In simple terms, EZkeys Cinematic Grand is a prepared piano – a traditional instrument that’s had its sound altered by objects placed on or between the strings. But in this case, that’s simplifying too much. EZkeys Cinematic Grand presents an all-new hybrid instrument where perfect fidelity meets altered harmonics and layered textures to form never-before-heard piano timbres. Based on a classic Bösendorfer from 1891, this one-of-a-kind instrument was recorded in four individual configurations – one where horsehair was used as a bow on each piano string (‘Bowed’); one where the strings were struck by hand (‘Plucked’); one where various preparations were added to generate a muffled tone color (‘Damped’) and, in opposite, one where the overtones were exaggerated, producing an ambient and soaring timbre (‘Harmonic’).
These four configurations were then saturated with various chains of sound-shaping effects and used in different combinations to form unique fabrics of sound. Welcome to a piano that goes well beyond the tradition, ready to serve as sonic backdrop to virtually any mood, narrative or audio scene you can imagine. This is the ultimate “grand piano” for out-of-this-world compositions, just as perfect for soundtracks as it is for any stripe of modern music production or sound design. Prepare to be inspired.
This video walks you through the sounds and features of EZkeys Cinematic Grand. Enjoy!
EZkeys Cinematic Grand comes with four separately recorded configurations of the same piano. The below audio demos in each category show each configuration in its raw state, without any post processing.
EZkeys Cinematic Grand includes 34 unique, mix-ready presets involving one or several of the recorded configurations in combination with various chains of sound-shaping effects. Listen to a selection of the included presets above and read a short story behind each one below!
The ‘Dream’ knob is layered with different types of diffusion, and by cranking this control you travel through time back to yet unexplored, mysterious audio realms reminiscent of the 1980s.
A majestic and reverberant sound with a dystopian touch. Heavily based on the ‘Bowed’ piano with a touch of added distortion, chorus and a lot of plate reverb.
Ambient String Pluck
This one is perfect subtle ambience, but it also works great upfront in the mix.
The ‘Bowed’ piano going through two guitar amps panned hard left and right, combined with a church-like reverb.
A lot of space, pitch and chorus in this one.
This preset is at its best in the lower octaves with long, eery single notes. In this one we used octave processing, a rotary effect and, of course, a bunch of reverb.
This preset has a big emphasis on the ‘Bowed’ piano, making the texture from the horsehair come to life.
The angry cousin of the ‘Cloudy Sky’ preset. Its working title was ‘Demogorgon’, for you who have watched “Stranger Things”.
Utilizes all pianos except the ‘Bowed’. Perfect for slow, creepy notes in the borderlands between drama and horror.
A pad-like preset largely based on the ‘Bowed’ piano. Uses two different reverbs as well as an octave effect.
Dream Organ Les
A darker version of the ‘Dream Organ’ preset. Perfect for adding that suspense feeling! The ‘Rotor Speed’ knob provides interesting stereo effects.
Dream Organ Trem
Based on the ‘Dream Organ’, but with an added tremolo effect.
Huge warm pad with lots of reverb and harmonizers going on!
This preset is focused on the plucking of the piano strings and can, with the right MIDI, get you a roundtrip ticket to Asia. The delay is quite intense, so use it with caution!
A lot to find here since each sound has a separate treatment. Turn the knobs to find out more!
The intimate sound of the hammers of the grand piano and the bowed strings seem like a perfect match for the intimate feel this preset sounds like.
Key Noise Deluxe
A lot of keystroke sounds blended with the ‘Plucked’ and ‘Harmonic’ pianos and a touch of an ambient reverb.
This preset uses all four pianos, panned in different ways. The ‘Plucked’ and ‘Harmonic’ piano has some delay processing, while the ‘Bowed’ uses a rotary effect, giving this preset a subtle organ feel.
In this preset, we combined all the four main pianos, but only put a filter LFO on the strings.
Imagine being close to the water, it’s raining outside and the sea is rough. This preset is cozy and harsh at the same time.
Like the name applies, a single piano! There’s a lot of hammer sounds and warmth in this one.
A big one featuring chorus and hall reverb!
Wet, lots of delays, vibratos, pitch FX. Sounds like a harp extracted from a dream scene!
A blend between the ‘Plucked’ piano and the ‘Harmonic’ piano, but also a lot of bowed strings.
‘Nostalgia’ is perfect for adding a sentimental tone to your songs. You can control the bounce back of the inverted reverberation with the ‘Inverse’ knob.
In ‘Organize’, all the mics and recorded samples are routed through an Hammond-type amplifier. By turning the ‘Organ’ knob, you can adjust the rotary effect level, making it either very subtle or making the piano sound almost like an organ.
All four preparations of the piano on equal levels, without any added effects.
Just a beautiful preset with many layers. It sounds almost like a harpsichord, but with lots of ambience, depth and character. Try it yourself – it’s magical!
Beautiful pad sounds with panning, LFOs, distortion, pitch FX. What more could you wish for?
For that scene with a touch of romance and hope! The ‘Plucked’ piano has a high-end boost to get a more shimmery overall feel.
Small, beautiful and fluid, with a plate reverb to die for.
Soft Indie Film
Very personal and straight-forward, with delay and a good base sound. This sound really brings character without taking up too much space.
With its almost pad-like sound, this preset is amazing for long notes.
This one is enormous and can make you feel small, in a beautiful awe-inspiring way. The sound was inspired by the organ in Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score.
Strange World is, quite frankly, a strange preset, but in a good way. it is focused on making the recordings of the key noise sound great, but if you don’t want one single sound on every key you can turn upp the ‘Tonality’ knob.
A soft pad sound made up by filters, phaser and delays.
A reversed reverb with a touch of the ‘Plucked’ and ‘Damped’ piano gives this preset a scent of a summer breeze.
This one has artificial pitched layers added under the ‘Detuner’ knob to make the sound less ‘authentic’ and more sampled. You can also control the dynamics with a lowpass filter.
As the name applies, this one gives you a feeling of unease and is pretty mystical-sounding.
A beautiful pad sound with bowed horsehair and lots of space.
Even though EZkeys Cinematic Grand is based on a regular piano, the product itself is pretty far from a traditional grand piano. How did you come up with the four configurations and was there any trial and error on the way?
Mattias: It was Andreas Estensen that started doing some preparations on his upright piano in his own studio, and when I heard it, I fell in love with the sound. I told him that I would like to take this to my studio and use my grand piano and make a Toontrack product with it. That’s how it all started. After that, it came down to lots of experimenting, trial and error in order to find the absolute perfect preparations for the sounds we envisioned. In the end, I really think we got a unique sounding product. It has so much depth and musicality to it. I truly love how it turned out. Actually, way beyond what I had dare dream about, to be honest.
Andreas: I think it all started when i got a standard upright piano for my studio a couple of years back, and as soon as I got the (very heavy) piano in place, the first thing I did was to remove all the wood covering the front so I could see all the strings and woodwork. I like to pick things apart to understand them better, so thats what I did to learn all the mechanics of the instrument. I then proceeded to explore and experiment, I tried viewing the piano as something more than just a piano. I treated it like a box of string reverb, a string instrument or percussive instrument but always with the benefit of having the keys and hammers as triggers. I tried picking and muting the strings with my hands. I moved on to find good harmonic spots, as you would on a guitar, before pushing the keys very hard to get that sound ringing of overtones. I added tuning forks and tuning felt to harmonic spots to shape the sound. I also picked up some used horsehair from a local violin workshop in town. With the piano tuned and the dampening pedal up you get an incredibly beautiful, unison, reverberation from the piano. It sounds incredible, especially when the strings are bowed or damped on harmonic spots.
What was the general idea behind this library of sounds? What was the end goal?
Mattias: The end goal was to make a new, interesting instrument. After we had come up with the four different preparations we wanted to go with for the product, the goal was to combine and layer them inclination with various chains of effects to take things ever further, sonically.
Andreas: To me, the goal was to work with the instrument in a way that took advantage of all the work and craftsmanship that’s been put into the piano. Beyond that, the ultimate vision was to expand the potential sound pallet and to create a plugin that somehow conveyed something very personal, intriguing and intimate to the end user. It feels amazing to have made software instrument that goes beyond a “prepared piano”. It feels truly humbling and inspiring knowing that these sounds will end up on productions around the world.
What did the actual recording process look like?
Mattias: We tried out a bunch of different microphones and ultimately settled for a pair of Royer SF12 as a normal stereo configuration. Behind the grand piano, I had a wide stereo OTRF with a pair of Sennheisers that I normally use for field recordings. Under the piano as well as above the hammers, I had an Ehrlund EHR-M. I used Neve 1073 pre-amps for the Royers and the OTRF and I used a UAD 710d for the Ehrlunds. We recorded everything to Pro Tools in 96 Khz. Throughout the recording, we never moved the mics and made sure we kept them all in the exact same position. Sampling is always tedious work, but this session was even more time consuming. The thing is, my studio is right on the ocean and I’d be the first to confess that my insolation from environmental noise probably could be better. Normally it doesn’t matter since it’s located pretty remotely on a cape and generally, it’s a very quiet place. But evidently, the breeding season (I guess?!?) for seagulls started at the same time as our session, haha! We literally had hundreds of birds screeching at the top of their lungs non-stop right outside my studio window! So, we had to stop, wait for them to be quiet, continue again as soon as they stopped. And, like this we continued throughout the entire session, haha! It took FOREVER! Also, three of the piano configurations had both pedal down and pedal up samples, and two of them also had release samples. On top of that, we did a fifth piano with only key sounds (on and off). Normally, a grand piano has seven octaves, but early on we decided to go with four since a lot of the preparations simply didn’t cut through as we wanted in the other octaves. At the end when everything was done, we edited everything, did a mix of each piano and bounced them respectively to stereo. This project turned out to be much, much bigger and time consuming than I initially thought it would be, but of course, it was worth it. The end result speaks for itself. I love how “alive” this instrument feels. It’s organic and has its natural flaws, which was something we both strived for from the start.
Andreas: The setup and experimental part was super fun and creative, but the actual recording sessions was tedious. Hitting one note again and again with long intervalls at different velocities, having to stay silent, no swallowing, yawning or sneezing allowed while sitting completely still and breathing as quietly as possible without fainting… Not to mention the birds! The ”Bowed piano” was also very demanding with the preparation process. Choosing the right horse hair to resin and then gently but still firmly play each string in quite extreme postures and getting the attack, sustain and release just right. I mean, it takes a lot of work to get it right. Hopefully I wont have to do it again for quite some time, now that I have all the sounds recorded and arranged in the plugin!
Even though each configuration sounds great as is, a big portion of the immense audio experience and end result comes with the different presets. What was the thought process like when you created these? Was there a general plan or did you just let your creative selves free?
Mattias: It was just a matter of finding four distinctive and different sounds that we could combine in creative ways!
Andreas: I would say it was a mix of both creating and emphasizing the different preparations we recorded. But for some presets, we were also letting our creative sides free to explore opportunities as you would when making remixes and taking the sounds in completely new directions. I strongly encourage people to create their own ”presets” by starting with the original mix, tweak it, and add post processing of any kind.
The piano you sampled is Mattias’ personal a Bösendorfer, an instrument that dates all the way back to 1891. What is the story behind it?
Mattias: I love Radiohead and when they released their latest album “A Moonshaped Pool”, I was so mesmerized by the soft piano sound they had throughout the album. I tried pinpointing what it was and I came to the conclusion that it was an upright (that had a very, very mellow tone). After that, there was no stopping me – I just had to get a piano for my studio. I went in to the local music store and they had this grand piano sitting there that I had seen multiple times but never actually tried. I hadn’t planned to buy a grand piano since I really couldn’t fit it in my studio. I tried it that day at the music store and, well, ended up writing a check for it! It just sounded that awesome. I actually had to rearrange the whole layout of the ground floor of my studio just to fit it, but it was worth it. It’s one of my coolest instruments, hands down.
Out of the 34 presets, name a few that stand out to you…and why!
Mattias: I love the “Lonesome” preset. It has a lot of mellow tone, hammer noise and is just very natural and warm. I love to play it on my Roland RD-800 keyboard.
Andreas: “Original Mix”. The base of this plugin, but still incredibly potent, i just love how the sound is completely different for every knob you turn. “Dark Celtic”. This one is great for the bowed part of the piano. It sounds like a group of cellos playing together, and i think the low keys sound especially great in this one! “Lighthouse”. This one is so personal and alive. I simply love it! “Organize”. This one is quite special seeing as it’s a piano, but almost sounds like a custom organ!
How do you hope songwriters, producers and creatives will find in this collection of sounds – and how do you see yourself using it in tour own creative process?
Mattias: This is something that is completely impossible to have in your living room, because each configuration needs at least one grand piano – and for the strings you need one piano for each note, haha! So, this instrument is completely unique and an impossible thing to replicate “live” unless you use this software. I know for a fact that I will use it a lot in my own productions.
Andreas: I hope people find the sounds refreshing and inspiring. That’s how I feel about them, and if anyone else can feel the joy and inspiration I feel from just opening the plugin i would be very happy. Moving forward, I will probably use this in addition to, or instead of, regular piano sounds in almost all my piano-related music. it just adds so much character, personality and warmth to the sound.
Finally, since we’re touching on the subject of cinema and scores, name a few all-time favorite films where the music has an equally profound impact as the movie itself!
Mattias: One of the most beautiful piano soundtracks that comes to mind is by Yann Tiersen’s and heard in the movie Amélie. Another very special soundtrack/movie is Interstellar. It features some amazing sound design and is a great example of how much sound can be a storyteller. A few other movies with great soundtracks that come to mind are Edward Scissorhands, The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, Gladiator and Schindler’s List.
Andreas: I’m a huge fan of Hans Zimmer, and the scores he touches turn to gold immediately! My favorites of the projects he’s been involved with is Interstellar. It’s just so incredibly beautiful and completes the movie in a absolutely awe-inspiring way. Dark Knight with James Newton Howard for the great take on dramatic action scoring and Dunkirk for its experimental nature. Also American Beauty has some stunning music, masterfully composed by the great Michael Giacchino.
Mattias, an avid sound designer, songwriter, producer, engineer and aficionado of anything that produces sound, is one of the founders of Toontrack.
Creative sound designer, producer, foley artist, Ableton freak and a naive, playful and (in his own words), a “somewhat insane” songwriter from Umeå, Sweden.
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|Host||Supported & Tested||Drag & Drop Support||Multi Channel Routing||MIDI Channel Filtering||Requirements|
|Ableton Live||Version 9 or above.|
|Acid Pro/Studio||Version 7 or above.|
|Cubase/Nuendo||Version 4 or above.|
|Digital Performer||Version 7 or above.|
|Fruity Loops||Version 9 or above.|
|GarageBand||Version 6 or above.|
|Logic Pro/Express||Version 8 or above.|
|Mackie Traktion||Version 3 or above.|
|PreSonus Studio One Producer or Professional||Version 1.5 or above.|
|ProTools HD/LE/MP||Version 8.0.5 or above.|
|Reaper||Version 3 or above.|
|Samplitude Pro/SE||Version 10 or above.|
|Sonar PE/SE||Version X1 or above.|