The final disc in the Zero-G Datafile series joins Coldcut's Kleptomania in the growing library of sample CDs - Tim Goodyer checks them out, while Andy Neve loads The Sound Foundation's programming efforts into his Roland MKS70 in this month's Patchwork.
Kleptomania Volume 1
Although this isn't actually the first CD Coldcut have put out as source material rather than sourced material, it is the first that conforms to the de facto sample CD format - that is, a large number of audio samples assembled for maximum ease of use by another sampling artist. Their previous excursion into similar territory took the rather unorthodox form of the JazzBrakes/Zen Brakes CD (reviewed MT, December '91). Here they presented pieces of music which, while complete in themselves, were also offered freely as source material for other samplers. Having been recruited - along with the likes of Pascal Gabriel and Norman Cook - to the Hitsound stable of sample CD artists, they've chosen to fall in line with the 1000+ unrepeated sample format defined by Zero-G's Datafile series, some time back.
Opening with some 22 tracks devoted to assorted loops and fills, Coldcut are quick to demonstrate one of their acknowledged strengths - and one of the reasons a lot of people are going to buy this disc. Listed with associated tempi in bpm, these loops cover everything from the obligatory drum breaks through beatbox and percussion loops to the self-styled hed noise loops. These are defined in Matt Black's absurd glossary as "A stupid noise... which grabs your head", and it's about as close as current terminology is likely to take you. It would be a trivial point if it wasn't for the fact that Coldcut's success is so heavily dependent upon their ability to identify the sorts of sound which grab a lot of peoples' heads, fill a lot of dancefloors and sell a lot of records.
If anything, the breaks represent the more typical edge of Kleptomania. But where other sample CDs' bass samples are just basses, Coldcut's often seem to be something more. They run for unnaturally long periods, contain unorthodox loops or are simply atypical bass sounds. Much the same can be said of the Organ, Synth, Atmosphere and Guitar sections. Don't get me wrong here, this disc doesn't sound as if it's come from another planet, nor is it an interesting intellectual exercise in finding interesting but ultimately unusable samples - this library was built to be exploited.
The selection of spoken vocals is rather more conventional. Five tracks are devoted to the usual "Do it 2 me", "This is wicked" style of drop in. Some of them have been treated with delays, however, and the classic "Say kids, what time is it?" is also included. Here, as well as amongst the breaks and basslines, you'll find material made familiar by Coldcut's past successes - it's nice to know they're not being precious but it'll be a resourceful samplist who can re-use them imaginatively without making them unrecognisable. And if you have to make them unrecognisable, is there any value to you in their chart pedigree?
Amongst the Hed Hits and Hed FX you'll find an amazing assortment of noises which sound disarmingly tame when removed from a musical context. Here, however, you're being allowed into another of Coldcut's sensitive areas. Used properly, these sounds are one of the secrets of modern dance music. The cynics will be quick to dismiss them - along with similar sections of other sample CDs - as one of the diversionary tactics used by musicians with nothing to say. Yet Cage, Stockhausen and Eno would certainly agree that it's all musically valid. And it's here for you to use.
Bringing up the rear are 17 tracks of isolated drum and percussion noises from which you can assemble your own rhythms. Again, the majority of these sound reassuringly familiar but, also again, you have the knowledge that they've been pre-selected for you by four of the best ears in the business. That alone is what many artists pay producers a small fortune for - and for others, it's not quite such a small fortune.
Price £49 including VAT.
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Datafile Three represents the third and final CD in Ed Stratton's classic sampling series. Popularly regarded as having set the pace of this genre of sample material, Stratton set out to release the selected highlights of his personal sample library assembled over the years he has spent working as part of Jack 'n' Chill and more recently Man Machine. With this disc, that task is complete, and Stratton claims to have no plans for extending the library itself, although he is currently making it available in a variety of different formats (such as vinyl sample albums, S1000/1100 files on optical disk and Amiga sound files).
Twenty-one tracks of drum and percussion augment those already on Datafiles One and Two. This disc offers more breaks than either of the preceding CDs and also spreads its coverage of styles further - you'll find some useful go-go and Motown breaks accompanying the ever-expanding house and hip hop selection. Almost inevitably, there's a growing element of duplication between sample CDs from different sources, but it's almost impossible to say who had what first and whether it came direct "from source" or whether it's come (slightly less honourably) via another sample CD. The same is true of samples derived from fashionable drum machines - several sample CDs carry the sounds of Roland's TR808, 909 and 727 for example (Prosonics' Megabeats CD contains samples of no less than 30 drum machines including these). For its part, Datafile Three contains samples of Roland's CR78 and TR606 to augment the TR808, 909 and 727 on Datafile One, and the R8 and Alesis HR16B (and human beatbox) on Datafile Two. Here, as on the earlier Datafiles, there is a wide selection of "original" drum and percussion sounds - including a wonderful gong and jews harp - that can be used to get away from the sounds everybody else is using. Worthy of special mention are the rhythm guitar breaks - I've always found that these, along with percussion breaks, are invaluable in reintroducing the feel of live musicians into electronically-based music.
From here we're onto vocal hooks and ad libs. There are some rich harmony parts here as well as the "Read my lips", "It's outta sight" stuff. Things start to get particularly interesting with the selection of oriental and ethnic vocal samples (no translations supplied). Some of these are suitable for looping, some need firing into the appropriate point in a rhythm, but all are beyond the scope of any of the other sample discs I've heard. Neatly dodging potential copyright wrangles, there's a section entitled JB-Style Vocals, which will give you something of the character of the man without the attention of his lawyers.
The Primitive Animals and House SFX sections are excursions into prime Coldcut territory from which Stratton returns with his credibility intact. Unlike breakbeats, this sort of material doesn't suffer from the problem of duplication across various artists sample libraries - the burning question here is how much of it can you handle and still be able to call upon the "right" sound when you need it?
The instrumental considerations of Datafile Three cover a variety of basses which should keep everyone from rappers to ravers demolishing dancefloors, strings that span the earthy and the ethereal, flutes that have been stolen from dark continental jungles and Shinto temples and a good compliment of Bassline filter variations. Even the cliched ground of stabs seems refreshed after those on this disc.
One of Stratton's particular strengths is his ability to dig out bizarre and beautiful sci-fi effects. And Datafile Three lives up to the reputation of its predecessors in its selection of these. Most are completely obscure, but you'll find one or two that conjure up images of a Star Trek away team beaming up or reporting back to the Enterprise.
Over the course of three sample CDs, Stratton has attempted to present an impressive library of sounds and loops in such a way as to make each disc valuable in its own right as well as within the context of the set. He's succeeded, and in doing so provided a reference against which all similar sample CDs must be judged.
Price £49.95 including VAT.
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Roland JX10 & MKS70 Sound Disc Vol 1
Own up: how many of you have regretted selling your Jupiters, ARPs and Moogs and are now trying to buy them back again? It's official: there are certain sounds which only come from certain instruments. Sadly (inconveniently, at least) no single instrument can produce every type of sound, whatever the manufacturer claims. That said, long live Roland's old JX10/MKS70.
It may use DCOs instead of VCOs, but it's still very analogue, and the sounds on this disk are definitely more akin to the bygone days of Pre-MIDI analogue synths than those of digital ones.
This first offering from The Sound Foundation is supplied on a simple self-loading disk - it's worth remembering this because you can only transfer SysEx into a JX10 via the cartridge (M64C RAM). The MKS70 fortunately doesn't share this problem. However if you can't get the JX10 to load, you can always send a blank M64C to AMG (The Sound Foundation's distributors) and they'll load the sounds for you. The disk, meanwhile, comes with two A4 printed sheets, showing a Bank and Patch Grid, and a listing of the patches with remarks and tips on each sound. The 64 patches are split into eight banks: Piano, Digital, Moog, Strings, Brass, Wind, Polysynth and Organ. The only outputs you should use are the upper right and lower left.
The first bank is Piano. This contains a mixture of piano and piano-type voices. 'Super Dreamer' is probably the best Wurlitzer EP200 impersonation I have ever heard from an analogue synth, very touch sensitive, very Supertramp. 'Grod's Pianos' 1, 2 and 3 are usable Rhodes-type pianos, and 'Yamaha X-Piano', 'Echo Harp' and 'Harpsichord' largely speak for themselves. The Digital bank contains a mixture of Roland D-Series style sounds. 'Fantasia', 'Glass Voices', and 'Breather' are eminently usable D50 emulations while 'Evocative' and 'New Age' are rather useful pad sounds with intelligent application of aftertouch. Worth mentioning too is 'LA Steel' which is a rather good brassy, steel drum sound.
The "Moog" bank contains good approximations of typical Moog lead sounds, a lot of them inspired by sounds from the Minimoog Patch Book. We all know the Minimoog has three oscillators per voice, but the JX has four. Even so, you're never going to get a JX to sound exactly like a Minimoog, but this isn't a half bad try. Worth particular mention is 'The Moog Sound', which is a '70s timewarp, and 'The Endless Enigma', which is very atmospheric. Other notables are 'Manic Poly-Bass', a gigantic bass sound, and 'Moog Modular', a polite but punchy lead sound. All the sounds in this bank are pretty convincing.
Next comes the Strings bank - although that's a rather loose description because a lot of the sounds are really just synth pad sounds. 'Warm 12 Voice' and 'Most Useful Pad' are ordinary pads but 'L'Apocalypse', 'Ice Warrior' and 'Alaska' (a Prophet 5 emulation) are something a bit more special.
The Brass bank is a bit special too because it includes solo synth brass sounds as well as brass pads. A lot of these patches are inspired by sounds from the ARP Odyssey and ARP2600 Patch Books. Worth mentioning here are 'The Sun' and 'Voluntary' (unnervingly realistic ARP trumpet and horn impersonations) and 'Full Orchestra', a useful synth brass section.
The Wind bank is also taken straight from the ARP Patch Book. The ARP Odyssey flute emulations, 'Odyssey Flutes' and 'ARP2600 Flutes' are cleverly-programmed patches and 'Double Reed' is absolutely spot on. All the sounds in this bank are very usable.
The Polysynth bank is full of big analogue brassy pads inspired by the Memorymoog and the Oberheim 0B8. 'The Big Idea' is a gigantic swelling pad sound; '12 Voice Analogue' should need little explanation, as should '12 Voice X-Mod' and '12 Voice Poly'. But the most interesting sound in this bank is 'Formant Pad' which is a kind of nasal brass sound with a very distinctive organic quality.
The Organ bank completes our tour of the banks. 'Slow Rotor' (with Leslie) and 'Spitting Hammond' are good Hammond impersonations, the latter being more "clicky" than the former. 'Diapason' and 'Solo to Choir' are pipe organs which would be OK in a mix but probably not so hot as "featured" sounds, and "70s Synth Organ' is simply horrible - but I suspect that's the intention. 'Hymn', meanwhile, is an excellent choir voice, and probably one of my favourite sounds on the disk.
If you like the sort of analogue voices that sound as if they've been resurrected from the dead '70s, you can't go wrong with this disk. On top of these, there are some more contemporary sounds too. Overall, many of these voices are pretty good and quite a few of them are genuinely excellent. Never before has such a big slice of history been available for such a small price...
Price £39 including VAT.
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