Making The Most Of Your Mirage (Part 1)
Tony Hastings begins a new series of valuable hints and tips aimed at helping owners of Ensoniq Mirage samplers get the best from their instruments.
Tony Hastings begins a short series of hints and tips to help owners of the popular Ensoniq Mirage expand their sampling skills.
The Mirage sound sampling keyboard has been with us for nearly two years now, and although it was the first it is by no means the only 'budget' sampler on the market at the moment. In fact, as I write, newer and more sophisticated devices are being released by nearly every major manufacturer in the world (as well as a few not so well-known ones).
Strangely, in a world where hi-tech instruments are outdated and superceded almost before they are released, the Mirage has stood its ground with remarkable tenacity, no doubt due greatly to the almost impossibly good factory samples available for it. After all, 90% of users want good library sounds so that the responsibility isn't on them to have to produce sounds if they don't want to or aren't able to.
By today's standards the Mirage is quite old-fashioned, what with only 8-bit operation, 2.2 seconds sampling at full bandwidth and just 128K of memory, yet it sells in great numbers. Probably because it is still the cheapest multisampler around with the fastest sample access time and an ever increasing library of both Ensoniq and officially backed independent sounds (look out for the new K-MUSE disks).
One of the big reasons for its success is the back-up that Ensoniq themselves seem to provide in the form of constantly updated operating systems, new samples and such like. This is necessary because the Mirage is a decidedly difficult instrument to actually operate. Like the DX7, all parameters are accessed through a central data entry control and to be proficient means constantly looking up numbers or memorising them parrot-fashion as you run through operations. Not only that, many of the functions are either badly described in the manual or not mentioned at all.
It is this user-unfriendliness (like that of the DX7) which I suspect has produced a love/hate relationship between the instrument and the owner. For those who have overcome the difficulties and mysteries to actually produce and manipulate their own samples, there seems to be the desire to ring up everyone in the phone book and tell them, whereas to be completely lost prompts an inner cry for help.
I know, I'm an owner and I get these feelings all the time.
It is for these reasons that I am writing this series of articles, to try and pass on some pearls of wisdom that I have discovered or picked up in my travels around the world.
Before we get into this month's ideas, I'd like to give a big plug for OASIS, which is the United Kingdom Mirage Users Group. It has just been started by Matthew Newman and is designed to be a central link for all users in the UK. They will produce a quarterly newsletter, arrange sampling parties (bring your own bottle and floppies) and attempt to answer all your problems. Membership will also entitle you to discount on certain products and software, and there will be competitions to win various goodies every now and then. It only costs £5.00 a year to join and you can get more information by sending an S.A.E to the address at the end of this article.
I assume that everyone reading this is either a Mirage owner, or someone with a vested interest. This isn't meant to be a tutorial and I hope that most of you are at least familiar with basic operations on the Mirage as I won't be stopping every few lines to explain the obvious.
For those of you pioneering samplists who bought the original Mark I Mirage, you will know that the MASOS and Advanced Sampling Guide was an extra. But if you haven't taken the plunge and bought one yet, may I suggest that you do, because many of the things that these articles cover will be easier if you have one.
The Mirage has a particularly quirky way of operating and only allows you to specify input 'sampling time' NOT the sampling rate. (Sampling rate is another way of saying how many samples are taken in a given time period.) Sample time is inversely proportional to sample rate, which means the longer the sample time the shorter the sample rate and vice versa. To get the best possible sound (at optimum bandwidth) you should choose the shortest possible sample time. This will then give you the most samples in a given space of time.
Part and parcel of this quirky operation is the One-Page Loop. Without getting too technical, the Mirage thinks of its available memory as being divided up into 256 pages, with each page containing 256 separate samples. Therefore, if you loop one page you are repeating 256 samples over and over. Because all sound is made up of pressure wave cycles repeating at different rates (a rate of 440 times a second will give the A above middle C), a one-page loop will produce a pitch.
It is vital that you choose the correct sample time for the pitch of the note that you are sampling in order to create good one-page loops. To help you, Ensoniq's Advanced Sampling Guide gives you a table matching sample time to sample pitch.
If you get the input pitch exactly right, then your one-page loop will automatically kick in without any nasty clicks or pops. If the loop is too high, then lower the input pitch fractionally; if it's too low then raise the pitch a modicum. When you get it right, it's like magic. The only way you know that the loop has started is that the loop section sounds a bit 'samey' compared with the original sample. You should try not to sample anything with vibrato or chorus, as this tends to confuse the picture.
If you want a chorus effect, a good way to make the sample thicker (especially for the loop section) is to copy it to the next sample and switch the Mix mode on (parameter 28). Then detune the second sample a bit (parameter 33) to add a sort of phasing, and set the mix (parameter 34) to 32 so that you can hear both samples at the same time.
The Mirage assumes that you can vary the pitch of the input sample yourself - possibly using a varispeed tape machine. For most people this isn't really practical. But what one-page loops are perfect for is sampling synth sounds. They are good for two reasons: first because it is easy to change the pitch of your sound, and secondly because the harmonic content of a synth sound is constant right across the keyboard. This means you can take a sample at any point and transpose it up or down and it still sounds like the original.
'What is all this leading to?' you must be asking. Well, just bear with me for a while and you will soon see...
Most synth sounds don't require a lot of memory to capture the essence of the sound, so here's a way to have up to 15 different synth sounds available using one-page (or more if you're daring) loops and the Initial Wavesample command.
First, load MASOS Upper and Lower 3 (8 wavesamples per half). Now set Lower Wavesample 1 ready. Record a synth sound and loop it. Do the same for all the other 14 wavesamples (don't bother with Lower Wavesample 8). Now set the Top Key (parameter 72) to 61 for EVERY sample except Lower Wavesample 8, which should be set to a Top Key value of 1.
Now we have 15 different sounds in the Mirage but we will only hear Lower Wavesample 1. This is because the Initial Wavesample (parameter 27, used to tell the Mirage which sample to look at first) is saying 1, and Lower Wavesample 1 has a Top Key value of 61, effectively obscuring ALL the other samples.
If you select parameter 27 and change it to 2, you will now hear Lower Wavesample 2 (with a Top Key of 61) which will be a different synth sound. Get the idea? You can swap between the different sounds by using the Initial Wavesample parameter.
The reason that Lower Wavesample 8 has a Top Key value of only 1 is because you have to change to the Upper keyboard using the '0/Prog' button, and the Lower Wavesample 8 is always active even when using Upper Keyboard Initial Wavesample parameters. Setting it to 1 therefore means that you will only lose the very lowest key of the keyboard.
Hopefully you will have all got the idea by now. By careful use of sample memory and looping, you can have quite a few completely different sounds available in the Mirage without the need to load from disk.
Well that's it for this month. I haven't got too detailed because this was meant to be more of an introductory piece than an in-depth expose of the inner mysteries of Ensoniq's 'Q' chip. Feel free to write in if there is anything that you'd like me to specifically cover in future articles. And don't forget to get in touch with the Mirage Users Group - you'll find it invaluable.
Gear in this article:
Feature by Tony Hastings
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