With the wealth of “cinematic” sample libraries on the market, you’d be forgiven for not knowing where to start on your ambient adventure. Thankfully there are some generous developers who offer production-ready drones and soundscapes for free. These kinds of sounds have a wide variety of uses, from underscoring movie cues, to providing the ear-candy for drum and bass tracks. Don’t be shy about manipulating these sounds by combining them with effects like trance gates and LFO filters to conjure more intense movement.
All of the libraries below run in the full version of KONTAKT, but even if you don’t own our flagship sampler, many of the downloads also include open-source samples that can be dragged into your favorite audio software.
Dronar Free Edition
Available from Time & Space as a free download, this is a lavish collection of highlights from four different Dronar libraries: Hybrid, Guitarscapes, Live Strings and Dark Synthesis. This cut-down version does away with the “expert” page and some options for rhythmic editing, but otherwise you’re treated to the full-fat Dronar experience. This includes LFO shaping, FX rack, arpeggiator and six main page dials for manipulating different layers and effects. With preset names such as “Sci-Fi Twin Moons” and “Night City Ambient” it’s easy to reach for a suitable starting point, but a quick twist of the layer dials will throw up many more types of soundscapes than the initial 20 patches suggest. The real fun begins when you assign the main control knobs to physical MIDI input and live-play the patches. Adjust the parameters for the high, mid, low, FX, intensity and movement knobs to make the samples come alive. If you like what you hear, then consider progressing to one of the many themed Dronar libraries, from orchestral brass to world flutes, all deliciously warped and mutated beyond recognition.
Part of an enormous collection of atmospheric freebies and showcasing the talents of sound designer Bryan Lake, Project Exodus delivers 127 patches for the full version of KONTAKT. The collection is roughly categorized into atmospheres, playable instruments, and sequences, although much of the material defies easy pigeon-holing. Rudimentary yet useful interface controls include reverb, delay, ADSR shaping, filtering and tube distortion. Cranking up the reverb/delay amounts and size dials transforms the audio from mangled field recordings to expansive cinematic drones. Seek out Project Pegasus, the wonderfully evocative sister library for organic soundscapes and ethereal pads. Some of the material has slightly wonky tuning within the original .nki files, but there’s now an update included with the download that fixes most of these pitch issues.
They’re drones and they’re dark. That just about sums up this next KONTAKT library which maps around 40 different drone samples to your MIDI controller keys. The fuss-free interface has a few options for frequency shaping, tuning, reverb and a couple of distortion effects but that’s about it. The standout elements here are the samples themselves which rumble and groan with foreboding menace. Sub bass frequencies are ominously weighty so these sounds lend themselves to horror and suspense scoring. Although the samples don’t loop, many of them are over a minute long, giving lots of scope for building a cue by combining different sounds. Layer the samples to assemble your own complex dronescape foundation, and sprinkle additional instrumentation on top for shocks and scares.
This is an unquestionably fun library that can be used in two different ways. Firstly, the 3 patches for KONTAKT map atmospheres, glitches, risers and impacts across your MIDI keys to create a virtual soundboard for constructing hard-hitting tension cues. Secondly, the open-source WAV files are available separately so you can just drag and drop them into your DAW. In fact, there are some samples included as raw audio files that didn’t make it into the Kontakt instruments so seek those out for bonus content. The cinematic Kontakt patches include reverb and delay dials and some nifty stutter and pitch effects for turning rise and glitch samples into stuttering Transformers-style swipes. Musician Giuseppe Caiazzo specialises in jump-out-of-your-seat sound design and many of his other libraries at Silence+Other Sounds turn chills up to 11 with tormented metals and tortured strings.
Most known for his music and effects work for Doctor Who audiobooks, Steve Foxon has spun this love of sound design into sample library development. Resomonics features synth presets and KONTAKT libraries including the free Chillerscapes. This library contains 13 evolving ambiences and 5 drones, all playable within a 4 octave range. The blood-spattered interface encourages manipulation with a large Intensity dial that’s mapped to the mod wheel and pulse controls for introducing motion into the sounds. Add a little distortion and you’ll find that these samples are perfect for ratcheting up the terror. A word of warning… prepare yourself for the ghostly girl who shows up on the interface when the sounds get really strange. My favorite way to use these samples is to render the automation to waveforms, ramping up the volume and cutting the audio off abruptly.