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George Pendergast: Essential Percussion Loops for ACID

Manufacturer: Sonic Foundry
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided DigiFreq with a NFR unit of this product for review.
Reviewed by Scott R. Garrigus
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“This disc is packed with inspiring patterns played on custom kits and a wide variety of hand percussion, including congas, bongos, djembe, doumbek, slit drums, timbales, bells, cymbals, shakers, tambourines, blocks, and more. In addition to patterns, an extensive one shot collection is included, so you’ll be able to customize your tracks and achieve results that are unique and yours alone. Perfectly suited for rock, pop, experimental and alternative music, this disc takes a non-traditional approach to providing sounds and rhythms that will integrate easily with a wide variety of styles.” This is the description found on the back of the CD jacket for Sonic Foundry’s new Loops For ACID product called George Pendergast: Essential Percussion.

You’ll find 737 loops on this disc, which is well above the normal average of 500, making Essential Percussion appealing right from the start. As with all Loops For ACID products, these loops can be used with any ACID-compatible loop sequencing software, such as Sonic Foundry’s ACID and Cakewalk’s Sonar. The loops on Essential Percussion cover a wide variety of rhythms and tempos, but the meters are pretty much all 4/4 with the occasional exception. Instead of being organized by style, these loops are organized by instrument. This actually works quite well for a disc of this type because some of the same loops can easily be used in a variety of song styles. If Essential Percussion contained basic drum loops meant to establish the foundation of a song, then having the loops organized by style would be better, but since these loops are meant to accent the existing beat, this organization method works well. On the disc are four main folders, each corresponding to a different type of loop. From there you’ll find subfolders or files named after the type of instrument being played.

The folders on Essential Percussion are named and organized as follows: there are four main folders called Combo, Drums, One Shots, and Percussion. The Combo folder contains 94 loops providing a variety of combined instrument performances. You’ll find combinations of Conga and Hi Hat, Cymbal and Kick, Djembe and Bongos, Tamborine and Woodblock, as well as a number of others. The Drums folder contains 11 subfolders named Big Drum Combos, Bongos, Cajun, Congas, Djembe, Dumbek, Indian Drum, Slit Drum, Snare Patterns, Timbale, and Trap Kit. Each of these subfolders is named after the instrument being played in the loops therein. Each subfolder contains the following number of loops: Big Drum Combos (14 loops), Bongos (41 loops), Cajun (29 loops), Congas (108 loops), Djembe (18 loops), Dumbek (46 loops), Indian Drum (8 loops), Slit Drum (6 loops), Snare Patterns (32 loops), Timbale (7 loops), and Trap Kit (12 loops). The One Shots main folder contains 130 audio files providing a wide variety of one shot performances of the instruments used to create the loops on this disc. You’ll find everything from Bongo, Conga and Cymbal shots to Guiro, Shaker and Wood Block shots. There are more shots provided for some instruments to demonstrate different playing techniques. For example, there are shots for Tambourine that provide various hits, rolls, and even skin hits. The Percussion main folder contains 9 subfolders named Bells (3 loops), Cymbal Patterns (15 loops), Guiro (13 loops), Hi Hat Patterns (45 loops), Ride Cymbal Patterns (45 loops), Shaker and Clave (19 loops), Tambourine (33 loops), With Mallets (8 loops), and Wood Block (11 loops). Again, as with the subfolders under Drums, these folders are named after the instrument being played.

I worked the with loops on Essential Percussion for quite some time to make sure I got the feel for how they might be used in real productions. Initially, I thought that it might have been a more efficient use of disc space if the Hi Hat Patterns, Snare Patterns, and Ride Cymbal Patterns were left out to make room for some of the more exotic instruments. For example, the Bells folder only provides 3 loops and they are all cowbell loops. It would have been nice to have a wider variety of bell instruments such as bell tree, wind chimes, and maybe even some hand bell loops. The reason for this thinking was that for the most part Essential Percussion will be used with other drum loop discs that provide basic drum loop patterns. The loops from Essential Percussion are best used to ‘spice up’ the basic drum patterns. And since basic drum patterns usually include snare and cymbals, why would we need them on Essential Percussion? But as I went along I found that having the snare and cymbal patterns on Essential Percussion was actually quite useful. Why? Because on basic drum loop discs, the snare and cymbal instruments are usually mixed together as single loops, you won’t find them as separate instrument performances. So if you simply want to add a snare or cymbal pattern individually in your music, you can’t, unless you have Essential Percussion, of course.

I found the quality of the loops on Essential Percussion to be excellent. All were recorded with 16-bit, 44.1 KHz settings in stereo with a small amount of room ambience. Again, as with the disc content, I second-guessed myself as to how I might have done things a bit differently. Initially, I felt that it would have been better if the instrument performances were recorded in mono in a completely quiet room. I thought this would give me better control over the sound of each instrument in my mixes. But after working with the loops for a while, I changed my mind. Why? Having the performances recorded in stereo with a bit of ambience made them more realistic. The stereo format and ambience help to highlight the slight nuances of each instrument. Loops recorded as mono in a ‘dead’ environment would make them sound more like the performances were done using MIDI and single audio samples, which is one of the things you’re trying to avoid by using loops.

So after a couple of missteps on my part, I have come to the conclusion that Essential Percussion is definitely worth purchasing. Even with limited disc space (a CD-ROM can only hold 650 MBs of data), Essential Percussion manages to provide a large number of loops (237 more than the usual average of 500) that contain a wide variety of performances on a wide variety of instruments. Not only do you get loops, but a nice collection of one shots that can be used in conjunction with or in addition to the loops provided. For example, you can create your own fills. Essential Percussion lets you add realistic percussion parts to your music and it has easily found a permanent place in my sample loop collection.
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