Although PrimeSounds' A Funky Future ($99.95) may not fit everyone's definition of pure funk, it does deliver a fine collection of grooves, bass lines, and guitar-driven pads and effects.
An accompanying audio CD lets you audition all of the files in the CD-ROM library. The documentation doesn't list the individual files and tempos; instead, it provides a breakdown by tempo of the drums, percussion, bass, and guitar loops — but without individual file names. That isn't the most thorough accounting of the offered loops, but it provides a rough guide to the contents of the audio CD and the CD-ROM.
The CD-ROM provides a collection of Acidized WAV and REX2 files, so even if your sequencer doesn't support REX files, you can still use the WAV-file loops. The files range from down-tempo feels of 80 to a more energetic 120 bpm, but the overall mood of the collection is dark, mysterious, and somber.
The drum, guitar, and percussion tracks rely on extensive processing, often leaving few clues as to the origins of the instrument sounds. Tracks are severely equalized, vocoded, filtered, distorted, and reshaped in other ways. Many of the percussion tracks are drum-machine grooves creatively processed through highpass filters to change the character of the loops, to remove low-frequency content, and to avoid interference with the drum grooves. Other tracks have minimally audible traces of acoustic percussion origins.
In some instances, the drum and percussion grooves use duplicate patterns, but different DSP treatments alter the feel and timbre. Because of the individualized processing applied to each loop and the varied amounts of swing, no two drum grooves sound or feel exactly alike. That can be a problem when linking different grooves together. Nonetheless, you can certainly extract a good deal of rhythmic flexibility from the REX versions by varying the amount of swing and altering the pitch, placement, and volume of individual groove slices. With a bit of creative-edge editing in my sequencer, I was able to layer the fill from a different loop over an otherwise disparate groove (see Web Clip 1).
The bass loops are, by comparison, relatively dry and free from processing, allowing for a more intimate, human sound. Three different basses provide a bit of sonic variety: Double (acoustic bass), Warwick (fretted electric bass), and Rubber (an electric fretless bass of unknown lineage). Audible fretboard-noise artifacts, release noises, squeaks, string buzz, and scrapes stand in sharp relief to the programmed drums and percussion.
When I first auditioned the bass loops in isolation, I was nonplussed by the looseness of the playing, but when I set them in tracks alongside the drum and percussion grooves, they fit perfectly. In general, I prefer the bass loops that are played at slower tempos; those performances take advantage of more subtle articulations and display a more refined sense of timing. At times the intonation is questionable, with bends and glissandos landing a bit flat or sharp, but even that adds warmth and humanity to the overall vibe.
Believe It or Not
It's hard to believe the guitar tracks weren't created with a MIDI guitar. Many are sparkling and evolving pads and drones with sprays of shifting harmonic content emerging and disappearing — sometimes over as many as eight bars. Other guitar loops clearly use tempo-synchronized filters, phase shifters, and vocoders for rhythmic compatibility with the percussion. Unfortunately, the guitar loops are not available in REX format. Granted, most of the guitar sounds are pads and drones, so their long tails make them difficult to divide into beat-sliced components. But many are palpably rhythmic and would benefit from the more flexible pitch-and-time-altering capabilities of the REX format.
A few file-naming anomalies and the skimpy documentation hardly blemish the overall quality of the Funky Future package. Because the bass and guitar loops provide the harmonic underpinning, it's truly unfortunate that the guitar parts are available only in WAV format; that locks you into a far more limited rhythmic and harmonic palette. Still, I'm impressed with the rhythmic and tonal variety found in this collection. The bass, drum, and percussion parts work as a great ensemble cast. If you compose dark-sounding ambient music, you should definitely investigate the moody atmospheres of A Funky Future.