Score: **** 4/5 stars
Formats: DOUBLE AUDIO & WAV CD SET, AKAI/GIGA CD-ROM & AUDIO CD SET
Brian Transeau was probably the type of kid who liked to fiddle with the controls of domestic appliances, driving his parents crazy by toddling round their suburban American home reprogramming the video, washing machine, and dishwasher. Now he's grown up, BT continues to hit all the right buttons —Breakz From The Nu Skool demonstrates phenomenal programming skill, coupled with impressive musical flair and great sonic resourcefulness. Wading through hundreds of breakbeats usually robs me of the will to live, but auditioning these loops was fun. There are 436 in all, mostly four bars long, divided into two categories, "Dirt Breakz" and "Live Breakz", with tempos ranging from 66 to 180 bpm.
Though a graduate of the Berklee College of Music and an experienced composer, BT is clearly a punk at heart; many of his "Dirt Breakz" are unashamedly filthy, distorted, grainily tweazed, and overcompressed. Despite this, they manage to sound big, full-frequency, and punchy. The choice of sounds is superb, and BT's manipulation of the samples is a revelation. Each loop component tends to be individually EQ'd and processed, using what sounds like a vast battery of plug-ins and outboard gear. Intense, voice-like phasing, hallucinatory bursts of reverb, and stereo delays that mutate into flangy bass frequencies add an unpredictable dramatic edge. Overall, the programming is so well executed and musically apt that the rhythmic effect is invariably potent.
One of BT's trademarks is to repeat a sample so rapidly it turns into an intense electronic buzz. Just for a laugh, the buzz will often be further deranged by a touch of pitch-bending or flanging. These off-the-cuff gestures (which tend to occur towards the end of a loop, where you might usually expect a fill) epitomise BT's sonic wit, and it's a pleasure to hear someone having this kind of fun. The "Live Breakz" (146 in all) are acoustic drum loops from which any vestige of propriety has been surgically removed. Having undergone some unspeakably savage sonic treatment, they are mashed, mangled, and bit-crushed, with kicks and snares occasionally resembling giant metal containers being hit with monkey wrenches, and at other times sounding like a post-detox John Bonham trying his hand at jungle.
One genuinely new thing about the 'Nu Skool' (apart from its innovative spelling) is that BT's loops are sample-accurate; any timing deviations in the audio have been painstakingly corrected and lined up to an audio/tempo grid. This meticulous process, involving slicing, repositioning, trimming, fading, and time-stretching/compressing thousands of tiny samples, gives you some idea of the man's fanatical approach. The end result (which justifies all the hard work and eye strain) is that these loops may be stacked up without fear of flams.
Most loops are based on the classic combination of kick, snare, and hi-hat, with occasional hand drums and electronic percussion floating around the upper frequencies. The programming style centres on cutting-edge pop/rock, contemporary R&B, dance and hip/trip-hop. There's also a fair sprinkling of 'progressive house' (two words I never thought I'd see used together), but that's as cheesy as it gets — the dark side is never far away, and the funk is overwhelming.
I was hoping some of the excellent kicks and snares would be presented as single hits — although the Akai CD-ROM is practically full, there's 8Mb of empty space that could have accomodated a small menu of drum samples. Sadly, this release offers no single hits or accompanying MIDI files. Dem's da breakz — but with breakz like theze, you gotta be pleazed.
Double Audio & WAV CD set £79.95; Akai/Giga CD-ROM & Audio CD set £199. Prices include VAT.
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