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Latest Sample CDs

Sample Libraries By John Walden & Paul White
Published January 2004

Xtreme House ****


Latest Sample CDsThis two-CD set comprises an audio CD and a WAV CD-ROM of the same material. The first word of the title probably comes from the sheer volume of material provided, rather than the musical content, as the CD's subtitle, Filtered Funk, probably gives a better indication of what these loops are about; dance-friendly, up-beat and definitely funky. The WAV CD contains in excess of 900 loops (over 600MB) split into categories for bass, beats, filtered loops, keys/synths and single hits, and there is certainly plenty of material packed in. Within these six categories, the loops are organised on a tempo basis, predominantly in the 120-135bpm range. There are no construction kits here, just a lot of loops.

The beats category includes 350 one-bar and two-bar stereo drum loops. This is a wide-ranging collection and, while there is nothing too dangerous in terms of the styles provided, there is plenty of choice and some really nice grooves. There are a few small groups of related loops within this category, and these make it easy to piece together a coherent drum track with a little variation. However, a little bit of Recycle-style loop chopping will be required to add some variations or breaks in other cases. The loops seem very well recorded, with plenty of thumping kicks and splashy hi-hats — no rock kits here! Usefully, if you want to build your own loops or do some sound replacement in existing loops, the single hits category includes a selection of kicks, snares, hats and claps. There are also some stabs and effects, but, although there are some nice hits here, it might have been good to have a few more of these to choose from, rather than the small number of sound effects loops.

The 130 bass loops are again mostly one-bar and two-bar affairs, with a mixture of stereo and mono files. The sounds go from simple electric basses through to processed synth sounds. While there are some exceptions, I found it useful that the majority of the loops were not too busy in terms of playing, and I found this made them easy to combine with other loops in the collection.

It is in the keyboards/synths, filtered loops and guitars sections that the funky feel really comes out. The first of these includes some very useable Rhodes, piano and organ-based loops, although there is also a good selection of more synthetic sounds and a few pad-like loops. Most of the loops are short chordal parts, of between two and four bars in length. Despite the separate Filtered folder, many of these are pre-processed, and there are some nice filter and delay effects included. Many of the chord parts would work well in styles other than straight house — for example, there a number of loops that would suit a funky, Jamiroquai-ish track.

There are nearly 200 filtered loops, although the degree of filtering is pretty variable. In terms of styles, this latter group is a real mixed bag, with simple loops featuring single instruments, through to almost complete musical beds. The guitar section, in particular, contains some good stuff, with plenty of slick wah-wah and filtered rhythm playing — if you think Spiller's Groovejet, you will be on the right lines. Indeed, in the main, this is a pretty good reference for the overall nature of the sample set.

In use, it was pretty easy to put together something approaching a complete backing track using just the contents of this library, although, aside from adding your vocals, you would also need to add the necessary melody instruments and the occasional crash-style cymbal, as neither of these feature heavily in the collection. Xtreme House may not contain anything too extreme in terms of style, but there are plenty of well-recorded and very useable loops that, while not in a construction-kit format, can easily be mixed and matched. If you work with house/dance styles and are looking to expand your palette of loops, then Xtreme House represents good value for money. John Walden

Audio CD and WAV CD-ROM set, £59.95 including VAT.

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World Winds ****


Latest Sample CDsWorld Winds is the brainchild of Dirk Campbell, and comprises a range of ethnic wind instruments, most played by Dirk himself. Each instrument is sampled in a similar way and, because most of these instruments have a range of no more than two octaves, the keyboard has been divided into three zones for mapping purposes. Every instrument has a Menu format, mainly for auditioning the different sample styles. To maintain consistency, drones and phrases are placed in the low section of the keyboard.

Straight notes, short notes and bent notes are mapped to the middle zone, so they can often be used to create velocity-switched sets, while grace notes are placed in the high section of the keyboard. All the style elements are available as separate multisample sets with no layering or switching, so that they may be freely combined with other elements, something that's particularly easy to do using the copy and paste functions of Emagic's EXS24 (which can import Akai-format material). Additionally, each instrument includes a set of pad sounds created by using the instrument in a non-conventional way and adding effects (although the effects work in the S3000 only).

All the instruments have been retuned to concert pitch, though there's also a 'raw samples' version with the original tuning, and looping has been used on those instruments for which it is appropriate. I thought some of the loops sounded a little lumpy, but on examining the waveforms and loop points, I discovered this was invariably a physical characteristic of the instrument and not sloppy looping.

The instruments on the album comprise both reeds and flutes, starting with the Indian bansur. This is followed up by the haunting sound of the duduk, Irish whistle and low Irish whistle before moving on to the ney flute, the closely related kavai and the African flute. Also part of the flute family, the sulung is commonly heard as part of gamelan music, and of course the shakuhachi is now familiar to all, as are the panpipes. However, few people have seen a fujara played, but I'm glad to say that I have. This enormous contrabass whistle is taller than most players, and creates the most extraordinary and evocative harmonic series — it's my favourite instrument in this collection.

Then its into bagpipe territory with the Czech dudy, the Macedonian gaida, uillean pipes, Scots highland pipes, medieval bagpipes and the Turkish tulum bagpipe. Staying with the reed theme, we have the African mezoued the Egyptian zouma, the double-reeded shenai, the Egyptian zummara, the Cretan askomandura, the Moroccan nafir and finally the East African kudu horn, which is a spiral, trumpet-like instrument that plays variations on one note with a mellow sound not unlike a French horn.

Where the instruments are not chromatic, note sets are provided that play only the 'legal' notes for the instrument, though it is an easy matter to change the key mapping to make them fully chromatic if appropriate. The quality of playing and sampling is excellent, though when I imported the sounds into EXS24 everything came in as single-layer samples, where I felt that velocity switching would have been useful to bring in bends and grace notes, so it would be worth spending a little time creating your own custom sets if you like to work this way. Similarly, bagpipe sets could be created with drones in the left hand and velocity switched straight notes and bends on the right. Each instrument comes with typically a dozen sample sets, including the pad variants.

The samples are all recorded in mono with no effects, except for the creative pad versions, which are stereo. A suitable reverb really brings these sounds to life, as does a little sympathetic use of the Pitch-bend and mod wheels, and because each instrument also comes with a handful of played phrases, these can be dropped in amongst your own playing to add an authentic flavour. Although I think more work could have been done on layering and velocity switching the sets, the overall impression is of high-quality, authentic sounds that should work well in all manner of world, pop and ambient productions. Paul White

Akai S3000 CD-ROM, £132.95 including VAT.

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Scott Rockenfield Queensryche Drums ****


Latest Sample CDsThis is a recent addition to Big Fish Audio's Performance Loops series. The basic format of this series usually takes a complete performance from a single instrument type (all the drums, for example, or all the acoustic guitars) and then splits the performance into a number of shorter loops that can then be rearranged as required. However, this format is given a bit of a twist here. Over their more than 20 years, Queensryche have built a considerable following for their particular brand of heavy rock, and this sample collection essentially reproduces the entire drum performances from 17 tracks from their back catalogue (including tracks such as 'Silent Lucidity', 'Walk In The Shadows' and 'Eyes Of A Stranger', all of which appeared on the 1999 Greatest Hits album). And to ensure the authenticity of the playing and sounds, the tracks were played by Queensryche's drummer, Scott Rockenfield.

Each CD contains over 750 files (640MB), mostly as loops, but also a couple of folders of single hits. On the first CD the loops are wet, with some room mic ambience added, while the second contains the same loops dry. Loops are subdivided into folders based upon the original song title and, usefully, each folder name includes the original tempo. Within each song folder are, on average, more than 30 loops, and these generally vary from one to four bars in length. The loop names have been very well chosen, and this makes it easy to identify straight loops, fills, intros and endings.

The recordings themselves are excellent, with a good solid kick, and a suitably tight, but punchy, modern snare sound. The cymbals also have just the right amount of top end, without too much sizzle — all in all, the kit sounds great and would work in any modern rock style. The dry loops are right in your face, while the wet loops are not too wet (which personally I liked), but if you want something in between, it is simply a matter of running both versions together and adjusting their relative levels — this worked easily enough in Acid. However, as all the loops have been especially recorded for this collection, from a user's perspective the big plus is how easy it is to mix and match loops from the various songs — the kit sounds very consistent between the song folders. Of course, all this is topped off by some excellent playing and, while there are some straight-ahead loops here, there is also an abundance of intricate and quite subtle detail in a lot of the performances. One characteristic of Scott's playing is the ghosted snare rolls that sit between the beats, and there are plenty of examples of that here, which add a distinctive flavour to the drum tracks created.

Usefully, a good range of single-hit files (both dry and wet) are also provided. Aside from about a dozen very nice cymbal swells, these are dominated by single hits, covering the full spectrum of the kit. In the case of the kick and snare, this includes a series of four hits that could be used to create velocity layers in a sampler programme. Again, the recording quality is excellent across the board.

If rock is your thing, and you want something just a touch different, then this library is well worth exploring. The only significant downside is that the licence does not permit use in a library/production-music context. The collection contains plenty of excellent loops, and it is very easy to build a complete drum track. Despite the rather unusual basis for the loops, the end result works really well and the playing has plenty of character. While I'm sure these loops would appeal to a wannabe Queensryche tribute band, they would also sit comfortably behind a range of rock styles, from Audioslave to Linkin Park and all shades in between. John Walden

Acid-ised Wav 2-CD set, £59.95 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.