Optical Media International Universe of Sounds Vol 3 for Emax, DPX1 and Emulator II joins our regular selection of readers' own synthesiser patches in MT's regular Patchwork column.
If you're still waiting to see your particular synth featured in these pages, then why not be the first to submit some sounds?
Don't forget that if your patch gets published, you'll receive a free year's subscription to MUSIC TECHNOLOGY with our compliments. So send us your favourite sounds on a photocopy of an owner's manual chart (coupled with a blank one for artwork purposes) accompanied by a short demo-tape (don't worry too much about classic performances and impeccable recording quality; just present your sounds simply and concisely - and convince us you're the best of the bunch). Include a decent-length description of your sound and its musical purpose in life, and write your full name and address on each chart. And remember, edited presets are all very well, but an original masterpiece is always preferable. OK?
Magnus Norling, Sweden
Sweden does it again: Magnus goes for gold (or at least a free sub) with this extremely good bass sound, one of a very competent selection on his tape. This fluid patch might well be taken for a heavily-fuzzed bass guitar in a mix, and stands up pretty well on its own.
Jonathan Halton, Cleveland
This massive brass sound with a twist is more than a little reminiscent of the start of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' (the theme from 2001), and is surprisingly analogue-sounding for an FM synth. As Jonathan recommends, it should be played monophonically in the lower registers for best effect.
Craig Borland, Strathclyde
Analogue devotees get a look in with this bass patch from Craig Borland. Slapper is tight yet exuberant, electronic yet with definite slap-bass overtones. It fits the bill exactly for repetitive sequenced basslines - Craig suggests you use it for those Pet Shop Boys impressions. 'Nuff said.
Tim Williams, Cumbria
Another great bass sound. As its name implies, this is perfect for bouncing, rhythmic basslines, like the one on Tim's impressive tape done entirely on ESQ1. Eat your heart out, Depeche Mode.
Emulator II, DPX1 & Emax
Unlike some synth patch libraries I could mention, there isn't one single bank of sampled sounds in Universe of Sounds Volume III that strikes me as being totally useless. Of course, some will prove more useful to you than others, beauty being in the ears of the beholder. But whether you're into pop, rock, folk, jazz, experimental, orchestral, techno, new age, commercial, television or film work, all musical tastes are catered for. There really is something here for everyone. And in abundance, I might add.
Each of the three volumes in the series holds up as a complete sample library in its own right, with every family of instrument and category of sound amply covered. Volume III not only supplies you with "bread and butter" samples, it goes out of its way to fill up holes in Volumes I, II and everyone else's library for that matter.
As you might deduce, Northstar Gold Volume III comes on a gold-plated compact disc. Very tasteful. With the recent revelation that the aluminium used on ordinary CDs might not last as long as initially expected due to oxidation, gold compact discs (being chemically very inactive) should have a life expectancy many times your run-of-the-mill music CD. Incidentally, ROM compact discs are not made to be played on conventional CD players. You won't hear any of the 436 banks of sounds described, just digital bleeps and blips, and it may damage your hi-fi if played too loud.
Four hundred and thirty-odd floppy disks full of samples, each with up to 46 preset keyboard configurations, is a lot of sound material to wade through. Of the nearly 200 banks I listened to (in one sitting!) I could visualise in my mind's ear at least a good few finding a home in just about everybody's top 50 favourite samples. Yeah, there are a few loops that would have benefited from a bit of work or remapping, but overall there's some excellent stuff here.
The vocals blew me away, and while the rich Hinson Choir needs some serious attention paid to tuning, the female "Oohs" and "Aahs" will make you melt into your chair. We're going to be hearing quite a bit of these as well as the Barber shop vocals come Christmas commercial time.
The Strings, Brass, Woodwind and Reeds all come across as being eminently useful, and you'll find solo as well as ensemble banks of all the major instruments, even Piccolo Trumpet, English Horn (as Americans call them) and Tuba. Special attention has been paid to including string "bits and bobs" like slide violin, violin runs and spiccato violin. A lap-slapping country hoedown is only a banjo and plucked bass away with the 'Country Fiddle bank'.
Club and session musicians alike will find a veritable goldmine with all the stalwart acoustic, electric and electronic sounds contained in the keyboard categories. Although there's no way you can duplicate all the nuances of playing an acoustic piano in a sampler, there's a wide variety of piano sounds, including 'Pizzicato Piano', 'Tined Grand Piano' and 'Edge Grand Piano' that with proper mixing will do justice to many a track and live gig. There are six banks of Leslied Hammond organs, a Brass Pipe Organ and two Pipe Organs... complete with natural ambience.
Of the drums and non-pitched percusssion, there's the aptly-named 'Power-Crusher Drums' that'll get you right where it hurts. There should be a caution note on these. And the 'Acoustic', 'Computer', 'Digit', 'Electronic' and 'Hip' drum sets should satisfy even the most demanding primal skin-bashers among us. I still can't figure out how some of the vocal drums were sampled, but these were fun. There are five banks of nothing but cymbals, a bank each of claps, finger snaps, marching band, orchestral and pop percussion and enough ethnic percussion to ensure the pitter patter of Emulator II keys for many months to come. Check out the 'Classic Conga', 'Brazilian Bag' and 'Tabla Rhythms'.
Of the electric and acoustic guitars and basses, my favourites are the '63 Fender', 'Jazz Punk', 'Minimoog 2' and 'Jason' Basses; 'Rap', 'Bizarre 1', 'Jazz/Pop' and 'Power' electric guitars and the 'Martin', 'Resonator' and 'Classical Gas' acoustic guitars. I could go on in depth about the varied collection of ethnic instruments and ethnic, metallic, pitched and orchestral percussion, there not being a genre of music that couldn't be pulled off convincingly with the sounds contained in Volume III.
But the sounds that steal the show are the synthesiser and sound effects. These really will make life easier for the working musician, producer and recording studio. No more searching through effects records for the right sound effect or ambience (squeaky footsteps - Category 41, bank 339... winter wind - Category 52, bank 436), or tweaking and layering synths to fill out a track. I have to admit that I got lost in alien landscapes, busy offices and video games. Being as thorough as they are, OMI have even included a bank of oscillator test tones.
Professionals shouldn't be without a CD-ROM. The fluency with which hundreds of expertly and imaginatively executed stock and specialist sounds can be accessed will help keep up the creative flow in any sequencing, orchestrating or recording situation. At the end of the day, when you add up the price of all three volumes and the CD-ROM player, each floppy-disk-worth of samples (almost 1500 banks of sounds) costs less than £2.50 per disk. With future CD-ROMs of sounds and the promise of other samplers soon to be included in the OMI Universe of Sounds series via MIDI sample dump, this "per disk" price works out to much less. While it's true that brilliant sounds a good song do not necessarily make, Universe of Sounds III certainly provides enough good sounds to feed your inspiration and imagination.
Many thanks to Audio FX (01-482 1440) for the use of their CD-ROM, Emulator II and Volume III.
Price For EII and DPX1, Volume I, £495; Volume II, £595; Volume III £665.
For Emax, Volume I. £595; CD-ROM, £1299. All prices include VAT.
Gear in this article:
Feature by Tom McLaughlin