What is Blakus Cello?
Embertone’s Blakus Cello is an expressive solo cello sample library for Kontakt (also Kontakt Player), it has several types of sampled legato transitions for a very authentic sound. The cellist that was recorded is the in Australia based composer Blake Robinson a.k.a. Blakus (www.blakus.com).
The install process is very simple, within minutes after buying the product from Embertone’s website you’ll receive an e-mail with your serial code. You can then download and install the Continuata downloader application (a link for this is included in the e-mail as well) and start downloading the sample library to any directory you like by entering the serial.
After this all that is left to do is start the Native Instruments Service Center application and register the product with that same serial code. Now the cello is ready to be played!
Interface and patches
The interface is very clear and it looks pretty nice. There are 4 pages/tabs in total on the interface to accommodate all the detailed controls that are available.
On the main page you can select the articulation, toggle legato mode and several other options which I’ll discuss later.
Then there’s the Ensemble page which houses the settings for the simulated ensemble mode. The configure page is for shaping the playability to your liking (legato speed, bow noise volume etc.) and finally the control page is where you can assign midi cc’s to the various control aspects of the instrument.
Blakus Cello comes with the following patches:
- Blakus Cello Full – All CCs : This is the full instrument, with all features, mods and MIDI CC assignments
- Blakus Cello Full – Touch OSC: This instrument is optimized for iPad users who own the MIDI Controller App “Touch OSC”. This version allows for full control of all settings straight from a touch screen!
- Blakus Cello Full – MW: Also a full instrument, but with all dynamics/vibrato mappings set for the modwheel.
- Blakus Cello Full – MW + Exp: Another full instrument, but with all vibrato elements mapped to the modwheel, and dynamics to the expression pedal (CC# 11)
There are also “low ram” versions of the above instruments (except the Touch Osc one) which have speed responsiveness turned off but are otherwise the same as the normal patches, this results in much less ram use.
Blakus Cello has several articulations available. First of all there’s the solo legato mode. Depending how hard you press the first note of a phrase you either get an “emotional sustain” with a slight swell, a normal sustain, a sustain with an immediate attack and a sustain with an even stronger/harsher attack.
Furthermore beside the normal legato transitions you’ll hear a portamento when the next note has a low velocity and you can also get a smoother slur-transition by activating a keyswitch or midi CC.
If you hold the sustain pedal you can rebow a note by pressing it again, very cool! Also included is:
- Sustain mode, long notes which you can play polyphonically like in solo legato mode the velocity of the note determines the attack of the note.
- Staccato: where the velocity controls the dynamics and the modwheel
- Pizzicato: velocity controls dynamics
- Tremolo: monophonic or polyphonic tremolo, crossfadable between 2 dynamic layers with midi cc 11 (or whichever cc# you have assigned).
On all these articulations you can activate the con sordino (muted) mode which is virtually modelled. You can also activate sul ponticello for all the articulations above which means: played on the bridge, for a harsher tone.
Like in their Friedlander Violin instrument, Embertone has added a simulated ensemble mode which works, I think, by stacking multiple samples (borrowed and retuned from neighboring notes). You can have up to 8 virtual players and you can control the intonation (amount of detuning) between the players, the tightness and a randomize knob that randomizes the aforementioned parameters. You can also control the stereo spread.
When the combine transitions button is activated slurs and bow-change legato is combined resulting in a more realistic sound. The RR button on the main page will enable a special borrowed round robin, which can be effective for passages with repeated notes/intervals.
Finally there’s a reverb knob that adds a church-like convolution impulse to the cello, and allows you to set the wet/dry balance.
The Configuration Page
On the configuration page you have a plethora of options available with which you can really customize how the instrument responds to your playing. There are a wide range of options here – all of which are covered in the manual. As you can see from the screenshot above you can edit the following options:
- Dynamic Keyswitch Threshold
- Short Dynamic
- Length Control
- Release Samples
- Slur delay
- Portamento Threshold
- Speed Range
- Normal Speed
- Intonation knob
- Bow Noise Reduction
The Control Page
The control page allows you to customize the keyswitches and midi cc assignments. You can edit the key switches for: vibrato styles, sustain mode, slur, staccato, pizzicato, tremolo, consordino mode, sul ponticello mode, legato/poly mode and the ghost key which rebows the currently playing note.
You can change the midi cc nr’s for: dynamics, slur, vibrato style, vibrato speed, vibrato color, vibrato amplitude and vibrato pitch.
So all in all there is a lot of customizability!
Sound and playability
The Blakus Cello sounds very good and expressive indeed! You can make it sound very authentic and real if you carefully control/tweak the midi cc’s. But playing with the Modwheel only patch (where the dynamics and vibrato are controlled by the modwheel only) is also a very enjoyable experience with which you can create realistic lines with very little effort!
The legato transitions sound very good, I especially liked the slur and portamento transitions. It can also do very fast passages without effort, so the playing speed detection works really great.
Because of the nature of sampled instruments with true legato transitions you have to learn to play ahead of the beat a little because there’s a little bit of a delay before the transition to the next note is completed. You can adjust the responsiveness knob though which makes the transitions shorter, but the trade off is that it ends up sounding a bit less real.
The tone of the cello is very nice but you can hear the room it is recorded in a little bit in the samples so to have an ultra dry cello sound is impossible but that is not such a big deal.
Also because of the massive script that powers the Blakus Cello it utilizes a bit more cpu power than other Kontakt instruments but the realism and playability you get in return are absolutely worth it!
Listen for yourself! Here are some audio demo’s of the developer:
This is one of the most authentic sounding sampled cello’s I’ve heard, it’s very easily playable, especially with the modwheel only patch. This is definitely worth a consideration if you are on the lookout for a solo cello or just want some new instrument that is a joy and very inspiring to play with!