This Sample Lab release comprises more than 2000 one-shot drum and percussion samples recorded at Rockfield Studios. Acoustic drums start things off, and they are much more varied sonically than in many drum libraries, especially the cymbals — these sound pleasantly 'wide-screen', fanning out harmonics across the stereo image, and I particularly liked the gong-like mallet hits and mysterious rolled swells, as well as the extravagant brush sweeps. By comparison, the hi-hat selection seems a little spartan, and I'd have liked a few more of the nuances between 'open' and 'closed'. The kick section, on the other hand, provides a versatile line-up of sounds, ranging from round and roomy to close and choked, which should cover most situations.
The snare samples use several different drums (including DW and Ludwig models) and a bewildering array of playing and production styles: not only nice little performance techniques like brush drags, rolls, flams, and rimshots, but also different mic balances and even the odd gated-ambience sound. There's not much in the way of different velocity levels here, but that's not really the point of this library — it's not for creating realistic-sounding kit performances, but more for supplementing live drum tracks and loops, or for programming in modern styles where realism isn't a primary concern. In such contexts, the snares here are mightily usable.
The 808 and 909 sounds are everything you'd expect, with murderous low end and abrasive transients all present and correct, and some of the samples have also been overdriven for extra attitude! Then comes a bit of a 'lucky dip': the 900 files in the Breakbeat Drums section. Although these are named to indicate hi-hat, snare, and kick types on the WAV files CD-ROM, they aren't grouped that way on any of the discs. So you'll probably find your eyes glazing over some time around auditioning file 183, despite the fact that there's lots of great stuff in there. It's a shame, but I suspect many users may simply skip to the following Kicks and Snares sections, the usefulness of which I found rather patchy by comparison — a playground for the more extreme effects and distortions. The Percussion section is good, though, combining a solid base of standard/ethnic percussion with lots of electronic and processed hits.
The overall sound is very satisfying and meaty, as well as being clean and quiet where it matters, although I did feel that some of the sample edits were a little too abrupt. (I was also unable to use the EXS24-format instruments in Mac OS 9, because of the OS's truncation of the CD-ROM's file names.) Given the broad range of sounds, this library would make a good general-purpose workhorse, but would also be especially useful for electronica and dance styles. Mike Senior
Audio CD and WAV, EXS24, Halion, and Reason Refill CD-ROM 3-CD set, £59.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
+44 (0)1837 55400.
This latest offering from UK-based Tekniks is a collection of acoustic/electronic drums, bass, and percussion loops and samples, provided on a single CD containing both WAV files and programmes for Apple's EXS24 sampler. The sleeve notes state that all recording and subsequent processing was done to analogue tape rather than a digital format, and this is presumably to give an element of the warmth commonly associated with analogue recordings.
The material is organised into five folders containing, in total, over 700 loops, nearly 300 single drum, percussion, and cymbal hits and, in the Settings folder, a series of EXS24 programmes for those who wish to access the material via a suitable software sampler. The loops are organised into Loops With Music, Mono Beats, and Stereo Beats folders. As might be expected, the latter two are mainly drum and percussion loops, while the former contains some 170 drum/bass loops. All the samples and loops seem to have been well recorded, and I'd be more than happy to use them in a commercial context — although I'm not certain I could really hear the influence of that analogue tape, even when auditioning some of them alongside other material that I knew had been recorded direct to digital.
The titles of the individual loops give a clear steer as to the musical territory they would slot into; Acidrock, Acidhiphop, Chemical, and Pop appear in the names of a good number of the WAV files. At medium-to-higher tempos, these would work well for a Chemical Brothers or even Moby mood. At a more down-tempo 80-90bpm there is plenty of material that would form a groove for hip-hop productions. I'm less convinced about the Pop reference — Will Young or Westlife it is not — although the loops could work with something with a bit more angst, perhaps Avril Lavigne or Christina Aguilera. While there are some straight loops, the majority have been processed in some way — reverbs, delays, and filters abound — and this makes for some interesting rhythmic textures.
While the drum and percussion loops are very useable, I was left scratching my head a little over the contents of the Loops With Music folder. In one sense, these are instantly gratifying; just add your own top line or a chord structure and start to mix. If instant results are required to meet a deadline, then these loops could form an ideal starting point, and I've no qualms about their musical content — they would fit right in alongside current commercial releases. However, if you want to tweak things, the lack of separate loops for the drum and bass parts is somewhat frustrating. For maximum flexibility, perhaps these loops could each have been provided as a paired drum loop and bass loop. Being able to mix and match, re-balance or re-process either bass or drums independently would increase the creative options considerably. This said, for producers of styles such as hip-hop or Chemical Brothers-influenced dance, Blue Shock provides an inexpensive source of some very useable grooves. John Walden
WAV and EXS24 CD-ROM, £39.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
This latest Smart Loops offering contains a whopping 9000 Acid ised WAV drum loops, as well as nearly 300 individual hits, many of which include multiple velocities. The 9000 loops actually contain 3000 unique grooves and fills, each played on three different drum kits; a dry Acoustic Kit (suitable for pop, rock, and funk), a Trap Kit (also fairly dry using smaller drums and with a distinctive hip-hop-friendly sound), and a Thunder Kit (which sounds like the Acoustic Kit, but with plenty of ambience for a big rock sound).
Given the amount of material, it is good to see a very clear folder organisation. A series of Basic+Funk folders goes from fairly simple eighth and 16th patterns through to loops containing more complex playing with variations on the snare, and further sub-folders contain loops with floor tom, open hi-hat, and ride cymbal. Other loop groups contain cut-time (snare only on beat three), double-time (snare on all the up-beats), double-kick (real head-banging stuff!), train (plenty of nice snare work here), and side-stick (with rim shot replacing straight snare) patterns. On top of this lot are folders containing jungle beats (tom-tom playing with a tribal feel), reggae loops, flams, and a large collection of four-beat and two-beat fills. The library is completed by some excellent one-shots for each element of the kit, including some very useable crashes, rides, and hi-hats, as well as some choked cymbals.
In testing these loops within Sony Acid Pro v4, I noticed great consistency between the sounds of the three kits. While you might not wish to combine a double-time train loop with a reggae pattern, they would at least sound like they had been played by the same drummer, in the same space, and on the same kit. This makes it extremely easy to mix and match the loops, fills, and cymbal crashes to produce a really convincing, complete drum part. Within the basic and funk loops, there is also a tremendous amount of choice — so if some subtle variations are required then it is easy to find something to fit.
The three different kits certainly add a distinctive flavour and are uniformly well recorded. For my own taste, the Thunder Kit was just a touch too wet, although it would certainly work in some hard-rock styles. For more routine rock, funk, and pop duties, I found the Acoustic Kit more appropriate, and adding just a touch of ambience to this worked really well. Indeed, given the unique sound the different kits bring to the loops, I wonder whether Smart Loops might not also make them available individually to allow users to purchase just the kit that suits their own particular musical needs. Pro Drum Works: Volume One may not offer anything radically new, but as a 'bread and butter' drum-loop collection, it has plenty to offer and represents good value for money. John Walden
Acid ised WAV CD-ROM, $249 (around £132).
Cycling '74 are probably best known for the Max/MSP audio development environment and the Pluggo collection of AU/VST/RTAS-compatible plug-ins, both of which are distributed by DACS in the UK. However, Cycling '74 also have a growing collection of sample CDs under the Cycles series title. Volume two of this series, Unnatural Rhythm is under the spotlight here, and comprises an audio CD and a DVD-ROM, the latter carrying 24-bit WAV and REX 2 formats. For the WAV files, both 44.1kHz and 48kHz versions are included — I experimented with the 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV versions, almost 1GB of data spread over 300 loops, using Sony Acid Pro.
As might be guessed from the title, the content of Unnatural Rhythm is a little left-field. There are no straight drum loops, synth melodies, or bass lines here. Instead, the focus is on rhythmic, pulsating, and, it has to be said, rather unsettling soundscapes. The material is divided into six folders and their titles confirm that we are as much in sound-design territory here as music composition. For example, Back Alley Tribal contains a series of industrial, metallic-sounding percussion loops, while Contraptions contains various real and synthesised machines humming, buzzing, screeching, and pounding away. The Grooves folder is more obviously rhythmic in nature — but even here plenty of processing has been applied, while Cyclic Waves concentrates upon slowly evolving sound beds. Found Sound features some very heavily processed natural sounds (glass, marbles, and taps, for example), while Vintage Electronics contains all sorts of bleeps, blinks, and clicks, all with a rhythmic element. While most of these loops are between two and eight bars in length, a final Xtended Versions folder contains (surprise, surprise!) longer versions of a small number of the loops, some of these running to over a minute.
This collection would work really well in a music-to-picture context — think gritty urban drama, dark sci-fi, or straight horror and Unnatural Rhythm would fit right in. It could also work within trip-hop or abstract electronica. In these contexts, many of the loops would need little in the way of additional material adding (just enough to comply with the terms of the licence!) but, as the emphasis is on rhythmic sounds rather than pitched or melodic phrases, I found it very easy to mix and match loops from other libraries to build a complete piece. Indeed, putting together a couple of Unnatural Rhythm loops underneath a more straightforward melodic phrase (a string section for example) created a contrast and a musical tension that worked well — in a disturbing sort of fashion! Clearly, given the above description, this library is not necessarily going to appeal to everyone, but, for media composers who like the 'dark side' or those with a taste for abstract soundscapes, this collection is well worth exploring — just don't leave anyone alone in a dark room with the music you create! John Walden
Audio CD and WAV and REX 2 DVD-ROM 2-disc set, £63.99 including VAT.