Wizoo Darbuka ($299) distinguishes itself from other loop-playing plug-ins through its unusual user interface, its high-quality grooves, and its novel
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Wizoo Darbuka provides authentic Middle Eastern percussion performances and plenty of tools for changing the feel in real time.

Wizoo Darbuka ($299) distinguishes itself from other loop-playing plug-ins through its unusual user interface, its high-quality grooves, and its novel real-time tools that avert the characteristic repetitiveness of loops. The plug-in specializes in regional Middle Eastern and Arabic percussion played by master percussionists. Darbuka supports VST (Mac and PC), and Audio Units (AU) and RTAS on the Mac. I ran Darbuka in MOTU Digital Performer 4.52, Ableton Live 4.1, and Steinberg Cubase SX3.

A durable slipcase holds the installer DVD and a hard-copy manual. The thorough, well-written manual even contains background information on the instruments and styles. Installation on my dual G4 1.42 GHz Power Mac was easy, but Digital Performer crashed repeatedly during the validation process. Downloading an AU updater eliminated the problem. Thankfully, Darbuka doesn't require dongles; instead, after registration, Wizoo emails a certificate that authorizes the program when it is placed inside the plug-in's Data folder.

Your Groove or Mine?

Darbuka's attractive design offers considerable depth of control. The basic operation of the plug-in is simple: choose a style from the Styles Selector window located on the left side of the display, and trigger any of the multiple patterns comprising the style. Grooves automatically lock to the host tempo.

Patterns contain layers of individual instrument performances called tracks; in other words, any given pattern is a multitrack performance. A color-coded virtual keyboard flashes when loops are triggered by incoming MIDI. The keyboard can also be used to trigger loops with the mouse. The colors indicate the type of pattern being triggered, and there are empty slots that can be assigned any pattern. You can remap your choice of MIDI notes to the keys (handy for drum-controller maps) and reassign the color coding.

The Latch button on the right side of the keyboard lets patterns loop until you trigger another groove or hit one of the stop keys. Above the virtual keyboard, instrument icons display horizontal level meters to indicate a track's activity. You can separately solo or mute the low-, middle-, and high frequency range of any track.

It's About Time

Darbuka does not confine itself to 4/4 meters; my favorite odd-meter grooves include the 10/8 Churchuna, the 6/8 Dishka, the 7/8 Laz Havasi (see Web Clip 1), and the 9/8 Roman Havasi. The authentic, beautifully recorded performances offer plenty of room for customizing. You can halve or double the speed of any groove relative to the host's tempo with no time-stretching artifacts.

Instead of shifting notes to a selected value, the Quantize feature removes events that clearly fall outside of a given value. That is an extremely useful feature — it can simplify grooves without dehumanizing the feel.

The timing slider moves events closer or farther away from precision in a continuous manner. The swing slider adjusts timing relative to the amount of swing rather than resolving events to the same value; that is a much more musically intelligent approach (see Web Clip 2).

Theme and Variation

The Complexity and Variance sliders are noteworthy expressive tools. Complexity lets you modulate the density of the performance; lower values are less busy, with fewer percussive layers. Increasing Complexity adds more instruments and more ghosted and grace notes.

The Variance slider is a terrific antidote to repetition: increasing Variance causes the loop to play a variety of alternate hits. Finally, every parameter in the Main window can be assigned a MIDI continuous controller using either a context menu or a MIDI Learn option.

In the Mix

The Mix page presents the instruments on a 2-D sound field with the perceived vantage point of the listener at the center. I did not have the opportunity to test it in a surround-sound environment, but the parameters worked well in stereo in Cubase SX3.

Moving an instrument vertically simulates changes in its distance from the virtual soundstage by changing the balance between the direct sound of the instrument and the ambience supplied by the built-in reverb. Moving an instrument horizontally alters its pan position. Those features are not present in the AU version, but Wizoo promises an update when AU host programs standardize support for multiple outputs.

Darbuka is hardly an impulse buy, especially considering its relatively narrow focus, but that focus is also the secret of its success. There aren't any other groove collections focused on Middle Eastern percussion that combine Darbuka's level of authenticity and real-time adaptability. I highly recommend Darbuka to those seeking authentic Middle Eastern and Arabic loops, and to anyone seeking to flavor their music with exciting and unusual percussion tracks.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Wizoo Sound Design GmbH