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Sample Libraries: On Test

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Big Fish Audio Funk University ****

MULTI-FORMAT

This library from Big Fish Audio is all about drum loops. There are no other instruments, or even single drum hits. The 800 loops are served up in three formats and are organised into tempo-based folders across a range of 55-150bpm. Within a particular folder, the loops are subdivided further based upon the drum kit used, each kit having a distinctive sound. Aside from the tempo and kit number, there is no further guidance regarding each loop's content, for example to indicate which are fills.

Sample Libraries: On Test

The various kits provide plenty of sonic variety. While the snare sounds used are all typical of funk — mostly quite tight, dry, and restrained — there are also kits where the snare has more of a 'crack' or 'ping' to it — suitable for a tight rock sound as well as funk. There is a mixture of both 'dry' loops and those where the kit has been recorded within a more lively space.

Amongst the lower-tempo loops the playing is not too busy, but definitely has a funk feel. As the tempos get up to the 70bpm range, things start to liven up a little, and there are some quite aggressive-sounding loops with a bigger snare sound. However, there is generally a nice mix of fairly straight loops, busier loops (with plenty of examples of syncopated snare or hi-hat work), and loops containing fills. At tempos above 120bpm, the action gets a little busier, while right at the top end of the tempo range there are one or two loops that would obviously make your limbs ache. On the whole, though, the playing is very tasteful and restrained. Most of the loops are in four/four time, but a smattering of six/eight loops appear, as do a small number that feature brushes rather than sticks.

Obviously these loops would suit funk-based music, but I could also imagine some of them working in soul, R&B, or even more commercial hip-hop — perhaps anything from Jamiroquai through to the Black Eyed Peas, with a few stops in between. The more aggressive and ambient loops would also work in modern rock (the tight snares, for example, would not be out of place in some nu metal) or pop styles. The library has plenty of content and, given the multi-format package, it certainly offers value for money. However, it might have been nice to see some single hits included, particularly some cymbal crashes to add as accents. I'm not sure there is anything radically new on offer here in terms of musical content, but if you are looking for a 'funk drums 101' loop library, Funk University is a pretty good starting point. John Walden

Apple Loops, REX, and WAV DVD-ROM, £59 including VAT.

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Zero-G Koncept & Funktion ****

MULTI-FORMAT

Reason users requiring a large, accessible drum & bass loop collection should start here. Over 1GB of samples is squished into this Refill, and the eponymous duo (aka David and Nic Higham) know their stuff. This material is fast, so breathe deeply and get ready for a world where the resting pulse is 172-175bpm. Overwhelmingly loop-heavy, this collection (also available in Intakt Instrument format) welds woofer-flapping bass, on-the-edge beats, and 'distorted in a good way' leads to soundscapes and textures both mellow and industrial: a perfect showcase of the two sides of drum & bass.

Sample Libraries: On TestCentral to the collection are 40 construction kits, each featuring related beats, pads, textures, and grooves. For a start, there are REX-format loops which can be loaded into Dr:Rex for playback at any tempo — multiple Dr:Rex instances are needed to assemble a track. In addition, a kit's raw samples are collected into both NN19 and NNXT sampler patches. This is bizarre, as NN19 patches can easily load into NNXT, and NNXT 's facilities are hardly being exploited. You won't be able to alter the tempo of these patches, but you do have the handy advantage of being able to mix and match loops from your controller keyboard — a nice option in a live environment. Curiously, many sampler patches contain more samples than there are REX loops in a given kit.

The Refill is more than rounded out by plentiful non-construction-kit drum and groove loops, pad loops, and effects. The base tempos remain dizzying, though a handful of 100bpm and half-tempo-feel examples throw you a curve ball. This material is again split between REX loops and NN19/NNXT patches. There is no duplicate material: even the NNXT groove loops group appears to have nothing in common with the Dr:Rex folder of the same name. That's great for variety, but less so for tempo-matching, and although many samples aren't tempo specific, plenty are. I also find it odd that entire NN19 and NNXT patches contain just one loop or sample each. Given that no NNXT facilities have been exploited, there doesn't seem to have been much point in using this CPU-heavy device in the first place.

There's some very nice work in this Refill, but sadly there's no indication of where the loops come from or how they were created. This is a sample-focused collection — and genre — but it would have been interesting, and quite enlightening, to hear some beats as Redrum patterns and some sounds as Reason device patches. That said, the Refill includes ten hard and heavy Redrum kits. One last thing: amidst all the industrial textures and odd effects are some folders of vocals — Female, MC, Spoken, and FX. Perhaps I'm missing something, but this portion of the set borders of the satirical, despite being nicely recorded. That and some organisational oddities aside, I found much to like, and there's a lot of material here that will be grist for any adventurous musical mill. Derek Johnson

Reason Refill or Intakt Instrument (including VST, DXi, Audio Units, RTAS, and stand-alone versions), £59.95 including VAT.

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Nine Volt Audio Chopped Guitars ****
Downtempo Guitars Volume 2 ****

MULTI-FORMAT

These two sample collections from Nine Volt Audio are in many ways like two different moods of the same entity. Chopped Guitars uses rhythmic gating combined with radical processing to produce effects that wouldn't be out of place in an adrenaline-fuelled video game based on antisocial driving habits. Downtempo Guitars, on the other hand, while still dripping with processing, has a somewhat more laid-back feel. Both libraries include more than 400 loops, all pre-sliced so that they can be played back over a wide tempo range in REX-compatible applications and Spectrasonics Stylus RMX without sounding any more unnatural than they're intended to!

Sample Libraries: On TestSample Libraries: On Test Chopped Guitars includes some atmospheric and melodic examples, but a lot of it is taken up with rhythmic material processed in a way reminiscent of libraries such as Spectrasonics Distorted Reality. Electric guitars are subjected to distortion and heavy filtering of all kinds, combined with reverb, rhythmic echoes, rotary speakers, and so on. If you think of the sequenced synth line at the start of The Who's 'Won't Get fooled Again', that will give you some idea of the general character and vibe of these grooves, and indeed many of the sounds are so heavily processed that they're barely recognisable as guitars at all. In most instances, the sequences are based on a musical chord, scale, or short phrase, and there's normally only a choice of one or two chords, so your composition may need to be built to follow what's available rather than vice versa. Non-guitarists who would like to inject a more organic feel into their music should find this collection inspirational, and even guitar players will find sounds here that are difficult if not impossible to replicate themselves. Even though the sounds are extensively processed, they still retain a 'real' character that synthesized sounds often lack.

Downtempo Guitars Volume 2 is more relaxed, but seldom gets as far as being dreamy or ambient. The processing is just as creative as with the other library, but is less obviously rhythmically based and tends to be optimised for lower tempos. Again the limited choice of chords and scales could pose a creative problem, but then I'd image many of these loops will find use as intros or breaks rather than main musical beds.

The general sound quality of these loops is extremely good and many of them are great for kick-starting ideas. Both libraries are well worth considering, especially if you have Stylus RMX or a REX-compatible application. Paul White

Acid ised WAV, Reason Refill, REX, and Stylus RMX DVD-ROMs, £39.95 each including VAT.

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www.ninevoltaudio.com

Talkbox Guitar *****

GIGASTUDIO

Whether it be the hallucinatory tones of 'Sparky's Magic Piano', the dreamy vocoded incantations of 'Mister Blue Skies', Jimi Hendrix's conversational wah-wah on 'Still Raining, Still Dreaming', an android-esque filter sweep from a Minimoog, or the Absynth 's vowel-like mutations, people have always been fascinated by hearing an instrument 'talk'. One '70s device, the Talkbox, allowed players to vocalise their performances in a unique way: by running a guitar signal into a small speaker sealed in a metal box and thence through a length of plastic tubing into the player's mouth, allowing the lips and vocal cavities to shape and modulate the tone.

Sample Libraries: On TestThis simple but effective gizmo has been famously used by Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Joe Walsh, Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters). There are no records of a keyboardist using one, presumably because as a breed we're too fastidious to handle any item that might once have been in a guitar player's mouth!

Like a wah-wah, the Talkbox effect works best when in motion, with one vowel eliding into another as in speech. To replicate this with samples requires real-life performances, and Sonic Implants have done us proud by supplying a large number of phrases in 'E', 'G', 'A', and 'D', in a choice of three tempos (92, 104, and 120bpm). Comprising low-pitched, gutsy rhythmic riffs, wailing lead fills, widdly bits, minor third trills, and a nice smattering of soulful pitch bends, these funky, bluesy licks sound fine, though I noticed the tuning of one or two low notes was a little sharp. There's also a handy section of sustained and choked power chords.

If you feel inspired to create your own licks (as I did), try the Talkbox multisamples. These are great fun and cover a wide sonic range: closed, open, 'wah', and 'boh' sustains, and short 'boo', 'bop', and 'wow' articulations. The 'wow' deliveries are tight and superbly coordinated, evoking the comedy mute sound of '30s brass. With a different vowel sound on every note, the vibrato samples are equally engaging. Generally speaking, the Talkbox's tone is thin and cutting, lying somewhere between a muted trumpet and a wah-wah clavinet, but the metallic edge is softened by its trademark elastic, throaty quality and tonal shape-shifting.

This library is highly enjoyable to play, good quality, ferociously funky, and cheap as hell. The guitarist on the sleeve may look like a young Rolf Harris sans beard, but he has an excellent technique and a great rhythmic feel on a par with Rolf's wobble-board virtuosity. So I'm giving Talkbox Guitar five stars for its sheer entertainment value. It will funk up your track without screwing up your bank balance, and, though it contains only 266MB of samples, it covers a lot of musical ground and provides some unusual and distinctive guitar timbres. Documentation is provided on a PDF file — for more extensive talkbox-related info, visit the excellent site www.blamepro.com/talkbox.htm. Dave Stewart

Gigastudio 2 CD-ROM £38.45 including VAT.

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Published January 2006