Piano Colors By Galaxy Instruments/Native Instruments

Piano Colors By Galaxy Instruments/Native Instruments

KK Access Review

We have certainly seen some fantastic products from Galaxy Instruments over the past few years, from Una Corda  to Rise & Hit, to Thrill & Mysteria, but many will agree that one of their finest releases has been their piano library Noire.

Noire was based around the signature piano sound of the renowned pianist and composer Nils Frahm, and in terms of sound design took the conventional stock sound of the grand piano into unexplored territory.

Piano Colors is very much intended to pick up from where Noire left off, with further sound design possibilities, and it’s no exaggeration to say that just like Noire this is no ordinary piano library, leaning significantly more as it does toward the aventguarde.

The library production of Piano Colors involved the use of EBows, mallets, drumsticks, rubber and screws, and despite this reading like a list for a DIY store shopping excursion, these unconventional items were used in conjunction with traditional techniques to coax all manner of both worldly and unworldly timbres from the instrument.

Tech Specs…

Piano Colors runs in either Kontakt 6.5.3 or higher, and the free Kontakt player equivalent, and is Komplete Kontrol compatible.

The uncompressed samples equate to 56 GB , and after compression in NCW format squash down to 28 GB.

There is a single master Piano Colors NKI file, which in turn feeds the further 240 NKSN snapshot presets.

Download & Installation…

The download and installation comes courtesy of Native Access, meaning that it is a matter of just pasting in your serial number to authorise, and then download to your defined location, running Komplete Kontrol will scan in your new library, and you are ready to go.

Komplete Kontrol Browser & Plugin Edit NKS Controls…

Browser

Knob 1 & 2 – Vendor & Product
Knob 3 – Bank: Combined, Pad, Pattern, Piano
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Type: Piano/Keys
Knob 6 – Unallocated
Knob 7 – Character: Sample Based
Knob 8 – Presets x 240

Plugin Edit – NKS Parameter Assignments

Page One – Noise, Layer 1, Layer 2 & Particles

Knob 1 – Noise on/off
Knob 2 – Volume
Knob 3 – Layer 1 on/off
Knob 4 – Volume
Knob 5 – Layer 2 on/off
Knob 6 – Volume
Knob 7 – Particles on/off
Knob 8 – Volume

Page Two – Arp Routing & Arp Settings

Knob 1 – Arp Routing on/off
Knob 2 – Arp Noise on/off
Knob 3 – Arp Layer 1 on/off
Knob 4 – Arp Layer 2 on/off
Knob 5 – Arp Settings Time 1/1 to 1/32
Knob 6 – Length
Knob 7 – Octave Range
Knob 8 – Velocity

Page Three- Pedal Noise, Mechanical, Attack Noise & Room Noise

Knob 1 – Pedal Noise on/off
Knob 2 – Volume
Knob 3 – Mechanical on/off
Knob 4 – Volume
Knob 5 – Attack Noise on/off
Knob 6 – Volume
Knob 7 – Room Noise on/off
Knob 8 – Volume

Page Four – Layer 1 Tone & Layer 2 Tone

Knob 1 – Layer 1 Tone Color
Knob 2 – Tonal Shift
Knob 3 – Dynamic
Knob 4 – Low Key
Knob 5 – Layer 2 Tone Color
Knob 6 – Tonal Shift
Knob 7 – Dynamic
Knob 8 – Low Key

Page Five – Layer 1 Envelope & Layer 2 Envelope

Knob 1 – Layer 1 Attack
Knob 2 – Layer 1 Decay
Knob 3 – Layer 1 Sustain
Knob 4 – Layer 1 Release
Knob 5 – Layer 2 Attack
Knob 7 – Layer 2 Decay
Knob 7 – Sustain
Knob 8 – Release

Page Six – Layer 1 Mod FX

Knob 1 – Layer 1 Mod FX on/off
Knob 2 – Amount
Knob 3 – on/off
Knob 4 – Amount
Knob 5 – on/off
Knob 6 – Amount
Knob 7 – on/off
Knob 8 – Amount

Page Seven – Layer 2 Mod Fx

Knob 1 – on/off
Knob 2 – Amount
Knob 3 – on/off
Knob 4 – Amount
Knob 5 – on/off
Knob 6 – Amount
Knob 7 – on/off
Knob 8 – Amount

Page Eight – Layer 1 & Layer 2 EQ, Dynamics, Compression & Saturation

Knob 1 – Layer 1 EQ on/off
Knob 2 – Dynamics on/off
Knob 3 – Compression on/off
Knob 4 – Saturation on/off
Knob 5 – Layer 2 EQ on/off
Knob 6 – Dynamics on/off
Knob 7 – Compression on/off
Knob 8 – Saturation on/off

Page Nine – Layer 1 & Layer 2 Space & Motion

Knob 1 – Layer 1 Space on/off
Knob 2 – Send Level
Knob 3 – Layer 1 Motion on/off
Knob 4 – Speed
Knob 5 – Layer 2 Space on/off
Knob 6 – Send Level
Knob 7 – Layer 2 Motion on/off
Knob 8 – Speed

Page Ten – Particles

Knob 1 – Particles Density
Knob 2 – Variation
Knob 3 – Decay
Knob 4 – Double on/off
Knob 5 – Source Mix
Knob 6 – Timbre: Soft, soft to medium, soft to hard, medium to hard, hard
Knob 7 – dynamic
Knob 8 – Unallocated

Page Eleven – Global EQ

Knob 1 – Global EQ on/off
Knob 2 – Unallocated
Knob 3 – Link on/off
Knob 4 to 6 – Unallocated
Knob 7 – HMF Gain
Knob 8 – HF Gain

Page Twelve – Global Dynamics

Knob 1 – Global Dynamics on/off
Knob 2 – Input Level
Knob 3 – Saturation Level
Knob 4 – Compression Level
Knob 5 – Character Amount
Knob 6 – Attack
Knob 7 – Release
Knob 8 – Mix Level

Page Thirteen – Macro Velocity & Macro LFO

Knob 1 – Macro Velocity on/off
Knob 2 – Smoothing Level
Knob 3 – Pullback Amount
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Macro LFO on/off
Knob 6 – Shape: Sine, Saw up, Saw down, Triangle, Square
Knob 7 – Time
Knob 8 – Strength

Accessibility Considerations…

There are 13 pages of parameters mapped to NKS which is immediately encouraging to find.

Certainly when we look at the healthy quantity of presets provided, combined with these control mappings it does allow us to find and tweak sounds to a reasonably satisfactory degree.

There is though, a bit of a shortfall as things currently stand, which may affect those more demanding sound design oriented users, who will be unable to select via NKS the extended available sample sets and articulations that lay within the Piano Colors GUI.

There are essentially four modules responsible for sound generation, which each have their own sub browsers, these being layer 1 & 2 which provide the core pool of sample sounds. There are then the Noise and Particle modules which offer additional creative sound enhancement opportunities.

The Two other modules, the arpeggiator and modulation effects also have presets associated with them, and these work to allow users to add movement and motion properties to the sound.

Unfortunately at the moment these individual browsers are not assigned to hardware controls. Ideally it could have opened up so much more creativity to us if these source browsers could have been bound to an NKS knob. This is especially true of the central sample pool, which has a number of enticing sounding categories.

I did try using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to scan the plugin window, and successfully managed to arrow down the list to read some of these goodies.

By hitting enter I was even able to load an alternate set of samples into and existing factory preset, however in practice the speed of workflow and predictability of the desired outcome made this a slow method of sound design, which could possibly quash some of the joy of the creative process, and perhaps unwanted pressure if the ticking clock of a paying client is your timekeeper.

Having spoken to Galaxy Instruments just prior to publication, they told me that there is going to be an update for Piano Colors in due course, and I am confident that many of these points can be addressed.

Finding The Equilibrium…

To put a positive spin on these negatives, there are still a substantial number of factory presets provided within Piano Colors, which when it comes to our reliance on NKS and Komplete Kontrol as our accessible means of using such libraries, is our saving grace in justifying the overall value for money.

There are a plethora of impressive sounding examples supplied, demonstrating what the library is capable of, and these have been sub divided into the title headers of, Combined, Pads, Pattern & Piano within the Komplete Kontrol browsers bank section.

Preset Perfection…

Let’s take a brief step through each bank, and pick out a few of the more notable ear candy.

Combined…

As you may surmise, the Combined presets are constructed from various combinations of the four audio modules.

‘Felt Piano Sequence’ is an excellent example of all of the sound source modules working in tandem with the arp section, to provide a beautiful classical sounding revolving piano arpeggio , playable in your choice of key or chord combinations.

Deconstruction of this preset revealed that the Particles module was responsible for the glissando effect, while the traditional arp which was turned on for both main Piano sample layers was handling the primary notes at a step rate of sixteenths.

Interestingly, the Particles rate can be adjusted to vary between two cycle rates, in this instance between sixteenths and eighths, and this gave a nice ebb and flow effect to the chord sequence I was playing around with.

Dark Mallet, makes use of a muted grand piano overlaid upon a highly detuned metallic mallet timbre, which gives a bell like tone with a punchy percussive sub bass.

I tweaked the tone colours for each of the piano layers, and this brightened the sound immensely, admittedly not exactly in depth sound design chops on my part, but it revealed how just a little tweaking can drastically alter the perception and mood of a sound. This ended up being something much darker, being bolder and threatening in the low registers which then evolved into an organ like infinite sustained envelope.

Other notables were Diamond Shower, Meteor Showers, Musical Clock, Quarter Brush, Quarter Tremolo, Random Soundscape & Silver Bright.

The library does make good use of the modwheel to add various degrees of expression from the filters and modulation sections in many of the presets.

Pads…

Breathing Subs may not be a preset that will see everyday use, but it does demonstrate quite how radical the sounds can be altered within Piano Colors. This is as far from resembling a piano as you can get, with it’s extreme tempo synced pulsing sub bass tones, and employing some of the libraries noise based samples to atmospheric effect. This preset sounds more like something you would find within Thrill or Mysteria with it’s ominous horror undertones.

Incubus demonstrates the evolving nature of some of the sustained pads, as does Inharmonic Soundscape.

Meanwhile presets like Synced Reverse Pad make use of a clever feature that enables reversed samples to remain synchronised with your DAW host tempo, being as it is a pulse based patch.

Pattern…

Drops, is one of those mesmerising patches that although quite simplistic in nature, still retains a captivating essence to it’s quality.

Based on a random eighth pulse arp rhythm, there is a 32nd note burst that chimes in cyclically on the 4th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd beat and back round again of each bar.

The sound itself invoked a glassy raindrop like texture, which to my ears appeared quite hypnotic, either that or I’m perhaps just easily pleased, but for sure a candidate for an ambient track!

There were definitely plenty of other pattern and looping sequences here to use on various genres. From ambient chillout to tense action and suspenseful drama scores, there are lots to choose from and tweak.

Piano…

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Piano bank would perhaps contain a more purist selection of presets, however there are some quite radical departures from the stock ivories that you might have expected.

There are actually a host of Zither, Harpsichord, Electric Piano, Mallets, Bowed, SFX and other worldly sonic manifestations lurking here to delight your aural palette!

Galactic Grand as an example, has a more traditional sounding grand, with each played note having a reverse sample playing in unison. The reverse samples are triggered by velocity so the harder you play the more chaotic things get, particularly as the whole caboodle is doused in a blackhole style wash reverb. Played sparingly though,, the reverses can be used more as a musical punctuation point, which works well.

Piano Colors, Lifting The Lid…

If you have already glanced through the parameter mappings, you will probably have a fairly good understanding of how we can interact with the engine.

The first few pages deal with turning the various modules on and off and their related volume levels. There are also controls for the layer Tone and ADSR settings.

Curiously the layer 1 and layer 2 modulation FX pages did not appear to have their control knob functions labelled, although with the Komplete Kontrol 2.60 update we are able to hear the adjusted values, however out of the box we do not know exactly what we are tweaking here!

The space controls which to you and me equate to reverb, are a simple on, off and send level affair, with no current option to choose the actual reverb size or type.

The density and variation of the particles on some presets are stated in millisecond values, whereas in others there were beat step values, however this could perhaps be determined by another buried GUI based setting for which I was unaware.

There is the existence of pan controls for each layer within the GUI, but strangely these controls did not make the final cut to the present NKS mapping template.

Creative Control…

With this product being a progression of the original Noire library, it’s worth highlighting the extra controls that Noire now possesses , and hopefully what we might eventually get to see within Piano Colors.

We should of course bear in mind that when Noire was initially released the amount of NKS pages and overall tweak ability was much less than Piano Colors already has, so I do have some confidence that the same will apply here.

to summarise, within Noire wee have Komplete Kontrol assignments for delay , sub oscillator switch and volume, options for reverb types, velocity type, tuning and access to the aforementioned browsers, which allows us to select our underlying choice of source samples.

As ever I would thoroughly recommend that you experience the walkthrough videos linked at the review footer in order to hear the Piano Colors sounds, and not least to listen to Uli Baronowsky’s dulcet tones, surely an additional career as a voice artist must be beckoning!

Conclusion…

In spite of Piano Colors quite substantial NKS template in light of other developers, I can’t help feeling just a little short changed when making an unavoidable direct comparison to the accessibility that we have within Noire.

This is not at all a criticism of the wonderful sounds found within Piano Colors or the expertly crafted presets.

When wearing my sound design hat within Noire As a user, I feel I am more able to achieve the sound I want faster and more accurately, whereas in Piano Colors at the moment, although I undeniably had some happy accidents, there were some fundamental control elements missing that I really could have made good use of that would have streamlined the process.

With the addition of a further couple of pages of NKS controls, I am sure that these issues could largely be eradicated, which for the blind and visually impaired user would significantly harness more of the obvious potential that Piano Colors can clearly deliver.

Again I am confident that these points will be addressed in an update which will allow Piano Colors to take it’s place as a true companion for Noire.

Putting these access criticisms aside, Piano Colors still boasts bags of atmosphere at the heart of it’s many presets, and it will doubtless find much favour for a respected place in film score, media, game ambient and multiple other genres.

Piano Colors can be purchased directly from Native Instruments at the introductory 25% discount price of £129.00 until July 28th, (usual price £179.00).

Piano Colors – Product Page:
https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/keys/piano-colors/

Piano Colors – Walkthrough:

24 Hours With Piano Colors, Four Artists perspectives:

Piano Colors – User Manual:

Click to access PIANO_COLORS_Manual_English_08_07_2021.pdf

(c) Chris Ankin
KK-Access.com
July 22nd, 2021

Disclaimer

The author cannot accept any 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 solely on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product and/or gathered from official factual sources such as the developer, web or supplied 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.

E&OE

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