'Like a deep massage,' the blurb begins, 'these laid-back grooves penetrate your eardrums and inspire your soul'. I know from my own experience writing for this column how difficult it is to write descriptively about samples, and how easily you can end up with mangled metaphors. Even so, a deep massage that penetrates your eardrums really does sound rather painful. Fortunately, this new sample library from Big Fish Audio is a much gentler and more enjoyable experience.
Citing the music of Portishead and Massive Attack as stylistic points of reference, Chill promises to draw from jazz, hip-hop, dub, funk, soul, ambient, and pop to 'create a whole new downtempo experience'. Although the words 'trip hop' don't appear anywhere on the cover or in the Readme file, but they do appear in this review...
Delivered on a single DVD-ROM, Chill duplicates the same basic content in three different formats: WAV, Apple Loops, and REX 2 files. In each case you get 34 different construction kits, and an Extras folder containing a good selection of other bits and pieces (drums, some nice jazzy flutes, guitars, and so on). The samples are recorded at 24-bit, 44.1kHz resolution.
The construction-kit tempos cover 60-110bpm, and are mostly in minor keys. Each kit includes a complete mix of a short composition, together with its various component parts presented in isolation. Some also provide a Hits folder containing one or more one-shot samples (generally drum or percussion hits) suitable for programming extra fills or ornamentation.
The material on offer here is impressive. The construction kits are all quite usable, and the better ones are very convincing indeed. The various producers (five different names are credited) demonstrate not only technical ability, but also creditable musical judgement. The kits have been assembled with taste and restraint, steering well clear of needless pyrotechnics and pointless twiddly bits. The different components sit well together, and the arrangements work.
There's a distinct jazz flavour to many of these samples. Some excellent Rhodes and Wurlitzer keyboard parts are in evidence, often complemented by accomplished, but understated guitar licks. The effect is appropriately 'smooth', but without being over-polished or sterile. There are a few darker kits thrown in as well, but the overall feel is actually quite upbeat and cheerful.
The breaks and beats are all-important for this style of music, and the drum programming and production are handled here with flair. Good use is made of compression and EQ, and the sounds range from solid, assertive, and upfront, to muffled, degraded, and lo-fi. A couple of the kits feature glitchy fills and flourishes, but for the most part it's kept simple and effective.
Chill would be a valuable sample library for anyone with an interest in down-tempo, beat-driven music, and it could also make itself useful outside of its appointed genre, potentially offering something to pop productions of every kind. Paul Sellars
Veteran producer and sound designer Christian Hein's sampling work has largely centred round orchestral sounds, but his latest venture features pop horns: alto and tenor saxes, trumpet, trombone, and a virtual trumpet section made up of solo trumpet samples. The saxophones are played by Marc Leymann, Andy Haderer plays trumpet, and the 'golden handbrake' is manipulated by Ludwig Nuss, creator of the near-legendary CD Horn Players Can't Eat Garlic. (I kid you not!)
To create an effective sampled pop horn section you have to get the trumpet right, and I'm glad to say Chris Hein has got the trumpet right. Its staccato stabs are short, precise, tight, bright, and punchy, and when played chordally their timing is bang on the money. In a word: bap! Uninhibited jazz mannerisms like 'doits' (a stab followed by a hysterical rising pitch), falls (supplied in five different lengths), and growls abound, and a set of nicely sleazy 1950's big-band-style 'shakes' evoke images of a red-faced, cross-eyed man with bulging cheeks who's about to burst a blood vessel.
The trumpet long notes (all looped) have a good positive attack, 10 dynamic layers, and a nice, subtle vibrato option which can be accessed via the mod wheel — the only caveat is that if you move the wheel while sustaining a note, you're likely to hear a glitch when the two sample sets switch over. On the long sustained no-vibrato samples, pressing the sustain pedal raises the instrument's pitch by 15 cents, the idea being that you can add artificial vibrato by rhythmically tapping the pedal. Bad idea — this eccentric piece of programming not only produces an unconvincing, synthetic vibrato, but also prevents users from elongating notes with the sustain pedal. That apart, this is one of the best sampled pop trumpets I've heard. The virtual trumpet section sounds pretty triumphal too.
Great efforts have been made to keep the instruments' playing styles consistent: the bright-sounding alto and tenor saxes mimic the trumpet's ultra-tight short staccatos and deliver falls, chromatic pickups and run downs, grace notes, swells, and fp crescendos with flair and poise. Marc Leymann also whips out a large set of inventive, exuberant jazzy licks and improvised phrases on both saxes. Although stringing them together takes a bit of work, a few of these riffs will give tracks an instant 'live player' feel.
Mr Nuss's trombone sounds big, fat, and commanding, and the instrument's wide tonal variations are nicely reproduced by the multi-dynamic samples. Its pitch slides are played with relish, which one hopes compensates for the prohibited garlic. Taken as a whole, these horns are very versatile, offering all the styles you need for pop, rock, R&B, or jazz big-band arrangements. Although the combination of a dry recording acoustic and mono samples militates against a lush listening experience, the musical content and execution are second to none — add some classy reverb, and these horns will shine! Dave Stewart
There are plenty of multi-instrument libraries on the market, but if you want a sampled instrument that will meet professional standards, it's generally better to buy a specialist title. M-Audio evidently share this view, and their Premium Instruments range of sample DVDs keeps the focus on individual instruments and offers in-depth sampled renditions of some real classics in every sampler format known to man (except Gigastudio).
Having been a Fender Rhodes player since the days when Abba ruled the earth (ah ha!), M-Audio's Premium Electric Pianos title was the first to catch my eye. The set contains two Rhodes electric pianos: a Stage 73 model from the late '70s, and a Suitcase 73 used in Avatar studios (formerly the Power Station) in America. Both electric pianos were recorded by producer/remixer Chris Griffin, who has worked with Madonna and David Brent's favourite band, The Corrs.
I always loved the bell-like attack of my Stage 73 Rhodes, and on Chris Griffin's sampled version the 'sparkly tines' effect can be heard most clearly in the octave starting on 'C' above middle 'C' — to bring out this quality in other parts of the piano's range, you'd need to EQ it or run it through an amp. The Rhodes' tone is beautifully pure and transparent, but if you want a more processed sound, one program adds a suitably vintage stereo phasing effect reminiscent of the MXR90 effects pedal.
The 'Avatar' Suitcase Rhodes has been souped up by 'Dyno-My-Piano', a set of modifications which made Rhodes pianos sound more poky and aggressive. As a result, the Suitcase 73's attack is somewhat more prominent than that of the Stage 73, but the trademark warm, intimate, and funky sound of the instrument is still very evident. The Avatar Rhodes' samples were recorded in three different ways labelled DI, Amp, and Room. The Amp option adds a nice presence which further accentuates the note attack, while the Room samples introduce an agreeable stereo large-room ambience.
Both Rhodes pianos were sampled at four dynamics, using between 16 and 27 samples in each dynamic to cover their 73-note range. A set of one-dynamic release samples are also provided — these work well in most situations, but if you hold down the sustain pedal and play a lot of notes, they make a sharp, rather obtrusive click when the pedal is lifted. As the trend nowadays is to sample pianos at 12 or more dynamics chromatically or on every white note, I felt it was a shame that a similarly intensive approach wasn't used on these two Fender Rhodes pianos — however, I have to say that they are both supremely playable, highly responsive, and well-balanced across their entire range.
I left the best till last — if you load either piano and push up the mod wheel, a glorious, swirling stereo tremolo effect fills the speakers. I must admit I've no idea how the effect is achieved, but this gorgeous noise is the icing on the cake. Dave Stewart
This latest addition to the Loopmasters Origin series not only provide its loops in Acid ised WAV and REX 2 formats, but also includes some instrument patches for the EXS24, Halion, Kontakt, and NNXT samplers. In total, the CD-ROM contains some 670MB of sample data. The collection is dominated by more than 350 drum loops, organised into four tempo groups spanning 120-130bpm. The majority are full-kit loops, but subfolders of Live, Percussion, and Tops loops are also included. The latter contain the higher-pitched instruments of the drum kit — percussion, hi-hats, high toms, and some crisp snares, for example — and layer well with the full loops. Sonically, this is very much classic House, and the playing and programming seem well done.
The instrument loops include bass, Rhodes piano, guitar, synths, sound effects, and trumpet, as well as a selection of one-shot vocal samples (both male and female). There are not huge numbers of loops in any of these categories (for example 20 Rhodes loops and 30 guitar loops), but what is here is well played and recorded. As suggested by the library title, the mood of these is meant to be at the mellower end of the House spectrum, and this is particularly reflected in the fairly gentle Rhodes loops and the inclusion of the small selection of jazz-influenced trumpet loops.
The vocal samples are a bit of a mixed bag — the male samples are spoken or shouted, but there is nothing here that most producers couldn't easily replicate for themselves. The female samples include some spoken phrases that include a lot of heavy breathing, while the small number of sung phrases are very soulful in tone. These suit the mood of the musical loops well, but it is a shame that these one-shot files have no indication of the original key they were performed in, as this makes mixing them with the other material more difficult. The various instrument patches include some nice basses, a decent Rhodes, and a wide range of individual drum and percussion hits. All of these are available as sampler patches, providing some extra flexibility — live playing can easily be added to a composition based upon a selection of the loops in order to provide a little variety. Although these are very usable, don't expect miracles at this price point, because the patches are based on a few samples and do not include velocity layers.
There are, of course, a large number of House loop libraries on the market, although these do tend to be dominated by more full-on, four-on-the-floor styles. Soulful House Sessions doesn't bring anything massively new to the genre, but if you are after something with a somewhat mellower vibe, then at this price it's well worth an audition. John Walden