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QUICK PICKS: BIG FISH AUDIO Roots of India

May 1, 2000

Roots of India is Big Fish Audio's collection of Indian percussion loops ($99.95 for the audio CD; $199 for the audio CD and Akai CD-ROM, which should be available by the time you read this). I know very little about Indian music. My introduction to the genre was the Beatles' "Within You Without You." Other than that, I've only listened to a few Ravi Shankar discs and gone to some live shows.

So instead of embarking on a high-minded ethnomusicology adventure, I approached Roots of India with a more mundane (and practical) purpose: to apply some of the country's ancient, highly evolved percussion timbres and rhythms to contemporary Western pop music and film scoring.

Back to the RootsHappily, Roots of India fits perfectly into a Western studio. The performances are extremely tight, and the tracks are impeccably recorded. The producer, Tabun Sutradhar, has included instruments and rhythms from across the Indian subcontinent, giving the disc a lot of variety. The selections cover a wide range of timbres and moods, from the mesmerizing Bhajani Naman pattern at 80 bpm-with its deep, slow drums and floating finger cymbals-to the riotous, 145 bpm Bhangra, a Punjabi rhythm pattern that features clangorous drums and driving tambourines.

The Southern Indian loops are among my favorites. Several of them move at a cool and slow 100 bpm, with a jaw harp adding a twangy counterpoint to the steady 16th-note drum patterns-the kind of sound that incites a smooth, swaying dance. I also liked the Gujarati Garba patterns, with their strict four-beat feel and heavy downbeat, as well as the hypnotic, syncopated Rajastahani rhythms.

Break It DownThe loops are well organized, grouped by region or musical tradition. Each group contains both signature rhythms and instrumental ensembles. Most rhythms are provided in several different versions with identical tempos, so mixing and matching them is easy.

The rhythms are typically built from two or more interlocking drum patterns. Each pattern involves at least one low-pitched drum and one high-pitched drum along with one or more percussion tracks, such as finger cymbals or tambourine. Nearly all phrases include a main mix and two to four solo-instrument or submix versions, allowing access to the individual components.

The loop lengths are generous, often four measures long. I wish, however, that the loops ended on the downbeat. Most of them end on the upbeat, which makes looping a little more difficult.

The disc's documentation is solid and free of errors. It includes a helpful glossary that describes some of the percussion instruments featured in this collection. It would be even better, however, if it described all the percussion instruments, as well as each rhythm pattern.

A Taste of IndiaAll in all, this disc took me on a very successful audio outing to the Indian subcontinent. If you want to introduce an exotic percussion flavor to your pop-music tracks, I highly recommend giving Roots of India a spin.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4.5

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