Big Fish Audio | Sound On Sound Mike Senior | Groove Shadow Elastik Product Review
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Groove Shadow Elastik | Sound On Sound

Reviewer: Mike Senior | Rating: 5 Stars Back to Groove Shadow Elastik product details

This new library from Ueberschall pumps some new life into one of their legacy product concepts: Groove Shadows. The original Groove Shadows CD sample library contained a selection of abstract rhythmic textures designed to be used as layers to support your main drum programming, rather than standing on their own. Two groups of Groove Shadows were targeted at more foreground and background use, and a selection of different common tempos was provided to suit different projects. I found the background layers, in particular, really useful in my own music, but it was a little tedious having to match up a Groove Shadow to a different tempo; something like Recycle was a necessity. In line with many manufacturers, Ueberschall have recently been packaging their sample-based products into self-contained virtual instruments, partly in response to the widespread use of computer-based sequencing for music-making, but primarily, I imagine, to combat piracy - the proprietor library format is a single, large, difficult-to-download file with built-in challenge-and-response copy protection. However, where many developers have gone for an OEM front-end such as Kontakt Player, Ueberschall have come up with their own Elastik Player, which is Mac and PC compatible and comes in AU, RTAS, VST and stand-alone flavours.

We've not reviewed this player in detail in SOS before, so here's the deal. The little buttons along the bottom of the interface window correspond to six octaves of MIDI notes (C1 to B6), into which samples can be loaded. Each key can have separate settings for volume and pan; output pair (of which the instrument has eight); playback tempo and pitch; start and end point (which are also the loop points); loop and reverse playback modes; envelope attack and release; and filtering Pitch and tempo changes are carried out via the usual granular-style code, with Tonal, Drum, Solo1, and Solo2 processing varieties to suit different audio material. While by no means class-leading, this processing is still pretty usable for small pitch and tempo changes, especially when you're working with abstract electronic material, as in Groove Shadow Elastik. The tempo of any sample can be snapped to your sequencer's current setting, but the instrument doesn't actually synchronise with sequencer playback, so won't follow tempo changes. The filtering is very flexible, offering high-pass, low-pass, band-pass and notchresponses with variable cutoff and resonance, as well as slopes of up to a ferocious 72dB per octave. Sample start and end points are manipulated via the circular Loop Eye, which displays the complete waveform in a circle for easier real-time loop manipulation, and there's a Snap field that lets you quantise the point positions. Five additional 'Grain' Snap options automatically select a very small slice of the audio to produce obviously granular textures as you move the selection around the Loop Eye's circumference. An automatic slicing routine is also available, which chops up a loop according to the Snap setting and distributes the fragments to a region of adjacent MIDI notes, whereupon you can use an appropriate chromatic scale of notes to recreate the original playback and then adjust the sequence to rearrange the loop to taste.
You can control up to eight parameters in real-time (volume and pan; envelope attack and release; reverse playback on/off; filter cutoff and resonance; and the sample's loop position), and a MIDI Learn function makes it very easy to set up controller assignments. Every parameter of the instrument can be saved as a preset, and it is also possible to bounce down any selection of samples or slices as separate WAV files.

To be honest, I actually found Elastik Player a bit tedious to use. There's some fun to be had dragging the loop Eye's loop region around in real time, and the per-sample envelope and filter parameters let you set up some interesting effects with sliced samples, but it quickly became annoying that there was no way to see an overview of these parameters across all the samples. For most normal music-making tasks I couldn't help feeling that I preferred working with simple REX files - they track your song's tempo changes and you get much more processing and editing power within most sequencers these days than within Elastik's interface. You can access extra per-sample processing using Elasitks individual outputs, but I find it much easier to just drag audio slices between tracks, where you can quickly see what audio is going to what processing.

The one saving grace is that you can export samples or slices from Elastik Player as WAVS, and this quickly became my preferred way of working. In this context, Elastik Player can take on the role of a simple but flexible auditioning tool, where its pitch- and beat-matching tools make the task of finding the perfect Groove Shadow extremely quick and easy.

But enough about the format; what about this sample library? You get more than 430 different presets in Groove Shadow Elastik, each providing a mixed loop, as well as (typically) four isolated layers - electively a construction kit - and a handful of the most characteristic one-shot samples for adding quick programming touches. This is an enormous amount of material, going far beyond the scope of the original Groove Shadows CD, and the carefully reconstructed elements work in tandem with Elastik Player's beat-slicing routine to offer phenomenal flexibility when it comes to fitting the samples around pre-existing arrangements - which is the raison d'etre here, after all. The only thing I pined for were some quick 'loop menu' presets, placing only the mixed loops on adjacent keys for auditioning purposes.

Stylistically, the sounds themselves seem more general-purpose than in the original dance-oriented library, but without losing the lovely 'found-sound' ambience and programming restraint that really make the concept work. To cut a long story short, I'm glad to report the Groove Shadow Elastik is bigger, better, and lots more usable than its Audio CD forebear, and I don't hesitate to give it five stars - I'll certainly be using it to death!

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