Ueberschall Liquid Drums offers sampled grooves as stereo mixes, individual hits, and layered performances.
Ueberschall's Liquid Drums ($199.95) is the latest in the company's Liquid Instrument series of sample libraries. Liquid Instruments are prerecorded performances that you can use over a very wide range of pitches and tempos. You can easily adapt the parts to different keys and scales, drag individual pitches up and down, move or delete notes, and change durations.
I previously reviewed Liquid Saxophone (see the review online at www.emusician.com), which I thought was a great-sounding and tremendously flexible sound library. However, the complex interaction of drum kit pieces is more difficult to implement in the Liquid format than is a steadfastly monophonic instrument like the saxophone.
Ueberschall offers the Liquid Instrument player and plug-ins as separate AU (Mac only), RTAS, standalone, and VST installers. To install the library, you drag the sound banks to the drive of your choice, then locate and authorize them through the instrument's Setup menu. Because the Liquid Instrument interface can access multiple sound libraries, a simple challenge-and-response scheme authorizes the sound banks rather than the player.
Stretch to Fit
Liquid Drums performances automatically adapt to the host sequencer's tempo. You drag-and-drop loops or phrases onto a virtual keyboard that corresponds to MIDI Note Numbers, which means you can trigger phrases in any order and with as many layers as your CPU can handle. The Liquid Instrument interface offers common features such as controls for volume and pan position for all installed libraries.
Three categories of performances are folded into two partitions, labeled Drums A and Drums B. Partition A holds layered performances divided into musical styles and further divided into substyles. The substyles are arranged by original tempos. A miniature waveform display illustrates the various kit elements and grooves at work; you drag them to the vertically arranged keyboard at the right of the window. In addition to full stereo mixes of the layered grooves, Partition B contains individual hits. You can add these along with or in place of layered elements.
All the Hits
There is little audible intrusion from other kit pieces in the layered performances with the exception of the toms, where an occasional mechanical artifact such as hi-hat pedal noise sneaks in. There is also only minimal ambience to many of the parts. These characteristics help keep the sounds from exhibiting a sterile, anechoic quality. If sounds are too dry for your taste, you can send an individual element to any of 16 outputs for processing. (You'll find a number of demos with different ambiences at the Ueberschall site.)
What constitutes a useful groove to one may not satisfy someone else; consequently, you can quantize the individual slices, move them manually, change their durations, and alter their pitch. Because the layering technique separates individual kit elements, you can mix and match elements culled from different grooves.
Sonic diversity is not this collection's long suit: snares favor a tight, dry sound, and kicks tended to sound a bit thin for my taste. Nonetheless, with a bit of tuning, EQ, and compression, you can wring more variety from the sounds. If you are satisfied with the performances as a whole, you can use Partition B's stereo loops; these may be useful for quick mock-up arrangements, albeit at the expense of tweaking individual instruments.
I was disappointed that some of the features I enjoyed in other Liquid Instrument products were not available in Liquid Drums. For example, although I could adjust pitch, neither the Formant slider nor the scale-mapping feature was functional. Ueberschall explained that the current technology underlying its software does not support altering drum samples in these ways, but that such a resource might be available in a future version. Mapping grooves to scales and modes might seem irrelevant when using percussion instruments, but subsequent alterations in pitch could produce interesting patterns. I hope this will be an option soon.
When making radical changes to the original tempo, I often noticed that subtle variations in timing were exaggerated. This occasionally resulted in somewhat sloppy performances. I wouldn't blame this on the drummer or the programmers — it's logical that a groove that feels right at one tempo will not necessarily sound musical at another.
My favorite grooves were in the funk category, a number of which are clearly inspired by the Tower of Power school of busy but syncopated playing (see Web Clip 1). Overall, though, I found most grooves lacking in imagination and dynamic subtlety.
Editing features notwithstanding, Liquid Drums is limited by the fact that it's a closed system — you are restricted to the samples provided by Ueberschall. Whether these sounds are your cup of tea is a matter of personal opinion, so give them a listen.
Value (1 through 5): 2