Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
Here's an interesting one: Harry and Kate Robinson, veterans of many sessions and tours with some of the biggest names in pop, have created a sample loop pack of romantic-flavoured string arrangements. Kate handles the violin parts, while multi-instrumentalist brother Harry (aka Runone) plays cello. In an unusual twist, the strings are accompanied by beats created by producer Simon Tew, giving the siblings' lush loops a contemporary edge.
Pop Strings UK (6.4GB installed) is a collection of 48kHz WAV audio files — no sampler required, you just drag the WAVs into your DAW, set the song tempo and off you go. There are eight pieces, typically divided into three contiguous sections and totalling around 90 seconds. The accent is on atmospheric, emotional, downbeat musical moods powered by propulsive percussion. Though some are listed at double speed, real-life tempos range from 70 to 113 bpm.
Each song is presented as a construction kit comprising the Robinsons' strings, Mr Tew's programmed drums and percussion, bass guitar, electric and acoustic pianos, synth arpeggios and effects. Having auditioned a song's full mix, you can load various submixes of each of its instruments or select individual parts for each section of the song from the 'Loops' folders.
Taking the deconstruction to its limit, 'Dry' and 'Solo Strings' folders contain all the violin and cello's multitracked overdubs. A small selection of drum, perc and effects hits is also provided, along with useful MIDI files of each song's piano part.
A quick overview: 'Bitter Sweet' starts with a mournful, nostalgic minor-key intro with a classic descending bass line before giving way to a more energetic middle section. The sad mood continues with 'Greatest Good', which features a sweetly lyrical chord sequence and touching violin melody beefed up by electronic percussion. Built around a jazzy chord sequence with some slippery chromatic movements, 'Call The Detective' is perkier and more sophisticated, while the 12/8 'Gotham Saved' contains big cinematic drums. I also enjoyed 'Coming Home', a slow builder which opens with nicely played gospel piano, adds emotional strings and finally a triumphant drum part. Everything has been accurately played to a click, resulting in a tight, polished and professional-sounding overall feel.
All in all, this a refreshingly original, musically poised loop collection. A few criticisms: the file names are excessively long (I counted one of 78 characters), and the key signatures attributed to the second, sixth and seventh songs are wrong. In another slip-up, the full mix of 'Call The Detective' is erroneously presented as a 96kHz file. Q Up Arts (a West Coast company with a long and distinguished sampling pedigree) say they'll remedy this in an update which will also reinstate some absentee drum hits and a missing MIDI file.