Acidised WAV & Apple Loops
Zero-G's Ambiosis is the latest offering from analogue synth guru and sample producer Ian Boddy, and it comprises a collection of soundscape-style samples, in both Acidised WAV and Apple Loops formats. Some 300MB of sample data is provided in each format and the 140 or so loops are presented at 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution.
The loops are fairly evenly spread across seven themed folders (Analogue, Atmospheres, Dark, Light, Spacey, Vintage and Weird) and the majority of the individual loops are between 15 and 25 seconds long. The material is dominated by soundscapes or atmospheres — sounds that steadily evolve. However, there's a small number of loops that are more obviously musical in nature, such as the wonderfully named 'A La Jam Jars CFG' and 'Plucked Heaven CDFGA' from the Atmospheres and Light folders respectively. The range of moods varies. There's a good smattering of gentle and soothing — for example, some loops from the Light folder ('Reflective CEb' or 'Velvet Trems CMin') — but, equally, there's plenty to raise the hairs on the back of your neck in a darkened room, especially in the Dark folder. As you might expect, the Spacey folder contains a collection of suitably sci-fi loops (bleeps, bloops and soft metallic drones), while the Vintage folder uses what seem to be some fairly simple sine-wave-type sources to create sound effects that are straight out of a scary 1970s episode of Dr Who.
If you work in trance or ambient styles, this collection ought to have something to offer from a purely musical perspective. However, I suspect the most obvious home for Ambiosis is with film or TV composers and sound designers. There are plenty of loops that could form the basis of an atmospheric soundbed — part music and part sound design — and that would sit under footage from Alien-style sci-fi through to out-and-out horror. As with many sample libraries, the terms of the license do not allow the individual loops to be used in isolation (they must at least be layered with another sound of some sort), but many of these loops would not need much more accompaniment in a music-to-picture context.
There are a number of good 'scary soundscape' libraries on the market (for example, BFA's Soundscapes For Cinema or Cycles' Unnatural Rhythms) so Ambiosis doesn't really break any dramatic new ground. But the quality of the sounds is excellent and the majority of the loops contain plenty of variation. Given that the sounds could work so well for film and TV applications, it is surprising that some of the loops are perhaps not just a little longer, but this comment aside, Ambiosis is great value (particularly the download) and would be worth adding to the collection of any budding media composer. John Walden
Acidised WAV, REX2 & Apple Loops
The Bollywood film industry is a substantial and growing presence on the world stage, with productions increasingly crossing over into the mainstream movie marketplace. While there are already several excellent sample libraries that provide loops and instruments from this part of the world, Bollywood Grooves is a first in a number of ways. It represents the first release from Philtre Labs, and I suspect that the company themselves are the first Indian-based sample producers working out of the Bollywood industry and producing soundware aimed at that industry. The library contains nearly 700MB of sample data in each of the supported formats and all the loops are presented in 24-bit, 48kHz format, this sample rate being the 'norm' in the film and TV audio world.
The library is based around performances from various rhythm ensembles and, for the Acidised WAV files I used in testing, these are divided into sub-folders, based upon the instruments used: Dhol, Tabla, Duff (shallow-rimmed tambourine-type drum that comes in various sizes and is very popular in Bollywood music), Dholak, Ghunghroo (tinklebells) plus Tabla, and Dholak plus Tabla. Original tempos range from 74 through to 135 bpm and all the loops seem well recorded, with a nice amount of room ambience. Using groups of musicians gives the majority of the loops quite a big sound, as is typical in a Bollywood song context. There's also a good selection of intros, fills and endings, which are excellent for song construction. Further flexibility is added by a folder of grooves in 6/8 time, while a few 7/8 loops are also provided.
The Philtre Labs website suggests that all the musicians involved are working in Bollywood, and the high standard of playing throughout supports this claim. I particularly liked the Dholak and Tabla combinations — instant character, and plenty going on across a wide frequency range — but it was also perfectly possible to mix and match grooves from the various drum types, providing a little care (or very subtle groove quantise) was used.
If I had a criticism, it would be one driven by greed: while it's great that multiple formats are supported, compared with many current loop libraries this collection is a little on the skimpy side in terms of content for the price. That said, the quality is very good indeed, and for media composers needing an instant slice of Bollywood rhythm, it's just the ticket. I could also imagine many of these loops appealing to songwriters and producers looking for an Indian-flavoured groove to spice up a composition. And if you like Bollywood Grooves, Philtre Labs' next title, Bollywood Elements, is due for release in early 2008. John Walden
WAV & MIDI
M-Audio's ProSessions series of instrument samples and loop libraries is now well established, but more recently the company introduced the ProSessions 24 series, including Electro Patterns Vol. 1 reviewed here. As the titles suggest, the sounds are supplied as 24-bit samples rather than 16-bit.
I explored the WAV content (some 500MB in total) and the 100 included MIDI files using Acid Pro 6. The loops are divided up into 10 sub-folders and these are based upon the loop type, rather than using a construction-kit format. The majority of the folders contain rhythmic material but this covers a range of content, from processed drum loops through to glitchy electronic loops. For example, the Assembled Beats folder contains 20 pre-assembled complete rhythmic parts — each four bars in length — where the loop contains kick, snare and hi-hat elements (or an electronic equivalent of each). The majority of the loops have some processing applied — these are definitely not straight drum loops — and the programming is nicely restrained. Similar material is found in the Filtered Beats folder but, of course, the processing is dominated by various filter-style effects. In contrast, the Micro Beat Hi and Micro Beat Low folders focus on hi-hat and kick (or electronic equivalents of both) respectively and could be layered with some of the other rhythmic loops to increase their complexity.
The three non-rhythmic folders are titled Bass Synths, Digital Synths and Hybrid Synths. For me, the latter two contained the most interesting material in the collection — a weird and wonderful assemblage of bleeps, bloops and plinky arpeggios — but with only about 60 loops in total, it was just a shame there wasn't more of this. Perhaps I'll have to wait for Vol 2...
The 100 MIDI files are split between drum and synth loops. The latter include some nice arpeggios, bass lines, chord progressions and melody lines. While these could be used with any soft synth or sampler, Electro Patterns also includes 100 'one-shot' samples. These cover electronic drum sounds, basses and synths, so they could easily be used to construct basic sound programmes in your software sampler of choice. Again, it is perhaps a shame that some suitable programmes for some of the more common sampler formats aren't included.
Musically, the 'Electro' in the library title is spot on, and I could easily imagine these sounds working in electro tracks aimed at the club scene, or as elements within a Nine Inch Nails-style industrial rock production. Unlike some libraries, however, it is difficult to see the collection appealing to producers very far removed from these specific styles. At this price, it would be unfair to expect anything radically new but this library is still very useable and, like the other ProSessions titles, represents decent value for money. John Walden
£35 including VAT.
M-Audio +44 (0)1923 204010
Apple Loops, WAV & REX
Love it or loathe it, smooth jazz is a genre that has captured its share of the radio airwaves, particularly in the USA. Big Fish Audio's Suite Grooves is a multi-format loop library that sits right in this style, combining swinging jazz with smooth R'n'B dance sensibilities. It comes in a fairly standard construction-kit format, with over 900 24-bit, 44.1kHz loops (approximately 1.8GB of sample data for the Acidised WAV version that I explored), spread across some 29 kits. Original recording tempos range from a mellow 64bpm up to a modest 115bpm — tempos that are consistent with the chilled-out feel. Usefully, the folder names for each construction kit include the original tempo and key, as well as an indication of the mood, with titles such as 'Cruzin' and 'Smoothed Out' typical.
The kits all follow a similar pattern. Each contains a collection of loops that can be combined to form a complete musical arrangement. Usually, one or two drum and bass loops are provided as a foundation, and often a couple of drum fills are also included for variety. Usefully, each kit includes two sub-folders that contain some drum 'hits' (for example, a crash cymbal, or individual snare or kick sounds) and loops that are based on individual mics from the drum recording sessions (for example, kick, snare, hi-hat and overheads). Both elements provide extra flexibility and are a nice touch. The other instruments include the expected staples, such as cool guitar licks and smooth Rhodes piano parts, but the stars of the show are the various lead instruments. These are dominated by saxophone loops, but there's also a good dose of trumpet and the occasional piano solo. Numbers of loops in an individual construction kit vary from something just under a dozen to more than 30. Recording quality and playing are top-notch throughout, and the performances certainly sit well within the target genre. I particularly liked the drum loops and sax lead lines: the former always seemed to groove even at slower tempos and the latter feature some really classy playing.
Some rather dubious smooth jazz 'tribute' albums have appeared in recent months, which might serve to give the genre a bad name (a smooth jazz tribute to Michael Jackson anyone?), but the material here is at the better end of the market: think Jimmy Sommers' recent Sunset Collective album and you'll be in the right ball-park. Perhaps the only down side is that, in musical terms, there is nothing radically new here, but if smooth jazz is your bag, Suite Grooves will push all the right buttons and offers good value for money in a tried-and-tested format. John Walden