Zero-G Trance Inducer
Acid Wav, AIFF, Apple Loops, REX2 & Stylus RMX
Trance Inducer is part of Zero-G's SoundSense series (which includes, amongst others, Ambiosis, reviewed in SOS March 2008). Priced towards the budget end of the sample-library market, these libraries contain rather less material than some more expensive products, but they still offer good value for money, and provide an inexpensive means for budding producers to expand their sample collections. Like Ambiosis, Trance Inducer is also available at an even cheaper price if you're prepared to download it.
Given the title, there are no prizes for guessing the main musical style on offer here: Trance Inducer is very much in the 'modern dance meets trance' genre. In the WAV format that I auditioned, nearly 600 samples are provided, spanning some 380MB. All the loops are supplied at 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution and dance-friendly tempos of between 130 and 140bpm were used for the original recordings. The samples themselves are organised into seven groups: synth arpeggios, bass arpeggios, drum hits, drum loops, FX, synth hits and construction kits.
The synth and bass arpeggio loops contain some nice analogue-sounding material and, while there's nothing revolutionary in terms of content, I could easily imagine these licks going down well in a club context. The folder of drum hits contains 120-plus individual samples covering hi-hats, claps, kicks, cymbals, snares and toms — and these could easily be used to construct a basic drum kit in a software sampler if you wanted to roll your own loops to go with those supplied here. There's plenty of variety offered, and some decent kicks and snares in particular. The contents of the synth hits and FX folders are pretty much as expected — in total, some 200 bits of sonic punctuation that can be used to decorate a production.
The drum loops are subdivided into kick loops (which are actually full drum-kit loops, but dominated by kick sounds), hi-hat loops, percussion loops (perhaps more accurately thought of as 'kit minus kick') and a small number (five!) of snare rolls — although these are all over 32 beats in length, so there's plenty of scope to break them into smaller sections, as required. Finally, the seven construction kits each contain about a dozen component loops from which a complete song section could be assembled. The styles and sounds in the construction kits match well with the material in the rest of the library, so adding further variety to develop a full track arrangement is easy enough.
As commented earlier, the content of Trance Inducer doesn't break any new ground but, like other libraries in the SoundSense series, it offers good value for money and an inexpensive route to some decent sample content for the fledgling dance/trance producer. Three stars for originality but five for value for money and common sense... that'll be a four then. John Walden
DVD-ROM £29.95; 'Compact' version, available via download, £14.95. Prices include VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
Soniccouture Balinese Gamelan
If you didn't know already, the gamelan (pronounced with both 'a's sounding as in 'man') is the tuned percussion ensemble of Java and Bali. By a mad quirk of fate, its exotic tones have infiltrated UK music education and many schools now own a gamelan (usually the Javanese kind). Soniccouture located a rare and magnificent Balinese Semara Dana gamelan at LSO St Luke's in central London, sampled it extensively and spent four months programming the 5000 samples into a Kontakt library, enabling us all to experience its lovely sound.
As a big fan and ex-student of Balinese gamelan, I could be accused of bias towards this collection, but my playing experience also means I'd soon spot anything that didn't sound right. I'm happy to report that this gamelan sounds correct from top to bottom. Starting at the high end you have kantilan and pemade, metallophones with suspended bronze bars which are played with wooden hammers (often at break-neck speed) to produce brilliant, high-pitched, sustaining, bell-like notes.
The penetrating, clangy attack of the lower-pitched ugal contrasts with the calung, which is played with soft beaters to create a sweet singing tone. The jegog is the biggest keyed instrument (bloody heavy, too) and its gently booming bass notes delineate the main melody lines. Played by four players, a set of 14 tuned kettle gongs called reong have a more percussive sound and are traditionally used to perform syncopated and accented melodic rhythm patterns. Underpinning the ensemble are portentous-sounding giant, tuned gongs, a very nice pair of cylindrical kendang drums (which are played with hands and beaters) and crashy ceng ceng hand cymbals. I would have appreciated a greater variety of ceng hits, but the drums have no shortage of different strikes, which range from subtle flicks to powerful bashes.
Balinese gamelan instruments are built in pairs, with one instrument tuned slightly sharp of the other, and when the two are played in unison this gives the distinctive chorus-like 'shimmer' that is an integral part of the overall sound. In order to replicate this effect Soniccouture sampled the high-tuned and low-tuned version of each instrument separately, then combined them in optional 'pair' programs, where each key triggers a unison note with its authentic built-in vibration.
Muted notes (an important feature of Balinese gamelan pieces) are provided as well as sustains, and the large number of dynamic layers ensures that the timbral and dynamic response is very natural. The library faithfully adheres to the Semara Dana seven-tone pelog scale, but chromatic concert-pitch versions of the instruments are also available and can be quickly downloaded from Soniccouture's site. Accompanying this large (23GB) library is an excellent booklet containing detailed, well-written information and some great photos. The version I tried shipped in a limited-edition groovy metal tin, which can be used as an emergency percussion instrument in the event of a power cut. Brilliant and totally authentic, this is a tremendous resource for gamelan aficionados and a beautiful, colourful, complex set of sounds to enhance your creative soundtracks. Dave Stewart
£299 including VAT.
Soniccouture +44 (0)208 392 8837.
Big Fish Audio Retro-funky Breaks
Apple Loops, REX 2, Stylus RMX & WAV
Retro-funky Breaks is aimed at those producing any kind of retro-inspired style of dance music or old-school hip-hop. Made up primarily of drum, percussion, bass guitar, lead synth, rhythm guitar, brass, spoken male vocal and turntable-scratching performances, the 26 construction kits are funky without being a wicki-tastic parody, retro without being too cheesy, and inventive without breaking out of a pretty well-defined niche. Over 1200 loops cover tempos from 90-135bpm: slow enough for hip-hop and big-beat; fast enough for many house sub-genres.
The drums are terrifically performed by Mike Kalajian and Jennifer Corsaro, and are a highlight. They're groovier than a corrugated medallion! I was impressed by how they've pulled fresh-sounding patterns out of the bag while only rarely trespassing over the title's stylistic boundaries. The sound is also fantastically dog-eared and fuzzy, giving each loop lots of the unique, hooky sonic character that's so crucial for invigorating programmed arrangements. The restricted frequency range of many sounds gives the advantage that they're often much easier to place in the mix than spectrum-hogging hi-fi samples. Percussion includes congas, bongo, cowbell, tambourine, triangle, and the odd agogo (is there any other kind?), but these loops are much more straight-ahead.
The basses deliver a great vintage-inspired sound too, and a judicious shovel of the expected hyperactive performance tics. However, while they are as tight as a duck's derrière alongside certain drum loops in their respective kit, they're as tight as Jay Z's trousers with others, which might make the kits less flexible for some users.
The mostly histrionic lead-synth loops, spasmodic guitar rhythms and furious turntablism that fill out the rest of the library all reminded me a bit of Prince's New Power Generation, which is no bad thing. As with the drum and bass loops, no compressor has been left uncranked and the flavours of distortion are many and varied — but, in the main, well-judged enough to avoid any fatiguing harshness. Effects are pretty heavy and of a vintage bent, and overall I like the way these seem to have been chosen specifically to complement the sounds.
Annoyingly, there are no 'dry' versions of the instrument samples, so you're stuck with heavy effects even if you don't want them. If only Big Fish had provided a separate, dry version of any loops that have obvious delay and reverb treatments, you'd have had proper control over the sound at mixdown and the library would have then been much more widely usable. What makes this more galling is that the scratch-DJ loops make up more than a third of the samples (roughly equal to the combined tally of drum, bass, guitar, and synth loops!), and while these aren't without some gems, they mostly feel to me like filler which could (and should) have been strenuously weeded to make space for dry versions of other, more interesting samples.
However, the bottom line is that Retro-funky Breaks isn't the most expensive of libraries, and it manages the difficult balancing act of sounding both retro and current at the same time — very timely too, given the ascendance of artists like Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse. In fact, you might find that the drums alone warrant the modest price of admission. Mike Senior
£34.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
Big Fish Audio Textured Beats
Apple Loops, WAV & REX
As the title suggests, the Textured Beats library is built around drum loops. In this case, the loops have had processing applied and, while the acoustic drum origin of many of them is still clearly recognisable, this can't really be considered a 'straight' drum-loop library. I explored the 1.5GB of 24-bit WAV files using Acid Pro 6, but the same 1300-plus loops are provided in all three of the supported formats listed above.
The loops are divided into a number of groups: beats, combos, instruments, percussion, textures, distorted and SFX hits. The beats form the largest group, which is subdivided into tempo-based folders, with original tempos ranging widely from a sedate 54bpm to a manic 190bpm. While acoustic drum sounds have been used, there are also plenty of electronic elements to the loops, and a proportion of them contain some truly woofer-wobbling kick sounds. The electronic element is enhanced by the obvious — but never overdone — processing that's been applied. Given the style and sound of the loops (dark and, at times, aggressive) they'd certainly work with hip-hop, electronic or experimental rock and, at some of the medium to faster tempos, there's plenty here that would interest film and TV composers wanting to create 24-style cues. I found the drum loops in the highest tempos (170 and above) more than my ears could stand, but your mileage may vary! Because the collection contains small groups of similar loops, it's easy to build arrangements for a song structure, although there are no fills — so some beat-slicing will be required if you want to build your own.
The textures mostly feature synth-based sounds and, although these are definitely musical, they tend to have a rhythmic element. The same sorts of textures are combined with drum loops to form the combos group, and these wouldn't require much additional instrumentation to make a complete musical bed. The distorted group provides a small collection of further drum loops with some additional (you guessed it!) distortion added, while the SFX hits groups includes some 30-plus synth- and drum-based 'hits'. The percussion group is self explanatory, but features much lighter processing than the main drum loops. Finally, the instrument loops are based on synth sounds, and these are divided into subfolders where a particular sound is played back at a variety of pitches — so they could easily be used to build some basic sampler patches if required.
Textured Beats doesn't break any dramatic new ground and, given the predominantly dark and occasionally aggressive tone, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. However, for producers of hip-hop and some dance styles, and for media composers, it offers a fresh palette of loops for inspiration — and given the quantity of material, it also provides pretty good value for money. John Walden
£55 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.