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Output - EXHALE Review at Resident Advisor

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Output's name is synonymous with interesting and innovative Kontakt-hosted sample libraries. Joining REV and Signal in its product line is EXHALE, whose unique selling point is that its sounds are entirely derived from vocal performances. Exhale uses the raw material from these to generate phrases, one shots, pads, loops and more, to provide musical content for dance and pop records but with a remit that expands into music-for-picture composition, too. 

Like other Output libraries, Exhale downloads via the Continuata Connect application. Exhale will require nearly 17GB of space in total, and you can choose a hard drive location for the library. You'll then need to add this library to Kontakt (either the full version or the free Kontakt Player) and activate it via Native Instrument's Service Center. 

Exhale's interface offers 500 presets towards the bottom. You can scroll through these numerically or make category-based selections by clicking tabs above the list. Want "dirty" "electro" sounds? Simply click those tags to home in on a suitable palette. Above the preset browser at the bottom you'll find three additional tabs that access Exhale's different methods of turning its raw material into usable programs. The first and simplest is Notes mode, where the samples have been programmed to fit chromatically across the keyboard range, allowing you to play Exhale as you would any other synthesiser instrument. This is the place to come if you want to play pads, atmospheres, leads or any other material that will match the harmonic or melodic content of your productions immediately. 

The other two modes are Loops and Slices. Loops map a different performance loop based on related sonic starting points to 13 keys, from C2 to C3. So once you've selected one of the Loop presets, you'll find rhythmic or sonic variation from one key to the next but with a commonality in the tone and feel of each loop within a preset. Crucially, these are true, tempo-locked loops, which will cycle over and over until you release a key. This differs from Slices mode, where individual sections, or slices, of a vocal performance are mapped to those same keys, C2 to C3. This means that you can build your own loops on the fly by triggering shorter sections from any of those keys, effectively rearranging the same content to build your own patterns.

Both Loops and Slices mode contain musical material that inherently implies harmony or a specific musical chord. By default, this might not match the key of the track you're working on, but at the very top of the GUI, you can select both the key note and either major or minor modes to instantly transpose content to match the key of your track. 

The upper section of the main page of Exhale is dedicated to the kinds of macros you'll be familiar with if you've spent time with Signal. Exhale's macros are four sliders that affect key parameters relating to current sound. These vary from one patch to another, but all offer an immediate and effective way of providing tonal variations for the default sound. Their movement can be automated through your DAW or assigned to MIDI control parameters. 

However, to really get under the hood of Exhale, either to tweak an existing program more comprehensively build a new one from scratch, you'll need to head to the Engine tab at the top of the screen. This behaves differently, depending on whether you're in Notes, Loops or Slices mode, as each mode draws on different source material from the library and requires those sounds to be playable in different ways, too. 

In Notes mode, pressing the Engine button launches a new window where one source can be loaded into each of the A and B sound engines (you can make a sound from a single source if you prefer). Clicking on the Source button brings up a list of sample sources in various categories (One Shot, Pads, Tape 1, Tape 2) and clicking on one will assign it to the selected engine. You can then apply global parameters such as volume and pan here, to set a blend between the twin sound sources, as well as open windows to shape EQ and envelopes for each sound source. 

Below, however, you can go much further. The Rhythm tab produces an internal LFO waveform, of which there are a number of choices and shapes that can then be assigned to assorted parameters. The possible targets for this modulation are volume, pan, filter, phaser, talk and saturate, and the amount of modulation assignment is configured by dragging blocks for either the A or B engines in each of those modules. Clicking on each of the modules allows you to configure its parameters, so you'll find mode, cutoff, resonance and envelope shaping possibilities in the Filter module, for example. These can either apply statically across a whole sound or move, via the Rhythm options, as explained above. The final strip of options along the bottom of the interface allows for effects processing, with independently accessible pitch, dirt, motion, compression, tone, delay and reverb options to apply to the combined sound from engines A and B. Again, click on any of these to configure the parameters offered within each module. 

In Loops and One Shot modes, the engine behaves differently, as the sample content loaded into engine A draws from pools dedicated to each individual mode. Selecting a source patch then maps a collection of related loops from C2 to C3, to which you can apply individual modifications in this upper pane. These include varying playback speed to half or double time and reversing an individual loop within the set. Below this, you'll then see similar rhythm and effects capabilities to those found in Notes mode, allowing you to get the loops and slices moving just how you'd like. 

Exhale is a remarkable instrument that should succeed as much as the other titles in Output's collection. Its capabilities truly deliver on their promises when you roll up your sleeves and build new sounds from scratch, because odd as it may sound, this library works best when the vocal samples at its core have been pushed furthest from their original performances. The patches that most directly repeat or loop vocal phrases tire the ear more quickly. In contrast, those that warp with unusual formants or moving filter treatments sound most vibrant and fresh. For me, this is most keenly felt in Notes mode, whose esoteric sounds shimmer, warp or gently oscillate in and out of focus to hugely compelling effect. Output know this, which is why they've come up with so many brilliant ways of taking those raw performances and reimagining them with a dizzying array of shaping and mangling tools. 

There will certainly be plenty of users who head straight for the loops and slices and delight at building new musical phrases. Whichever side of Exhale appeals most to you, Output have once again delivered a library that's impressive out of the box, simple to delve into yet complex enough to create pioneering sounds rich in your own production personality. 

Resident Advisor Ratings:

  • Sound: 4.2 
  • Cost: 4.0 
  • Versatility: 4.3 
  • Ease of use: 4.2

Original source at Resident Advisor.

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