Resident 'DJ' Wilf Smarties gives a new batch of CDs a spin.
The Sample CDs on offer this month are destined to make your reviewer work harder than usual: all come with floppies carrying MIDI files requiring analysis and testing. These are designed to work with samples from the CDs in a variety of ways.
Cold on the heels of Zero-G's last release, the very viable Volume 3, comes, not Volume 4, but a new product. As with the above CDs reviewed in the Sample Supermarket this month, a floppy disk completes the picture. The CD contains loops and their attendant samples; the floppy helps you replicate the loops from those samples. Responsible for this half-hour affair is MJ Dunne of Ronjon Productions. The CD's contents are grouped onto seven 'Sets', each representing a different musical baguette. These themselves are unusually tidily presented, having exactly 20 loops and 25 samples apiece, spread evenly over nine tracks. For the numerically inept, this means that 140 loops and 175 samples are sonically what you get for your money. Conventional wisdom would say that this is bad value, but the loops are four bars long, and you could usually extract three different one bar loops from each.
However, to judge the CD on loop count would be to miss the point. Imagine a loop which was totally editable via your sequencer. Here you have that flexibility, captain. The individual sample sets are provided with a comprehensive tabular MIDI mapping and panning guide, and are offered in the order in which they should be mapped onto the keyboard. You could forget all about sampling the loops and use the single sample sets plus MIDI File sequence data to get the same effect. Not only can you then swap voices and edit patterns at will, you can get away with using minimal amounts of RAM too. As far as is possible (allegedly!) the General MIDI standard had been adhered to, so maybe even your Sound Canvas will be able to make some sense of the sequences. First off we have 'Techno/Euro'. The usual drum machines are represented in much the usual way, with adornments like syndrums, synth buzz, detuned clangs, reversed cymbals and a table stop thrown in for good measure. Singles are offered in pre-panned mono. Tch! '70s Funk' is more flowing and much slower. Some of the percussion sounds played, which is pretty good since no subloops appear to have been used, though there is an essential mini-roll in there. 'House/Garage' is not unlike the first set, with the welcome omission of the former's rave cliches. The drum sounds are as per Roland, and there is a tidy little tambourine shake.
'Hip Hop/Rap' has none of the hard edge you'd be looking for — quite a poor imitation, in fact. Simulations of popular breaks are especially dodgy. With Sound Replacement Therapy, however, some of the patterns could be edited into shape. 'New Jack Swing/U.S. Dance' is a closer copy, but still falls short of the mark, and 'Streetsoul' shuffles along unconvincingly. Some very approximate percussion programming means that what should have been dark, rolling congas sound like bin men heard through Rockwool. Other less demanding grooves are more palatable. Possibly because the production values behind the loops match that of their target audience (rough and ready rather than refined), the 'Rave/Hardcore' set is better than most, though the sounds could have been more dramatic.
Loading in a sample set was really easy, and the sequences did recreate the sound of the loops. Having the editing potential was indeed a joy: routing samples to different outputs and effects, changing the loops' tempos, and editing the patterns, not to mention replacing the voices. In no time at all I had several viable mutations going. The drum-loops of the future will be presented this way. Groove Construction is the second CD I've seen that implements this idea, the first being Dance/Industrial from East West. That product had great sounds but poor organisation (though I will be reviewing it again on CD-ROM, where it reputedly makes much more sense). This CD is very well organised, but has average sounds — nevertheless, it is exciting and illustrates the potential of the format. In this review the floppy was adjudged to have been sufficiently worthwhile (nay, essential) to cause the addition of an extra whole star to the CD's rating.
Is it really worth purchasing? The answer has to be a definite yes if you are an absolute apprentice to the loop manufacturing trade. I reckon even some hardened groovers might learn something useful, though for my money the loops on the CD are sticky rather than groovy, and a touch dated, and I would have thought that the seven keyboard maps of single samples could have been offered as seven tracks of Akai data. A chance missed, perhaps? Still, for educational value, ease of use, and Economy 7 value for money, it deserves its rating.
£39.95 inc VAT (includes floppy disk).
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
This is perhaps the most specialised of specialist CDs I've ever reviewed. And although there is only one instrument featured in B3, this is also one of the best. Having said that there's only one instrument on this CD, I should note that there are actually three examples of the B3 genus on display here and, as Barbara says, each has its own individual character. The Hammond organ has been a driving force behind every other club dance 12-inch in the 1992/93 season. Herein must surely lie the broadest collection of Hammond B3 samples ever produced. I'd never heard of Barbara Dennerlein, but there is no doubt from this reading that she is a fair virtuoso on the beast, with flair as well as technique. Under the watchful ear of Klaus Kandler, she has come up with a near-flawless CD which covers a multitude of licks, riffs and trills in a variety of voicings, plus the ultimate in B3 note multisample sets — a different one for each semitone key, in most cases!
After the demo on track 1 (wot, no description, Wilf?) comes 'Hot Stuff', lick after chord after run after lick. There are 39 for C major, 54 for C minor, 38 for F major, seven (only seven?) for F minor and 47 in G (two of them, minor this time). Some are straight from the dairy compartment in the 'fridge. They have their place, but I would start by picking off the rhythmic stuff, chord stabs, and short runs. (Seen Jonathan Ross' Zoo? Babs would qualify for the house band keyboard player's job.) Track 16 closes this section, and all samples have been presented in mono, probably DI'd from the instrument rather than put through its matching Leslie Cabinet and miked up, usually a pretty unrewarding exercise in my experience. However, I can add in a pretty wild electronic Leslie simulation from any number of effects units: none that I know of can remove it.
The Hammond B3 is a mighty organ, whose voicings are controlled by nine drawbars. Where relevant, the settings for a particular set of samples are graphically given in the sleeve notes. I'm going to use the code 0 to 9: 0 means that the drawbar is fully in (pushed), 9 and it's fully out (pulled). Next up come the following full (5 octaves of semitones) multisample sets: 1) 999000000 (without percussion); 2) 999900000 (ditto); 3) 999999999 (without percussion); 4) 3rd percussion soft; 5) 2nd percussion normal. Sets 1-3 are held notes of around two seconds duration each, long enough to loop. Each set has its own incredibly convincing demo, illustrating just how much these samples sound like the real thing. The last two sets are marimba-like tones which a bona fide B3 blends into the sus. notes to give them more attack. In real life the 3rd percussion is tuned five half-tones higher than the second. You are, of course, meant to stack the note and percussion samples within your sampler, and many variants are obviously possible by mixing and detuning these five multisample sets. Tuning is 440Hz (A) for this section, called, fittingly, 'B3 Complete'. (A word about multisampling: perhaps your sampler can't remember 120 seconds of organ notes? Shorten them, or interpolate between wider-spaced samples, or both.)
The next section, 'Far Outs', now taken at A = 441 Hz for some reason, offers 32 techno (effected) riffs, some of which have more than a little of the hand of Klaus about them: they are wild. Then come some rhythmic patterns, with BPMs given. There are a few sillies, but most of the 40 or so riffs are well groovesque. I can see 'Far Outs' being plundered pretty pronto.
Remember 'B3 Complete'? Here comes the sequel, 'B3 Complete II'. This time the configurations are 1) 999090000 + 2nd percussion; 2) 999000000 + 2nd percussion + vibrato; 3) 999000900 (no percussion); 4) 999009000 (2nd percussion-+ vibrato); 5) 999900000 (2nd percussion + slow Leslie); 6) 975323579 (fast Leslie). Track 79 has a C2-E3 set of B3 Rockorgan (sic) samples, and there are two two-octave sets of B3 bass samples, with the drawbars showing 90 and 99 respectively. When sampling the bass tones, note that there is a distinctive note-off clunk. For added realism, put this audio fragment into a release envelope. The entire section is tuned to 441 Hz. As is... 'Riffs And Licks'. As usual, the key is given in all cases, and, where appropriate, the tempo. Many are familiar chestnuts. These should be avoided if cred is a currency you trade in. Fact is, there's not a lot in here for you and I. TV programme makers, yes. Dance enthusiasts, no. Some of the swoops could be more than salvageable, though. Track 87, unusually, contains some stereo samples, presumably from a miked Leslie cabinet. Track 89 houses the B3 equivalent of groove noise. First we hear someone playing around on the valves! Then, we hear the Leslie motor being started, with or without held chords. Klaus' little joke, Ja?
Not to be outdone by any of the previous CDs, this one, too, sports a floppy companion. This time you get pieces of music illustrating Barbara's playing style, designed to lock onto one of the three multisample sets duplicated in Akai file format at the end of this CD, if only they would load! (A fault currently being rectified, I'm told). On closer inspection, we find six tunes for a complete arrangement including (typically) drums, bass, brass, marimba, piano and organ. Do not trouble yourselves with any of them.
Review by Wilf Smarties
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