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Sound Advice

Our regular column devoted to readers' hints and lips about their recording equipment, instruments, software and playing techniques.

If you have discovered any special techniques or tricks on your instruments or recording equipment that might help other readers, send them to us. The sender of the best tip each month will win a prize. This month we are awarding 2 FREE Rendar mains interference filters.

Intelligent Active Sensing

It isn't well publicised, but many MIDI expanders have an interesting feature which it may be useful for readers to know more about.

Normally, it is stated that expanders expect to see an Active Sensing byte (FEh) at least every 300 milliseconds - and if they don't receive them then they mute the output. However, many MIDI expanders actually behave in a slightly different way. If you send them an Active Sensing byte then they will expect to continue receiving them. If you never send any Active Sensing bytes then they will not expect to see any and thus will not go into the mute condition.

You can run into problems with muting expanders when you try filtering out Active Sensing messages on the input or output of sequencers. If you use a MIDI switching device to 'hold' chords on an expander by preventing Note-Offs reaching the expander, you must ensure that you don't send any Active Sensing bytes. Conversely, you can exploit the effect by deliberately sending only one Active Sensing byte at the start of a phrase. You now have the rather obscure effect of notes which sustain on the master keyboard, but which mute on the expander after a third of a second. You can revert to normality by sending Active Sense bytes again.

Martin Russ, Ipswich.

Simple Sampling Tricks

Here's a useful tip for those pioneering readers like me who actually attempt to sample their own sounds!

Most samplers on the market make use of a threshold detection circuit on the sampling input, and the threshold level must be defined by the user before sampling a sound. If the threshold is set too low, the sample you take is very often accompanied by background noise (and hiss if the sound source is on tape or record - we don't all own CD players yet!). In an attempt to cut out the unwanted noise most people tend to set the threshold overly high, but this has the drastic result that the most important part of the sound - the very start of the note's 'attack' - is obliterated, making certain sounds virtually unrecognisable (a nice effect but not always desirable). Things are made worse when you try and sample non-percussive sounds which are characterised by their slow, gradual attack, such as a low bowed note on a cello.

There's a simple way around this - you play a very short duration, loud percussive sound fractionally ahead of the start of the note you intend sampling. Being loud (and thus above the threshold level), this sound acts as a trigger, opens the gate, and initiates the sampling process. You can use a drum machine handclap or clave sound for the percussive trigger, or you can tap the ball of the microphone, bang a table-top or simply shout.

Replay the sample and you should now have a sound that begins with a loud click and is followed by the gradually increasing note. It's then just a matter of using the Truncate feature on your sampler (most good ones have this facility) to tidy things up - splice away the opening click/shout/pop or whatever from the start of the sample right up to the point where the note actually commences. If you do this carefully you should end up with a beautifully clean and realistic sample.

P. Underwood, Cumbria.


Guide To EQ

There is no substitute for your ears when equalising sounds, but it is helpful to have an idea of what frequencies will give the desired effect. Here are a few general guidelines.

Boosting the very low bass between 16 and 60Hz gives music a sense of power. Too much emphasis on this range makes the sound 'muddy'. The bass between 60 and 250Hz contains the fundamental notes of nearly all rhythm instruments, so EQing this range can alter the musical balance, making it sound 'fat' when boosted and 'thin' when cut. Too much boost can make the sound 'boomy'.

The midrange between 250Hz and 2kHz contains the low-order harmonics of most musical instruments and can introduce a telephone-like quality to music if boosted too much. Boosting the 500Hz to 1 kHz octave makes instruments sound horn-like, while boosting the 1kHz-2kHz octave makes them sound 'tinny'. Excess boosting in this range can quickly cause listener fatigue, so beware.

The upper midrange between 2—4kHz can mask the important speech recognition sounds if boosted and overboosting at 3kHz is guaranteed to tire the listener. Cutting the 3kHz range on instrumental backing tracks whilst simultaneously boosting slightly at 3kHz on vocal tracks can make the vocals much more audible without having to decrease the instrumental level in mixes where the voice would otherwise seem buried.

The presence range between 4—6kHz is responsible for the clarity and definition of lead vocals and instruments. Boosting here can make the music appear 'closer' to the listener (up-front). Adding 6dB of boost at exactly 5kHz makes any mix sound as if the overall level has been increased by 3dB. (Many mastering engineers make a practice of doing this to make their records sound louder.) Cutting the 5kHz content of a mix makes the sound more distant and transparent (try this with the reverb signal).

Finally, the 6-16kHz region controls the brilliance and clarity of sounds. Too much emphasis on this range can produce sibilance on vocals, however.

S. Brown, London.

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Choosing A Personal Computer For Music

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Which One Would You Choose?

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Mar 1988


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