The hi-tech world seems to be awash with sampling CDs these days, and with samplers offering more memory and facilities for less dosh, creative musicians are going to be looking for more and more sources of new sounds. While the majority of CDs offer endless hits from drum kits, or hip hop loops or orchestral samples, it's good to see something a little bit different.
The Music Suite's first sample CD is a well-recorded disc offering over 50 minutes of 16-bit sounds. The result of three years work, the CD sees percussionist Dave Starkie coaxing noises from a wide range of unusual instruments.
The disk contains 36 tracks, each of which is sub-divided into up to 34 recordings of the main sound. For example, the first track is a Flat Drum, and contains a centre hit in mono, a centre hit in stereo, a stick hit and a rim shot, plus two further centre hits. There are up to 34 variants per track and there is always five seconds between sounds. In addition, there is a track full of test signals (used for setting optimum recording conditions), while tracks 37 to 44 repeat tracks 1 to 20 with no gaps, for quick, easy digital transfer — useful if your sampler has a lot of memory and digital inputs.
The variety is stunning: there are over 400 samples of drums of different shapes, sizes and construction. These include gazelle drum, barrel drum, Singhalese drum, djembe, dumbek, talking drum, congas and so on. Familiar instruments include bongos, guiro, cuica, and a variety of tablas and cowbells; the more odd sounds on offer include a water bell, various bowls, Tibetan bells, gongs, didgeridoo, bones, rattles, anvil and beer and water barrels.
Sounds which have a long natural decay are allowed sufficient time to die away naturally. One Tibetan bell lasts for 11.64 seconds, and there is a gong that lasts for 26.52 seconds, leaving it up to the samplist when to fade the recorded sample out. As well as the straight hits, a number of typical (but short) patterns illustrative of the instruments being played are included.
The overall levels of the recordings seem to be constant but, since some sounds have a very prominent transient, care should always be taken, when sampling, not to overload your sampler's inputs. Noise only intrudes very occasionally, but this must have been unavoidable given the range of odd things being recorded. In fact, the recordings are in general quiet and distortion free, and when a small problem does appear, it sticks out more than it should. However, we are talking about the slightest hiss that will not detract from your sampling activities.
Some of the strange sounds looped well or at least constructively — by constructively, I mean that while the loop was apparent, it became part of the final sound. This was especially the case with one of the Whistler (kind of a high-pitched bull-roarer) recordings. The result was an ethereal pad type sound that had a lot of subtle harmonic movement in it.
The selection of drums is too varied for me to go into great detail here; suffice to say that the big drums have lots of 'oomph', and the higher pitched ones appear to have lost none of the important high frequency content. While drums may be things you just hit, the frequency content can be a very important part of the sound, so it's good to hear that Music Suite have done their best to maintain maximum fidelity.
This is quite an inspiring collection of sounds, rather than simply a workaday collection of variants on a familiar theme. The Music Suite have provided a fine selection, and it's good value as well. Unless you happen to be an ethnomusicologist with a vast collection of field recordings and instruments, there is no other way that you'd get a collection of sounds like this for under £40.
Sound Collection Volume 1: Ethnic Percussion £39.95 including VAT and P&P.
The Music Suite Ltd, (Contact Details).