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Review of Guru
The Ultimate Software Drum Machine?
For those that dabble in the arts of electronica, and who experiment with what used to be called drum sounds, Guru fills several fundamental needs. Lets get down to business. Doing hip hop, trance, drum N Bass, house, world? You need a huge variety of drum sounds, a way to import those you already have, and a way to make new ones. You also need an interface for writing drum patterns, applying groove templates and saving them outside your song. Finally you need effects and a mixing structure that allows you to add different effects to each drum sound in a pattern.
You can do most of this stuff in a full fledged sequencer like Cubase or Logic, but it will not be as efficient as in Guru, a VSTi, AU, RTAS drum instrument from FXPansion.
Guru goes beyond other drum VSTis like Battery and Stylus RMX in many ways. I like the open ended-ness of it. Guru comes with plenty of sampled drum material for you to mess with. You get individual drum hits, loops (which can be sliced into hits), kits, which are collections of samples you can load onto a grid, patterns for all the major genres of music which can be applied to any of the kits. Finally, there is a tasteful selection of grooves which can be dialed into an drum sequence.
Pads, Patterns, FX and Engines
As you see from the pic, Guru has 16 pads. You can put up to 8 samples on any pad, use insert effects or chain up a sends/returns bus for effects. The pads can respond to velocity, of course, and you can adjust the start and end point of the samples, adjust gain, panning and pitch, apply compression, reverb, filters, and more.
Patterns can be sized up to 128 steps. There are 24 patterns available in each engine. Each engine can have a unique kit, that is, a different set of samples. There are 8 engines available in every instance of Guru. You can start a pattern by pressing the assigned key between C3 and B4 on your keyboard. This is more than enough for a common song. If not, add another instance of Guru and drum on.
Already we are beyond the realm of most hardware drum machines. But wait, there's a more.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of Guru is its beat slicing facility. It is so easy to use I can guarantee you I will never use Recycle again for slicing beats. Just drag a loop to the pads from the Loops directory (or navigate the browser to the directory of your Acid or GarageBand loops). Guru automatically looks for kicks, snares, hi hats and percussive sounds and assigns them to the pads. Way cool, and it only takes about 1 second to slice a loop. Try 'em out, If you like it, press OK and they are permanently assigned. Being the kind of Tweak i am I tried to break the slicer by making it analyze a whole 5 minute song, thinking for sure it would choke. But it didn't. It found what it thought were drum hits and moved on, waiting for more. That made me smile.
There are a few different ways to set up the slicing functions. I don't want to get too deep here, but let me tell you about the "audio" and "score" aspects. The Audio part is straightforward. You click on a loop in the browser and the audio is sliced and assigned to the pads. Now, if you also have "score" selected, Guru will attempt to read the drum pattern out of the audio material and will automatically create the MIDI pattern on the grid. While this does not always work perfect, it can get you pretty close. You can also make your slices with one loop and get the score from a different pattern, for those of you ambitious experimentalists.
The Way You Work
Coolness with my old habits. I am the type who has spent years working on logic's drum grids, and I have a bit of speed on them. At first I thought, what if I don't like using Guru's grids? Can I still use it in Logic the "old way", like I do with Battery? Answer: Yes! There is a switch in the preferences which turns off the host clock in guru so it just responds to MIDI notes coming from the sequencer tracks. So you make up your kits in Guru and go to town like you always have. But! There is an added bonus. You can still use guru's clock and patterns when the sequencer is stopped. So, you build your patterns in Guru, test them out, get them sounding cool, then when you are ready just drag the pattern from one of those yellow keys and drop it on a sequencer track. Now you can go back to the sequencer's grid and fine tune anything that needs it, add a flam here or there, move big blocks of data around. You get it, right? This is AWESOME, I say in all caps. Its the best of all worlds. Kind of like Stylus RMX in this regard, but there is a difference. Stylus just sends over the corresponding MIDI for a sliced loop, Guru can do that, but also sends over the data that corresponds to its internal grid. Besides, while Stylus can import Recycle files, its not so easy to do. Guru does its own slicing, automatically maps, makes the whole process easy and simple.
Under the Hood
There's a wealth of tweaking and signal processing options in Guru. There are graphs for pitch, filter cutoff, resonance, a function called "Repeat" which lets you add some tasteful stuttering glitches into your drummage. Plenty of effects. Ok, I know you want a list. Here goes: Delay, Flanger, Chorus, Compressor, Reverb, Distortion, different types of filers with LFOs, phaser, comb filter, sample rate reducer, osc noise generator, bit crusher, ring mod, eqs, gate and something called a "freezer". What the heck is a freezer? According to the documentation, the freezer grabs the last piece of audio coming into an effect slot and allows you to loop it in various ways. Big possibilities for traversing the edge of hip hop drums, weirdo space movies, industrial noise mongering.
I find Guru to be remarkably light on the CPU, given all that is going on. Highly stable on my G5, which gives me confidence to try out some of the esoteric functions.
Who should Get Guru? I can't think of anyone who will not benefit from Guru, from professionals who already have everything to newbies just getting started. It will do any kind of music you want, and you can use any samples that you want if you don't like the slant of those supplied. The Hip hop beatmakers are going to love Guru, as will anyone who makes the kind of music broadly characterized as electronica. The 2 GB sound bundle comes with all the basic drum sounds you need for any genre, plus plenty that go way out there. But even the poppers and rockers will be more than amused. Those into world sounds who might have a loop collection are going to now have thousands of available samples in addition to the great stuff supplied.
In Guru, nothing is proprietary. I like how I can freely import and export material, whether it be your favorite samples, midi patterns, loops, throw it into a Guru machine and tweak it down, throw it back on a sequencer track when its baked. Its as easy to use as a common drum machine for those getting started, but lets the hard core tweaks delve deep into spheres of audio madness. Normally, I'd add a section of stuff that I didn't like or needs to be improved. At the moment, I can't think of any.
Version tested: 188.8.131.52
Note: Guru can be used as a Stand-alone application, ReWire device, and as a VST, DXi, AudioUnit, RTAS plug-in, available for Windows 2000/XP and Mac OS X.