Music For The Masses
Hitsound Sampling CDs
Paul Ireson checks out the first three volumes in the Hitsound Sampling CD library: Pure Gold Synth; Old Gold Synth; and Guitar.
Do you own a sampler? You do? Now think back to when you first decided to get hold of one, and try and remember why you thought it would be a better buy than a new synth. Chances are that reason had something to do with the availability of a near-limitless range of sounds — a sampler can by its very nature sound like anything at all.
There's a catch of course, which is that in order for a sound to come out of the sampler, it has to be squeezed in there in the first place. You have to find your sound, sample it with a decent microphone, and if it's an instrument sound, probably spend a while trimming, looping and editing the sound into shape.
The first stage is particularly tricky, hence the appearance of sampled sound libraries in various forms, and one such comes from Hit Music Productions. Their HitSound library is available on CD, which obviously requires you to trim and loop samples once you've transferred them into your sampler, and perhaps set up multi samples as well, but it makes the volumes useful to all sampler owners, and this is a far more cost-effective medium than floppy disk.
The first three volumes are Pure Gold Synth, a selection of contemporary synth sounds from the excellent Valhala International Gold series of ROM cards, Old Gold Synth, a range of classic synth sounds, and Guitar. Forthcoming CDs in the range include a volume of drum loops, and three Producer Series volumes: a dance sample selection from Pascal Gabriel, and percussion and drums CDs from Danny Cummings and David Ruffy.
Pure Gold Synth can only scratch the surface of the Valhala library, for which it certainly provides an excellent advertisement, but with so much to draw on it inevitably includes a lot of first class material. Featured synths include the Korg M1, Wavestation and T-Series, Roland D50 and D70, Yamaha SY77 and 55, and Ensoniq VFX. In all there are 115 sounds, divided into the following categories: Atmospheres: Basses; House and Dance; Impressions (recreations of 'typical' sounds from the likes of the Roland modular System 100M, ARP2600 etc.); Strings; Brass; Synth Guitars; Hits; Modern Pads; Tuned Percussion, Untuned Percussion; Miscellaneous and Effects. All samples are stereo, but you won't lose anything crucial by sampling in mono, and most importantly, I found no nasty phasing effects. However, there are some sounds on which the left and right stereo components are very different, and you will get quite a different sound if you sample the left channel to that from sampling the right — what you have to do is to sample the summed left and right sound.
All but a handful of the sounds are provided as a series of notes (say, five Cs an octave apart for sounds that are intended to be used across the keyboard, and four or five more closely spaced notes for sounds with a more limited range).
Subjectively, the sounds are fabulous. The assorted pad and atmosphere sounds include some stunning textures, and these are complemented by a superb range of bass sounds, and some quite surprising, quirky sounds dotted around the other categories. All in all, a good mix of high-class bread and butter sounds with a hefty dose of sonic icing on top.
The Old Gold Synth volume contains 137 different synth sounds from classic instruments, plus four sets of drum sounds (TR606, TR808 and TR909, and a set of assorted resonant, 'syn drum' kicks). The synths used include the Oberheim Xpander and Matrix 6R, ARP2600, MiniMoog, MemoryMoog, Octave Cat and Roland MKS70. These are all put to good use, with a good range of sounds that you would recognise as 'typically analogue'. Ironically, as with the Pure Gold CD, that means a lot of basses and pads, but that suits me fine. There are also plenty of blips, resonant sweeps, strings, and one or two equally typical cheesy sounds (step forward, the Stylophone).
The same system of providing four or five notes for you to sample is used, although here a greater proportion of sounds are suitable for using across the full range of the keyboard. Another difference is that all sounds are mono, as were the original instruments. This volume is a (Gold)mine of glorious sounds that, whilst certainly biased towards dance music, should be useful to anyone with a sampler and a little imagination. It's no substitute for a couple of good, MIDI'd analogue polysynths, but it's also hundreds of pounds cheaper and breaks down less often.
Moving on to even more traditional territory, the guitar CD is just the thing for adding some decent guitar sounds to your music — assuming, of course, that you don't have the time to learn to play the real thing. The volume concentrates of offering a range of instantly usable chords, notes, and snatches of rhythm and lead guitar playing, rather than on single notes from 57 varieties of Gretsch, Fender and Les Paul. Most of the CD is taken up by Strat samples.
In the 'dirty' sounds section (good distortion — not too over the top) there are single picked notes, damped notes, a variety of bends, harmonics, divebombs, powerfifths (actually a Les Paul, according to the accompanying booklet), and whammy bar powerfifths. The single and damped notes, and powerfifths, come in chromatic sets from C2 to G4, and the other sounds are all played at several pitches.
"Pure Gold Synth can only scratch the surface of the Valhala library, but with so much to draw on it inevitably includes a lot of first class material."
These are all perfect for creating a basic 'instant rock guitarist' on your sampler, but it's always hard to get even the best electric guitar sound on a keyboard to sound like it's actually being played by a guitarist — so many aspects of guitar technique being at best awkward to recreate on a keyboard, although Oberheim's Strummer is a neat way of addressing at least part of the problem. The HitSound solution is to provide a library of, still in the 'dirty guitar' section, assorted rock licks and riffs, played by a real live guitarist. The descriptions of the 15 licks and five riffs are reasonably informative, (along the lines of "typical blues bend and pull off", and except in one or two cases you're told what key a lick/riff is in), but your ears will inevitably be the best guide to what will be useful to you in a given musical context; there certainly some pretty good ones here. The riffs are rather easier to use than the licks (actually, they cry out to be used, being as they are classic dirty rhythm patterns — instant T-Rex), and the notes rather helpfully tell you their tempo. There simply isn't enough space to include riffs in every key, so if you can't adapt your music to fit a sampled riff, then you'll have to get down to messing around with a pitch shifter.
Rounding off the dirty section is a set of U2-style echo rhythm riffs, and snatches of slide guitar. The clean Strat samples follow a similar pattern, with single notes, harmonics, assorted bends, all major, minor, and major 7th chords, and a set of assorted minor 7th, 11th, 13th and suchlike chords (one is described as "Howard's Em something" — hmmm). These are all played 'straight' — just a simple strum, all barre chords.
Things get even better after this, with a wah-wah section, including both single strummed chords and rhythm playing in a variety of keys, and a large Strat rhythm section. This is my personal favourite, including as does basic 2-bar funk rhythm riffs, in several major, minor, major 7th and minor 7th chords, and minor chords on the top three strings chromatically over a whole octave, and over 20 funk rhythm licks. Each of these licks appears once only, and most are in A minor, C, E minor and D — you may find that the lick that you want is playing in the wrong key, but you can nevertheless put the patterns to very good use, and you should find it quite easy to put several together in interesting ways (just don't expect to be able to pass your creation off as a lost Chic track). It's really just like having a good selection of records from which to sample useful snatches of guitar, but without all the other music happening on top.
One problem I did encounter was that although the funk patterns are supposedly all at the same tempo — 120bpm, of course — one or two are slightly faster or slower. The problem comes when you use two licks at slightly different tempos, which obviously won't fit together too well. If you don't have timestretch, the best solution is to cut the sample into two or three sections and trigger them separately to squeeze everything into place.
The volume is completed by acoustic guitar samples: single notes and pulls; a similar range of chords to the clean electric selection; some fairly mellow strumming patterns on jazzy chords; and some folky strumming.
The guitar sounds are all recorded in stereo, or at least have subtle stereo effects (a hint of chorus), but it's nothing you couldn't improve on with a little processing of a mono sample — save your sample memory for more sounds, because you won't notice much different between mono and stereo versions of these.
Altogether or individually, the HitSound CDs offer good value for money and a useful selection of sounds. Whilst the forthcoming volumes promise much, these first three are an excellent start in bringing a great selection of expensive-sounding and highly usable instrument sounds to anyone with access to a sampler.
Each volume £35 inc VAT.
All three volumes £90 Inc VAT.
The Advanced Media Group, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Ireson
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