This is part of Azimuth's Blog’s ongoing feature of SFX library reviews. Please take a moment to read the Ground Rules if you have not had a chance to do so yet, to get an idea of what I use the libraries for and what my criteria are.
Germany seems to be a bit of a hotbed for the emerging business model of sound designers and editors who are digitally releasing small, focused, high quality SFX libraries. Tonsturm is the second German independent SFX producer this site has reviewed a product for, following Boom Library whose "Creatures" we reviewed in May. Tonsturm operates out of Cologne, and appears to be the two-man operation of Tilman Hahn and Emil Klotzsch. They have released 3 libraries since their site launch in 2010, including the recent release The Whoosh, but for the purposes of this article I am going to focus on their second release - Tonsturm 02 Electricity.
Before I get too far into the specific details of the Electricity library I first want to say something about the "spirit" of this SFX release. I love the mentality of anyone who would ask: "What would it sound like if you hooked up electrodes to a ham bone?" and then actually goes out and records these crazy ideas. They electrocute all sorts of stuff in this library, from flowers, apples and tree branches to the aforementioned ham bone. Just having the imagination to sit around and think: "What does it sound like if..." I find to be somewhat inspiring in itself.
That said, let's move on to the actual results of these extraordinary experiments. Something unique about Tonsturm is that they make available two formats of every stereo sound: one is a standard LR stereo file, and the other is the original discrete 'mid' and 'side' channels from their MS mic setup. This gives you the option to be 'quick and dirty' using the stereo file, but if you want to go in and tinker with the MS matrix to customize the stereo width to suit the image you are editing to, you have that option as well. Not something I find myself doing everyday but it's nice to have that level of control when you need it.
Tonsturm also goes the extra mile and records each effect using 2 different mic setups to suit your very particular preferences. One setup is a Schoeps MS rig (a CCM41 and CCM8 combination) and the other is a Sennheiser rig (an MKH70 and MKH30 combination.) When you factor in that everything was recorded at 24 bit 192 kHz, you might gather that this collection is very high-end and meant for people who want to have as much control as possible over the raw elements in their sound design. (Did I mention these guys are German?) To top it off, you can choose to buy the library in a 96k version for €49 or a 192k version for €59.
When it comes to the sounds themselves, besides the high quality of the recordings, the crucial feature for me is the uniqueness of the sounds included, and here is where this library both delivers on one hand, and falls a bit short on the other. The download of the collection comes with 221 sounds (times two, since you get the two stereo formats mentioned above.) Some of the sounds are fantastic and unlike anything else out there that I have heard. But while it's interesting to read how they were created, when you listen to the sounds on their own, divorced from their backstory and without the colorful visuals in your mind of exploding fruit and whatnot, a lot of the effects end up just sounding like really well-recorded static. But buried in the static are some great moments of electrical weirdness.
Let's focus on those great sounds: the Jacob's ladders have tons of character to them, and there are lots of takes (25) to choose from to build huge electrical storms, or if you find yourself ever having to cut a scene where the image is being overcome with visual digital glitches this library will help you create some great electric hits and static futzes. Another thing I have found to be useful is the "Big Marx Generator". I have no idea what that actually is, but it provides the perfect sound for the classic audio element used in movies when someone throws the switch on a huge bank of lights in a warehouse or a large room. I know that sound that doesn't actually happen when you turn on a bank of lights but it's one of those cliches we've all been asked to use - and, well, you'll find it here.
The metadata is straightforward and easily navigated and features some great phrases like "juicy buzz", or "snappy zap". This type of material lends it self well to metadata, as most of the naming is based on oft-used audio tropes like 'zap' 'crackle' 'buzz' 'sizzle' etc. As a result it's quick and easy to find what you're looking for. The one complicating factor is those 4 iterations of each sound (the MS and LR version of each of the two mic setups.) This makes auditioning somewhat tiresome as you have to skip down 4 files in Soundminer to get to the next new sound. To combat this I didn't catalogue the MS files and only have the stereo files in my database. This cuts down on the number of files called up to audition, and if I need the MS version I can just go grab it from my hard drive.
One unanticipated benefit of this library is how much my clients love knowing that there is a pomegranate being electrocuted somewhere in their show. I heard one director bragging about this during a screening with the producers who were also totally impressed by the absurdity of this. Having these sounds, and the story of how they were created, makes my SFX library seem cooler to clients in a weird way, and to be honest, that cool factor might just be the most useful thing I've gotten out of this library, even above and beyond the sounds themselves.
Price-wise it works out to be 31 cents (US) per audio file (or 38 cents per for the 192k version.) That's on the more expensive end of the libraries out there, and of those 221 audio files many are those duplicates of the same sounds recorded with different mic setups. (Among those 221 files are 75 mono files recorded through only one mic setup.) Taking into account that many of the files feature long takes with many different zaps and shocks, it's hard to say exactly how many individual sounds you are getting. In the end, it's a unique library that was created using a lot of specific equipment, props and locations, not to mention the elevated risk of recordist-electrocution - so with that in mind, the higher price seems reasonable.
If you need electrical sounds or static hits and glitches this library will help you out in spades. If you need hyper control of your sound design this will give it to you, but it can also be a 'quick and dirty' library if you simply bypass the extras.
You can hear demos of the Electricity Library at its Soundcloud page or this video: