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Sonic Images Sample CDs

There may be few instruments in the world that have not yet been sampled, but there is still an infinite number of ways it can be done. David Mellor auditions the Sonic Images sample library volumes 2 and 3.

There may be a few instruments in the world that have not yet been sampled, but there is still an infinite number of ways it can be done. David Mellor auditions Sonic Images' Sample Library Volumes 2 and 3: Percussion Special and Stack Sounds A.

Why is it that there are so many synthesizers available, each with dozens of factory presets and more sounds commercially available from third party suppliers, and sample upon sample presented in high quality CD and optical disk formats, yet when you listen to the new Top 40 on a Sunday evening you hear the same tired old sounds over and over again until you are sick to death of them?

It's a real puzzle, although it might have something to do with the theory that the Great British Public likes novelty in its music, but not too much of it all at once, and preferably served up as a side salad to the familiar and unthreatening main course. Still, as Dave Stewart's 'A User's Guide to Sample CDs' in the March issue of SOS shows, there is a burgeoning sample CD industry - which has to be good news for those of us with a real interest in developing the craft of music, even if only a fraction of the immense variety and richness of timbre available reaches those with ears that, in all probability, would like to hear it.



Note: some instruments are duplicated in different sizes and playing styles.

African cowbell
Bar chimes
Bell tree
Bell cluster
Big boom
Brass snare
Chinese opera gong
Clapping stick
Crash cymbal
Digital snare
Finger cymbal
Frame drum
Korean drum
Log drum
Palm stones
Rain stick
Ride cymbal
Slit drum
Spiral tube
Steel drum
Tam tarn
Temple block
Tibetan crotales
Tom tom
Wind chimes
Wood bell
Wood block
Wood snare

Volume 2 of Sonic Images' Sample Library is called 'Percussion Special' with good reason - there are enough samples of exotic instruments here to keep an ethnomusicologist happy for decades. Interestingly, I spotted a copyright notice in the accompanying booklet warning that "resale for competitive products is not permitted" which made me wonder whether the makers of the instruments which are sampled here would regard this CD as competitive against their products? On the disc, there are a few conventional 'kit' instruments such as snares, toms and hi-hat, but not enough for this CD to be your only source of drum kit sounds. You should probably look at Volume 1 of this library (reviewed in the March issue) for those.

The CD starts with a demo track showing off the various instruments on the disc. This serves to whet the appetite for the sounds, even if it isn't exactly the most inspired musical arrangement and performance. After that, everything sounds good, or should I say excellent? The recordings of the instruments are very clean and consistent. They would appear to have been made in a smallish room, judging by the slight audible ambience, but the right compromise has been reached between having the sounds recorded absolutely 'dry' (as though in an anechoic chamber, which would make them pretty well unusable until you treated them) and capturing them with too much ambience so that further processing just turns them into a clash of competing reverberation. The samples are in stereo, but once again the effect is not over-pronounced. The left and right signals combine perfectly well into mono (mono compatibility being dependent on the microphone technique used) for those of us with mono samplers or tight memory restrictions.

There are a total of 99 tracks on the disc, each with as many index points as samples, which makes it nice and easy to find your way around with a suitable CD player, although the organisation isn't quite as logical as it could be. According to my arithmetic, there are a total of 284 samples on the disc (give or take) of over 100 instruments, some of which I have listed separately. My advice, if you are interested in percussion instruments, is to buy this CD straight away and add some spice to your tracks.


Once again, the third disc in the Sonic Images library kicks off with a fairly uninspiring demo track of some of the samples it contains, but the rest of the disc is quite good. 'Stack Sounds' refers to the way in which the samples have been created, which is to layer two or more sounds together, most of which seem to be synth with some piano and guitar. I do recognise many of the synth sounds here, which is not particularly a bad thing, but it makes me consider the alternative to buying this CD, which is to MIDI a couple of synths together and develop a few home grown stacks.

I can't give this CD as hearty a recommendation as the 'Percussion Special', because so much depends on personal taste when it comes to synth sounds, but all the sets of samples are definitely useful and cleanly recorded. There are 50 tracks on this CD, plus the demo track, each with several notes for multisampling, and these are indexed. The number of multisamples is variable from five to 16, each sample lasting six seconds and being played once. I tried a number of the stacks in my sampler and can report that they sound much better played on the keyboard than heard as isolated notes on the disc, where they come over as rather hard and dry.

The samples are all recorded in stereo, but since this is artificially generated by the synthesizer sources for the most part, the right and left signals don't always combine very well into mono, and the accompanying booklet warns against phase cancellation effects. This is no problem as long as you are aware of it, because if it doesn't work when the stereo is combined into mono, either the left or the right channel could be used by itself.

Although I'm tempted to try and describe some of the sounds supplied, I think it's better to recognise that descriptions don't come across too well on the printed page. So let me just say that there are some nice thick sounds on this disc, and if you are in the market for thickness (and why not?) then give 'Stack Sounds A' a listen. Don't judge merely by the raw sounds you hear - try and imagine some of the potential they have when applied to your personal style of production.


£34.95 each (plus p&p).

Executive Audio Ltd, (Contact Details).

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Carry On Doctor!

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - May 1990

Donated by: Bert Jansch / Adam Jansch

Review by David Mellor

Previous article in this issue:

> Carry On Doctor!

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> The Synthetic Realism Of Jea...

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