When does our fascination with music begin? There's plenty of research to suggest it takes root before we're even born, and as soon as children are old enough to sit up, they're picking up beaters and bashing toy xylophones, shiny glockenspiels and miniature drums. Later, they discover talking toys, pressing buttons to generate musical sounds and jingles in the games they play. UVI's Toy Museum celebrates this world of early-years sound by offering extraordinarily comprehensive libraries of both acoustic and electric toys. These are available separately or as a bundle.
The Acoustic Toy Museum is the larger of the two. Like all UVI libraries, it employs the UVI Workstation host for playback. This first collection is organised into 12 sub-folders of instrument types, which give you a good overview of what to expect: Toy Pianos and Keys, Xylo and Metal, Children’s Bells, Toy Guitars, Music Boxes, Baby Drums, Baby Percussions, Melodicas, Blow Toys, Musical Gadgets, Ancient Automates and Kindergarten. The toy pianos and keys folder offers the most comprehensive collection I've seen, and what's really great is that for each instrument (not just in this sub-folder but across the Complete Museum), both the country and year of original release is given, complete with a picture, so you can learn a little music history while playing.
Where relevant, each instrument is offered with variation, so you'll find that some sounds are sampled with short, medium and longer release tails, for example. The UVI player also allows you to configure playback parameters more comprehensively. Through the sub-folders, the library is also split between sampled instruments and, where appropriate, a collection of musical loops (if you prefer the sound of someone truly playing these instruments). The percussion library is also of note, with a wide range of individual percussion instruments and phrases, from the pieces of a child's marching band kit to egg shakers, finger cymbals, wrist bells and jingle sticks. It's a great junk percussion collection in its own right.
The Electric Toy Museum is a smaller library featuring a comprehensive collection of classic and rare toys, including Major Morgan, Speak & Spell and calculators alongside keyboards you'll have retrieved from your music classes' cupboards if you were at school through the '80s or '90s. The list of sub-folders in this library again shows you how seriously UVI have taken the process of putting this collection together: Children (featuring a truly global collection of primitive children’s keyboards), Developed, Drums & FX, Mini Sampler, Musical Toys, Organ Basic, Silly, Small, Speech and Style-o-phone. Again, the instruments within are labeled with country and year of origin.
It's amazing how the passing of time has allowed these instruments to become classics. Back at the time of their inception, it was all-too-easy to imagine how the lo-fi, reedy quality of these electronic instruments would be superseded quickly. But their place in history now seems more relevant, as does their contribution to modern production. Mixed with lusher, richer plug-ins, the bit-reduced tone of many of these sounds adds seductive grit and power to mixes. This is true too for many of the sampled beats, which offer a really pleasing, 8-bit quality. They work wonderfully as intro loops that can then give way to fuller, bigger beats, as well as provide insistent percussion sounds that cut through mixes.
What I really like is that some toys feature a Stylophone-like pen system to generate sound. This often leads to out-of-tune or microtonal tuning systems, which are of limited use in most commercial music productions. UVI have thought this through, often providing both original tuning scales and diatonically tuned alternatives. I also like that each program is designed to play back only within the range of the original instrument, reinforcing the feeling that these toys have been valued as real instruments through the recording process.
The Acoustic library will, without question, hugely appeal to those working in music-to-picture capacities. Whether you're looking for literally childish instruments for appropriate film cues or looking to tap into the trend of smaller sounds (such as glockenspiels and toy pianos), there's much to mine here. That said, there's plenty of weight in some of these sounds, too. The looped performances for the guitars and ukuleles in particular will no doubt find their way into plenty of pop and electronic productions.
The Electric Library may even more immediately appeal to the producers reading this, as the crunchy quality of many of its synths and sampled beats will slot effortlessly into mixes. There's also plenty of scope for one-shot fun, with lots of computer-generated voices and unusual FX. Don't be surprised if you're initially amused by the novelty, only to realise these libraries are sonic arsenals for your tracks. The very best producers look for inspiration in all sorts of places, unearthing it where it's least expected. The great news is that you'll find it, over and over again, with these libraries.