Authentic steelpan sampling brings Caribbean tones
to studio production
“Like holidays and sunshine” is how one BBC writer described the tones of the steelpan, the national instrument of the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. There is nothing quite like the enchanting “plink” of these melodic percussion instruments, originally made from the hammered lids of steel oil barrels by the island’s street musicians. Thanks to one Trinidadian music technology company, however, there is something awfully close. For about the past four years, a team led by University of the West Indies (UWI) graduate David Chow has been working to replicate the authentic sound of the steelpan using high-quality digital sound sampling. The effort was formalized in 2014 with the founding of Indigisounds Ltd., based in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. Collaborating with Native Instruments to make use of its Kontakt platform, Indigisounds has created a comprehensive library of steelpan tones for a wide range of live performance and studio production settings, enough to “compose, arrange, and produce the authentic sound of an entire steel orchestra,” says Chow.
“At Indigisounds Ltd, our main goal is to take the indigenous sounds of the Caribbean to the world market,” he explains. “Originating from the Caribbean, we pride ourselves on understanding and offering the most authentic indigenous digital samples available, giving the user the ability to reproduce all the unique details and nuances inherent in the instruments and rhythms found in our libraries.”
An electrical engineering student at UWI, Chow made his turn toward music technology just after graduating in 2010. Under Professor Brian Copeland, now principal of UWI, he took part in developing the Percussive Harmonic Instrument (PHI), which combined MIDI capabilities with a physical form inspired by the steelpan. From there, Chow moved on to sound sampling of indigenous Caribbean instruments, especially the steelpan, co-founding Indigisounds with longtime friend and steelpan musician Johann Chuckaree. After creating and refining their samples through many rounds of edits, they struck a deal with Native Instruments to use its Kontakt platform, presenting their samples in a format accessible to producers and arrangers worldwide.
Based locally and rooted in the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, Indigisounds has worked and consulted on its sound samples with some of the most accomplished steelpan players. Early on, however, some had reservations about their project. “Some members of the local fraternity of steelpan performers had the misconception that the library would take from their livelihood, not understanding that it addressed a totally different market,” says Chow. “We reassured them that our product was a tool to make the steelpan more accessible to an international studio production market—which would in turn promote the authentic sounds of the steelpan to an increasingly wider audience.”
Along with the Digital Steelpan Sample Library, Indigisounds has now produced the Laventille Rhythm Section, an authentic rhythm sample library created with the help of Caribbean dance music pioneers Jus Now. In addition, they’ve teamed up on a new project with Precision Productions, a leading production house for the upbeat Carnival-style genre called Soca. In Soca Starter Pack Vol. 1, to be released this January, Indigisounds is offering a unique library of Soca sounds, loops, and rhythms to anchor recordings and performances. Its products have now been purchased by customers around the world, through company websites and outlets including Reverb.com, B&H Photo & Video, Thomann Music, and Music Marketing JRR Shop. Customers are using them in Jamaican dancehall, soca, and reggae styles, as well as more widely in EDM production. As Chows says, “The international market is on the cusp of embracing Caribbean-themed music, and Indigisounds stands poised to fill the demand.”
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