Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to Create a Good Jungle Loop

The original formatting was pretty F'd up so I've tried to clean it up as best I could. Enjoy.

By: Pedro (Submitted to the AKAI Mailing List)

Hope this ain’t just old news to you all...

I wont go into subjects like equalization, compression, and other
techniques to enhance your sound once you have it recorded. Mainly
cause I know jack sh*t about it (if it sounds good, I'll notice),
but also cause it ain’t really necessary since I'll be starting from
recorded loops, which should have been equalized, compressed and
professionally processed anyway.

Nevertheless, it isn’t hard to apply some fx to your drums: try a
small amount of distortion, delay, flanging, and of course resonant
filtering and see what you can get.

My goal will be to create a good loop. If it wasn’t a cool loop to
start with, you wont get much better results even with state-of-the-art
signal processing.

(1) Finding a loop
The first thing you need is a drum loop. Jungle is a genre which
was built over 70's breakbeats mostly. So, grab that dusty lp of
james brown, your daddy has stacked away in the attic from his wild
years, and find a section where the drummer is going solo. I also
do a lot of sampling from jazz albums, with a swing feel and
occasional odd-tempos, but lets keep it simple for now.

You can also get breaks from the net, or from sample cd's, but I
rather have acoustic drum loops to start with (something in the lines
of "vinylistics" or "on a jazz tip"). You can (aarrghh :P) get a
jungle-cd and use a preprocessed loop, which is definitely more jungle,
but also less fun, and you end up sounding like everyone else
(actually I use parts of well known jungle breaks, like the amen,
studio or rawthing, just as fill-ins, but who doesn’t :))

The basic rhythm you want your loop to have is the 1 bar classic:
Tempo    1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .
Kick     O   O               O
Snare            X               X
Close HH /   /   /   / / / / /   /   /
Note: the close HH track is normally made of a conventional 8th note
hi hat with another soft snare or side-stick sound, like this:
Tempo    1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .
Close HH /   /   /   /   /   /   /   /
Other Sn               #   #
Of course there is no velocity info to liven it up, but I hope you
get the picture. Its such a common rhythm that you must have heard
it sometimes. Not that its needed for the loop to have that structure
(anything will do), but since this is so common, there is no need for
anything more complex.

This loop will help me identify the basic components of a break, which
- the kick
- the snare
- the shaking part, that in here goes from the middle of beat 2 to
the middle of beat 3, and can be just two closed hi hats, or a closed
hi hat and an 808 snare, a close hi hat and a drumstick... whatever
makes that characteristic rushing shaking 16ths sound prior to the

The shaking part (I'll call it "shakes" for lack of a better name
- you know what I mean) is very important, since that’s what is gonna
give the loop that jungle sound, and we will need to preserve the
exact timing of each bit since its that human feel that makes it
interesting (another reason to use acoustic loops).

Using just a one bar long loop like this, you can do any breakbeat
you like, provided the loop has the three components (specially the
shakes, so find a loop where that effect is present).

I assume you all know how to trim the recorded loop to make it
loop perfectly, so I wont go into that. Using recycle you can
easily set the loop later, anyway.

(2) Processing the loop
I usually change the tempo of the loop first, to fit whatever I have
in mind. Lately I've been using slower tempos, around 140bpm, but
that’s up to you. Just keep in mind that later you wont be able to
change the tempo that easily, so its better to time stretch the loop
first. Early breaks pitch shifted loops as well as a result of speeding
up, but nowadays just apply pitch correction if you like the sound of
it (I do, in moderate doses). Any other sound processing you want to do can be done now as well, cause later you'll be busy playing.

(3) Recycling and creating programs
Now we need recycle. Well, not necessarily, since all it does is
automate some tasks you can do by hand, but I at least NEED it
since I cant get mesa to work, and need something to talk to my s2000 So, lets load the loop in recycle and slice it. Since you can slice.
it several ways, I follow this rules:

1. I need at least one "clean" snare and kick sound, so don’t just make the whole thing a single slice.

2. The more you slice the more keys its gonna use on the sampler, but the more control you'll have over the rearrangement of the loop (just don’t wait till you’re MIDIing it to find out you needed one more slice).

3. If you cant use a slice independently (I mean clean), there’s no need to slice it (for instance, the closed hi hat sometimes stays just a few ticks behind a snare, so there’s no point in slicing it, just use the hat and snare as a single slice).

4. The shakes are best kept in 4 consecutive slices, but you'll need at
least to cut it in half (between the 2nd and 3rd hit).

In the above example here's what I might do:
(note that the slices will NOT stay on the exact beat or half beat: we want to preserve the original un-quantized timings!! - just place them immediately before the sound so that it sounds ok by itself).
Tempo    1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .
Kick    |O  |O  |   | | | | |O  |   |
Snare   |   |   |X  | | | | |   |X  |
Close HH|/  |/  |/  |/| |/| |/  |/  |/
Other Sn|   |   |   | |#| |#|   |   |
Slice # 1   2   3   4 5 6 7 8   9   10
This way I have isolated two kick sounds (1 & 2), one may have an open hi hat, while the other not, etc; the snare sound (3 & 4) which also need not be the same or played the same way; and most important of all, I have my shakes all split (slices #4 to #7 and eventually #8).

Now you’re ready to send it to the sampler: put the L and R markers where they belong, set "1 bar" and transmit with MIDI file. This midi file will be your way of preserving the position of the slices, so don’t loose it.

Recycle sets all mute groups to 1, so I have my own template with this off (no mute). Also remember that this is just a break, and a song may use several of them, as well as other sounds. My approach for using several loop drum programs (since I want all of them accessible at the same time) is to have all loop programs with the same number (to also use in single mode) and midi channel, but with different key ranges. If you change the key groups of a sliced loop like this one and transpose it up or down so that they don’t overlap some other program, remember to transpose the recycle midi file too. Later we will need other sounds, like hi hats, cymbals, other snares and special fx, so you may use your fave programs for that as well.

(4) Splitting into break components
Now lets load the midi file in a sequencer, the tempo should be right, so just play it. If everything is ok, you should hear the break in its
original form. If not, check midi channels, muted tracks, whatever.

First thing to do is to split the loop elements to individual tracks, so
just copy your midi info to two empty tracks, and then erase all but kick in one track, all but snare in another, all but shakes in the third. Play it - you should hear it just the same.

(5) The main driving structure
Now, its up to each person creativity, so just play around the keyboard with the kick and snare sounds (forget the rest for now) and try to record on an empty track, a loop with just kick and snare. If I were to suggest kick/snare patters, this would be even longer, so lets just say you have this loop that goes tum-tum-ta-tum-ta-ta-tum-tatata :)

The snare always stays either dead on the beat, or the middle of it,
so try different possibilities. Programs like hammerhead are nice to
give a sense of positioning, so that later you don’t have to experiment
to know how its gonna sound.

You can also use the tracks you made with just kick and snare as a
starting point, but I rather prefer recording it all real time myself

This is going to be the skeleton of the loop, so give it a solid feel (you
can quantize it, since this tougher sounds should not seem sloppy timed). Don’t worry if it still sounds empty. Its important that you have the kick and snare where they belong first of all.

(6) Fine-tuning shakes
In our example you will notice that the last slice of the shakes also
has a kick sound over it. Since I want just the shaky thing, its best
to replace that with a close hi hat sound (use one of the shake's slices). You may also want to experiment concatenating two shakes, since that can be very effective.

If the slices of the shake were A,B,C,D,E, with A to D being a beat, and the E the start of the new beat, you can concatenate it just:

4+4 : A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, E,

thus making it last two beats of pure shakiness (the beats would be on
the A's and the final E - you have to take the E in the middle so that
it doesn’t overlap the 2nd A - am I making any sense?)

You can also leave a pause between the two copies, or just use a

2+4 : A, B, A, B, C, D, E

structure, which lasts a beat and a half, and starts at the middle of a
beat, lasting to the end of the next one.

These shakes, must be sliced so that they end before the beats, but
specially before the snare, or before the end of the measure. Some
examples of positions for it: (The 'x' are the slices of the shakes, but I've also placed some snares '#' so that you see the shake ends on the snare).

1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .
            x x x x x           original one
        #           #           example snare
1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .
                        x x x x 
at the end (leave 5th slice off)
        #               #       
can go with this snare (copter)
1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .
                x x x x x x x x two beats (4+4)
        #           #       #   try this one...
1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .
                    x x x x x x one and a half (2+4)
         x x x x    x x x x x x 
a complete beat, then pause then 2+4
x x x x x   x x x x x   x x x x this is jungle
#   #   #           #           with maybe this snare...
        #                   #   or this one...

Remember, the shakes create a tension before the snare, so they should end just before it (since I'm using a 5-slice shake here, the last slice is OVER the snare sometimes).

You just need to slide the shakes in multiples of a half beat (60 ticks in 120tpq time base). The goal is to preserve the human timing, so now you must slide it in "quantized steps".

By now I would have several tracks in my sequencer so that I can easily mute, experiment, slide, copy, paste, whatever.

Another thing: this shaking part is in all known breakbeats you can get
from the net or sample cd's, so if your loop lacks it, apply the above
method to any breakbeat and just use the shaky part! I have loops with 3 or 4 combined breaks, where I use the kick from one, snares from other, just a shaky part from another, a roll from still another....

(7) Where are the gaps?

So, now you should have something interesting. The rest is up to you. I have several sampled rolls from real players that I use as snare sounds (two fast to slice), and that I use with moderation to fit in some gap I have left. You will also need hi hats, rides and cymbals to add to the loop, since probably it had few.

From now on, its basic experimenting, adding sounds, fx, other snares, I dunno. I guess being very at ease when playing hand percussion, gives me a sense of rhythm that just makes this easy for me, but the overall rule I apply when programming drums is SURPRISE. If your snare is placed in the conventional 2nd and 4th beats, just move it elsewhere, and instead place a not so obvious sound where the snare would be (use a roll snare, for instance).

This is the basic formula, but of course there's so much more to it... even just in the programming field, besides from obvious rhythm notions, you need several loops, you need to be able to combine parts of one with another, layering them, time, patience, experimenting and dedication.

I know the minute I press "send" I'll remember some other thing, but I've already spoken too much. Hope this triggers a more broad discussion, since I want to know everyone's tricks of the trade too.