Formats: AKAI / ROLAND / AUDIO
Score: ***** 5/5 stars
This new CD-ROM collection is a set of rhythmic loops based around the live drumming of Chris O'Brien. His performances have been processed and layered with hand percussion, Korg Wavedrum and effects to create 35 complete rhythmic arrangements. In terms of style, the collection's title and the cover model's choice of spectacles give you a fairly good indication of what's on offer — the emphasis is firmly on high-energy four-four dance styles, with tempos nominally between 105 and 170bpm.
So, it's a bunch of construction-kit loops for dance music. So what? Well, for a start, the copious use of live performances and real percussion in these loops gives them much more groove than you'd typically associate with a collection aimed at the dance market, and the quality of the musicianship really brings the rhythms to life — in fact, just the live drum performances on their own provide a selection of usable breaks with real attitude. The electronic sounds and effects are certainly wild enough for all but the starkest of ravers, and the ambience of the acoustic drums helps mould all the disparate electronic elements together into a cohesive sound.
Were that the end of the story, this would already be a good collection. However, this title is also Groove Control activated, which means that all the sampler programs can be accessed in sliced-up versions, where each sonic layer is assigned to its own sampler program. Supplied MIDI files trigger these programs from within your sequencer, with the result that you can run the loops at almost any tempo and mix the layers in any combination. This allows you to import only those elements you want from each loop into your project, to sync them up to the song's tempo, and to change the groove if necessary. And if you're still not happy, then you can completely reprogram the parts using the editing functions in your sequencer and sampler.
A bonus with Stark Raving Beats is the great care which has been taken to make sure that the sounds are as easy as possible to find. If you have a computer (PC or Mac), you can quickly audition WAV files of any loop or element of a loop directly from one of the discs, with a PDF file of the comprehensive documentation available to check which CD-ROM volume you need to load. Not only are the individual loop layers sorted according to the loop they're used with, but also according to what instrument they use, so you can easily check out all the hi-hat parts in the collection, for example. If you have no computer, there are special sampler programs which lay out the mixed loops, loop layers, and individual drum hits across the keyboard for quick auditioning even within a hardware-only setup.
Overall, these are 35 top-notch construction kits, and they are presented in such a flexible and user-friendly format that little or no material is likely to sit around gathering dust — in marked contrast to most dance loop collections I've seen. Furthermore, given that there are so many acoustic percussion parts, and that you can isolate and radically alter any loop layer, I can imagine Stark Raving Beats being useful even well outside the musical genre at which it is ostensibly aimed. An exemplary piece of work all round.
Akai or Roland £119; Audio £59.95. Prices include VAT.