The music production software company Native Instruments will celebrate their 20th anniversary in October of this year. Isn’t that exciting? Most people have no idea this company even exists, but it is well known among composers for their sampling software Kontakt, which has become the de facto standard for the recording and performance of professional orchestral virtual instruments.
Released in 2002, Kontakt now has hundreds of developers profiting from the Native Instruments sampling platform such as Project Sam, Cinesamples, and Spitfire Audio to name just a few. After spending some time creating my own instruments and becoming familiar with how Kontakt works, I have noticed some specific features that are not shared by other sampling software that truly set Kontakt in a unique and positive light.
To begin with, it’s easy enough to drag a sound file into Kontakt and create a playable sample. From that point forward it only becomes more interesting as the nuances of an acoustic instrument are translated into a sampling software. One of the primary characteristics of any instrument is how aggressively or quietly it is played, and this translates as the velocity of the instrument.
For instance, a piano note played quietly is not the same as piano note played aggressively. It’s not the same as adjusting the volume for loud and soft. To simulate the instrument, several samples are used for one note, and are accessed depending upon how hard a key is pressed, thus the term velocity.
With other sampling software there can be an obvious distinction between two notes, so the playing style becomes obviously different as the keys are pressed. But Kontakt includes a feature that allows the samples to morph between notes so the differences become indistinguishable and a smooth sounding effect is achieved.
In addition, a feature called Time Machine Pro is included that allows notes to be transposed without sounding like sped-up chipmunk music or scratchy slowed down audio. Although the effect is nearly transparent, it makes a difference when compared to other sampling products, especially when morphing between notes as mentioned above.
Finally, there is a scripting layer that allows the sound developer do just about anything, depending upon their knowledge of code and programming language. This is where the true professional nature of the software really shines, because the commercial makers of virtual instruments are able to include various playing styles and modifications that are unique to each instrument. Although a keyboard is usually used to play an instrument, it is not the same as the blowing of a reed or the bowing of a cello.
Overall, Kontakt is highly recommended as a primary sample engine for the users of orchestral virtual instruments. Although it is a free stand-alone application for playing commercial instruments, it is also available as a fully functional development environment for devising your own creations. It is included with the Native Instruments product Komplete along with 45 other products, making it a great bargain.