Groove guru Wile Smarties reports on the latest sample CDs.
The good, the bad, and the ugly; when it comes to sample CDs, Wilf Smarties can take 'em all.
This glossy presentation intriguingly comes accompanied by a floppy disk (optional: it will set you back a further £9.95) containing drum patterns in MIDI file format, the idea being that, if you like any of Dave & Rich's programmed sample drum loops enough, you can recreate the keygroup of voices that they used and further edit the sequences yourself. Well see how well this works in practice. All loops and most samples are presented in well-recorded stereo — North American production values hold sway here. The CD is broadly divided into three sections. The first 12 tracks contain over 100 programmed loops. Tracks 13-48 each contain only one, but these are followed by the individual voices that went into the creation of that loop. This is where the floppy disk comes into play. The latter part of the CD is given over to a selection of single percussive hits, including Industrial, Kicks, Snares, and odds and sods. Well come to those later, but first of all let's look at what is the most original and interesting portion of this CD — loops with programs.
Track 13 sports a 'Huge Metallic Groove w/Tambourine' which actually sounds a lot rarer than the name suggests. Listening to the component samples that follow is an eye opener; these are just great. Witness 'Single Kick Hit w/Hi-hat and Tambourine', which is actually a 1/8th bar loop. Other similarly small sections of loops are used in the construction of the whole. This bodes well... Track 14 is similar, if not so natural sounding. Track 15 is a bit jerky for my taste, but it is followed by a super suck-me kick drum which I will be employing soon. Track 16 is a hoary number best forgotten; 17 contains a nice shaker loop; 18 has a nifty bongo intro leading into another hot groove — I'd go for this one. Track 19 is probably a case of the the sum being less than the parts. And so on. Other particularly happening beats are to be found on tracks 23, 36, and 37.
Having checked out the loops and samples, I decided to take a look at the floppy. In addition to 34 different MIDI files, I found one entitled 'Read Me'. I'll do better than that — I'll print it out for you. It reads:
1. Import each MIDI file into your sequencer by selecting import (usually under the file menu).
2. The track names in each sequence match the track and index location of the sample on the CD and the note name that it should be mapped to.
3. The sequences on the disk match tracks 13 to 48 on the East-West CD Prosamples 5.
4. The concept of this MIDI file disk is to give you more creative control over a loop or 'breakbeat'. By including sequence data and the samples that make up the loop, you can change tempo (without changing the pitch); add, subtract or replace a sample or samples; change the actual pattern or groove of the sequence and create new original loops.
Well I suppose you'd worked all that out for yourself anyway. I duly loaded Cubase into my trusty souped-up 520STE, and decided to recreate the loop on track 13, which was one of my favourites. I noted that track 13 was matched to MIDI file 1. Very helpful. All samples are designed to be taken in stereo, though a few were actually panned mono samples; you could save polyphony by deleting the redundant half of such samples. I could find no indication as to which key a sample should be assigned to. In the end this was not a problem for me, as I will explain.
First off, I took every sample from track 13 on the CD, giving them sensible names (13:1, 13:2 etc.), corresponding to the names of the sequencer tracks in the MIDI file. (13:1 was the complete loop, which I decided to take as a reference). There was just enough space to pause my CD player between each one. Once all samples had been duly loaded, I made up a 'Patch' (you might call it a 'Keygroup') in the S770 by soloing each track on the sequencer in turn, and assigning the appropriate 'Partial' (ie. sample in an envelope) onto the keyboard over MIDI. (Pause while you digest the above.) Once I had assigned all the samples in this manner, I then turned to tuning them from the original pitch (C4) to wherever they had appeared on the keyboard. (C3 has to be re-tuned by +12 semitones, C5 by -12, etc.) Here I was able to use the 'Patch Map' facility in my S770 (set to Coarse Tune).
At 96bpm (the default setting of the MIDI file) the sample set certainly sounded like the business, though on closer examination, the original loop sample turned out to be more like 97bpm. No matter. So does the proof of the pudding live up to the expectations of the recipe, as given in the Read Me file on the floppy disk? "Yes", is the answer, save in one crucial respect: grossly altering the playback tempo knocks the whole thing out of kilter. This is because some of the samples used are loops themselves. (East West claim that this happens on six examples only, where sub-loops have been used. All other composite loops use single hits only and should be playable at any tempo.)
By and large this technique looks promising. I just hope that our readers are man (or woman) enough to tackle it. They may sound terribly convoluted, but if you follow my instructions for making up a keyboard map, you can complete one track of the CD in about 10 minutes flat (with practice).
Once you have re-created a loop from its components you can replace voices, edit the pattern, and generally muck around with the groove in ways that are simply not normally open to users of drum loops.
I have a couple of complaints to air, however. Having sampled the second composite loop track (14), I noticed a marked similarity between some of the drum sounds and those on track 13. Also, the Patch/Keyboard Maps look distinctly odd, with samples all over the place — and definitely not conforming to the General MIDI map. The similar sounding drums on tracks 13 and 14 were nevertheless found to be in the same place! Now we see exactly what has happened. A relatively small number of full keyboard's-worth of samples have been used to construct many more grooves. Rather than give you their original full keyboard maps, the protagonists have hived off each loop's samples onto a separate map. I am fairly certain that many sounds have been used in significantly more than one groove. We are not told which, however, which seems downright sneaky. Not only does this mean that there are fewer different samples than we thought, but also that it will be hard to avoid needlessly eating up memory space while we inadvertently make multiple copies of the same sound.
Second gripe? Considering the pristine quality of most samples, I was surprised to hear crackles on the tail of a low bass drum. This, however, was not typical.
Now on to the reason why you should fork out for this one, despite my complaints. Listening to the way these loops are constructed is an education in itself. For the first time, the uninitiated can get a hands-on insight into how the pros do it. I suppose I'd better review the rest of the CD now.
The conventional (format, not sounding) loops that open Pro Samples 5 are all programmed, with effects added. No copyright problems here. First to really make me sit up was 2:2 ('obnoxious scraping noise'). For me, obviously programmed loops can be a bit of a copout: I like to hear either live playing or radically different sounds. Therefore some of the more normal beats in this section didn't get me jumping — I'd rather sequence my own. Fortunately, there are mutants-a-plenty here, with the freshest definitely being those with an industrial leaning.
The power saws of track 49 might be useful, but the on/off stab definitely sounds great. Similarly the power tools of tracks 50, 51 and 52 sound variously promising/dull/amazing. The kicks and snares that follow are fine and fairly up to date. Last, and perhaps least, comes the miscellaneous section. Once again, if you have a library already, these won't keep you awake at night. The hi-hat samples are up to scratch, though, and there are one or two nice stereo effects.
Careful examination of this CD will educate you in the art of constructing complex drum patterns using loop snippets and single hits. Even if you think you have it sussed, being able to analyse someone else's work (and thought processes) in such detail represents a chance not to be missed. A bit like being a fly on the wall at a hot remixing session. Lazy or complacent readers need not apply.
£49.95 inc VAT.
Time and Space, (Contact Details).
This is a compilation of drum loops culled from various breakbeat albums. In case you don't know, these are 12", 33rpm vinyl cuts of drums and percussion used by DJs to build tracks over. On a typical release, you'd find maybe a dozen different beats, each lasting about three minutes. There might be some minimal evolution as each track progresses, such as reverb on every second snare, or perhaps a fill after every eight bars.
Here the drum and/or percussion cuts last for around 30 seconds each, and there are 75 of them. Many seem to have come from the original master tapes rather than second-generation vinyl, which suggests that Dat-man, Mecx and JM have got access to restricted material. The usual mix of programmed and played material is evident, and recording quality is excellent throughout. All loops are in stereo, a relative rarity even now. Long loops of eight bars can sound particularly natural, though they will require you to have at least 2MB of RAM in your sampler. Many of the grooves yield several distinctly different 2-bar loops; where the samples have been looped, this is done smoothly. On the downside, sampling and detuning some of them reveals that most common of bugbears: the presence of a high-frequency whine. (This occurs on almost every sample CD I have reviewed.)
What else can I say? These are definitely among the cleanest, if not the freshest, loops I've come across so far. Many have appeared as 2-bar mono lo-fi snippets on other sample CD releases. However it is almost a revelation to hear them as clearly as this. One for the collectors and the crafty old pros, I think. Volume 2 is apparently on its way — my S770 awaits.
£25 inc VAT.
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
Prepare for a Crazy Teutonic experience, courtesy of Best Service, Munich.
The first section of this CD is given over to 'Soundscapes and Atmospheres', each around one or two minutes in length. This opens with far and away the most inventive demo I've yet heard on a sampling CD.
Track 2 unleashes a huge evolving thunderous metallic wave. Tracks 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 offer more sci-fi textures. Reminiscent of the best of the long evolutionary programs to be found in the latest S + S/Wavetable machines from Korg, Ensoniq and the like, these are far more powerful and complex. They do, in fact, sound out of this world! While Track 6 is a turkey, and 10 is a wacky, squeaky loop of no immediately obvious value, by Track 11 we are back on course, and the section plays out in more or less the same vein, though the textures get lighter from here on in. Track 18 ('Metallic Fragments') sounds pleasantly tinkly, while next in line is another subsonic cone-burster. If you are looking for something mean, moody and none too common, this lot might serve you well. Here ends the best section on this CD.
The only machine credits are TR808, PPG Wave 2.3 and the Axcel. The latter is a resynthesizer, probably the only such device in production (though the Synclavier also does resynthesis), and is just about the most esoteric electronic instrument on the planet.
Tracks 31-33 have a section unto themselves, called 'Sequences'. Track 30 fades in with an ambient texture, overlaid with an 808 beat. Pretty useless, really. You could do better yourself. The next one is an improvement, but again, use as an illustration rather than a serious sample. I cannot tell a lie: Track 33 is bat guano.
The next section is called 'Axcel Resythese' (sic). Shorter and simpler metallic textures, misleadingly, though probably entirely accurately, entitled 'Vocal transformations', open here. Loop-smoothing algorithms will be working overtime when you get round to sampling this lot, but shouldn't prove too detrimental to the final result, as there is plenty of phase-shifting going on already.
Section 4, 'Short Splashes/Planetary Machines' are all one-off, idiosyncratic techno hits. Not the rudest I've heard, but very atmospheric. Kraftwerk fans, this is for you. Section 5, 'Computer Voices/Vocoders/Phonemes' merely confirms this last impression. Section 6, 'Mystery Cello' is a nasty piece of work: I really liked the middle three out of the five samples on offer here. 'Electronic percussion' is a pretty flimsy footnote to this selection, though there are a couple of classic vocoder speech hits before your 67 minutes are up.
Bizarre Planet caters for a minority taste, and to be honest, is not so generally useful as some CDs I've reviewed. Samplists with plenty of spare change would be advised to check it out, though, since not everyone will be plundering this one, and it certainly has its moments.
£35 inc VAT.
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
Review by Wilf Smarties
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