If you're an electronic musician, you can choose from an enormous variety of sample collections featuring exquisite-sounding basses that you can play with your MIDI controller. Although multisampled instruments let you control the phrasing and develop ideas that you won't find using prerecorded bass loops, something may be missing. For example, it's often difficult to convey the tonal changes between one note and the next, the nuances of fret and string noise, and a broader sense of dynamics using only 128 Velocity levels. And such aspects of real-time musicianship add appeal to a performance.
Drums on Demand''s Bass on Demand presents roughly 1,800 loops of five-string Fender Jazz bass played by an expert, in-the-pocket bassist
You'll find plenty of bass loops available for purchase, but for many, the problem is one of focus: their stylistic target is often too narrow or too wide. Sometimes the playing is too virtuosic and flamboyant to sit well in a simple track; you probably don't need a showboating bassist to add bottom to your songwriter demo.
Bass on Demand, vol. 1 ($49.95), from the folks who brought you Drums on Demand, strikes a successful balance between neutral, bland accompaniment and overplayed, lick-oriented bass tracks. A single CD-ROM contains roughly 1,800 loops, either in Apple Loops format or as 16- or 24-bit Acidized WAV files recorded at 44.1 kHz. I auditioned the 24-bit WAV version.
Bassist Rob Honey works a rich, warm tone from his 5-string Fender American Deluxe Jazz bass. Capturing the instrument through a Demeter VTMP-2B tube preamp and a Summit Audio TLA 100A compressor gives the instrument a well-finished, rounded tone that helps the bass sit in tracks without any need for additional processing. Honey's playing is clean, but not to the point of sterility; you can hear the occasional ghosted note from an adjacent string and sliding noise and subtle rattle from the frets. Unlike some loops I've heard, though, such effects are not unnaturally hyped.
The disc covers familiar pop and rock territory. Each folder gathers loops for a particular tempo and feel. For example, 070 Blueberry contains files recorded at 70 bpm in a style suggested by the Fats Domino tune, “Blueberry Hill.” To ensure good organization, the file names contain tempo and style information as well as key signature and the loop's role in the overall song form (for instance, Db1.Fill1.blueberry.70.wav). To ease the loop-selection process, a separate Groove Finder folder holds 2-bar examples of each style.
Although the company's product description says that the loops are in eight keys over two octaves, I found only four keys, with loops replicated an octave apart. According to Drums on Demand, the 2-octave mirrored patterns provide more flexibility for pitch-shifting loops to other keys. With a few exceptions, when I transposed the files in MOTU Digital Performer 4.6 and Ableton Live 5.0, the files easily survived the 2-semitone transpositions between the loops provided. In some cases, ironically, it sounded as though some of the saturation that gave the instrument such an inviting tone and some of the performance artifacts — such as undamped, sympathetically vibrating notes — became pronounced and distorted during even relatively short-ranged transpositions.
The Song Remains the Same
My one major gripe about the Bass on Demand collection is that the constituent patterns of each style spring mostly from a similar set of rhythmic and melodic motifs. Consequently, I heard little in the way of leading tones that a bassist might play for harmonic motion. Repetition is often the mainstay of rock and pop, but rather than adapt to song structure, the patterns are essentially a couple of variants on the same theme played in different keys. For example, a pattern with a sixth in it doesn't have a dominant-seventh variation in the set. A set of loops that suggest a major or a minor key would require you to make adjustments to the third. In instances like those, pitch-shifting a single note proved to be a thorny process.
The collection furnishes plenty of styles to cannibalize loops from, but then you'll need to search through other folders — a consequence of more eclectic loop collections that this set was supposedly designed to avoid. To be fair, the lack of leading tones is a frequent symptom of loop collections I have heard, bass and otherwise. Despite the typical drawbacks mentioned here, Bass on Demand presents a solid set of exceptionally toneful and in-the-pocket loops at a rock-bottom price.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3.5
Drums on Demand