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Big Fish Audio Primal Drums

4/1/2008

DVD cover

Big Fish Audio''s Primal Drums lets you build animated rhythm beds by layering expertly played drums, percussion, and sampled electronic instruments.

Rhythm beds are the percussive equivalent of synth pads: complex and evolving textures of rhythm instruments that we can most often hear in film scores and commercials. They are equally useful in any musical endeavor that can benefit from textured, multifaceted rhythm tracks and larger-than-life grooves. In that spirit, Big Fish Audio offers Primal Drums ($99.95), a multiple-format collection of rhythm beds.

The single DVD-ROM includes a demo version of Ableton Live 6.03 and a 3.6 GB library of loops apportioned among REX2, Acidized WAV, and Apple Loop formats and sampled at 24-bit, 44.1 kHz resolution. These are not simple drag-and-drop rhythm beds, but construction kits that allow you to vary the density and dynamics of the groove by layering or subtracting the composite elements. I auditioned the WAV files in Cakewalk Sonar 6.0 and Ableton Live 7.01 and tested the Apple Loops in Apple Logic 7.1. I imported the REX2 files into Propellerhead Reason 4.01.

Each construction kit's folder includes a full-mix audio-file preview that isn't truncated or otherwise edited for looping. The preview's sole purpose is to provide a generalized, stereo-mix impression of the composite bed with reverb and other processing included. The processing is minimal on individual construction-kit elements, however, other than some sampled or synthetic drums and an occasional percussion element. Nonetheless, the loops avoid a stark, anechoic character. An unobtrusive natural ambience allows lots more latitude for customized sound design, from intimate roomlike mixes to cinematic, reverb-saturated, larger-than life rhythm sections.

PERCS OF THE JOB

For the most part, the collection relies on expertly played ethnic percussion, ranging from more familiar instruments such as congas and bongos to berimbau, rain sticks, tablas, chimba, and surdo. Standard drum kits and a judicious sprinkle of sampled electronic instruments often bolster the ensemble. The recordings offer nice detail, capturing lots of timbral nuance, snap, and ambience.

Individual grooves fit together beautifully. I found plenty of room to create entirely new feels by combining elements from different construction kits. Thanks to articulate and lively performances, the rhythms groove hard with life and momentum. Individual elements subtly push and pull against tighter interplay between the other instruments, imbuing the grooves with dynamism and tension (see Web Clip 1).

Not every loop has a clearly definable rhythm component; instead, many files supply timbral color to the overall bed. The coloration comes in the form of synthesizer drones, rain sticks, ocarinas, scraped hi-hats, cymbal rolls, bowed cymbal flourishes, and other effects, greatly emphasizing the exotic and dramatic character of the ensemble. In many cases, key percussion elements have multiple variations, helping to ameliorate obvious looping. If your ambitions don't extend to grandiose composite rhythm beds, most of the elements work together nicely in scaled-down combinations, or even by themselves.

In many cases, REX-file versions adapt to a remarkable range of tempos — loops with a designated tempo of 170 bpm easily stretched as low as 90 bpm with none of the graininess that other formats exhibit. Some up-tempo grooves, however, started to sound rushed at more than 10 bpm above the original tempo. The REX2 files deliver an added bonus: you can easily import and convert the groove elements to Spectrasonics Stylus RMX, enhancing their usefulness by an order of magnitude. When I applied RMX Chaos Designer, its musical randomness gave the loops a realistic improvisational character (see Web Clip 2).

The documentation is useful but flawed. Although it has clear, well-written instructions for using the various file formats, there's no explanation of the types of instruments used, nor is there a list of grooves or files, other than the folders. You might assume that other than a folder each of 6/4, 6/8, and 5/4 grooves, everything else is in 4/4; I was happy to find additional folders of odd-meter material, though they were not described as such. In one folder, a finger-snap loop is duplicated as a synth-percussion loop. In another folder, Conga FX and Filtered Congas are identical.

MAKE YOUR OWN BED

A few annoying blemishes do little to lessen my enthusiasm for Primal Drums. The grooves are nuanced and full of motion. Individual instruments furnish plenty of sonic detail, even while melding beautifully into the composite rhythm bed. Rather than locking you into a preset batch of loops, Primal Drums provides many great opportunities to comp your own beds. If you're looking to create exciting, dynamic rhythm beds with a personalized touch, give Primal Drums a listen.


Value (1 through 5): 4
Big Fish Audio
www.bigfishaudio.com

BONUS MATERIAL
Web Clips: Hear audio examples from Primal Drums.

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