In the acoustic piano library scene where every original instrument nuance is more and more emulated, Native Instruments takes the field with a new piano idea. While still sticking to the “strict” emulation path, Alicia’s Keys turns out to be a new work to all intents and purposes, aiming at a specific sector and without pretending to be yet another far too heavy piano library solely meant for a classical use.
Inside the Alicia’s keys package (Pic. 1) there are two DVDs. The first one contains the Kontakt Player 4 installer ( necessary if you don’t have an updated Kontakt or Kontakt Player version already). The second one contains the library installer. In addition, there is also a Kontakt Player manual for a quick install guide. Like any Native Instruments software, this library must be activated via Service Center at the end of the installation. We must remember that Kontakt Player, as well as being an AU, VST and RTAS plug-in, it can be used in standalone mode, hence allowing this library to be used without DAW or virtual instrument hosts.
- Minimum system requirements to use Alicia’s Keys are the following:
- PC: Windows XP (SP2, 32 bit) or Windows Vista (SP1, 32/64 bit), Pentium or Athlon XP 1.4 GHz, 1 GB RAM
- Mac: OSX 10.5, Intel Core Duo 1.66 GHz, 1 GB RAM
- 7 GB free hard disk space and of course a DVD drive.
- The product test has been made both on an pc with an Intel Core I3 540 processor at 3,06 GHZ clock speed, 4 Gb RAM, 32 bit Windows 7 operating system with Cubase 5 host, and on an iMac with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor at 2,66 GHZ clock speed, 4 Gb RAM and OSX 10.6 system, using both LogicPro 9 and the Kontakt Player standalone version as hosts.
This library has been created solely sampling Alicia Keys’ Yamaha C3 Neo, a classical C3 limited edition with a cherry wood case and brushed aluminium trim. A 2002 model perhaps born more for a marketing strategy rather than for a new timbric research, considering that its sound is very similar to the standard C3’s one. The library supervision has been under Ann Mincieli (Alicia’s studio designer and sound engineer) and under Thomas Scarbee (already well-known for his electric bass and piano library, now he is in the Native Instruments’ team). It took about 2 years of work inside Alicia keys’ own studio to create this instrument, making the most of the best digital technologies and of the vintage microphone warmth. A good 12 different dynamic levels for each key with or without resonance pedal ( with the option of half pedal emulation) and, in order to give this instrument a more realistic sound, natural mechanical release noise, fingers on keys noise and pedal touch noise, have all been sampled. Each of these features can be used and controlled through the interface, as we will see further on. We must make a positive remark about the size of this library for this instrument has been created using the Kontact compressed format for samples, which drastically reduces the library’s full size. As previously said, in fact, it only takes 7 Gb disk space, even though this library would “virtually” be 17 Gb heavy.
As soon as you load it within your Kontakt or Kontakt Player software, the Performance View section may result lacking optional controls but it takes a click (Pic. 2) to get to the many editing sections. This is a shareable philosophy considering that professional musicians often look for products that sound good in the first place, where there’s no need to try so hard on settings which could end up diverting attention from the real creative phase. On the other hand, for all those computer geeks who want to create a sound of their own for every situation, Alicia’s Keys allows to control a lot of main aspects of sound production without fully altering its substance.
With this Tab we can choose the reverb path type, using Convolution Reverb within Kontakt. It’s important to choose the right room for any reverb considering that a piano sounds much different depending on which space it is positioned.
Here we can choose the velocity response curve (necessary if your master keyboard doesn’t allow it), the finger attack latency and the key release. In addition, through the Self Masking/Repetition it is possible to choose whether to fade out an old note depending on its velocity preset.
With the Pedal Controllers we can choose the amount of sustain to give to the two pedals (sustain/resonance and sostenuto), whereas through Half Pedaling you can choose whether to emulate this particular effect of the resonance pedal. This is possible only if our master keyboard can send a constant sustain signal and not just a simple on/off one.
Perhaps this tab is the most interesting of all, but also the weakest point of a lot of emulations. The sympathetic resonance is a natural phenomenon that happens when a vibratory body responds to an external source of vibration which has the same frequency as its natural one. For example, when two strings of a violin are tuned in exact unison, by letting the first one vibrate, the second one will vibrate sympathetically just because of the first one’s vibrations.
Try to imagine how many combinations are possible when it comes to any piano strings: it’s not hard to understand that it is nearly an impossible phenomenon to sample but only possible to emulate. By this tab, Alicia’s Keys (Pic.3) just let us control the amount of “imitation” for this effect. The interesting thing is that it allows you, like in a real piano, to make notes pressed with velocity 1 to be completely silent ( that is notes pressed pianissimo and slowly) but still getting sympathetic resonance emulation. In a real piano, in fact, even if a note plays for a short while or doesn’t play at all, when the key is pressed, the damper won’t stop the strings from resonating with the vibrations produced by other potentially played strings.
In this page instead we can control the extra amount of noise we choose to add to the sound like the pedals and the keys mechanical noise as well as the microphone background noise. All these parameter values can be saved in individual presets within the Performer View itself. By default there are already 14 factory presets divided by reverb and setting type within Hall, Auditorium or Studio.
This library has been tested both by me and by my friend Carlo Castellano using a heavy masterkeyboard, CME VX8 and Studiologic Numa Nano, as well using semi-weighted models, taking advantage of the possibility of changing the velocity response curve (both from Kontakt and from the masterkeyboard one). The sound, in both listening and playing side, comes out very soft and warm on the low-mid registry, as well as smooth and almost crystal-clear on the high registry. Definitely her perfect area would be the typical pop track, nevertheless Alicia’s Keys appears to be versatile and possible to use in other genres, better if adopting some tricks. Used alone it is really convincing and effective when it comes to non-virtuosic piece of music. Ultimately it is not a product made for classical music creation, where maybe other products such as Ivory or Quantum Leap Piano surely put up better results. Therefore we need to understand the real target of this instrument which has no claim to be the one piano in our virtual instrument library, but the one which right now fits better with the other instruments in Pop production area. It is definitely an instrument that is open to every kind of experimentation considering all its editing options but it is important to realize that, buying this library, you’re buying a excellent product-project for a particular use and not a “jack of all trades” piano, with a large number of presets for all occasions. What really pleased us about this library was that at least N.I., according to us, dared getting in the game without proposing the umpteenth heavy sounding and ultra flawless library, but taking – with a good marketing practice – a different direction, proposing a very distinctive piano sound, already compressed and equalized in the right way so to fix properly in any of our mixes. Not to forget: the produced sound is the one that Alicia Keys used through all her latest work… you can find it enjoyable or not…it’ s still hers.
The library, in spite of its size, is light and does not weigh down the device. The sound and emulation in general are very good. The price is kept down.
It’s happened that, sometimes, the track within Alicia’s keys got to clip/distortion. If you have specific volume requirements, you have to remember that you can also adjust volume and gain within Kontakt/Kontakt Player.
For those who would want to use this library in order to produce POP and R&B music, I suggest them to eventually mix all the work through a distinctive but not transparent sounding hardware or software mixer board so to get a well-defined and close-grained sound.
Producer: Native Instruments
Model: Alicia’s Keys
Italian distributor: www.midimusic.it
Price: 99 euros VAT excluded.
Italian to English translation by Umberto del Giudice