I've spent the last few days setting up my new computer, and at least part of that time has been getting software stuff to work on it. While a lot of that has been dull and tedious, I've also had a bit of a play with some music stuff that I'd forgotten about.
Native Instruments is one of the big music software companies whose virtuasl instruments are used by all of the big names in electronic music, from dance to ambient. They make sensational stuff, including free players that allow you to use a MIDI keyboard plugged into your computer to play a host of amazing sample sounds from their commercial software.
Reaktor is their incredibly variable modular synthesizer, where clever people can prety much mix any components that they like to make weird and wonderful vitual music machines. So what you get for free is a Reaktor Player along with three completely different instruments that have been constructed with multiple sound sets.
Carbon 2 certainly looks the most intricate, which it is. A multi-filter subtractive synth. You get 85 preset sounds which you can then vary if you're game to mess with the knobs! There are some fantastic, complex, evolving sounds. We're not talking electric pianos here. If you do like the new variations that you create you can save the presets.
But wait, there's more...
SpaceDrone is for slowly changing, atmospheric effects, from the sound of birds to eerie wind to spacey sounds ("There's no dark side of the moon, really. It's all dark") to dripping water to ghostly soundscapes. This has 61 fantastic soundsets. I love them all!
From there we go to Mikro Prism, a free synthesiser that uses the Reaktor Player engine. Now you can really start to make exccellent sounding music. 70 preset sounds which are incredibly diverse. I can't wait to use some of these in my band. Texturally rich tones, from bell sounds to synth pads to industrial noise. Some truly beautiful, complex sounds and some to blast you into space. Great use of delay and other effects.
As well as the free stuff, they have other commercial synths like Skanner, which costs $60 although I got it half price some time ago. This is part synth, part sampler, with a wide selection of presest covers leads, pads, basses, soundscapes, more 'regular' keyboardsounds, and weird and wonderful sound fx.
Then there's also the free Kontakt Player, which comes with 50 free instruments, but also serves as a host for $$$ instruments like orchestral string packs, grand pianos etc.
There's a whole lot of fun to be had here for free. MIDI keyboards are cheap and nowadays you can get ones that simply plug into your computer via USB. If you already have an electronic keyboard, it probably has the older-style MIDI connectors, and you simply need an adapter (starting at about $50) to plug it in.
Whether you're playing in a band. making sounds for theatre or video projects, or just noodling around at home, these are all excellent. And if you want to go pro, you can pay extra for a wider range of features and sounds.