Global commerce and the World Wide Web have connected musicians from different cultures as never before. Recordings made on six of seven continents and all points between are available to almost anyone who wants to listen. The result has been an ongoing cross-pollination that fuses diverse combinations of traditional folk and classical music with rock, jazz, electronic, and other modern musical genres. This fusion combines ancient instruments with modern rhythms and modern instruments with ancient rhythms.
All of this multicultural exchange has been a motivating force behind a recent trend in sample-based software instruments. As the demand for sounds from Africa, Australia, the Near East, and the Far East has grown, so has the availability of sample libraries offering vocal and instrumental sounds from those regions.
Around the World 11 Ways
Diving into the world of multiethnic music software, I discovered dozens of sample libraries that might fit the scope of this article. Although many are excellent, there's simply too much sample content to give adequate coverage in a single article. I decided to concentrate on virtual instruments, both plug-in and standalone, that don't require separate sampler software.
I found 11 virtual instruments from 7 developers: Best Service Ethno World 3 Complete, Latin World, and Orient World; MOTU Ethno Instrument; Quantum Leap Ra; Swar Systems SwarPlug; Wizoo Darbuka and Latigo; Yellow Tools Culture; and Zero-G Afrolatin Slam and Beats Working in Cuba. All of the developers except MOTU and Quantum Leap are based in Europe.
Four titles — Afrolatin Slam, Beats Working in Cuba, Latin World, and Orient World — are built around Native Instruments Intakt Instrument, which is oriented for playing tempo-sliced loops. Ethno World 3 Complete and Ra are based on Kompakt Instrument, Native Instruments' more traditional sample player. The six Native Instruments — based titles run standalone or as plug-ins, as do Ethno Instrument and Culture. The remaining three — Darbuka, Latigo, and SwarPlug — run only as plug-ins. The two Wizoo plug-ins have a custom graphical user interface, and Culture, Ethno Instrument, and SwarPlug have distinctive GUIs as well.
Because they all come with large quantities of content, each requires quite a bit of storage space to install. Fortunately, none require that you install their content on your startup disk, and you sometimes get better performance by installing the samples on a separate hard drive. SwarPlug is by far the smallest, with 171 MB of 16-bit content, and Ra is by far the largest, with more than 13 GB of content. Most supply 24-bit samples, and most can stream their samples from hard disk.
All are cross-platform and support AU and VST plug-in formats in Mac OS X and VST in Windows XP. Culture, Ethno World 3 Complete, and SwarPlug run in older versions of Windows, too. Darbuka and Latigo support RTAS on the Mac, and the Native Instruments plug-ins support RTAS on both platforms. Culture supports DXi in Windows and RTAS on both computer platforms. Ethno Instrument is the most all-inclusive, supporting AU, HTDM, MAS, RTAS, and VST in Mac OS X and DXi, HTDM, RTAS, and VST in Windows XP.
For this article, I tested standalone versions of each program. I also used VST versions in Steinberg Cubase SX3, RTAS versions in Digidesign Pro Tools M-Powered 7.1, and AU versions in MOTU Digital Performer 4.61. The only exception was that I used the MAS version rather than the AU version of Ethno Instrument in DP4, and I ran the AU version in Apple Logic Pro 7.1. My computer was a dual-processor 2.3 GHz Apple Power Mac G5, and my audio interface was a MOTU 2408mk3 with a PCI-424 card.
All titles are copy protected. SwarPlug requires only that you enter a serial number called a product key. The six Native Instruments — based packages rely on a simple challenge-and-response system using a Registration Tool application. When you register Darbuka or Latigo by entering data directly into its setup window, you receive an authorization file to place in its content folder. Culture comes with a Yellow Tools — specific USB key, and Ethno Instrument includes an iLok USB key.
Best Service Ethno World 3 Complete
As the title suggests, Ethno World 3 Complete ($449.95) is the third and most comprehensive product to use the Ethno World name. The original Ethno World is still available as a 3-CD or 5-CD sample library for GigaStudio and several hardware samplers. Ethno World 2 builds on that collection, offering six CDs for EXS24 and HALion and four CDs for GigaStudio. Ethno World 3 Complete supplies all the previous editions' content and 40 new instruments. It is available either as a sound library for GigaStudio or as a software instrument. If you own a previous edition, you will qualify for a discounted upgrade.
FIG. 1: Best Service''s Ethno World 3 Complete combines Kompakt Instrument with more than 5 GB of samples from all over the world.
Produced by German film composers Marcel Barsotti and Andreas Hofner, Ethno World 3 Complete furnishes samples of 170 instruments from every continent except Antarctica, totaling 5.14 GB of content. Most presets supply multisampled instruments, allowing you to play polyphonically, but many also supply loops and licks performed by more than a dozen talented musicians (see Web Clip 1). Because Kompakt Instrument is 8-part multitimbral, you can load as many as eight instruments and assign each to its own MIDI sequencer track (see Fig. 1).
Rather than categorizing sounds by their geographic origins, as many multiethnic sample libraries do, Ethno World 3 Complete categorizes them by their instrument type. Unless a descriptive adjective such as African or Tibetan is part of the preset's name, you'll never know its origin unless you look in the excellent 28-page manual, which provides color photos and very brief descriptions of most instruments. The manual also lists each preset's pitch range, size in megabytes, and location on disc, but for presets that offer keyswitching, it doesn't tell you which notes are keyswitches. Additional documentation includes a 42-page Kompakt Instrument manual and HTML files that duplicate portions of the printed manual.
Besides Bell Type, Bowed, Key, Metal Type, and Stringed Instruments, categories include Construction Kits, Gongs and Bowls, Woodwind and Brass, World Drums, and World Percussion. World Drums and World Percussion contain by far the largest number of instruments. Stringed Instruments and Woodwind and Brass are also quite plentiful. Eighteen Bell Type instruments range from Bamboo Vibraphon and Dream Catcher to Tibetan Cymbals and Vietnam Bells. The Key Instruments category contains only Dallape Accordion, Melodica, and Scale Changer Harmonium. Ethno World 3 Complete has seven Construction Sets: a China Set in three tempos and a Mid East Set in four tempos.
Although filter and envelope parameters vary from one instrument to the next, all presets appear to have the same amount of reverb, chorus, and delay. Only a handful offer any Velocity switching. Though some cry out for user-controlled vibrato, none respond to MIDI Control Change (CC) messages. Overall, though, the variety and sound quality make Ethno World 3 Complete a well-rounded introduction to ethnic musical instruments.
Best Service Latin World
Latin World ($199.95) teams Intakt Instrument with 4.66 GB of South American, Central American, and Caribbean-flavored loops and one-shot samples (see Fig. 2). Practically all of Latin World's content serves as a construction kit for creating your own tracks. Unlike many Intakt-based instruments, Latin World focuses on time-sliced loops without splitting them into separate slices you can trigger using MIDI. Each category supplies variations in as many as five tempos, and the loops accommodate tempo changes quite well. Many loops are as long as 16 measures. Their sheer number is impressive; not surprisingly, most concentrate on Latin drums and percussion.
FIG. 2: Latin World''s time-sliced loops embrace diverse musical styles native to Latin America. Sounds include drums, percussion, brass, guitars, bass, and ambient environments.
Six of Latin World's 15 categories are called Instrument Loops. Five of them group their presets by instrument type: Drums, Percussion, Bass, Guitar, and Horn. In addition to the loops, you get a multisampled bass, three multisampled guitars, three percussion kits, and one complete drum kit you can play from your MIDI keyboard. The sixth Instrument Loops category, Athmo, has only one preset, but it maps 46 ambient sound effects to the keyboard. Sounds range from cheering crowds and traffic noise to recordings of a street parade (see Web Clip 2).
The other nine categories are called Music Style Loops, and indeed, seven are defined by their musical style. They include Baion (Brazil), Bomba (Puerto Rico), Candombe (Uruguay), Merengue (Dominican Republic), and Murga (Uruguay), each of which comes in two tempos. Salsa gives you three tempos, and Samba gives you four. All seven categories supply 4/4 loops in four key signatures and one rhythm-only preset.
Two more categories, Ternary and Polyrhythm, are grouped with the Music Style Loops. The Ternary category was apparently designed for assembling songs in the A-B-A (or ternary) song form common in Latin music. Ternary supplies loops in four keys at 120 and 136 bpm, as well as rhythm-only loops at the same two tempos. Polyrhythm gives you two presets, each with a selection of drum and percussion fills at 120 bpm.
Most Music Style Loops contain all five instrument types mapped to different notes. Drum and percussion loops are assigned to the two octaves below middle C. Middle C and above play bass guitar, acoustic or electric guitar, and horn section loops. A two-sided cheat sheet uses color coding to show you how Instrument Loops and Music Style Loops are mapped. Latin World's documentation also includes a 68-page Intakt Instrument manual, a 4-page PDF file that shows idiomatic chord progressions in eight styles, and HTML files that provide credits, the license agreement, and a brief description of the software.
Best Service Orient World
From the name, you'd probably expect Orient World ($199.95) to feature sounds from China, Japan, and other regions of the Far East. You might be surprised to find no koto, shamisen, or erhu, nor any other sounds usually associated with that part of the world. Instead, Orient World focuses on the Middle East, North Africa, and southeastern Europe — specifically, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, the Balkans, and regions only as far east as Pakistan.
FIG. 3: Also from Best Service, Orient World features instruments and genres from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans.
Because Orient World is also an Intakt Instrument with an orange-pastel color scheme, it appears identical to Latin World (see Fig. 3); its layout of presets, however, is quite different. Among the 16 preset categories are 9 individual instruments, voice (wordless male and female vocals), percussion instruments and ensembles, and short musical phrases played by an orchestral string section. Two categories, Inspiration Alibaba and Inspiration Odyssey, each contain a single preset that maps loops and phrases from other categories across the keyboard (see Web Clip 3). Another category, X Oriental Dance, gives you heavily processed experimental timbres created from instrumental source material.
The selection of instruments in Orient World's 4.66 GB of content is quite varied. It includes winds such as the balaban and ney; strings such as the kanun, saz, and violin; and percussion such as the bendir, darbuka, tablas, and tar. It also includes instruments not necessarily Eastern in origin — accordion, saxophone, and electric guitar — playing in Eastern modalities.
Other than nine individual hand drums you can play from a MIDI keyboard or percussion controller, all of Orient World's content consists of loops and phrases. Before you can play the hand drums, though, you'll need to edit their envelopes; the release stages are set at the same default, which decays too quickly for percussion to sound natural. In fact, all of Orient World's sampler parameters have been left at their default values, which means, for example, that all instruments — even vocals — are processed by simulated tube distortion with a Drive value of 25%.
Although most categories offer a selection of tempos, the tempo range varies depending on the instrument. Ney, for example, provides a total of 22 presets containing phrases at tempos of 60, 70, 90, 100, 120, or 130 bpm. Percussion Combo provides seven loop presets, each at a different tempo: 74, 86, 93, 94, 108, 140, or 147 bpm. Guitar gives you nine phrase presets, all at 120 bpm. The number of phrases or loops in each preset also varies, from as few as 3 to as many as 65 samples; their lengths also vary.
Orient World's documentation consists of an Intakt manual and a 6-panel gatefold that provides brief descriptions of 22 instruments and lists of instruments used in 6 categories, as well as the license agreement and credits. A handful of HTML files duplicate that information.
FIG. 4: Half of MOTU Ethno Instrument''s nearly 8 GB of content comprises time-sliced loops and phrases, and the other half comprises multisampled instruments.
MOTU Ethno Instrument
MOTU's Ethno Instrument ($295) delivers 7.87 GB of content and a custom interface that works a lot like MOTU Symphonic Instrument's GUI, but with time-slicing functionality (see Fig. 4). Sample content is evenly divided — 3.92 GB provides more than 6,000 loops and phrases, and 3.95 GB provides more than 500 multisampled instrument presets. If your computer is up to snuff, Ethno Instrument is 64-part multitimbral and capable of 256 stereo notes per part, according to MOTU.
Ethno Instrument encompasses musical cultures from all over the world (see Web Clip 4). When selecting instrument presets, you can browse them either by geographic origin or by instrument type. Clicking on the browser's Geographic button lists 12 regions or cultures such as Africa, Celtic, Indonesian-Gamelan, Occidental, and Spanish Gypsy, as well as categories for World Synths and Xtra Percussion. If you click on the Instruments button, seven types are listed: Fretted String, Key, Percussion, Strings, Woodwind, World Synth, and Bell, Metal & Gong. Clicking on the Loops button reveals a list that's almost identical to the Geographic list. Many loop and phrase presets supply numerous key signatures and tempos.
Ethno Instrument has lots of programmable parameters, and its presets take advantage of them. Comprehensive user controls let you adjust the multimode filter, ADSR envelopes, tuning, polyphony, glide, 2-band EQ, and other settings. Onboard convolution reverb has controls for predelay, highpass and lowpass damping, and more. Clicking on the Expert Mode button opens a window to specify a part's note and Velocity range, custom keyswitches, disk-streaming preferences, and audio outputs.
Controls in the Loop section affect only loops and phrases. You can start and stop playback, change tempo, sync playback to a host's tempo, and choose from three loop-playback modes. Increase or decrease playback by a factor of four and change the sample start position. You can drag-and-drop loops and phrases from Ethno Instrument to your host software's audio tracks and drag-and-drop time-slice data to MIDI tracks.
With so many instrument presets to choose from, Ethno Instrument's diversity is very impressive. If you're browsing by instrument, the Fretted String category offers tremendous variety. The Latin Percussion subcategory alone gives you 25 presets. If you browse by region, Middle East — Mediterranean instruments such as oud, baglama, and Egyptian flute are the most plentiful. World Synths, a category that furnishes 79 electronic timbres, goes beyond traditional ethnic sounds and offers complementary underpinnings for world-fusion musical styles.
Ethno Instrument has the most extensive documentation of any software in this roundup. The 120-page manual covers every aspect of its operation. It also groups instruments by their geographic origin and provides descriptions, preset names and sizes, and note ranges.
Quantum Leap Ra
At 13.19 GB, Ra ($995) has the most voluminous content of all the ethnic virtual instruments. Like Ethno World 3 Complete, Ra is based on Kompakt Instrument and features sounds from nearly every civilization on earth (see Fig. 5). Named after the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra descended from a sample library called Rare Instruments, but only a fraction of Ra's content came from that 3-disc collection. Respected sample-meister Nick Phoenix produced Ra for Quantum Leap, a division of EastWest.
FIG. 5: With more than 13 GB of sounds from almost every continent, Quantum Leap Ra takes you on a virtual trip around the world.
Ra divides its content geographically into six main categories: Africa, Americas and Australia, Europe, Far East, India, and Mid East. Within each category are subcategories that divide instruments by type, such as Bowed, Perc, Pluck, and Wind. Each subcategory features individual instruments, and many instruments are further divided into articulations, effects, and elements, enabling you to impart nuance and detail to your performances.
Ra also divides some presets into four types, indicated by their names: Live, Keyswitches, Elements, and Melodies. Live presets are straightforward and easily playable without the need to master keyswitching techniques. Additional articulations in many Live sounds are triggered by higher Velocities; to bend a note, for example, just strike the key harder. Presets with keyswitches are indicated by KS in their names, followed by the range of notes that trigger keyswitching (Koto KS C0-F#0, for example). Because keyswitches are assigned to the lowest octave on an 88-note keyboard, you'll need to transpose your keyboard if it doesn't have 88 notes.
Elements allow you to sequence instruments by assigning each articulation to a different MIDI channel, thus avoiding the need for keyswitching. The Elements subcategory typically provides a submenu with choices such as Slur Up, FX (effects), RR (round-robin), and Leg Vib (legato vibrato). Melodies are melismas, trills, or other embellishments that are characteristic of an instrument; inserting them into a performance can enhance its realism.
Ra makes good use of Kompakt Instrument's programming capabilities, and unlike many other ethnic virtual instruments, it features Velocity layers in every preset. Although filters are generally left open and effects are unassigned, envelopes and other sound-shaping parameters are customized for the individual presets. All of the instruments are tuned to an equal-tempered Western scale. For instruments normally played with alternate tunings, Ra offers custom temperaments in its Microtuning menu. The 14 available tunings, which include Chinese Lu and Shruthi India, are different from the 19 choices you usually find in Kompakt Instrument.
Ra is quite generous in providing plucked instruments ranging from banjo to Vietnamese jaw harp, wind instruments from didgeridoo to zourna, and bowed instruments from sarangi to gadulka (see Web Clip 5). Although plenty of drums and percussion instruments are also available, their proportion is not as great as in the other products in this roundup. Considering that most world-music libraries tend to have more percussion than anything else, this may be welcome news for anyone who owns other ethnic virtual instruments or sample libraries.
Ra comes with a comprehensive 118-page manual in PDF form. It explains the software's basic concepts and describes every instrument in some detail, one region at a time, complete with color photos of instruments and performers. The manual also lists all the presets and explains the keyswitches and elements.
Swar Systems SwarPlug
SwarPlug ($230) is just one of several products made by Swiss developer Swar Systems that focus on the classical and folk music of India. SwarPlug is an instrument plug-in based on LinPlug's CronoX 2. It offers a cross-section of musical sounds representing the entire Indian subcontinent.
FIG. 6: SwarPlug''s straightforward user interface gives you quick access to 40 authentic instruments from the Indian Subcontinent.
Compared with the other software in this roundup, SwarPlug has a very simple user interface (see Fig. 6). A menu lets you select and scroll through presets, and a display shows an image of the selected instrument. The control panel provides knobs for gain, pan, and pitch. You get four knobs to specify pitch; the two Main Pitch knobs handle coarse- and fine-tuning for the primary sound, and if an instrument has a secondary element (the left-hand drum in a pair, for example), the Alt Pitch knobs control the same parameters for that sound. Like the controls, the instruments in SwarPlug are programmed for basic performance, with no Velocity layering or keyswitching.
SwarPlug's 49 presets furnish 40 multisampled instruments that range from banjo and bansuri to udukke and veena, as well as 3 multisampled vocal sets: bols, konnakol, and sargam. Indian musicians learn to use their voices as percussion, a technique that's very important to their musical traditions. Bols are syllables that represent Hindustani (North Indian) rhythmic elements, and konnakol are syllables that represent Carnatic (South Indian) rhythmic elements. Sargam is a type of Hindustani solfège, comparable to Western music's do, re, mi, fa, and so on.
Over half of SwarPlug's presets are hand drums and other percussion instruments. Most of the remaining presets are stringed instruments such as sitar, tanpura, and even acoustic guitar. Also included are shehnai, nadaswaram, two harmoniums, and three bansuris (see Web Clip 6).
SwarPlug is bundled with Swar Librarian, a separate Java application that lets you preview over 1,000 melodic and rhythmic loops and phrases playing SwarPlug instruments in 12 idiomatic musical styles. When you find a loop that's suitable for the music you're composing, you can drag-and-drop it from Swar Librarian into a MIDI track in your sequencing program.
SwarPlug's only documentation is a folded, 4-sided page with basic instructions and a list of instruments. Swar Librarian's documentation is a searchable help file that briefly explains its layout and operation.
The instrument plug-in Darbuka ($299.95) gets its name from a goblet-shaped Turkish hand drum that may have been invented earlier than the chair. Darbuka (the software, not the drum) is a virtual Middle Eastern percussion section. Wizoo's unique FlexGroove engine gives you real-time control over timing, arrangement, and other performance parameters. Nearly 2 GB of content comprises time-sliced recordings of live grooves played by master percussionists Suat Borazan and Mohamed Zaki. Darbuka encompasses the music of Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, the Arabian Gulf, and other East Mediterranean and North African cultures. The collection features indigenous instruments such as the bendir, douhola, riqq, and sagat.
FIG. 7: Wizoo Darbuka offers real-time control over a virtual ensemble of Middle Eastern master percussionists.
On the Play page, Darbuka's unusual but intuitive GUI displays a list of 38 Styles (including 1 user Style) in the Style Selector on its left side (see Fig. 7). Each Style is a complete percussion arrangement with as many as 14 tracks and 61 Patterns, as well as fills, mixes, and various parameters. When you load a Style, graphical images are shown in the Instrument Symbols area, along with tabs that access the Mix page, on which you can adjust parameters such as level, pan, and 3-band EQ for each track. Eight instruments at a time appear, and if necessary, you can scroll to reveal additional tracks. Right-clicking in the Instrument Symbols area (Control + clicking on a Mac) will summon a color illustration and details about the selected instrument. If your computer has sufficient processing power, clicking on the XXL button turns on a playback mode with 32-bit fidelity.
You can display Styles by name, region, tempo, or time signature. Preview any Style either by holding down the Listen button after you select it, or automatically when you select it. Darbuka always locks to the host's tempo when you trigger a pattern, but the pattern plays at its original tempo when you preview it.
At the bottom of the plug-in pane is the Color Keyboard, which responds to mouse-clicks and to corresponding MIDI notes. When you click on a blue key or play a MIDI note below C3, a rhythm groove begins to play; you can assign color keys to any MIDI note. Playing other notes or clicking on other blue keys changes the pattern. Green keys trigger fills, and yellow keys mute individual tracks within the pattern. At the Color Keyboard's right side is an orange End key, which plays an ending when the current measure is complete, and a red Stop key, which ceases playing immediately. To the left, the Latch button enables and disables looping, which is turned on by default. All of Darbuka's controls respond to MIDI CC messages, enhancing its real-time controllability and capacity for sequencer automation.
In addition to keys that trigger patterns, Darbuka provides ample controls for changing percussion arrangements in real time. You can half or double the speed, adjust the timing and quantization, and add swing. High, Mid, and Bass buttons let you selectively mute instruments in those ranges. You can replace certain hits with other hits using the Variance slider. A Complexity slider lets you change a groove's rhythmic density in real time (see Web Clip 7).
To replace or add to existing tracks, Darbuka allows you to copy or click-and-drag tracks from one Style to another. You can even define additional user Styles. The Edit page gives you access to all parts, tracks, and patterns. The PDF manual explains how to use Darbuka to the fullest extent and describes the Styles and instruments it provides.
Latigo ($299) is Darbuka's Latin American cousin. Its GUI is identical except for its coloration, and its operation is exactly the same (see Fig. 8). That's because Latigo is also built on Wizoo's FlexGroove engine. Latigo specializes in Caribbean, Central American, and South American percussion grooves. It supplies 839 MB of content comprising multitrack patterns played by two very busy session percussionists, Edwin Bonilla and Olbin Burgos.
FIG. 8: Wizoo Latigo works just like Darbuka, but the focus is on Latin percussion instruments and grooves.
The primary differences between Latigo and Darbuka are the instruments and the musical genres. Instruments include bongos, congas, timbales, maracas, and a complete drum kit. Latigo's 23 Styles (which include 2 user Styles) run the gamut from Bolero, Bossa Nova, and Calypso to Merengue, Samba, and Songo (see Web Clip 8).
One other difference is that you can display Styles only by name, tempo, or type; the latter is a list of seven geographic origins such as Afro-Cuban and Venezuelan. In addition, all of Latigo's grooves are in 4/4 time. And whereas Darbuka has buttons to mute the high, mid, and bass tracks, Latigo has buttons labeled Drum, Skin, Metal, High, and Misc. They mute, respectively, the drum kit, hand drums such as congas and bongos, metal instruments such as timbales and agogo, high-pitched sounds such as cymbals and shakers, and miscellaneous percussion instruments such as whistles.
Latigo's PDF manual is virtually identical to Darbuka's, too. Other than the sections specifically regarding Latin instruments and styles, it contains the same wording and diagrams.
Yellow Tools Culture
As the first Modular Virtual Instrument from Yellow Tools, Culture ($339) has been around longer than any other product surveyed here. It combines a sophisticated and highly customizable sample player with 8.79 GB of content. Each instrument can comprise hundreds of samples and up to 16 Velocity layers per note. Culture offers detailed sounds that allow realistic performances using a variety of playing techniques.
Although Culture's focus is on world drums and ethnic percussion, it also features a number of industrial sounds, such as barrels and trash cans, and orchestral sounds, such as timpani and snares. The majority of sounds are Latin instruments such as bongos, cajons, congas, and timbales. You'll also find a nice selection of Middle Eastern instruments such as dumbek, darbuka, and tablas, and African instruments such as udu, djembe, and dunun. Far Eastern instruments include taiko drums, gamelan chimes, and kokiriko.
An individual instrument in Culture is called a Layer, and you can combine as many as eight Layers in a Multi. Culture ships with an assortment of ready-made Multis, including an African Multi, a flamenco Multi, 17 Brazilian Multis, and over two dozen more for Latin musical styles.
FIG. 9: Yellow Tools Culture comes with nearly 9 GB of content that features ethnic, orchestral, and industrial percussion samples.
Culture gives you lots of controls for creating and customizing Layers and Multis (see Fig. 9). Its front panel is divided into the Basic section in the upper half and the Pro Editor in the lower half. In the Basic section, you can specify or change any part's volume and panning, MIDI channel, key range and Velocity range, polyphony, and other parameters. Clicking on the Alternate button ensures that you'll never play the same sample twice in succession, contributing to a response that sounds natural. For each Layer, you can set up dynamic mapping, Velocity curves, and even the response of the mod wheel for real-time volume control.
The Pro Editor affects key groups and provides access to envelope parameters, tuning, playback modes, and audio functions such as enabling reverse play and specifying sample start point. Fixed MIDI CC mapping lets you control all parameters with external controllers or sequencer automation. An onscreen keyboard displays note mapping for the selected Layer. Buttons allow you to perform functions such as editing and copying parameters from one key group to another. All of the controls are explained in Culture's 41-page manual.
After you've registered with Yellow Tools as a Culture user, you can download Culture Groove Pack, an excellent 5.3 MB collection of more than 1,100 MIDI files. They supply grooves programmed especially for Culture in assorted musical styles (see Web Clip 9). Grooves are sorted into folders by region and by instrument. In addition to basic grooves as long as two minutes, Groove Pack gives you fills, breaks, and other variations.
FIG. 10: Zero-G''s Afrolatin Slam fuses musical influences from Africa, South America, and the Caribbean islands.
Zero-G Afrolatin Slam
Afro-Latinos are people from Latin America of African descent. Like almost any ethnic group, they have a distinct musical heritage. Afro-Latin music is a cultural fusion that embraces the music of Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Afrolatin Slam ($99.95), a Virtual Sound Module in Zero-G's ProSample Platinum (PSP) series, captures its flavor by pairing 465 MB of time-sliced loops with Intakt Instrument (see Fig. 10). Production credits go to Francis Fuster, a percussionist from Sierra Leone who has worked extensively with Hugh Masekela as well as Paul Simon and Joan Baez, and Kenyan producer and multi-instrumentalist Sultan Makendé, better known as Dave Yowell.
Afrolatin Slam's rhythmic and melodic content embraces all of its musical influences. Besides places like Cuba, Jamaica, Venezuela, and Brazil, its timbral palette comes from the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Ghana. Loops are divided into six main categories: African, Afrolatin Fusion, Caribbean, Latin American, Instruments & Hits, and Miscellaneous Loops. Miscellaneous Loops contains a mishmash of recordings that defy categorization, such as 082 Scratchy, 095 Funky Dread Drums, and 134 Dark Drum'n Bass.
Regional subcategories break loops down into musical instruments or styles, with their names preceded by tempos. Afrolatin Fusion's subcategories, for example, are 074 Slow Clave, 108 Congas, 112 Congas, 120 Afrosamba, 130 Afrosamba, 153 Speedbash, and 170 Afrobossa. Although Latin American subcategories include 072 Candomblé, 103 Maracatu, 128 Samba, 152 Pandeiro, and 24 others, the Caribbean subcategory includes only 140 Soca. Subcategories may have as few as 1 preset or as many as 15; 130 High Life, for instance, has Bell Shakers, Lead Conga, Mix, Mix No Conga, and Rhythm Conga. I found loops as short as 2 measures and as long as 40.
Most of Afrolatin Slam's presets map a complete loop to the lowest note on a 5-octave keyboard and individual slices to the remaining notes. You can trigger a complete conga loop, for instance, or manually play the congas one hit at a time.
Some presets, including everything in the Instruments & Hits category, furnish multisamples mapped across the keyboard. As with Orient World, though, the release portion of the envelopes is too short for most percussion sounds to fade naturally. Unless you want to create the illusion of muting hits, then, you'll want to extend the release times for every sound if you intend to play from the keyboard or use drum pads.
The loops in Afrolatin Slam definitely have a live feel and will impart your music with rhythms you're unlikely to find anywhere else (see Web Clip 10). Documentation consists of an Intakt Instrument manual, a few HTML files, and a PDF listing of categories, subcategories, and presets.
Zero-G Beats Working in Cuba
If Latin percussion is your passion, Beats Working in Cuba ($299.95) is right up your alley (see Fig. 11). With 8.32 GB of content recorded entirely in a major Havana studio, the Intakt-based instrument is a compendium of 13 Afro-Latin rhythms characteristic of Cuban music, played by some of Cuba's finest studio percussionists. Musical styles such as the cha-cha, danzon, bolero, and mambo embody Cuban music and its African and South American roots. Produced by prominent British recording engineer Barry Sage and Spanish record producer Gonzalo Lasheras Garcia, Beats Working in Cuba captures dozens of multitrack grooves with hundreds of variations, as well as single hits derived from half a dozen styles.
FIG. 11: Cuba''s most respected percussionists gathered at one of Havana''s finest studios to record the hits and grooves in Beats Working in Cuba.
The primary categories comprise the 13 styles. Each style is divided into subcategories that supply as many as 41 modern and traditional variations. Each style was recorded at a single tempo, ranging from 84 bpm for bolero and Guajira son to 130 bpm for conga moderna. Variations present different recordings of song segments such as the intro, verse, chorus, instrumental, and ending (see Web Clip 11). A single 16-measure variation may provide presets for a complete multimiked mix, a mix without drums, a mix with drums only, and most individual instruments recorded dry and direct, with ambience, and for surround applications. Different mic perspectives are often mapped to different MIDI notes.
Although the individual samples don't make much use of Intakt's parameter programming, they do take full advantage of its three sound engines: Beatmachine, Timemachine, and Sampler. Beatmachine loops are time-sliced and assigned to MIDI notes, allowing you to sequence the playback order of the beats at any tempo. Timemachine loops offer smooth transitions that sound more natural over a limited range of tempos. Sampler loops give you instant access to time- and pitch-shift artifact effects at any tempo.
Although Beats Working in Cuba's categories, variations, and samples are meticulously organized, the enormous magnitude of the material can be overwhelming. Fortunately, HTML files supply some of the most extensive documentation I've ever seen for a sample collection. It presents a wealth of information about the samples, the musicians, the instruments, and the recording process (including mic placement). It even includes transcriptions of the various rhythms and a brief history of each style. Every category is documented in painstaking detail with a color-coded chart and copious notes. Beats Working in Cuba also comes with a video DVD that takes a 12-minute look at how the samples were recorded and introduces the people involved. All told, Beats Working in Cuba is an ambitious project that offers as much authenticity as you could ever wish for.
You don't need to be an ethnomusicologist or know a lot of musicians from other cultures to produce music that explores a world of musical genres. To make convincing world music, though, you'll probably need more than instruments; you'll need to familiarize yourself with the idiosyncrasies of the indigenous music you want to emulate. The World Wide Web is an indispensable tool for finding your way. Plenty of online resources are available, many maintained by the natives of countries where the music is local. As always, you should listen to a lot of music in whatever styles interest you.
Additionally, several software applications can teach you about regional musical traditions; an excellent example is Swar Systems' SwarShala 3 Pro (Mac/Win, $250), which takes a multimedia approach to teaching you about Indian music. It also serves as a sort of composer's assistant that allows you to create rhythms and melodies and then drag-and-drop them to your sequencer's MIDI tracks.
You'll find a world of inspiration in any of the software instruments in this roundup. Ra is versatile and deeply expressive, and it should fulfill almost any need for world instruments for a very long time. Although it is the most expensive, Ra's enormous sample collection and well-designed presets make it worth the cost. Ethno World 3 Complete also supplies a broad palette and a large selection.
Ethno Instrument has the best cost-to-performance ratio, encompassing an approachable user interface, tremendous flexibility and user control, and an impressive collection of high-quality instrument and vocal samples from all over the world. No other software gives you such a broad selection of time-sliced loops and playable instruments.
Darbuka and Latigo are unique in their approach. Their combination of sampled performances and user interactivity makes them terrific plug-ins for creating world-class music that lives and breathes. For Latin-music aficionados who need a comprehensive rhythmic vocabulary, though, you can't go wrong with Beats Working in Cuba.
Whenever you're in the market for ethnic instrument samples, it will pay to look beyond the software instruments I've discussed here. If you own a software sampler or work with audio loops, you'll find a huge selection of sample libraries available from dozens of developers. I can highly recommend Apple World Music Jam Pack (Mac, $99), Ilio Origins (Giga/EXS24, $349), and almost any ethnic collection from Discovery Sound, for example.
Any of the software in this article will put you on the road to composing and recording your own world music, and others are forthcoming (see the sidebar “FlyingHand Percussion”). Which product you choose will depend largely on the regional style or combination of styles you want to pursue. Bon voyage, and have a safe journey!
EM associate editor Geary Yelton's first world-music gig was in 1990. Using the alias Guy Lambada, he programmed synthesizers and sequences for Son Bolive's The Best of La Lambada.
During the course of writing this article, I received an advance copy of Handheld Sound's FlyingHand Percussion (Mac/Win, $299), a massive 13.69 GB sample library that developer Eitan Teomi plans to pair with Kontakt Player 2 (see Fig. A). Devoted entirely to hand drums and handheld percussion, FHP incorporates as many as 20 Velocity layers, each with 4 alternate hits on numerous articulations, as well as release samples and multiple zones for each drum.
FIG. A: When it becomes available, FlyingHand Percussion will make it possible to realistically emulate an acoustic percussionist using only your keyboard.
FHP's emphasis is on realistic performance. Left- and right-handed drum samples are mapped to either side of a split point. Articulations mirrored on both sides simulate playing with different parts of your hand or fingers and playing on different areas of the drumhead. The software introduces a performance technique called legato drumming, enabling intuitive, real-time access to articulations that acoustic percussionists take for granted. FHP responds to how fast, slow, hard, or soft you play by triggering different samples; if you release a note quickly, for example, the tone will be muted and you'll hear the drum's natural resonance.
Along with frame drums, djembes, clay drums, congas, bongos, bottles, bells, and much more, FHP gives you a folder full of Mutants — heavily processed acoustic percussion — and experimental Morphosis sounds mapped for use as a drum kit. FHP includes PSPaudioware's PSP Nitro LE with custom presets, a collection of impulse responses from Voxengo, and mappings for the ZenDrum controller.
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