Drum machine programming has possibly reached its easiest with Hammerhead Rhythm Station. Though too limited for professionals, Hammerhead is remarkably accessible and fun for creating percussion loops, not to mention free.
There are six tracks available, each with its own volume slider and distortion/reverse buttons. Above the channels, notes can be entered in the grid, measured in 16ths. Clicking on a channel will bring up the programmed notes for the track, if any. Tempo, loop volume, distortion and feedback are all changeable from the top right, and the top left buttons allow the user to change the number of measures in the loop and what measure is being programmed. It’s ridiculously easy and simple to get started creating drum tracks.
After creating a measure, either the active track or the all six can be copied and pasted into other measures, cutting the time and effort needed to create a full loop.
The included samples are all basic and fairly old, as per the creator’s wishes. Toms, congas and other hand percussion are left out, but can be downloaded from the Hammerhead website as Hammerhead User Banks (HUBs) and loaded from the “Userbank: Sample Bank” button.
More samples, from old effects to more realistic acoustic drums, can be downloaded in HUBs as well, preserving Hammerhead’s simplicity while letting the user find his or her unique preferences.
After creating a satisfactory drum loop, it can either be saved as a Hammerhead project and reworked later, or it can be streamed to the hard drive as a WAV file.
Professionals will lament the six track limit, but for just about everyone else, it should be plenty. And should the user want to create additional tracks, streaming the original and writing another loop is easy enough; both can be combined in sequencer software like Audacity.
But when it comes to audio software, advanced features are usually lost in making a program simple to use. Hammerhead is no exception. The samples themselves cannot be edited, and the drums are usually flat and not very expressive. Time signatures cannot be changed, 32nd and 64th notes are impossible without creating a new loop, and tempo cannot be changed within the loop itself.
But most of those are the concerns of users who probably won’t have much need for Hammerhead anyway; for the rest of us, Hammerhead is a free, compact and useful program that makes creating drum loops fun and easy.