More than just a vocal instrument, Eduardo Tarilonte’s Shevannai utilizes three complete libraries for a full range of Elven-inspired sung, spoken, whispered, and chanted phrases. The Voice, Phrases, and Soundscapes work in tandem with the talents of its unique female vocalist, combining hundreds of options for fantasy-genre compositions and soundtracks. And, as I found, Shevannai is well-suited for tracks depicting other realms too.
In short, The Voice includes the main legato patch which combines phrases and vowels, but also two additional patches for layering short notes and/or sampled vocal effects. Shevannai’s Phrases collection provides four sets of extensively sampled vocal utterances that can be further edited and time-adjusted. And for some great sound design options, Shevannai’s Soundscapes provide magically-inspired composite layers that can be fully automated.
But Can She Sing?
Perhaps the most important question for FGC readers, as it was for me, is how the legato holds up in the main legato patch of The Voice. The five main vowels really do provide rich, expressive legato phrasing right out of the box, and when applying the relevant envelopes (attack and release knobs), I found the result to be very natural and fluid. Delving deeper, I realized that a more nuanced combination of phrases requires a bit of forethought, however, where editing performance dynamics later works best for me.
For more complex performances, the Vowels may be triggered in tandem with thirty sung phrases, where the crucial Auto Vowel feature provides the real magic here: Any phrase used can be morphed back into it’s corresponding vowel for contiguous legato playing. “Ki” for example, will automatically grab the “eeh” vowel, resulting in a natural legato sequence. All this is further enhanced by vibrato, inhales, and aspirates, which can also transform the lyrical elf into an omen of a different kind.
As for the featured vocalist (Lara Ausensi), her tone conveys urgency and depth, with a lyrical, beckoning quality across a wide range. There is a distinct sense of emotion in each phrase, with that LOTR inspired emphasis; Shevannai is obviously designed with a nod toward those epic films, where Shevannai’s own featured vocalist lends her own personality as well.
Fine-Tuning Legato Performance
As with any sampled legato instrument, Shevannai includes enhancements to get the most realistic sound possible. I found the vibrato control to be superb when applied (recorded vibrato), rounding out the vocalist’s sustained vowels and phrases naturally. Of course both speed and velocity are key when playing legato, as is dynamic control, and to me there is a sweet when pushing too aggressively. But even some demos online show a more natural result with similar, fast performances, I should add.
Moreover, dynamic control of Shevannai’s performance knobs is like most sampled legato instruments, where the best result is achieved by shaping the appropriate attacks and decays, as well as the transitions between the connected vowels and phrases themselves. I found that I invariably adjust the attack of each first vowel played with the respective envelope knob (one of eight performance knobs in the main legato patch), though some will prefer the harder attack in other contexts. Similarly, the release envelope tapers a phrase, but since these knobs also control every subsequent note played, assigning real-time control is probably best, especially when creating more involved legato passages.
With so many options, including infinite ways to combine patches and vowels, I prefer to perform extemporaneously, then edit the parameters – even some midi notes – later in my DAW. While its possible to play Shevannai like an instrument by coaxing every keyswitch phrase and performance nuance in real time, my brain is already full with other orchestral instruments, so I’m still in the “fun” phase where Shevannai is concerned.
Elven Speak – The Voices of Elves
The above mentioned legato phrases form the essence of a more involved Elven libretto, if you will. There are over two whole octaves available for each phrase, all triggered by keyswitches adjacent to the vowels.
With my background as a vocalist and work in choral music, I immediately listened for any unnatural or obviously stretched samples, and was glad to hear how meticulously the singer has been regarded as an instrument: a change in registers is evident; there is an obvious sampling of chest and head voice; you can hear the palate change as vowels move along the scale (some vowels seem to be multi-something when same notes are played). Phrases, some sampled at intervals, differ in both intonation and inflection at points along the twenty-eight note range, though obviously combining different phrases is the focus here.
As for content, these Elven-derived utterances (not be to confused with Shevannai’s four designated Phrase patches) include both syllabic and compound phrasing. Some begin with a crisp consonant, though a few have a soft consonant, like an “nnh.” Most end with vowels that lend well to open sustains or morphing back into the respective “auto” vowels. My personal favorites are the lesser offerings that end in a closed vowel, such as the eh-hum” with its resonant and nuanced “mmm.” I wish there were more of these!
She Hisses and Gasps
Capping off the legato phrases (literally) are five aspirate consonants and an inhale button. By chance, I engaged the SSS, and promptly took notice as the lyrical, soothing voice morphed into a hissing seductress. This dimension works really well with the open vowels, but can transform any phrase with a SH, SS, SSS, Q (hard K), N, or intake of air. All are controlled with a release volume knob (the inhale has its own knob, so she can both inhale and aspirate together, go figure).
As Eduardo Tarilonte always does, excellent scripting keeps the legato considerations sounding fresh and spontaneous when combined. The result is an expressive performance that retains the vocalist’s superb talent and fine diction, without sounding like sampled wallpaper or a sonic puzzle.
Interfacing with Elves
In the main legato patch, visual reference for vowels and phrases can bee seen on the “drum” the alluring elf is holding. The phrase being triggered is displayed phonetically at the bottom, while the active vowels are indicated in a halo around that. This is great for familiarizing keyswitches! Performance knobs flank the elf on all sides and beneath (though their functions differ, depending on the patch).
One critique about the beautiful GUI, is how the controls, in their quest to conform to the graphics’ symmetry, initially feel like function after form. Hence, an argument for reading the manual: the distribution of bigger knobs and smaller buttons can give a false impression of what is (most) essential, as well as a few odd choices placing some volume knobs away from the very buttons that trigger an effect. Of course everything can be assigned to controllers, perhaps making this (and any interface), less relevant.
Shevannai’s Other Voices
The rest of THE VOICE in Shevannai consists of the Staccatos, and Inhales and Releases. These are patches with a more straightforward approach as their names indicate. The staccatos include a trigger for alternating with longer held notes, with a rhythmic intention. Though clearly worth exploring in more detail, suffice to say that these dedicated patches provide quick vocal layers when the more involved legato patch is not warranted, or for use as vocal snippets in a more deliberate (rhythmic) way.
Shevannai’s Other Phrases
The collection of four dedicated Phrases brings an entirely different dimension to Shevannai, with a selection of meticulously sampled Melodic, Short, Spoken, and Whispered offerings. There are tons of options, and all are uniquely Elven or Elven-derived. What makes this collection even more versatile is that each phrase can be shaped with the envelope attack and release knobs, and with a knob for adjusting tempo as well. But for me, the offset knob which “dials into” a specific portion of the phrase, absolutely seals the deal by making hundreds of phrases infinitely user-definable.
In a real sense, the Phrases collection functions as its own toolkit. I regard it for working efficiently, and especially when layering multiple tracks to create creepy, surreal, and even giggly vocal mayhem, not to mention spine tingling mantras. In fact, I recommend these designated patches as the first place for sound design-minded composers to explore, especially for use in projects right away.
Soundscapes are yet another aspect of Shevannai that really deserves more attention. In short, these are a composer’s goody box of sound design that extends the product way beyond the vocalist, with a chorus of haunting elves and other magical environs that include whispers, chants, and entities of varied genders, pads, chimes, and instrumental overlays. It’s almost like cheating, if you catch my my meaning.
I think what makes these such a great addition (and these soundscapes are a feature in some of Tarilonte’s other libraries), is the ability to control multiple textures dynamically. I’m talking about a wide spectrum of frequencies being morphed, where some soundscapes contain up to four different voices, displayed as knobs that can be fully automated. This is on top of the main source texture itself which is shaped by the mod wheel. That’s a lot of expression for adding magical, mystical, and even damnable ambiences to a project score.
Shevannai or Shouldn’t I?
As for buying considerations, I think the value is in the multi-faceted ways Shevannai can be used. While some might compare Shevannai’s main legato to those with more extensive word-builder capabilities, the approach here is really about the way the Elven content itself intentionally evades a “known” word-specific focus – the mystery of sung, spoken, and whispered musings are the true appeal. And still, I think the unique vocalist is a great addition to any sampled vocal library collection, as are the soundscapes which make Shevannai a great sound design consideration as well.
As for practicals, Shevannai is a Kontakt-Player instrument (loads in the Kontakt browser), downloaded and authorized via a user-registered account on the Best Service site.