Review: EarthMoments 5Elements
The Svaram Institute in India is a music and instrument-making school devoted to the power, spirituality and musicality of South Asian instrumentation. Now, their extraordinary collection can be yours.
⊕ Simple to use and yet deceptively ‘deep’ sound-shaping options
⊕ Binaural Beats lives up to its billing as a creative hub of ‘cosmic’ drones
⊕ Original pitch and concert pitch tunings
⊖ Drop-down menus rather than arrow left/right parameter browsing would help
⊖ Key Switches to move between performance techniques would be welcome
An instrument of profound and highly playable beauty. There is no shortage of ‘ethnic instrument’ sample collections, but few are as cinematic and three-dimensional as this.
5Elements is a collaboration between sample developer EarthMoments and Svaram Musical Instruments and Research. The latter is a remarkable institution founded by Aurelio C. Hammer, a musicologist and instrument builder whose Institute engages in musical education, healing through sound and the celebration of the musical practices of Indian and southern Asian music.
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At the heart of 5Elements is a collection of eight instruments, carefully and deeply sampled to bring less frequently heard sound sources to your compositions. It’s a Kontakt-powered sample library, which occupies 5.5GB of hard drive space once installed. While EarthMoments’ website understandably focuses on the potential of these instruments within music-for-picture contexts, there is potential far beyond that. For instance, the natural mallet strikes of some instruments are highly reminiscent of some of Bonobo’s work.
The first instrument is the Healing Bed which, as its name suggests, is an instrument designed for musical therapeutic purposes. It’s a large wooden frame with 50 strings and a natural resonator, whose design is developed from a monochord. In healing, the plucked or strummed strings excite the resonator. The instrument here has an octave bridge, but its strings are so long that as you play the instrument, it floods you with a warm, open yet edgy sound reminiscent of the sitar.
Plucked, stroked, strummed, and phrase patches allow you to explore different playing techniques. In terms of timbre, there is some overlap with the Ananda, which offers a smaller wooden box frame with strings overlaid. Its design also takes some influence from the Japanese Koto, though the Sitar influence here is even stronger, as you can bend notes on the original instrument.
The Golden Plates are flat brass bells that hang from a frame, with 5Elements offering patches with mallet or stick hits. Each plate is heavy with rich, resonant harmonics that have been individually tuned. What’s remarkable here is how long the release time of each hit can last; hold down one of these notes, and it will almost seem to sustain, as the harmonics of each note beat, audibly.
The Litophone will perhaps be most familiar to ‘western ears’ with a purity of tone associated with other mallet instruments. It’s played with soft beaters or sticks, and both options are available here, alongside a spikier ‘Harmonic’ articulation.
By Aurelio C. Hammer’s admission, part of the thrill of developing 5Elements’ Tubular Bells was the link to Mike Oldfield’s work. The instrument sampled here is tuned to a pentatonic scale. And, while you can tune the initial note, you can’t tune the harmonics, so an extraordinary collection of overtones colour the purity of the original hit through the decay phase. The main ‘Mallet’ performance patch is joined by a ‘Strum’, which rapidly slides over all of the bells. A further Wobble/Tremolo patch adds three-dimensionality and is more textural and abstract.
The Silver Plate is considered the foundation of 5Elements, a gong-like resonating plate tuned to 64Hz and the cornerstone of the ‘healing’ qualities of the instruments. The Singing Stones are another remarkable, possibly unique instrument. This instrument is made from connected stones, set in motion by rubbing with wet hands. The effect is akin to a deeper, more resonant version of running a finger around a wine glass to build up a sustained tone.
The interface allows you to load two sound sources or articulations simultaneously in Slots A and B, with a Mix dial setting the balance between these. Below the Layer panes, a More button reveals per-voice control over octave, tone, tuning offset and reverb (with multiple spring, hall, studio and plate options).
Perhaps the most compelling sound-shaping options come from the Binaural Beats section. This introduces a drone layer to underpin the sound source choices you’ve made above. Drones are an essential element of much southern Asian music, providing a sustained harmonic foundation for the melodies and rhythms composed on top. 5Elements has 13 Binaural Beats options available and you can tune these. The key of each is stated next to the name if you choose this approach. Each one has a subtly different musical character; some gently undulate, others are fuller in frequency content, whilst some throb and twist, producing a remarkably enveloping, rich, three-dimensional quality.
There are eight more sound-shaping modules at the bottom of the interface. Space is a shared convolution reverb applied to the summed sound of Modules A and B with halls, plates, caves and other special, spatial effects. Ambience introduces a sonic canvas under the notes you play – these include sounds of the sea, a village, or a workshop, should you so desire.
Similarly, the Player Noise tab introduces ambient sounds associated with the players striking and playing these instruments; gentle fabric and stick noises, or occasional scrapes and breaths. These are all designed to bring a more natural, human quality to the performance of the sounds. The somewhat misleading Room tab lets you place sounds ‘in a space’ and although some of these are indeed physical spaces such as the Svaram workshop, there are also options here labelled ‘Reel to Reel’ and ‘Cassette’ in the ‘Vintage’ category, ideal if you want your parts to sound like they’re lifted from forgotten field recordings.
The sound quality of 5Elements is extraordinary. The detail, precision and expert knowledge that has gone into building the instruments in this collection are matched only by the love which has gone into sampling them. There’s a hyper-real, beautiful and magical quality that comes further alive with the Binaural Beats drones and additional sound shaping modules. The GUI isn’t perfect; there are too many left/right arrows for menu navigation when drop-downs would be easier, and I’d like more seamless ways to move between performance techniques. But the sounds here are more than worth the entry price. Even if the instrument list looks a little meagre, rest assured that once you start combining playing techniques and dreaming up new combinations of those sounds, your creativity will be stirred.
- Free Kontakt Player or Kontakt (6.0.4+)
- 5.92 GB free hard disk space
- 8 instruments sampled with various beaters and playing styles
- Two mixable layers
- Binaural Beat section adds drones
- Effects include Space, Vintage, Compressor, EQ, Player Noise and Stereo Image
- 2 NKI instruments: Concert Pitch and Original Pitch