Loop The Loop
Loop Create software for the Greengate DS:3.
New looping software for the Greengate DS:3.
The DS:3 is the sort of machine which can convince ardent computer-haters to invest in a relatively expensive home micro, the Apple 2. It's a four-voice polyphonic sampling system which becomes more and more like a miniature Fairlight CMI with every update, and it's the latest of these updates which we're going to take a look at here.
Before going on, it would be well to explain a little about the basic operation of the DS:3. It was designed as a sampling digital drum machine for the band Mainframe, who have just signed to Polydor for a singles deal. After recording their first album Tenants of the Latticework, the band realised that the early DS:3 could be persuaded to produce musical as well as percussion sounds, and so a keyboard interface was developed. The drum machine programming package was forced to do duty as a sequencer, and a keyboard interface was completed for those who wanted to concentrate on the polyphonic pitched sound side of things.
So the DS:3 is capable of being used for percussion or sequences with or without keyboard; in the latter case the Apple's keyboard is used to enter events. The four-voice sampling card and software costs around £325 + VAT, and the system with keyboard is £550 + VAT.
The main limitation up to now has been that sounds could not be sustained past the maximum sampling time, which was originally around 1.6 seconds with a 64k Apple. This time was increased in the first software update to 3.2 seconds at a lower bandwidth (still over 8kHz, which is good enough for vocals and many other effects) but the fact remains that sustained chords of strings, organ and so on could not be played — sounds simply played once on each keystroke and then died.
The new update, Loop Create, takes care of all that and upgrades the DS:3's sequencer considerably at a cost of around £75. Originally it was planned to give away three software updates free with the system, and this will in fact still be the case, but the looping system has cost so much time and effort that it won't be possible to supply it free.
Loop Create seems to be almost as versatile as the corresponding page on the Fairlight. Calling up the relevant routines produces a four-part display on the Apple monitor and switches the DS:3 into a monophonic mode for easy editing. Looping is carried out with two cursors to indicate the Loop Start and Loop End points — the top display shows the waveshape at the start cursor, the third display the waveshape at the end cursor, the second display the "difference waveshape" and the bottom display the waveshape of the total sound.
If all this sounds confusing, don't worry — it's very simple to operate. The "difference waveshape" is the all-important one, and if you chose Start and End points so that this is almost flat you'll usually get a glitch-free loop. You can make a preliminary guess by looking at the overall waveshape display at tine bottom of the screen with the option of a neat 3-dimensional display if you desire, and even put the looping software into an Auto Mode with variable resolution which will scan along the sample's waveform and find a loop point for you.
Once you have a decent loop you can switch back to poly mode to play the sound, and if you're satisfied you can store away the sound with the added information to recreate the loop. You have the option of erasing the decay portion of the sound after the loop if you want to save disk space (and so fit more sounds into a multiple keyboard split).
It's important to point out that loops can be created in the existing factory supplied sounds, so you have something to start working with as soon as the system's running. Of course, the looping software is primarily for users of the keyboard supplied as an option with the DS:3, but there are two other parts to the latest software update which will be of interest to users of the sequencer.
The first is a duration recording facility, which allows the sequencer to store both the start and end points of a sound in a realtime sequence. This means that looped sounds will sustain in a sequence for just as long as you held them when playing in the notes in the first place.
Secondly, and after a few complaints on the initial release of the system (just about the only major complaint, incidentally), the sequencer clock functions have been vastly improved to make the system much easier to use. Previously you had to set a cursor to flash as fast as you intended to play, which led to some highly excessive time signatures. Now the sequencer has two time readouts, cursor speed and resolution speed, so you can set the cursor to flash a down beat only, while your playing is quantised into sixteenth notes, for instance.
The next development from Greengate is expected to be a step time sequencer, which if we're lucky will have some of the abilities of the Fairlight's Page R Rhythm Page. A MIDI interface is also on the cards for the middle future, and another imminent development is an EPROM blower which will allow you to make samples on the DS:3 and transfer them to chips for playing in any of the popular EPROM-based drum machines such as the SCI Drumtraks, the Drumulator and the LinnDrum.
Of course, the bottom line is — how does it sound? Well, the factory supplied percussion sounds are excellent, from bass thumps to short cymbals; the musical sounds are more variable, from a stunning banjo (but so what, I hear you ask?) to a useful short voice sample, a couple of bass synths and a harpsichord and an excellent breathy flute. The real test, though, lies in making your own samples, and you can come up with anything your heart desires — guitar or orchestral crashes, sound effects, voice effects and much more.
As for the looping, that's partly a science and partly an art. After a while you'll get to recognise potential quiet looping points and can then close the deal manually or using the computer's auto search. Remember that the DS:3 software has lots of other pages which will allow you to create an entire performance file complete with all sounds, split points and (eventually) looping information, and call up the whole thing with a single push on a footswitch — the DS:3 being very much designed with stage work in mind.
The Loop Create file is available as an additional disk for around £75, and for further information you should contact: Greengate, (Contact Details).
Review by Mark Jenkins writing as Tony Mills
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