grain Tuning, AMP & Env
Knob 1 – Grain Pitch
Knob 2 – Detune
Knob 3 – Grain Volume
Knob 4 – Pan Jitter
Knob 5 – Attack
Knob 6 – Decay
Knob 7 – Sustain
Knob 8 – Release
Page Six – Sample Layer & Sample Env
Knob 1 – Sample Layer Transpose
Knob 2 – Pitch
Knob 3 – Offset
Knob 4 – Volume
Knob 5 – Attack
Knob 6 – Decay
Knob 7 – sustain
Knob 8 – Release
Page Seven – Sample Filter & Sample Filter Env
Knob 1 – Sample Filter Active
Knob 2 – Cut-off
Knob 3 – Resonance
Knob 4 – Envelope Amount
Knob 5 – Filter Envelope Attack
Knob 6 – Decay
Knob 7 – Sustain
Knob 8 – Release
Page Eight – Grain Fx 1 & Grain FX 2
Knob 1 to 4 Grain FX 1 Varies per preset
Knob 5 To 8 – Grain FX 2 Varies per preset
Page Nine – Grain Fx 3 & Grain FX 4
Knob 1 to 4 – Varies per preset
Knob 5 to 8 – Varies per preset
Page Ten – Sample FX 1 & Sample FX 2
Knob 1 to 4 – Sample FX 1 Varies per preset
Knob 5 to 8 – Sample FX 2 Varies per preset
Page Eleven – Sample FX 3 & Sample FX 2
Knob 1 to 4 – Sample FX 3 Varies per preset
Knob 5 to 8 – Sample FX 4 Varies per preset
Page 12 – Master FX 1 & Master FX 2
Knob 1 to 4 – Master FX 1 Varies per preset
Knob 5 to 8 – Master FX 2 Varies per preset
Page Thirteen – Master FX 3 & Master FX 4
Knob 1 to 4 – Master FX 3 Varies per preset
Knob 5 to 8 – master FX 4 Varies per preset
Cons & Pros…
I thought it would be prudent to clear away the accessibility limitations that are present within Straylight before moving on to it’s many good points.
Firstly despite having thirteen pages of NKS mapping, this is somewhat of a moving feast when it comes to the assigned parameters. This is because for the sighted user the GUI allows for macros and FX to be easily assigned via it’s various pages, so for the sound designer it is entirely possible to create a preset from scratch using either the provided ‘initial preset’ or by modifying an existing patch.
However for blind users we are sadly unable to access either the grain or sample selection browsers which would have made it possible to create our own sounds entirely from scratch. These menus are a part of the visual mouse driven GUI. Similarly we cannot assign the many available modulation options to the macro knobs, or FX to the granular and sample FX pages.
In essence this means we have 350 presets all with pre-assigned grains and samples,macros and FX, that we are unable to switch and swap to our own taste, and this being the case it also means that if you want to change what is already mapped to for example the X or Y control you would not be able to, making your own completely bespoke sound design creations tantalisingly out of reach.
If I were the pessimistic type, I might deem this as wholly unacceptable and throw my toys out of the pram (or if you don’t have a pram to hand, then the studio window will suffice!), however I have now written enough accessibility reviews to realise that this is not necessarily a completely closed door, depending on the circumstances.
Straylight’s saving grace for us, reside in the generous number of included presets, and the overall sensible parameter mappings that the designers have opted to allocate to the available macros and FX controls, so there is still a good deal of leeway for patch personalisation.
Straylight In Use…
The presets for the most part adhere to their nominated categories, and there are a good many that can be described as genre fluid.
Despite the aforementioned editing shortfalls, there is still a good deal of headroom with the ability to tweak and change the existing presets. indeed it does not take too much effort to come up with something discernibly distant from the preset you first began editing a few minutes previously, so it’s quite likely you will find yourself saving your own newly created patches and adding to the existing collection along the way.
Once saved, these of course will be available for you to recall again, and will appear on the user side of the browser the next time you run a Komplete Kontrol scan.
Native Instruments describe Straylight as a ‘realtime cinematic texture instrument’, and this is a very appropriate description, as it is quite capable of delivering what it says on the tin.
Straylight unequivocaly excels when it comes to Aleatoric, dystopian and post apocalyptic soundscapes, all of which it can create with ease, I can certainly hear Paul Haslingers influences here. Some of the presets command enough sonic gravitas to hold a cinematic scene in their own right, but equally they can easily be tweaked enough to allow something more melodic to come forth in a mix.
Full and effectiveuse is made of pitch bend, modwheel and on the MK2 Komplete Kontrol keyboard even the often under used horizontal touch strip is brought into play to provide interesting tonal, movement and modulation effects, which adds a good deal of versatility to what initially on the surface may have appeared to be a more mediocre patch.
When it comes to editing presets to your own taste, the most important parameters to accomplish this consistently are found between pages 4 and 7. These four pages are associated with the granular and sample layers, which have two pages each.
The granular pages allow you to position the play cursor anywhere within the grain waveform, and then select what are effectively start and end loop markers, which can be locked together in a range if desired. When you play or hold down a key the grain is played, but can be further affected by additional elements, such as bounce, jitter, scan speed (including host sync), pitch, detune, pan and ADSR.
The two sample layer pages also host similar controls including cut-off and resonance, sample offset and ADSR for both the amplitude and filter envelopes.
Naturally you are able to mix the volume levels between the granular and sample layers, and some very satisfying results can be achieved by using either of these layers as a lead, with it’s counterpart gently ghosting the leadline, perhaps with some subtle detune, delay and reverb.
If there is one thing I would like to see added to Straylight in terms of accessibility, it would have to be the ability to select, mix and match our own choice of grains and sample combinations.
for whatever reason, possibly gUI design that does not allow for the selection browser to be mapped to a rotary control, this feature is not currently possible.
On the upside however, there is a tremendous selection of developer presets that are great starting points for many hours of tweaking. With 350 to choose from, there is certain to be something to match the mood.
Aside from this, and perhaps most importantly, is that it’s actually fun to work with. playing wide chords through a decent set of monitors, Straylight sounds amazing and evokes a sense of imagery and the cinematic.
Straylight is undoubtedly best suited to film, game, media and ambient composition, and to this end, the sounds it can produce are veritably oozing with atmosphere, and hopefully inspiration.
Straylight is available now from Native Instruments website, for the price of £129.00 (check for your world region price).
Straylight Product Page
Straylight Product Walkthrough
Interview with composer Paul Haslinger
Straylight Product Manual
(c) Chris Ankin
May 25th, 2019
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.