Ueberschall VLP120 Vintage Licks and Phrases ($299.95) is a sample-playback module that offers a generous and diverse collection of 24-bit, 96 kHz sampled musical phrases. The overall tempo of the phrases is 120 bpm, hence the product name. Ueberschall licenses Prosoniq's MPEX2 algorithm, however, for pitch-shifting and time-compression and -expansion chores. That gives you a wide latitude of tempo and pitch adjustment capabilities, with minimal formant distortion — even on polyphonic material. Depending on the musical material, the result is a usable tempo range between 60 and 240 bpm and a pitch-shift range of plus or minus an octave (see Web Clips 1, 2, and 3). The only catch is that VLP120's time and pitch processing takes place offline.
The VLP120 interface features a circular waveform editor that is called the Loopeye.
The performances in VLP120 aren't perfect, but that's exactly the point of this collection. The time pushes and pulls, and there is fret noise and sympathetic resonance in the string parts. However, these artifacts keep the instruments from sounding sterile.
VLP120 takes up five CD-ROMs, with more than 3 GB of loops stored in Ueberschall's proprietary .ulp file format. The plug-in supports Audio Units, VST 2, and RTAS. Installation on my Mac G4/Dual 1.42 GHz was completely pain-free.
The loop categories include Bass, Brass, Flute, Organ, Synth, Guitar, Piano, and Clavinet, but there are multiple sub-categories for each. For example, the Bass category has slapped, fingered, and fretless varieties; the Piano group includes acoustic, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and an unspecified electric piano; and the Brass group provides trumpets and reeds.
You can select a bank of presets from a drop-down menu in the lower-left corner of the plug-in. Each bank contains a two-octave group of phrases in one of three keys: A minor (C major), D minor (F major), and E minor (G major). Despite unified keys and thematic relationships within banks, VLP120 is not a construction kit by any means: you can build up a groove with the bass lines, but they may not work with the piano part from another group.
Central to the program's user interface is the Loopeye, which is an animated, circular waveform editor. The currently selected loop wraps around a 360-degree waveform display while a beam sweeps the display in the manner of an air traffic controller's radar screen. Other than conservation of screen real estate and a novel visual appeal, it's probably easier to edit using a linear loop display. The loops range from one to four bars, and a defeatable Snap menu lets you select slider resolutions ranging from one bar to a 32nd note. In addition, Loopeye parameters can be also accessed using MIDI controllers.
Clicking on the bottom pane opens a panel containing a keyboard map and a list of the loop categories. Every loop can be processed separately: just drag any loop to a key between C3 and B4. You can cherry-pick loops from all categories; edit their length, pitch, tempo, envelope, and filter settings; map them to the keyboard; and save the edited bank as a custom set. Because of this flexibility, VLP120's lack of multitimbral capabilities is not a major issue.
Besides pitch-shifting and time-compression amenities, VLP120 includes basic subtractive synthesizer features. The plug-in offers attack, release, and volume sliders. Filter settings include filter type, cutoff frequency, and resonance. Registered users can download version 1.1 of the plug-in, which adds several quality levels of pitch and time compression. The upgrade also adds more filters to the list, including highpass, bandpass, and notch varieties, as well as 36-, 48-, 60-, and 70 dB slopes. The filters offer a great deal of sonic variety, but I experienced significant zipper noise while sweeping the filter cutoff.
Knocked for a Loop
VLP120's pitch- and time-correction capabilities were effective, although attack transients smeared somewhat at drastic tempo reductions. The content is well played and nicely recorded, although some loops (particularly some of the guitar and bass lines) have passed from vintage classification to cliché status. I love many of the saxophone phrases (particularly the alto and soprano), but the predominance of rubato passages obviates the need for looping.
The excellent PDF documentation notes that the recording of the different instruments occurred individually rather than as a band effort. The result is the absence of congruent thematic development between instruments. That lack of thematic unity is fine, especially if you can appreciate the grab-bag nature of the collection — just don't look to this set for carefully developed construction kits.