Chris O'Brien

Mar 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY GARY ESKOW


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In the highly competitive sample-library market, no company has a better reputation than Ilio Entertainment. Led by the wife/husband team of Shelly Williams and Mark Hiskey, Ilio's catalog is pristine and highly creative. The close relationships the partners share with many of the artists whose work they represent, and often produce, are big factors in the duo's success. Case in point: Chris O'Brien. A drummer, programmer and composer, O'Brien has handled synth chores for the likes of Michael Jackson, Amy Grant and Lionel Richie. He also keeps busy writing cues for Entertainment Tonight and General Hospital, and banging the kit for numerous sessions. After working as an independent contractor for several years, O'Brien folded his project studio into the Ilio camp in 1999. Ilio recently released a two-CD sample library of O'Brien's drum/percussion loops, Stark Raving Beats.

“My studio was a converted garage in a small, cozy rental house in Burbank [Calif.],” says O'Brien. “I had my acoustic drums and electronics set up in the same space as my Spirit 328 Digital Console, Mackie HR824 speakers, and, at the time, a Digidesign 882 hooked to a d24 and DSP Farm card in a Beige G3 Macintosh with Opcode Studio 4 MIDI/SMPTE interface, all powered by Logic Audio. Ilio offered me a space that previously was a recording and mastering studio. It was a great opportunity to have a much more professional working space, and a way to give my wife some peace and quiet! I brought along my home setup, which now consists of the Spirit 328, Neutrik Balanced ¼-inch patchbays, Mackie monitors, MOTU 2408mkII, G4 800MHZ CPU and Panasonic SV3700 DAT machine. My main synths have always been my trusty Roland JD800 and JV1080 with various expansion boards, and Korg Wavestation SR. My main sampler of choice these days is the Emagic EXS-24, but we also have Kontakt and a GigaStudio PC setup, as well as a vast array of hardware samplers.

“Stark Raving Beats was an idea I was discussing for some time with Mark Hiskey. It was truly a challenge to conceive of a drum-loop CD that hadn't been done before, what with so many dance/R&B titles crowding the market. One thing we noticed, though, was the majority of the titles' tempos were mainly in the low- to midrange and were mainly programmed. So, we came up with the concept of fast and aggressive grooves performed live on acoustic drums and percussion and then remixed for a unique organic/electronic hybrid.”

SRB features Groove Control, a post-ACID method of splitting all of a loop's elements into individual slices and triggering them from a sequencer. Tempo, quantization and pitch can all be changed independently. Although the concept is simple, many owners of Groove Controlled libraries fail to dig into the possibilities. “It's easy to achieve half-time/double-time versions with your sequencer, and even remix the drum kit elements of the groove. For instance, you can use only a pattern's broken-down kick and hi-hat, then bring in the snare, add the separate stereo-delay FX loop in, or try blending the room loop level in hotter in the song's chorus. Where it really becomes wild is when you mix different acoustic snare, hi-hats, room and FX loops from grooves originally performed at different tempos and feels, instantly locking them together with your sequencer's Quantize function. Working with the MIDI files, you can easily alter the performance by adding or deleting notes within the groove, shortening the note's duration for a tighter sound or randomizing the order of the notes for a totally off-the-wall twist. You can also mix and match any other Groove Control-activated libraries from Ilio and Spectrasonics with Stark Raving Beats.”

Hiskey says that O'Brien's many talents were too strong to pass up: “We initially contracted Chris to do some SampleCell programming, knowing that he was an excellent drummer and a programmer. Over time, we began leaning on him more and more.

“Chris did a lot of post-production work on another Groove Control title in our catalog, Ethno Techno, which features percussionist Bashiri Johnson. We spend a lot of time in post-production, making sure that all of the samples sound as clean as possible, experimenting with processing and organizing the discs as logically as we possibly can. Chris has done the heavy loading on a number of our releases.”

Hiskey and O'Brien are currently writing and producing cues for Sonic Desktop's SonicFire Pro and Movie Maestro software libraries.

Gary Eskow is one of Mix's contributing editors.

Click here to check out a demo of Ilio's "Stark Raving Beats" percussion loops collection by Chris O'Brien.

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