I had the chance to test the first entry in the Rattly And Raw’s Signature Range, a series which brings sample libraries recorded with professional musicians.
Martin France Drums is a drum kit instrument for Kontakt and free Kontakt Player, featuring the exceptional collection of drums and cymbals of Martin France (Yamaha, Sonorlite, Gretsch and Zildjian – 36 kit pieces in total). For those who are wondering who is Martin France, despite the name, he is an English jazz drummer who has worked with some of the world’s finest musicians including Elvis Costello, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin).
The collection of drums and cymbals range from a very rare 1920s snare drum to classic ride cymbals from the 1960s and 1970s. Rattly And Raw sampled three core drum kits plus additional pieces chosen for their versatility and colour: a kick and a wide set of snares and cymbals. The recording session took place in a church, with a professional mix engineer.
The Kontakt library has a size of 14GB compressed (32GB pre-compression), and contains 32,900 24-bit stereo and mono WAV samples, losslessly compressed to Kontakt NCW. The download is big, but split into pieces and offered through the great Continuata Connect downloader, allowing you to pause and reload it anytime. I feel the need to repeat that Martin France Drums works with Kontakt Player- the free version of Native Instruments’ sampler, so if you don’t own the full and commercial copy, you can use the drum kit without any problem.
Martin France Drums has a simple and intuitive interface, even those who have never had to deal with such instruments, will easily handle it after a few sessions and knob tweaks. The interface is split into four pages as it follows.
The performance page
The initial kit has a typical placement, with one kick, one snare, three toms, one hi-hat, one crash and two rides. It is set of Sonorlite drums and Zildjian cymbals, but as we will see below, many combinations are possible. The graphical user interface is simple, some may think maybe too simple, with all drum kit pieces on a black background. Personally, I really like the look and feel, they just let me concentrate on the sound of drums itself.
On top left, from the Presets field you can select 7 pre-made drum kits/sets, 21 designed kits, or reset all functions. The designed kits are combinations of kit pieces and parameters to suit genres like modern or classic pop/rock, breakbeat, funk, latino, glitch, hip hop, jazz, fusion and more. The combinations go further with kit piece selection menu in the right, it lets you change and combine kit pieces and even remove what you don’t use.
Once you click a kit piece, you will have access to various controls on the interface. On the first row, you can adjust the hit volume of each articulation, but also the relative volumes for each microphones group, namely overhead, room and close, enabling more possibilities of mixing. The toms have a convolution resonance knob which adds realistic resonance when you shorten the decay of the selected tom.
Next, you are given a MIDI note selector- with this you can assign the MIDI note for the articulation of the currently selected kit piece. On the right hand, there are controls for tuning and microphones decay. The tuning selector allows you to set the tone of the sound for each piece of kit (all its articulations same time) up to +/-36 semitones; for fine tuning, hold shift button while turning the dial. Mics decay let you adjust the decay of each microphone position, here you will be able to diminish or completely remove the reverb of the church where the performances were recorded. If you want to use your own reverbs and delays, that’s fine, this feature is super useful for you; but whilst adjusting buttons, you will go through a variety of stages of real reverb, and drums will be placed exactly as you wish in the mix. Only for the sake of art, I alternated dry and wet articulations:
Example using a mix of wet and dry articulations
At the bottom of the performance page, we have various tools to enhance the workflow. Take the MIDI learn for example: once you enable the button below each articulation, hit the desired key or pad from your controller, and it will automatically assign that articulation to the key you selected. The link buttons take controls on the knobs above them, turning individual parameters into global parameters. Let’s say we want to control the close mic volume for all kit pieces same time; all you have to do is enable the link button below close mic volume and select the level you want. Then, if you browse through all the kit pieces, you will notice that all of them have same close mic volume level.
Soundcheck feature in the middle is a fast way to map all the articulations in the kit to keys or pads of your MIDI controller. Press Soundcheck button, and you will enter a mode where all articulations are assigned in “cascade”, one after another. One of the best ways to map sounds I have ever seen.
The mixer page
Now that you’re used to the Performance knobs and controls, the mixer page will be a piece of cake. So let’s start!
First we’ll jump into the mixer itself, which is configured classically, with faders to adjust the volume of microphones for each kit piece. Each mic channel has a peak-style level meter for visually checking your mix balance, as well as usual mute and solo buttons. Except overhead and room mics (because of their stereo image), you can pan each channel.
In the right hand of the mixer, there are two more tweaks- the kick high pass filter and snare top boost. First helps to temper the bottom end of a massive sounding kick drum, and the second, as its name implies, adds some extra high frequencies to the snare.
The reverb sends from the very top, set the amount of reverb applied to any microphone channel in the mixer. The reverb is enabled or disabled on the effects page, which will be discussed in the next chapter.
The effects page and the tweak page
The effects chain has the following processors: a simple compressor with dials for amount, mix and gain, a tape saturation emulation with drive and warmth, the transient shaper with usual attack and sustain, a distortion with amount and output, a convolution reverb for use with the mic channels using the reverb send dials on the mixer page, a brightness enhancer sampled from a Pultec EQ, and the 4-band equalizer applicable before and after the other effects.
You can choose the reverb type (which is linked to convolution reverb), also there are available 24 impulse responses covering analog and digital styles, while the compressor has 4 shapes: ClassicPunch, Hard Slam, Gentle Glue and Safe Option. For those not too technical, the FX Preset dropdown menu it might be enough; it comes with 37 pre-made effect presets ready to be used for different music genres and effect styles.
Moving on to the next page, we can select the voice usage which, by its 3 states (Full, Lite and Economy), manages the number of voices sounding at any time. This is useful when you have busy performances. As the developer advises, is sometimes useful to record takes in Economy mode and switch to Full mode for playback or bounce.
If you have a MIDI controler, you should first adjust the Velocity Curve selector to your needs. For softer and expressive playing choose positive values, while for harder playing style choose negative values.
At first I thought that I would have to deal with yet another tool in the experimental area, knowing that the guys from Rattly And Raw have an extensive series of such Kontakt libraries. But after several quick passes and tests, I realized that I finally found the drum kit I’ve always wanted. They kept it simple, not trillions of settings in which to get lost, focusing on what is most important: the sound. I like that it has character, it is a drum kit with color and body, an amazing tone – faithful emulation of the real deal. I can truly feel it and play it. I made some tests with my MIDI pad controller, I am not the best finger drummer, but you might catch the idea.
Example using Latin Jazz kit (untouched)
Sustaining a DnB melody (the drum loop made with a modified Breakbeat Kit + has a slight external compression and reverb)
Rock drum loop with Modern Vintage kit and Sonorite Med tom
Jazzy drum loop using Classic Jazz kit with Classic Jazz FX preset
Martin France Drums is a versatile and professional sounding instrument, that once you discover its potential, it will definitely become your first choice in terms of drums. The multitude of settings and effects, makes it suitable for classic and modern music styles, but same time is stripped down only to essentials. If you ask me, Martin France Drums is possibly the best drum kit on market at the moment.