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Review of MOTU's Ethno Instrument
Our world is shrinking. In terms of our connection in cyberspace, access to other cultures is almost immediate. In terms of our virtual studios, you can now have almost any musical instrument in your compositions. The MOTU Ethno instrument brings many worldly colors to your art. MOTU put together a powerful and inspiring collection for you all in one simple plugin interface. Its a great GUI. Note the little globe in the pic. It actually spins to the region of the world the instrument you selected comes from. It also can display a picture of the instrument, so you know what it is.
You get 4 GB of instrument samples, all in preset form. You also get 4GB of loops and phrases that are tempo locked to your host software. (you can play them at their original length too for better quality). Typically the phrases and loops are triggered by playing one note in your midi sequencer. However, both can be "drag 'n dropped" onto MIDI or audio tracks in your sequencer. Power users will appreciate that some of the phrases can be drag n dropped as a MIDI track and edited on your sequencer's grids. Likewise, some of the audio loops can be sliced and then dragged n dropped as a midi sequence where they can be likewise edited. Note that I said some, not all. Each instrument has different capabilities. I was pleasantly surprised by this. Ethno has a lot of the kind of flexibility you get with Stylus RMX by Spectrasonics, the kind of glitch potential you get with Recycle loops and the phrase editing you get in GarageBand. Powerful.
The Ethno Instrument is multi-timbral (up to 64 channels in one instance if your sequencer supports this) and Multis can be saved. You can apply the usual filters, envelopes and lfos. There is also 2 band eq and a built in convolution reverb. The reverb sounds good, but does quickly drain the CPU on my G5, so I keep it turned off. Many of the instruments are laid out with their original exotic tuning, but some are not. There is no way I can see to apply a user scale to any instruments. It's possible Digital Performer may have another way to do this. All my tests were done in Logic 7.2. Ethno never did crash even once. Not bad for software at 1.0.
There is a lot to like in terms of sound quality in Ethno. Though quality does vary throughout the categories. Many are stellar, most are very good, a few are not so. Oh, it's impossible to talk about all of them, but here are some highlights. Among the non-phrased, non looped instruments that you actually have to play on the keyboard, the Spanish-Gypsy Flamenco guitar is my favorite so far. The percussion is uniformly great, the didgeridoo is the best I've heard in sampled form. Ditto on the Shakuhatchi. The Maghreb violin is a charm! Cymbalum, Fiddle, Celtic Harp, Amajingu and Djafe Flute, Kora, Koto (the latter two have stunning natural tunings) are all top quality, the best you will find anywhere! The ones I did not like was the sitar and tambura (though the loops and phrases of these were really good. There's a wonderful acoustic bass that almost rivals Trilogy's, and a whole category of "World Synths" that have pads that equal those in Atmosphere. Plenty of worldly flutes, authentic sounding bagpipes, killer Steel Drums and some awesome haunting Fairlight-like Vox samples.
Speaking of vocals, which are really hard to include in a sample set without being corny, there are some great usable phrases here. Lots of Arabic voices (they sound similar to the samples from the Deepest India collection), some Eastern Europe phrases (sound Bulgarian to me), some outstanding Cuban voices. You can stretch these phrases to make them fit your composition and can play them at different pitches, but sometimes they start sounding unnatural. Still they are so well recorded you may want to adapt your song to them.
Phrases and loops. There are plenty of these. Lots of drum loops that make it real easy to get a tune started. Including the loops and phrases was very wise as many worldly instruments have strange tunings and lots of inflections that single note samples can never convey. Overall these are better sounding than your average acid loops. Its a mixed bag, but a big mixed bag. I am having lots of fun going through all these. The slicing and recasting of the loops is going to take me way out there.
Summing up: I give the library an A. Its was quite an ambitious undertaking by MOTU, and it worked. Lots of other world libraries don't dare to try to recreate instruments beyond simple percussion and plucked instruments. Other world libraries are extremely expensive and well-done, like the East West RA, but don't give you nearly as much as you get here. I evaluate MOTU's Ethno a slight notch below RA in terms of the quality of the sampled instruments, but above RA in terms of overall scope and usefulness. The MOTU has many hard to find instruments that RA does not even touch. The Ethno instrument is very much like Ethno World 3 in terms of its scope, but I find the MOTU to be a cut above in terms of sound. But like I said before, quality varies in all these sets by instrument.
For the money spent, I rate the MOTU Ethno instrument with the highest marks of any world collection that I have. If you like world sounds it is a must. This is one set that I hope they come out with a Volume II. Overall, highly recommended.
Go to the Ethno topic at studio-central
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