Sounds, samples, & software upgrades for the modern studio
Disks, gadgets, samples and bits for the computing musician
For the Atari this month, as well as a nifty little program called In Control, there is also a huge collection of original samples in 16-bit AVR format for you to use. If your program doesn't support these types of samples, then all you need do is convert them using either SConvert or 525, given away on last month's CD-ROM. Also, there is a pile of Cubase goodies, including mixer maps, and drum maps for the Korg M1, Roland D10 and Yamaha SY77 amongst others, to make life that little bit easier. If you find them at all useful, send a contribution to the address supplied in the documentation.
Should anyone be suffering from a spaghetti junction of repatching MIDI cables and merge boxes, whilst auditioning sounds on their tone module from the computer, then what you need is a virtual keyboard. This is a tidy little accessory which runs alongside any sequencer or synth editor, allowing you to play notes on any of the 16 standard MIDI channels (with varying velocities, pitch bend and aftertouch) using a graphic keyboard and the mouse.
Also on disc is an accessory called patchpad, which allows you to select any of the 128 patches in a synth module from within the ST. This is achieved by clicking on the numbered boxes on the patch page. Certainly useful for modules like the FB01, MT-32 and Soundcanvas and if you're too lazy to reach over and change the voice from the front panel. Not TOS2.X compatible.
If you don't have a CD-ROM drive then there are two options. Firstly, you could telephone System Solutions on (Contact Details) and politely inquire about their CD-ROM packages for the ST/Falcon, write out a cheque or money order for the required amount and wait in exhuberant anticipation for it to arrive; or secondly, find that ever so helpful CD-ROM drive-owning friend of yours and beg them to let you use it to copy the files from.
For the Amiga this month there is a batch of 8-bit samples for you to use in your tracker programs. And there's also a tracker program for you to try them out in. Octamed, supplied by Valley PD, is a very versatile eight track sample editor with many other functions besides. There is a sample editor and even a synthesiser, where you can take various waveforms (sine wave, triangle, and so on) and mould them together to create very odd-sounding squeaks. This version is in the Public Domain, although there is a commercial version available that has even more functions on. Details can be found in the disk documentation.
Amiga PD supplied this month by Valley PD, who have a vast library of PD and shareware programs available.
Octamed from: Valley PD, (Contact Details).
Keyboard from: Floppyshop ((Contact Details)).
Patchpad and Cubase utilities from: Goodmans International ((Contact Details)).
Sounds OK have some more synth patches available for the Yamaha SY85 and TG500 from Sound Source Unlimited. There are four disks, each of which are available on a number of different formats including all the computer formats (Mac, ST, PC, and Amiga), as well as a number of MIDI data filers like the Alesis, Brother MD140 and Korg DF1.
The styles available are quite diverse, ranging from R&B-type funky basses, hits and guitars (disk SY801), to impressionistic textures and pad sounds (disks SY803 and disk SY804 which has a range of film textures).
Each disk costs £32, and is available from: Sounds OK, (Contact Details).
Cubase has long since become the standard in sequencing programs across all platforms, and as a result many third party companies have taken it upon themselves to instruct us in their wisdom. What they often fail to recognise is that we all don't work the same way, and I've often found myself in strong enough disagreement with these books and videos to defenestrate them for their pains. I'm not averse to the idea in principle, and indeed some are good, but there's also a motley collection of manual supplements which haven't a clue.
The Cubase Power Users book by Intrinsic Technology has an altogether more refreshing approach to teaching the ins and outs to something you already have a thousand page manual for.
Although it still imposes some of its own ideas about proper sequencing practice, they're ideas I for one would cheerfully adhere to. There is also a large helping of useful tips, and a hot key guide that you could stick on your wall (or your forehead, whichever is easier) to remind you of the simple way of doing things.
There is undoubtedly something for everyone here. Even those who are new to sequencing and MIDI, or those who don't even own Cubase at all, will find some of the more general chapters of use, particularly 'Organisation' and 'Newcomers Guide'. Then again, I wouldn't recommend this book unless you had Cubase, but if you do, it's indispensable. Whichever version you currently use, be it version two, three, or the Audio version (it was principally written for version 3, but contains a whole chapter on Cubase Audio techniques), you will either be reminded of a function you'd long since forgotten or a tool that you didn't know existed.
It certainly inspired me to dust off some of the functions I rarely used to see if it couldn't translate my ideas into something more exciting. But if you can't find anything useful in the book, it doubles as a more than adequate coffee mat.
Available for £11.95 from Intrinsic Technology, (Contact Details).
As recently as last year there was a disk 'drought', but now there's a veritable embarrassment of sample disks, if that's the collective noun...
For some time, many Casio FZ and Ensoniq ASR/TS/EPS owners have happily bought disks from the Big Time library. Now, owners of the Akai S900/950/1000 and S01 samplers (and all the Akai-compatible modules like the K2000 and Cheetah SX16) can have a slice of the pie, with the introduction of a vast new library. There are absolutely oodles of disks (so much for the drought) containing everything you ever wanted to sample but were afraid to record (yes, well...).
Rummaging through some of the disks, I discovered everything from ethereal choir samples to funky bass blurps (on the Dance Bass 2 disk), as well as a sub-bass that rumbled the disks off my desk.
The synthesiser part of the library has quite a few 'classics', both old and new, including the Korg M1, Yamaha DXs, Roland D50 and Jupiter keyboards, Casio CZs and the Wavestation. There are some of the most bizarre looping cluttery pads on the Wavestation disks, which sound weird when you play a chord, plus a few other synth and single shot sounds.
There's also an abundance of drum sounds; both looped breaks and individual hits. The loops have actually been 'looped' which is useful, but more so is the fact that all the kits have a program where the samples have each been assigned a keygroup. You may of course write your own, but it does help to have a starting block, even if it's just to see what all the drums sound like together.
All the samples in the library have been normalised and edited, with the best looping (where applicable) possible. This is most apparent with the acoustic samples on disk. The violin samples wail effortlessly, while the saxophones sound raspy, but not suspiciously so. It is also a policy of Big Time's to fill the disks with as much as possible. Fortunately, most of them aren't so full that you cannot load the whole disk into RAM with an upgraded S900. There's also space enough for you to customise your own programs.
Samples are also available for PC, in WAV or Gravis file formats, and Atari, as Avalon and Sound Designer files. All disks cost £3 each for between one and five disks, £2.90 for between six and ten, and so on down to £2.50 each for 51+. Big Time Productions have in addition to all these samples on disk, samples on DAT, cassette and CD with even more sounds on, plus a range of add-on MIDI accessories.
Write or phone for a catalogue: Big Time Productions, (Contact Details).
Rock, Rap'n'Roll from Paramount Interactive is the most fun you can have whilst fiddling with your mouse with your clothes on. Available for Mac and PC platforms, this CD-ROM has a menu of ten different musical styles: Africa, Big Band, Blues, Latin, Rap, Reggae, Rock Sampler, Soulful Sampler, Street Jazz and Techno Pop. Choose one of these 'studios', and a colourful, fashion-conscious screen appears in keeping with the music you've chosen. Samples and loops are loaded into memory, so no delays or drops-outs occur, which is a frequent problem when playing sounds directly from a CD-ROM. 5Mb of RAM is recommended for the Mac and 6Mb on the PC. However, if your system falls short of this, the program will load samples according to the space available. So if your song list is incomplete, you need more RAM.
Once loaded, the left of the screen shows the list of loops available. Click on the name and you can preview the sound. Drag the numbered disc next to it down to the holes in 'Song-a-lizer' at the foot of the screen, and you can piece together your song. Click on Start and the loops will play from beginning to end and then start all over again. The loops tend to based around two or three tunes per music style, and range from full blown riffs to breakdown percussion. The quality is excellent, even in 8-bit mono. This is probably due to the fact that they have been created from scratch. The credits list the vaguely familiar sort of session musician normally seen on the inner sleeves of old Steely Dan records.
Having strung together your backing track, there's plenty more to click on as individual riffs, instruments and vocals are also loaded up. The 'Voc-a-lizer' is a grid of eight squares with permanently assigned vocals on each one, whereas the 'Vibe-A-Tron' and 'Bop-O-Rama' icons have pop-up menus, so that you can choose which sounds they'll play. Perhaps the best fun to be had is with the 'Pitch 'Em' section. Using the '1234567890' and 'QWERTYUIOP' keys, you can pitch samples up and down. You can even record your own by clicking on the microphone in the top right corner. Providing that your computer has a mic, you can save your ejaculations and play them back from any of the pop-up menus by selecting 'Custom Sound'. Click on 'Key Map' and you can see where all the samples (except song loops) appear on the computer keyboard, so you can play directly from the keys. When you feel ready to 'Jam like a pro' as they put it, you can then record the sequence of sounds, together with the backing track you've created and save them for later.
Rock, Rap'n'Roll is a bit of a mouthful, but it's also quite an earful. Non-musicians will love it. Put their voice on the 'Pitch 'Em' option and they'll be amused for hours. While the serious muso might not be so impressed, they must admit it's fun for all the family. The ideal stocking filler! BD
Available for £50 from: Computer Manuals. (Contact Details).
Everyone and their kid brother was at last month's Apple Expo show, judging by the huge crowd there when I attended. Every last application you could possibly need was there in some form or another, from multimedia to desktop publishing and communications. It also served as the ideal launch pad for the Macintosh's latest system software update. System 7.5, and even prompted speculation about System 8.0. A comprehensive demo forum was provided, to illustrate the full potential of Apple's Power PC.
For new users of Mac computers, there was also a large bay of machines running all manner of graphics and word processing programs. An extensive seminar programme offered many types of applications, and how to get the best out of them. In addition to these organised programmes, a number of personal presentations took place on individual stands. Kodak displayed the practical uses of their photo CD software and hardware to a wide audience, while companies like Adobe gave a more personal demonstration of their video and graphics packages.
A good supply of bargains was up for grabs too, with many of the mail order companies offering one-off show specials on a number of essentials, from complete systems to floppy disks.
There wasn't a great deal of MIDI software and hardware on display, but where it did emerge, a crowd of people avidly looked on. TSC had a stand full of various MIDI applications running, including Cubase and Logic Audio, all demonstrated by infectiously enthusiastic 'experts'. A dozen or more punters were succumbing to their charms while I was there. Also, Oscar Music and KRCS were offering specials on customised MIDI bundles, as well as a generous helping of information on music and multimedia applications.
As for the 'Windows Expo' that followed on the 1st-3rd November, this did little to dispel the preconception of PCs as nothing but businessmen's playthings. When will these exhibitions accept that there are people who use PCs for more than spreadsheets and databases?
Next year's Apple show has already been planned for the 8th-11th November, also taking place at Olympia in London. Let us hope that by next year the exhibitors will have woken up to the multimedia potential of PC...
You can order your free tickets by calling the Apple Expo hotline on (Contact Details).
If man had been meant to fly, he would have been given wings. But then with a little ingenuity we soon took off, and now there's more traffic in the air than rush hour on the M25. So we could apply the same principle to MIDI sequencing on the Mac. There's no built-in MIDI ports on any of the Macintosh computers, so we again apply the genius of man, and invent a MIDI interface. How clever. Only there's a thousand of these now.
The Altech MIDIface LX is part of a range of MIDI interfaces for the Mac. This model features three MIDI Outs, and a single MIDI in, so there isn't really a lot to it. This is by no means a bad thing, as it is so much easier to just get started with some sequencing rather than trying to reconfigure some internal patching on an esoteric black box. The LX requires no power supply either, so it is ideal for portable computers like the Power Book. It plugs in via the printer or modem port, or if you have two, both. If you have a printer and you want to have 32 channels, then the EX version may be more applicable because it comes with a through port and switch, so you can keep it plugged in.
Available for £49.95 from: Arbiter Pro MIDI, (Contact Details).
If spending more than fifty pounds on a piece of software sends your bowels into overdrive, or has the omnipotent bank manager scowling ferociously at your fiscal incontinence, then the public domain and shareware software doors are the ones to be knocking on. Inside, either address is a myriad of inexpensive games, utilities, samples, programs and so forth, many of which are must-haves.
Final Score is a gem of a score writing program. It actually works more like an art program, using customized brush shapes to input musical notation onto the stave, and for this reason is perhaps a bit awkward to begin with. However, it shouldn't take long before it all becomes incredibly intuitive, and you're whisking in notes at a phenomenal rate. There is an excellent selection of tools to aid your scoring too: line draw, text (all five font types of it) input, titling, freehand zoom drawing, and a palette of symbols including all types of note' lengths, with tails pointing upwards and downwards, clefs and dynamics markings.
Perhaps one of the best facilities available to you in Final Score is the ability to print your page to disk as a Degas (or .PI3) picture file. With such a popular export file format, there is little you cannot do with your score. Firstly, you could be extremely clever and import it into a DTP package such as Papyrus or Calamus, and incorporate it into your documents. Of course, the obvious thing is to load it into an art program and draw some squiggles all over it, which actually isn't as destructive as it sounds.
Final Score does rather leave you to your own devices when inputting things, and for this reason you could very well do something (musically) illegal and it would go completely unnoticed. Then again, structured anarchy (or organised chaos, whichever oxymoron you prefer), gives rise to some very interesting ideas. Stick with it is my suggestion, and you might just invent a new type of notation.
Available from: Merlin PD, (Contact Details).
While this program may not allow you to drive your Volvo across a thousand metre-deep chasm on two wobbly looking girders, or dance around professing to be a 'control freak', it could very well be a solution to MIDI patch problems you might be having. In Control is a user-definable MIDI controller accessory consisting of twenty programmable graphic sliders, to which you can assign any system exclusive or controller messages.
The uses for such a utility are only limited by your ingenuity, and how many bits and pieces you have strung together via MIDI. Provided on disk is a simple mixer that uses the sliders to control pan and main volume (controllers 10 and 7) messages for channels 1-16, but you needn't limit yourself to this.
You can create a patch editor for your MIDI effects module, a simple sound editor for your synth, or use In Control to set up song data for a MIDI sequence. Whatever, it's very useful, particularly if you use a sequencer like Cubase Lite or Sequencer One that don't have a MIDI mixer page. It's also relatively easy to use.
Supplied by Tumblevane PD, (Contact Details).
It isn't often one finds the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, indeed all I tend to find is a herd of disgruntled cows. But when the new version of Breakthru arrived with its additional printing kit, I half expected small green fellows to start leaping about the room.
As Breakthru v2 has been available for some time now, I shan't dwell on it for too long. Suffice to say that it has improved tenfold since the first version. The best things, like the ability to sequence four sample tracks alongside MIDI data, MIDI file support, and the simple interface are as useful as ever. Things that have been added include better editing facilities, and the ability to use accessories, which is quite fortunate, else there would be little point in its Score Printing Kit. The printing facility is not only a logical addition, but clever and user-friendly.
Although it's an accessory, you can run it as a stand alone program (so it is compatible with Breakthru v1). Clicking on the option in the desk menu opens a new page with the score on, and a set of options on the right of the screen. These relate to the page setups (margins and so on), whether it is the whole song or just one part, and what device you intend printing to. This may seem odd, after all the hard disk doesn't do very good printouts, but all will become clear. Printing to disk means that it saves the page setup, ready to print out another time without having to reconfigure everything. It also actually works with the Windows Print Manager on a PC, so you can print your score out at work (I wondered where all our A4 had been going - Ed). Unfortunately, the file isn't a standard EPS or TIFF file (or whatever) so you cannot load it into anything else, but the printout you get straight from the program is good enough anyway.
Printer drivers are provided on disk, which seem to cover most popular models and emulation modes. I tried printing a page in Epson mode with a Canon Bj inkjet printer, and it turned out quite nicely.
You don't get any of the frills like lyrics and dynamic markings, which is a bit disappointing, but I dare say it would have made the program that much more expensive. Any editing of the staves (which includes key signatures, part titling, and clefs) is done within the score edit in the Breathru program itself.
So it seems that now you can have your cake and eat it. Well, at least have enough left for a sticky bun and still have a reasonably decent printed score to show for it. The score printing kit costs £49.95 on its own, or you can buy it as a complete package with Breakthru v2 for £149.95. This set comes complete with some additional patterns and things on disk to paste in and use in your own work.
More from Software Technology, (Contact Details).
To get a really decent sample library together, you'd need to cart all your gear around with you all the time. You're also going to need a fortuitous amount of luck to capture that fabulous sound that only ever seems to happen when your DAT is switched off and you're half asleep (you must have an exciting nightlife - Ed). You could also find, after trekking half way around the planet with a giant supply of batteries and several continental power adaptors, that the person playing it is a complete imbecile.
I have long since hung up my walking boots in favour of the easy option: namely the purchase of ready-made disks. Walkabout Music have a fine collection of sample disks in IFF format for the Amiga. They are 8-bit, but don't suffer for it at all. Most of the samples I tried were very clear and noise-free. And as they are 8-bit, they're completely compatible with any of the tracker programs, as well as a whole array of sample editors and so on.
The library includes many international flavours including African native instruments and chants, two Indian disks, one full of percussion and the other with many twangy things like the sitar and santoor. The touring party also visits the Far East, Oceania (or Australasia to you and I) and the Americas, so perhaps this is as much a learning library of musical cultures as it is a valuable source of data.
The more conventional disks include percussion, and feature more than seventy types of bass, snare, hi-hat, and tom drums, as well as techno 'thips' and record scratches, and a whole host of instruments. The piano disk, for example, has four types of piano which are then multi-sampled, and some are treated to effects, including a bizarre flanged piano! One of the piano sounds is also recorded dynamically, giving you the option of setting up a velocity crossfade (so long as whatever it is you're using supports it). The guitars disk contains a vibrant source of strums and single strikes, plus grating electric squeals and so forth.
There are currently thirty-five disks in the library, all brimming with noises, which means that there is undoubtedly something in there that you'll find invaluable.
The disks cost just £2.50 each (plus £1 p+p) or £2.00 if you buy 10 or more, or better still, buy the whole set for £59.95.
Available from: Walkabout Music, (Contact Details)
The Yamaha SY85 is one of those keyboards with a tantalisingly large reservoir of RAM in which samples can be dumped via the MMA Standard. The problem is how to get from A to B, without having to first drive off to X, take a wrong turn around P, and well, you get the idea. The thing is that there aren't many computer-based programs (especially on the Amiga) that can send samples.
However, if your SY85 is just bursting to get some samples, and you have an Amiga that is willing to supply them, then all you need is this program. It actually doesn't do any dumping, you just insert your SY85 disk into the Amiga and copy over any standard IFF sample file of up to 350k on to it. There is even an option to convert a whole directory of samples at once (with a maximum of 99), so you can whip off for a quick cup of tea while the Amiga happily chugs away. Because it omits the need to use MIDI transfer dumps, the whole process is that much quicker, particularly with two disk drives.
The Amiga to SY85 convertor costs £15.00 and can be bought from Steven Bird, (Contact Details).
If I had a penny for every sampling cartridge currently available for the Amiga, then I would be very rich. Well, maybe I would have a fifty pence piece and become a numismatist. But this is not to say that they are not welcome, especially if they are as intuitive and as feature-filled as the Technosound Turbo 2 sampling software and hardware.
Within the box all the kit you need to get sampling vies for your attention. As well as obvious components, such as the software and cartridge, you get a smashing manual and some audio leads to connect yourself. The cartridge plugs into the parallel (or printer) port on the back of the computer. This will require you to remove any audio connections that you may have already plugged in, because it's a bit of a tight squeeze round the back there. Once you've plugged the cartridge in, you should be able to wiggle the audio cables back in.
The software editor is neatly arranged, with a selection of commonly used functions lining the bottom of the screen alongside the input monitor box. These include the transport functions (just stop, record and play), zoom in and out, and the monitor button. Switching this on lets you listen to the incoming signal, which is quite useful if you haven't already set up a monitor channel elsewhere. Technosound also has a feature whereby you can overdub your current sample (or portion thereof) with some more sounds direct from the audio inputs.
The sample window above, displays the currently selected waveform. TT2 can have a number of samples (memory permitting) in RAM at once, though only one is shown at a time. By simply clicking on the 'keep sample' box makes sure that your sample doesn't do a runner. It can then be recalled by clicking on the edit button, which produces a list of the samples available to choose from. Sounds can either be stored in the standard IFF format or as 'raw' data files.
More tools for making your sample sound squelchy are accessible from the drop down menus. These include the usual dicing and marinating functions like cut, paste and copy, and a 'mix' tool which takes the sample currently twiddling its thumbs in the paste buffer, and imposes it upon the sample on screen. Custom built sound effects can also be pasted onto your noises, to make them sound even more like Janet Street Porter gargling mouthwash. Not as bad as you might think. The phasing effect is quite superb.
As these effects are all editable, the preset nature of the 'funtime effects' section seems a bit superfluous. But as the title implies, it is fun for all the family, especially when you apply patches like 'Pinky & Perky' or 'Legless' to an otherwise sensible sound.
The software also includes a sequencer that enables you to chain samples together and play them from the hard disk, and a basic tracker program that is certainly good enough to construct some musical sketches. There is enough scope in the software, and quality within the hardware to sample things from the sublime to the ridiculous (with the aid of a 'duck' effect or two...) without any problems at all. A nifty piece of work. The complete package costs £39.99, £15 to upgrade from Technosound 1, or £29.99 for just the software.
Available from New Dimensions, (Contact Details).
Contrary to popular belief, connecting a MIDI interface to your PC isn't as perilous as you may have imagined. You won't need the sort of adjustable screwdrivers and spanners required for Voyetra's VP11 MIDI interface, because rather than wedging into the innards of your PC, it is connected via the printer port. But what of your printer? Must it be dumped in favour of your newfound friend?
Fortunately there is a happy ending, or more accurately a happy VP11 thru port, so your printer can stay where it is. And with it comes a power supply, and a disk with the Windows and MS-DOS drivers on, to boot (or not, as the case may be). Unfortunately, it's one of those pesky US-style two-pin efforts. Anybody stupid enough to try wedging this into a standard 3 pin socket without a continental adaptor deserves the 240v shock they'll probably get. You can use any 9v power supply from an electrical store, so don't risk it.
The VP11 also features a single LED that flashes periodically if it is happy, or when it's in use either by printer or MIDI. I tried using the VP11 to trigger sounds from the soundcard, as well as sequencing with Cubase, and had no noticeable problems. The only problems you are likely to encounter will be in configuring it to work on your system without conflicting IRQs and what-have-you, but this is inherent whenever you plug anything into a PC. The VP11 is ideal for all portable PCs which cannot accommodate a slot-in MIDI interface, as well as the now rather defunct IBM PCs with the microchannel bus slots, although it also works with the more standard desktop models. For the more professional user, a single MIDI in and MIDI out might be too much of a trade-off between ease of installation and flexibility, but as the VP11 can be used alongside another MIDI interface, it is ideal for most applications.
Available from: Arbiter Pro MIDI, (Contact Details).
If the PC you use is at all like mine, then you need a soundcard. Playing computer games with a wimpy built-in speaker is like returning to the bad old days of rubbery keyboards and pitiful bleepy noises. But soundcards also open up all sorts of music, multimedia, and MIDI possibilities too, so they really are an essential part of any PC set up.
Short of trying to wedge a TS10 keyboard inside your computer, the best way to get an Ensoniq-quality sound on your PC is to get the Soundscape card. It isn't quite as big as the keyboard, although it is a full-size card and for this reason you will need a bit of space inside your desktop box. The Soundscape board operates in three different modes; a GM compatible mode which gives you by far the best set of sounds, with the advantage of MIDI file compatibility; an MT-32 bank of sounds, which is supported by a number of games; or a Soundblaster/Ad Lib FM Emulation mode. The FM sounds aren't the best sounding, but are by far the most compatible with games.
The card has all the usual plugs on the back panel: stereo mini-jack input and output, plus a 'CD aux' input (for plugging in your CD-ROM drive's audio outputs), and a standard MIDI/joystick port. You can use your own MIDI interface to control the Soundscape card, but it is far easier to configure the set up if you use its own MIDI port. Via MIDI you can have up to thirty-two note polyphony, and sixteen part multi-timbrality.
In addition to the card and the driver software, there is a number of small programs or 'applettes', plus the Super Jam Jr software that creates an auto-accompaniment to your playing on the keyboard. Audiostation is your all-in-one sound mixer and player, with playback facilities for MIDI files, CD players, and WAV samples. It also features a mixer so that all the relevant levels can be adjusted. You can just load the MIDI files and listen to them from the Audiostation transport controls panel, or you can mess about with them in real-time with another mixer. This is courtesy of another program called MIDI Orchestrator which features sixteen channels (corresponding to each MIDI channel) with faders, mute, solo and record buttons, plus a patch or voice selector.
The Soundscape installation is made very easy with the assistance of a good manual that doesn't leave you in the dark about anything. It even makes a point of telling you what alterations the express or standard installation makes to your autoexec.bat, and system.ini files, so should you need to remove the card, you know what lines to delete.
Although it is a GM synth in essence, there are some very nice sounds on board. The pianos in particular had a rich character about them, as did many of the drum sounds. As ever, the brass section voices managed to sound more like a herd of stampeding elephants, but this seems to happen even in £600 sound modules. Also quite nice were the strings sounds and synth pads.
The problem with good quality sounds is that they always seem to be saddled with a price tag that wouldn't be out of place in Harrods' tea room. This card is more of a greasy spoon man, coming in at only £199. More expensive than some soundcards, but a lot better.
Available from: Sound Technology, (Contact Details).
On this month's CD-ROM is a program for the PC called wave splitter, written by Brendan Kelly. It hikes the labour out of editing samples, because it does it all for you. The program can take any length of WAV file and cut it where it finds a bit of 'dead space'. This way you could sample a whole minute from something like a sample CD. and have it chopped up and served to you on a plate. You can set the threshold level for the beginning and the end of the sample, and also the amount of silence that is permitted before the guillotine takes a swipe. The version on the disk is useable, although the full version is only available if you register (see disk documentation). And if you do a lot of sampling on your PC, this is certainly an accessory to make your life easier.
It is precisely the unclassifiability of Synthetix Korg Palette which gives it its charm. For unlike those identikit 'vintage synth sounds' collections, whose stock in trade is the warped bass arpeggio loop and the interminable analogue filter sweep, this CD covers all bases. No factory presets have been used, and while it has been produced with the assistance of Korg, there is no danger of it being sucked into mediocrity by some corporate PR machine.
I was disappointed that the MS series (along with even earlier monosynths such as the 700 and the 770, or even the PS polys) isn't represented. We kick off with the leviathan Trident poly and its simpler strings-and-things cousin, the Delta, both of which were designed at the end of the 1970s. There are some delicate string tones from the latter, and a broader range of pad sounds from the former.
Then it's off to the endlessly programmable Polysix, the compact Mono/Poly, and the streamlined Poly 61. Again, the instruments are represented with some cleverly crafted sounds, all embodying the essential characteristics of the hardware responsible, while remaining very usable.
The history of synths in the late 80s is dominated by the Korg M1, and both the instrument and its many spinoffs (T-series, P3 piano module and Wavestations) get plenty of exposure here. The sounds aren't as fresh as the analogue stuff but if modern, squeaky clean polyphonic sounds are your thing, and you can't be bothered to program any yourself, the Korg Palette is as fine a source as any. Its beauty lies in its ability to do so much more besides.
More from: Synthetix, (Contact Details)
For those unfamiliar with the man and his muse, David Torn is an American guitarist whose solo output swings effortlessly from improvised jazz to new-age instrumental and grunge style. He is not a man to follow convention willingly, and his first sample CD adventure is typically weird and wonderful.
Tonal Textures is, as its name implies, an alternative source of pads, chordal backings, and quasi-rhythmic loops for those disenchanted with the multi-timbral mush of modern synthesisers. The loops are for the most part ethereal, and sit easily along the bottom in a mix, but they also contain enough sonic detail to be used further upfront if the project so dictates. They can also be chopped up to form shorter, more staccato loops and there are plenty of ideas as to how you might get creative with the loops in the copious sleeve notes.
Torn is a master of the effects processor, and many of the loops owe their unique character to the Lexicon PCM42, PCM70, and Digitech IPS33B delay boxes. But don't get the idea that the resulting sounds are gimmicky. The signal processing may be crucial, but it's also, for the most part, subtle.
Where appropriate (or possible), the original chord sequence for each loop is listed on the inlay card, along with running time and sample memory size. This is a mixed mode, multi-platform CD, with a CD-ROM data section that is compatible with the Akai S1000 and S3000, E-mu's Emulator II, the Roland SP700/S760 and the Kurzweil K2000. This is all well and good, but unlike giant keygroups of percussive multisamples, these loops don't benefit hugely from the fast loading and easy sequence-abilility that the CD-ROM format offers. I was left wondering whether the space taken up by the data wouldn't have been better occupied by another quirky loop or three.
More from: Time & Space, (Contact Details)
Reverb on a sample CD? I thought the idea was pretty weird too. And after playing around with Trails & Reflections for a couple of months, I'm still not sure. There's no denying that this CD is highly innovative. It's also staggeringly straightforward. In fact, the idea is so simple, it's astounding nobody thought of it before: a series of digital reverb treatments, all them stunningly high quality from the industry standard Lexicon 300, captured digitally, and spun on to a CD for you to sample and blend with your own sample sources. Just think, no more hunting around for spare 'auxes' on the desk because you want to use so many different effects at mixdown. And all for the cost of a sample CD.
The reality is a little more confused. Firstly, these are big, stereo sounds that take up a lot of sample memory, which is not good news if you're short on space. Secondly, just listening to the reverbs on the CD doesn't give you much clue as to how they will sound when married to a particular source. Thirdly, no matter how wide the variety of reverb patches on offer, it's often the case that you still can't find the perfect program for your source.
Like all works of genius, Trails & Reflections is paradoxically intriguing and profoundly irritating. It is not a quick fix for your music's signal processing limitations, but a serious tool which repays your own attention to detail.
More from: Time & Space
The best drum sample CD ever? Who are they trying to fool? There's probably no such thing, after all, such a thing can hardly be all things to all people. But when it comes to sheer feel, this one has the bulk of the competition well and truly licked.
The CD is the brainchild of two men: drummer Trevor Smith and engineer Buster Field. What they've achieved is not a comprehensive collection of every drum loop you'll ever need but a gathering of great grooves, played with passion and recorded with rare style and panache.
I suspect that Smith's first love may be acid jazz and funk, as there's a fine range of those styles on offer here. But he can turn his hand effortlessly to other genres, including rock, grunge, and punk. All the loops are cheerfully titled ('Flats in Dagenham', 'Gimme Gretsch', 'Akai the noo' to name but a few) which makes it easier to identify your favourites. BPMs are provided, and each loop is presented in two variations: a full stereo drum kit, followed by a remixer's dream of ambient kit sounds on the left channel, kick, snare, and percussion on the right. This crafty bit of mixing gives you endless programming possibilities. Glorious.
The recording method is refreshingly low-tech; valve mics and preamps, analogue tape, and a complete absence of signal processing. But these boys are no Luddites: the three kits' worth of one-hit audio samples are followed by the same sounds in Akai data format, while an accompanying floppy disk offers MIDI files of the loops, compiled using a drum-to-MIDI convertor and free of quantisation.
So is this really the best drum sample CD ever? Probably. But it's spoilt by being on CD. Now, if I could get my hands on a vinyl version, that would be something...
More from: Pillar to Post Records, (Contact Details).
New Jack Swing, Rap & Ragga (Volume Two)
I confess right now that I know almost nothing about this collection of sampled loops. It arrived at my studio on a DAT, and as there was no accompanying blurb, I am completely in the dark as to what exactly it contains. What I do know is this: there's no finer source of swingbeat or ragga grooves than in this collection.
So what makes this collection special? The sheer detail in the loops, for one thing. The styles (ragga and swing particularly) rely on rich, highly complex grooves for their success, and listening to these patterns close up reveals all kinds of sample snippets bubbling under the surface, dancing merrily across the stereo sound stage and bobbing in and out of the mix with beguiling unpredictability (er, yes, right Dan - Ed).
These are serious loops, lasting 45-55 seconds on average, and more often than not they build gradually from a sparse foundation into a full-frontal aural assault, with piano/organ chords, thumping bass, percussive hits, and sung or rapped vocal slices slowly added to the mixture.
A CD release of these grooves is imminent, apparently. Even if New Jack Swing 'ain't your thing', there's something compelling about the best of Black Beat's loops that really sets the creative juices flowing.
More from: BlackBeat, (Contact Details)
Re:Mix #6 Tracklisting:
06 Intro to samples section 07 David Torn's Tonal Textures 08 Blackbeat - 'Knock Boots' 09 Blackbeat - 'Enjoy Yourself' 10 Blackbeat - 'Me Ah D'Dan Dan' 11 Blackbeat - 'Ain't no Thing' 12 Blackbeat - MF Scratch 13 Trails and Reflections 14 Best Ever Drum Sample CD 15 Korg palette CD
This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #6.
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