One of the bonuses of this job is that I get access to just about every sample library currently available. In 1992 I have (so far) waded through about 40 CDs. Most have something to offer, some are indispensable, but many do cover similar territory. As the season of goodwill, too much food and blockbuster movies is upon us, I thought I'd give some suggestions for Sample CD Christmas Combinations, chosen to offer both value for money and compatibility. The CDs are not graded, merely selected as appropriate for the market category.
Coldcut's Kleptomania (AMG: Hitsound Producer series Volume 4).
Pascal Gabriel's Dance Samples (AMG: Hitsound Producer Series Volume 1).
The X-Static Goldmine (Time & Space).
Zero G Datafile 3 (Time & Space)
East/West Dance/Industrial by David Frangioni and Rich Mendelson (Time & Space).
Pete Gleadall's Sampleography (AMG: Hitsound Producer Series Volume 5).
Loop Classics Volume 1 (Time & Space).
The Funky Element (Time & Space).
Loop Classics Volume 1 (Time & Space).
Funk Guitar (See Below).
Pete Gleadall's Kleptomania (AMG).
Ambient (Time & Space)
The Ethnic Percussion Sample CD (The Music Suite/Time & Space).
Now onto this month's Festive selection — one Cracker and three Turkeys.
Funk Guitar is the third release in the Time & Space Masterclass series. It's packaged to look like a packet of six (guitar strings, you fool), and progenitor Vlad Naslas has taken great care to ensure that each of the 1,244 samples on board is properly annotated. The sample lists include (where appropriate) key, tempo, effects used, and suggested start point for the loop (where this is not on beat 1). All names are suitably descriptive, and before I even get on to placing it in the Onkyo I can see that this collection has been meticulously prepared. Now for the pudding...
I wish he'd listed which guitar and amp was currently in use. Still, the rare grooves which open are quite obviously several light years ahead of previous competition. I think this is going to be a definitive collection.
Track 12: So far, loops have all been funky, slightly understated, and virtually noiseless. Perhaps due to the PAST equaliser credited on the sleeve, which utilises old Neve components. Riffs are familiar-ish, and my favourites so far are those which don't place heavy demands on the music onto which they could be laid. (Not too many different notes: 1, 2 or 3 is ideal). Fortunately, most samples fall into this category.
In track 10 there is some wah-wah work where the foot co-ordination could be better: I would in any case prefer to add in wah-wah myself over a straight sample. The dreaded W suffix appears after about 25% of all samples. Strike them off my shopping list, though doubtless others will disagree. Fortunately, this is more than made up for by the massive number of totally sensible samples that make up the bulk of the rest — and the fingerwork is well tidy.
By way of example, Track 12 is divided into two sections, each of which comprises a set of samples around the same key and beat. There are over a hundred of these sets, in a variety of styles. Some sets (Track 5, 'Rare Gem') contain no less than 24 samples, though the average is around 5-10. Optimally presented, I would say.
By track 24, a tad more distortion has crept in, but the situation is still under control. Like that other Masterclass release, Ambient, here we have swathes of similar-sounding samples. Pickups, keys, guitars and preamp settings change from time to time, but so far (we're up to Track 31) the general trend has remained consistent: funky picking, chord work and licks in a decidedly pre-modern JB-esque style. Some favourite Motown licks are convincingly reproduced.
Track 34 and a new effect: a sub-octave generator (remember them?). Like it.
I've just remembered: in the liner notes we are advised to audition these samples with reverb. As it happens, I have a Dynacord DRP15 waiting in the wings for its MIDI retrofit... Program 126 ('Crazy Funk') is a slapback gated reverb. It sounds OK, but I think I prefer to hear the guitars without any reverb at all. Sorry, Vlad. Dry is funky.
Track 42 is full of bluesy components, setting the tone for the coming season. The constricted squeeze of Track 44 is damn familiar... now what was that effect called? Wasn't it made by Electroharmonix? Tracks 48-50 have matching note, damped note, and lick scales. There follows a selection of phased licks, which sound rather too doodly. Remember that hippie in the corner of the music shop who wouldn't shut up? Track 54 is the first to show signs of stereo — is that a JC120? More funky blues. The 23 licks are all called 'Dryza' (bone, presumably). Strange, 'cos they're plastered with chorus. Track 55, back to mono.
Some nice FX are on track 60: autopan plus envelope trigger. A resonant stereo flanger is utilised on 61. Track 62 is a favourite: ZZ Top meets The B52s via a sub-octave generator. Track 67 is the heaviest yet, 68 wanders into Roachford territory.
By the time we get into the 70s (tracks, not years) Vlad is definitely getting less cautious. (First bit of feedback just went by). Considering that we are dealing with one man and his axes, he seems to understand how to get a wide range of sounds & styles together. He's not afraid of fringe territory, either. Whatever else this CD does, it makes an excellent CV.
Track 80: a super multiple stereo delay effect, followed by... what is that growly sound? Is it a Gibson Maestro or Mutron pedal? The envelopes of track 84 indicate a guitar synth; this is followed by a wide range of weird and wonderful effects. Here lies the basis for a good few potential trance dance tracks — my S770 will be getting into these pronto. There is some techno sequenced stuff of very high viability.
Track 93 introduces the 'Talk Box', an incredibly simple device involving tube, mouth and loudspeaker, which at times can sound like a raspy vocoder. (I remember seeing Peter Frampton munching on one on TOTP). In fact, the last section (Track 99) features some genuine, if gratuitous, vocoding.
For whom the axe falls? Why a guitar CD at all? Dance samplists tend to want one-offs. If more intricate patterns are required, surely it's time to call in a session player? Ideally, yes. In practice, many samplists work without any multitrack capability, so while it might seem quite painstaking to piece together a realistic guitar part for your song, the cost in terms of studio time and session fee is nil. (If you do know a great guitarist willing to oblige, you might get them to play onto DAT or cassette while you loop your sequenced track, then sample the best bits later). Once thus assembled, you can edit the song at will. Try doing that on a multitrack with timecode.
For dance specialists who secretly want to use guitarists, but can't on ethical grounds, you will be able to fool most of the people most of the time with material from Funk Guitar. The conclusion is that if you want electric guitar samples, this is the best collection I've heard. The engineering and playing are first class. If you are looking for big fifths you will be disappointed. Don't worry — every samplist and his dog has them already. The material here is much cooler, fresher and funkier. A half star off for too much wah, otherwise no serious complaints.
(PS. There's no acoustic guitar on this CD. Doesn't bother me, though — I got one for Christmas. Last year.)
£49.95 inc VAT.
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
More from the home of quirk. Showing their usual disregard for established industry practice, Best Service have chosen to open this industrial-esque collection with their worst shots. Track 1 is a silly demo. Tracks 2, 3 and 4 all start off with silly demos, and each is followed by a short set of digital bass synth multisamples. Quite why the demos were included, I don't know.
Then comes track 5, where 12 ultra-tedious drum samples, sounding like they fell off the back of a drum machine, try one's patience. Three more wasted tracks involving 'Tommy's' Harley Davidson follow. Fortunately, the rest of the CD comprises a useful and original set of machine/metal loops and single hits. Pretty much all of them sound like they have been specially recorded. Fidelity is excellent throughout, and stereo is the norm. No BPMs are given (tut tut), nor is there any indication that a sample might have been taken in mono.
There are 35 'Maschine Loops', and,these are worth investigating. Titles like 'Starter Problems', 'Sheet Metal Cutter' and 'File The Metal' set the tone, though others sound distinctly electronic. Some loops are offered with four or more repeats. Regular viewers will know what I think about that particular scam!
Next up come 36 'Maschine Single Sounds', including 'Rat Kick' (?). Then a set of 18 'Metal Loops' kicks off with the engagingly entitled 'Let's Hammer In The Morning', in which, typically, no hammers are produced. This is followed by a ravey offering. And so on: most loops seem to have some sequencing content, some are over complex, but nearly all offer hope.
The title tracks, and undoubted source of inspiration for some future dance monster, start at 34, and comprise 37 'Clock FX Loops'. Chimes of varying descriptions, winding noises, and some unidentifiable whirrs find their way unerringly into my S770. Once again, some loops are synth/sequencer born, though what the synth is I'm not sure. Something expensive, digital and German, I think. Didn't these boys have access to Acxel re-synthesis?
Skipping a few beats, we move onto Track 61, for the start of a set of 22 'sequences'. The first two are big production numbers; thereafter most could have come from any of the previous loop categories, where sample allocation to one or t'other was pretty random anyway.
Single metal hits make up the bulk of the remainder of this CD. All samples in this section seem to be fresh live digital recordings. Some of the hits were live repeats, designed to give subtle variation when randomly rotated in a sequence. Ironically, for a clockwork metal CD, this makes for a less mechanical feel.
135 pings, scrapes, pots and pans later come more clocks and watches ticking, and then the CD plays out with a collection of dark teutonic atmospheres. There are around 500 samples in all.
Some dodgy dealing should not obscure the fact that Clockwork is a viable product. I must admit that I'm a sucker for some of the production values evident here: Klaus Kandler has some of the 'let's go for it' attitude last felt from Coldcut on Kleptomania. As far as sound quality and nature goes, the nearest comparison is the Dance/Industrial CD. Clockwork is less well organised, but it is more off-the-wall, and less 'produced' sounding, which I always think leaves more room for the imagination. Also, its scope is strictly true to the title — you will not find any spurious rare grooves or MiniMoog basses in here. Buy it if you like taking chances.
£39.95 inc VAT.
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
Now for a pair of budget issues from Megamidi of France. Dance Series Volume 1 boasts 1000 House, Rap, Funk and Techno samples. The format is slightly unusual, in that the first 17 tracks are given over to 'Song Kits'. A series of maybe 10 samples are offered, followed by a few bars of them all playing together. For example, Song 1 starts off with a triangle loop, followed by a drum loop which, insanely, has the triangle superimposed. In fact, the problem is that the building blocks chosen are simply too large. Rather than offering samples for parallel layering, Megamidi provide layered samples for series editing.
It seems you can only write (should I say rewrite?) the one song with each kit. It's a bit like joining dots or painting by numbers. For kids wanting to get a first insight into how sampling technology can create a decent production, this part of the CD could prove a useful educational tool. For the rest of you, it's a bit jolly.
Having said that, the programmers are really pretty good, though not quite up to state of the art 1992 UK specs — round about the first Technotronic album I'd say, judging from the drums and synths.
Track 18 starts off the beats and loops. An OK, but entirely un-fresh collection follows — for amusement only. One or two of the computer beats might provoke something, but I wouldn't bank on it. What single hit sounds there are are pretty off-the-peg: 808, 909, JD800, etc. There is a reasonable hi-hat selection, though (big deal). Towards the end come a selection of the usual hits, orchestral strikes (actually quite good), lots of computer voices, some human voices ('party time', etc.) and science fiction effects. Oh, and there's some scratching to boot. Which is what I would do with it.
Basically, this is a volume for beginners. Give it to your six-year old cousin for Christmas.
Dance Series Volume 2 (another Megamidi classic) adopts the same winning formula as its predecessor. The CD is given over to 39 song kits, in the following up-and-coming styles: New Jack Swing, Techno, Industrial, Rock, Funk, 'Urban Jack', Acid house, Rap, House, Rave, 'Neo', Tribal and Ragamuffin, to name but a lot. Despite the fact that the entire platter is devoted to tunes this time, most manage to be worse than those on Volume 1. Can these be the same programmers? If so, they are getting careless: the sequencing is, if anything, less fresh. (They were probably in a hurry to get off to a Vanessa Paradis concert.) Possibly the most telling description I can think of is... it sounds French. (PS: GATTcha! Why didn't The Sun think of that one?)
£55 inc VAT each, or £99 for both CDs.
AMG, (Contact Details)
Review by Wilf Smarties
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