EastWest have kept their finger on the pulse of current trends in music production, resulting in some of the most creative and inspiring sample collections of the last 20 years. One of the latest examples is The Dark Side, which utilizes the company’s dedicated “Play” sound engine. It specializes in the kind of mangled, distorted, and abused textures found on many records from producer David Fridmann, known for his work with MGMT, OK Go, and the Flaming Lips, to name a few.
Relying largely on outboard audio processing, team Dark Side applied multiple stages of filth-ification to arrive at these instruments and effects. While wild sound design is exciting, the question with stylized libraries such as this has always been, “Is it musically useful or just noise?” As I discovered, The Dark Side is indeed a deep well of sonic inspiration.
Weighing in at just over 40GB, The Dark Side is organized into seven categories: Drums, Basses, Guitars, Keys and Strings, Ethnic and Choirs, Instruments with FX, and Misc/Percussion. In each category you’ll find one to two dozen instruments—a good number of which are variations of a single recorded instrument. For example, the “Chameleon” drum kit has ten variations, so you could be forgiven for thinking that these are just the same basic preset with different built-in effects, but there’s more going on here.
Each variation represents a different sonic experiment—for example, a trashy room mic run through a fuzz box into a filter, then routed back out to a guitar amp and re-recorded with direct and ambient mics. It’s this kind of mad-scientist approach that infused the raw sample content with the sound Fridmann is famous for. This makes it easy to achieve production-ready sounds that smack of attitude and ugly, without having to spend the hours of experimentation it often takes to get musically useful results.
The Play engine provides a fairly basic but solid set of synth and effect parameters: a resonant filter, envelope, delay, quite a few good reverbs, and a stereo doubler, but no LFOs. Separate from this, and unique to East- West, is the Artificial Double Tracking (ADT) effect we first encountered— and loved—in Fab Four (reviewed Feb. ’08).
As for the programming, a handful of key-switched presets are provided, which access an instrument’s variations when you hit specific keys on your MIDI controller. This makes it easy to audition each variation quickly. The modulation wheel is used throughout, primarily to control filter cutoff; in some cases, it morphs between different textures or tones— crispy to fat, for example.
One of The Dark Side’s fortés is its collection of drum kits, all of which are eminently playable and loaded with character. The aforementioned “Chameleon” kit features an open, ringing kick and low-tuned snare sampled with added tom resonance. Different mics and distortion devices were employed, resulting in presets that range from dark, brooding, and bombastic to fried, flappy, and positively alt-pop. There’s even a preset that uses velocity-switching to morph between two extremes. By contrast, “Bone Crunch” serves up a punchy kick, higher-pitched snare, and a set of ringing toms—all heated up just to the point where the sound starts to break up and poke out of the speakers.
The “Verb Kit” offers several hits that combine the kick with different cymbal crashes. These hits sound far more believable compared to effect you often get when combining separate kick and crash samples in a MIDI drum part.
Out of 12 different basses, three offer multiple playing techniques: sustain, slide up/down, legato, and so on. Remember, these basses aren’t about sounding “real.” Instead, filthy gems such as “Destroyer” feature toasted harmonics and an almost FM-like quality that works well for industrial tracks. Similarly sinister, “Nuclear Bass” has an initial bite that helps it cut through a mix.
Guitar standouts include “Ghost,” which has been brutalized beyond recognition—think recent Nine Inch Nails. “Insanity” is a fidgety, fuzzedout tone that works well to build tension during a transition, whereas “Organic” blends nicely in a track to give the illusion of distorted guitars without being obvious.
Keyboards go from quirky (“Bent Funeral Organ” and “Broken Jaw Harp”) to downright rude (“Chaos” and “Brain Damage”). Similarly, choirs and string sections are anything but pristine. I suspect these instruments originated in EastWest’s orchestral and voice libraries, but whatever torture they were put through here, they sound like a possessed Mellotron. That’s a good thing.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent “Misc and Perc” folder. To creep yourself out, take a spin through these wonderfully weird beds and aural events. If you’re composing cues for a sci-fi/horror/psycho thriller, you’ll find plenty of fodder here.
The Dark Side represents a high level of creativity and musicianship. To inject a rough, rude vibe into a track, TDS is a good first call. Much of its character is “baked in” to the samples themselves, which is something to be aware of if you prefer a deeper synth-tweaking approach to rolling your own ear-bending sounds. But for instant creepy, angry, or nasty attitude, it’s the most engaging “concept” library we’ve heard in quite some time, and I found it inspiring. If you’re a busy musician or composer, you want the sound, and you want it now, do not underestimate the power of The Dark Side.
PROS Creative, musical sound design. Fantastic drum kits, textures, and effects. Produced with a modern alt/indie rock aesthetic that’s applicable beyond the genre.
CONS Fairly basic tweaking of sounds after the fact.
CONCEPT Play-based sample library of distorted, heavily treated instruments and effects by producers Doug Rogers and David Fridmann.
FORMATS Mac or PC. AU, VST, RTAS, and standalone.
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTSMac: OS 10.5 or later, Intel Core 2 duo processor 2.1GHz or faster. PC: Windows XP SP2, Vista, or 7, Intel Core 2 Duo, or AMD dual-core 2.1GHz or faster. Both: 2GB or more RAM, 7,200 rpm or faster hard drive, 40GB free disk space, iLok dongle.
PRICE List: $395
Approx. street: $355