Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Bass..how 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 ;)