By JOHN KROGH
Heavyocity has built a reputation among musicians, composers, and producers for creating some of the most inspiring and ear-bending sample libraries on the market. Their latest offering, Damage, is a more tightly focused collection than previous efforts, but is every bit as creative, thrilling, and eminently useful for a wide range of projects. Though the marketing copy for Damage may lead you to believe it’s solely designed for composers who write dramatic and driving underscore (it is true that many of Damage’s loops and kits have a cinematic slant) the collection actually covers more musical territory than this and could easily be worked into pop, rock, and hip-hop contexts.
Developed in conjunction with Native Instruments and formatted for Kontakt 5 and Kontakt 5 Player (included), Damage’s content is divided into two types of samples: Rhythmic Suites (i.e., loops) and Percussive Kits. Unlike many other Kontakt-based products, Damage makes extensive use of scripting to provide users with a level of programming capability that “ordinary” libraries lack. The custom user interface is brimming with options for remixing and rearranging loops, improvising with creative effects, and much more. In fact, when I was programming grooves, it felt more like working with a well-appointed standalone software instrument than a load-and-go library.
Three buttons along the top of the interface give you access to various parameter pages, which differ slightly depending on whether a loop or kit is loaded. All instruments have Main and EQ/Filter pages, the latter of which features resonant highpass and lowpass filters in series, a three-band parametric global EQ, and the signature Punish knob, which dials in a combination of compression and distortion. It’s great for adding extra punch and spit. Added bonus: With kits, filter settings can be applied globally or individually to each sound, which is extremely helpful for fine-tuning the mix of a programmed groove.
The Main page features a Master Effect section from which you can apply distortion, reverb, delay (tempo-syncable, of course), compression, and a lo-fi effect that reduces the sample rate and bit depth. An ADSR amp envelope is also on hand, and in the case of the multisampled kits it can be used to shape the characteristics of each discrete microphone perspective (close, room, hall—more on this later). It’s all wonderful stuff that helps to coax the most out of the existing material.
Many of the presets also have what Heavyocity calls Trigger Effects, which is a catchy term referring to a set of effects that can be applied at random by holding down specific keys at the extreme upper register of the keyboard. For example, triggering G6 will apply a “glitch” insert effect. Using Trigger Effects is not unlike playing a Korg Kaoss pad.
At this point I’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s a lot more to delve into with both the loops and kits, so I’ll offer this advice: Read the manual. Doing so will pay off for getting the most out of Damage.
Within the Rhythmic Suites folder are two subfolders of Loop Menus and Single Loops. In Damage-speak, Loop Menus are instrument presets with individual loops mapped one-per-key across nearly the entire keyboard. There are 16 Loop Menus in total that are divided into “Full” menu presets and three “Elements” presets for each of four genres or categories labeled Epic Organic Drums, Epic Tech, Industrial, and Mangled Pop. These descriptive names are quite apt and should give you a good idea of what you’re in for with each category.
Loops in the Element presets are arranged across the keyboard in a musically useful and thoughtful way. You’ll find boomier, darker, and harder loops toward the lower end of the keyboard, snares and mid range material in the middle, and metallic hi-hat like patterns toward the upper register. This mapping scheme makes it easy to create an improvised rhythm bed with some degree of control, as you can watch a scene, reach for the type of sound you want, and get reasonably close to what you’re after.
For my workflow, the Full and Element presets offer a great way to audition each of the four style categories quickly. Ultimately, however, I didn’t find these presets entirely useful for my purposes because I tend to program my own layers and patterns. That said, if you’re pressed for time on an action cue or are looking for instant groove gratification, the Menus are ideal. They have a finished and fully produced quality that would likely take hours to achieve otherwise using individual loops or kits.
If you’re more of a control freak like me, then the Single Loop folder is where to start. Here you’ll find more than 900 individual loops that are combined within the Menus presets. (Tip: Each single loop includes a MIDI note reference in the preset name, so if you hear a specific pattern you like from the Menus, make a note of the, um, note, and then find it among the single loops.) Single Loop presets have the complete loop mapped to C1 with separate slices mapped REX-style starting on D1, so you can create variations or entirely new loops by triggering different notes. There’s also a MIDI-to-Host function that lets you drag-and-drop loops as MIDI performances into your sequencer a la Spectrasonics Stylus RMX. Nice.
Similar to the Loop Menu organization scheme, Percussive Kits are organized into five categories/folders: Epic Organic Drums, Ethnic Drums, Metals, Hybrid FX Hits, and Damage Kits. Multisampled kits are available within the first three categories, and to my ears these are some of the most dynamic and inspiring drum samples I’ve laid my hands on. (Actually, calling some of the sounds “drums” is doing them a disservice.) From massive impacts and booming bass drums to delicate hand percussion and unspecified “metals,” the detail and musicality of these kits is palpable.
Close, Room, and Hall mic perspectives were recorded for the multisampled kits, allowing you to tailor the mix for more ambient or up-front results. And thanks to the custom interface, it’s possible to dial in the amount of each mic perspective directly from a single preset (much easier than loading and mixing separate instruments). You can even position individual hits/drums within the stereo field via the Stage page, where you can simply click on the desired location within a virtual room. Gone are the days of tediously editing individual pan settings from the keymap editor!
The remaining two kit categories, Hybrid FX Hits and Damage Kits, round out the collection with presets that run the gamut from gut-punching kicks, crushing metals, and trailer-esque stingers to slithering cymbal scrapes and highly- manipulated hits that would please the likes of Trent Reznor. Good stuff for your next action/horror project.
Damage’s instant gratification factor is ridiculously high, especially with the loops. In fact, at times I felt guilty about being able to whip up such fully produced beats and rhythm beds with nothing more than a few fingers held down. But fortunately for tweakheads like me, there’s plenty of programmability for customizing the sounds. Add to this the comprehensively multisampled drums, percussion instruments, and interesting rhythmic effects, and you have a collection that covers just about every imaginable need one might have for out-of-the-ordinary and cinematic rhythm tracks.
PROS Loops of four and more bars make for plenty to work with. Impressive synthesis and sound-shaping controls available from the custom user interface. Stunning sound quality.
CONS It would be nice to have loops further organized into presets based on instrument type, such as “all hi-hat-like grooves.”
Bottom Line: Damage does “dramatic drums and percussion” better than anything we’ve heard. If that’s what you need, it doesn’t get better than this.