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East West Public Enemy: Welcome To The Sampledome

Sample Library

East West Public Enemy: Welcome To The Sampledomeh2> Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra Samples: Classical Choirs ***


The name Miroslav Vitous still has a glamourous ring, and rightly so — this is the man who created the world's first orchestral sample library, and played bass with the mighty Weather Report to boot. Since unleashing his original five-volume set of Symphonic Orchestra Samples in 1992, the Czech maestro has kept a relatively low profile, a lone acoustic piano title the only evidence of new sampling projects.

The intervening years have seen a crop of sampled choir releases from Best Service, Spectrasonics and Quantum Leap, so Miroslav's new Classical Choirs title (2.4GB in size, based on about 730MB of core samples) faces tough competition. For this project, sixteen anonymous singers of each sex were recorded in an unspecified location whose reverb tails suggest a church or cathedral. The men have a 2.5-octave range starting on a low D2; the female singers start in the alto range around G3 and ascend to A5.

The bulk of this library is dedicated to sustained vowel sounds which don't quite match their names — the men's programs labelled 'ahs' contain samples which sound like 'or', and what I hear as 'oohs' are described as 'uhs'. Perhaps it's just a spelling thing, but these vocalists avoid the natural vowel sounds of pop singers and adhere to the 'trained' enunciation of classical singing. Repeated exposure to this can cause irritable vowel syndrome, so it was a relief to discover the choir's resonant, vowel-free 'mmms' — these warm hums sound inviting and intimate, and blend very nicely with string pads.

Most of the long notes are a mere five or six seconds long, but Miroslav has sensibly provided looped versions of most of the sustains. While these looped programs are very handy for layering with other sounds, non-looped material such as the 'expressive ohs' are equally useful, their subtle volume swells adding much-needed dynamic movement.

In other respects, the library's handling of dynamics is somewhat limited. Though performed at three different dynamics, the men's 'ahs' and 'ohs' are presented separately, rather than in a combined velocity-split program, and the women's samples were recorded at one dynamic only.

Why do makers of choir libraries provide samples of pitched consonants? Is it in the feeble hope of combining them with sampled vowels to create 'words'? To me, this seems as pointless as asking Stephen Hawking to record a version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody', but Miroslav obviously has his own agenda. His classical singers perform a series of short notes based on a variant of the old 'tonic sol-fa' sounds ('doh', 'ray', 'mi', and so on) in staccato and two-second 'porto' (sic) styles, all gathered together in a 16-way keyswitchable program. Sixteen blokes singing 'doh!' could be amusing (the Homer Simpson choir?), but this crew blow it by failing to produce a hard 'd' sound. Though some of these short note performances are sonically engaging, I have a feeling most of them are destined to gather dust.

Miroslav's men and women never perform jointly, but 'combined' programs offer keyboard splits of low men and high women, while 'mixed' programs layer the two sexes, mostly in octaves. The Giga version contains no release triggers (a shame, as the reverb sounds rather splendid). There is a reasonable effects section in which the men cry, laugh, mutter and utter low rhythmic 'machine' noises, plus some nice glisses from both camps — these upward swoops end on a sustained target note, unfortunately not quite at concert pitch. A worse tuning issue affects the male 'eehs' and 'ehs' programs: some appallingly inept programming has rendered their samples a quartertone sharp, a tuning discrepancy almost on a par with this year's UK Eurovision disaster.

The documentation is scanty and not very good. We're given a vague warning that tunings of '440-443' are used, but with no indication of which tuning occurs where. Miroslav's English is imperfect, and some of his musical assertions (for example, that women's vocal timbre does not vary with volume, and that sung vowels invariably turn into diphthongs) are highly questionable. This rather sloppy presentation is at odds with the high quality of the recordings.

Although this library breaks very little new ground, it remains a well-performed, nicely recorded work which achieves its objectives. Classical choirs are a dramatic timbre which most composers will consider using at some point, and this one certainly deserves consideration — but, as with Miroslav's orchestral ROMs, the price will probably put many potential buyers off. Dave Stewart

Akai/Giga four-disc set, £623 including VAT. Add £2.35 per order for p&p.

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House Essentials *****


East West Public Enemy: Welcome To The SampledomeUeberschall get all dressed up and strut their funky stuff on the dance floor with this two-disc collection of house samples (one audio, the other WAV including 12 minutes of audio). Kicking the collection off (after a very disco-sounding demo track) are a whopping 645 drum loops spread over 28 tracks. Split into rough sub-genres including tribal, straight, deep, and groove, all the loops are set at a tempo of 130bpm and unsurprisingly feature predominantly driving four-to-the-floor patterns. Although this type of loop can get a touch tiring to sit through, good use of percussion, varied drum sets and, more importantly, top-quality programming keep the beats remarkably fresh sounding. I particularly liked the inclusion of hi-hat and percussion loops, which allow some simple but effective layering opportunities.

Next up we have 495 single drum hits split down into bass drums (200), snares (90), claps (20), closed hi-hats (35), open hats (50), shaker (30), cymbals (25) and percussion (45) — phew! These single hits feature all the usual suspects (TR808, TR909, and so forth), are all top quality, and should make programming your own authentic house rhythm, or customising the included loops, a doddle.

Moving right along we come to four tracks of bass with 90 single hits of a variety of styles from deep, subby monsters to clicky analogues. Each one is well recorded and very usable and, as with almost everything else included in this collection, the samples are tuned to the key of 'A'. This excludes any multisampled instruments, like the warm-sounding pick bass that rounds off the section.

The following 16 tracks contain a wealth of instruments, with multisamples, single hits and riffs. The highlights include some nice scratchy guitar riffs and a selection of stabs that manage to keep away from the tired old standards. I liked the nice range of single-hit lead synths, which range from strong, resonant leads to softer-sounding pulses. Although few of the samples here disappoint, I thought the multisampled piano and Rhodes where a touch weak, as were some of the more abrupt and badly edited string riffs. Also the inclusion of just two multisampled pads seems a bit stingy considering their importance in some of the more lush-sounding house sub-genres.

Vocals next, and we're treated to four vocalists, two male and two female. All the phrases are again recorded at 130bpm and contain a huge selection of lines and words (575 in total), in alphabetical order for each singer — a nice touch. All the vocals are recorded dry, and the quality of singing is very good, with each vocalist having their own distinctive style, ranging from full-on diva (the wonderful Vonda) to a smoother soul vibe (Fab). Some of the lines may be a little cheesy for the more discerning producer, but that comes with the territory and there are plenty more subtle phrases that would work well in all kinds of contexts.

Rounding off the audio we have seven tracks of effects that range from sweeps to sampled drum breaks and odd synth squiggles. Only the small, uninspired (and virtually unusable) section of scratches is a letdown, with the remainder handy for those odd touches that really bring a track to life.

If I really had to find something to moan about, a few variations in tempo throughout the drum loops might have been interesting, as would some extra pad sounds, but that is really being ultra-picky because, overall, House Essentials exudes quality and is a fantastic source to build whole tracks from (which quite rightly will take some work on your part) or just to dip into for inspiration. Credit must go to the producers, Risque and Doug Laurent, who have put together one of those rare sample CDs that actually simulates creativity rather than replacing it. If house music is your thing, you'll find plenty to keep you busy here. Oli Bell

£59.95 including VAT. Add £2.35 per order for p&p.

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Public Enemy: Welcome To The Sampledome *****


East West Public Enemy: Welcome To The SampledomeLove it or hate it, hip-hop has transformed the sound of popular music over the last 15 years. Not bad for a genre dismissed by many as a fad. Arguably the most important (and at times controversial) group to win both critical and popular acclaim in the late '80s/early '90s was Public Enemy. Although currently in semi-retirement, Public Enemy still have a revered place in the hearts (and record collections) of many a hip-hop producer (this one included). You can imagine, then, my excitement when this sample CD from East West dropped through my letter box. With PE main man Chuck D (alongside Gary G-Wiz) on production, Welcome to the Sampledome features 49 original construction kits spread over two audio CDs.

Okay, you know the construction kit deal: each track gets a short four-bar burst of the whole groove followed by a breakdown of each of its component riffs. These include just the drum loop and individual drum hits, bass line, keys, guitar, synth riffs, and so on. Tempos range from 73bpm to 127bpm, but the majority of the kits seem to fall into the hip-hop-friendly 90-98bpm range.

Enough preamble, what's most important here are the samples themselves. So are they any good? Well, the content of the kits is, in a word, excellent. Style-wise the kits are quite unique, rather than emulating any trends, and the sound quality is top notch, as is the selection of samples and elements. All the drum loops have the required beef and bite and contain a mixture of played and programmed beats that works well. The rhythms themselves range in style from the standard 'boom-bap' to more complex patterns giving a varied palette of loops to choose from.

Drums aside, the other melodic (and sometimes not so melodic) elements that make up the kits are similarly well thought out. The bass tones in particular, a mixture of live and synthetic, sound great, as do the scatterings of real guitar and keyboard riffs. In true Public Enemy tradition, there are also plenty of quirky noises and samples that bring the kits to life and hark back to the group's earlier recordings.

Although I'm sure that most of the content here is played, there is still room for those all important little touches that sound like they were sampled from vinyl (some of which probably were), and these help to add some nice grit and grime to the proceedings. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of any real turntable work (still sadly missing from the majority of hip-hop collections), and some of the single drum hits end a touch abruptly, but that's all I can really find to moan about.

Although perhaps not as instantly relevant as a collection put together by Dre, Premier, or the Neptunes, this CD is still a bit of a coup for East West. Although hip-hop purists may be disappointed to find no content created by the Bomb Squad (Hank and Keith Shocklee, Carl Ryder and Eric Sadler), PE's production tour de force behind the most (in)famous LPs, the whole Public Enemy persona carries with it a respected musical pedigree. And it's this very legacy which has allowed Chuck D and G-Wiz the opportunity to tread their own paths rather than regurgitate the platinum sounds of their peers, like so many other hip-hop sample CDs. This freedom makes the content on offer here refreshingly different, yet totally authentic.

I'll put my hand up and admit that I'm not the most avid supporter of the construction-kit format, preferring to pick through individual loops to spark my imagination. But, having said that, the amount of quality material contained here means that it's easy to just dip in and pull out some inspiring sounds and loops. Can Public Enemy still bring the noise? You bet! Oli Bell

£59.95 including VAT. Add £2.35 per order for p&p.

Time+Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

+44 (0)1837 55400.

Published August 2003