Digital Soundworks Dramatic Percussion (Win) Review

Larger-than-life rhythm beds are popular devices for underscoring cinematic action, suspense, and drama. Although other packages devoted to rhythm beds may be flexible and sound impressive, the majority start with prerecorded loops and construction-kit formats;
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Dramatic Percussion captures an expressive set of conventional and esoteric percussion instruments, often played with unconventional techniques.

Larger-than-life rhythm beds are popular devices for underscoring cinematic action, suspense, and drama. Although other packages devoted to rhythm beds may be flexible and sound impressive, the majority start with prerecorded loops and construction-kit formats; consequently, their sound sets may leave little to the composer''s imagination.

Dramatic Percussion ($199), from newcomer Digital Soundworks, furnishes the instrumentation to create your own rhythm beds. Tascam''s Giga Virtual Instrument (GVI) hosts the samples and takes advantage of multiple playback techniques. The resulting sounds possess the animation found in real percussion or morph into uncommon sonorities, and the GVI modulation capabilities control the motion in real time.

Dramatis Personae

The 2-disc set holds GVI in standalone, VST, and RTAS versions, with roughly 6.5 GB of percussion instruments. Installation is relatively simple, and the package includes a preauthorized Syncrosoft dongle. I installed the instrument on my 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 notebook computer with Windows XP and 1.5 GB of RAM, and installed the sample content on an external FireWire drive. In addition to auditioning the standalone instrument, I ran plug-in versions in Steinberg Cubase 4.1 and Ableton Live 7.03.

GVI''s user interface divides into four main windows accessible from the software''s Header section: the MIDI Mixer, Edit window, FX window, and a window for GigaPulse, a built-in convolution reverb. At first glance, the MIDI Mixer page looks busy and cluttered, but the layout is sensible, and its logic falls into place once you start loading multiple instruments. You can load instrument patches directly into the MIDI Mixer; patches appear in a horizontal strip along with basic controls for reverb, volume, tuning, and pan, as well as menus for effects and output selection.

Each strip has an Edit button that takes you to its associated parameters. For example, if the instrument uses reverb, then a separate dedicated effects strip presents an active Edit button highlighted in green. Likewise, a separate Edit button for the sample layout accesses numerous tabbed pages with synthesis parameters for filters, envelope generators, LFOs, and more. Other tabs access amplitude and looping parameters, including modulation of sample start, loop start, and loop end points.

A virtual keyboard is visible on every screen, with gray keys denoting unassigned zones. Unfortunately, GVI does not display incoming MIDI notes unless they trigger a mapped zone or keyswitch. Consequently, if your keyboard controller has a limited range, you may find it cumbersome to select the proper transposition setting.

My Old Flam

Samples range from conventional sources, such as toms, to more exotic instruments, such as Boo Bams—a tapered, cylindrical instrument with its origins in Polynesia (see Web Clip 1). But even unconventional percussion instruments aren''t necessarily played conventionally. For instance, the patch labeled Many Toms is played as an ensemble, flams and all. In no way does the flamming sound awkward or out of time; the toms just sound natural and huge, as you might expect from a large gathering of percussionists.

Dramatic Percussion deploys clever sample-playback sleight-of-hand to bring the instruments to life. For example, one particularly nice set of concert toms uses the mod wheel to crossfade to a different set of mics, and another set of concert toms uses the mod wheel to regulate the degree of reverb. In other instances, you can use the sustain pedal to trigger keyswitches between samples, leaving both hands free to play. An especially nice patch for anklung (a type of melodic Indonesian rattle) uses the mod wheel to increase the speed on a mandolin-style tremolo. Frequent use of round-robin sample playback produces subtle variations in tone and natural-sounding rolls.

Bow and Scrape

A good number of sounds provide atmosphere rather than rhythmic thrust. A patch called Complex Ride uses a sampled assortment of ride cymbals played with bows or scraped to produce metallic, fluttering effects; eerie, squealing harmonics; and at other times buzzing, almost electronic-sounding tonalities. A set of gongs seems to growl menacingly, aided by flanging effects and an eerie reverberation. Bowed, metallic waterphones arrayed over several octaves form a sparkling, whistling pad like no other I''ve heard (see Web Clip 2). The terrific GigaPulse convolution reverb assists in many cases with impulse responses ranging from conventional to bizarre.

Between a gaggle of expressive percussion instruments with lively controller mapping, a reasonable complement of synthesis tools, and onboard effects processing, you''ll find plenty of sonic variety to play with. Digital Soundworks Dramatic Percussion has a lot to offer anyone who wishes to build exotic, cinematic-sounding rhythm beds and atmospheres from the ground up (see Web Clip 3). I recommend it highly.

Value (1 through 5): 4
Digital Soundworks
digitalsoundworks.com