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Sounds, samples, & software upgrades for the modern studio

Article from The Mix, February 1995

New software, updates, sounds, and samples

Party on Roland

Roland's D-Series synths aren't particularly renowned for their usefulness in the dance music arena, but these three sound disks from CIS International aim to breathe new life into your ageing D5/D10/D20/D110, to bring it bang up to date.

First up is the Dance 1 disk, giving a selection of dance sounds, from cheesy organs through synth sweeps and hits, topped off with some soft pads for those soulful lurve songs. In the main, the sounds are of a reasonably high quality, and there are some rather tasty Hammond organs and a pleasant PCM piano emulation, which is much better than the preset effort. I also love the bass sounds on this disk – deep, heavy techno basses and some rather more mellow basslines for those excursions into dub.

The Rave 1 disk is obviously meant to be harder-sounding, and consequently there aren't so many pads, and the emphasis is firmly in the squidgy acid bleeps department. The problem I found with this disk, 'though, was that most sounds had three variations. This is fine when you have a storming sound, such as the three acid basses here (which almost justify the price of this disk in themselves), but you feel a little diddled when you get three practically identical versions of a more mediocre sound. Chordal stabs also abound on this disk, which are fine, but all have limited use and can be skipped over lightly without having felt you've missed out on something.

The second Rave disk is similar to the first, but places more emphasis on sound effects. Amongst others, there's four scratches, a thunderstorm, and a car engine effect. In general, these are reasonable, but would not be my reason for buying this disk. The sounds which caught my attention were the crazy pitch bending ones, which use the pitch envelope to devastating effect.

I haven't mentioned the drum noises on these disks, possibly because in the main they're a little disappointing, especially since there aren't any nice boomy bass drums. The snares and bass drums are uniformly weedy, and the only really good percussion is on the Rave 2 disk, with some nice hi-hats and a ridiculous 'wobble drum' which really does wobble in a great way, for that 200bpm monster techno track.

The sounds come as MIDI files, and as such sacrifice flexibility for practicality – you get the 64 sounds, or none at all. This makes the disks useful only if you have your own librarian, since you are not likely to want all the sounds from any single one of these disks.

The chaps at CIS International definitely have a talent for bass sounds, and both the Rave 1 and Dance 1 disks have some very nice ones. The addition of some good pianos and organs on the Dance 1 disk make this good value, and a recommended buy. The rave disks are less useful, and could have been condensed onto one disk (saving time, money and media) by removing all the nasty patches. However, there are a few corking voices on all these disks, and I would be sorely tempted to buy them all. Each disk costs £19.99.

More from: Sounds OK, (Contact Details).

"What's on the CD?"

You might well ask, and the only way to find out, apart from putting the darned thing in your CD-ROM drive is to read this guide, and the Re:Mix contents page for a full menu. As ever, ST owners without a CD-ROM drive can hunt down a PC owner with one, and force them to let you use it to copy the files off. You should get all the ST bits on two 720k disks.

There are some twenty-odd samples in SPL and AVR format for the ST and Falcon this month, plus Octalyser; an eight part tracker program for the STe only. The unregistered version has some restrictions, but will give you an idea of how potentially useful the program is.

For the PC, there's a demo version of PG Music's Jazz Guitarist program. To install it on to your hard drive, double-click on the GO.EXE from the file' manager. The fully working version contains a whole load more MIDI files, questions, and biographies and can be bought from Arbiter Pro MIDI. The demo version on this disc will still let you change the voices, view the score, and lounge around listening to some affable guitar twanging. The other thingies on the CD-ROM are a 'virtual' keyboard accessory, omitting the need to use an external MIDI device to play the noises on your sound card, and 'The Drums'; a simple, but hugely entertaining (if you like that sort of thing) drum editor. You should be able to run these programs directly from the CD, by clicking on the relevant *.EXE programs in the file manager. If this fails to work, copy all the files to the hard disk, and then create an icon for each of the programs (see your Windows guide on how to do this), and try it this way.

Amongst the other bits on the CD-ROM for the Mac, there's a shareware utility that will digest any AIFF or RAW sound and produce a sample, complete with some sparkling digital effects affixed. The program is actually modular, allowing you to add effects types on to it when they become available.

On the RE:MIX CD

On this month's CD-ROM there's enough to keep you out of mischief, with samples and programs for Mac, PC, and Atari. Read the full list in the Re:Mix guide starting on page 7.

Getting a sound into the editor can be done in two ways; either by importing an AIFF or RAW file, or by recording a sound directly into the program. Once there you can apply an effect to all of the sample, or selected portion thereof, from a menu of delays, reverbs, filters, and odd special effects like 'robotize', 'reverse', and 'dither'. The accompanying documentation contains all the necessary information about compatibility, usage, and most importantly, registration.

PC PD supplied by Omicron Systems. (Contact Details). Jazz Guitarist is available from: Arbiter Pro MIDI, (Contact Details).

Vintage Port

If ever there was a product in the right place at the right time it was E-mu's Vintage Keys. People were hungry for those new analogue sounds (sic) but were starting to smell a rip-off when poring over prices in the secondhand columns of the music press. Plus there'd been a problem with the reliability of instruments which had been heavily gigged – not to mention the difficulty of synching them up with the rest of your MIDI system. Interface boxes aren't exactly the bargain of the century.

Space has also to be taken into account. Most people simply don't have the room to house keyboard after keyboard, only one of which can be played at any one time (unless you're Rick Wakeman).

What was needed was a reliable rack-mounted synth crammed with the sounds of all those instruments we could only dream of owning, sampled to perfection, given enough real-time parameter control to make 'em as useful as the originals and at a price that wouldn't buy you a MiniMoog with half the knobs missing. And that's what we got. At least, those of us forming an orderly queue with our readies, clamouring for the hot new sounds which were the passport to rave, techno, trance and all things ambient.

If I had a criticism of Vintage Keys, it was that too great an emphasis was placed on the non-synth keyboards such as the Hammond B3, the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos and the Clavinet etc. Clearly, no collection of classic keyboards would have been complete without these models, but I felt (and the purists will have me by the tines for this) that their sound had been quite successfully recreated on many other synths over the years. Have you ever come across a synth which doesn't have a Hammond or a Clavinet patch? Neither have I. What fascinated me were machines like the ARP2600, the Mellotron, the Oberheim Matrix 12 and the Moogs – and I wanted more.

When more was offered in the form of the Vintage Keys Expander, I seized upon it enthusiastically, prising open the lid of my machine, pulling out the two original EPROMs and inserting two new ones in their place. There was also an extra ROM card to install, but thanks to the explicit instructions the whole job took no more than five minutes to complete.

I had previously backed up my RAM presets 000-255 as SysEx data recorded into Cubase on the Mac, and encountered no problems at all; they had loaded back perfectly (several times – I wasn't taking any chances). Switching on the machine, I performed the necessary initialisation routine, and prepared to familiarise myself with additional sounds of the Prophet 5, Jupiters 6 and 8, Oberheim OBX, PPG Wavetable, Chamberlin Strings, Chapman Stick, E-mu samplers, Roland D50 and JX3P, plus the TR808 and DR55, Fender Precision bass and a handful of other assorted keyboard esoterica. But first, I'd just make sure all those precious RAM presets would reload...

Disaster! SysEx data is sent out and apparently received by Vintage Keys, but no trace of the presets can be found.

Two hours later I discover the problem. The machine's ID number had been set to '2' when I recorded the SysEx data, but had been reset to '1' by the initialisation process. My Vintage Keys simply hadn't recognised itself. No mention is made of this in the accompanying instructions, but like anything, it's easy once you know how. At least you do now.

So back to the new sounds. I'm afraid the impending deadline of this review prevented me from doing much programming of my own, so I was largely dependent on the factory presets for my initial impressions. Interestingly, the upgrade replaces all the existing presets, leaving in their place some 512 patches, split equally between ROM and RAM. They are also much better organised than those on the original machine, with groupings such as Acoustic and Electric Piano, Strings, Organ, Lead, Brass, Sweep, Techno, Pad, Digital, Clock, Guitar, Bass etc.

A list printed in the instruction manual gives you a conversion list of all the old presets, which are included under new names in the new set. There are more than 130 of these, but why E-mu should have opted to rename them I can't imagine. This aside, a preset-by-preset journey through the upgraded Vintage Keys is an exhilarating experience. The sounds draw you in, fire your enthusiasm and leave you feeling slightly breathless as you consider the sheer number of possibilities that have just opened up in front of you. And yes, the new ROM sounds are every bit as engaging as the originals; sensibly sampled, superb when placed under real-time control of parameters such as filter cut-off frequency, and – most importantly – difficult to tell from the originals.

Personal favourites include the Jupiters and the Prophet 5, the Chamberlin Strings and the PPG sounds – but this is purely first impressions. When I start using the new sounds in anger, I'm sure other instruments will prove equally useful.

The new instrument set has transformed Vintage Keys, turning it from a very desirable machine into a virtually indispensable one. Cutting through all the hype about analogue (and God knows there's enough of it), it really is a form of synthesis that should be in everyone's arsenal – alongside the FM, LA, AI2 and the 'physical modelling' stuff.

For the reasons outlined earlier, and the apparent reluctance of the main players in the synth stakes to take a fresh look at what could be done with analogue, the most viable option is Vintage Keys – preferably with this expander fitted. It effectively closes the few gaps that were left by the ROM set of the original machine, gives you the extra RAM you need to really get to work programming your own presets, and throws in an extra 256 factory programmed presets for good measure. Vintage Keys owners will love it.

Box Clever

Mention the name Lynx to any engineer worth his weight in tape, and you'll receive a breathless monologue on these seriously sexy synchronisers of video and movie soundtracks. High on features and low on frills, the various Lynx synchronisers by TimeLine have become as synonymous with A/V work as Hoovers with vacuum cleaning. So it should come as no surprise that Alesis have commissioned TimeLine to design and manufacture a suitable sync unit for their ADAT 8-track digital audio recorders. The AI-2 is the result. A simple 1U rack in Alesis's trademark funeral black, it comes with an external 9-12V AC power supply, and lengthy ADAT 9 pin D type sync lead. A minimal front panel with LCD display, status lights and a few navigation buttons suggest that once set up it can be left alone. One of the eight DIP switches round the back bears this out, as you can set it so that inadvertent changes are impossible to make.

The AI-2 is able to synchronise up to 16 ADATs to video, allowing the transport functions to be controlled from a video editor. When used in this way, the AI-2 can emulate other equipment such as a Sony PCM 7030 DAT recorder or BVU950 video, so that interfacing with editors is invisible. For the primary task of sound-to-picture synchronisation, the Alesis BRC (big remote controller) is not needed. The BRC has sync functions of its own and for those without video editing equipment, a BRC might prove a better buy. The reason for this is that the AI-2 is really meant to provide the means to control an ADAT set-up when using other synchronisers more specific to video, which of course means that the TimeLine Lynx-2 and Micro Lynx synchronisers are supported and communicate directly with the AI-2. The AI-2 strives to be all things to all er.. machines and can time code-chase to an audio or video transport, talk to a TimeLine synchroniser, a video editor, a MIDI computer system and the BRC, while keeping multiple ADATs in perfect sync. MIDI actually appears twice. The usual in, out and thru appear in a section dedicated to the BRC, and provide communications between the two devices, plus timecode and wordclock outputs ensure the BRC keeps on track. The other MIDI in and out allow MIDI Machine Control (MMC) to and from the AI-2 and its controllers. A computer could be used to send MMC messages via the AI-2 to set tracks to record onto ADATs, for example. MIDI Time Code (MTC) is also generated at the MIDI out port.

If you're not up to anything fancy, then the timecode, external wordclock and video reference inputs are all you need for the AI-2 to get an ADAT to sync to video. Then connect the sync out to the ADAT sync in, and daisychain the sync to any further ADATs. The procedure is identical to using a BRC with video, which is why the AI-2 is maybe surplus to the requirements of those with only basic A/V needs. But for those with a serious sync habit and ADATs aplenty, the AI-2 has it pretty well covered. Price (inc VAT) £1,107.81

More from: Sound Technology, (Contact Details)

Not quite all there

There can be nothing more conducive to creativity than a new synth or sound module, full of fresh and original sounds to enliven your music. But despite producing your finest work to date, the yellow bananas eventually turn over-ripe, bruise, and then develop into a rancid black squish. Of course, the best way to maintain the life of your banana bunch is to feed it regularly with new sounds.

It isn't as expensive as you might think, either. Sounds can be supplied on computer disks in MIDI file or System Exclusive format, rather than expensive RAM or ROM cards, for those synths unfortunate enough to miss out on a disk drive.

77% Synth is a collection of 100 new Programs and 100 new Combinations for the Korg M1/M1r and T-series synths. As the name implies, most of the sounds are orientated towards the abrasive saw, triangle, waves and pulsating analogue blurps, but there are some very affable pads and choirs amongst the snarling beasties. The 'Jx Strings' pad, for example, uses a filtered sawtooth wave with a slow attack, producing a particularly mellow timbre. 'Solar Ray' on the other hand, is a far more optimistic burbling pad, using some odd modulation to obtain a radiating effect, much in the same way as the warbling 'Sunburst' sound does. The mildness of 'Film Kord' makes it a very useful and unobtrusive general purpose pad, with its slightly hollow, yet oddly rich timbre.

Providing the first batch of sequencer-type bleeps are 'Pluck 1', 'Pluck 2', and 'Vibe', the latter of which is a very rich synth stab. From here on in, beeps periodically appear amongst the patches, each one a variation on the previous, making good use of the sawtooth PCM. Other sounds worthy of a mention include the 'Jx3pee' lead synth sound, 'OBX Bass' and 'Steel Drum', which sounds very little like its intended voice, but is excellent nonetheless.

Some of the programs rely on the effects to generate the desired texture, and so tend not to work in the context of a multi-timbral set up where a single effect type might encompass several instruments. 'Flanged' in particular, sounds quite weak without the reinforcements of some swizzy effects. Ironically, the 'PPG Vocal' patch sounds infinitely better divested of its lashings of delay.

The combinations are far more lavishly constructed, with multilayered synths and so on. The best amongst the 100 performance-type patches are the 'Spacy Harp' combination, which melds together delayed bleeps with a washing choral texture, 'Cometo's' (a tremolo mixture of koto and strings), and the over-flanged and thumpingly harsh 'Techno Bass'. Layering the sounds produces some fine chordal timbres too, and this is apparent in the 'Sandstorm', 'Heritage', 'WaldorfPad', and 'Hard pad' voices, each a variation on the subtle grinding of sawtooth waves mixed with other elements.

Because the sounds are designed to work on both the M1 and T-synths, it doesn't take advantage of the extra PCMs that the latter offers. Despite this, 77% Synth still manages to do something creative with the palette it uses. Available on ROM and RAM cards, Atari or T-series disks for £45, £65, £24 and £25 respectively.

More from: Sounds OK, (Contact Details).

Weather Check

If anyone still hasn't already bought StormTracker, then shame on you, because you ought to have. Anyway, the promised upgrade has now appeared, and features improved preferences, and better graphic notation than its former incarnation (reviewed in last November's issue). The notes inputted are now all of proper lengths and types, for example, a minim for two beats, a crotchet for one and so on, and make composition much easier than before.

In addition to this, STe, Falcon, and TT owners can also take advantage of bass, treble, and volume controls in the new system preferences menu, omitting the need for an extra accessory to use the DMA chip's sound options. You can choose to cut or boost the bass and treble, by either 6 or 12dB. The preferences menu also has options to alter the processor speed (for Mega STs) from eight to 16, and 16MHz with cache, to make things run that bit faster, and a blitter chip on/off switch, which fixes any problems one might encounter with this feisty little number. If you're an existing StormTracker owner, you can upgrade for free, by sending your registered master disk back to Goodmans, or buy the new version for £24.95.

Available from: Goodmans International, (Contact Details).

Bleeps and Blurps

It's true to say that some of the most startling innovations came about by pure chance, and sometimes these flukes can be applied to the process of sound creation. One such program is the TLC Sound Machine. It isn't at all fussy what you load into it, so you can throw anything from a proper sample (in any format you care to use), to a picture file or program, and in return it will spit out some form of sound. The latter two may produce some horrific results, not dissimilar to a Spectrum computer loading, but a little basting will soon have that turkey looking ready to munch. While only simple editing, like amplification, reverse, stretch and squash (each as a user-definable percentage) can be performed within the program, each via a keyboard short cut, Sound Machine supports export formats such as Digisound, Replay (SPL), and RAW data.

The program is shareware, and for the trouble of sending in the registration fee you get free software updates, plus six extra programs.

Another way of getting some bizarre bloops is to use the Atari's own sound chip. Possibly the most famous Atari (with the obvious exceptions of John Connor's cash machine-hacking Portfolio in the Terminator 2 film, and the floating advertising hoarding in Blade Runner), is the one that rasped out the vocal hook in U96's 'Das Boot' track. Well, it might have been an Amiga, but then again, both sound alike. Do Sound is an Atari shareware program that allows you to synthesise (via a graphic GEM interface), odd effects and quirky bleeps using this famous, or rather infamous, chip.

Up to ten sound effects can be generated in any one patch, with each effect consisting of four frames (where each 'frame' can be a different sound register), and a multitude of looping frame and effect functions. It does sound rather complex, considering that the results you achieve won't exactly be comparable to something like the VL-1, but experimentation is the order of the day here. The program also comes with two banks of ten sounds, that ought to give you an idea of how to build your own bleeps.

Once created, you can then sample the sound from the ST's audio outputs, and use them in some inevitably rather odd pieces of music. Certainly an essential (and inexpensive) purchase for the budding Kraftwerk clone.

Available from Goodmans International. (Contact Details).

Join the Club

The ICPUG (or Independent Commodore Product Users Group), now in its seventeenth year, is the largest Commodore users' group in the country. Unlike some other groups, which are really commercial marketing operations, ICPUG is a genuine association of computer users working together for mutual benefit, and it is co-ordinated by a voluntary national committee. It began in 1978 under the title IPUG, with the objective of sharing news and advice with other Commodore PET computer users, and expanded with the growth in Commodore's machine range, and in the machine's user base. Benefits of membership include access to a free PD software library, technical assistance, and discounts on hardware and software.

The ICPUG's bi-monthly journal, with some 80-100 pages per issue, is widely regarded as the most authoritative journal on Commodore machines in the world, providing extensive coverage of the full range of computers, including the Amiga, C64 and PC, not forgetting the earlier C128, C16, Plus4, and VIC20 and, of course, the PET. It contains reviews of hardware and software, news of the latest developments and applications, and many invaluable hints and tips on problem-solving. There is also a free For Sale and Wanted section, as well as a 'Readers Write' column.

One of the most popular features of ICPUG is the free software library (all you provide is the disk and packaging). Not only does this include over 1,500 PD disks for the Amiga, but there are also PD disks or tapes available for all other Commodore computers, plus Windows and DOS libraries for the PC.

Amongst other things, the music section of ICPUG Amiga PD library contains fourteen disks created by Rob Baxter, enabling you to listen to Bach, Handel, Mozart and even Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue on the Amiga. The audio section of the library consists of sixteen disks, which include MIDI tools and MIDI keyboard, and many demo tracks. There are programs for use with synthesisers such as the Kawai synths, Roland JD800 and Yamaha DX series.

Technical help is also part and parcel of the membership, and is offered either by mail, telephone, or at one of the local groups where you are invited to bring along your computer.

Along with the rest of the world, we're waiting to see who will be the new owners of Commodore International. If the bid by the Management Buy-out team of the former Commodore UK company is successful, we look forward to a bright future for the Amiga. All being well, the existing product line will be back in the shops by April, and development of new, exciting machines will recommence. The possibilities for the future are great and ICPUG will be there.

For ICPUG membership details contact: Tim Arnot, (Contact Details).

PD/Shareware suppliers

Floppyshop (Contact Details).
Goodmans (Contact Details).
Merlin PD (Contact Details).
New Age PDL (Contact Details).
Tumblevane (Contact Details).

Omicron (Contact Details).

Valley PD (Contact Details).
16/32 Systems (Contact Details) (also ST).

Premium PD (Contact Details).

Nutty Interfacing

Setting a universal standard is a proven way of getting more things to work, most of the time. Take for example, a standard-sized automobile. Too big, and it would have difficulty in parking and would undoubtedly be a menace on the road; too small, and you wouldn't get as many people in it. Things aren't as black and white as this when it comes to computers; they tend not to fuss about whether their peripherals have a Gti badge or not. The SCSI and SCSI-2 (and the forthcoming SCSI-3) standard computer interface was thought up by like-minded people, who decided (somewhat naively, as it turns out), that myriad different computers could all be induced to use the same hard disk, or CD-ROM drive.

Unfortunately, the A600 and A1200 missed out on having an SCSI socket, which is why HiSoft developed the Squirrel interface. It is, apparently, so called because of its ability to hoard data, rather than forget where it's put things, or even because it has a fluffy tail.

Anyway, to install an SCSI device on to the Amiga you first have to connect the hardware. The Squirrel interface snuggles into the PCMCIA socket, and has a short cable affixed to it with a 50-way SCSI plug on the end, which plugs into the external device. After its initial connection, it is very easy to simply forget it's even there.

Next, the Amiga is booted up with the Squirrel master disk in (or if you're really clever, a back-up copy of it), which contains all the necessary driver software, and the installer program. There are three types of installations; each dependent upon your knowledge of the Amiga, and how desperate you are to customise the whole set up. The 'easy' setting does most of it automatically, and for a simple one-device set-up is certainly enough. In the next dialogue box, you can choose which devices you wish to install, and whether to floppy or to the hard disk. If at any time the whole procedure is just getting too hairy, an on-line help button is provided alongside a very useful written manual.

Selecting 'create CD32 boot floppy' copies all the necessary drivers and utilities to use a CD-ROM drive on the Amiga onto a floppy disk. Fortunately, it needn't be formatted, as this is covered too in the initialisation. After this finishes, the program checks for any SCSI devices pertaining to your particular selection that might be connected, and displays them in a box, ready for you to save.

When you next boot up, it needs to be with the new disk, and then you can access the CD-ROM drive from Workbench. As long as you have a double-speed drive, you can also run a number of CD32 games and applications (which was fun), or even read any MS-DOS CD-ROM.

I did discover that some of the programs on Amiga-specific CD-ROMs wouldn't actually load directly from the drive, and so had to be copied onto floppy disks, which was a bit of a disappointment, but not the fault of the hardware.

Installing a hard drive is a bit more complex than the CD-ROM installation, and much of the written manual is given over to explaining how to do it. You need to run the HDToolbox program, and then make selections from there. Like the Installer program, it still looks to see if there are any devices connected to the Squirrel device (and their ID numbers), and then lists them in a box, ready to select. You can perform all the usual types of functions using this application, including formatting and partitioning, which are both explained in detail in the manual.

It is an incredible advantage to have an SCSI adaptor; for starters, it saves a great deal of money when buying a hard drive of any substantial size to buy a SCSI one, as opposed to one specifically for the Amiga. And then there's the possibility of connecting other devices that you wouldn't normally be able to have on these machines, like floptical drives, SyQuest drives, and DataDAT drives, and all at the same time, too. And as the whole thing is neatly packaged with a quality manual, comprehensive driver disk, and two disks of PD and shareware utilities, the Squirrel interface must be the most essential add-on for the A600 or 1200 you could possibly buy. The Squirrel Interface costs £69.95, and in addition to this, Hisoft have a selection of SCSI devices like double, and triple speed CD-ROM drives (starting from £119 for a bare mechanism), and SyQuest drives from £349.

More from: Hisoft AVR, (Contact Details).

Pick 'n' Mix

As a young lad, the thing that most used to frustrate that there was always a finite number of Dolly Mixtures in my Lucky Bag. As an adult, I still long for a disk with an endless supply of data on it. Fortunately, the CD-ROM was invented for ravenous types like me, and ever since, manufacturers have struggled to satisy our appetite. The Music MOD and Sound Effects CD-ROM is one such disc, brimming with over 10,000 files to graze upon.

The MOD files are all new, fortunately, and not some tawdry retread of 80s pop hits, so for the most part are reasonably good. The finest servings amongst the 2,800 on offer are; 'Jordan Jazz', which is a fantastic acid jazz-type improvisation; 'Emperor', with more cheese than a delicatessen; 'Undersea', which wins a prize of its own for being the most bizarre thing I've heard since Ronald Reagan was announced as president.

All the MOD files can, quite obviously, be loaded into whatever sound tracker program you use, for a general prod around, but for just replaying them, this disc provides Ed Player; a most sophisticated MOD playing utility, with some fine trimmings to match. For starters, it's the first I've used that has fast forward and rewind buttons (skipping to the next, or previous song segment). The pause button is also quite novel in use, in that before the piece stops, it actually fades out first. Other functions include a volume control, memory function (which stores loaded songs into RAM), and a keyboard display that shows the notes being played as the MOD file shuffles along. It also takes full advantage of the Amiga's multi-tasking, and enables you to replay songs while you carry out tasks in Workbench.

When I say there are absolutely squillions of samples on this CD-ROM, it is no exaggeration. Well, perhaps a tiny one, but there are more than 6,500 (mostly all of which are in IFF format), which is a very handsome collection indeed. Some of the instruments sampled include the Roland D-series, Juno (masses of basses), Kawai K1 (the strings and choir pads are great), Fairlight, the EMS Synthi, and Korg M1 synths. There is also a drawer' full of speech snippets, and a separate one for those teenage nose-picking tyrants, Beavis and Butthead. To try out the samples, the CD-ROM includes the shareware utility SoundMachine, which not only replays most files, but can export them as RAW, IFF, VOC or the PC's WAV file format. The program also has a compression function that squashes the sample to save disk and memory space, plus the all-important reverse function for those subliminal messages.

Two other sample and MOD players are included on the CD-ROM, and all work directly from the CD-ROM drive. For just £9.99 (plus 75p p+p), this has to be one of the least expensive, yet most comprehensive discs for the Amiga I've had the pleasure to rifle.

More from: 17bit Software, (Contact Details).

The Quest for Patches

Perhaps the only problem with having lots of keyboards and modules (aside from the high insurance premium, electricity bill, and the amount of cabling needed), is that to edit them all, you'd need a librarian for each of them. Although they probably can't help with the electricity bill, Sound Quest have a unique program for PCs, Amigas, Ataris, and Mac computers, which relieves one of your many headaches and allows you to edit everything from within one program: MIDI Quest.

When this program installs itself onto the hard disk, a window appears half way through the procedure, and asks which of the available instruments you wish to use. You can decide to install just one synth for now, and then re-run the installation program again when it comes to loading in another. If it has been installed properly, when you boot up you should have all the drivers in the window that correspond to the particular instrument that is being used.

Before the PC and keyboard become acquainted, you also have to specify the proper MIDI outputs and/or drivers, by clicking on the settings box, and then connecting them accordingly. Pressing the Edit button with one of the 'drivers' selected (for example, the program edit driver for the Korg T3) sets the program off on a hunt for the data. There's no need to do any dump sending from the keyboard or module itself, because the program simply requests it to be sent when it needs it. The only thing you have to be concerned about is whether or not you backed up the bank of sounds currently residing in the synth's RAM, before you go and delete them, and that your synth has its system-exclusive filter switched to off (else it won't do anything).

If all goes well (and it didn't for me once or twice, until I realised I'd done something really stupid in the MIDI Mapper), a bank, or single voice should be in a new window. (It depends which device you used to request a dump). You can audition the sounds currently in RAM by just clicking on them; it acts as a sort of temporary tester file, which, should you decide to keep the voice on the synth, you can simply push the write button to store.

You can have more than one bank open at a time, and then you can cut and paste patches between the different libraries, to create a customised version that will be useful for a particular song perhaps. The settings box along the top menu is much the same as the global settings box, although here you can just make alterations to this particular driver. Two of the best functions on MIDI Quest are the Mix and Blend functions, which take any number of selected patches (from two to all of them) and creates a hybrid sound out of them. Quite often the results aren't that marvellous, and if you selected three or four voices to squash together, it is equally likely that there will be some duplication. But it is worth doing, because you can get some astounding voices if you choose the right patches to begin with, and if you're also prepared to tweak the sound afterwards.

A lot of modules, and some keyboards too, will benefit greatly from having a whole screen on which to edit a sound instead of an eye-strainingly small LCD. MIDI Quest offers a fully graphic edit window with mouse-drawn envelope generators and faders to edit patches.

One of the frustrating things about inputting values into the boxes is that you cannot double-click on it and type the value in; it has to be done using the mouse and dragging, which is a pain for high values. Paradoxically, the ADSR drawing is completely hassle-free, as are the graphic dials and sliders.

Saving your data is always a sensible idea, and MIDI Quest offers you two ways to do this: Firstly, you can either save the current library (or individual files therein) to disk as a MIDI Quest file, or you can export it as a standard MIDI file, ready to paste into your favourite sequencer.

MIDI Quest is a comprehensive and quite unique sound editor and librarian, because of its support for a many of the popular instruments (like the M1, 01/W, D-series, JV, DX, SY, Ensoniq and E-mu synths), and because you can edit two, or even more, instruments at the same time. Because of its high compatibility, certain parameters aren't available to edit on some instrument drivers (like the effects on the M1), but they tend not to be very important ones. With the program you also get a MIDI file player, sound checker, and MIDI control utilities that run within the main program, the latter two making light work of trying to figure out where the MIDI signal stopped working. MIDI Quest is also available in Atari, Amiga, Mac and PC DOS versions, so it couldn't get any more universal if it tried.

More from: Arbiter Pro MIDI, (Contact Details).

God Bless America

One of the things that's most frustrating about CD-ROMs is the time it takes to wade through the seemingly endless amounts of files on the disc. And then, when you think you might have the right file, you can never seem to find the right program, or player utility to try it out with. The data CD-ROMs that I tend to favour are the ones that arrive with a shop window, however dressed up (or not), ready to peer into and see the delights, rather than having a non-existent interface, leaving you to scramble through an open air ventilator around the back.

The MIDI Master Collection is a Windows-compatible MIDI and WAV file CD-ROM, with every type of musical genre catered for. The music is divided up into five main categories; classic composers, cartoons, films, festivals (bear in mind it's American), and pop, each containing a mix of inordinately huge WAV samples (of lengths in excess of 5Mbytes), and MIDI files.

The Cartoon classics folder doesn't supply the expected collection of slapstick tomfoolery, but classical pieces used in popular cartoons. These include Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers, from the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he and Elmer Fudd perform an opera, and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody no.2 as used in Tom and Jerry's The Cat Concerto. The pop folder contains a myriad of musical styles including jazz waltz, blues, be bop and funk, whilst more elements of classical music can be sought in the films section, with pieces like Mozart's Figaro Overture from the Trading Places film.

It isn't compulsory to run the CD-ROM using a PC; the only thing you miss out on are the menu pages. You can still access all the MIDI files, samples and graphics on the disc from any CD-ROM drive, on any other format. The collection itself varies from the sublime, like Erik Satie's Gymnopedies (although quite why they chose a synth pad to play it I have no idea), to the absolute turkeys, most of which aptly appear in the Festivities folder (you know, Thanksgiving and all... ). It's worthwhile, but only if you like a bit of variation in your MIDI files.

More from: System Solutions, (Contact Details).

Sample CD reviews

d-zone correction

In response to last month's review of Workstation Volume 1, d-zone (as manufacturers and distributors of Solo Records) would like to clarify the following points:

1. Of the 150 samples on the CD, 75 are from the JD800 and 75 from the Proteus World.

2. The samples are spread across six tracks, not three as was stated.

3. Mono copies of samples are included in response to customer feedback, don't cost any more, and mean that many d-zone CDs are nearly 80 minutes long!

New World Order

Journey 1

If your beats haven't yet been bitten by the world-groove bug, it probably has more to do with logistics than music. Musicians and programmers are attracted to ethnic beats because they can give even the dullest mix an unexpected twist. But there are problems. Like – how, where, and with whom do you capture your perfect ethnic loop?

You could turn to your record collection for possible samples – but how much of your shelf space is occupied by the right kind of vinyl? Not as much as the acid jazz, the 70s funk, or the 80s disco, I'll wager.

You could turn to a drum machine. But the voices are unlikely to be 'dirty' enough to sound authentic, and in any case, there won't be enough of them.

You could load in a string of single-hit samples from CD, and program from there. But the beauty of many ethnic grooves is that their beguiling flavour hides a surprising rhythmic complexity – the kind of complexity that takes a lot longer to program than yer average four-on-the-floor, kick-and-snare monotony.

You could venture forth into a remote jungle/desert/township, armed with a portable DAT recorder, a stereo mic, and a fistful of traveller's cheques. But the musicians who'd really be worth recording will probably be on tour in Europe, anyway.

Finally, you could turn to a CD like New World Order Journey 1. I say "a CD like", but in my experience there isn't any other disc quite like this one. Painstakingly recorded using superb exponents of the rhythmic art from most corners of the globe, this is a collection of 80-plus basic rhythmic styles, each offered in a dozen variations which stray wildly from the original in arrangement, feel, and tempo.

Stylistically, we're on a broad canvas here. Latin America, West Africa, India, and the Arab world are all well-represented, as indeed they should be. But it's the depth, as well as the breadth that is impressive.

On the RE:MIX CD

A collection of drum loops from New World Order Journey 1.

You think you've heard all the Brazilian, Jamaican, and Afro-Cuban rhythms that are worth hearing – but you haven't until you've spun New World Order. You think Indian percussion begins and ends with bhangra. New World Order tells a different story. You think Arabic flavours have no place in your music. New World Order shows you how much Arab rhythms have to offer, even if the melodies remain as elusive as ever.

Plus, there are some styles that will just sound totally fresh, even to the most jet-setting ethnic music freak. There are Haitian voodoo rhythms that turn familiar, upbeat percussion patterns into something haunting and melancholy. There are gentle, deceptively simple Japanese loops. There are gutsy, mine's-a-Guinness bodhran and bones patterns that sound as though they were recorded in the dingiest corner of a rural Irish pub.

They may have been. But, despite some blurb about "many different field-locations" in the documentation, the overall sound of New World Order is too squeaky-clean. As with most commercially-released sample CDs, the recording has been heavily compressed prior to mastering, so that end users can set their levels from any track on the disc and then sample at will without worrying about clipping. Which is all very fine and sensible. Except that many ethnic patterns have a huge dynamic range that enables them to deploy dozens of sounds without feeling overcomplex. It's this dynamic range that pre-mastering compression destroys – and New World Order has suffered in this respect.

I'm also concerned that there's virtually zero audio pause between many of the variations, or even between entire tracks. Fine if you're going to bring everything into SoundTools and chop the waveforms up on a 17" Mac monitor – not so hot if you're editing on an LCD the size of an unwrapped condom, as many people are.

The Swedish makers of New World Order are promising plenty more where this came from. Me, I'd like the sequel to be uncompressed (or less compressed) and with proper silences between the loops. But I'm in no hurry. There's too much hot material on this first CD to chew over in a single sitting.

Move over, Transglobal Underground.

Price: £59.95

More from: Time+Space, (Contact Details)

Sample Pool 1 & 2

If Frankfurt Beat, Harthouse and R&S labels dominate your 12" collection, this pair of Sample CDs could be just what you're looking for. Coming at you out of Dusseldorf on BOO Records, compiled by Ziggy P and The Brain, these slices of aluminium substrate are crammed with some 80 minutes of samples each. That's over 1400 samples per CD, and, while the sample rate must necessarily have been dropped to fit in over 74 minutes, the sound quality certainly doesn't appear to have been compromised.

The samples are arranged in similar form on each CD, Techno Bass Drums head up the first 8 or 9 sections, followed by Snares. Hi Hats and Percussion sections, all original samples drawn from a wide variety of analogue sources. If it's 909 or 808 sounds you're after, these may provide all you'll ever need. Variations are provided on each sound, and there's both dry and reverb variations for your percussive pleasure.

Following a few sections featuring some 'natural' Percussion, Cymbal, Crash and Tom bites are a selection of Techno loops. There are some classics here, many of which you'll probably recognise. There is nothing about copyright clearance on the cover notes, so I presume you're on your own when it comes to having a hit using some of these. The philosophy behind Sample Pool appears to be the techno tribes' anarchic theory of information being freely available. A note at the back of the booklet invites you to send in any samples you would like to see on the next Sample Pool. The freedom of information pact doesn't apply to the CD itself, however, and there's a rather hefty £69.95 price tag attached. That's each! BOO Records will no doubt point to the sheer number of samples here, and there's no denying that.

On the RE:MIX CD

Authentic techno-bites from Sample Pools 1 + 2

Techno Loops are not the only style featured, there's Breakbeat and Ragga Loops, House Loops and some old club classics for those of us who were getting on one, matey, back in the early days. Someone has programmed the Funky drummer beat on an 808 and sampled it, which will give James Browns' lawyers cause for concern. And I'm not sure if this is the original 'I've Got the Power' loop, but this bunch of old grooves will elicit sighs of nostalgia from those of us who were lucky enough to be able to dance to repetitive beats before the government banned them.

Basses follow on from the drum loops, naturally enough, and there's a goodly selection of FM and analogue sounds here, all in the best techno tradition. A generous selection of chord bites come next, followed by a healthy selection of vocal samples and EFX. Some of the vocal samples are a bit crusty, having been taken straight off the 12" in many cases, but most techno bods would argue that that's in the nature of the music anyway. If you're strapped for cash (and who isn't these days?), then Sample Pool 2 is the one to go for. Its collection of 909 Kicks is among the most useable I've heard. All in all, a generous selection which goes a long way toward justifying the price tag.

Price: £69.95

More from: Newtronic, (Contact Details)

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Bob Dormon's Musos' Guide to 1995

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Mixed Media

Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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The Mix - Feb 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

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