If you think about it (...and I don't suppose you ever do), it's very difficult knowing where to pitch a review of a CD sample collection. On the one hand, you're dealing with a tool - a creative tool perhaps, but a tool nonetheless - and are therefore obliged to maintain a high degree of objectivity. On the other hand, you have to keep in mind that you're listening to what is, essentially, a collection of musical ideas - and music can only ever be judged subjectively. You see the problem?
Take the fifth and latest in the range of ProSamples CDs - Dance/Industrial, for example. One is tempted to view it as simply another collection of dance orientated breaks based around some pretty straightforward programming ideas. Being conceived specifically for this collection (as opposed to having been 'lifted' from other sources), the recording quality is uniformly good - though no better than most - while the documentation, though a little dry, is quite thorough and includes track indexing, bpm figures and a detailed description of every sample - including the individual drum, percussion and effects sounds. Dead objective eh?
By contrast, my subjective
, opinion is a little shorter and to the point: this is one mother of a sample CD, go out and buy it now!
This rather spirited endorsement is based on my belief that the average person with an average drum machine (or perhaps an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of drum machines) could come up with the kind of breaks which have become the staple ingredient of most sample CDs. What's special about this collection is that the combination of interesting rhythmic ideas and a fascinating choice of instruments and sounds combine to produce rhythm tracks which you would be hard pressed to equal even with many hours programming time and an armoury of sampled and synthesised sound sources.
Though sacrificing the convenience of single pass breaks which may be quickly looped in your machine, ProSamples have, I believe, correctly opted for including two or more repeats of each. This gives you a far better feel for the patterns - which of course have to be repeated if we are to recognise their rhythmic potential.
The breaks are divided, rather arbitrarily, methinks, between 'rhythm' and 'industrial' loops and unlike those in most sample collections occupy a very broad range of tempi. There's no standard 120 bpm programming here. In fact, this collection is proof, if proof were needed that you can quite happily put together dance tracks anywhere between 80 and 140 bpm - providing you get the feel right.
Helping to create that feel on this CD is an array of incredibly heavy/ambient drum and percussion voices and a stunning selection of sounds whose source one can but speculate on. Suffice it to say this is aurally one of the most exciting sample CDs I've yet to hear - and that has nothing to do with the rather liberal sprinkling of "sex moans" (their words) featured on a number of the breaks. In fact, I could well have lived without these; apart from anything else, they could end up quite out of context in certain songs.
To accompany the CD, a floppy disk is available which contains MIDI files of the programs used in some 34 of the breaks - the idea being that instead of sampling the whole rhythm, you sample the individual sounds of which they are comprised and trigger these as you would a normal rhythm track. This means that you can, if you wish, alter the programs and customise them to your specific requirements. And of course, you can also change the tempo of the breaks without altering their overall pitch.
It's an excellent idea, and one I can see catching on - if only to entice those who still have a problem with the idea of sampling 'other people's' loops. I only wish files could have been included for all the breaks in this collection. Incidentally, two versions are produced - one for Atari ST-based sequencers, the other for those associated with the Mac.
Also available is a CD-ROM version of the whole collection for direct loading into Akai S1000/S1100, Emulator III and Digidesign Samplecell machines. At £199 it's by no means cheap, but those who value quality above all else might just be tempted.
Beside the difficulty of maintaining one's objectivity whilst relating to these samples on a subjective level, I have another problem. I don't think l've heard a sample CD that I haven't liked - in part, at least.
Okay, I know that's a pretty questionable attitude to have as a reviewer. But really, the damned things are such good value for money. Work it out: even if you only use them as a source of inspiration (rather than a source of sampling) and even if you only use something like ten or fifteen breaks from each CD, that still works out at less than about three quid each. Now I don't know how long it takes you to conceive and program a good rhythm track, but I could easily spend two or three hours doing it - not to mention the investment in equipment, which to produce the range of sounds available here would be vast.
Convinced? If you're not, I can only recommend that you get hold of this CD. If rhythm for you is more than simply an exercise in time-keeping and your music will stand up to the kind of weight these breaks will bring to it, you really do owe it to yourself.
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