Rhythmic Robot Releases Uproar For NI Kontakt (Interview)


Rhythmic Robot has announced the release of Uproar, a unique distortion-based virtual analogue synthesiser for Native Instruments Kontakt. We’re taking a closer look at this and brand new Rhythmic Robot release and having a chat with one of their team members – The Professor.

Although it resembles a standard virtual analogue synthesizer, the truth is that Uproar is anything but your standard VA. Its twin detunable oscillators are based on a set of electric guitar multi-samples (featuring the sounds of a Fender Telecaster which was played with an E-bow) and the custom Kontakt interface provides a unique set of controls which make it possible to generate huge evolving pads and soundscapes.

We’ve had the pleasure of chatting with The Professor (two thirds of Rhythmic Robot) about Uproar and what makes it stand out from other NI Kontakt synthesizers. We also talked about Rhythmic Robot’s approach to sampling, their favorite Kontakt libraries and their plans for the future. Enjoy our mini interview with RR and take a look at their brand new website if you need some fresh NKI patches.

The Interview

BPB: First off, thanks again for taking part in our old Commodore 64 Synthesizer Sessions DELUXE collab project. It really was tons of fun for me and it’s one of my favorite BPB sample packs to date. Which other Rhythmic Robot releases would you particularly recommend to BPB readers who like C64 Synth Sessions DELUXE?

RR: I love the Commodore 64 instrument too! And it’s always nice to do some freeware Kontakt stuff once in a while. I think anyone who likes that instrument is probably quite keen on the crunchy lo-fi sound of the SID chip, which can really add some character to a cleaner track; and we’ve got some other contenders in that area. Our SpecDrum, SpecTone and SpecTalk instruments all take a Sinclair ZX Spectrum as their starting point, and those can get really lo-fi. On a slightly more professional level, Grit Kit works the magic of three early samplers on a set of waveforms to create a really gritty drum synth, where you can “dial up” the grit factor by pushing the original hardware right to its limits. We used a 12-bit Akai S950, an 8-bit Ensoniq Mirage and a 13-bit Ensoniq EPS to record the waves, and the result can sound really characterful. Still my favourite drum synth!

BPB: There really is an awful lot of really awesome sound libraries available on your site. I know that making Kontakt instruments of such high quality takes a lot of time and dedication, so I’m wondering – how many people are there in the Rhythmic Robot team? Also, how do you approach the task of recording these old and rare instruments and turning them into Kontakt libraries? How long does it usually take you to turn an old piece of hardware into a polished virtual instrument?

RR: There are one and a half people on our team (me, and Mongo). How exactly we tackle an instrument depends a lot on what it is and how it works. For something simple, like an old mono drum machine, we concentrate on getting clean samples of all the sounds, usually lots of times so we’ve got plenty of round-robins to play with. There’s a surprising amount of variation between hits on some of the really old analogue gear in particular, so we always try to capture that.

For more complex machines like synths, string machines, or other sound apparatus, we have to plan out how to tackle the instrument. Often we need to take really long samples to make sure that all the cyclic movement of something like a vintage ensemble effect is preserved. And when we did Jennings, which was a hugely ambitious and elaborate instrument that took us several months to put together, we had to work not only with sampling but also with some pretty clever convolution techniques to get our software version to emulate the original. (We couldn’t do it by sampling alone as it had over 2000 potential combinations of settings!)

Old hardware also has a habit of throwing curve balls your way in terms of how it operates and how you’re going to have to recreate it. At best, this means that you’re never quite sure how long an instrument will take to finish. At worst, it can burst into flames (like Jacky did) or weld itself to itself and short out the power supply (like the Spark Gap tuning fork did).

BPB: I’ve always liked how Rhythmic Robot libraries cover the kinds of instruments which you really can’t find anywhere else on the web, for the most part. Where on earth do you manage find these lovely noise making machines? I’d also love to know which one is your favorite Rhythmic Robot release to date.

RR: We get our source instruments from anywhere and everywhere. eBay of course; car boot sales; skips; the local dump; yard sales… it’s amazing what’s out there. For something like a classic synth, we sometimes need to rope in our friendly synth tech to get it up to scratch before we sample it. We like ‘warts and all’ sampling but sometimes the instrument needs a bit of TLC first. I think my favourite Rhythmic Robot instruments so far are the ones that use really weird kit as their starting point; if I had to choose just two, I’d go for Spark Gap, which was sampled from a 1920s piece of scientific laboratory aparatus – the Electrically Maintained Tuning Fork – and Shortwave, which I just love. It’s based on a set of recordings we made of all the weird stuff you can find on a shortwave radio dial – atmospheric static, morse code signals, Cold War-style ‘numbers stations’ automatically reading out code, tuning squeals and warbles… all bolted together into a kind of primitive additive synth framework. I love that it surprises me all the time. It’s also the first instrument on which we implemented our Glitch button, which randomises the settings in a ‘musically intelligent’ way, and that really was a revelation. It’s not an original idea – it’s on some hardware synths too – but it’s just such a great way to break a creative block, or dial up a patch you’d never have thought of. We love that feature so much it’s on pretty much every serious, big synth we do now.

BPB: Apart from sampling rare and hard to find hardware instruments – what is your main goal when making Rhythmic Robot libraries? Do you prefer keeping the original vibe of the instrument, or building upon it and adding your own signature to the sounds?

RR: Our primary aim is that it sound like the real thing (if it’s based on a real thing). So our first port of call is always making sure that the samples, and the way they’re put together, allow you to get the sound of the original hardware out – even if that means taking really long samples, or lots and lots of round robins to capture the natural variation of the instrument. (Hurdy Gurdy has something in the region of 2000 samples as a result!). But then we ask how we could improve the instrument beyond its original limitations. For example, we always allow you to play synths polyphonically if you want, even if they were monosynths originally. And on something like P15, which was a preset-based synth originally, we let you combine and mix the preset tones in a way you couldn’t on the original.

But we’re always really careful to make sure that you can play our version exactly like the original if you want: in other words, all of our ‘improvements’ can be turned off. When we did Jennings, we went one step further, and made a Vintage Compliance Mode that could be switched on, and which disabled features not found on the original. So you could play it exactly like the original 1950s hardware… or you could switch Vintage Compliance off, and go further with the sound, in new directions that the original simply couldn’t do. We think that’s the ideal combination of options, really, and we’ve got it on things like Lambda too – so you can play and program Lambda exactly like the original Korg polysynth, with a restricted set of parameters, or you can switch Vintage mode off and go to town mixing the levels of the different components and using full ADSR envelopes and cool stuff like that.

BPB: Can you tell us a bit more about the origins of Rhythmic Robot as a sound design company? How and when did you guys started making these lovely virtual instruments?

RR: We started about three years ago now, and we started small, making little synths from old Stylophones and malfunctioning signal generators. Making sampled instruments is just a dream job for us: it combines lifelong hobbies like being a computer nerd and loving music technology and old synths into a business that allows us to legitimately buy old synths and mess around with them. How cool is that?! Gradually we’ve ramped things up so that we’re now able to take on much bigger and more ambitious projects. That’s come about partly through now having some funds to spend on bigger and more ambitious source instruments, and partly through having really got to grips with learning how Kontakt functions and what you can wring out of it if you go the extra mile. Some of the techniques we’re using to create things like Jennings are pretty envelope-pushing! So we’re now in the position where I think we make instruments that often sound every bit as good as the big commercial developers, but at a fraction of the cost.

BPB: Your latest release is called Uproar. Can you tell us a bit more about this beastly sounding virtual instrument? What makes it stand out in comparison with the other Kontakt synths on the market?

RR: Uproar is a back-to-front instrument. Ever since Mongo got his Telecaster we’ve been wanting to make a synth based on the sound of an E-bow playing guitar strings: the E-bow is a really cool little doohickey that has a magnet in it, and it makes the string vibrate indefinitely, and rattle and hum and twitch along the way. So Uproar started with a set of E-bow samples, and then we just thought, let’s turn the traditional subtractive synth on its head. So instead of taking a standard bright waveform like a sawtooth or a squarewave, and filtering it until it gets mellow, Uproar takes mellow waveforms (the E-bow waves plus some pure analogue sines) and excites them with three flavours of distortion until they’re bright and buzzing. If those distortion circuits were just set-and-forget, the sound would be pretty predictable; but we’ve put them under the control of ADR envelopes and LFOs with multiple waveforms, so you can get one wave ramping its Drive gradually up and up, while the other wave cycles from 1-bit to 16-bit and back on the Bitcrusher circuit… it gets pretty wild!

The guitar which powers the dual oscillators in Uproar.

The guitar which powers the dual oscillators in Uproar.

What really surprised me about Uproar was that, sure, it does lead sounds and really savage basses, which we kind of knew it would. But it also turns out to do really beautiful, subtle pads. I think that comes because there are no filters in the signal path, so there’s always this sheen of air and harmonic interest over the sound that’s quite unusual in a typical pad sound. You can just tweak those pure sines a little bit with the distortion circuits, feed them through the LFOs a bit for some movement, and – there you go. Breathy, evolving pad sounds! Who’d have thought?!

BPB: You’ve recently launched a new website and it looks great! I really like the new freebies section, too. What else can we expect from Rhythmic Robot in 2015? Are there any particular sample libraries which we should be looking forward to this year?

I’m really glad you like the new website! We took it on in the first place because of the new EU VAT regulation (yawn) which meant we had to update in order to be compliant with the legislation. But then we thought, since we’re overhauling things, let’s at least have some fun and get some deals and bundles and offers going. We’ve always done deals and bundles, but in the past implementing them has been a ridiculous effort of manual labour, with Mongo having to send out download links one at a time to customers who wanted to take part in our buy-one-get-one-free sale, for example. That was a hugely popular sale, but a real nightmare to do from our end! So the new website’s built from the ground up with deals and coupons and all that stuff in mind. We’ve got a nice new Free Stuff area, which you’ve spotted, and also a Hot Deals page with… well, hot deals. (We don’t go in for subtle titles.) So we’ve ended up pretty pleased with it.

As for new instruments… probably the next thing we bring out will be 102200, which is the catchy name of Hammond’s very first – and I think only – synthesiser. It’s rare as hen’s teeth, but we got hold of one late last year and it’s just a blast to play. It’s a weird, messed-up kind of monosynth, controlled entirely by pushbuttons. It’s like someone described a Moog to the Hammond organ guys over the phone and they farmed out the design to the office janitor. But it sounds really good, and we’ve had a great time recreating all those little pushbuttons in Kontakt form! A little further down the line we’ve also got another really lovely sounding old string synth to go alongside Logan and Godwin, and a very odd little bass unit which we can’t wait to play around with… expect some cone-shaking sounds coming out of that! And of course some more of our home-grown madnesses should evolve out of the darkness too. :-)

More Info

Product page: Uproar (£20.00 £17.00)

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Tomislav is a music producer and sound designer from Belgrade, Serbia. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief at Bedroom Producers Blog.

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