The collaboration between Orchestral Tools and Tom Holkenborg alias Junkie XL gave birth to the excellent JXL Brass in late 2019 (now called Tom Holkenborg’s Brass). Today we will be reviewing the second chapter of this joint venture, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion. The library is advertised as being an exact copy of the actual samples Tom has been using in his blockbuster scores for years. It also promises to give incredible dynamic range and add huge power to tracks.
We were kindly provided with a review copy by Orchestral Tools to check it out.
Tom Holkenborg is clearly one of Hollywood’s most prolific music composers, having scored many AAA blockbusters in recent years (Army of the Dead, Justice League, Mad Max: Fury Road, 300: Rise Of An Empire, etc.). Being a drummer, part of his musical signature is defined by his incredibly punchy percussion beds. This is further emphasized by his prominent use of custom drum kits, which are closer to those used in rock music and much snappier than the orchestral percussion present in most other movie scores. All of these drums were sampled and post-processed by himself and his team over the years and are still a key part of his template.
The release of Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion finally offers the opportunity for composers to play with the very same samples you can hear in Junkie XL’s high-energy scores. The library features several non-conventional drum sets and covers 60 distinct instruments. As such, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion is not meant to be a replacement of standard orchestral libraries such as Berlin Percussion for example, but should rather be conceived as an additional percussive color in a composer’s palette. With its processed sound, its typical use could clearly be seen in adding punch and power to trailer tracks and high-octane movie scores.
The library includes different drum types of course, but also different sizes and tunings thereof. The drums were sampled with up to 100 dynamic layers per instrument, which amounts to roughly 5 GB of sample data. The developers at Orchestral tools boiled down all the original microphone options to two distinct microphone positions, a Front and a Back position.
Here is a quick overview of the patches included:
- Performance Kit
- Bass Drums
- Concert Toms
- Taye Toms
- Marching Band Drums
- Custom Drums
Very much like Junkie XL Brass/Tom Holkenborg’s Brass, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion runs exclusively in Orchestral Tools’ very own, free SINE player. As with the previous SINE releases, this gives Orchestral Tools the ability to sell individual instruments of a library separately. This is a huge advantage for composers wanting to stagger their purchases over time, or are just simply missing one particular section of an instrument group.
The installation itself is easy and consists of activating the purchase, navigating to the ‘My Licenses’ tab, and downloading the desired sections and microphone positions à la carte, leaving the users in complete control of how much hard drive space they want to dedicate to the library.
SOUND & USABILITY
As you may have heard from Tom Holkenborg’s scores for movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, 300: Rise of an Empire, Deadpool, or Army of the Dead most recently, these drum samples are very impactful. Thanks to their mix-ready sound, they provide very tight attacks and are extremely snappy, well beyond typical orchestral scoring percussion. This is a huge advantage for marking rhythmic accents and can also be very useful for layering. It is easy to understand why these drums were part of the “secret sauce” in Tom’s music over the years.
As mentioned before, the various drum types come in different tunings. The low tuning patches feature more reverberant low mids compared to the high tuning ones. As demonstrated by the man himself in quite a few of his episodes of Studio Time with Junkie XL, this can be a very good way of adding even more variety and flavour to rhythmic patterns.
While most instruments were captured as a solo performance, the library also includes a patch that differs a bit from the others: the Quad Toms. In essence, it represents 4 drum kits playing in parallel in the same space to achieve a massive ensemble sound – very useful to get an immediate JXL-style sound.
It is also important to note here that these drums were not recorded at the Teldex Scoring Stage, contrary to many other Orchestral Tools releases. Instead, Tom recorded these kits in a variety of fairly small rooms, garages and recording spaces. He then applied unified post-processing consisting of EQ correction, multiband compression, and reverberation, in order to get a cohesive set of ready-to-use samples.
The mapping is another key point to talk about here. All the patches (except for one) do not use any velocity mapping, but key mapping. This means that each dynamic layer is mapped to an individual note, instead of being mapped to a velocity range. This obviously has a big influence on the way the user will perform using a keyboard. However, after extensive testing we also found this mapping made us even more conscious about dynamics in general: the key mapping method adds an insane amount of control to your performance, especially as some patches feature close to 100 dynamic layers! The lowest dynamic layers are very interesting too: while they will probably need a gain boost in final tracks, they are full of detail.
The key mapping also adds a lot of flexibility to MIDI editing in that you can change the dynamics of entire percussion passages by just moving blocks of notes up or down. Our only criticism is that while all instruments within a family use a common note for their highest velocity (i.e for the Bass Drums, C7 will always give the loudest dynamic), this is not universally shared across the entire library. This makes edits necessary sometimes especially when you are copying MIDI data from one instrument group to another.
Composers who would like to stick to a traditional velocity mapping can also use the Performance Kit patch, which features several instruments that are mapped by velocity. As of note though, this patch only covers 16 of the 60 drums present in the library.
The library also provides 2 microphone signals, Front and Back. These are complementary and usually, work very well as is.
Here is a short demo, using both signals. The demo is using samples out of the box, with just some basic panning, gain staging, and a 1-second algorithmic reverb tail (VSS3):
Once again, Orchestral Tools and Tom Holkenborg are delivering a powerful library, one that will fit trailer tracks and action scores perfectly. As the perfect companion to their previously released orchestral brass library, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion is a great layering tool, capable of adding punch and snappiness to most modern productions.
Priced pretty reasonably, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion is an amazing option for composers who are in the market for a high-impact drum library. The fact that it is available to buy as separate instruments represents another huge advantage in terms of purchasing options.
- Great dynamic range
- Insane level of control over the dynamics
- Powerful, snappy samples
- Innovative key mapping that allows great live playability
- Upper limit of key mapping not consistent across different drum families
- Key mapping might not fit everyone’s workflow
Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion is available as a download through Orchestral Tools’ online store for €299. Individual patches of the collection can be purchased starting from €6.
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