WaveMachine Labs' sophisticated DirectX plug-in allows you to replace the sounds of individual drums with samples, while keeping the human feel of a performance.
The publicity material for Drumagog simply states that it "Automatically replaces drum tracks with a variety of samples". However, it's a lot more versatile than that. Essentially, what Drumagog does is to detect whenever the level of an audio track exceeds a certain threshold, and each time this happens it triggers your choice of new sample. Various other applications have taken a similar approach to 'slicing' audio into beats: Propellerheads' Recycle lets you manipulate the separate audio regions after slicing, by moving them in relation to each other to adapt to a new tempo, while BeatBurner (PC Notes July 2002) triggers a sophisticated software synth to create melodies from the original rhythm.
Both are stand-alone applications, but where Drumagog scores is that it's been designed as a DirectX plug-in, so that it can be used as an insert effect on an existing drum track, inside your choice of audio application. You can thus use it in real time to replace any recorded drum sound with a new one, all the while preserving the feel of the original drummer. So far, so good, but what raises it way above novelty value is that its many extra functions can add the subtlety, variation, and random elements offered by a real drummer — so that as well as being able to sound like a drum machine if required, Drumagog can also transform drum tracks into living, breathing grooves with your choice of sounds, but still locked in perfect sync with the original.
As a DirectX plug-in, Drumagog obviously only runs on PC at the present, but it is available in two versions: DrumagogBasic is $99, while DrumagogProfessional is $269, and has five extra features (see box). A VST version is also planned, while a Mac version might eventually appear as well. You can download a free 14-day demo version of DrumagogProfessional 3.0; if you like it and want to buy it, you can then unlock its unique CPU ID code permanently by registering.
Drumagog has four tabbed pages. The Main page is awash with controls, mostly for tweaking the triggering levels, although I found many tracks locked on perfectly after just a couple of tweaks to the default settings. Sensitivity alters the threshold setting to accurately trigger each beat (a red 'LED' flashes to indicate each successful trigger), while Resolution determines how long Drumagog waits after each one before allowing another. This provides a fairly foolproof way to avoid dithery multiple triggering, but it can also be adjusted to trigger on alternate beats, or just on the first beat of each bar — ideal for beefing up an existing groove.
The latest version 3.0 also offers optional Visual triggering, which shows these two controls in graphic form with a scrolling waveform display behind, highlighted whenever a beat is successfully triggered. A zoomed version of this window is also available to make the process clearer, and using these controls I found Drumagog easy to use and absolutely transparent in operation for straightforward single drum replacement.
If you want to replace only one drum in a track containing a whole kit, there's a pre-trigger filter offering low-pass, high-pass and band-pass modes to home in on the desired sound. It has an Audition mode to let you hear the post-filtered original sounds, and I successfully used this to isolate kick drums from snares. However, its Level control is currently a little confusing to set up, and the low-pass mode could do with going down to 100Hz to isolate kick drums more easily, rather than the current 572Hz: developer Rim Buntinas told me he plans to rewrite this section soon.
Once you get Drumagog triggering reliably, a Pitch control lets you tune your replacement drum sample by up to ±100 percent, the Output control adjusts its level, and the Blend control lets you mix in the original sounds if required. There's also the rather more sophisticated Stealth Mode, which allows incoming audio to be heard except when your replacement samples are triggered, crossfading it back in afterwards. With a little care, and a few adjustments to the Stealth Response and Crossfade times in the Advanced page, this works very well, allowing you to replace just one drum in a complete kit recording, although I did experience a few clicks with some source files.
Input and output levels can both be displayed on peak-reading meters, while those who prefer a more visual approach can replace these by a Drum Movie — a small AVI file showing a real drummer hitting the appropriate instrument in time with each trigger.
Sampling The Goods
Drumagog supports dynamic multisamples with velocity layering, to give more expression and realism, and will accurately track incoming levels. You can adjust the new sound from soft to hard by altering the input level to the trigger, while the overall dynamics can also be varied using a rotary control in the Advanced page, or disabled altogether if required. A masterstroke is that just as a real drum never sounds exactly the same each time you hit it, Drumagog also supports Random Multisamples — if you tick this box you'll get a slightly different timbre each time, with suitably prepared sounds.
The downloadable demo of Drumagog comes complete with a single bass drum, snare, cymbal and tom sample set to get you started, but a comprehensive library of additional sounds is also available in two ways. Registered users have free access to the sample download area of the web site, or a few dollars extra (depending on where you live), you can have Drumagog shipped to you on CD-R, complete with 300MB of additional drum samples, separated into four categories — Bass Drums, Cymbals, Snares and Toms — along with a 60-page printed manual.
The library sounds are versatile and well recorded, and on my CD-R there were 53 bass drums, 83 snares and 69 toms, but just one hi-hat in the cymbals folder. Each category of sounds resides in its own folder, chosen from a drop-down menu at the top left of the Main page, while a scrolling list of sounds in the chosen category then appears below. There are plenty of individual CR78, TR606, TR808, TR909 and 'techno' samples, but the remaining library has been sampled at eight velocity levels and with three sets of Random Multisamples, adding a great deal of expressiveness.
Up to 48 samples can be stored within each GOG file, and the currently loaded one is displayed in the Samples page as a set of boxes whose colour represents the dynamic level. Clicking on one of these boxes displays extra controls that let you audition each sample and allocate it a dynamic position in the set, either automatically from peak amplitude, or manually. You can add new samples to the collection, either as WAV, AIF, SND or GIG (in the Pro version only) files, or grab audio from your track using the Add From Track function.
Various fine-tuning features such as the Separation wheel let you fine-tune the grouping of samples, and while running the plug-in, the sample being currently played has its box highlighted, which makes things far easier to understand.
Drumagog's third page is Ghost Notes, where you can add extra notes to your groove by selecting one of various patterns comprising grooves, fills, rolls, and double bass-drum hits. As long as your track has a steady beat, its tempo can be extracted and the Lock LED will illuminate, or you enter its tempo manually. Once locked, the extra beats can be added at any overall level, with user-defined level randomness. A Manual mode lets you activate the ghost notes only when you click on the large Engage button for spot effects, and with a little care it proved possible to achieve some very useful effects ranging from the odd extra thwack to jazz-style noodling between the beats.
Apart from various functions available in the Pro version only (see box, above), the Advanced page also contains the Dynamic Tracking, Stealth Response and Crossfade controls mentioned previously, while Polyphony can be set to 2, 4, 8, 16 (the default setting), 32 or 256 voices, or Choke. The latter is more suitable for cymbals, while the other settings are a trade off between increased CPU overhead and audible note-robbing, and can cope with anything from simple drum parts to fast rolls. As a guide, with the default settings Drumagog consumed a modest 9 percent of my Pentium III 1GHz processor power.
Although with care it's possible to use Drumagog on a single stereo drum kit track, it's far easier to launch separate instances for individual drum tracks, to optimise tracking. When you work like this, the various Auto Ducking controls help you to automatically drop levels in other channels when triggering occurs. In the Advanced page you can set Auto Ducking to Off, Send or Receive, while a Ducking LED shows when a received signal has ducked your drum by the desired amount. Six groups are provided so that you can link multiple track pairs.
I was very impressed by Drumagog, particularly after I'd worked with it for some time. Casual users will find it very easy for quick pre-recorded drum replacement, largely using the default settings, but after I'd perfected the use of the various tracking controls I found many other intriguing avenues to explore. You can even trigger Drumagog from a MIDI track if you assign it to a soft synth and then insert it as an effect.
The only thing to watch out for is that, like any plug-in that uses a volume-tracking algorithm, it has a slight latency. The default for DrumagogBasic is just 3.6ms, plus an additional 0.6ms if you activate Stealth Mode. This is a subtle shift, but if you want to correct for it, it should be easy to move the treated tracks forward by exactly this amount in your sequencer.
The current library includes a wide range of good drum sounds, but I'd like to see plenty more crash and ride cymbals, as well as some ethnic percussion, which should really work well with some of the Ghost Notes options. However, I found importing samples and creating my own GOG files fairly easy, so this isn't much of a restriction.
Drumagog is an ideal tool when you want to spice up or reinforce existing drum recordings with new samples but retain their original feel, and it's capable of seamless and professional results. This makes it ideal for remixing and for cleaning up old multitrack recordings, or you could use it in a more experimental way, to trigger completely unrelated samples or MIDI sounds (in the Pro version). It's good to see that innovation is still alive and kicking!
DrumagogBasic $99; DrumagogPro $269.