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Sounds, samples, & software upgrades for the modern studio

Article from The Mix, June 1995

Software, sounds and samples

Super Apex on the musical express

Of late, everyone seems to want a ticket for the computer music train. The problem is finding a sequencer that's inexpensive, yet generous with its functionality. Twelve Tone Systems have taken a short break from refining Cakewalk Professional, and turned their attention instead to an entry-level program that's easy to swallow.

Express will run on any 386sx PC (or faster) with Windows 3.1 and 4Mb of RAM. With the software package comes a standard 13 pin sound card-to-MIDI adaptor for connecting an external MIDI keyboard. But it isn't necessary to have a MIDI device, as Cakewalk Express has a virtual piano application that suffices. With this, it's possible to play and input notes using the mouse, or the PC's keyboard, as well as control the pitch bending, modulation, and velocity of the notes played, using three on-screen sliders.

The program itself is logically arranged into windows which can be re-sized, moved, and minimised, to suit yourself. The Track window is where all the arrangements for song construction are made. Each track has a number of parameter boxes, like volume, patch, transpose, MIDI channel and device, and bank changes (yippee!), which can all be moved around into a new order.

There's also a function called 'loop', which takes the entire content of the track and, er, loops it a definable number of times, without actually physically adding parts to the sequence. Parts are displayed as black blobs on the grid. These can be selected using the [shift] key and the left mouse button, or by rubber-banding them, and then moved to merge with, or replace, existing parts. The only limit imposed on the part-copying is that you can't grab data from more than one track at a time.

The transport controls are all along the top bar. Cakewalk Express doesn't have a conventional array of buttons, but the following instead: a dual purpose start and stop, a rewind button that returns the song to the very beginning, record (which always operates in overdub mode), and a scroll bar for fast forward and rewind.

Also sharing the same space are the help and panic buttons (an all-notes off message is sent), and the tempo box. There's also a button decorated with feet, for initialising the step input. During a step input record you can change the note values, making a selection from a vast range of timing options. If things go wrong, then it's easy enough to discard the 'take', and then start again.

Clicking anywhere on a track with the right mouse button calls up the edit sub-menu for that particular track. Access to the Piano Roll, and List editor can be sought from here, as can the Controller window. This handy device lets you 'draw in' any controller information, just as you would notes in a Key editor. Only GM controllers are named, but all 128 are accessible. The other editor available is the Score editor. Unlike the Key edit, any number of tracks can be viewed at once. It's easy enough to use, with a selection of notes (dotted and triplet) sitting at the top, ready to be plastered across the stave.

The 16 part mixer is quite a gem too. Oddly though, the channels on the mixer don't correspond to MIDI channels, but the track numbers. This system has a distinct advantage over the more conventional method, in that the mixer can be used for multiple MIDI interfaces, rather than limiting it to just one output. The actual channel structure is nothing new; solo and mute buttons are featured, as well as the usual dial array: reverb, pan, chorus, and level. The mixer can record movements of these controls in real-time, or by creating snapshots of the fader positions at the desired locations.

Like its more professional versions. Express has oodles of levels of undo. All the operations undertaken during the sequencing session are recorded in the Undo History box, complete with times. By clicking on any one of these occurrences, it's possible to undo it, even if it was several operations ago.

Files supported by Express are the proprietary Cakewalk (*.WRK) format, and the standard MIDI file format. Only one song can be loaded in at any time, although it is possible to load another into the paste buffer, to edit two together. Other noteworthy functions include a tempo map, which allows you to draw in changes with a pencil, the quantise function, and a section flagging system, where parts of songs can be given visual markers (with names) for easy reference.

Although there are a few sticky bits in Cakewalk Express, like no cycle options, or multiple track copies, for the asking price of £69 this program has pretty much redefined the concept of entry-level sequencing on the PC; more power for less pennies.

More from: Et Cetera, (Contact Details).

Worthy of a mention

The setting and printing of music scores is usually seen as a job for high-end, and expensive, computer programs. Budget software has many limitations, and the would-be music writer has to trade off facilities against price. I'm not going say that Note Worthy is the low-cost fully-featured solution you've been looking for, but it certainly has lots of facilities, and it doesn't cost a month's salary.

What it does not have is MIDI support, mouse support or Windows support. Yes, it's one of a dying breed of programs which runs under DOS, and which you control from the PC's keyboard. However, as any word processor user will tell you, key commands are far faster than using the mouse, once you've memorised them. Being DOS-based, the program will run on virtually any PC (and almost any monitor) and it will print to almost any printer — dot matrix, inkjet or laser.

The program is truly WYSIWYG; it prints exactly what you see on the screen, effectively a bitmap conversion. On a 300dpi laser, the output was really very good, and I suppose the output on a dot matrix will be of a correspondingly good quality. Music staves, notes and symbols are placed on the screen, with keystrokes and keystroke combinations. You can move them with the cursor keys, and even change them into other symbols before fixing them, by pressing Space or Enter. Even after fixing a symbol, you can enter Edit mode and move it, delete it or change it.

The letters A to G are used to enter notes, and they can be transposed using the cursor keys. You can set a default note type — duration and stem direction — and adjust this when the note is on the score. The program can determine the stem direction automatically, but you can override this if you wish. You create chords by adding notes without stems. Note Worthy supports over 100 music symbols, including hairpins, curves, text, dynamic markings and trills. Enter a chord symbol above the bar, and these will change accordingly if you transpose the piece. You can adjust the spacing in order to squeeze more bars onto a line, or to expand a line if the last bar doesn't go right to the end. There are copy and paste commands, too.

As you work, you can see on screen exactly what the score will look like when printed. If you have a small monitor or are working in a low resolution, you can zoom in and out to see more of the score. Whatever resolution you are working in, you can get a preview of a complete page before printing. There's an excellent on-line tutorial, which takes you through many of the program's basic functions. The manual is well produced too, and includes diagrams, examples, and a good index. What would have been useful is an index of symbols, so you could quickly look up the keystrokes required to produce any of them.

The disk includes some demo files, and when you load them the program goes through the motions of putting the score together — a sort of giant macro — although it does so very quickly, too fast to make notes! Lack of MIDI support unfortunately means you can't enter notes from a keyboard, or hear what your score sounds like. However, the program is not, obviously, designed for that. It's a low-cost solution for anyone who needs to print music, complete with symbols, music instructions, lyrics and chords.

As such, it does a pretty good job. The main drawback for most potential users, I suspect, will be its keyboard-driven interface. The programmer has tried to make the keys mnemonic where possible, and pop-up help is always available to remind you, but there are still many functions which require a key to be pressed in conjunction with [Shift], [Alt] or [Ctrl].

I'm speaking not so much as a confirmed point-and-click man, but as someone who goes for the easiest option, always. As far as software is concerned that is, without a doubt, the mouse. However, I also readily admit that keystrokes are faster once you've mastered them, and if you use this program regularly, you will no doubt achieve a fast rate of note input.

Note Worthy is being distributed as shareware, although it's not strictly shareware, as it prints a watermark on each page. (Proper shareware is a fully-functioning program, although no one can blame software authors for holding back on some features, when registrations are so rare.) Otherwise, it has all the features of the registered version. Ian Waugh

Price: £40. More from: Braeburn Software, (Contact Details).

MIDI Spring clean

Now and again, a person will invent a clever add-on to make something good that little bit better. Their ideas, born out of frustration or simply boredom, can have the most profound effect on others: where would we be without the Vileda super-mop? Other inventions aren't as silly, and there's a collection of MIDI utilities from Floppyshop to prove just that.

The first sponge out of the bucket is C-Beat; a GEM accessory for calculating delays from user-inputted tempos. Various timings can be calculated, from whole notes through to 30 seconds, with triplet times too. It runs on all Atari computers in any resolution higher than ST medium, and takes up just 20k of RAM.

Another BPM calculator is Delay Calc. Featured on our cover-mounted CD-ROM last October, this accessory can determine correct timings for not only delays, but frequency cycles too, thus getting those phasey noises to swish on the beat. Its delay types are a little unconventional, with options like 'ambient' and 'swing' to choose from, but the tempo calculate function is sublime.

MIDI Note is another of those invaluable MIDI programs that analyses any incoming data via the MIDI ports, and prints it to screen. It works as either an accessory or GEM program, the former being the most appropriate method of execution, unless you're running some description of multi-tasking software. The best use for this utility is when checking your devices, and leads, are working properly. It doesn't work on the Falcon, and once or twice (particularly where strings of system-exclusives were concerned) went a bit funny on the STe too, but for the most part does sterling service.

But if you need a more sophisticated MIDI analysis, then the MIDI RTA is the software device for you. It works much like the hardware equivalent, flashing its 'lights' next to the appropriate MIDI message, when it receives some data. Messages that are detected include note on/off, controller information, system exclusives, clock start/stop, and active sensing.

For those interested in MIDI files, there's a ST low resolution graphic-based SMF player/tutor. With this you can learn how to play certain parts within a MIDI file, by following the on-screen animated keyboard. No disk documentation is included for this program, although most of the functions are self-explanatory.

There's a folder with some MIDI files in too; four drum loops and a complete track make up this collection of GM-mapped ditties. The percussion loops are quite good, the best of which is the shuffle pattern. Others include a bongo pattern with Latin elements, and a jazz-rap-type loop. Bizarre.

Hanging around in another folder there's still more MIDI drum files. This time, the patterns (all 50 of them), each four bars in length, are squashed together in one sequence. Some parts are really good, with original variations on classic rhythms like 16-beat and 8-beat, whilst others received the scissors treatment almost immediately.

A functional demo version of Software Technology's PatchKing synth editor, and a strange MIDI-to-screen-colour convertor called Strobe rounds off the disk. If your system still doesn't have a MIDI analysis program, or the calculator's batteries have finally given up after six years, then you need this disk. It's a really useful collection of add-ons for the MIDI musician, and it only costs £2.00.

The above relates to disk number MID.4980. Available from: Floppyshop, (Contact Details).

GAS bag

Intrinsic Technology have created another of those useful software gadgets for the Atari ST; a form of music generator designed to complement your existing sequencer set-up, eccentrically titled GAS (for Grooving Analogue Sequencer, obviously).

With GAS you can quickly generate all manner of musical phrases, using a number of versatile tools, including randomisation and scaling algorithms, echo effects, and scale correction (for a more harmonious output). It can also apply groove templates to patterns, making it an ideal device for spicing up percussion tracks. But GAS has many more potential applications, including analogue-style arpeggios, instant bass riffs, chord phrasing, and velocity fading effects. It runs as a GEM accessory, so it's possible to whip up a quick riff whilst still running a sequencer like Cubase or Logic.

Up to ten monophonic channels can be generated (with MIDI channel assigning, polyphonic effects can be achieved too), with the output saved as a standard MIDI file (type 1), ready to paste into your sequence. GAS is compatible with the complete Atari range (ST/STe/TT and Falcon), and its price is quoted as, 'cheaper than you think'!

More from: Intrinsic Technology, (Contact Details)

Musical digits

Undoubtedly, MIDI is wonderful, but it's nice to be able to jot down a few musical sketches without having to trail mile after mile of cable between little black boxes. Tracker programs that use the Atari's soundchip to replay samples have to be the easiest and most compact means of song creation. Digit Tracker will especially appeal to the ST-musician, because it can run on a mono monitor.

Although the interface by-passes GEM, it is still possible to use accessories within Digit Tracker, using a switching option in the About menu. This is also useful for swapping between programs, if the ST is involved in a spot of multitasking; something that Digit does reasonably well. The other program add-ons are more fun than practical, with a built-in screen saver, and a Boulderdash-type game, for moments when creativity takes a nose-dive into the Atlantic.

The screen is divided into four areas: pattern view, pattern editor, song arranger, and sample manager. The latter is where collections of sounds can be built up, edited, and played. Each song can have up to thirty-two samples of any length, memory permitting, of course. Clicking on the Test button allows you to audition the sound over two octaves, using the Atari keyboard.

Those STs fortunate enough to have one of Galactic's samplers wedged in its cartridge port can actually record new sounds, using Digit Tracker. But the editor isn't only useful for Sample Star and Wizard owners; there's a sizeable chunk of utensils for chopping existing samples too.

The usual cut, copy, paste and inserts are included, as are some interesting effects. Echo lets you add up to four echoes on a sample, with definable timing and relative amplitude. Four delays is a bit limiting, but it is possible to keep applying echo to a sample, so you can get around this shortcoming. The volume control is self-explanatory, as is the Turn function (it's the same as reverse), but Convert had me rifling through the manual for an explanation. It did seem to turn the sample inside-out, much like signing and unsigning files, but apparently this is just for making them play via the STe and TT's DMA chip.

Digit Tracker uses its own *.SAM format samples, but in terms of file properties, these are identical to the *.RAW format. So you can just change the extension, to use your own samples. Five to Five does a good job of converting samples to *.RAW format; just make sure that the export file parameter is set to 8-bit mono signed. Although all samples are converted to 20KHz, Digit Tracker has an oversampling function which can be applied to them, which greatly improves the audio quality. The downside is that each sample then takes up twice as much RAM.

Like all other tracker programs, Digit uses a pattern-based method of song creation. Each pattern consists of four tracks, and can be up to 64 entries (or rather, four bars) long. The highest resolution is sixteenths, but you can get semi-demi-quavers by slowing the tempo by half. Notes are inputted in step time using the keyboard (or via a MIDI device), with the space bar acting as a rest.

Recording can also be done in real-time, again using a MIDI keyboard, or the Atari's own keys. In this case, recording is initiated either once you've started playing, or by pressing the downward cursor key. Notes can be added or replaced each time the pattern loops around, and it is generally quite accurate. Once in, it is possible to cut, copy, paste and move various sections to other tracks, patterns and so on, as well as perform rudimentary edits such as transpose. Digit Tracker even has a Logical Editor, which you can use to replace certain parameters with whole new ones.

Once several patterns are all bubbling and ready to go, it's now a good time to organise them using the song arranger. Here, it is possible to 'drop in' as many copies of the currently selected pattern, as well as insert and delete other entries, and generally shuffle blocks around, until the patterns are arranged into a coherent song. A box next to the list displays how long the piece is.

There are various options for playing back bits too. The top Play button activates just the currently selected part, whereas the main Play button starts the whole song rolling from the beginning. Clicking on this with the right mouse button starts the song from where you last left off. Audio quality varies considerably from machine to machine: TT and STe owners get the best DMA stereo sound (with the added bonus of a configurable 2 band EQ), whilst FM and Mega STs can only get stereo if one of the sampling cartridges are available.

For the most part, life is dull. But just occasionally, a program appears with as great an entertainment value as it has practical uses. With Digit Tracker, it is possible to have an inordinate amount of fun, whilst still being able to create something worthwhile. The program works on all Atari computers, including the TT and Falcon (in ST high resolution mode), and costs £19.95.

More from: CGS, (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).


Premium PD (Contact Details).

Some bizarre software

There's plenty of samples to choose from this month: AVR and SPL format for Atari, WAV for PC, and SND for Mac. Atari and PC owners will have to use a player utility to listen to the samples (Media Player on the PC works fine), but you can audition any of the Mac samples by just double-clicking on the file icon. Also for each format is a collection of Twiddly Bits drum files in SMF format, from Volume Four of the series, reviewed here last month. Try these out, and then listen to what you could create with a demo on the audio part of the Re:Mix CD.

Atari owners also get the new version of 525 sample convertor (shareware), and a TG500 synth editor with patches. 525 works on all Atari computers in any resolution higher than 640 x 200. TAKE500.PRG, the TG500 editor, doesn't like the Falcon very much though. It may work if you have Backwards (the ST emulator), and run the Falcon in ST high resolution mode, but there are no guarantees!

To run the PC programs, your computer needs Windows 3.1, DOS 5.0 or higher, and at least 4Mb of RAM. The Noteworthy demo works under DOS. To run it, type: NWINSTAL.EXE from the NOTEW directory in the PC folder, and then follow on-screen prompts as it installs on to the hard drive. The Sound Canvas editor is a shareware program for storing your patches and set up data. You can run this from the CD-ROM, by double-clicking on the program icon in the CANVAS directory. An easier way to access it is to make an icon in the Program Manager (see diagram). Open both the File Manager and the Program Manager window you want the icon to be in, and then just drag it across and drop it.

Finally, there's a demo of Cakewalk Express. To run this, type: D (or the letter of your CD-ROM drive) ACAKEWALK\SETUP.EXE from the Program Manager, or double-click on the icon in the File Manager.

If you own a Mac computer, then you can generate yourself some bizarre synth sounds with Unison shareware synthesiser. See the disc document for full instructions. And lastly, if anyone has actually bought a VL1, there's a shareware editor librarian from Yamaha to keep your sounds in order with.

Twiddly Bits are available from Keyfax: (Contact Details).

MacAdamia nuts

There's some good news for Mac-owning power-mongers: two new programs with which to greatly improve your system's performance. The first is RAM Doubler; available for some time to other computers in the Mac range, it has now been written for the Power Mac.

Although Apple's virtual memory system suffices for most things, you must have the available means on the hard disk, and plenty of time for it to write and re-write data constantly, not to mention some Norton utilities for repairing the drive afterwards. With RAM Doubler now running as native software, you can actually reduce the amount of RAM needed for applications. It rarely uses the hard disk, making it a more viable alternative to those without the patience to contend with virtual RAM. Now you can have double the memory in your Power Mac, without disastrously fragmenting the hard disk, or shelling out a skip-load of cash, and all without impairing performance.

Also new from Connectix is a software accelerator for the Mac range of computers. If things don't race along fast enough already, this application will make operations like file handling, starting applications, networks, and processor-intensive programs zip along. It works much like the disk-caching on System 7, taking frequently-used data from the hard disk, and storing it in RAM (thus making it easier for the CPU to get access), but manages it with greater efficiency.

Speed Doubler also has a self-optimising routine, making it faster still, after constant use. The program works with all 68040, 030, and Power Macs, with the exception of the Mac Plus, SE, Classic, the first LC, and the Power Book 100. RAM Doubler for the Power Mac is available now at costs £69.95; by the time you read this, the Speed Doubler should also be on sale at £69.95.

More from: Computers Unlimited, (Contact Details)

Armchair networking

What MIDI fanatic hasn't at one time or another exclaimed, "Oh (expletive deleted). I've run out of MIDI channels"? But short of linking up all the computers in the street, (involving a considerable amount of cable and trench-digging), the best way to get more than a hundred MIDI channels is to invest in the newest MIDI interface by Music Quest.

The MIDI Engine 8 Port/SE MIDI interface is a 19" 1u rackmount, and has been designed to work with all types of PCs; from tower to laptop and notebook computers. It has a maximum of 128 individual MIDI channels (configured as eight inputs and eight outputs), so it's possible to have an arrangement as dense as a rainforest, as well as offering comprehensive SMPTE support. Flawless time-keeping is one of MIDI Engine's proudest functions, but it can also perform SMPTE-to-MTC conversion, and tape-striping tasks too. It works by connecting itself to the PC's parallel port, and comes complete with Windows driver and controller software, for easy management.

When not in use by the computer, the MIDI Engine doubles up as a completely configurable eight by eight MIDI patch bay, allowing you to route or merge any incoming or outgoing messages. Settings can be stored and easily retrieved in one of the unit's 16 presets, with extra options for channel selection, and message filtering also available. The MIDI Engine costs £399 including VAT, which is a small price to pay for not upsetting the neighbours.

More from: Et Cetera, (Contact Details).

Windfall apples

If you're interested in all this Multimedia malarkey, Apple have just introduced a new range of computers with you in mind. With their new MPEG card placing digital video on an (almost) equal footing with tape-based video, Apple are on a roll at the moment, teaming up with retailers Comet to make their products more easily available on the High Street. We may even have heard the last of those bewildered PC purchasers who cannot get to grips with their CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT and WIN.INI FILES, when trying to access THE MIX on CD.

Seduced by all those Pentium power ads but worried about doing division on a PC? Apple have now made the record-breaking PowerPC chip available in their Performa range, placing workstation speed within the reach of us all. The Performa 6200 and 5200 use the same modular design as the tried and tested Performa 630, but with a new PowerPC 603 processor for even faster graphics and processing. With a built-in CD/CD-ROM drive and speakers, these models are ready to go, straight out of the box.

Both models are available with Apple's proprietary video in/out card and TV tuner. With this, you can watch Neighbours in a window while doing your typing, tune into Teletext for the latest share prices, and even cut and paste the information from the latter into your document.

Apple haven't forgotten that there are those of us who still want to work with PCs, and often need to run Windows applications as well as the rather more straightforward business of accessing information on PCs. In the past, Apple's approach to this has been SoftWindows, a software emulation of Windows which does the job — just. Emulation will always be slower than running a native operating system, with all the attendant risk of crashing. The new Performa 630 DOS-compatible adopts a more integrated approach, featuring a 486 DX2 daughterboard which can run DOS and Windows applications simultaneously with your Mac programs. All the ease of cut and paste is there for you between the two platforms, and you can even set up a common area of the hard disk for shared files.

The system even includes Creative Labs Soundblaster chipset, for 16 bit audio playback, and supports the aforementioned Apple Video/TV system. It's the most multimedia fun you can have with your clothes on. RB

Prices: Performa 5200CD & 6200CD - £1474, Performa 5200CD & TV6200CD/TV - £1799, Performa 630 DOS Compatible - £1700. All prices inc VAT.

More from: Apple UK, (Contact Details)

On the RE:MIX CD

The usual crowd of demos, samples, MIDI files, and programs are bustling around this month's CD-ROM — See Some Bizarre software' for a guide we help you find the right files for your computer.

Clean Sweeps

It's quite likely that your synth is long overdue for a new set of sounds, but the very thought of poking buttons for hours on end is enough to make the gardening look like a viable alternative. But now version five of Sound Quest's universal editor and librarian software MIDIQuest has been released, you can put the lawnmower away, and pull out a set of MIDI leads instead.

The new version has numerous additional features, like drag and drop editing, patch morphing, plus a much needed facelift, with 3D buttons, split-window and graphic editing. As well as these add-ons, MIDIQuest also now supports a whole new set of MIDI devices too. Included in its 200 strong lineup are the Waveblaster sound card; E-mu Vintage Keys, Morpheus, and Ultra Proteus; Ensoniq TS10 and TS12; Korg i2 and i3; Roland JV90, JD990, JV1080, and JV1000, plus all the favourites from version four.

MIDIQuest version 5.0 is available for all formats (PC, Mac. Amiga, and Atari), and will retail for £249.95, with a special upgrade offer for version four owners, of just £49.95.

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

Sample CD news

Workstation II from Solo is now available from d-zone. The CD features 24 groovy loops and 100 ethnic sounds from the Proteus world unit. Price is £11 for the CD, and £7 for vinyl, available from d-zone direct. (Contact Details).

Time + Space has four new releases from East-West. LA Riot 3 is a two-CD set, packed with hip-hop sounds and loops, construction kits and breakdowns, plus hundreds of breakbeats, basses, guitars and horns. The Bomb — Reggae Loops is by top NY reggae producer Jonathan 'The Bomb' Holmes, and features a plethora of carribbean-influenced sounds played by real musicians. Two and a half hours of R&B, slow jamz and hip-hop loops are crammed onto the double-CD Phat & Phunky, put together by Rich Mendelson (of Dance Industrial 1 & 2 fame). The package includes a disk of MIDI files, which allows customisation of the loops. Last up is Chronic Horns, a horn collection specially produced for dance, acid jazz and flat out phunky jazz. All these titles are available from Time + Space for £59.95 inc VAT and P+P, (Contact Details). CD-ROM versions will follow. RB

Sample CD reviews

State of Play

The best damn sample CD-ROM ever? You could be forgiven for thinking so, once you fire up your sampler and load some of the gems from this collection into the belly of the beast. There are two CD-ROMs in this library: the first is a collection of 'natural' sounds, while the second is selection of synth sounds drawn from sources ranging from analogue classics like the Moog, through to sampling veterans the Fairlight and Emulator.

The samples were originally saved in EIIIX format, and translated into Akai format for the discs under review here. As they point out in the liner notes, this isn't an easy job, even when (as here) the operation is performed entirely within the digital domain. Some of the filtering options available on the EIII are not available on the Akais, of course, and where this is so, the sounds have been transferred via high quality A/D convertors. As I actually imported these samples into an Emu EIV, the sounds have actually gone full circle in this case. When Newtronic heard I was using the EIV, they offered to send me the EIII version if I wished, but I had already loaded the whopping 8Mb Steinway Concert Grand sample via the Emu's SCSI import bus. I was so impressed I told them not to bother.

It is testament to the quality of these samples that they have survived all of this transference without any noticeable drop in quality. In either the Synth or the Natural collection, the sounds are superb. There's even a bonus, in the form of a Partition on each CD-ROM of Lexicon 480 effects, to add to your drum loops. Whether you are after drum sounds, synth pads and basses, that stunning Steinway concert grand (or some swimming strings to go with it), these CD-ROMs have something to suit. The meticulous multisampling means you have plenty of sonic material to play around with, in the filter section of your sampler. Whether you opt for the Akai or Emu versions, these samples are as near to 'state of the art' as anything is. RB

More from: Newtronic, (Contact Details).

Loopism's Volume 5


New Loopism's (sic) are becoming something of a habit — as are the favourable reviews they seem to pick up whenever d-zone elect to release a new collection. If you're unfamiliar with the format, these are ostensibly DJ loops lasting up to two minutes each, rhythmically centered on trance, house and jungle. Like its predecessor, Loopism 's Volume 5 combines some 24 drum loops with an impressive array of 150 keyboard samples (from the Obi Matrix 1000), plus S3000 data and mono backups of the loops themselves.

It's a novel format, designed, presumably, to pick up sales from the non-DJ fraternity — musicians and programmers — who like to avail themselves of the most up-to-the-minute styles, but who balk at the idea of spending £50 on a conventional sample CD.

The main advantage of the format is that loops can be assigned to individual tracks, without exceeding the 99-track limit. Cueing becomes easier, and so does trawling through the samples in search of the perfect beat.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the very nature of rhythm is that it repeats itself; only by listening to extended grooves can you determine their likely success on the dancefloor. Of course, this is the very thing that is absent from conventional sample collections, where you're given a single pass of each loop and only a brief opportunity to make up your mind.

Here, you can listen to a rhythm as it should be heard; over time. Play along with it if you wish, or maybe use it as a guide for a track you're working on. Whatever you do, you're likely to be a lot more certain that you have the right groove, before the painstaking process of sampling begins.

With relatively few loops included in the collection (as compared to a standard sample CD), it's more important than ever that the right beats are selected. Clearly, this is where d-zone score over the opposition — and what has made their Loopism's series so successful. Make no mistake, these guys know what they're doing, and a little of that cannot help but rub off on you when using this as a source for house, trance and rap grooves.

That said, and without wishing to knock a successful formula, I can't help thinking it's time the series moved on a little, perhaps by broadening the range of rhythmic styles it encompasses and, more importantly, including loops which develop over their allotted timespan. This wouldn't compromise their effectiveness as a tool for DJs, and would offer to others a real creative advantage over the use of one-shot sample breaks.

The Matrix 1000 sounds are a welcome inclusion, and serve to demonstrate what a highly effective machine it was and is. One of the last analogue synths to be made (not counting the rash of new machines released recently), its internal architecture was virtually identical to the classic Matrix 6 (released some three years earlier, in 1985).

Unless d-zone had access to the necessary voice-editing software, they would have had to draw their samples from the onboard presets. If memory serves, it wasn't possible to program this particular synth from the front panel. But given that there were a thousand of these, this isn't perhaps the disadvantage it would be on most machines. Certainly, the breadth and range of samples included here make it an ideal addition to anyone's collection of classic analogue material.

And speaking of ideal, the perfect sample CD would, for me, feature around 75 loops, with five tracks for individual drum sounds, 10 featuring various synth instruments, and the remaining 10 containing vocal samples (still the most under-resourced side of the sample CD market). There should also be data backups for all the included tracks, and copious sleeve notes. For this, I'd expect to pay around 15 quid. Looking at fully-fledged sample CDs costing upwards of £50 and the Loopism's series at £11, there can be no doubt which comes closer to this ideal. Nigel Lord

More from: d-zone, (Contact Details).

Freekee Jack Swing Volume 3


Last December we reviewed Volume 2 of this series, which at the time was being produced on DAT by writer and producer OD Hunte. We were very impressed with both the content and quality of that collection, and so we're pleased to see that OD has now joined forces with AMG in marketing the series.

Volume 3 lives up to the high standards of its predecessor, serving up a further tasty set of swing, hip hop and ragga grooves. The first 23 tracks are composite loops, with five variations containing just drums, drums and bass, drums and vocals, drums and vocals and bass, and finally the whole lot. There's a good variation of grooves here, with tempos from 90bpm up to 140bpm. Tracks 25 to 53 contain grooves of around a minute in length, evolving over that period to give a wealth of variations to play about with. Blackbeat have thrown in some vocal bites on the last three tracks which, if nothing else, top off the collection nicely.

Overall, this is another excellent release from Blackbeat, its success due to OD Hunte's imaginative and well-executed grooves, combined with good recording quality and nice presentation. CJK

More From: AMG. (Contact Details).

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Mixed Media

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

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The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

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