Comprising one audio CD and a separate WAV CD-ROM of the same sounds, Bombay Loops & Sounds is dedicated to delivering Bollywood-style rhythm loops, musical phrases and even chunks of complete performance. These sounds have a strong Bhangra component and they were collected by Mykel Angel, some to be used in his Sony album Mykel Angel Presents Bombay Beats. The range of samples presented here is enormous, kicking off with some nice atmospheric effects before diving straight in with the rhythm loops. The inevitable tabla loops are played with great authenticity, and several flavours of loop are presented, including Gangsta and Maharay (120bpm) variants. The Maharay loops in particular should sit nicely over contemporary dance rhythms.
Following on from the loops are Atmospheric Sitar extracts, including pitch falls, drones and sitars layered with other instruments. These are great as ethnic punctuations or as beds to psychedelic-era Beatles-style tunes. Next comes a brief snatch of street atmosphere, singing, 'tabla talk' and then a more comprehensive set of male, then female vocal examples. Sadly there's no translation, so you could end up editing these to inadvertently produce something quite comical to Indian ears!
The Temple and Mystical Flute phrase examples (some of which are mixed with other suitably sympathetic instruments) are very atmospheric and eerie, though I'd have liked some single note sample sets in there as well, as this would enable you to link the phrases using your own melodies. Following up in a more dramatic vein are Bollywood Orchestral phrases and various string examples, both bowed and plucked, but, regrettably, tempo information for most of the material is missing. After that we're treated to some nice tubular bells, some individually pitched, and Tibetan cymbals, all of which have that wonderfully mysterious Asian quality — you can almost smell the incense! The high-pitched finger cymbals are particularly nice.
Ehru is one of those plucked instruments that sound as though somebody is still building it, but it produces a warm, evocative sound, not dissimilar in character from a koto or even a thumb piano. The small kantele, by contrast, is a high-pitched, metallic-sounding, almost percussion-like stringed instrument (presumably played with sticks) that would ride well on top of other loops. When plucked it sounds somewhat like a mandolin, but with single strings rather than pairs. There are plenty of single notes and loops to choose from, as well as an equally generous selection of regular kantele loops and effects.
Eastern Bells is a gift to anyone into New Age or meditation music — many of these are quite delicate, with a lot of sustain, and later in the section are some nice rhythmic loops played entirely on bells. The saz is a stringed instrument that sounds a little like a car-boot-sale guitar tuned to an open chord and then strummed. The sections include chord hits, rhythms and single notes, then it's off to visit kantele loops, metal-o-phon notes and gamelan hits and noises — tings aren't what they used to be! The kantele loops have an almost music-box quality about them and could fit into all kinds of compositions. metal-o-phon sounds just like a glockenspiel to me and the notes are presented as single samples.
Next up is a section called Magic Falcon — another steel-strung acoustic guitar-like sound played as single notes, some with slides. This leads into two more guitar-related sections — Contra-guitar and Guitars Of Ceylon. Contra-guitar produces low pitches as you'd expect, while the Ceylon guitar has a rattly, koto-like quality.
Bells Of Burma are mainly high-pitched and bright, and comprise single hits, shakes and rhythms. I expected Bamboo Tones to be flutes or wooden percussion, but they actually sound like metal bells again, possibly being struck with bamboo sticks. Very nice anyway. Then it's off to visit the B-Piano, which sounds somewhat like an ethnic twist on one of those kids' mechanical pianos that uses metal rods or tines to produce its notes.
Magic Saron also sounds like a toy, this time a pressed metal glockenspiel, and is reminiscent of those musical toys where each note is painted a different colour to match the included song book notes. Enough individual hits are provided to build yourself an impressive multisampled version, though a few pounds spent at Toys R Us would probably achieve much the same result!
On a different note, or several, come the banjo effects in which the instrument is tapped, struck, scraped and generally subjected to everything except regular playing. These largely percussive sounds are musically very organic and should fit in well with other rhythms. The small kalimba sounds much as you'd expect a little thumb piano to sound, while the big kalimba sounds, well... bigger, and of course deeper. Here you get individual hits and some neat scraping/playing effects. Indian mandolin is not hugely dissimilar to a plucked ukulele, then it's back to the kantele for some glissandos before the Bombay band strikes up with hits, drones and phrases. This section contains a lot of variety with hits on tabla, santur, ritual drum, Tibetan bowl, bells, bass and dumbek. Finally come more vocal and instrumental phrases, this time recorded in a studio. This section includes a couple of rather evocative Indian violin phrases — something I'd like to have heard more of on this CD.
Overall, Bombay Loops & Sounds is a tour de force of Bollywood and more conventional Indian musical culture, and, though you have to arrange any single samples into sampler instruments yourself, the fact that most require no looping makes this a fairly simple task. If you need to add the flavour of Indian music to any of your projects, then this is a good place to start, and its only real shortcoming is the lack of tempo documentation for most of the phrase and loop-based examples. Paul White
£56.95 including VAT.
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A quick look at the unwieldy title should leave you with no doubt that the two CDs in this collection (both audio) are clearly aimed at the commercial R&B/hip hop crossover market that has tended to dominate the urban/pop market over the last few years. Da Nu RnB Hip Hop Two contains 21 construction kits, 14 on CD one and the remaining seven on CD two. Each construction kit is spread over five tracks: The first contains an extended arrangement of the complete mix that lasts just over a minute and contains a breakdown or switch. The next track contains the complete soloed drum track for the preceding mix which is then followed by all the backing, minus the beat. The fourth track of each kit then features a breakdown of all the licks, loops and samples used in the backing, whilst the final track contains all the individual drum hits used. Tempos range between a head-nodding 55bpm to a fast (for this genre) 117bpm.
The kits on CD two are followed by a further 23 extended drum loops, complete with their component single hits. These loops vary in tempo from 50-100bpm and continue in the heavily swung, electronic, skippy style that runs through the collection. The first thing that really hits you when scanning through both CDs is the intricate nature of the kits. The beats are well programmed, with a good ear for detail, and samples on offer include real guitar licks, synth atmospheres, sub-bass, heavily processed vocal snatches and electric piano runs. Everything is well played and recorded, with some really effective layering of sounds and riffs. Although 21 kits doesn't sound that many for your hard-earned cash, the depth of content here, with some of the mixes containing over 20 separate elements, more than compensates and gives the whole thing a really lush feel.
Style-wise, the grooves are heavy on the synth string riffs, deep bass and twisting beats with a slick, 'electronic' feel that is consistent with all the current trends, and are some of the most musical kits I've come across. Slap a well sung vocal across any number of these kits and you could well be heading towards the charts.
On the downside, I can't really see the point in having five (count 'em) demo tracks at the start of CD one and the four tracks advertising other Ueberschall collections at the end of CD two would scream 'filler!' if the content included here wasn't so good. Also a couple of the kits perhaps over-fill their basic, raw groove with unnecessary instrumentation and twiddling, but none of this can take away from the overall quality of the collection. If you're in the market for some smooth, chart credible urban grooves this really should be one of the first places you look. Oli Bell
£59.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
Post Musical Instruments have rapidly acquired a reputation for developing high-quality piano sample libraries, with Grandioso Steinway Model D and Bosendorfer 290 collections already receiving glowing reviews in SOS. The Kontakt-format Yamaha C7 piano library under review here is configured as two sets of three CDs. Installation requires running two self-extracting archives, one for each set of three CDs. You end up with two folders — one with ambient samples and patches, the other with a corresponding set of close-miked samples and patches.
PMI describe Yamaha's C7 as being best suited to rock and pop due to its bright, solid tone. Indeed, C7s are to be found in many recording studios, a clear indication of their popularity. The library's handbook goes into considerable detail about the piano itself and the recording techniques used, and includes useful tips on effective choice of patch. Although ambient and close-miked versions are available, PMI recommend that close-miked patches be mixed in with the ambient patches.
The C7 follows PMI's previous libraries by offering a full set of pedal-up, pedal-down and release samples. Various patches provide 16-way and eight-way velocity layers, with and without release samples. You also have the choice of loading pedal-up samples only, pedal-down samples only, or you can go the whole hog and load 'real-time sustain' patches. These patches make use of Kontakt's ability to crossfade from one set of samples to another (in this case crossfading between pedal-up and pedal-down samples) when the sustain pedal is pressed. Gigastudio users can also enjoy this feature when using the Maple Grandioso FX utility alongside Gigastudio, as outlined in the Bosendorfer 290 review (SOS March 2003). For additional realism, Kontakt's Note-On Timer feature has been employed in one particular patch to ensure that the volume of the release samples decreases appropriately, corresponding to the length of time notes have been held — neat! Unlike the Bosendorfer 290, no pedal noise samples are included here, presumably because the C7 is intended to be used for pop rather than solo classical work.
Both the ambient and close-miked patches have useful applications in their own right — the ambient more so. Following the suggestion in the booklet, mixing two corresponding ambient and close-mic patches together provides greater control of perspective, together with an apparent increase of tonal depth. This of course doubles the polyphony required, which should be taken into consideration depending on the available power and resources of your computer.
I do have one particular concern with respect to the mid-range group (centred around middle 'C') of pedal-down samples. To my ears, these sound 'choked' compared to their pedal-up counterparts, in both the ambient and close-mic versions. As a result, the most traffic-heavy area of the piano appears to have more body and sustain when the pedal is up — which is contrary to what one might expect. This also produces an effect in the mid-range of some discomforting lurches in volume when pedalling between the two layers — however I found that adjusting the crossfade time could reduce this artefact, although I could not cure it completely.
Overall, Yamaha C7 has a healthy dynamic range, although the upper mid-range is perhaps a little more restrained at full velocity than I would personally wish. Tonal response is generally very consistent across the keyboard, albeit with a slight volume bias towards the bottom end. Some patches displayed a few level-matching anomalies between velocity layers, although I understand the Kontakt versions are still being refined, so the patch list shown in the booklet may not necessarily correspond with the patches currently available. Patch updates are available to registered users from the PMI web site.
Overall, I feel the Yamaha C7 is best suited to an accompaniment role, and I would go along with the idea that this piano is most likely to appeal to those people doing rock and pop productions. Classical aficionados, or anyone looking for a big, full-bodied sound will probably find the Grandioso Steinway Model D or Bosendorfer 290 more to their liking. That said, pianos are an intensely personal taste, so as always I'd recommend auditioning Yamaha C7 for yourself in order to decide whether it will suit your own brand of music. Nick Magnus
£167 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.