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electronic MUSICIAN


By Marty Cutler | September 1, 2006

Big Fish Audio''s Funk City is a multiformat sample DVD that delivers intense, burning funk loops.

Musicians may argue over what constitutes funk, but you can't argue that the most sampled funk tracks ever originated with George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic crew. It's no surprise, then, that the same group of musicians have seeded slews of sample collections that cover the same territory.

One such collection is Big Fish Audio's Funk City ($69.95), a sprawling, single-DVD construction-kit set dripping with attitude and groove. The disc breaks down into folders for three popular formats: Apple Loops, WAV, and REX2. I used the files in Ableton Live 5.0.1, Propellerhead Reason 2.5, MOTU Digital Performer 4.61, and Apple Logic Pro 7.1.1. I also examined the REX2 files in Propellerhead Reason 2.5 and ReCycle 2.2.9 to check for looping accuracy and slicing precision.

What the Funk?

The disc supplies 29 individual construction kits. Each folder contains a riff-oriented pattern that sits on a single chord, divided into separate instrument files such as guitar, horns, congas, and so on. The pliable nature of the file formats provided — particularly REX2 and Apple Loops — lets you adapt tempos and key signatures as needed. With REX2 files, you can even adjust dynamics, timing, and the order of the individual slices. If you have a software sampler or a sampling drum machine, you can create custom grooves using a separate folder of drum hits and assorted scratches.

Each file format has its own folder. Numbered subfolders list the original tempo and key in their titles. The numbering system is consistent between formats, which is useful if you need to switch between WAV files and Apple Loops, for example, without losing your place. Each folder has a stereo mix of the complete groove, composed of that folder's loops assembled in order. That's handy for auditioning the contents, but it's not difficult to make your own composite grooves from different sources in the collection.

The contents of each construction kit's folder are different. Some kits have horn section parts with separate saxophone lines. Some offer pulsating synthesizer patterns, and others hold piercing, resonant solo-synth fills. Clavinets dominate in some grooves, whereas a phased, mildly overdriven Fender Rhodes or organ pads the harmonic background of others. Basses range from busy slapping to low-end fingerstyle parts with just enough activity to push the groove.

Different instruments — guitars that sound like Strats and Telecasters, for example — take turns in different kits. There is no shortage of rhythm guitar; playing styles range from single-note, riff-oriented playing to percussive, barely tonal dead-note strumming to wah-wah-inflected rhythm guitar. In addition to wah-wah pedals, guitars get a bit of extra beef from distortion, chorusing, compression, and reverb and delay (which also bolsters the guitar's rhythmic component).

Funk in A

Likewise, drums and percussion instruments are diverse, with a variety of hardware and tunings. Snares range from ringy and clangorous to fat and tight, with lots of sonic variety in between. To provide a bit of extra ambience, some folders include a room-mic track for the drums. Harmonically, loops tend to sit on a single key; although that is often the nature of funk, the accompaniment (particularly on guitars) is rarely static, changing voicings and adding lively passing tones and lots of unique fills and variations. Otherwise, there's plenty of variety, with tempos starting from the low 90s through 130 bpm.

I successfully managed to transpose horn and bass lines as much as five half steps up or down, which means that you could certainly adapt parts to any necessary key changes. Grooves vary greatly, from straight 16th-note propulsive feels to loping, lazy feels with plenty of swing. REX2 files adapted beautifully to quantizing or groove quantizing, so you're not even locked into a preset feel.

It's difficult to single out any favorite groove. Because I'm partial to the syncopated style of Tower of Power, though, my pick of the litter (despite its decidedly funk-challenged file name) is 10 110 E (see Web Clip 1).

Funk City's only drawback is that its diversity makes it a little difficult to choose consistent timbres using loops from different folders, particularly with drum kits. A bit more documentation indicating which kits used similar hardware would alleviate that problem. Otherwise, Big Fish Audio and the musicians involved have created a terrific collection of funk grooves at a great price. I've heard it said that Aretha Franklin could sing the federal tax code and make it funky; there's little doubt that Big Fish Audio's Funk City could have a similar effect on your music. I recommend it highly.

Value (1 through 5): 4
Big Fish Audio

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