One of the most recent additions to NI's collection is Thrill, which, like other NI products, appears to have a specific remit. This is a Kontakt-hosted sound design tool aimed at providing dark, brooding atmospheres for a particular brand of sci-fi soundtrack and trailer production. However, there is considerable potential for this to be a tool for use in a broader range of productions. Thrill has been developed by Galaxy Instruments, whose programmers also collaborated on NI libraries like Rise & Hit, which provides the closest match to Thrill's sonic personality. So what exactly is Thrill, and what can it do?
Described as a "real-time cinematic tension instrument," Thrill centres on an X-Y axis performance tool. This allows you to morph seamlessly between chosen sound sources to add dramatic tone swells and timbral shifts whenever required. Accordingly, Thrill's personality is a core sound of menacing, atmospheric moods, which explode into screaming, howling and grating tones whenever you push the X-Y axis upwards to ramp up the tension. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, as first we need to understand how a program within Thrill is constructed.
A single Thrill preset consists of what NI refers to as, a little confusingly, two separate Thrills. Each of these is an engine into which sounds can be loaded from the comprehensive inbuilt database. In fact, while it's possible to load Thrills into each side of the main interface, they're actually a blend of two user-defined sound sources. So if you want to dig deeper, you have control over four separate sample layers at the heart of any program. Once you've dropped to the editing layer of your choice, you can crossfade between sound sources using the real-time X-Y controller. Broadly, this sets volume balance between the two sides in the (left-to-right) X axis and the intensity of the two engines in the (up-and-down) Y axis. Accordingly, while the sounds are at their most spooky near the bottom, they come roaring into life whenever you push the X-Y target point towards the top.
However, as you'd hope and expect, refining the performance of a Thrill program can lead you much further. Next to the name of the chosen Thrill assigned to each side, a rotary dial allows you to control the "Thrill Factor" of each sound engine. This translates to how intense and huge the sound becomes as you move up through the Y axis. So if you want to keep one sound consistently restrained while the other one goes haywire, you would limit or expand the modulation amount assigned to each engine. If you want to swap one sound for another, this is also the place to browse through what's available. Sounds are organised into Soft, Loud, Orchestral, Hybrid, Low, High, Dense and Light categories. If you'd rather let fate choose your sound sources, there's also a randomise function that will pick sounds on a whim.
When it comes to deeper levels of sound design, the Source page allows you to see all four sources and manipulate key parameters for each, including Volume and Pan position. The sound sources are comprehensive. They range from individual orchestral sections including strings, wind and brass through tuned and untuned percussion collections to wild bent circuits and electronic sound sources. Where relevant, multiple microphone arrays have been used at the recording stage, adding another layer of flexibility. All sounds are organised into one of two categories, which determine how MIDI input will be interpreted. Atmospheric, noisy or textural sounds don't respond to pitch input (in other words, playing any note on your controller keyboard will generate the same sound), whereas Clusters respond to pitch, allowing you to create anything from low murky backdrops to biting, piercing, higher sounds. Neatly, you can configure a Cluster to expand or limit the number of voices/notes being triggered. This means you can create anything from jarring, atonal washes of sound to more precisely tuned, musical sounds.
Further control lies in wait, with Envelope shaping, Blend (how the two sound sources within a Thrill are balanced), Stereo Width and Tuning controls available per Thrill engine. But this goes deeper, thanks to Thrill's comprehensive effects provision. At the bottom of the main page, the FX button reveals the effects available to each side of the Thrill engine. Each module can be switched on/off as required and includes Mutate, Colour, Drive, Stereo and Phaser dials on this main page. These are grouped under Mod FX, as each engine features its own rotary dial, whose range can be added to the X-Y pad's movement. So if you want the Mutate dial (which introduces weird and wonderful convolution treatments) to become a contributing factor to the wildness of the Y axis, this is where its range can be set. Next to the Mod FX tab, you'll find one for EQ and Space, a convolution reverb engine within which you can choose from a wide number of impulse responses, alongside dials for Send level, Reverb Size and Distance. If you create a balance you particularly like and want to use it within the other Thrill engine, there's a link button to fulfil this very purpose. Global Effects can also be added for altering both Thrill engines at once, which can be accessed via the crown button at the bottom of the main page. A global EQ can be found here, alongside Saturation and Dynamics engines, the latter of which features Limiting and Compression options. This is also the place to choose CC controllers for real-time X-Y pad manipulation. By default, the axes are mapped to MIDI CCs 2 and 3 but you can swap them for your chosen numbers if you so wish.
Thrill is a phenomenal tool for achieving its primary purpose, which is to allow you to configure a real-time performance instrument to animate and automate complex, imposing textures while composing to picture. However, there is so much sonic richness here that it's useful across a broader range of styles. If you're a fan of Burial-esque moods that brood, breathe and add darkness to a production, Thrill should be very appealing. Equally, if you want to add unexpected richness and dust to pads and textural sounds, Thrill is a blast. I had a lot of fun doing precisely this, setting up a side-chained compressor over a Thrill program and letting the drums in my track beat it up with dynamic ducking and pumping. While Thrill has a different sonic remit, there is potential overlap with a library like Spitfire Audio's Phobos here. And as with that library, your creative imagination will reward you.
Ease of use: 4.0