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Five From America

A clutch of books for the beginning or serious recordist.

Five books came in within a week, and they’re all pretty worthy. This is their review...

Well, here goes... four new American books being pushed by the Amsco/Music Sales folks, plus one that’s not. They are not all 100%, but at least they’re reasonably cheap (bar the one that’s not!).

Arranging Techniques for Synthesists, by Eric Turkel

Written by Eric Turkel, and supplied with a little flexi disc of illustrative examples, this is probably the most educational book of the batch. There were sections that irritated me beyond belief, and the flexi, apart from the initial examples of some possibly unfamiliar chords and resolutions, is just a waste of plastic, but overall this book rewards the patience necessary to get through it.

Basically, it provides a framework for experimentation, and gives a load of practical tried and tested tips on what you should be striving for in attempting a more 'natural' sound when using samplers and synths in a MIDI-equipped studio. I stop short of saying 'hackneyed'. You have to start somewhere.

If you don't have a rudimentary knowledge of real music, you might flounder a bit initially - all the examples are obviously based around, well, arrangements! And that means dots. Lots of dots. Well, if you're serious about what you're doing, go and learn about these dots; you'll be surprised at the results. Once you've done that, you can then progress to a book similar to this one; all the tricks are here.

There are 12 chapters, covering everything from rhythm (with both drum machines and real players) and harmony to specific chapters on strings, brass, woodwind and vocal arranging. Chapter 10, Transcription Techniques, gives advice on the best to way to train yourself to listen to records, so that arrangements become more obvious to you. Audible examples would have been really useful here, but the ones included are not too hot. Your ears will really get a workout if you get into this! It's rewarding, though. The trick is to not get too absorbed in other people's music while analysing their technique.

The book does not provide much of the background needed to get the best out of the techniques; that would have meant a very large book indeed! Pointers are given, and you are left to your own initiative to get the knowledge. A basic bibliography would have been useful here, especially for complete novices. However, I still think it's a good buy, and well worth the effort needed to assimilate the ideas.

Arranging Techniques for Synthesists costs £9.95, ISBN 0.8256.1130.X.

The Electronic Musician's Dictionary, by Craig Anderton

Almost an equal for first out of this selection. It's exactly what you would expect: 119 pages of definitions of everything electronic. You get the whole lot, from antiquated analogue synthesis terms to up-to-the-minute MIDI jargon with a hefty dose of computer speak in between. It is a little too simplistic at times, but occasionally, if you find yourself with a term that you can't quite get to grips with, even though you know you're an idiot for not knowing it, and you'd be too embarassed to ask anyone... well this is your answer. Though why anyone would want to look up 'power amp' or 'power supply' escapes me, even given the above scenario.

What could you expect from Craig Anderton (once described to me as the 'Paul White of North America'...)? Well, quite a thorough job, actually. And that's what we're given. It all starts with 'A/B comparison' and ends with 'zone'. Like a dictionary, right? It's not very exciting or entertaining, but it does its job, though the occasional badly-reproduced half-tone doesn't help. There should have been more, cleaner pics or none at all. I've no complaints with the charts and diagrams, though again there could have been more, and the overall layout is clear and accessible.

Photos aside, this is a very attractive little (10" X 7") book. The soft cover is grey, with a bronze five-pin DIN socket in the upper right hand corner, and the title and author's name are in a lighter grey. The cover is of a material not as suitable for multiple referrals as it might be, but the binding is sturdy, and its size will allow it to be thrown in a gig bag (if you wanted to do such a thing) or something similar without too much worry.

Returning to the text for a moment, I might add a couple of comments. Under the heading for 'XLR', we are presented with a picture of one of the little guys, and two lines of definition. What we don't get is any info on how to connect one up, or any help with regard to the differing ideas from continent to continent and company to company on how to do just that! It could have been said in just a few extra words, I think, and is a necessary extension of a definition of 'XLR'.

Gripes aside, I would have to say this is a pretty good overall buy since my reservations don't alter the fact that this is an accessible and concise reference that is making quite a nice home for itself on my bookshelf at least.

The Electronic Musician's Dictionary costs £6.95, ISBN 0.8256.1125.3.

MIDI Gadgets, by Eric Turkel & the staff of CEM

Once again Eric Turkel gets a look in this time with help from the Center of Electronic Music stable of brilliant minds, and a Howard Massey introduction. It is not essential, or even that useful, reading as it does like a descriptive catalogue of MIDI gadgets. There is barely enough depth to make it worthwhile as a browsing or buying guide, and the items aren't in depth enough to make it useful for the products that are included. Definitely an 'American' book, and it will probably do OK over there. I personally can't see the point of putting books like this out - it's built for obsolescence.

Finally, the list of American manufacturers and distributors is next to useless over here in Europe... I can see this book being of interest when it rears its little paperback head from under the 75p remainders pile in a second-hand book shop ten years from now. There will be a quaint historicity about it by then. If you want up-to-date information on what's available, you would be better off reading magazines. Even Music Technology!

MIDI Gadgets costs £6.95, ISBN 0.7119.1247.5.

MIDI for Guitarists, by Bob Ward and Marty Cutler

This I personally liked the least... I can't see Bob Ward and Marty Cutler helping many people with this book. It ends up reading like a paraphrase of the manuals for a CZ101 and TX81Z, with a few hefty glimpses at some other specific brand names, rather than generics. Looking at it dispassionately, I can see it perhaps aiding a guitarist who is incapable of comprehending MIDI or its benefits; the flimsy record enclosed does a much better job than the 'Arranging Techniques' effort of illustrating its points, as well as being of better quality. Guitarists approaching MIDI and expanders for the first time will get a very reasonable idea of what they will be able to do if they spend their cash on the toys.

But the overall design of the book is a little superficial for my tastes, though some might say light-hearted and entertaining (the recurring motif of a cheerful cartoon guitarist jumping all over the place doesn't help much). The reprints of the MIDI implementation charts for the TX81Z and CZ101 will probably be baffling to most tyros. I would have to say that if you are a guitarist, and are totally clued out about MIDI, then this book may have something for you; the authors are, after all, guitarists. However, the best thing going for this book is the demo flexi-disc. I would advise you to have a quick flick through the book before you hand over the cash. It might be what you're looking for.

MIDI for Guitarists costs £8.95, ISBN 0.7119.1245.9

Details on the previous four books; (Contact Details)

Microphone Manual, Design and Application, by David Miles Huber

This is a real import, hence the price. But it's worth it, just about. Overall, it's probably the most useful of this batch of books. The author gives you lots of formulas, pics, press shots, ideas, and stuff like that. There are illustrations for almost every conceivable miking situation. Wondered how to mic up a recorder or a banjo? It's in here. The reader is gradually taken through sound basics and the physical make-up of mics, to single mic techniques followed by stereo work. Huber writes in a manner accessible to less experienced people, while maintaining a high enough standard for professionals, which is no mean feat.

Of course, the illustrations are biased towards specific products from specific manufacturers, but that's unavoidable in a lot of cases, since one manufacturer may be the only one that makes a suitable mic. But the examples are all valid, and provide a central store of info that you can call upon if, for example, you come across an instrument or situation you've never had to record before. Don't let your clients see you reading it, though!

The Microphone Manual costs £24.95. (Contact Details)

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Realistic Arrangements: Vocals

Home & Studio Recording - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Home & Studio Recording - Mar 1989

Review by Derek Johnson

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