EmberTone Shire Whistle Review
Of Scottish ancestry, I grew up naught but 100 yards from the Atlantic shoreline in Englishtown, Cape Breton. The plaintive sounds of Celtic instruments always bring a wistful sigh upon me heart and beckons myself home; Embertone’s “Shire Whistle” is just such an instrument. With only a pair of Sennheiser headphones, it fairly addles me into fancying that the scent of salt brine is wafting on the evening air while distant, haunted, echoing cries of Atlantic Gulls are heard off the point, beyond the lighthouse.
The greenery of mountain spruce and tender, meadow moss lie to the south. Amidst the hum of busy bumble-bees, flittering sparrows melodiously call to one another with one happy tune after another. What’s that to be heard just over the crest? Yes, indeed, tis “Shire McGuire” expressing thanks and merriment for yet another day of blessing and growth upon his beloved garden and vale. His wizened fingers dance over the holes of his fondest keepsake; his father’s Irish whistle.
EmberTone captured the essence and charm of this poetic instrument and have lovingly wrapped it for us as a Kontakt sample-set. This blessed little gift may be had for only a wee bit of coin from a trader’s sporran. Tis no more than $20 middle earth dollars.
The fledgling sampling efforts brewed by Embertone for this sample-set are notable and are sure to wax joyously upon thy ear. Please do not mistake ‘fledgling’ to infer that Embertone are mere novices; they first hung out their shingle in July of 2012. At first glance, the developer’s web site informs us that authentic legato and glisses are to be experienced. I can testify to that claim. A nice large pool, so nice n’ cool, of 16 Round Robin staccato variations are sure to please all but the most nasty of ‘orcses’.
I will be reviewing three of Embertone’s dandy little sample-sets; Shire Whistle, Sensual Sax and Chapman Trumpet. Today’s review is specific to “Shire Whistle”. Each of these sample-sets produce fine quality sounds, but there is a small blurb of less favorable news that I would like to get out-of-the-way, right away. These Kontakt collections are fairly small by modern sample library standards, this being directly related to the fact that each of them only contains a couple (maybe three) velocity layers. The Round Robin variations are nice, but the lack of velocity layers does pose a bit of a challenge if you would like to take one of these instruments into the foreground of a mix.
Of the three Embertone sample-sets that I own, I honestly consider the sample-set at hand, “Shire Whistle”, to be the one most capable of holding a 1st chair position. The others sound wonderful, but are not as apt to be heard center-stage. Judicious application of a midi-controlled expression pedal does contribute a better range of control and lessens the negative impact of limited sample velocities.
Installation and Authorization:
Upon receipt of purchase, the fortunate owner receives an email from Embertone containing a direct download link to the sample set. The single, downloadable *RAR archive takes quick flight from the Embertone server due to its relatively small size of 290 MB. The installation process is a simple matter of manually extracting the archive into your Kontakt instruments folder; wherever that is on your computer’s hard drive. As with any kontakt sample-set, to be played without interruption, a full, licensed version of Native Instruments Kontakt is required. The free Kontakt player will time out after 15 minutes (Kontakt 5).
I appreciate the pleasant, easy-to-understand interface provided with “Shire Whistle”. The hue of the interface is a soft, pleasant blend of sandalwood, willow and meadow green. There are understated, subtle shadows and lighting effects applied which encourage a peaceful, restful state-of-mind. Three subdued buttons allow the player to switch between, Legato, Staccato, and Polyphonic Sustained modes of operation. These modes are all keyswitchable as well.
On the right-hand side of the GUI, there are an evenly spaced group of small buttons – RR, Stage, Ornaments Major and Ornaments Minor. These allow the user to enable Round Robin variations, convolution reverb and trill notes in either minor or major key steps. The configure button opens the “hidden” configuration panel. Here, the user can assign the midi Control Changes for Dynamics, and Vibrato. By default these are set to the standard values: CC11 (Expression) and CC1 (Mod Wheel) respectively.
Two knobs are provided to control the level of “air” and at what velocity point the “ornamental” notes (trills) are triggered. I find that the default value of 115 is perfect for the ornamental notes, however, I lowered the amount of “air noise” for my tests. Of course, your mileage may vary. Finally, the “Release Samples” button will enable or disable additional “note release” samples. Depending on the performance requirements, this may or may not be desirable. Nevertheless, it’s a really nice ‘extra’ feature.
Operations & Control:
An authentic, two octave range of playable notes is faithfully reproduced in this sample-set so thankfully, it is not likely that anyone will try to use “Shire Whistle” for anything other than an Irish whistle is intended; a melodic instrument. The notes span “D5” through “D7”. Especially in the 2nd octave, the notes can begin to sound shrill so adjusting dynamics with an expression pedal would be a wise practice; after all, our eardrums have to last us a lifetime. *Wink.
The vibrato responds very smoothly and it’s evident that Embertone put deliberate effort into assuring that the end-user experience would be as realistic as possible in this regard. The staccato samples are louder than their legato brethren so I encourage a user to “keep an ear” on the dynamics with an expression pedal while playing.
The three keyswitches (Legato, Staccato, and PolySus) are easy to switch between during performance. The keyswitches are positioned in the middle of a typical keyboard at “C4”, “C#4” and “D4”. The user has four Kontakt instrument patches to choose from: Braveheart Vibrato, Finger Vibrato, Normal and Slow Vibrato. Suffice it to say that each of the instrument patches are well represented by their names. The “Finger Vibrato” patch produces a specific style of vibrato achieved by repeatedly fingering a note.
One other "niggle" that I have with the Embertone sample-sets is the obvious hesitation which is observed between some notes while playing in Legato. This becomes especially pronounced when playing faster passages. Any "real" Celtic musician requires very fast response, since many tunes (especially Irish) require repetitive 32nd and even 64th note trills. You'll notice that the audio demos on the Embertone web site are all slow pieces of music. An Irish whistle is not only an expressive, "wispy" sounding instrument for lullabies, it is also a very lively instrument that is meant to be played as fast as the "mary tales of spring". The hesitation is not as noticeable while playing in Staccato or Poly modes.
This lovely little whistle is a real dandy. ShireWhistle is not just a dabble of ‘wannabe’ traditional folk instrument sound; rather, it is an especially authentic-sounding sample-set. As a real, honest-to-goodness Atlantic Canadian of Scottish ancestry, I know a few things about authentic Celtic instruments. I was 14 years old when I started playing at country dances and community events with my father. Much of the music played on these occasions was traditional Scottish and Irish songs, jigs, reels, and strathspeys.
The even, smooth tone of the ShireWhistle is very, very impressive. As with any high-pitched wind instrument, this whistle can get a little rambunctious up in its 2nd octave. Backing off the dynamics with an expression pedal, keeps it in check and well-behaved. The user-configurable “air” samples add a fantastic degree of realism. Automated ornamental notes inspire one to burrow deep into a Celtic lilt. This automated ornamental notes feature makes for tremendously authentic playing.
Embertone’s choice of convolution reverb impulse response is perfectly matched to the instrument. The “Stage” button engages a beautiful, natural-sounding Hall reverb that soothes and massages the listener’s aural senses ever-so-blissfully. The pleasant sonic ambience wrapping itself around finely crafted samples of a quality Irish-whistle evokes emotive creativity.
The user need not worry about holding sustained notes. It seems that Embertone have implemented a seamless, transparent looping mechanism. Try as I might, I could not readily discern any obvious loop/split points regardless of how long I kept a key depressed. Good job - no, GREAT job, Embertone!
I do not listen to these samples with “average”, inexperienced ears. Rather, I’m listening as one who ‘grew up on’ Celtic music and the sounds of the instruments it is traditionally played on. The instruments typically used to play Celtic music in the Atlantic region of Canada are fiddle, button accordion, tin whistle (Irish whistle), bag pipes, acoustic guitar and upright (grand) piano. It is this reviewer’s opinion that Embertone have crafted the MOST authentic-sounding sample-set available of an Irish Whistle.
As far as Kontakt instruments go, this little gaffer is a sprightly Shireling that will bear ye no heavy burden, my liege.
I cast a strong vote of approval and appreciation for Embertone and their wares. It’s a wonderful blessing, Mr. Frodo, that these unusual and niche’-specific instruments are available in excellent quality for such affordable prices. No, they don’t feature five or six velocity layers, and there are some tiny niggles that I would like to see smoothened, but generally speaking, the Embertone offerings are a lovely lot; absolutely lovely.
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Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
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