Three years in the making, STRAYLIGHT is a product of both extensive experimentation and a meticulous dedication to sound. The granular sound-design tool is a unique way to produce cinematic tones and textures, sampled from a huge range of sources. We spoke to creator Frank Elting about the story behind the instrument.
How did the idea for STRAYLIGHT come about?
It wasn’t a stereotypical moment of inspiration under a morning shower, but evolved in several stages.
In 2016 I started to build a granular engine based on the Kontakt script processor. The next step was a longer research phase of evaluating which samples work particularly well with granular synthesis, and where the sweet spots of the engine are located.
The cinematic area emerged quite quickly. It became clear early on that I wouldn’t get ideal content from existing libraries and that I’d need to generate or record most of it myself.
The final concept was ready in mid-2018, about a year before its publication.
Can you explain the concept of the Kontakt instrument?
Straylight is based on a customized granular engine, paired with specially recorded and processed sample content.
Many of the presets are much more than just a static sound. They can be modulated over a large range of intensity using the central XY pad. Often, a few Straylight sounds with a bit of automation are enough to give a movie or game scene the right atmosphere.
It was also important to make it easy to use, and for users to find the right sounds fast – we tested different layouts and workflows as we built the instrument.
Straylight is a collaborative project between you, Native Instruments, and composer Paul Haslinger. How did the development process work?
The whole process took about three years. I prototyped it on my own as a “passion project” alongside other jobs. When it was good enough to present, I offered the idea Native Instruments.
Of course, many other people, such as sound designers and musicians have contributed their expertise. The content was recorded in several sessions with different musicians and in various studios. Creativity and intuition were often in demand, because you never knew exactly if the “squeaky” cello sample would be a highlight or will never be used in the end.
The contact with Paul Haslinger has existed for many years, having already collaborated on the Native Instruments Symphony Series. Paul has a great deal of experience with software tools and knows how an instrument should sound and feel. I’d send him prototypes for testing and discuss feature ideas with him on Skype.
What sound sources were sampled for Straylight?
I tried to record material with reasonable spectral variation over time, without disturbing attacks and where the pitch doesn’t change too much. Many instruments such as drums were not only recorded with classical playing styles but also bowed, rubbed and sung through.
Cymbals were very suitable due to the bright and complex sound spectrum. When placed on a timpani a bowed cymbal can be a very exciting foundation for a granular sound. The resulting texture has the character of both metal and membrane and is playable tonally.
We excited a gong and changed the spectrum by dipping it in a tub of water. Exotic instruments such as the Cujika (rubbing drum) were sampled and processed so that the engine can generate exciting atmospheres from it.
Due to the free position of the read-out point, wonderfully dynamically playable pads are created from a bowed glass bowl, which still have the fragile and hard character of the glass material, but unfold through the liveliness of the engine with appropriate jitter settings an organic naturalness and an immensely strong emotionality.
To complete the cinematic character we created sound effects for flair and expression when mixed with the granular layer.
I also collected interesting flavours from some analogue gear in my studio, some of which were crossfaded into each other and then added into the engine as a kind of wavetable. Alesis Andromeda, a Make Noise Shared System, the awesome Modal 002, a resonating Moogerfooger Phaser, the Moog Sub37 and many more were recorded and processed.
What features of STRAYLIGHT do you find most exciting?
To be honest, I find the sample content, with the engine and sound design of the presets, much more interesting than individual engine features. The highlight of the product for me is the overall sonic quality and emotional depth that the sounds capture. It has a very special character that you can’t get anywhere else in a single package.