Is it a loop librarian? Is it a sample library? Is it a drum-sample playback engine? No — it's all of these, and it brings along its own roster of hyper-famous drummers too...
Submersible Music's Drumcore was reviewed in SOS on its initial release, back in the February 2005 issue. Paul Wiffen was clearly impressed by the software and described Drumcore as a combination of drum-loop sample library, drum-sample playback engine (driven by MIDI drum loops), librarian and auditioning tool. At the time of Paul's initial review, Drumcore was Mac only, but Submersible were promising both PC support and a collection of add-on Drummer Packs featuring expanded loop content, played by a series of highly regarded professional drummers.
Amongst some other enhancements, PC support arrived with the v1.5 release and the add-on drummer packs have also started to appear. However, Submersible have now released Drumcore v2 and this includes a number of further improvements. Top of the list are additional sample content, tempo sync via Rewire, more comprehensive support for REX2 and Acid files, and multiple outputs for the MIDI Drum Module.
Two versions are now available: the Standard version is supplied on two DVDs and, as well as the application itself, includes a library of some 9GB of drum-sample content containing a mixture of audio loops, individual drum samples and MIDI loops. The list of drummers used is impressive and includes Jeff Anthony (Sheryl Crow), Tony Braunagel (Bonnie Raitt), DJ Syze-up (UltraNat), Sly Dunbar (Bob Marley), Matt Sorum (Guns 'n' Roses/Velvet Revolver), Michael Shrieve (Santana), Alan White (Yes), Lonnie Wilson (Brooks and Dunn) and Zoro (Lenny Kravitz), amongst a number of others. This list ensures that the Standard library has something for almost every musical taste. However, we were supplied with the more expensive Deluxe version, which adds six Drummer Packs featuring additional audio loops, drum samples and MIDI loops from some of the drummers listed above.
The new version of Drumcore retains both the look and functionality of the original release and, given that Paul Wiffen's review is readily available via the SOS website, only a brief recap is needed here.
Essentially, Drumcore can be thought of as a dedicated auditioning/playback front-end for drum loops, and a drum sample and MIDI loop library. The program's main display is split into a number of key sections. The waveform display, playback and tempo controls are self-explanatory, while the three panels provide various ways of selecting a particular audio or MIDI loop for playback. The upper-left panel allows you to select by Drummer, Style or User Pack (essentially user-defined groups of drum loops, which, for example, might be all the loops from an imported third-party library). Based on this selection, the upper-right panel (the Grooves panel) shows various sub-sets of loops. If you select one of these sub-sets, the individual loops within that sub-set (audio and MIDI) are displayed in the Results panel that dominates the base of the window. This lower panel also includes a series of buttons that can be used to narrow the selection further — for example, you could choose just to display 'fills'. While this all sounds a little unexciting in principle, in practice it makes searching the extensive content of Drumcore a very efficient process.
Once the right loop has been found, Drumcore also makes it very easy to audition it. Clicking on any of the loop icons in the Results pane initiates playback. The shape of the icons indicates their content — squares for audio drum loops, diamonds for audio drum fills and circular MIDI sockets for MIDI loops. Once you are sure you have the loop you need, it can simply be dragged and dropped from the Results pane into your host sequencer. I did all my testing of Drumcore alongside Cubase SX and the process worked flawlessly, but the PDF manual suggests that it should operate in a similar fashion with all the major sequencers.
For the included audio loops, each pattern was recorded in a variety of tempos. Adjusting the tempo causes the closest tempo-matched version of that loop to be loaded, reducing the degree of time-stretching that is required for in-between tempos. The reduction of audio artifacts aside, this clearly produces a more realistic end-result, as drummers might play the same pattern with very different feels at different tempos.
Drumcore 2 retains the interesting — and unpredictable — 'Gabrielize' function. Named after Peter Gabriel, this applies various rules to chop up the selected loop to generate a new loop. While the results are not always musical, if the process is repeated often enough, eventually some gems will appear and these can be saved for later use.
Drumcore 2 also retains the MIDI Drum Module and this acts as a straight-forward, dedicated drum-sample playback environment. A total of 24 drum pads and 24 percussion pads are provided and, as well as the extensive collection of supplied kits, users can define their own and customise the velocity-switched layers for each pad. All the supplied MIDI loops are played back using the currently loaded drumkit but, via Rewire, Drumcore can function as an excellent drum-sample instrument, triggered via MIDI sent from a suitable sequencer host.
The new release sees expanded content supplied with the Standard edition. This means that a larger number of drummers are represented and, as a consequence, a wider range of playing styles. For example, Lonnie Wilson adds some genuine country drumming and the Alan White content has been expanded to include more by way of odd meters (5/4, 7/8 and 9/8). However, in practical terms, perhaps the most significant new feature is the ability to tempo-sync Drumcore via Rewire. Loops can therefore be auditioned in sync with the host sequencer project and, when dragged and dropped onto a suitable audio or MIDI track, are automatically matched to the project tempo. Once a loop is placed within the host sequencer it can, of course, be copied and pasted within the Arrange window, as any other audio or MIDI data might be, and this really can make building a complete drum track a very rapid process.
Drumcore 2 also adds more comprehensive support for REX2 and Acid ised files. For example, it is possible to import third-party audio drum loops and therefore use Drumcore as a loop librarian, accessing all your drum loops via a single user interface. In testing, my experience with this process was generally very positive. That said, it would be nice if the import process could cope with loops stored in nested folders. In addition, for a small number of samples, the import process didn't always seem to create the smoothest of loops. In most cases where this happened, it manifested itself by the loop end being very fractionally late. Fortunately, (although rather oddly!) such loops did seem to play back smoothly when dragged and dropped into a Rewire host! I'm not entirely sure what the problem was here and it may be that it is specific to the exact format of the library you are trying to import. These minor comments aside, this is an excellent function.
The other key improvement is the provision of multiple outputs for the MIDI Drum Module when you're using Drumcore via Rewire. This adds considerable flexibility for mixing and/or additional processing of the various parts of the drum kit if you're driving Drumcore from a sequencer MIDI track.
If the 9GB of sample data supplied with the Standard edition of Drumcore is not enough, the six Drummer Packs provided with the Deluxe edition send this quota to over 16GB. Each of these Packs can be thought of as an individual loop and sample library featuring the playing of a particular drummer. Given the high profile drummers and both the quantity and quality of the contents, at £59 each these would be competitively priced when compared with a standard drum loop library — although they can only be used via the Drumcore front-end. Users requiring specific styles of drumming might be happy to buy the Standard edition and just add one or two Drummer Packs. However, for those with broader stylistic needs, the Deluxe edition certainly represents very good value for money.
If you like your drumming to demonstrate a clear technical flair, the Alan White pack is worth a listen. Alan White played with both John Lennon and George Harrison, although he is probably best known for his work with Yes. As with all the Drummer Packs, the structure of the loops is almost in a construction-kit format. Selecting the 'Alan Pack DX' entry in the Drummers list brings up a number of loop sub-sets in the Grooves pane. For this particular pack, there are seven of these and, when any of them is selected, the individual loops (audio and MIDI) are displayed within the Results pane. Unlike most construction kit libraries, however, there are lots of loops within each Groove sub-set. For example, the 'Full Throttle' Groove features 42 audio drum loops, a further 27 audio drum fills and 16 MIDI file loops. In stylistic terms, this pack is perhaps one of the most diverse, and this is emphasised by the many odd meters used. While these would obviously keep the prog-rockers happy, there is also plenty here that might work in a jazz context, while the 4/4 and 6/8 loops could work in a range of pop and rock contexts.
For those about to rock, the Matt Sorum pack would be an obvious highlight. While his career with Guns 'n' Roses and Velvet Revolver might suggest that these loops would only suit a particular brand of hard rock, in fact they work equally well in more indie-based styles or in modern punk. The MIDI loops enhance this versatility, as they mean that you can easily play the patterns back via one of Drumcore 's less rock-orientated drum kits, if required.
Country music fans are well catered for with the Lonnie Wilson pack. As a session musician, this man has a serious credits list that spans many of country music's current major players — Brooks and Dunn, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, LeAnn Rimes, Faith Hill and Jo Dee Messina are just some of the artists whose records he has appeared upon. This pack features a larger number of Groove sub-sets than most of the others and there are plenty of choices within each sub-set. The musical styles cover ballads, waltz, rock and shuffles and there is material that would work equally well with traditional country or more contemporary country/pop crossover styles.
When it comes to reggae drumming, Sly Dunbar is, quite simply, 'the man' — and his pack does not disappoint. As he has played with the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, one might expect the loops to work within a reggae or ska context, and they do, but there is also plenty here that could be used in rock, hip-hop or R&B. The straighter rhythms are solid and tight but there is also some real fun to be had with the more complex material.
Terry Bozzio's credits include Frank Zappa and Jeff Beck, neither of whom could be accused of stepping back from the experimental edge in their musical output. The Groove sub-sets in this pack span a tremendous range of musical possibilities from straight-ahead punk rock through to avant-garde odd meters. However, the highlight for me was the weird and wonderful 'Big Kit' Groove sub-set, which features an amazing-sounding, big, flappy kick drum and all sorts of intricate cymbal work. This lot is probably not for the musically faint-hearted but I could imagine many of these loops appealing to media composers.
The Zoro pack also spans a range of musical styles but these are perhaps a little more mainstream. Having played with Lenny Kravitz, Bobby Brown, Jody Watley and Vanessa Paradis, Zoro's rock and R&B skills are well established. These loops go from R&B ballad to straight-ahead rock and would work with all sorts in between. There is also a good mixture of simple, solid grooves and more intricate playing.
Whether all these particular drum styles would have enough appeal to make the Deluxe version of Drumcore 2 worth the extra outlay is obviously an individual call. However, Submersible Music have done an incredible job of getting such an impressive collection of high-profile drummers on-board. For those with broad musical interests, there is absolutely no doubt that, for the loops and drum samples alone, the Deluxe version would represent excellent value for money — even without Drumcore as the front-end.
However, that front-end is included and, while Drumcore is not just about drum loops, one key application of the software is the ability to quickly assemble a complete drum track. I regularly perform this kind of task in Acid Pro and, while Acid offers all sorts of features that Drumcore doesn't and can deal with non-drum loops, for straight drum work, Drumcore is the first application I've used that would make me consider an alternative route to that end result. Via Rewire, it integrates very slickly with a host sequencer, and the ability to drag and drop loops into your host makes it very efficient to use. And, of course, it also includes the well-featured MIDI Drum Module and a large number of excellent sampled drum kits.
If you regularly use loops to build your drum tracks, Drumcore is the kind of software that you don't know you need until you try it... so do yourself a favour and try it.
- PC: PIII or Athlon 800MHz processor or better, 1GB RAM recommended, 9GB of hard disk space for content installation, DVD drive for installation, Windows XP.
- Mac: G4 400MHz or better, 1GB RAM recommended, 9GB of hard disk space for content installation, DVD drive for installation, Mac OS 10.3 or higher.
- Drumcore 2 Deluxe v. 2.0 (build 28)
- Athlon dual-core 4400+, 4GB RAM, ESI Wami Rack 24, Echo Mia 24, Windows XP Pro (SP2).
- Tested with Cubase SX (v. 3.1.1).
- Easy to use.
- Fabulous collection of loops and samples in the Deluxe version.
- Both Standard and Deluxe versions represent very good value for money.
- Very minor quirks when importing third-party loop libraries
- Nope, can't think of any others...
Drumcore 2 adds some significant new features and ought to be seriously considered by those who regularly build their drum tracks from loops.
Drumcore 2 £159; Drumcore 2 Deluxe £339. Prices include VAT.
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