Amalgamating acoustic and electronic instrumentation within a delicate, cerebral conceptual framework, the neo-classical stylings of Ólafur Arnalds, Brandt Bauer Frick, Nils Frahm, Max Richter et al are taking avant-garde music to new heights in terms of cross-genre appeal, popularity and technical achievement. From progressive, harmonically adventurous solo piano works to a broad spectrum of techno-orchestral fusions, this is far more than just chill out. And if you, as a producer, have yet to dip a creative toe in the waters of neo-classicism, there’s never been a better time, as a wealth of KONTAKT instruments provide all the realistic strings, keyboards, woodwinds and other essentials required, many of them with no price tag attached.
For this round-up, then, we’ve gathered together five of the best free KONTAKT instruments available for use in avant-garde and neo-classical productions. Be aware that all of them require the full KONTAKT and so aren’t compatible with the free KONTAKT PLAYER.
Precisionsound Amore Grand Piano
Putting a close-miked Yamaha grand piano at your fingertips within a simple three-page scripted KONTAKT interface, this compact multisample-based NKI weighs in at just 190MB. The samples themselves sound wonderfully pure and clean, and are modifiable in terms of sustain and tone via an Envelope Release (0ms to 25s) knob and three peaking EQ bands, while the Velocity Response page enables free shaping of the velocity mapping curve. It’s in the onboard effects that Amore Grand Piano really comes to life, though, with eight reverb impulse responses (halls, plates, rooms, etc) providing ‘space’, and the delay module featuring Feedback, Tone and Spread delay controls.
Cinematique Instruments Chimes
There’s an ethereal mysticality to the sound of metal tuned percussion that sits particularly well in the neo-classical context, and Cinematique’s sampled bar chime set is the ideal way to bring it to your productions for free. Comprising a full rack of 26 suspended aluminium chimes with silver allow coating, Chimes facilitates straightforward enhancement of the base samples with its Tone, Delay and Reverb controls, as well as the introduction of incidental ‘knock on’ sounds from the two chimes adjacent to the one being played using the Response knob. Just the thing for adding a bright top layer to piano lines, or as a soft, crystalline element in its own right.
Cinematique Instruments Landscape
One of the more complex NKIs in our round-up, Landscape is all about drones and ambiences. Five of its seven sound layers can each house any one of four main multisamples – sine wave, ‘flirring sound’, ’warmth’ and saxophone – while the other two load ’noise’ or ‘rumbling’, and periodic water drops or ‘atomic blips’, respectively; and all are pitched, filtered, modulated and blended in an intuitive mixer-style interface. An array of master effects include EQ, rotary speaker, distortion and two convolution processors (‘wineglass’ and ‘ground hum’), and clicking the the big ‘Start Infinity’ button sets Landscape playing as a constant drone with no MIDI input required. A fine choice for glacial, haunting and otherwise evocative textures.
Hugo Kant Zither
Steep your avant-garde opuses in the folkloric vibes of Eastern Europe with Hugo Kant’s unapologetically unscripted KONTAKT instrument. With a storage footprint of just 28MB, Zither centres on 21 lovingly captured samples of a Polish guitar-zither, and gives you limitless freedom when it comes to processing them – ie, there are no effects in place, so you’ll need to apply your own, by either adding them yourself in KONTAKT or using external plugins. Zither’s raison d’être, though, is the quality of the samples, the ease of use and – of course – the price, none of which disappoint.
Cinematique Instruments Marble Free
The free version of Cinematique’s supremely versatile sequencing instrument nets you 46 dual-layered presets built using six of the full instrument’s 63 sampled sources: ’Sinus Tone’, ‘Guitar Harmonics’, ‘Electro Drums’, ’Spokes’, ‘Guitar Feedback’ and ’Westmark 750’. Despite its small soundbank, Marble Free generates an incredibly rich variety of patterns, riifs and grooves thanks to the powerful ‘open’ sequencer on each layer, which can be used to independently modulate all 12 available sound parameters, including Pan, Filter, Length, Shape, Reverb, Stutter, and Timeshift; and the ingenious wheel-controlled effects matrix, with which spectacular dynamic transformations are effortlessly planned and executed. The full Marbles is a sound design powerhouse, but you can still get endless mileage out of the slimmed-down Free version.