As cinema has diversified, so has its soundtrack. In decades past most movies were scored with orchestral instrumentation, whereas in the 21st century the sound palette is far more varied. Composers are using mutated versions of their favourite instruments to inject emotional intensity into scenes. If you want to recreate the aching sensitivity of Thomas Newman or the distorted theatrics of Hildur Guðnadóttir there are a wealth of cinematic piano libraries that’ll fit the bill. Native Instruments own Piano Colors & Noire contain some spectacular timbres and animated patches, but you don’t have to spend big bucks to get a huge sound. We’ve discovered 5 free KONTAKT piano libraries perfect for hybrid scoring, some of which will even run in the free KONTAKT Player. So let’s tickle those cinematic ivories…
Designed to be a sound canvas for cinematic composers, this lush piano from Heavyocity is genuinely inspiring. It’s powered by our free KONTAKT Player, so there’s no need to purchase the full version of KONTAKT to load the library. The core timbre is sampled from the softer dynamics of a grand piano. These gentle notes form the basis of a textural sound design layer which can be dialled in to achieve different effects. Tempo-synced arpeggio programming creates rain-like droplets or activate the gate for vibraphone-esque oscillations. Ten presets show the flexibility of the instrument, showcasing more unusual effects. Heavyocity’s accompanying tutorial videos give an insight into more customization, broadening the scope of this seemingly straightforward piano, with useful tips about FX automation, offset and randomisation.
The Felt Seiler
Similar to the piano above, Strezov Sampling’s free Felt Seiler for KONTAKT Player combines a piano tone with texture. Three different synth layers can be mixed in the interface. Playback of these layers can be individually reversed to create a more other-wordly sound. The upright piano was prepared for recording with a layer of felt between the piano hammers and strings. This gives a warm and intimate tone, recorded in 4 dynamics, captured with a variety of close microphones and then summed to one position. Adjust the settings beneath each fader for stereo spread or choose a gentler sound with the “soft” button, which swaps to an alternate set of soft-pedal samples. A suite of FX includes filter, compression, EQ and delay. There’s also a huge variety of traditional and designed impulse responses for the convolution reverb section. With a little massaging it’s possible to conjure some really interesting piano tones from the Felt Seiler to form the basis of wistfully emotional cues. If you’re a fan of the sound, upgrade to the pro version which boasts more detailed sampling and a true sustain layer.
What if someone tuned every single one of a piano’s 88 keys to “E” and played them all at once? That question has been answered by Impact Soundworks with this bizarre library of unison piano notes. They enlisted the help of million-sub YouTuber Mattias Krantz, who regularly destroys (and then rebuilds) pianos in the name of sonic experimentation and entertainment. Water-filled and guitar-string pianos are amongst his other mad musical designs. Impact Soundworks even collaborated with Krantz on another experimental library, the Hammer Klavier. With the 88E, they’ve sampled 6 dynamic layers, 2 round robins and multiple mic positions. Download it for the free KONTAKT Player and experiment with detuning, tone and sample offset. You can even stack up to 3 voices together, resulting in a truly massive sound. Almost 30 snapshots cover wide-ranging timbres from horror stabs to subterranean pads, many making use of the virtual pedalboard, stuffed with signature KONTAKT effects.
The first piano on our list that requires the full version of KONTAKT. This offers a slimmed down version of Xperimenta Project’s Preparato Piano sound, just with fewer articulations, microphone positions and features. Nevertheless, inventive musicians will still get plenty of mileage from the two playing techniques; Tremolo & Brushes Rub. Recorded in a Roman church, the imperfections of these prepared piano samples are embraced. The creators use piano preparation techniques to build a virtual instrument of both subtlety and presence. The presets are a great place to start, with diverse tones from foreboding string scrapes to delicate repetitions. The raw sounds can be adjusted in a number of ways; setting keyboard range, filter, distortion and envelope shaping. For especially chilling ambiences, this prepared piano VST allows you to layer convolution reverbs from both real-world and fantastical spaces. This is a piano library that inspires beyond its initial impression and leads you down a rabbit-hole of sound design possibilities.
The Lobby Piano - Playable Techniques
To grab this piano oddity, you’re encouraged to donate via the Man Makes Noise website, where contributing as little as €1 will net you this KONTAKT Full library. However, if you want to swerve the payment entirely, head to the ever-expanding Pianobook project. This community resource of free sample libraries is a huge repository of interesting experiments for KONTAKT and beyond and well worth exploring. The final entry in our free KONTAKT piano rundown, The Lobby Piano, is a small grand piano recorded with a variety of techniques and sculpted layers of sound design plucks and picks. With 10 mixable articulations from hammers to mutes, it’s easy to combine the sounds to create your own bespoke timbres. Alternatively, take inspiration from almost 30 presets that showcase the versatility of this instrument. Many of these utilise the small number of onboard effects to distort and filter the raw samples, along with delay and reverb for spatial placement. We especially enjoyed the zither-like metallics and playful plucks, undoubtedly useful for scoring quirky comedy-drama.