By Jon Hillman
Quick — think of three film composers. If the first name that popped into your head was John Williams, then I’m almost certain the next name in your list is Hans Zimmer. And based on the multitude of copycats out there in film and games, it’s safe to say he’s one of the most influential composers of our time. But what is so special about his music? While this is a complex question, part of the answer is undoubtedly the pulse of his music, the percussion. The expressive language of his scores largely revolves around innovative percussive elements, enough so that I’m confident I could identify each score by those elements alone.
This is what makes the HZ Percussion collection by Spitfire Audio incredibly interesting — precisely because you can not only sound like Hans, but that you can think like him. On offer in these libraries is a huge palette of percussive timbre and texture — it’s highly unlikely that you’ve even heard of all the instruments contained within, let alone actually heard them. That being said, Spitfire has made sure that everything is accessible, playable, and tweakable with a huge of variation. HZ Percussion allows you to be truly imaginative with your scores’ rhythm and movement, and we should expect nothing less from a collaboration with Hans Zimmer.
There are three libraries in the series. HZ01 London Ensembles is a collection of ensemble and solo percussion instruments, and HZ03 London Soloists adds further solo performances by Frank Ricotti, all recorded in Air Studios in London by Geoff Foster. HZ02 Los Angeles features Jason Bonham on his DW Vistalite kit, recorded at several LA studios.
Name that instrument
Timpani, tamtam, piatti, taiko; all fairly common percussive instruments/groups you probably know well. But what about tombek, surdu, bombo, or paper djun? I’d guess I’m not the only composer who had to look up at least one of these. And let’s say you are aware of every instrument captured in these libraries — there’s no way you’ve heard them like this. After all, anyone can bang on things, but making beautiful sounds is a something else entirely.
Much like Mr. Zimmer’s music, we can be sure that the breadth of HZ Percussion has little to do with Spitfire showing off, and everything to do with the pursuit of percussive color. With so much at your disposal, though, you will need to spend time getting to know each instrument, just as a painter develops his palette. And while multiple similar instruments are grouped together into handy patches to support your exploration, you will be selecting a single instrument per patch/Kontakt instance; to layer or build complex setups you’ll be relying on Kontakt or your DAW preset tools.The time you spend getting to know HZ Percussion will be significant, but the results are well worth it.
When playing the instruments, the range of timbre found between lowest and highest velocity and round-robin samples takes advantage of true-to-life percussive dynamics in a way that few libraries do. If you’ve ever sat in front of a nice cymbal and experimented for a few hours, you know what I’m talking about;Â what you hit it with, where you hit it, how often, all of these things reveal a musical depth most people are unaware of. Browsing through HZ Percussion feels like that kind of exploration, where the instruments feel responsive and alive. This should be a requisite for any instrument in your collection, physical or virtual, especially when it comes to developing the literal pulse of your music.
And don’t go thinking this is all too fancy for you; HZ02 Los Angeles is like steak and potatoes amongst the foie gras and caviar of the rest of the collection. Here, you have Jason Bonham playing a massive drum kit set in three different famous scoring stages, with sticks, brushes, and more, miked and mixed by some of the best engineers around. Finely crafted but very straightforward, it is, in one word, epic. And I realize I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve only just recently started layering traditional kits under more typical orchestral percussion. HZ02 was tailor-made for this purpose, and it’ll be the first instrument I bring up the next time a client drops the ‘e’ word.
Use your imagination
Each library in this collection has a category called Artist Elements. This is a great place to start your exploration of HZ Percussion, wherein you’ll find three sets of the same instruments, each with different mic and mix choices made by an artist, either Hans Zimmer or one of his award-winning colleagues. I’m usually skeptical of arrangements like this, so I wanted to compare specific instruments from each.
A while later, having only compared one instrument (“HZ01 Buckets”), I had to peruse the manual to better understand what I was hearing, where I learned that over 90 mics were employed in this particular session. This is where it started to click just what Spitfire means by ‘deeply sampled’ — listening to the different artist mixes is an eye-opening lesson on the role of perspective in recording. And that’s just where things start, where each artist patch has multiple mic positions to choose from and blend. Even futher, if you pull up the individual patch for an instrument from Additional Mics, even more mic positions and perspectives are at your diposal.
There’s nowhere near enough space in this review to cover just how tweakable everything is, but it’s worth taking a look at the online documentation to get the picture. No less than 6 dynamic layers, 9x round robin (with tweakable behavior on many patches), Easy Tweaks control (HP/LP filters), response curves, keyswitch mapping, note remapping, and so much more — there’s even an extra gain stage for mic trim so you can setup a relative mix of mic positions and then automate the trims to explore shifting perspective (something Hans clearly loves) without losing the relative mix.
If you take the time to dig into HZ Percussion, the way you think about percussion in your scores is likely to change, and there are very few libraries I can say that about.
I’ll be honest and say that Spitfire’s HZ Percussion had been on my list for a while before the opportunity came to review it. After asking several colleagues about their ‘go to’ and ‘wish list’ percussion libraries, I knew I had to check it out. I must say, though, that this collection goes much farther than I imagined, into the realm of inspiration. This should not be surprising, given Spitfire’s pedigree and lofty stated goal with this collection (“to try and do something historical”).
HZ Percussion is not without its drawbacks, chief of which is the amount of time you’ll need to spend exploring and learning to be truly creative with it. However, the fact that you can be truly creative with it is itself quite an achievement.
Delivery: Download or Physical Hard Drive (add Â£69), HZ01 ~136 GB, HZ02 ~26 GB, HZ03 ~29 GB on disk
Format: Windows 7+ and Mac OS X 10.8+, loads in Native Instruments Kontakt 5 (latest version recommended) or in free Kontakt Player
Copy Protection: Requires Kontakt, uses NI Service Center serial number
Licensing: Sounds can be used royalty-free in original music recordings; no resale or repackaging in products for resale permitted
Documentation: inline contextual help, online user manual
Price: HZ01 London Ensemble Â£399 (~$615), HZ02 Jason Bonham & HZ03 London Soloists Â£199 (~$305) each
More from: Spitfire Audio, www.spitfireaudio.com