Wednesday 26 October 2011

DX Digital watching

We've just finished putting together a set of classic digital synth samples for a forthcoming issue of Future Music magazine concentrating on a couple of synths from the (in)famous Yamaha DX range - a Dx7 (Mk2D) and it's smaller cousin a DX100.
Oddly enough this was the first time we'd really used either of these synths and although we knew broadly what to expect sound and programming -wise, we still found them quite an unusual experience to geet our heads around compared to the feature-rich soft-synths or knob-heavy analogues we usually use.
Out of the two we actually preferred the smaller Dx100, which although under-powered and armed with rather horrible mini keys has a charm of it's own and still retains that very distinctive DX/FM feel and sound.

Of course you can find some samples taken from both synths at our soundcloud page here and a more extensive set will be available on the DVD of Future Music issue 247.

Tuesday 27 September 2011 low etc etc


Just finished a large set of bass samples for a forthcoming Computer Music and whilst searching out some more unusual sources for lowend rumble came accross this 1U module hiding in a friends loft.It's a Professional Midi Bass module by 360 Systems (I know, I know we'd normally avoid anything with 'proffessional' written on the front as well as they are inevitably not but in this case we'll make an exception). From what little I know (and don't take my word on it) this module was (is?) far more popular in the US than over here and rather than generating any sounds, it plays back samples stored on EPROM chips. This method is exactly the same as the Oberhiem DMX/DX drum machines.

Sounds wise this unit comes with some pretty useful samples from some 'real' bass guitars as well as some synths (moogs ect) and has that punchy, 80's sound quality to it. As ever we've sampled some off (including running the unit through some bass effects pedals) for you to play with and posted them up on our soundclud page here (we've also included the widget player below (hopefully). You can check out the more from this beastie on the cover DVD of Computer Music issue 171

360 Systems Midi Bass Samples by groovecriminals

Friday 9 September 2011

Classic Hip Hop Geist Expander - Drums please..

Perhaps the most vital element to try and get right when dealing with hip hop in any of it's varied forms are the drums; both in sounds and programming.

A quick glance over this blog will show that we're lucky enough to be sat on quite a horde of hardware drum machines, both vintage and modern, including a few hip hop classics including the Oberheim DX and DMX. Both of these machines are punchy beasts and capture those early Run-DMC style beats perfectly.

As well as the drum machines we also used lots of live drum breaks recorded especially for this project. We're great believers in simple being best so often we used a basic 3 or 4 mic set up (kick, snare, and overheads) and then either chopped the loops up and fed them into the 12 bit samplers or just took single drum hits from different breaks just as if we were digging from records. We also dug through years of DAT tapes of our own recordings, demos, and sample sessions treating them like a sample source (which of course they are). It's a handy exercise and it's amazing what audio gems turns up in long forgotten projects or sketchy ideas.

Of course we also used the hardware sampling sequencers (MPC2000
/EMU SP1200) for putting beats together in a traditional hip hop manner but we also used a drummer playing electronic kit triggering gritty samples and the more modern DAW drum grid as well as Geist itself.
One sequencing/sampling trick that many overlook when aiming for that elusive 'MPC swing' is that lots of movement in oldschool beats was as much down to badly cut samples as it was to any swing settings. The older sampling machines didn't have the visual tools to cut the start points of drum samples quickly and easily and we suspect most users couldn't be bothered. This meant that often drum samples had milliseconds of noise, crackle or silence left on their beginning or end which affected how fast they sounded when triggered in a sequence which can lead to their own form of 'swing'. It's one of those little tricks we've been using for years ;)

Classic Hip Hop Geist Expander - The Samplers

Ok enough waxing lyrical, you want the gear porn right? ;)

Well the first thing we wanted to make sure we did when taking on the classic hip hop expander commission was to make it as authentic as we could and at a basic level this started with the samplers.

We knew we wanted to use old skool hardware samplers wherever possible before feeding everything into the computers to add some of that highly prized (well by us anyway) dirt and grit. On top of the want list were two classic contenders; The Emu SP1200 and the Akai MPC60. Both machines were the foundations of early hiphop productions offering both gritty 12bit sampling and sequencing features. In the end we chose to go with the Emu as we already were using a couple of Akais in the sonic armoury (more on those later). At this point we'd like to report on having a pristine SP1200 nestling in GCHQ but in reality these units are both rare and expensive so we had to make do with hiring one for a few fun filled days.

The Emu SP1200 was released in 1987 as a successor to the SP12 (which had shorter sampling time and built-in drum sounds), sample time is small (4 'zones' of 2.5 secs) but the 12 bit resolution gives the machine a fantastically gritty sound. Because of the limited sample time, the standard technique was to record breaks and samples from vinyl at 45 rpm with the pitch at +8 and then pitching them back down within the SP1200. This adds yet another layer of dirty magic to things (whilst saving vital sample time). We used this technique by either pressing our samples to a dubplate or speeding them up in Soundforge before feeding them into the SP1200.

Compared to modern computer based sequencers and samplers the SP1200 is both rude and crude but that's what gives it its charm. The strict limitations force you to be creative in the samples you use and whilst we can't admit to coming anywhere close to mastering the beast in the limited time we had it, we did enjoy every minute of it.

To accompany the Sp1200 we also broke out a couple of Akais from our own sonic armoury; an MPC 2000 and perhaps more interestingly an Akai s950. The S950 was released in 1988 and was the upgrade to the Akai S900, which was Akais' (and the worlds) first truly affordable rackmounted digital sampler. The s950 is still 12bit, with a sampling rate of 7.5 - 48 kHz and underpinned dance music in all its forms for years. Once again not exactly that intuitive compared to what we use nowadays, the S950 is great for adding that 12bit sampling authenticity and its pitching and timestretching tools were perfect for that classic hip hop/crate digging vibe.

Back to the old skool


Yes we know, another couple of months radio silence.

We have an excuse. No really.

Amongst the usual monthly sample goodness we cook up for our friends at Future Music and Computer Music magazines (look out for FM issue 245's set of 'Juke' samples, we had some fun with those), we also have been working on a classic hip hop expansion pack for the Geist sampling drum software from our mates at FXpansion.

This is the project we hinted at in this very blog back in June and rather chuffed we were to be asked to put it together. With most of us being of a certain 'vintage' to be around when the first few hip hop releases hit these shores from over the pond, it's hard now to express the excitement that this fledgling musical genre brought with it. From scouring the record shops (remember them?) of East Anglia for the latest 12" imports, standing radio aerial in hand in the only place in the house to pick up the faint beats of the capital rap show (no DAB back then) to being the only B-Boy in the village. The Hip Hop of the 80's and 90's not only changed the face of popular music worldwide but changed our lives as well.

These early years of hip hop not only gave us our first introduction to samples, funk, soul, breakbeats and digging for loops (a love affair that's still on going) but also our first faltering steps into beat making and production. Without its influence we wouldn't have made our first beats, saved for our first hardware sampler, made our first demos, released our first tracks (instrumental and vocal hip hop) and enjoyed our various short and brilliantly unsuccessful recording careers.

Sure, our musical remit has changed somewhat today and we'll not get drawn into a glory days vs modern hip hop slanging match and of course "it's not where you're from it's where you're at" that counts but it's nice to go back and relive it sometimes....The heads might be older but the hearts still got excited and those shell toes never go out of style, well as far as we're concerned anyway ;)

Friday 24 June 2011

Seeing double (trouble)

One of the duties we don't particularly enjoy that's involved with making the monthly samples for Future Music is having our photo taken every other month for inclusion in the samples page of the mag. Of course everyone ducks out on those days leaving MR Hoodee to take it on the chin ;)

Anyway, here's a couple of shots from this months shoot with the talented Mr Ecki behind the lens. No photoshopping just a dark GCHQ (not easy now we have so much natural light), long exposure (ohh err) and shouting at MR H to change position.

We think they came out rather well.

Monday 20 June 2011

Kicking up my boots...

Just before we call it a day, we're just about to start on a month long commission for..urm, well we can't actually say for whom or what we're doing but it involves us going back to our musical roots....

More info as and when we can let it slip but we're quite chuffed, a touch challenged and a bit nervous about the whole thing to be honest . All of which is good ;)

Til next time.



Quick update on the what gwan/self promotion front. Please don't adjust your set...
Just finished a set of analogue bass samples for DMS taken from the synth collection here at GCHQ.

The list of beauties we grappled with in the name of low end bliss appears, er, below.

Moog Little Phatty (Tribute)
Roland SH101
Roland Juno-60
Yamaha CS01
Yamaha CS05
Jomox MBase 01
Waldorf pulse
Novation bass station
FAT freebass FB383
Dave Smith Mopho

Just to add some extra warmth we also ran a good chunk of them to tape (reel to reel 4 track).

We've posted a small taster selection for you to download and play with on our soundcloud page here. The full pack contains 80 bass WAV samples (16bit/44.1 sampled at C) plus Kontakt patches and Soundfont data. All for the price of a couple of pints - bargin if we do say so ourselves ;) You can take a look at the pack in more detail here.

Analogue Bass taster by groovecriminals

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Links and a touch of self promotion

So trying to make up for a 4 month dry spell with some quick fire posts (sad we know) we thought we'd post some links to some of the rather fine projects we've been rather chuffed to be a part of over the last few months.

First up we were please to get our filthy wobble on (ohh err) for our friends at Sample Magic to contribute some samples for their rather splendid Dubstep sample library. We've worked with Sample magic several times in the past on their sample releases and we really pulled the dirty synths out of the bag for this one as well as sorting out some beats and FX. You can check it out here.

Next up a slightly older project but I don't think we actually blogged about it so bare with us. We were as pleased as punch when we were asked by our good mates at FXpansion to put together some content for their Geist drum machine/virtual MPC/software rhythm marvel. As well as lots of drum hits we also sorted some loops and other bits and bobs and were incredibly chuffed to be included. Geist got across the board good reviews (as far as we saw and we love it so there ;) and is a very powerful beat making tool. Check it in more detail here.

Lastly we thought we'd drop a small plug in for ourselves as we do get asked every now and then if we have any samples available for purchase. We've a few packs of drum hits perfect for making those heavy beats with over at as well as a pack of analogue FX, great for adding some vintage spice. Each pack is under a fiver for these recession hit times. You can check 'em here.

That is all

we're still here! Update ahoy!

4 months! Bloody hell that's bad even for our rather lame selves.

OK, no excuses (although we have been very busy ;) but rather time for a speedy catch up on all things Groove Criminal.

GCHQ v2 is completely up and running now and after a few months we've settled in nicely and it's really being to feel like home. To be honest it's a home away from (well within MR Hoodee's) home as it is because we spend so much time there, but it's good to have some where permanent with such a great vibe about it. Needless to say we could do with a bit more room as we seem to have filled what seemed like a huge space with loads of audio tat but we'd have done that with a warehouse!

Work-wise we've been pretty busy as well with some interesting projects (see next post - hopefully ;p) but we also had a bit of a crash and burn moment thanks to pulling a few too many hours over a prolonged few months so had to have a couple of weeks away from the studio. Not complaining though, as it's not as if we have to dig coal for living or anything (no heavy lifting, just heavy beats, is one of our mission statements ;) just pushed a little too hard for a bit too long, as you do.

On the gear-porn side we finally got introduced to the shadowy, man of mystery (he's not like that at all really :) that fixes/cares for the vintage gear of a mate of ours. This basically allowed us to finally get some stuff fixed including getting the 4 or so keys replaced on our Yamaha CS5 mono synth.

One of the first true analogue synths we got hold of, she had a gappy smile when we got her, but it's nice to see her finally in one piece. With the LP/BP/HP switch fixed as well! No more random filter choice for us then.

Although not exactly a must have on most peoples wish lists, we've a soft spot for the CS5, it's got a character of its own and the bonus of an audio input to run stuff through the filters and we don't use it anywhere near as much as we should.

There's some free samples of the little love to download and use on our Soundcloud page

Yamaha CS5 by groovecriminals

Saturday 5 February 2011

Introducing GCHQ v2.0

Happy new year! Okay a little bit...okay...a lot late but we still hope 2011 is finding you fit and well. Big things gwan here over Xmas as finally the beat lair, GCHQ v2.0 was finished and we moved the quite frankly frightening amount of audio tat we had stored in and got comfy in what we hope will now be our permanent home.

As you can see in he end we still had to pack it in a little bit but it's great to have so much natural light to work in for the first time and more space (although it might not look like it ;). It was a long time coming but well worth it.

Of course the space issue wasn't helped by the new arrival of the Hammond '69 L-101 organ, noisy and chocked full of valves it's rather fab.

We also grabbed a Kodak Zi8 HD small video recorder to try and spur us into doing some more video blogs, yeah we know don't hold your breath ;) It's a nifty little camera tho, only downside is its native mov format that's not the easiest thing to edit on a PC, yes we don't all use macs ;P

Anyway that's all for now hopefully post again very soon.