Take a famous studio, a top session drummer and engineer, make the results 5.1 surround‑ready, and what do you get? We find out if using this innovative sample library beats working...
This sample library clearly aspires to be more than just another collection of drum loops. For one thing, it's available in both stereo and 5.1 surround‑ready Pro Tools multitrack versions, and for another, it was recorded in Abbey Road's Studio 2, creative home to The Beatles, amongst many others. The creators also have extensive studio experience; engineer Haydn Bendall worked at the studio for 17 years, twiddling knobs and massaging egos for the likes of Kate Bush, George Martin, Elton John and Paul McCartney. Drummer Ralph Salmins has played big‑band swing with the Count Basie Orchestra, Björk and Robbie Williams, and rock/pop with Van Morrison, Tom Jones, Tori Amos, and Madonna. Both have also worked on many soundtrack sessions with top names like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, which is fitting, as Beats Working was obviously conceived with the big screen in mind.
The nine‑CD, 24‑bit Pro Tools version (which is cased in the tough, pleasantly curvaceous metal box shown right) presents the samples in a 10‑channel multitrack format ready for 5.1 surround‑sound mixing (see the box, later, for more details on the track format). I auditioned the loops in surround at the Mix Room at DAT Productions, Haydn Bendall's North‑West London studio, where the six‑speaker set‑up created an immediate sense of location, depth and perspective. Surrounded by the kit's room ambience, and with Ralph Salmins' snare apparently positioned slightly behind my right ear, I was, in effect, transported to Abbey Road Studio 2 without leaving my chair!
Although it's possible for other packages with SDII file‑import capabilities to make use of the files (albeit at the expense of a little work importing and realigning the separate tracks), full support for Logic and Cubase SX/Nuendo users will apparently come later in the year, when Zero‑G plan to release dedicated versions for these programs.
Rather than pursuing ephemeral dance trends, Salmins and Bendall have set out to provide something solid and fairly traditional, concentrating on contemporary pop and big‑band‑oriented jazz. The beats stay focused on providing useable backings, and the playing is disciplined and unfussy. After hearing countless sample CDs of drummers with hyperactive right feet, this comes as a huge relief.
The pop grooves range from 60 to 120bpm, with a bit of rather polite 156bpm quasi‑jungle thrown in. Each groove provides a relatively simple two‑bar pattern with an average of 16 (but sometimes in excess of 30) one‑ or two‑bar variations: you get a count‑in, intro/end/mid‑song fills, verse, chorus and bridge grooves with or without crash cymbal, snare cross‑stick (that 'tock' sound drummers use on ballads) versions, and so on. These variations are exactly what's required for song construction; the playing is controlled, firm, and unwavering, the loops are perfectly edited, and everything fits together seamlessly. Nice work.
Salmins' tribute to the big‑band era covers jazz brushes, ride cymbal swing time, and a section called 'Crooner' based on a feel so unbelievably corny and passé, it's probably hip. The brush styles are varied, ranging in tempo from a 'swooshy' 70bpm ballad feel, up to 200bpm straight jazz via a 93bpm funk groove played on kick and snare only. I started to click my fingers and mutter 'nice' when I heard the urgent, driving ride cymbal pattern called 'Spy Theme', but was a little disappointed when it fell back into half time after only three short groove variations.
The third main category, 'multirods', is pretty cool — a selection of portentous, improvisatory tom patterns played with an implement halfway between a brush and a stick. As a bonus, there are some grooves in odd time signatures, waiting for prog rock to make a comeback, and African‑influenced 9/8 and 12/8 patterns. The multi‑velocity single hits include some choice brushes and multirods, but with only 24 samples, the menu of sticked hits seems a bit slender.
If your home studio lacks 5.1 surround capability, don't despair — the stereo mixes of these drum loops on the audio CD version sound just fine. The stereo audio CD clocks in at nearly 64 minutes; the Pro Tools version provides identical material, plus some additional multirods performances. Ralph Salmins plays with good, accurate feel and tempo, and the big, roomy Abbey Road sound adds a lovely feeling of space, which is especially noticeable in the snareless multirods section. There are no moments of rock'n'roll mayhem, but that shouldn't prevent these loops finding their way onto song backing tracks. Oh, and I just got the pun in the title...
|TRACK NUMBER||MIC POSITION||SUGGESTED SURROUND PLACEMENT|
|1+2||Stereo close‑miked (front)||Left & Right|
|3+4||Stereo near ambience (rear)||Left Surround (LS) & Right Surround (RS)|
|5||Mono microphone (front)||Centre speaker (CTR)|
|6||Mono low‑frequency mix||Sub speaker (LFE)|
|7+8||Stereo near ambience (front)||Left & Right|
|9+10||Stereo far ambience (front)||Left & Right|
Note that these recordings do not separate the individual components of the kit. Surround‑sound speaker assignments and balance are ultimately a question of user taste and musical context, though the makers advise caution because phase problems may occur when mixing the rear ambience mics together with the other stereo pairs into the left and right front speakers.
- Playing is tight and disciplined.
- No shortage of variations for song construction.
- Recorded in a prime location with great acoustics, and superbly engineered.
- 5.1 sound design is a unique asset.
- A somewhat limited range of styles.
- The pop loops would benefit from faster tempos.
- Sticked single hits menu is a little slender.
A solid, traditional library that benefits from the extensive musical experience of its creators. The inclusion of big-band jazz may seem old-fashioned, but makes sense given the drummer's background. The pop work feels contemporary, and the surround concept is a bold step into the future.