Zen of Recording

Horny Mojo

BAAAAaaaaHHHH!! Sab a doh dant, dibbida zibbidiaaaaaaaaae! Bohm, vwah dohhhhhhn…. Bohm, vwah dohhhn dee bohhhhhhhhhn…ZEHNT be Nohn BahNT doooooooooooooooooooh.

Oh, if it only it were that easy to translate the myriad nuances and idiosyncrasies that make up a single musical instrument’s unique character (although I think I did nail the spelling correctly). In this case it was obviously a trombone, but I could have just as easily transcribed the utterances of at least a dozen other members of the brass and woodwind family, you see, I speak Horn. Fluently. Ever since that sunny summer day spent in the Monte Vista High School gymnasium for Freshman Orientation Day, when the band director, Mr. Underwood, lured me away from the Drama Department table with promises of fun, travel, and no P.E. (two of which he delivered upon), I have been able to (as Dr. Doolittle might say) “talk to the animals.”

In all seriousness, my brass tenure as a performer didn’t last a day past the last day of my senior year in high school, but in those four years I was immersed in my instrument and its shining yellow world. A land of infinite musical discovery, co-inhabited by all manner of brass and woodwind creatures and their identifying textures and timbres. As a producer, I think I’ve been happiest doing those projects that made horns a featured element. There’s just an inherent comfort level that allows a lot more information to be exchanged, which makes for freer, clearer communication. Add to this the excitement generated by the sound of a horn section in the room and Bam! I’m in heaven.

Working with an experienced and musically exceptional horn section on a moment’s notice is not always the easiest proposition, however. There are a few large (and several smaller) issues that need to be addressed before they even get there and often when the costs, scheduling, and time available don’t line up just right, spontaneity becomes a rare commodity indeed. Stranded at such a crossroads, many producers, arrangers, and composers are pretty much forced to settle for less-than-believable horn sounds that have more in common with a Casiotone® than a Selmer™.

Mojo ($499.95 VST, AU, RTAS) from Vir2 Instruments and distributed by Big Fish Audio (www.bigfishaudio.com/detail.html?1205) is a Kontakt virtual instrument (meaning that you need the free Native Instruments Kontakt Player application to load it into your host application) that in many ways, very successfully emulates the sound of great ’70s rock/funk/jazz-infused brass sections like those of Tower of Power, Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

The loose and funky vibe is certainly the main quality that sets this collection apart from its peers, but this is more an attitudinal trait than a question of sonic fidelity, which is superb throughout all of the samples that comprise the instruments represented in this collection: trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, and trombone are all here (as one might expect), but the inclusion of the baritone sax is absolutely inspired. Its rich and punchy tone and excellent playability can be used to simultaneously anchor and propel your arrangements in true ToP fashion!

But wait, there’s more! Also included in this virtual horn section are clarinet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, soprano sax, bass trombone, and muted versions of both trumpet and trombone, loading your palette with a very versatile set of colors.

In your host DAW (ProTools, Logic, StudioOne, etc.) you start by creating an instrument track and loading the Kontakt Player. Going into the player and clicking the Library tab will display the Mojo library and the buttons to access Solo instruments, Multi’s (groups of instruments, like alto sax, tenor sax, and trumpet) and a very large selection of solo and multi Riffs, which we’ll talk more about later.

Each instrument provides instant access to both solo and section versions with up to 10 players each, making this a very viable solution for big band-style arrangements as well. Additionally, one can instantly move from a section to a solo voicing via MIDI CC messages.

Playing through all of these available instruments and configurations via my MIDI keyboard, I was immediately taken by the sassiness of the attacks, as if there’s just a little bit more spin on the ball and marks this collection as unique. You can tweak the attack even further with the Punch function. Working with the Legato (release) and Humanize functions can make your parts even more realistic. I must admit that the more “players” I added to the sections along the way, the more synth-y things started sounding. I had much better luck playing the additional parts on different tracks, into another instance of Mojo.

The realism and musicality of these sounds to this point have been pretty damn good, but the usability of this collection increases exponentially with the addition of Keyswitches. Keyswitches are basically unused low notes on your keyboard that have been assigned as Modifiers. As you play a melody with your right hand, pressing one of these keyswitches with your left hand changes your Play Mode (Poly, Solo, Mono, Section, Legato), the Attack and Release Articulations (Sustain with and without Vibrato, Bends, Swells, Doits, Slurs, Shakes, Falls, Rises, trills, Stabs, Staccato and even one called “Pow”) and the play range of each instrument. This makes Mojo an amazingly deep product, to be sure. There’s obviously a lot to be discovered for those unafraid to delve into the subterranean world of keyswitches.

It was when I discovered the nearly 2,000 Riffs inside this thing that I really was sold on Mojo. Killer sounding loops, rips, and runs played by pros and grouped by instrument, tempo, and key. I put together a free-jazz car chase movie cue using the Riffs from the trumpet and trombone and played it for a roomful of filmmakers and composers. Afterward, several of them asked for the players’ contact info! I guess it was realistic enough, right?

As if all that weren’t enough, there is also a full complement of built-in audio effects at your disposal. Compression, eq, convolution reverbs, saturation, distortion, delay, and more to help you tailor your sounds to exactly the flavor you wish.

No sample set can ever fully replicate the subtleties and minutiae of real human beings performing music. That said, Mojo is some powerful stuff. The more I use it, the more I like it and as of now, I love me some Mojo!

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, songwriter, and now arranger. He last played trombone on the Gandhi Method’s 2004 release, Hi.

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