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FXpansion BFD2 Master Class


FIG. 1: Subtle positive Vel to Damp and Vel to Pitch settings create realistic nuances when kit pieces are triggered at different velocities.

FIG. 1: Subtle positive Vel to Damp and Vel to Pitch settings create realistic nuances when kit pieces are triggered at different velocities.

BFD2 is arguably the most advanced acoustic drum-production environment around. The standalone and plug-in versions are nearly identical, and they''re equally well-suited for playing, mixing, and sequencing. BFD2 packs a lot of punch, and I''ll show you how to really power up this multifaceted drum instrument.

BFD2 is built around a collection of kit-piece slots. The kit pieces are made up of one or more articulations or hit types, each including multiple velocity layers. Each layer has been recorded with 12 different microphones: three pairs of stereo ambience mics, a direct mic, and bleed signals from top and bottom kick and snare mics (two on the snare top).

Kit-piece and articulation parameters are controlled in the Kit Piece Inspector. They are mixed on the Mixer page, programmed into patterns on the Grooves page, and mapped on the Keymapping/Automation page. You can save settings for each page separately. Presets contain the settings for the entire state of the BFD2 interface and are used to save and load settings for all of the pages at once.

BFD2''s large library of pre-assembled drum kits (and optional expansion packs) are loaded from the Kit Chooser panel. But the real fun starts when you mix and match different kit pieces and kit-piece settings. Use the Kit Chooser panel''s slot-load switches to mix and match which kit-piece slots will be loaded and which will remain unchanged when loading in new kits. The Load Audio Only button will leave the individual Kit Piece Inspector settings unchanged.

You can access individual kit pieces from the Kit Piece Chooser, available on most pages of the interface. Click the Sticky button to leave the Chooser open for quick auditioning of kit pieces. On the kit page, press the kit piece''s slot-load button or double-click anywhere in the slot to access the Kit Piece Chooser. Use the Inspector''s quick-load controls or Control-click directly on a kit-piece slot to bypass the Chooser and load or swap kit pieces directly.

On the Mixer page, double-click directly on the channel icon (when the FX Sends view is disabled) to bring up the Kit Piece Chooser, or use the Inspector''s quick-load controls. Double-click in the kit-piece or articulation lane on the Grooves page to access the Chooser there.

Use the Kit Piece Chooser''s Import button to create your own custom, multisampled kit pieces. Once you''ve set the file pathway, name, and kit-piece type for your new creation, press the Add Layer button to load in 44.1kHz WAV file samples. Start from the quietest samples and repeat until they are all added. Correct any mistakes with the Move Layer Up/Down buttons, and finally press the Import button to copy the samples to the new directory and create the kit piece.

BFD2 maps the velocity splits automatically. If necessary, tweak the response further in the Kit Piece Inspector with the Velocity to Amp control. When it is set to 0 percent, there is no amplitude scaling. Either negative or positive values are available, and you can set a default value in the Synth Engine section of the Preferences page.

Dampening, tuning, and dynamics for kit pieces, and individual offsets for each articulation, are controlled in the Inspector. A small positive offset on the Vel to Pitch slider yields realistic and musical results. Louder triggering results in a slight increase in pitch like you sometimes get when hitting a drum harder.

Similarly, a subtle, positive Vel to Damp setting with a modest Damp Amount setting dampens the articulation slightly more the louder it is triggered. This is particularly realistic on kick drums and toms (see Fig. 1 and Web Clip 1).

FIG. 2: Master bleed levels, as well as distance and width settings for each of the three pairs of ambience mics, are set from the Mic tools panel on the Mixer page.

FIG. 2: Master bleed levels, as well as distance and width settings for each of the three pairs of ambience mics, are set from the Mic tools panel on the Mixer page.

In addition to basic trim, pan, and phase-flipping controls, each kit piece''s ambience-sends and bleed settings are controlled in the Inspector. Three sliders control the discrete amounts sent to each of the three ambience buses. Each ambience bus is routed to its own channel, which is controlled from the Mixer page or the mini-mixer at the bottom-right of the Kit Piece Inspector on the Kit page.

Bleed refers to the real-world leakage that happens when direct mics pick up signals from other kit pieces as they are played. You can attenuate and route these BFD2 bleed signals to the Snare 1 and Kik1 mixer channels by pressing the On button and dialing in the desired amount with the Kit Piece Inspector bleed controls. Alternatively, you can mix them in with the kit piece''s direct mic by pressing the Direct button, or you can suppress them altogether with the Off button.

Used judiciously and with the ambience channels, bleed can add a sense of depth and realism to the overall blend of a BFD2 drum kit. Control the distance and width of each of the three pairs of ambience mics, as well as the master bleed levels, from the Mic Tools panel on the Mixer page (see Fig. 2 and Web Clip 2).

For greater mixing flexibility, you can route these ambience mics to custom auxiliary (aux) channels instead of their default assignments. Click the Add Aux button in the Mixer page toolbar and reassign the ambience channels from their output routing field. Alternatively, select the channels in advance and Option-click (Alt on a PC) the Add Aux button to reroute them to the new aux channel automatically. One caveat: Aux channels must be created on the Mixer page first to reassign the ambience bus destinations directly from the Kit Piece Inspector (see Fig. 3).

FIG. 3: The Kit Piece Inspector''s routing selector shows aux tracks created in the Mixer as available destinations for the Ambience bus'' outputs.

FIG. 3: The Kit Piece Inspector''s routing selector shows aux tracks created in the Mixer as available destinations for the Ambience bus'' outputs.

BFD2 really shines as a musical instrument when it is played with drum pads. Factory-preset MIDI key maps for most popular drum pads (which take care of mapping pad zones to kit-piece articulations) are available in the Grooves section of the Preferences; additional mapping features are also available.

On the Kit page, click and drag one kit piece on top of another with the Link tool to layer two kit pieces together. Control-click on the source kit piece to remove the link. Use the Status Bar''s Learn button or the Kit page''s Note Learn tool, or simply Control-click on a kit-piece slot to launch the MIDI Note Learn Wizard. Hit the zone on your pad to map it to the currently selected kit-piece articulation. There are several preference settings to simplify stepping through the mapping process for all of the drum-pad zones and articulations automatically.

Disable the MIDI Learn Wait mode default checkbox in the MIDI section of the Preferences page and enter a custom time in the MIDI Learn skip-time field. This allows you to skip through articulations you may not want to map without touching the interface. Enable the MIDI Learn Next Slot mode default checkbox from the same Preferences page, and the Note Learn Wizard will step through all of the kit pieces based on the skip time, allowing you to map an entire kit directly from your pads without ever touching the computer.

Use the Key Mapping page for more nuanced control. Drag and drop a kit piece onto the keyboard layout on the left side of the window and choose which articulation to map from the dropdown list that appears once you release the mouse button. Or automatically map all of the kit pieces'' articulations to adjacent keys. Drag other articulations from other kit pieces to create layers on a single key.

FIG. 4: The three ambience channels are sub-grouped to aux 1. Sidechain sends from the snare channels and the output of aux 1 feed the aux 2 channel.

FIG. 4: The three ambience channels are sub-grouped to aux 1. Sidechain sends from the snare channels and the output of aux 1 feed the aux 2 channel.

Drag an already-mapped cymbal onto an unused slot and choose Slot Choke from the articulations pop-up list; when you trigger it, it will choke the cymbal sound based on the fade settings in the Engine section of the Preferences page. For electronic kits that support manual cymbal choking, enable the choke with aftertouch setting in the MIDI section of the Preferences.

If your electronic drum kit doesn''t send out the full MIDI velocity range, use the Mapping Inspector in the lower part of the Key Mapping page to scale velocity response for specific articulations. Use the variable tip or shank choice of hi-hat articulations for electronic kits that use hi-hat height to send out MIDI CC messages to transition between the various articulations. MIDI CC 4 is the normal message used for this, but you can change it in the Mapping Inspector if necessary.

Use the four adjustable points on the large slider on the right of the Mapping Inspector to adjust for the response of your hi-hat pedal by setting the values at which articulations change. The Engine section of the Preferences page offers further control of the transitions between the variable articulations.

That process is great for live playing but can generate an unwieldy stream of CC data for editing in a sequencer. If you are programming your drum parts, use non-variable mode to avoid the CC messages and map the different tip and shank articulations to separate notes. Adjust the tip- and shank-tighten amounts in the Preference''s Session section to set how tightly closed the hi-hat samples sound.

BFD2''s built-in effects plug-ins run the gamut from corrective to creative. The independent control of the three ambience channels truly makes mixing within BFD2 sublime. Unlike in the physical world, they can be processed separately from the kit-piece dry signals.

Here''s a simple recipe for applying parallel compression to only the ambience channels. On the Mixer page, Shift-click the three ambience channels to select them and Option-click on the Add Aux button in the toolbar to automatically assign their outputs to a newly created aux track. Place a Comp Bus plug-in on this subgroup with some extreme settings and use the Mix knob to dial in the amount you want to be blended with the dry signal.

To set up some creative sidechaining, create a new aux track and then use the Sends panel to assign some healthy send levels from each of the three snare channels to the newly created aux. Enable the SideChain button in the Sends panel. Place another compressor with some extreme settings on the new aux channel and engage its SideChain button so that it responds to the signal from the snare track''s sends. Set the compressor''s mix knob to completely wet and dial up the aux channel''s sidechain trim level.

To add to this traffic jam, assign the output of the first aux track to the second aux track, and dial up the input trim on the second aux. If you''re not suffering from motion sickness by now, remember that you can mix this all in with completely natural-sounding dry signals from each kit piece (see Fig. 4 and Web Clip 3.).

In addition to programming within your host sequencer, you can create parts within BFD2 by recording MIDI input or using the Groove page editor. Grooves are assembled into a Palette so you can trigger them with MIDI notes.

The palette''s Groove Actions are the perfect environment for creating parts in real time from a pre-organized palette. Set the start- and end-groove slot actions to determine if newly triggered grooves will start in sync with what is already playing, at the next beat, next bar, or at the end of the current groove. Command-click (Control on a PC) on grooves in the palette to create multiple selections. Slot actions can then be applied to the entire selection. Set the Default Actions at the top for grooves without specific slot actions assigned.

Use the Fill button in the Groove Actions area of the Grooves page to identify which of your palette''s slots contains fills. With the Auto-Fill button on, they will be triggered at regular intervals that you set with the 
Auto-Fill period field in the Session preferences. For a classic drum machine-style fill technique, set the End Action to return to the previous groove for the slots designated as fills.

If you are triggering loops from pads, enable the Latching mode in the Session preferences and set the Slot End Action to loop. The loops will keep playing until another loop is triggered; make sure that at least one is assigned with its Slot End Action set to stop. Enable the polyphony preference to allow multiple grooves to play simultaneously, letting you create a symphony of interconnecting loop bits on the fly.

BFD2''s Groove Engine offers powerful swing, humanization, quantization, and automation features not found in many DAWs. This makes it compelling to use for programming grooves.

Use the new Roll tool to quickly and easily create and snap multiple notes of the same articulation to the grid value. Use the Swing control to create swung grooves when entering new notes with the Snap function enabled. Adjust subtle differences in the swing value for different kit pieces to get a less machine-like feel for repeating grooves.

The Groove FX section contains MIDI effects that take humanizing the feel to the next level. They are at the final stage of BFD2''s Groove Engine stream and can operate either destructively or nondestructively. Set a value in the first dropdown menu and use the Quantize effect knob to add a variable amount of quantizing to events in the groove. Add a variable amount of swing with the 
Q-Swing knob.

Set the Swing effects dropdown menu to a different value from the Quantize type and use the Swing knob to vary the intensity of the swing. This way, you can create different (and funky!) swing settings for eighth and 16th notes. For more variety, add some randomization to event positions and velocities with the Humanize velocity and timing controls.

Unlike most DAWs, you can automate these variable quantize, swing, and humanize amounts in real time. Set the Mapping page to Automation Mapping view. Set the automation source to either MIDI CC or host automation, and select the parameter in the Automation table that you want to assign. Expand the item for Groove FX controls in the BFD2 Parameters section on the left. Double-click any of the groove, swing, or humanize parameters (they will become highlighted in yellow) to assign them so that they can be automated over time.

Once the Groove FX are set, you can choose to apply the settings permanently to the individual groove using the Apply Groove button or to all of the grooves loaded into the current palette by using the Apply All button. This is a great way to ensure consistency within a full palette of grooves. Lay out the grooves on the drum track at the top of the Grooves page to create a completed drum part within BFD2 Groove Engine. Set the Auto-Play mode to drum track to have it play in sync with your DAW. Or export the entire drum track as either audio or MIDI from the Save menu.

Whether you play BFD2 live or use it as a sound source in your DAW, your drum tracks will be more varied and inspired.

Eli Krantzberg is a drummer who plays acoustic drums whenever BFD2 is not available. You can find his BFD2 tutorial videos at

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