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Sounds, samples, & software upgrades for the modern studio

Article from The Mix, March 1995

New software, updates, sounds, and samples

Brazil nuts

The World Cup was almost a year ago now, and I suppose not many people will still be feeling the party spirit generated by the South American football teams' supporters (if any of us ever did to begin with). But with the new Twiddly Beats rhythm disk, you can re-create all the atmosphere of the stands during the matches (less the crowd disturbances), with a collection of Brazilian rhythms in MIDI files.

There are 72 files on disk altogether, although some are meant as supplements to the main rhythms. Amongst some of the classic beats are Bossa Nova (and its various derivations), which sounds fantastic when given a BPM injection, and Rancho, a sort of marching beat but with greater passion. There are also many variations on the Samba theme, with several files with just a few bars of frantic percussive fills.

All of the MIDI files were recorded live using a trigger-to-MIDI convenor and a live drum kit, to capture that 'authenticity'. None of the files are quantised, and so do tend to suffer horribly if you do decide to whip them into sixteenths. Each instrument has a separate track, so cutting and pasting between ideas is easy. This format also allows muting of certain instruments to be tried out, without having to perform drastic edits.

The Twiddly Beats Brazilian Rhythms come as standard MIDI files on an MS DOS disk, so they're directly compatible with the Atari ST and Falcon, PC (and various hardware sequencers), and accessible to Macs and Amigas, via PC Exchange and CrossDOS. The disk costs £21.95 which includes £2.00 postage. Also available are sets of pre-mapped Brazilian samples on four HD floppy disks for the Roland S760/750 and Akai S3000/1000, to accompany the MIDI files, priced at £16.95.

More from: Keyfax Software, (Contact Details).

TOTP made easy

For those whose aspirations to chart success have been frustrated, Time & Space have a new CD-ROM product that will once again line the brick road with yellow paint.

Circle Elements, looking much like a dart board, is a program that allows its user to layer various musical components to create a cacophonous wail. The program contains a comprehensive selection of sounds and rhythms relating to the musical style chosen, with the result culminating (hopefully) in a well-structured, continuous piece of music. Two volumes are available; the first is more dance and electronic music-orientated, whilst the second contains a montage of more natural sounds and instruments.

The Circle elements CD-ROMs are available for both PCs (386 with 4Mb, Windows, and a 16-bit sound card required), and Macintosh computers (68020 processor and 4Mb of RAM) for £29.95 each, or both for £49.95.

Also now available on CD-ROM is the 'Zero-G Datafile' series of sample CDs, transformed into 16-bit samples in WAV format. Each of these costs £19.95.

More from: Time & Space, (Contact Details).

Tools of the trade: Essential items for MIDI musicians

Fiddly bits

Sometimes the esoteric idiosyncrasies of MIDI can reduce the best of us to a jibbering wreck, wondering where in the set up a MIDI message has got lost. Fortunately, the whole purpose of MIDI is to prevent digital interfaces consigning us to bath chairs, and the MIDI Bright Eyes (part of the helpful MIDI For Humans range) is one such gadget.

It's a simple enough concept; a MIDI plug with a huge LED bulb on the end, which flashes when it's receiving signals. If you have a keyboard that sends active sensing, the thing goes completely mad, so it's more useful if you can turn it off. The MIDI Bright Eyes (or rather MBE) comes in two forms; male or female (sockets or plugs) each of which costs £2.95.

Although the ST has already got MIDI ports, 16 channels can sometimes be quite limiting. However, all is not lost, as Tesseract have a simple device that plugs into the modem port and gives you an extra sixteen MIDI channels via a single MIDI out. The gadget comes complete with a disk full of MIDI utilities (including In Control, Music Calc, and Fastcopy 3) plus driver software for Cubase's MROS system, and costs just £14.00. The new price is only applicable while existing stocks last, so go and buy one now, else you may very well regret it.

'MBE' available from: RTPS, (Contact Details). The MIDI doubler (for Atari STs) is available from: Tesseract, (Contact Details).

PC for the politically correct

For the PC, there's plenty of stuff to be keeping you out of mischief, although to take advantage of the programs you will need Windows 3.1, a 16-bit sound card, and a MIDI interface installed. There are four commercial demo programs; Cubasis, Samplitude Pro, Quick Score Pro and Ragtime Pianist, plus the Handy Chord Reckoner program and a pile of samples in WAV format. To run the Cubasis demo, either open up the file manager and double-click on the INSTALL.EXE in the Cubasis folder, or type: D:\pc\cubasis\ install.exe (where D:\is the letter of your CD-ROM drive) in the Program Manager.

Samplitude Pro can be installed in much the same way. This time, double-click on the SETUP.EXE file in the Samplitude folder, or type: D:\pc\\setup.exe. Read the reviews of both programs in this month's issue. To install Quick Score Professional, doubleclick on the INSTALL.EXE in the score folder, or type D:\pc\score\install.exe in the Program Manager.

Both the Ragtime Pianist and the Handy Chord program can be run directly from the CD-ROM, although you can copy them on to the hard disk if you want to. To run the Ragtime Pianist, double-click on the RAGTIME.EXE file in the File Manager. The demo version of Ragtime Pianist is fully functional, but only has five MIDI files play. The complete version has oodles more, plus a wealth of biographies, quizzes and useless facts to bore your friends with.

To run the Handy Chord program, double-click on the HCR_DEMO.EXE file. This demo is also fully functional, with just the some file options, and chords of more than four notes removed. It is basically a chord recognition program, but with the added bonus of a MIDI arpeggiator built-in. The samples in WAV format can be used in any compatible sample program, or used as system sounds.

The Ragtime Pianist is available from: Arbiter Pro MIDI, (Contact Details). The Handy Chord Reckoner is available from: Hmmm... Software, (Contact Details). QSPro is available from: Off Planet Media, (Contact Details).

Logic for Windows

The PC may be most popular computer in the world but it does not seem to be numero uno for music software developers. I suspect it may have something to do with the downright sheer non-standardness of PCs, which can lead to all sorts of compatibility problems. But there's no doubting the PC music software market is large, and well worth tackling.

Emagic certainly agree, as the company releases Logic for Windows, a full implementation of its top-end sequencer. The only other Emagic PC software is MicroLogic, a cut-down version of Logic, which was reviewed in MT last July, and has since been updated to answer most of its early criticisms.

The Mac version of Logic was reviewed way back in April 93 in MT, while Logic Audio, including details of the latest updates to Logic, was reviewed in the November issue of THE MIX. I'd heartily recommend any prospective buyer to check out these reviews.

Logic gives you the choice of using Windows' Multimedia MIDI drivers or Logic's own drivers. There's quite a bit of spiel attached to the pros and cons of using both sets of drivers. Logic drivers give better timing, but there may be conflict between any Windows drivers which are installed.

If you already have Windows drivers installed, I'd suggest seeing how these perform first, although if you're into Sys Ex, these drivers can only receive 4096 bytes of Sys Ex data. (Looking at just this one area, you can see how complex PC/music software development can be).

If you're new to Logic, it has a few novel and unique features, which make it worthy of most serious consideration for any prospective sequencer buyer.

Most top-end sequencers have an Arrange page, in which sections of music can be copied and dragged onto any of the tracks. Logic is no exception. The system works extremely well, and it's extremely easy to arrange music.

There is an event list, a piano roll editor, a score editor with printing which is quite sophisticated, and a hyper editor which is useful for editing controller data and creating drum lines. Oddly, however, there is no dedicated drum editor.

One of Logic's most interesting features is the Environment window, which shows a 'virtual' representation of your MIDI setup. You can patch various processing objects into the system, such as an arpeggiator, faders, a MIDI channel splitter, a MIDI delay line and so on. It's all powerful stuff, even if it takes a while to wrap your head around the concept.

The current release of Logic for Windows is version 1.9. It's pretty close to version 2.0, which Mac users enjoy, but it lacks a few features in the notation department, and has limited MMC (MIDI Machine Control). It only allows one song to be open at a time, which makes copying data between songs a bit of a chore.

It doesn't seem possible to close the extended Transport control, which will get in the way if you have a small monitor — that is, anything under 17". However, one extremely powerful feature is Screensets, which lets you select up to 90 window display combinations at the press of a couple of keys.

If you use a synth or sound module with a To Host interface (which plugs into the PC's Com port), or if you use the Com ports on your PC for other devices, you may have a problem, too. The program uses a dongle for copy protection, and this plugs into one of the Com ports. It has a Thru socket, so you should be able to plug another device into the port, but the 1.9 version of the driver software does not support the Thru function, effectively losing a Com port.

However, this and other software omissions are due to be rectified in version 2, and an update will be provided free to all 1.9 owners. This has actually been due for several months, but according to Sound Tech it will really, honestly, definitely be here by the time you read this.

A program as sophisticated as this requires a good manual. The one you get is not bad, but it is written primarily for the Mac. A readme file on disk lists some of the differences between the two systems. These are mainly keyboard commands.

There is also a rather hefty 130-page addendum devoted to version 2 of the software. I do bemoan the loss of the spiral bound manual which accompanied Notator on the Atari ST, where updated information could easily be slotted in and old pages removed.

You will have to spend some time with the two manuals, because there is a lot to the program. Logic is undoubtedly the most innovative sequencer yet to grace a computer, and although it may initially seem complex, a little devotion will pay rewards in terms of control you get over your sequencing. All the more reason to have good documentation — and for the user to read it!

Now, at last, PC users have access to this power and innovation. It's not the only high-end sequencer for the PC, and no doubt some musos will pass it by, but in order to make an informed decision you really must check it out. Its design suggests that updates and enhancements will be fully integrated into the program, and not appear as tacked on bits hanging off the ends, as they can do with some software.

All in all, a most welcome and long-awaited addition to the PC music market. Logic for Windows costs £349.

More from: Sound Technology, (Contact Details).

The facts about Sampling

Samplers, like soft toilet tissue, are one of life's little comforts, but can also be a pain in the bum sometimes (especially that recycled stuff — Ed). Odd as it may seem, some people who own a sampler don't actually sample with it, apparently. The Sampling Basics book aims to encourage more people to be creative with their samplers, by eliminating much of the hyperbole and myths surrounding the whole subject.

The book opens with an introduction into some of the theoretical aspects of sampling, touching upon various practicalities like memory, resolutions (and what they really are), and Mr Nyquest's celebrated nostrum of sampling at twice the highest frequency of the sound. There is also a glossary of sampling terms, so you ought then to be able to have intelligent conversations about things like aliasing, VPSRs, and bits.

Sampling Basics has a very hands-on approach to learning sampling techniques, and most of the book is furnished with practical tips, methods, and worksheets for photocopying and using. Chapters five and six breaks down the whole process of taking a sample into easy-to-manage chunks. Chapter seven combines the rest of the studio gear into the job, and includes various stereo microphone placement techniques for getting yourself the perfect sound.

One of the best parts of the book is where it challenges you to record a batch of samples just using household appliances and utensils. It gives a few suggestions of its own, but mostly encourages you to see how many sounds you can invent using a piece of cheese on toast. There were numerous, and were surprisingly good when used in the right context (My tunes are cheesy enough thanks — Ed).

Some of the information in the book is perhaps a little dated, for example the references to 2.8" Quick disks, and 5.25" floppy disks in the storage media glossary. And there is little, if any, mention of sampling using computer programs and sound cards, or the MMA sample dump standard. But these aren't really basic subjects, and nor can writing an up-to-date book be easy, with the rate at which sampling technology has expanded in the last five years or so.

For the beginner, Sampling Basics is definitely worth a good, long look. Even the seasoned sampler who can whip a single clap sound from an audience, will find a supply of useful ideas and facts between the disappointingly bland sleeves. Sampling Basics costs £16.99 (plus £2 p+p).

More from: Sounds OK, (Contact Details).

Orchestrating your PC

Nowadays, finding something more constructive to do with a PC doesn't seem be a problem. But there's a bit of a Catch 22, because now there's more stuff than any one person could possibly use in a lifetime. The choice can be even more baffling for those who are new to the whole concept of MIDI and sequencing.

One option is MIDI Orchestrator Plus (the sequencer version of MIDI Orchestrator; a MIDI file player you get with a number of sound cards) that combines a level of professionalism with an easy-to-use interface. Up to a thousand linear tracks can be recorded, spanned across a number of actual MIDI interfaces. The sequencer allows up to five of these devices to be accessed, giving a total of up to 80 MIDI channels (or more still if you have a multiple port MIDI interface). The advantages of so many tracks are numerous. Firstly, you can separate the drum parts into tracks for each drum sound, allowing you to make drop-ins and percussive breaks as easy as unmuting a track. Secondly, there can never be enough room for storing currently unwanted ideas for later on, and so a 'paste track' or two is infinitely useful.

Each track has a title box which, like all the other boxes, can be expanded to reveal the whole name, or compressed to fit more of the sequencer window on. Clicking on the patch box with the right mouse button calls up a menu of pre-defined patch names. A GM bank is provided, as is a voice list for the D110, U220, M1, TX81Z, Midiverb III, K1000, and CT synths. If the modules you use aren't supported, you can create new patch maps by editing the ORCHPLUS.INI file using a text editor.

Both MIDI, *.ORC, and *.SNG files (Sequencer plus), are supported for importing, although only *.RMI (its own proprietary format that saves extra settings like the conductor track), and MIDI files can be exported. Only one song can be opened up at once, although MIDI files can be merged together, which goes part of the way to fixing this shortfall.

Recording a part is simple enough. The track currently active is indicated by an 'R' in the record column. The metronome is set to default at a one bar count-in, although this can be changed from anything up to a hundred bars. Bars are recorded in whole, and so if recording is stopped mid-way between bars, you get a whole bar (or nothing, if nothing was recorded). Any recording starts from the bar/beat/click value, or where ever you punch-in. The same is true of playing back the song; unless the pause is pressed, the song returns to the bar/beat/click point when it's stopped.

Each of the transport controls have a keyboard shortcut from F4 to F9, duplicated in the same order as they appear on screen. Pressing the shift key down with fast forward and rewind speeds up the process. Key F6 and shift opts to play just the highlighted section. Unfortunately, there aren't any cycle options, which is a rather odd omission.

Key and List editors are included in MIDI Orchestrator Plus for making the necessary edits to parts and tracks, as is a score page. The latter offers no editing functions, and serves as little more than a printing facility. On the page, you can choose which parts to print, and add titles and copyright notes. The key edit is quite user-friendly, with three basic tools; a pencil for drawing in notes, an eraser for deleting them, and a pointer for shifting things around. List edit does exactly what it says: Chronologically display all the MIDI events of a part. Some filtering options are available, like taking out all the note information, program changes, after touch and pitch bend. No system exclusives can be filtered out, but then again, nor can they be inputted or recorded (any dumping causes the program to freeze up).

A mixer page is available for each of the MIDI output devices, although only one can be accessed at a time. The 'info' box at the top allows you to make any alterations to the patch number and track transposition. Each track has a reverb and chorus dial, which correspond to the appropriate controller changes, a solo and mute button, pan control and fader for volume. Any values set with the mixer are kept for the song.

As an entry-level sequencer, MIDI Orchestrator plus is a contender for at least the third and fourth place play-offs. Functions like multiple MIDI outputs, twelve levels of undo, and a conductor track for changing time signatures and tempo during the song are very professional additions. On the other hand, no cycle options, limited score editing, and the inability to handle system exclusives seem a must for even the most basic sequencing.

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

Processed cheese

Using the ST's sound chip for anything other than a metronome seems a ludicrous notion to some. But using the right utility can transform the plain old beep into something rather more exciting. Music Mon is a combined sequencer and synthesiser that uses the ST's chip for an infinite source of cheesy noises.

The sequencer window is laid out in much the same fashion as a typical tracker program, with three columns for the tracks, file options box, playback bars, and the sequencing options. Notes can either be inputted using the ST's keyboard, or via a MIDI keyboard. Pressing F1 through to F4 changes the octave currently being played on the 'qwerty' keys. To skip a beat, or to change tracks, the cursor keys are used. Music Mon also allows the auditioning of voices without recording, by pressing the undo button. Pressing it again returns you to record mode. The voice currently selected is shown in the voice box above the tracks window; the patch number corresponds to the number on the track.

A sequence consists of a number of separate patterns played in a sequential order. Each pattern is set to 64 entries, which amounts to four bars, although you can have any number less than this. Once you have several patterns, you can cut and paste them around, and move the order they play in, using the song functions.

The second page is where all the sound creation occurs. Music Mon provides a generous helping of preset bleeps on disk, which are always a good starting point if the whole process is a little daunting.

The first window is the amplitude envelope graph. You can actually draw in the envelope using the mouse, with a maximum of forty points across (with sixteen values on the y-axis). Quite complex envelopes can be generated with such a free method of scribbling, but if all you require is a simple shape, you need only define the 'key points', and have the computer fill in the gaps.

Each patch consists of a sound, noise, or combination of both. The ST has four sound registers; three of the more conventional bleepy-style, plus a noise register. The noise, if you choose to add any, can be assigned a fixed pitch, which is useful for creating a consistent attack portion, like the breath part of a flute for example.

Amplitude modulation can be applied to either (or both) of the sound and noise generators. Four types of waveform are on the menu: Square, triangle, saw up and saw down. The pitch modulation option is a particularly potent tool for adding a touch of sparkle, or alternatively an overdose of portamento to a sound. Music Mon also has an arpeggiator built-in to the sound creation process. You can have up to three different notes, and define the speed at which they change, and the amount of times it is repeated. Once finished, sounds can then be stored on disk, and used in the sequence window.

The manual contains listings for assembler, GFA, and Omikron basis, so any songs created in Music Mon can be incorporated into any game or program. This seems very much to be a computer user's musical gadget, rather than the other way around. But this ought not deter anyone from what is a particularly versatile sound synthesis and sequencing package. The technology of sound chip music is almost certainly dated, but then so are the burblings of an analogue synthesiser, and that doesn't seem to worry many people.

More from: CGS, (Contact Details).

No Brains CD

MTV takes its commitment to brain-dead gimmickry to the next logical step with MTV's Club Dead, an interactive CD-ROM 'thriller' for PC. As you might expect from the people who brought you Kennedy (or are you lucky enough to have avoided her yet?), the game is dull and already dated: A sci-fi movie/strategy romp located in the self-consciously trippy environs of the Alexandria Club. Here, an irritating industrial soundtrack accompanies your investigations into why the club's clientele is being systematically knocked-off — that's 'killed' to anyone out there who still has only one interpretation of the initials PC. If you are even remotely interested, I won't ruin your fun by giving the game away. But rest assured, it's crap.

More musical, but no less tedious, is Jump: The David Bowie Interactive CD-ROM. This one promises you the opportunity to 'Interact with a legend', whereas in (virtual) reality it simply strands you on one floor of a high-rise office block, and allows you to click on various artefacts that are, presumably, of central importance to the current Bowie ouevre. Selecting an object, though, reveals little more than Mr Iman himself droning on about his latest songs and reminding us once again that, these days, he is rubbish. It's unfortunate too, that interactive technology hasn't yet reached the stage where we can leap in and demand a couple of bars from 'The Laughing Gnome'.

Still, we can all look forward with suitably bated breath to the new Bob Dylan album on CD-ROM. Can't we?

Speedy screens

Long, long ago, when Atari released their first 16 bit ST machine, the GEM desktop was the finest thing known to man, and it didn't matter that it was a tad on the slow side. Its snail-like properties were caused by Atari (in all their wisdom), writing GEM in a programming language called C; the reason being that, because of the portability of the language between platforms, developing GEM would be quite inexpensive compared to writing it in specific machine code.

But, even after a billion or so TOS revisions, the introduction of the STe, Mega STe, TT, and graphically superior Falcon, the desktop architecture is still largely the same. And now, particularly with the colours and resolutions available to the Falcon, having a sloppy VDI does matter.

NVDI is a program that replaces Atari's existing VDI calls with its very own, sleek version, vastly improving graphics redraws and so on. The program is now in its third incarnation; the fundamental difference between its last version (v2.5) and this new one (excluding an obvious increase in speed), is that it is now Speedo GDOS and True Type font compatible.

Having a hard drive is practically essential for this version of NVDI, especially if you want to take advantage of the extra font-handling capabilities. Installation is very easy, despite the complexity of the program, as copying of all the relevant files to the right folders is automatic. The boot drive must first be selected (it's usually C:\ in the case of hard disk owners), and then a default printer can be assigned, plus folders for the CPX files and fonts. The installation then plonks all the necessary files in the proper places, including the NVDI program itself in the AUTO folder. It doesn't alter the existing AUTO program order, and so any replacement desktop files like Teradesk or Neodesk must be moved in order to make NVDI run first (the manual explains how to do this).

The CPX files include the configuration file, an improved printer interface (with your chosen model as the default), and a System Info, Keyboard, and Mouse CPX; the last three being designed to replace Atari's existing General CPX for configuring the basic working environment.

On loading, the first thing that strikes you (aside from the replacement system font) is how like a freight train the GEM desktop goes; windows open almost immediately, as do dialogue boxes and menus. Screen redraws on programs like Cubase or the MIDIQuest Librarian improve vastly, and no longer hinder the work in progress. In fact, Cubase benefits so much from NVDI, it's surprising how anyone ever managed without it.

With this before and after comparison, GEM Bench proves that when injected with NVDI the ST really does zip along

Running GEM Bench and testing the speed of the VDI operations proved just how much faster everything is (see tables). VDI Text calls are improved by some 700%, whilst graphics functions are more than five times faster. Overall, GEM graphics are some three to four times faster on average, and depending on the application, possibly more.

Incompatibility problems usually arise with older software, or TOS programs with their own version of VDI calls (Cyberpaint is one program that refuses to work whatever you do). Most of the errors can be overcome using the NVDI configuration CPX menu. For example, First Word Plus (v3) doesn't work on the Falcon, unless TOS compatibility is switched on. The same is true of HyperPaint on the STe when using True Type fonts (strangely, it works fine without the fonts).

If this TOS compatibility function is so wonderful, you may well ask why it isn't permanently implemented in the software; the reason being it limits NVDI in terms of capabilities, owing to the fact that it must emulate closer the original Atari VDI. Speed isn't greatly reduced with this option on, the GEM Bench results still produced an increased overall average speed of around 300-400%.

The configuration CPX also has other options for compatibility, plus an optional 'dynamic' mouse accelerator. If you already have a mouse accelerator installed, it is advisable to switch this setting to off, otherwise the mouse has a tendency to dash around the screen uncontrollably.

Installing PC True Type fonts or Speedo fonts is just a matter of dropping them into the assigned folder for fonts (the default is C:\BTFONTS\). With a program like Superboot, you can set it up to load just certain fonts, rather than all of them. The reason for this is because some programs (Hyperpaint, for example), can only handle a limited number of fonts. Any programs that use GDOS fonts can access the TT and Speedo fonts loaded in the system, including Atari Works, Papyrus, Hyperpaint, LHArc, and Wordflair.

Until Apple or IBM release a Mac or PC with MIDI ports, there is never going to be a more accessible computer for the musician than the Atari. And thanks to all these software and hardware third party developments, the words 'slow' and 'tortoise' will no longer be synonymous with the ST. NVDI v3.0 comes packaged with 8 Speedo fonts and costs £49.95, or just £24.95 if you upgrade from v2.5.

More from: System Solutions, (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).

CD toolkit

CD ROM drives are pretty slow, especially when you're reading lots of data from them in real-time when running an application direct from the CD, or playing QuickTime movies. It's the nature of the beast.

A single speed CD ROM drive will have an access time of around 380ms and transfer data at around 150Kb/sec, which is chronically slow compared with a hard disk with an access time of 10-20ms and a transfer rate of 800Kb/sec, or even 2000Kb/sec. Although most manufacturers are now concentrating on double speed drives, they're still not very fast. We're starting to see triple and quadruple speed drives, but these are naturally more expensive, and still slower than a hard disk.

Is there anything you can do to speed up your CD ROM drive? As you've probably guessed, the answer is yes and involves the CD ROM Toolkit. The current release is version 1.5, and as well as speeding up your CD player, it has another feature of great interest to the musician — but we'll get to that in a moment.

It needs at least 4Mb of RAM, and 3Mb of contiguous hard disk space to do its stuff, which is basically setting up caches to maximise the data transfer. Some information has a much higher probability of being used frequently, and is stored in a 'static' cache. The data in a 'dynamic' cache changes much more regularly, as old data is regularly replaced with newer data.

The static cache holds information which is gathered as soon as a CD is inserted. This includes Finder-related info such as icons, file names and so on. The dynamic cache is held in RAM, so data transfer is extremely fast. The sizes of both caches can be set from the Toolkit control panel, so you can adjust them to maximise performance according to how much free space you have in your system.

There are other setup options, including read-ahead caching, which tries to anticipate the next data request, and pre-caching, which is designed to copy repeatedly-used information into a buffer on your hard disk.

You can leave the settings at their default values and get good results, but it's worth reading the manual in order to understand what's going on, so you can optimise the settings for your particular machine. In fact, this is strongly advised, because some settings will actually hamper QuickTime movie performance. Helpfully, the setup window warns you about this.

The Toolkit provides custom support for over 60 CD ROM drives, and fully supports Apple's new AppleCD Audio Player 2.0. This is a programmable audio CD player which uses commands many other CD ROM drivers do not support, including Apple's own driver for the PowerCD, and Apple's older drivers. The player is provided as part of a full System 7.5 installation.

CD ROM Toolkit includes CDT Remote, which plays audio CDs. There are track select, shuffle and scan controls, and you can show the time elapsed since the track started. It also supports Compact Disc and Graphics (CD+G) media, also known as CD Karaoke, which can play CDs containing video and lyric data. Hallelujah!

Of particular interest to musicians users is the ability to lift a section of audio data from a CD and put it on your hard disk. You can specify the start and end times within the track you want to capture, select 11 kHz, 22kHz or 44.1kHz sample rates, 8 or 16-bit resolution and stereo or mono conversion. Files are saved in AIFF format.

It's a very neat utility, but if audio data transfer is your main aim, a program such as Gallery Software's CD Studio is more flexible. The transfer process won't work with any old drive, however, and the program currently supports about 19 devices. I must confess I had problems with an internal drive which I believe is an Apple CD300, although it worked fine with CD Studio. Toolkit performed perfectly with the 300i Plus in a Performa 630. If you want digital transfer, then try before you buy, or check with the distributor.

If you want something to boost your CD ROM drive's performance, CD ROM Toolkit does an excellent job. The actual speed improvement depends on so many factors it's impossible to give a definitive figure. However, with an Apple CD300 it halved the access time, and improved the data read rate by a factor of 10!

If you use a lot of CDs and are fed up with the slow speed of the drive, Toolkit could be just what you need to relieve the frustration. It's become a permanent fixture on my Mac. CD ROM Toolkit costs £81.08.

More from: Midwich Thame, (Contact Details)

CD Studio

Most people who use sample CDs play them on their CD player and record them into a sampler or direct-to-disk recording system. This involves a conversion of the sound from digital to analogue and back to digital. Even if you have good gear, there will be some deterioration in quality. You also have to hit the record button at the right time, or else spend time trimming the sample. How much easier it would be if you could lift a sample from a CD and drop it onto your hard disk.

Well now you can, with Gallery Software's CD Studio for the Mac. It copies audio data from a CD directly to your Mac's hard disk. It's actually a subsection of Gallery's SampleSearch program written for Digidesign's SampleCell, which does all the things the SampleCell software should do but doesn't. For more about this, see our August issue.

CD Studio needs an Apple double speed CD ROM drive such as the CD300, CDZOOi or CD300plus/e and the Apple CD ROM driver, preferably version 5 or later. Other drives and the Apple CD ROM driver may work, but best check with Gallery if you have a different drive.

The program is very easy to use. Of course, it can lift any audio data from a CD, not just samples, so remember those corporate copyright lawyers if you're tempted to be naughty.

When you put a CD in the drive, the program lists the tracks it contains. You can copy over complete tracks, or just sections of them using Mark In and Mark Out functions to isolate a certain part. Or play a section of a track, and shuffle the Marks if you haven't got quite the bit you want. When the program has finished playing a section, it simply continues playing the rest of the track. A loop function would be useful, so you could hear just the section of audio you want to capture.

The program can save the audio data in one of five formats — SD II (Sound Designer II), AIFF, Snd, WAV (for Windows) and QuickTime. It can also create a mono recording from a stereo file, or split a stereo recording into left and right files.

It is easy to use, but the manual is rather feeble. It's a mere three pages long, and two of those contain installation instructions. Even a one-page step-by-step tutorial would avoid the need for any trial and error, however small that might be.

Regarding installation, the program uses a password for copy protection. When you attempt installation, the program does some calculations based on the Mac system you're running it on, and presents you with a number. You then have to contact Gallery Software and give them the number, in order to get the password. This limits the program's use to one machine — and it does mean you have to install it during office hours!

CD Studio will interest anyone who uses samples CDs, whether they are making music or want sound effects for Multimedia presentations or QuickTime movies. It could do with a few more frills, but it works well, and it's far easier than recording from CDs the traditional way. CD Studio costs £95.

More from: Gallery Software, (Contact Details).

Sample CD reviews

XLS Food

XLS The Bass Appetiser

Those in search of a wide selection of original bass sounds would do well to check out this selection of samples from Swiss bass demons XLS. This CD is extremely well presented and recorded, and the accompanying booklet lists each sample, with suggested applications. These are only suggestions of course, but it is nice to have a style reference when searching for that elusive bottom end sound to sit in amongst the other magical timbres in your mix. There are phat funk and hip hop basses, new jack and garage sounds, as well as a wide selection of trance and techno sounds, providing a selection of original bass sounds for almost every taste in modern music.

Each one-shot sound (no loops here), is recorded at various pitches, and these too are listed alongside the name and description, followed by the instrument used, and whether the sound is stereo or mono. A variety of synths have been utilised here, from the JD800 to the Oscar, and a wide range inbetween, encompassing everything from a DX7 to and Akai S3200.

Ultimately, in true techno tradition, it's not the instruments used as much as the originality of the sounds extracted from them that is the point of this CD, and Philippe Meylan has certainly put in some effort here.

Focusrite and Eventide compressors and a host of other signal processors have been patched into the recording chain, to achieve thickening and chorus on sounds where necessary, without distorting the original sound beyond the point of usefulness. Some techno sounds have been distorted, but here the distortion is an essential part of the character of the sound.


Funk Bass

This 2 CD set comes in the wake of the excellent Funk Guitar collection and, like its stablemate, serves up a comprehensive library of riffs and sounds for all those producing funky music out there (whether it's hip hop, garage or R&B).

Lovingly recorded using classic basses, amps, fx and mics, the sound of these bass samples is nothing if not authentic, and will have you reaching for your calendar to remind yourself that it's 1995, and not 1975. Bypassing a mixing desk entirely, producer Vlad Naslas used EQ and pre-amps by PAST (a company based here in sunny Ely, funnily enough), which use 70s components and are based on vintage Neve designs (look out for a review in an upcoming issue).

The samples are split into loops on the first disc and multi-samples on the second. This is a good way of working, since the loops offer a quick and easy way of getting a bassline happening, without too much fuss. Equally, if you want to put a bit of effort into getting a dynamic, expressive bass sound, you've got the multi-samples to fall back on. As far as actual sounds go, you're provided with everything from soft, fat, picked bass to up-front slapped bass. There's also a few unusual treatments thrown in, such as a Herbie Hancock-type vocoded bass. These are a lot of fun, and on a package with so much on, it's certainly justifiable to include some slightly off-the-wall samples, as well as the more standard ones.

All in all, an almost essential collection of bass samples which lives up to the high standards set by the Funk Guitar CD. May the funk be with you...

Price: £59.95 (double CD)

More from: Time + Space, (Contact Details)

On The Re:Mix CD

A collection of samples from the Funk Bass CD on tracks 39 to 46.

Listen to this selection of original basses from XLS Food on track 47 and decide if they suit your musical palate. Includes:

- Razor Bass (JD800)
- Hungry Bass (Juno 106)
- Furious Bass (Jupiter 8)
- Suck My Bass (Prophet 5)

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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.
More details on copyright ownership...


The Mix - Mar 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Simon Dell

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