Format: Audio CD. **** 4/5 stars.
Of all the sample CDs that have passed through the SOS office, few have caused such heated debate as this one. Basically, it contains about 350 rhythmic stereo loops at documented tempos between 40 and 180bpm, designed to be layered more or less imperceptibly behind your own drum programming for greater depth and ambient interest. The reason for the airborne volleys of SOS office stationery is a disagreement as to whether these loops are actually any use at all.
One of the biggest sticking points is Ueberschall's basic tenet that the loops have the ability to make your drum programming appear somehow more professional, a claim not helped by the rather dubious demos supplied. It's a question of personal taste as much as anything here — I know that many musicians take a lot of time programming wacky little stereo noises into their rhythmic arrangements in order to sustain the listener's interest, but there are others who consider this mere gimmickry. If you're of the latter persuasion, then this CD is simply not for you.
However, even amongst those who are willing to accept the basic premise that lots of background detail is a good thing, there is still the question of how well Groove Shadows delivers the goods. The first limit to the appeal of these loops is that they are aimed squarely at dance musicians, especially those with a bent for industrial-style sounds, so they're only likely to appeal directly to those musicians who are happy to add these influences to their music. However, if you simply view these loops as pieces of science-fiction sound design, there's something to be said for them outside their most obvious market, particularly as many are designed to be used in a atmospheric supporting role.
Another potential problem is that it's a matter of luck whether the rhythm of each pattern fits with that of your drums. This may not worry 'four on the floor' merchants, but I should have thought that anyone straying beyond basic patterns would find something like Steinberg's Recycle an important accessory. And if you want any kind of swung groove then for 'important' read 'indispensable'. Similarly, there are harmonic elements in many of the loops which could well conflict with your arrangement, so you'll probably also want access to a pitch-shifting processor of some sort as well.
If you can surmount the technological obstacles, however, then there's much to be said in favour of this collection. With my Roland VP9000 Variphrase processor taking care of the necessary slicing, time-stretching and pitch-shifting, I found Groove Shadows to be a good source of inspirational textures, and it's now become one of the sample libraries I most frequently take down from the shelf. While some of the loops are a little overstated to fit in with existing parts in an already highly developed arrangement, these loops can be great for constructing instant off-the-wall middle sections. The more subdued sounds tend to work well with other programmed rhythm parts, and are often useful for filling out the stereo image in pleasing way.
There's quite a lot of variety, both in terms of the sounds used and the treatments applied to them, and, although digital drones and twitterings abound on many of the tracks, there are also loops which use real ambiences and analogue noises to good effect. These include audience noise, drum pedal/stool squeaks and outdoor ambiences.
On the whole, I liked Groove Shadows a lot. That said, this product's inherent limitations make it likely only to appeal to quite a small market, and there will be many musicians outside this niche (certain of my colleagues included) who will think the whole concept a load of old tosh. So it'll just have to be staplers at dawn...
Audio CD £59.95 including VAT.
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