VALHALA INTERNATIONAL GOLD B101 & B102 M1/M1R ROM Cards
With so many disappointing sounds currently being sold as the work of "professional" programmers, it's reassuring to find a selection as good as Valhala's International Gold cards for the Korg M1.
The truest test of a sound is this: if it inspires you, if it sends you running for your tape recorder, desperate to get an idea on tape before the inspiration deserts you - that's a damn good sound. Imagine you'd never heard a piano before, what would your reaction be if someone then placed a 9-foot Bosendorfer in your living room? Wouldn't that kick the creative brain cells into life? So what's this all got to do with M1 voice cards? Well, although no-one would claim that any of the programs (the M1 name for patches) on these Valhala cards are going to change your life, or form the basis of 300 years of concertos, sonatas and etudes, they are good. Exceptionally good.
The sounds under the microscope here are the Valhala International Gold B101 and B102 cards. In common with other manufacturers' cards, these come in the now obligatory small plastic wallet but, surprisingly, no patch list was supplied. Still, that made discovering the patches contained all the more intriguing.
Firstly then, B101. Primarily, this contains a fantastic range of floaty, ethereal textures. Names such as 'Graveyard', 'Supersense', 'WatchingMe', 'Creepy', 'MovieMaker', and 'ImageMaker' give some idea of the underlying theme of the card. These are all classic sounds, and will undoubtedly show up pretty soon on television adverts the world over. There is also a great selection of warm pads, and delicate timbres -'Emulator3', 'JMJv.2.0', 'Angelsong', 'Quireboys', 'MisterE2Me', 'MirrorRoom'... Fat analogue timbres are also in evidence using overdoses of reverb to hide the basic sterility of the digital sound. It's all enough to make you want to re-record Oxygene using just your M1 and a bit of imagination. There is also a smattering of strings, bass patches, and an excellent rock organ. Sound effects are well catered for, and are a lot more useful (and a fair bit more scary) than your average monosynth filter sweep or modulated white noise. All in all, very dramatic, very uplifting, very exciting.
The second card, B102, is no weaker than the first, although the emphasis is markedly different. Whereas B101 majors on textures nod moody atmospherics, B102 adds pianos, strings, percussion, flutes, ('GalwayFlut' - die for it), brasses ('Sax+Trumpt' - very bright), lead guitars, and some further sound effects. The lead sounds are particularly well represented. Ever wondered what a dead guitarist might sound like through an echo unit and a rusty Phaser? Try 'CutterLead' for size. 'LeadGuitar', 'Feedback', and 'OSCarLead' are pretty self-explanatory, and 'Backwards' enables you to play those reversed George Harrison guitar licks that you've always loved (haven't you?). That isn't to say that there are no typically M1 atmospherics on this card. Try 'Enya', 'JmJ's Pad', 'Religious', 'Dreamy', and 'AtmosFerik' - there's something here for everyone. Power playing is also well catered for with 'AlbumStart', 'BigMovie', 'BiggestM1', and many others supplying the business. Also, by way of fun, there are a small number of D50 rip-offs - similar name, same sound. And why not? Finally, the card also contains a number of timbres clearly inspired by other types of synth - analogue, PD, and FM.
Experimenting with both cards sends song ideas leaping unbidden into yer head. The sounds just reek of SMPTE and £1m recording studios, and will undoubtedly find their way on to countless soundtracks, AV jingles, and videos. Perhaps the best way to differentiate between these programs and other synths' patches (and even other manufacturers' M1 sounds) is that the Valhala patches sound like Combinations in their own right - rich, textural, loadsa movement. The last time that you heard sounds of this quality emanating from a single keyboard you were probably listening to an Emulator or a Fairlight.
If I had to find one criticism of the collection it would be that there are a few too many atmospheric textures. But I won't. With 200 almost uniformly excellent patches to choose from, you really shouldn't mind a little self-indulgence by the programmers. Speaking of the creators of the collection, it's good to see that programmers can have a sense of humour (B101 patch 69, 'Love Chord'). The dedication of the programming team seems to come across every time you experiment with the cards. Even using the moody or eerie sounds, you get the impression that the people who were working on them were actually enjoying themselves.
In conclusion, these cards contain some of the most satisfying patches that I have heard in a long, long time. The jaded ears of this MT reviewer have now been titillated by timbres and effects that show just how powerful a synth the M1 still is - even in 1990. At only £45 per card (not cheap perhaps, but excellent value for money) these patches will tempt you to make an M1 the major keyboard in your rig. If they don't, I honestly don't know what will. Now I'm off back to my M1R to have some more fun. I suggest that you do the same.
Price £45 each