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Michaela’s Harp is a beautifully crafted Celtic harp sample library for Kontakt 4.2 and above. The instrument we’ve created features three mic positions including direct input recordings, multiple velocity layers, damped and stopped string samples, and variable speed triplets.
The traditional Celtic harp is an ancient instrument native to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and parts of Northern France. We recorded a modern harp with a warm tone and a built in pick-up that allowed us to record a DI sample set in addition to two stereo microphone positions.
To create this wonderful library we spent a day in the studio with the talented Michaela Dorrity. Michaela studied with Brenda O’Somochain in Derry, receiving her Senior 4 (grade 8) certificate in 2012.
Since that time she’s been taught by Máire Ní Chathasiagh, Rachel Newton and Fiana Ní Chonaill and competed in the Fleadh Irish music competition for the last three years, qualifying for the All Ireland Fleadh and reaching first place in the Donegal, and Northern Region of Britain Fleadhs.
We designed this interface to be pleasant to look at, practical, and easy to use. On the left hand side are three sliders:
- Triplet Speed – This control allows you to vary the playback speed of the triplet samples, the default position (as shown in the image above) plays the samples back at 100%, this is the speed the samples were recorded at. The minimum value of this slider is 50% and the maximum is 200%. You can read more about the triplets in the Keyboard Layout and Articulations section below.
- Release – This controls the release time of the samples from 50ms all the way up to 10kms. The default position gives a natural release time of 1kms. The Celtic harp is famous for its long sustaining sound so we wanted to provide a good range of control for this parameter.
- Stereo Width – You can use this control to vary the stereo image of the instrument. The room and close microphones where setup in stereo pairs so this control will affect them more noticeably than the direct input samples which are mono. Setting this slider to its lowest position will result in mono playback for all of the samples.
On the right side of the interface are the microphone controls. We recorded in a studio so the samples aren’t particularly wet which will help you to blend and layer them with your current libraries. The grey/green ring controls the microphone’s volume and the button in the centre allows you to purge or load the samples for the individual microphone positions. The centre button is also labelled so you know which samples it controls:
- DI: This is the direct input sample set, recorded from the harp’s built in pick-up.
- R: This is the stereo room mics – they capture the sound of the harp from a greater distance.
- C: This is the close stereo mics, these were positioned about a meter away, either side of the harp.
The last control on the interface is the RR button. This is used to enable/disable the algorithmic round robin feature which exists to solve the problem of the same sample being repeatedly triggered when a note is pressed multiple times. The round robin counters this by playing samples adjacent to the note that was played and pitch shifting them up or down to match that of the intended pitch.
Keyboard Layout and Articulations
The red keys and the single green key are used to switch between the instrument’s articulations. The blue keys show the instrument’s playable range.
- C0: The first key switch (MIDI note 24) enables the normal plucked string articulation. We sampled the instrument chromatically at three different velocities, making use of the harp’s unique system of levers to capture every semi-tone.
- C#0: This key switch activates the damped string articulation. It was created by Michaela using her hand to dampen the strings around the string being plucked. This results in a less resonant sound and is a common technique on the Irish Celtic harp.
- D0: Activating this key switch gives you access to the individual triplet samples. Plucking the same string three (or more) times in quick succession is often called for in Celtic harp music. It can be difficult to achieve this sound with individual plucked samples as the sound of the players fingers re-plucking the already vibrating string is quite distinct. The triplet samples cover the middle range – A2 to C5 – where this technique is most often used. The speed of the triplets can be varied using the Triplet Speed slider, located on the left side of the interface (see Main Interface section above for more details).
- D#0: The final key switch, coloured green on the keyboard, is used to stop strings that are already sounding. When you press this key any notes that are already playing will be silenced and stopped string samples will be triggered for those notes. This key switch only works when using either the normal plucked articulation or the damped articulation, it doesn’t respond when using the triplets.
You can hear Michaela employing these techniques in the live performance near the top of this page and at her website.
Kontakt 4 and Kontakt 5 Instruments
The library comes with two instrument files, one for Kontakt 4 (marked K4) and one for Kontakt 5 (K5). The two instruments are identical except that the Kontakt 5 version uses the newer Time Machine Pro mode for the triplet samples; This provides a higher quality time stretching technique than the older Time Machine mode used in the Kontakt 4 instrument.
Produced by: David Healey
Musician: Michaela Dorrity
Recording Technician: Sarah McNeill
Sample Editing & Scripting: David Healey
GUI Design: Heather Armstrong