Time And Space - Zero-G Datafile One
As more sample CDs appear on the market, it becomes harder to produce something that stands out from the crowd. Tim Goodyer discovers a collection of dance samples that could become seminal.
Pick a number, a big number - say 1000. Now consider what would be involved in putting that number of samples - no rubbish, mind - onto a single CD. You've got to agree, it would be quite a task. Yet that's exactly what Ed Stratton has done with Datafile One, a comprehensive collection of dance-orientated rhythmic loops, drum machine voices, bass sounds, vocals, scratches and effects.
The more astute of you will recognise Stratton's name from last month's interview with techno outfit Man Machine. What he's done with this disc is to make public part of the collection of samples he's been making for use in his own music over recent years. Not the usual course of action, that - almost all practitioners of the delicate art of sampling guard their samples with almost religious fervour. So what the hell is Stratton doing, chucking away his exclusivity in this disc? Perhaps the samples aren't up to scratch, or maybe he's quitting music altogether. No, not a bit of it. Stratton is still very much committed to his art and a master sampler. The truth is that Datafile One is a very special CD indeed.
Beginning with the beatboxes, Datafile One contains the voices of the essential dance machines: Roland's TR909 and TR808, as well as those of the TR727 and a further 76 snares, 44 bass drums and around 50 percussion samples. Not a bad start.
The breakbeats come in a variety of forms, some from drum machines, some from drum kits and others from other instruments such as guitar and percussion. They vary in length (between one and two bars) and quality (depending on the source) but most remarkably of all, they come with simple but priceless guidance on how to make a usable loop out of them. Musically related to the loops are ten scratches - all distinctive and all useful.
Over 50 varieties of bass synth and guitar make up this section of Datafile One. These are mainly house styles, but there are also "dub" basses and more exotic basses suited to acid and other dance forms. And apart from a rather tasteful selection of flutes and stabs, that's where the more conventional aspects of this disc end, and the more unusual ones begin.
Broadly, the remainder of the disc can be divided into electronic effects, effects samples and vocals. Let's just say that there are a lot of 'em. The electronic effects include some very off-the-wall synth noises that - like many of the best sounds - make little sense in isolation but can add a new dimension to a piece of music. Pair these up with the wealth of effects drawn from old film soundtracks (and God knows where else) and you've got some pretty useful samples. Moving on to the vocal stuff, we find that some of this too is electronic - "robot" voices uttering phrases such as "Proceed with visual attack", "Execute digital transfer" and the charming "0 sound effect!". The human vocal samples are rather more musical in content, containing words and phrases along the lines of "Get on the floor", "Geddon up" and almost inevitably, "Dance". There are also grunts and screams in the "Waaow", "Uahh" and "Hit it" vein. More melodic lines are also to hand in the "Oo-oh-ah-hah" vein and a nice line in female ad libs. To clean up, there are also a selection of animal growls, whines, screams, and so on.
So much for the description - how does Datafile One measure up as a sampler's sample CD? The answer is unreservedly excellent. While there are some very good sample CDs already in circulation, it would be true to say that they're generally produced by people with the necessary resources for people wanting to make music. The exception to this generalisation is Bob Clearmountain's drum and percussion CDs - like Datafile One, these discs have been produced by someone who actually wants to make use of their contents. In each case, there's a certain indefinable "rightness" to both content and presentation of these discs. Where they differ, and differ dramatically, is in the type of musician likely to buy them. I can't see many people owning both.
If you're into dance music (and possibly, even if you're not) using samples from Datafile One quickly becomes a very enjoyable experience as the mechanics of the music are replaced by the immediate access to so many excellent samples. I quickly began to regard the disc as a jigsaw puzzle that could be assembled in a large variety of ways, with the picture always making sense. Some pictures are more attractive than others, of course, and that's where you come in - and where the logic behind Stratton releasing his samples starts to make sense. Half the battle with making sample-based music is in finding and collecting your source samples; the other half is putting them together to make music. Datafile One relieves you of the time-consuming search, ensures you of quality (artistic and technical) samples, and leaves you to get on with it.
Inevitably there is a drawback: you're working with the same set of samples as anyone else who's bought this CD. The solution is to mix these samples with your own drum patterns, instrumental sounds and, of course, samples. If you're prepared to do this, you've got an unbelievably valuable addition to your sample library.
To date, Datafile One is the definitive dance sample CD.
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Feature by Tim Goodyer
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