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Chill: Downtempo Loops and Beats | Virtual Instruments Magazine

Reviewer: Chris Meyer Back to Chill: Downtempo Loops and Beats product details

Lounge music has been a hot trend for several years now, so it's no surprise that we're seeing more and more loop libraries and construction kits designed to appeal to the lower-tempo, more laid-back composers out there. As Big Fish Audio publishes all three featured here, they have similarities in layout.

Nonetheless, these three takes on the jazzier side of life showcase the difference in approach individual composers or producers can bring-as well as the risk of trying to judge a book by the cover, as the initial mental image created by their names doesnt always match what's inside.

First, the similarities: all three are multi-instrument construction kits that contain WAV, "Apple Loop" AIFF, and chopped-up REX versions of the loops on single cross-platform DVD-ROMs. The songs are divided into folders that have the tempo and key in their names; inside the folders you will usually find one sample that is a full mix of the piece, accompanied by the component loops broken down by instrument. Sometimes they also have additional one-shot samples. The bulk of the loops were performed live, as opposed to programmed.

None have printed catalogs (oh, how I miss those to take notes on while auditioning samples), but do come with PDF files that contain some basic information. You need to be careful when reading claims about how many gigabytes or individual loops you are getting, as each song comes in three versions; I'll be referring to the AIFF versions in my notes below.

Chill Downtempo Loops and Beats

I like modern chill-out lounge music, so it may come as no surprise that I like this library. However, it is not all as laid-back as the name may imply; in addition to ample quantities of warm, smooth grooves, several of the construction kits have a slightly edgier or more muscular feel, including excursions into jazzy, squiggly, or even reggae territories. There are multiple contributors to this library, including producers Matt Haines, Sean Hoffman, Pavel Stepanovsky, Steve Sechi, and Greg Sweeney, perhaps accounting for the variety.

The library weighs in at just under a gig, and contains 34 construction kits ranging from 60 to 110 BPM, with most in the 75-90 zone. 25 of the 34 are in a minor key. Each construction kit folder holds anywhere from seven to 25 individual loops (about a dozen on average), including variations and even both acoustic and programmed drum components.

The full-mix demo for each kit can be anywhere from 12 to over 50 bars long, which gives you a great idea of potential arrangements. Normally, the individual component loops are 1-4 bars long. These are often accompanied by one to nine individual hits (although some 1-hit effects are nicely couched in loops allowing them to build up to and hit downbeats); there are also additional folders of 14 drum, 36 flute, and four "miscellaneous" loops not assigned to any of the construction kits.

The instrumentation is nicely varied. Kits may have electric, synth, or acoustic bass; analog and acoustic brush drum kits may be layered; accompaniment may include guitar, synths, flute, ethnic instruments, or even scratching, lending a modern, urban feel to the otherwise laid-back proceedings.

Generally the sound is nice and fat, well-compressed so that you don't need to worry about the 16-bit format. Occasionally, glitchy synths or even vinyl noise are injected on purpose. I did hear one upright bass that had a rattle reminiscent of aliasing noise, but that was the exception-most of the sounds are excellent. Interestingly, this was the one collection in the group that did not explicitly forbid use in creating a music library.

Acid Jazz City

Ah, what's in a name... Say "acid jazz" to me, and I recall the Scotti Bros Records compilations of the early '90s that featured a blending of acid house (analog synths and drums), early hip-hop (scratching, toasting, and R&B grooves), and traditional jazz.

By contrast, the first few construction kits in this collection reminded me of Miles Davis Bitches Brew-era free jazz, with additions of drum machines and turntablists-loose and noisy. Dive in deeper, and you also hear strains of lounge, funk, and R&B. A long list of musicians provide varied instrumentation, including a pair of live drummers in addition to programmed drums, hand percussion, a turntablist, acoustic bass, both electric and acoustic piano and guitar, organ, trumpet, flute, and lots of tenor sax.

This 24-bit library provides 1.54 gigs of loops broken down into 30 construction kits ranging in temp from 65 to 200 bpm, most being in the 78-95 zone. An individual construction kit folder may contain 18 to 70 individual loops (24-48 being most common). Most contain a 20-odd-second full mix excerpt that is indeed "full" to the point of occasionally being overwhelming; some breakdowns and variety in the demo like the Chill library may help give a user more ideas of the potential here to be unlocked.

The rest of the loops average one to four bars, and contain a nice variety of variations, fills, stings, and pieces of longer linear performances. Some kits also have bonus single-shot hits.

As noted, much of the instrumentation is acoustic and was recorded in 24-bit fidelity, but it's hardly antiseptic-again, loose and noisy (in performance, not technical quality) is more the vibe. I particularly liked the congas (played by Jary Mall) and upright bass (Rick Petrone). This collection would mainly be useful for a composer who wants to explore an old-school jazz flavor in their pieces, I think. Just focus on breaking down the arrangements into their components rather than being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of sound provided here.

Funk Quartet

What's in a name, take two: tell me "funk" and I immediately think of the harder Parliment/Funkadelic flavor, as well as even harder modern variants such as TackHead or Axiom Funk. This collection of "clean and funky construction kits" leans more towards to the traditional or light jazz quartet in tone, with Larry Finn on acoustic drums (often highlighted by a ringing snare), Anthony Vitti on electric and muted synth bass, Tyrone Chase on clean electric and occasionally wah-ed guitars, and Thiago Pinheiro or Jetro Da Silva on upright piano.

Although there are 73 folders of loops, this nearly 1-gig collection actually contains just four songs: Take it Easy (78 bpm, F# maj), Good Times (104 bpm, Eb min), Route 66 (109 bpm, D min), and Boy Wonder (106 bpm, E maj). The demo on Big Fish's web site auditions all four songs, so you can hear exactly what you'll be getting.

Each song encompasses 8 to 27 folders, each which contains a full mix loop, and then the broken-out instruments. Each of these loops is four to eight bars long, meaning you're getting quite a long linear performance with many variations broken into segments. The recording is clean and only very lightly processed; indeed, I'd say this would have been a better candidate for a 24-bit library than Acid Jazz City.

After the broad variety in song and styles provided by the Chill and Acid Jazz libraries, it seems odd to get only four songs with more or less the same four instruments with Funk Quartet. But this is a genre that is underserved, and it’s nice to hear such great variation inside each song; bad loop music is often created by users who are left to rely on one set of 4-bar loops from which to craft a song, and I am a strong fan of libraries that provide liberal variations.

In general, all three of these collections provide nice contrast to the far more common hard rock, rap, and world collections available, particular for those seeking a lower tempo or jazzier feel. Even though Big Fish has a liberal exchange policy, listen to the demos or libraries themselves before you buy to make sure you are getting the genres you were looking for!

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