AMG PRODUCER SERIES
When someone like Vince Clarke decides to select all his favourite sounds and release them on a sampling CD, you could be forgiven for thinking he's flipped his lid. I mean, why would he want to reveal all his best bits in public? Does he need the cash or are this group of analogue blips, stutters and fizzes not really that good? In answer to the above read: it's for charity, no and no.
The eagerly-awaited Lucky Bastard CD (Vince loves the name by the way) contains few surprises - you expect lots of quirky, interesting analogue material from the ex-Depeche, ex-Yazoo, ex-Assembly and current Erasure mainstay, and you sure get it from this collection.
After a demo song made up solely of samples from the CD, Lucky Bastard opens with a strong set of sequenced loops from the Roland System 100M. These will probably have a lot of people reaching for their sample record buttons straight away, but hold on, there's much more to come. Close on 20 different sections are included, broadly divided by the analogue classics in the Clarke collection - the ARP 2600, Moogs, Oberheims, the VCS3 etc.
Following what seems to be a trend on sampling CDs these days, complete sequenced sections of music are followed by individual recordings of their component parts. This, of course, makes it possible to reassemble a sequence in a different way (perhaps omitting certain parts) - or simply to resequence the original parts at a different tempo without affecting the pitch. BPM figures, incidentally, are listed for every sequence.
Included among my personal faves are a set of excellent filtered lines from a Korg MS20 and an Obie 2. The metallic/noisy/resonating sequences a Roland System 100M were interesting too, and I particularly liked the 'Misc Synth Drums' section with its inclusion of various rhythmic twiddles, biting bass drums and dramatic crashes and splashes. The percussive theme is continued by a whole range of drops and bursts, courtesy of the ARP2600, and the Serge Modular comes to the fore with a range of sounds that would add a little toppy interest to any rhythm track.
There are one or two misses though. Of the VCS3 Vince says, "I had this for two years and couldn't work out how to get a decent sound out of it". Unfortunately the few VCS3 samples included only serve to prove the point - many of them comprising nothing more than rasping squiggles. But if it's any consolation to Vince, I've always had trouble with the VCS3 too. The only other minor criticism concerns the handful of similarly grating snippets from the Emulator Modular - perhaps only useful for lovers of that industrial, chainsaw sound or for those determined to alienate their audience. The number of pads on the CD is also rather limited, though this is hardly surprising from someone more renowned for sharp percussion, bleepy analogue sounds and oddball basslines than vast, layered stringy washes.
Long-time fans of Vince will instantly recognise much of what is included here and if not, towards the end of the CD, there's a list of samples with the name of the source song included. Some of the samples are so obviously Clarkesque it may prove difficult to incorporate them into other styles of work. But used with care, this CD could fulfil most analogue dreams, be they industrial, ambient, techno or just clouded, gibbering fantasies. Andrew Jones
Price: £50.95 including delivery and free Now! That's What I Call Sampling CD
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by Steve Wright
No, it's not the Steve Wright that's on 'in the afternoon'. This is another Steve Wright who is actually Making Music magazine's Mr Soft (nothing personal, I hope) and who has put together a 40-page booklet aimed primarily at the complete computer music novice.
It's all too easy to assume everyone knows something about computers and sequencers, but of course this is by no means the case. Even though there are only a handful of computer types on the market, it's no easy task deciding which one is best suited to your needs. And with so much software available, choosing suitable packages ain't easy, either.
The book is very much a beginner's guide. It starts off by explaining what MIDI is and what types of music software are available - sequencers, scorewriters, editors and so on. There's a chapter on sequencing and the types of editors you'll find in sequencer programs. There's a short chapter on scorewriters and a further chapter which looks at five programs in more detail - Cubase, Notator and Notator Logic, SeqWin, Quickscore Deluxe and Band-In-A-Box.
Details of the ST, Falcon, Amiga, PC, Mac and Archimedes computers are included along with a selected list of software available for each machine. But it has to be said, there's very little depth here. Surely even the Acorn Archimedes is worth more than a scant two paragraphs? The photo is nice, though...
Perhaps most importantly for a beginner's guide, a 3-page glossary is included covering all the most commonly-used terms.
As I said, there's no great detail here - but detail is what confuses people. This, essentially, is an overview, but not without value for the absolute beginner. The layout is open and it's a very easy read. You'll pick up information without knowing you're learning.
If you've found yourself fighting shy of computers and music, but think it's time you started to get involved - and it is, you know - then this booklet will give you as painless an introduction to the subject as you'll get without an anaesthetic. Ian Waugh
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Fantasy. Hmmm. It's one of those words synth programmers love, isn't it? Come up with a sound that doesn't fit easily into one of the traditional pseudo-orchestral or analogue synth categories and the temptation is to try and give it 'other-worldly' connotations with words like 'Ethereal', 'Atmosphere' or 'Saturn's Rings' (not to mention Uranus! Tee hee - Ed).
Thankfully, Paul Wells, the programmer of MetraSound's latest ROM card for the M1, has restricted himself to 'Fantasy' as a general title for the collection. As far as most of the 100 individual Programs and Combinations are concerned he's kept his feet firmly on the ground.
Of course, the problem with trying to program sounds on the M1 is that unless you use a completely new set of PCM waveforms what you end up with still tends to sound exactly like an M1 - if you see what I mean. Most of those original samples are by now so well known you can spot them a mile off - the strings, piano and organ being the most obvious examples. And there are, I'm afraid, sounds on Fantasy which fall into this trap; 'Tranquile' and 'Bell Reeds' are cases in point.
Having said that, there are other cases where a slight 're-framing' of the preset works wonders: 'Pianer', for example, is a much brighter version of that M1 piano preset and is far better suited to cutting through a dance mix. At the other end of the spectrum, there are sounds that don't appear to resemble anything I've heard my M1 produce before and which really do get the creative juices flowing.
Paul has used the 'analogue' synth samples in the preset waveforms to produce some lusciously warm pads - check out 'Roland STR', 'J-M-J Pad' and 'JX Brass' for some true junoesque charisma. And he's even come up with some interesting variants on the bizarre (read 'useless') digital sounds which Korg saw fit to include with the original PCM set. I love the general weirdness of sounds like '60's Sci Fi', 'Wave State', 'Ocean Bed' and 'DX for FX' - all of which are imbued with the kind of raw energy which will make them of interest to ravers.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this collection is that certain sounds appear to have nothing to do with 'fantasy' at all. Indeed, buried amongst the weird and wonderful you'll find some really quite useful sounds; presets that could well be employed in everyday arrangements - not just dodgy Dr Who theme re-creations. I'm referring here to the superb '1K Bass', 'Juno Bass' and 'Brass Orch' among others.
I have to say I'm not entirely sure what they're doing in this collection - though I'm not complaining. I've already written a handful of bowel-shattering tracks around the bass sounds alone. But they do point to this as being a collection with something of a split personality: weird and prosaic; bizarre and functional. This, of course, could be a major selling point (and is, as far as I'm concerned), but does mean you occasionally get brought down to earth with a bump. Ian Masterson
Price: RAM card £65 inc.VAT - ROM card £46 inc.VAT - Atari disk £28
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