NEW RELEASE | NORDIC SPHERES
With a touch of frost and a lot of experimentation, NORDIC SPHERES is our latest Kontakt instrument for the composer’s cinematic arsenal. Composed of two granular engines and two particle drives, this layering machine provides all kinds of interesting and complex atmospheres. Its creation was inspired by the icy climes of Icelandic glaciers and Scandinavian mountains, with the intention to add a chilling sensation to any of your projects. That is to say, this one is served to you on the rocks. 😉
We worked with sound designers Mats Lundgren and Amina Hocine, from the esteemed company Pole Position, to create this instrument. Mats has been working for Pole Position for 15 years and is credited with a myriad of projects, notably some of the source material recording for Christopher Nolan’s movie, Dunkirk. Amina is studying for her Masters in Electro-Acoustic Composition and is known for her experimentation with instruments and sound, even creating her own pipe organ from PVC and HVAC pipes. On the Sonuscore side, Nico Dilz managed the project and made sure everything came together.
It wasn’t the first time Mats has helped on a Sonuscore project. Previously he had lent his expertise to us for ORIGINS 6: MUTED GUITAR & HARMONICS. After that experience, we knew that Mats was a solid guy to work with and that our relationship would only continue to grow.
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AN IDEA IS BORN
Both Nico and Mats were interested in creating a granular-style instrument together after our initial collaboration.
“I had been working on computer game sound effects over the years and recorded a lot of material for them that I could use as instruments,” Mats explained. “I would record things like Tibetan bowls and metal sheets and stuff like that. So the idea grew that maybe we could use this somehow to make something available to other people than me… I figured doing something granular would be really cool. With granular you could pinpoint the different material that was within the samples.”
It was from there that the idea took root. We developed the granular engine while Mats went about collecting sounds. Many sounds from over his years of recording he had already thought would be good, but he wanted even more to help round out what was available for the instrument. For that, he got Amina on board, tapping into her creative impulses.
THE FROZEN NORTH
“We wanted to have this kind of Nordic atmosphere that we could connect the Aurora lights with, but on the darker side,” Nico explains. It was to have both dark and icy tones, an instrument with very serious and chilling atmospheres.
Mats describes his own sound using words like “vast” and “lonely”. And when Amina describes the inspiration of the sound of her pipe organ, she relates that her favorite sound is a foghorn on the water. “It’s romantic,” she says. “It’s a forceful sound, but also gentle at the same time.” They made for a perfect pair to design such an instrument focused on the “darker” aspects of the North.
When the team began making the instrument, they had only that vague idea of the kind of sounds they wanted to make. But it wasn’t until Amina came up with the idea of putting Icelandic names to the presets that it truly came into focus.
“The idea was to find words in Icelandic that weren’t too cliché and not to make fun of it,” Amina explained, “but to find certain words where it could really add to the feeling of the sounds. Like the first word which we used, which meant ‘lighthouse’”.
Mats continued, “I absolutely loved it, because all of a sudden it all became a whole lot more real. The sound Amina was making at the time really hit the nerve for the entire project and the naming of it was more like, ‘Okay, this is not just sounds, this is magical.’ I think that put the whole project into a certain direction that I think you can hear a lot. Both in the aesthetics and in the sounds and how it’s all put together.”
RECORDING THE SOUNDS
The sounds were from a combination of unused pieces of projects Mats had worked on over the years as well as altogether new material. And all the sounds have interesting stories to tell.
To start with, there were sounds from Amina’s pipe organ. “It creates these beatings that really easily sound like synthesis,” she said. “But it’s completely air flow. It makes a kind of sawtooth wave sound and goes into more sinusoid. It’s kind of an unstable sound.”
Then there was a viola they turned over and played on the other side of the nut. They pitched that sound down 2 or 3 octaves to get really long, haunting noises. “The purpose of our approach,” Mats explained, “was contrary to the normal way you might try to make something as beautiful or good sounding sounds as possible, because instead we were trying to get the overtones and such to do crazy stuff with.”
There was the recording of the burning house, where the microphone in the house only lasted a minute and a half before melting. “I did that recording for an Icelandic artist in Northern Sweden,” Mats said. “An artist wanted to do a video of a house burning in real time. I did the audio. We had made a deal with DPA Microphones, so they gave us two lavalier mics. I took those and hid them in the house. I drilled a hole through the floor and then I had cables going into the house. I imagine it’s one of the closest micings of a real burning house that exists.”
Amina continued with another unusual sound: “We went about Skeppsholmen island in Stockholm with a hydrophone. It was getting dark and you could see the blinking lights of Gröna Lund, an amusement park. We were trying to find some nice sounds underwater. Then we also spent such a long time trying to find the perfect water drop – we ended up taking a rag and a metal container and did it in a sink.”
“But we tried the toilet as well,” Mats adds.
There are also included some massive, rhythmic droning sounds. For that, Mats had borrowed some source recordings he had made during his work on Dunkirk. “That one was from a tug boat in the 1920s on the River Thames. Its engine was really big and the pistons were 3 meters. We recorded that and I used that rhythm and made loops from it.”
The new sounds were created with boundless imagination. Amina disassembled clocks to find all the musical bits, while Mats went about smashing bottles and jangling chandeliers.
“One of the sounds I’m most proud of,” Amina shares, “is called ‘Trösten’. It means ‘comfort’. That was at the last minute of the day, I was really tired and I took this thermos that I bring everywhere. I just pulled it across the table and I thought, ‘Whatever, I’ll record that sound and try it.’ It worked super nice because it has this movement and width to the frequency spectrum and it’s kind of haunting, but in this ‘Nordic Spheres’ good way.”
PUTTING THE SOUNDS TOGETHER
Bringing together all the sounds was a real trial. We certainly didn’t suffer from anyone not being creative enough. On the contrary, our teammates were too creative!
“There are so many sounds we recorded,” Mats says.
Nico adds, “There were times where they would just send hundreds of sounds and we were just like, ‘Yes, yes, nope, yes, nope, definitely not, yes, absolutely. We really had to select what fit into the style that we were looking for. We wanted something atmospheric and not too nice. There were times when someone just said, ‘This is too nice, too much like a soft synth.’ We wanted it to have an edge, to be dark, and all the sounds we ended up with reflect that. We didn’t want it to be normal.”
All the effort put into the instrument’s tone and design has yielded a gorgeously complicated instrument capable of producing dark and melancholic sounds. “It can go from sweet arpeggiators to very dark atmospheres that are very heavy and low end and aggressive,” Nico says. “We have a lot of content that doesn’t work in tonal contexts, and a lot that does. We have buckets of metal, glass shards, ice recordings, engines. We run all those through this pretty fun granular engine and somehow it works.”
USING NORDIC SPHERES
At the surface, NORDIC SPHERES has four layers that blend, compliment, and counterbalance each other. Two layers are what we call “Grain Engines” and two others are more traditional samplers.
In the Grain Engine, you have “the grain sample displayed and you choose in which position of the sample you want the grain to start on,” Nico explains. “These samples are all somewhere between 3 and 20 seconds long – there’s a huge variety you can create with just one of them. That’s the most exciting thing the user should do if they want to alter something, just go in there and change positions.” It isn’t quite granular, but it’s the closest that Kontakt allows. “It takes short snippets of a sample and repeats, and just to make things smooth it fades between the grains. We’re basically playing the sample from the position you want to play it again and again like 10 to 40 times a second.
The two other slots contain “basic sustains and arpeggiator sounds that you can use, where you can make kind of rain or glass particles with that. Or you can just put a soft pad underneath everything just to fill the space.” With each of the slots, there are arpeggiators so the sounds can dance around each other, and an FX grid that can also be tied to the mod wheel. Everything is full of life and motion, so that even the darkest and moodiest of sounds are constantly moving and breathing.
A DARK, AGGRESSIVE, FORLON INSTRUMENT
Mats and Amina gathered these sounds from all over Northern Europe, from Sweden to England. It became a labor of love, with so many eclectic sounds and fun experiments. Everything becomes tied together in the engine, creating a sometimes aggressive, sometimes soft sound of the frozen north.
NORDIC SPHERES is perfect for sound designers and composers looking to put a chill on their cinematic works, and it would also slot right in to a lot of ambient-centered modern music as well.
Get NORDIC SPHERES on sale for the two-week introductory price at 20% off. Check it out here today and you won’t be disappointed!