It's 1993. Another year older and not a penny richer. My sample CD library is, however, thanks to a recent shipment from Time & Space.
No. 4 in the Masterclass series is entitled 'Ethnic'. The cover is in the style of Indian cinema poster art. Nice to see that, at least as far as graphics go, Mr. Ed isn't milking a formula — all four CDs have had very different yet appropriate sleeves. Even better, they all contain very different but appropriate samples.
The bulk of Ethnic is made up of loops, featuring multifarious instruments from the four corners of the globe, most of which have been specially recorded in easy-to-sample mono, and played pretty convincingly by one Dave Starkie, though where the non-percussive loops come from is anybody's guess (Michael Palin's DATman?).
The liner notes give away very little, except the fact that "most loops are 4-bar plus 2-bar, or 2-bar plus 1-bar. Some are a full 8 bars long, to make the most of the ever increasing amounts of memory provided by the new generation of samplers...". Why present dual (or more) length loops? Surely anyone who isn't capable of truncating a 2-bar loop down to a 1-bar loop is also not capable of eating, and is therefore dead? On the other hand, where a loop is a repeating pattern, I generally found that the entire sample had been played live rather than looped electronically. (To check this I took samples of successive bars from a repeating pattern, trimmed their start points, and stacked them vertically. They were all very close, indicating great playing consistency, but definitely non-identical. The shortened loops were, however, identical to the leading portion of their longer partners, however, and were therefore adjudged to be totally redundant by yours truly).
No bpms are given, merely an excuse as to why they are not included. For "It was thought that giving tempo/bpm settings would be irrelevant..." read "we couldn't be bothered timing them all".
First up we come across the 'Afro Latin' section, 36 loops spread across 21 tracks. The dominant force here is the conga, though many other hand drums are used, along with shakers, a surprising zither, bells, djembe, marimba and others. Most loops are in 4/4, and, without getting out the stopwatch, seem to hover between 110 and 130bpm. A mixture of solo and group instruments are used. Playing and recording quality is excellent throughout, though no stereo samples are offered. I would have thought that, at least with the groups, either a stereo image, or hard left/right panning (to allow instruments to be isolated) would have been preferable.
From track 22 we are into 'African'. 33 rhythms precede a selection of flutes, kalimba, African violin, harps, acoustic guitar, a Ugandan woman and some spirited chanting. Some of the samples here have a different sound about them ('Kenyan Wakamba Chanting'): perhaps they were recorded in the wild? As with the previous selection, the performances are excellent. Be sure to check out the 'Pygmy Bamboo Flute' of track 29. What a sound! Is this the successor to the didgeridoo?
Occasionally a sample exhibits a bit of analogue noise, as in the plucked harp of track 32. The acoustic guitar of track 33 sounds pretty incongruous, but the Ugandan female voice (or is it Laurie Anderson) is very attractive.
'Ethnic Techno House' is the rather cumbersome name given to the section that spans tracks 35 to 42. Mostly sequenced, fairly fresh, and highly usable, but not the CD's strongest card.
The same can be said about the 'Breakbeats and Fills' which follow. Unlike the first two sections, which open new ground, something like these can be found on earlier releases.
Next up comes the 'Eastern' section. Tablas, tablas, more tablas, dhol, nall, sitar and flute make way for sounds from further afield: Korean flute, Chinese buffalo horn and Vietnamese lute to name but a few. Japan, Indonesia, Polynesia, Thailand and Turkey are all paid a visit. There are plenty of gems in here. Don't miss the Korean single string violins. All samples are loops or riffs, some are a little noisey — all are interesting.
The 'Brass' section is a mixture of familiar and fresh samples, and though a few are genuinely different, overall this selection is merely usable; Miscellaneous is a tiny collection of familiar classics.
'One Hit Samples' is another short selection, of 23 samples. Far more comprehensive ethnic singles are available elsewhere.
Overall, Ethnic delivers some very fab, vital and fresh samples. The 'Afro Latin', 'African' and 'Eastern' sections are where you'll find most of the action; much of the rest is a trifle ordinaire, and towards the end one gets the impression that some difficulty was encountered filling the CD. Nevertheless, an awful lot of time and effort (three years, apparently) clearly went into the preparation of a collection as diverse, original and well recorded as this. This is essential viewing for the clued-up dance samplist, and has already been endorsed by, among others, Leftfield. Sample-count wise, it is not good value for money, but I am more interested in quality than quantity these days (then again, with around 50 sample CDs I can afford to be). Forgive the Paradise Organisation's little indiscretion with the loop count and go out and buy this. If you are subsequently disappointed, get out of the dance scene, you philistine!
£49.95 inc VAT.
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
It had to happen. A rather pleasant feature of the burgeoning sample CD market is a trend towards specialisation. However, now I'm faced with a platter chock full of vocal hits. I will attempt to put my natural aversion to the genre to one side, and try to be as objective as possible.
The first section is 17 tracks long, and each contains around a dozen samples. Though entitled 'Shouts', "yeh yeh"s, "oooh"s, and babies farting jostle for space with "pump up the bass" (I can see that one being in demand!) and "Geddon up". Pretty much all samples are well recorded, many in stereo, and performed by unnamed artists from Europe and, just possibly, America. Somehow I can't see the point of reproducing, albeit at a high fidelity, voice hits similar to those already in circulation. I would have liked to have heard much more in the way of indigenous European vocalistics, rather than pseudo-American impersonations. However, as they are virtually all original recordings, the best 5% might just catch you clubbers first time out.
Section 2, 'Electronics', sounds much more promising, and lives up to that promise. Samples such as 'Electrico', and 'Musikroboter' are much more like it. I found myself smiling with, rather than laughing at, the artists' efforts.
'a', from the Axcel Resynthesizer, is a fine digital texture. There follows a selection of resynthesised, vocoded, and distorted voice hits, fairly evenly spread over 40 tracks of around 5-15 samples each. I liked the Axcel transformation "i", and other loops, which appear around tracks 35-37. Pity about the echo, though.
Track 41 opens the section entitled 'Vocal Percussion'. Sounds ominous, but it could actually provide you with an interesting drum palette produced using only a human being and a microphone. Risky grooves, though. Somewhat under a hundred samples.
Section 3 is called 'Females', a barrage of samples of session singers doing what comes naturally because they've done it so many times before. The closely multi-sampled ensemble oohs, aahs, wop wops, uhuhs, mmms and yehs, which make up most of this selection, are probably the most usable.
Section 4, 'Males', is as above but with, er, balls. A few hundred samples cover sections 3 and 4, and some of the performances are rather more interesting than those in the 'Female' section; the soloist featured around tracks 70-72 has nice tone.
From track 75 we are into 'Volks'. Sounds promising? Unfortunately this is a very short section of variable sample quality, featuring a world champion yodeller — a whistle stop tour of the Pacific rim takes us back to where we started, with 'Shouts', the sequel.
'Action', 'Shut Up', 'Dance Right Now'. It's not all impressions, though. There are some foreign accents and curious noises lurking among the pap, and as the CD wore on, I could detect real signs of life were detected in some performances. Hidden away at the end I found some gorgeous synth choir textures.
Conclusion? A lot of time and effort has gone into the production of this largely unwanted collection of over 1,000 vocal samples, the vast majority of which just do not have any relevance today. The session takes are generally neither wild nor original enough. However, by careful sifting and placing in a juxtaposed context, some might become viable ornaments or even hooks in a dance mix. Not an essential purchase, though someone will doubtless go out and prove me wrong with a dance smash called 'it's hipe' (sic: track 89:2).
£39.95 inc VAT.
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
Another specialist CD, this time containing lots of funky drumming. Recorded in Metropolis Studios (mostly), with varying degrees of stereo ambience, each of the eight grooves that opens this first set ('Hard Funk') lasts for around a minute or two. Some include breaks and fills, though others are overly repetitive (how many marginally different bars would you sample?). A bright, ringing snare and undemanding kick sound are utilised, and the playing is immaculate, setting the tone for the rest of the CD.
The five loops that follow are shorter, and acoustics vary between wetter, drier, and more of the same. By track 14 the atmosphere has changed — a slow hoppy beat with a sticky snare and boomy bass drum kick off the second section, entitled 'Mellow Antique'. More playing styles are catered for here than was the case with the previous selection, which largely comprised variations on the same theme. There is a controlled looseness in the playing, which I liked. Eight grooves and 11 loops are offered. The sound of the kit varies between tracks, and does indeed come over as quite rare.
The difference between a 'groove' and a 'loop', by the way, seems to be one of degree: loops are shorter (eight bars), with little or no fills.
The 'Natural Room' selection opens with 'My Fave Rave Beat'. Now, I don't know where Mr. Conti has been recently, but it certainly wasn't an acid house party. It sports a viable tricky beat with dropped snares a-plenty, but a rave at 100bpm? The drummer gets busy in this section. There are eight drum grooves, and nine grooves with percussion. Track 40 ('Full On') has Conti playing to a fairly atonal bass pulse, 41 ('Strobe') is well effected with a chorus-ed reverb and has some sequenced percussion. Is all the percussion sequenced? Saves on paying another session player, I guess. The tambourine on track 44 ('Mental But Gentle') sounds live, though that of track 46 ('Breakfast Cathedral Head') is suspect. Towards the end of this set I got bored for some reason. Perhaps I was getting hungry.
Next up comes the promising 'Dry Studio'. Aha! This is more like it. Dry, simple, and upfront, backbeats ready to use. The snares are turned off on tracks 58 and 59 (among others), making for an unusual texture. Otherwise the snare drum sounds like a snare drum should, but rarely does. Undoubtedly my favourite section, and the biggest to boot.
23 loops later come 'The Basement Tapes', nine home-recorded cuts that stand up, despite some HF distortion. A well chosen inclusion. Track 79 is particularly moody.
These are followed by some hi-hat patterns, and single hits (hats, kicks and snares), before we are regaled with a gratuitous recording of The Backstage Band, performing a piece revealingly entitled 'Botswana'. A level-setting tone at 1k follows (as usual with sampling CDs, just after you've finished sampling!). Bpms are given throughout, and tempos vary around 95bpm, +/- 20%.
If you liked David Ruffy you'll love this. The playing is choice and, like the acoustics, varied. Definitely the best live drumming CD to come the way of my S770. I wish there had been much more dry stuff, though. Any mug can put reverb on; taking it off is virtually impossible. And some of the loops are rather over-stretched. Nonetheless, this is a worthy addition to the producer series.
£49 inc VAT each, or £99 far both CDs.
AMG, (Contact Details)
Review by Wilf Smarties
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