Orchestral Tools Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion: What is it?
“I'm [always] thinking about how to get the most out of one instrument, rather than switching between multiple things for different purposes,” Tom Holkenborg explained, fresh from completing his own personal ‘Mount Everest’ with that behemoth score for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Though Tom was keeping his cards close to his chest with regards to what was around the corner, this emphasis on wringing the best out of each instrument is underlined more than ever on the second instalment of his sample library series – and folks, it’s the big one.
Though Tom’s first release covered a stupendous array of brass sounds, Holkenborg is really renowned for the thunderous might of his percussion (think of his modern classic soundtracks for films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Deadpool – they’re all about that signature impact). That’s what this second collaboration with Orchestral Tools aims to provide.
Rather than just present an approximation, Tom himself has personally performed, recorded, organised and mixed the samples contained within, which are arranged across seven libraries, in a range of sizes and tunings – and with a startlingly original and engaging approach to performance.
Before diving in, it’s worth pointing out the adjustment to the range’s titling, with Tom Holkenborg now defining himself by his actual name and not his former moniker. This is an intentional step to move away from the electronic/DJ orientation that the XL-brand was associated with, and underlines his status in the multi-faceted soundtracking universe. You’ll notice that the previously released Brass package has had an update, too.
Like that package, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion installs via Orchestral Tool’s simple-to-navigate SINE player, and is neatly arranged into drum-model specific folders. One of SINE’s major attributes is its ability to zip up considerably-sized samples like this into much more palatable download sizes, in this case, just 5GB, meaning the download time for the entire package was just under seven minutes. You can also download per folder, or per sample.
One I made earlier
Holkenborg is renowned for his ‘full-contact’ credo – taking complete hands-on oversight of everything he records, and this trait is exemplified by Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion’s often quirky, experimental choices – such as the decision to record a cheap set of Marching Band drums.
The fierce individuality of Tom’s attitude to music-making is also fairly apparent by the mixing choices that he has opted for, with the default recordings showcasing massive amounts of natural reverb, with often near-endless room-tails that boost their dramatic impact.
It’s more understandable when you realise that this library is, essentially, the very same homemade package that Holkenborg has used himself, for nearly eight years. “I started developing this library as early as 2013 when I started sampling my own drums,” Tom explains. “I should say I had a very insane drum collection. I started sampling my own drums and had a different approach to what a drum library should be.”
Orchestral Tools Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion: Performance and verdict
The seven main folders span Bass Drums, Surdos, Tupans, Concert Toms, Taye Toms, Marching Band Drums and ‘Custom’ Drums, all of which have been finely sculpted by Holkenborg to be release-ready. What’s really exciting about this pack is the way that Holkenborg has meticulously captured the dynamic range of each drum – massively expanding the playability of each drum sound.
With 100 dynamic layers per instrument, each drum is pleasingly playable across your MIDI or pad controller (or even an electric drum kit, if you so prefer). During tests with a 61-key keyboard controller, it's refreshing how your creative approach to these drum sounds is immediately lifted from the simple impact-triggering of other libraries.
With a range of sizes and tunings adjustable to taste, each one has a uniquely mapped playing range, which increases in intensity as you ascend the notes. Coming at drum sounds like this not only emphasises their centrality to Holkenborg’s compositional ethos but makes for a unique and utterly fresh way into building up some thunderous, dynamically thrilling arrangements. It also makes latter-stage MIDI editing a much more straightforward process.
It’s clear from the outset that Holkenborg has been critically involved with the making of this library, and the recording quality is sublime. A key point here is that these drum sounds are instantly recognisable as Tom’s, which may put off those looking to carve their own compositional identity. But, even for those wary of big-name association, the drums on offer all have distinct qualities that can serve as the foundation for something entirely original.
The Bass Drums are effective underpinners, and experimenting with these quickly reveals the benefit of the numerous dynamic layers. The Surdos are a Holkenborg staple, and provide a lot of that clattering, pulse-quickening drama – pretty much any arrangement you care to make with these has a trailer-ready tone.
The Tupans resonate with long, tantalising tails, while the Concert Toms have been captured with a more distant, airy space – pre-sculpted for you to start building up some kinetic, pulse-pounding rhythms. The Taye Toms have a bit more flavoursome subtlety, yet still have a cinematic stamp.
Surprisingly enough, some of the pack’s very best sounds can be found within its Marching Band Drum library. Though Holkenborg has admitted that the drums recorded here were among the cheapest he could find on Amazon, his approach to recording these sounds has an up-front, direct quality that somehow takes them full-circle from cheap-sounding to in-your-face, attention-grabbers. Their no-frills simplicity works supremely well when building up rhythmic soundscapes.
The Custom Drums consist of a series of random drums that Holkenborg has had for years, including a Birch kit and – most notably – ‘Quad’, which is, in essence, four different kits set up across four corners of the studio. It’s just utterly immense.
Make your own future
The appeal of Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion will of course depend on your own relationship with the man himself. If you’re a fan and intend to follow a similar creative path, this is not just a superb toolkit but offers a fascinating insight into Holkenborg’s ‘full-contact’ approach to drum presentation. If you’re not that enthralled with his level of cinematic intensity and crave something a bit more ambient, then this won’t be for you.
During tests, there was some occasional mild lag when performing multiple samples at the same time. While it’s not a major issue, it’s worth making sure your CPU is up to the task before taking the plunge with the full version.
Those caveats aside, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion is a monumental library, sporting peerlessly recorded drum samples lovingly curated by one of the world’s most in-demand composers.
MusicRadar verdict: This library presents an innovative way to approach playing and performing those cinematic rhythms.
Orchestral Tools Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion: The web says
"As the perfect companion to their previously released orchestral brass library, Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion is a great layering tool, capable of adding punch and snappiness to most modern productions."
"Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion has me re-thinking my approach to creating dynamic action drum cues. It is amazing to have the same monster percussion set that Tom’s used in his blockbuster scores!"
Sample Library Review
Orchestral Tools Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion: Hands-on demos
Sample Library Review
Orchestral Tools Tom Holkenborg’s Percussion: Specifications
- Works with Orchestral Tools’ SINE Player—NOTE: Very latest version required!
- Almost 10GB of samples (ca. 5 GB SINEarc compressed)
- 24-bit / 48 KHz patches
- System requirements SINE: Mac OS 10.13, i5, 4 GB RAM (16+ GB recommended), Windows 10, Intel Core i5 or similar (Windows 7 is not officially supported)
- Interfaces: VST, AU
- CONTACT: Orchestral Tools