The sweet sounds of the past have always been a sought after but elusive promise. Many of today’s hardware and software manufacturers seek to provide us with instruments that bring back that vintage sound in hopes of creating those special emotions captured in the classic recordings of days gone by.
Applied Acoustics Systems has pioneered this effort to create playable and convincing virtual instruments that blur the line between what is real and what is virtual. Their latest project embodies the best of what technology has to offer in the form of Lounge Lizard.
IT’S ALL ABOUT 1s and 0s
What sets AAS apart from other music software developers is their focus on what is called Physical Modeling. Many virtual instruments rely on sampling or recording massive amounts of data to represent the notes and dynamics of the particular instrument they are trying to recreate. For instance someone working on a sampled electric piano may have hundreds or sometimes thousands of individual recordings to capture each note along with how it is played using different levels or dynamics.
You also have recordings of the mechanical components of the instrument that represent the pedals, hammers, strings and other elements that add to recreating the illusion of playing the actual instrument.
The difference in using Physical Modeling is that each part of the instrument is represented by a mathematical formula. This allows for much smaller file and memory footprint. The other advantage is the range of dynamics that can be achieved. The physically modeled instrument is able to more accurately reflect how the musician is playing.
You are not re-triggering the same set of recordings but are generating fresh sounds each time you play a note on the keyboard. The greatest benefit I see is that it creates a connection with the musician and instrument allowing full range of expression. I am not just playing back a recording of someone else playing I am actually the one determining how the performance will sound.
Lounge Lizard is comes as a VST, Audio Units, RTAS and Standalone format for both Windows and Mac.
THE LIZARD’S BACK IN TOWN
Now at version 4 AAS has taken Lounge Lizard into some new and exciting territory. Those of you who have used previous versions of Lounge Lizard will no doubt agree that it is by far one of the most expressive examples of a virtual electric piano product. Version 4 has raised the bar even further.
The first thing you will notice is Lounge Lizard’s PLAY screen. This is where most of the action will take place. Here you are given control over the most basic controls that you would most likely use in a performance situation. You can select the number of voices allocated. This would allow you to adjust for your particular processor’s speed and capability. More voices could potentially use more CPU power. This would come in useful if you were running several other virtual instruments in your setup to help allocate the horsepower where you would most need it.
You also have a very well thought out PRESET MANAGER. This allows you to store your favorite setups. AAS has provided a very extensive set of sounds to get you started. They have also given you a very sensible way to access your most recent presets by giving you a HISTORY setting to scroll through the most recently used presets. You also have plenty of room to save your own creations or share and load sounds from other Lounge Lizard users.
Next you have a basic EFFECTS section. You use this section to shape and adjust the sound using Compression, EQ, Delay, Distortion and Reverb. This is great for dialing in quickly the right mix of ingredients to get just the sound you want.
Below the EFFECTS section you have an area where you can get into the various settings that control how the piano will sound at the most basic level. You have some general settings to adjust HAMMER, FORK, PICKUP and the overall CHARACTER of the piano model. There is also a handy TREMELO setting to get that wonderful vintage sound.
To the side you will notice a virtual Pitch Bend and Modulation wheel. You can grab these with the mouse or touchpad and play them directly from the screen. You also notice a thin row of virtual keys on the bottom. At first I thought this was just a graphical element to simulate a grill on the piano case but when I moused over the area well you know what happened. It behaves almost like a ribbon controller and you can get some interesting sounds from playing the virtual keys.
The EDIT screen above takes you into the heart of Lounge Lizard. This screen gives you more detailed control over exactly how Lounge Lizard is generating the sound. You can see in the diagram below how each control corresponds to the physical component of the electric piano’s action and sound generator. It is so amazing to see how this works and even more so that you have the ability to shape the sound the way you desire.
Just like the EDIT screen gives you more precise control the EFFECTS section compliments with the same level of deep control over how the sound will be shaped by the various elements of Compression, EQ, Delay, Distortion, Reverb.
You take all of the technology and innovation, graphic interface, effects, you name it and it would mean nothing if it did not sound like the target instrument. I have some good news, Lounge Lizard v4 is amazing. The only way I can describe it is that there is an aliveness to the sound. It breathes the very character of the beautiful timbres it strives to emulate. You just get a feeling that there is truly something special beneath your fingers as you play through the various presets.
I am very affected by the instruments I play and sometimes they do nothing for me but Lounge Lizard v4 really encourages inspiration as you play it. You want to dig into the keys to get that bark from the tines or just float in the beautiful bell tones of some of the presets. They have just nailed it.
I also love the fact they have included some fun presets named for some very popular songs in the past where the electric piano was the signature sound. I know you will have fun playing your own version of The Logical Song and some others. Lounge Lizard is like a time machine in that respect as sound is so connected with memory and they get it right.
BEYOND THE LOUNGE
Well since this is a virtual instrument you are not limited to just the traditional electric piano sounds. Having this much flexibility opens the door for some really wild experimentation. You can really get some extremely strange sounds that are far from musical or they might just bring you to a new level in creating the next composition. Sound inspires and Lounge Lizard gives you plenty of fuel for that imagination.
With the introduction of Lounge Lizard version 4 Applied Acoustics Systems has really refined everything they have learned up to this point and presented us with the flagship electric piano virtual instrument. If you are a previous Lounge Lizard user then this is a no-brainer upgrade and you should get it right away. If you are a new or prospective user looking for that true to life electric piano sound believe me you will not be disappointed in what you find with the Lounge Lizard.
For more information, audio, videos and to download a free trial version visit Applied Acoustics System’s website.
You can also watch a short intro I put together here: