If you've never come across Twiddly Bits, you're missing a real treat. Twiddly Bits are short MIDI files, available in either PC/Atari or Mac format, and contain musical extracts, drum patterns, drum fills and percussion lines which can be cut and pasted into your own compositions. This might not sound mega‑exciting, and may even have overtones of cheating, but when you look at the list of credits for the musicians who originally played these examples via a combination of MIDI wind instruments, MIDI guitars, drums and percussion controllers (unquantised, of course), it starts to look like a who's who of top session players.
For example, on one of the most recent of the series, Volume 3 (entitled Drums and Percussion), has contributors who include Bill Bruford, Dave Spiers, Hugo Degenhardt and Gavin Harrison. Unsurprisingly, the standard of playing is really outstanding. Electronic drum patterns and fills, brush‑work, congas, and parts for both tambourine and triangle are represented. Most examples open up with several tracks, each containing a variation on the fill or pattern style — so don't make the mistake of playing these all at once, or you'll end up with a busier drum track than you bargained for!
Both patterns and fills exist in straight four time, 3/4 time, 5/4 time, 7/8 time and just about every other practical time signature you might ever wish to use. All are presented at 120bpm, but of course they can be altered once they're loaded. So, if you're fed up with unimaginative 'dum thwock, dum thwock' drum beats, then this disk is a must!
Volume 3, Acoustic & Electric Guitar, is packed full of everything from bluegrass‑style banjos and blues guitar, to strums of all types ranging from funky to folk. There are also rock riffs and strums, blues bends, and a smattering of jazz with both single chords and short repeating patterns (which you have to copy or loop). With just a little imagination, and some help from the transpose section of your sequencer, you could put together some first‑rate guitar parts. Everything on this disk is good, but the banjo and finger‑picking examples really make you sit up and take notice.
Brazilian rhythms feature on Volume 1 of the new Twiddly Beats series, which will differ from the original Bits series by featuring files of percussion from all around the world, rather than just the world of rawk n'roll. I didn't think I'd have a lot of use for Brazilian fills in my own music, but once again, the performance quality is so full of life that they almost invite you to sit down and write something. Many of these are based on familiar Latin‑style rhythms, and the accompanying booklet includes useful background information on the various musical styles.
All the files on these disks include SysEx setups for the Roland Sound Canvas series of GM synths, so if you use one of these instruments, you can just load and play. If you're a non‑GM user, full drum mapping details are provided so you can assign your own sounds.
In a brief review such as this, it's impossible to do justice to the almost overwhelming list of examples provided, and even if you make use of only 10% of what's available, you still have a real bargain. As software goes, Twiddly Bits are ludicrously cheap, but I can almost guarantee that once you've used one of their disks, you'll want to buy several of the others, if not the full set. It's great to come across such a well‑conceived product that delivers both value and quality. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next. How about of a selection of New Age chords and ethnic drones, or more ethnic percussion in the Twiddly Beats series? Maybe even a special hippy edition in a paisley sleeve...?