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Getting The Max From Your E-mu MPS

With an instrument like the E-mu MPS, it's all too easy to call up a few good sounds, splash some reverb on them and, because it sounds great, think you're getting the most from your investment. However, the MPS has hidden depths which are only implied in the manual and specifications. Paul Wiffen helps you find them and wring every last drop of power from your machine.

One of the things that many people discovered very quickly about the E-mu Proteus was that it really cried out for a sequencer or powerful master keyboard to make the most of its multitimbral capabilities. You could, of course, use the Link facility to put a bass sound under your left hand and something chordal under your right, but there were still 14 channels of multitimbrality unexploited unless you could access them from multiple MIDI channels... and that meant a sequencer or zoned MIDI master keyboard.

So it seemed logical when putting together a keyboard version of Proteus to change all that, by giving the keyboard all the attributes normally only found on master keyboard controllers (which musicians are loath to spend their hard-earned money on as they don't add any new sounds to their palette).

You will find yourself getting a lot more from the Proteus' sound complement when you have the ability to divide up a keyboard into zones. Now you can avoid that decision between trying to make a fast patch change just to play two notes then returning to the previous sound, and just not bothering. Instead you can place the two notes you need on a different patch at the top or bottom end of the keyboard, without interfering with the bass sound you are playing in the left hand, the string pad in the centre of the keyboard which you're holding with the sustain pedal and the lead sound under your right hand.


Of course, it rather defeats the purpose of having four different sounds in four zones across the keyboard, if they then all pitch bend when you slide down a tone in the bassline, all smear when you sustain a piano chord to free your hands for a blistering lead run, or all wobble away when you add a hint of vibrato to a delicate woodwind line. The amount of control you can cope with as a two-handed being is directly proportional to the independence of the performance controller routings. Fortunately, on MPS this is total; each zone can be individually set to respond (or not) to each controller. You can defeat Pitch Wheel, Mod Wheel, Sustain Pedal, Volume Control and a host of MIDI controllers separately for each zone. Try setting the bass zone to just respond to vibrato from the mod wheel, the area where you are playing the chordal component of your music to ignore everything but sustain, the lead-line zone to just follow pitch bend manoeuvres and the sound effect right at the top of the keyboard to be faded in and out by the volume pedal. With a bit of practice, you'll find yourself convincing people that you are an alien with an extra hand or two as you cover three or four interweaving parts simultaneously.


On the original Proteus it was possible to layer four multi-samples together by using the primary and secondary voices within each preset and then linking two presets together. However, this process could be a little time-consuming, especially under the impatient eye of a producer or client. Proteus MPS allows you to achieve more in the way of layering much faster. The zones in each Quick Key default to the entire keyboard range, so layering up four sounds is as simple as stepping through the four zones and selecting the Preset Numbers with the dial in the second screen of Performance edit. Once you become familiar with the actual numbers of presets, you can speed this process up even more by entering in the numbers as three digits. Suddenly, the whole process of trying out different sounds layered together becomes so quick it is something you can try in a quiet minute in the studio or during a sound check. Pick one sound for Zone 1, then switch to Zone 2 and scroll through till you find something that works. When you have something you like there, select Zone 3 and look for something that complements the pair of them. Whether you leave it at three or look for a fourth is entirely a matter of personal taste (or lack of it).

Of course, for some people four layers is still not enough. Well, don't forget that you still have the ability to select a primary and secondary voice for each preset and then link that to another preset with both primary and secondary voice. If you do that four times and then use each of these layered together in a Performance Quick Key, you can trigger up to 16 multi-samples from each note you play (clearly the phrase Over The Top holds no negative attributes in your book) — but don't forget that you will only manage to get two notes of polyphony out of the MPS's generous pool of 32 voices! Still, if that's your cup of tea, then the MPS won't stand in your way.

REALLY DEEP LAYERING: Select a Primary and Secondary voice with the same key range for each Preset...

...and then link that to another Preset with both Primary and Secondary voice. Do this four times for really deep layering.

There is, of course, always the ability to add or substitute external MIDI voices to each of the four zones, and assuming you use the MIDI channels to access separate MIDI devices (rather than multiple channels within a single external device), then the polyphony ceases to be so seriously eroded.

LAYERING: The zones in each Quick Key default to the entire keyboard range, making layering four sounds as simple as stepping through four zones and selecting preset numbers.

The beauty of the MPS's master keyboard functions is that they can be used equally well on its internal sounds, on external devices or both. Mix and match your favourite Proteus sounds with those from the rest of your MIDI arsenal, right there on the same keyboard. Double up the sampled string section with some analogue strings for warmth, or simply bring up your 'FM Rhodes' in a zone all to itself with the convenience of Proteus' 'Upright Bass' below it and/or 'Tenor Sax' above. By setting the correct MIDI Program Change for each zone to be sent when the appropriate Quick Key is selected, externally produced sounds can be called up just as easily as if they were inside the MPS. By setting external devices' volume controls to full and setting levels within the Performance Edit screens, you can even determine the balance of sounds between zones, as these levels are transmitted as MIDI Volume if the zone is set to trigger over MIDI. You may never need to touch your MIDI modules again — especially if you have them placed in your line of sight, so that you see the program names as you call them up from the MPS's zone program changes.


After checking out the preset sounds in MPS, many people are surprised to learn that its complement of basic multi-samples is identical to that of Proteus 1 (apart from the piano, which is a mono version of the samples developed especially for the Proformance Piano Modules). Of course, this is partly due to the fact that MPS features new presets which have been developed since the introduction of Proteus 1XR, but also has a good deal to do with the fact that adding effects within the preset on a synthesizer really broadens the sound palette (especially when the quality and variety of effects is equal to those in the MPS!). It can be an extremely rewarding experience to take basic Proteus presets like 'Acoustic Guitar' or 'Solo Trumpet' and see how the possibilities multiply when you process them using two high-quality effects simultaneously. For an example of this listen to the MPS preset 'Exhibition' (#47). This sound is based on the same multi-sample as 'Solo Trumpet' (try setting FXA and FXB levels to 0% if you don't believe me), but uses the space and clarity of the Hall reverb combined with the richness of the Stereo Chorus to create a sound that is worthy of the opening of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition in one of the world's great concert halls.

Try picking your favourite Proteus 1 sound (mine is 'Acoustic Guitar') and put it through a few different effects algorithms. Just use one of the effects busses to start with (set the level of the other one to 6% if it isn't already), as you may find it difficult to hear the changes in one effect, if a second less subtle one is masking them. Start off with a hint of reverb or chorus and then increase the depth and time/delay amounts and listen to the way it changes the sound's character. When you've exhausted the combinations of parameters for these subtler effects, try the same thing with the more hooligan effects like Fuzz and Ring Mod. Now you may well find your source sound almost unrecognisable, but you're sure to end up with some pretty wild sounds that will take you in completely different musical directions from the original instrument samples. Hear your guitar sound change from a delicate acoustic to an ear-bleeding wall of electric amplification, or put some grit in your gentle sax.

Of course, once you have radically altered your original sound with one of the more out-of-the-way effects, there is nothing to stop you smoothing its new rough edges with a smidgeon of reverb or stereo echo. To get effects like Ring Mod and Fuzz you will have been using the FXB buss, so you can still choose one of the more standard effects from the FXA buss and use the routing of B to A to route the output of the wilder effect through the more subtle one. You may well find that an effect that would have been way too much when right in your face is mellowed into usability with the distance that a little reverb brings.

The FXA buss also allows you to put a hint of reverb on the various different backing sounds that you are triggering from your sequencer in Multi Mode, without mangling everything in the Fuzz or Ring Mod that you are using on your solo performance sound. Use the Performance FX screens (which follow the Multi Channel assignment screen in Performance Edit) to route most channels just to FXA (with a Reverb effect selected), except for your bassline, which you will probably want to set to Dry, and the solo sound, which you should route to FXB and then use the B to A amount to determine how much reverb you want on your distorted lead. (By the way, if you need to set different amounts of reverb on each of the backing sounds you are using, you can can do this by setting the assignment to Preset and then editing each individual preset's FXA send amount — however, don't forget to save these preset changes if you want to return to the entire setup later!).


I was recently hired to do the music for a corporate video and took along the MPS as a good all-rounder to start with, not knowing exactly what the clients would want. The idea was that I would get something in the right ballpark and then refine things with all my other MIDI modules and effects when the client wasn't looking over my shoulder. There were over 20 minutes of music to be written and orchestrated, and I found myself whipping through it in about half the usual time. Although at first I assumed that I was simply having a good day inspiration-wise, I eventually realised that all my energy was going into composing and arranging instead of walking across the room to adjust MIDI modules and sort out cabling problems. I was able to audition sounds for the clients to choose from and trigger them from my sequencer with a fraction of the normal fuss. When we had finished with writing, arranging and synchronising (the point at which the clients considered the job finished and left) I went back over the piece in my normal fashion to tweak, substitute and bolster up the individual sounds, route any additional effects in and decide what extra modules to bring in the next day for mixing the whole thing to tape. To my amazement, not only were the clients happy with the whole thing as it was (nothing unusual, their satisfaction level is usually lower than mine), but so was I. The few things that caught my attention were easily tweaked within the sounds and effects on the MPS itself (in particular, I realised for the first time how much the MPS's drum sounds can be varied using the effects), and the only part I wanted to double was a bassline which needed a hint of wavetable synthesis. Fortunately, the module to do this was already in the back of the car. I plugged it into the MPS and found myself going through its sounds with much less fuss than normal (its user interface is its sole weak spot) and I had picked and mixed in a suitable sound in seconds.

The next morning, the mixing engineer, who is used to me messing about for hours trying half a dozen different sounds on two dozen different modules was flabbergasted to see me walk in the next morning, boot up the computer, open up the sequence, power up the MPS and one other module, turn to him and say "Roll tape!". Normally he can rely on a couple of hours of doing nothing while I get my act together. What's more, his token attempts to add something in the mix with his very expensive signal processing he eventually abandoned as "unnecessary" (high praise indeed for the MPS's DSP capabilities). We ended up putting the whole thing direct onto the video master with no changes at all from the previous day (a first).

I relate this tale as an illustration of the fact that although I had planned to substitute some of the MPS's orchestral sounds with Proteus 2, its synth bass with real analogue bass, its drum sounds with samples and to augment some of its effects with outboard gear, the MPS covered all these areas to my satisfaction. The one MIDI addition I made was integrated in seconds.

What worked for me may well work for you too! Try using the MPS in conjunction with a sequencer to map out your whole piece of music. You may just find that you finish the entire project without hooking in any other gear. And if you need to bring in something else, you can be sure that it will take a fraction of the time to configure into your setup.

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Peavey PC1600

Next article in this issue

Pipe Dreams

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


Sound On Sound - Jun 1993

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Emu Systems > Proteus MPS

Gear Tags:

Digital Synth

Feature by Paul Wiffen

Previous article in this issue:

> Peavey PC1600

Next article in this issue:

> Pipe Dreams

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