A passion for experimentation
Ben Osterhouse is a creative music visionary with a passion for experimentation, traditionally known for his critically-acclaimed, tonally rich Kontakt libraries. However, Ben’s sampled instruments only scratch the surface of his ingenious musical endeavours. This week, I had the immense pleasure of getting to chat with Ben, gaining an insight into everything from his professional workflow and musical inspirations, to his unique techniques and riveting sonic experiments. Ben’s relevant and intriguing responses paint a beautifully detailed picture of the ins and outs of a contemporary electronic musician’s life, containing details that any working individual, musical or otherwise, can find great value in.
Firstly, I felt it was appropriate to cover what Ben is known for best; his Kontakt strings instruments. Strings and orchestral sounds, along with plucked instruments, such as guitars, are customarily challenging to convincingly recreate in the digital realm, due the monumental range of distinct and precise articulations, possible with these instruments. Ben prides himself on painstakingly recording countless takes of various string enunciations. He currently prefers to record all samples as dry as possible, permitting for maximum flexibility when applying realistic, enriching effects, such as reverb and compression.
To add to this, despite one day hoping to collaborate with others (more on this shortly), for now, Ben meticulously plays every sample himself. This may be a limitation, but Ben finds creative ways to turn this into his primary strength, to yield unique results.
Not only do the Ben Osterhouse Kontakt libraries sound excellently vibrant, but the interfaces are also fantastically well designed, creating an unparalleled, intuitive sound-shaping experience. Expectedly, this isn’t accidental; being perhaps Ben’s favourite stage of Kontakt instrument construction. After conversing about this process, it was revealed that discovering a way of presenting a palette of sounds, in an efficient fashion, was a notably enjoyable problem to solve.
Ben has conducted numerous experiments with this goal in mind, culminating in some incredibly successful products. For example, in the “Cello Textures” instrument, Ben looked to create an interface completely void of text; leaving just the waveform graphics to produce an experience so intrinsically organic, that it can be understood, before even being opened. A similar methodology can be seen in the “Sospiro Strings” instrument, in which a slider is used to switch between sample pools. The underlying idea being that dragging a slider along, to select pools of increasingly lengthy samples, is far more natural of a process than hunting through an endless list of sample files, looking for a fitting selection.
I think Ben summed this dilemma up exceptionally well, by describing it as “making the most out of a selection of recordings, by making it so the user can do really complicated tasks in the simplest way possible.”View Cello Textures
Intuitive interface design is just the beginning of Ben’s experimentally-focussed interests however, as is laid blatant after watching his remarkably entertaining “15 ways to make music and sound using the wrong tools” YouTube video. Unique methods of human-machine interaction are a prominent running theme throughout this video. In one section, Ben showcases his use of a conventional graphics tablet, in the context of an XY manipulation pad, traditionally seen in software synthesisers. The experiment resulted in what appeared to be a curiously organic parameter-shaping system, that I’m surprised to find nobody has attempted before.
Naturally, I wondered just how many of these experiments nestle their way into the features of Ben’s final products, in one way or another. In response to this, Ben noted that only a “very small percentage” of the best of these fascinating endeavours are incorporated into his Kontakt libraries. The graphics pad is a great example of this, as it’s not hard to notice that Ben’s outstandingly flexible “Secco Strings” instrument takes significant inspiration from this; where a large, fully automatable XY pad, allowing for control over four different interchangeable parameters, is positioned front and centre.
Despite enjoying the rewarding feeling of seeing a finished instrument more than the satisfaction of the individual steps to completion, some developmental steps stand out more than others. Specifically, Ben noted that devising the physics system in “Secco Strings” was especially gratifying to make sense of. By also mentioning his amusement in the scripting of his “String Flow” instrument, it’s clear that Ben finds artistic fulfillment in computational and musical challenges.View Secco Strings
Powerful Composing Tools
After being informed of the minute intricacies behind both sampling and Kontakt development, I quizzed Ben on his acquisition of new talents and skills; with particular interest on his workflow-enhancing qualities. In answer to this, Ben detailed that “Sospiro Strings” promoted a ‘less is more’ attitude throughout development; motivating the belief that a simple, yet effective solution makes for a superior product. Often the tools that we use the most are the simplest, and Sospiro Strings aims to be one of those types of tools.
Another area that showcases Ben’s expert understanding of his craft is in an often overlooked field; consumer desires and market analysis. To make his already undeniably compelling instruments even more relevant, Ben repeatedly asks himself what he can make which may fill the niche gaps in a producer’s Kontakt library collection, while still maintaining a universally applicable product. The application of this approach can be seen most prominently in the “String Flow”, “Pattern Strings” and “Viola Da Gamba” instruments. This staple trio looks to offer a masterfully composed, expertly detailed option, for both exceptional and conventional scenarios, through their versatility.View Sospiro Strings
Ben’s overt proficiency in musical sampling begs the question of just where he draws inspiration from. He cites Christian Hensen’s vlog as his first introduction into the myriad possibilities available. Seeing Spitfire’s approach to sampling taught Ben to begin thinking of sampling instruments as recording creative “bits” of sound.
Branching from this ideology, Ben emphasises that his instruments are not intended for use as temporary mockup sounds, used for mapping out string scores. Instead, they’re designed for producers who want to make music entirely from virtual instruments. Despite appearing somewhat restrained, it’s important to note that the barrier of entry for Ben’s assortment of instruments is perfectly positioned. By building diverse electronic string offerings for both beginners and professionals alike, Ben expertly maximises the satisfaction of his customer base.View Pattern Strings
After familiarising myself, I noted that the versatility of Ben’s auditory selection grants for immense freedom of expression. For example, “Pattern Strings” includes both a secondary pattern, and a ratio fader, to allow for essentially limitless pattern possibilities. After inquiring about the importance of sonic flexibility in his instruments, Ben responded by making a valuable point that I had failed to recognise; that designing for great versatility and designing for maximum number of use cases are two very different tasks. “Secco Strings” was marked as perhaps Ben’s most versatile instrument, as it permits for user-imported samples, with options to manipulate the auditory response and rhythmic character in a multitude of manners. In contrast, “Oscillation Strings” is arguably the library with the maximum number of use cases; by being a much simpler and straight forward strings library, the range of applicable genres is widened. Although, as expected, it is noticeably less flexible than it’s exploratory counterpart.
Incidentally, “Oscillation Strings” has also established itself as the instrument that Ben is most proud of, due to its inclusion of a particularly developmentally complex feature; polyphonic legato. When developing this feature, Ben spent more time scripting, rather than recording, as devising a logical method of organically sliding from one note to another, is an especially intricate process.
Another unique, exploratory feature that I observed from Ben’s products, can be found in his superb “English Bass” instrument. By utilising the MIDI modulation wheel, the regular upright bass sound can be layered with a “Ponticello” inflicted sound, resulting in a deeply individual, textural effect. Ben explained that he is always trying to find things sampled instruments can do which real instruments could not. For example, “String Flow” enables the construction of typically unreachable chords, by sampling re-tuned strings, before performing notes that are otherwise unattainable in a live scenario.
In a similar vein, Ben regularly makes use of “Sul Tasto” and “Flautando” orchestration directives, creating characteristically ‘flute-like’ sounds, from bowed instruments. Again, performing this sound successfully in a live setting is essentially impossible, due to the natural inconsistency when producing this sound. Sampling enables desirable, yet difficult to perform sounds, such as these, to become dependable and consistent, formulating exceptionally distinct instruments.View Oscillation Strings
Progressing into a new topic area, by beginning to focus on Ben’s individual growth, I wondered where Ben imagined his career to be in five years time, especially considering his current, swiftly learned skill set. Ben responded by detailing that, after working entirely solo, he’s excited to branch out by enlisting musicians to play other instruments; woodwinds and violins, for example. By doing this, Ben hopes to broaden his horizons, through fresh library bases. In particular, Ben hopes to one day be lucky enough to sample an ‘Octobass’; an almost comically large, rare bowed string instrument, that is commonly seen as the double bass’ ‘bigger brother’. With such success in such a short time span, it’s hard to imagine a future void of increasingly innovative products from Ben.
On the flip side, now looking into the past, I was curious as to what Ben would tell his past self, in regards to his occupational development. In answer to this prompt, Ben focussed his answer around how he had previously thought his musical career ‘should’ go. When enrolled on his DMA course, Ben believed that his future must result in becoming an extremely accomplished musician. As a result of this, Ben felt somewhat guilty for not dedicating all of his time to his studies, as his various sonic experiments consumed many hours. Hence, I was informed that with the ability of time-travel, Ben would inform his past self that while it’s important to stay focussed on your primary goals, time spent exploring other avenues is not wasted, as his investigations into the Reaper DAW and learning to script have lead to unexpectedly positive results.
I had noted that taking the gamble of abandoning the conventional employment path, to instead follow a freelance career doing what he loved, must’ve been an exceptionally tough decision. Consequently, I pondered on what other difficult decisions Ben has to make, especially since they appear to be dealt with so noticeably fruitfully. In response to this prompt, Ben declared that the most difficult part of his job is judging just how much he can achieve using ‘clever editing methods’. In particular, how much quality will be lost by making use of waveform-altering effects, such as pitch-shifting. With efficiency kept in mind as a primary value, Ben ensures that his decisions are consistently accurately weighed up, to maintain his standards.
The inherent free rein behind Ben’s career is considered integral to both the quality of his products, and his well being. Ben spends his working days in an amazingly flexible fashion, although, he persistently tries to pick the most arduous task at the start of the day, before commencing more routine responsibilities. Having the ability to take his time enables Ben to think carefully about design choices, try lots of different ideas, and avoid excessive amounts of stress.
In all, it’s apparent that Ben’s continual hard work and creativity is certainly paying off. By now offering an extensive range of enticing instruments, with offerings for an extraordinary range of scenarios and producers alike, it’s easy to find the ideal product to add to your collection. If you’re yet to delve into the excellence that is Ben’s workings, Kontakt instruments or otherwise, now is assuredly the perfect time.View All Ben Osterhouse Products