The sequel to Quantum Leap's heavy rock library ramps up the decibel levels.
The year 2008 saw the release of EastWest's new Play sound engine, accompanied by the first two Play‑format sample libraries: the Beatles homage Fab Four and Quantum Leap's seriously 'eavy Ministry Of Rock, hailed in Teenage World magazine as "An even more effective way of annoying your parents than leaving piles of dirty socks under the bed.” At the time, your humble SOS scribe opined that MOR "rocked big time”, or words to that effect — you can read the review at /sos/mar08/articles/ewfabfourministryofrock.htm.
Acting on the principle that two are heavier than one, EastWest's long‑time collaborators Quantum Leap (headed by film-trailer music veteran Nick Phoenix) have produced a sequel, Ministry Of Rock 2. Most of the material in this 57GB, 60,000‑sample library is entirely new, the exception being that seven of its eight bass guitars are remastered, Play‑formatted versions of the earlier QL libraries Hardcore Bass and Hardcore Bass XP.
The library ships on eight DVDs, with authorisation handled online at EastWest's web site. Buyers will find a copy of the Play sound engine software on the first installation DVD: 32‑bit and 64‑bit versions of the engine are both supplied, the latter able to support far larger amounts of RAM. However, bear in mind that in order to enjoy full 64‑bit operation, your whole system, including your sequencer/host software and operating system, must also be 64‑bit. Please remember also that installation of a library of this size takes time and a little thought — don't try to do it during a recording session or rehearsal, or you'll get seriously distracted.
MOR2 lives up to the legacy of its predecessor with some great‑sounding overdriven guitars. Starting at the low end, we have a Danelectro Baritone model played by Ashif Hakik, ex‑member of San Francisco hardcore punk outfit the Sick. (Now there's a good name.) The baritone guitar is ideally suited to metal: since it goes down to a low 'B' (a fourth below the bottom 'E' string of a conventional guitar), it can easily handle the genre's low‑pitched riffs with no need for drop tuning. The combination of an extremely crunchy tone and a comprehensive selection of articulations (round robin up/down picked sustains, staccatos, hammer‑ons, pull‑offs, slides, harmonics, tremolo, power chords, unpitched chugs, effects, fret and string noises) makes this a very potent and adaptable sampled instrument. Though they weren't played to a click, the tremolo performances could be adapted for use as fast, repeated 16th‑note patterns — it requires some slicing and dicing, but the exciting rhythmic effect it produces is well worth the effort.
Since the heyday of Steve Jones and the Sex Pistols, it's been customary to multitrack distorted guitars and spread the overdubs across the stereo. A common technique is to double‑track a part and place one guitar in each speaker. With that in mind, the producers recorded each note on their Carvin guitar twice and created double‑tracked instruments that load with the first set of samples panned hard left and the second set panned hard right. The lead performances (which have a choice of vibrato intensities) sound immense, and the hand‑muted chugs registered dangerously high on my rockometer. I doubt whether Steve Jones would approve, but being able to play this stuff from a keyboard is exhilarating.
The metal guitar menu is completed by two instruments from different eras: a Gibson Les Paul (favoured axe of the '70s rock gods) contributes some classic 'scream bends' (a tone interval in which the lower note is excruciatingly bent up to meet the pitch of the higher), and piercing, ZZ Top‑like pinch harmonics. A more contemporary, seven‑string Schecter Hellraiser delivers some truly vicious power chords and searing, whammy‑bar vibrato leads. The Hellraiser was recorded simultaneously through Marshall and Bogner amps, the respective signals of which are panned hard left and right; the Baritone and Gibson guitars are presented with their amp sound on one channel and a direct feed on the other, enabling you to add your own processing to the dry signal. Personally, I wouldn't bother, as the original amps sound tremendous. If you want to add echo effects, Play's delay, ADT and convolution reverb are second to none, though they do add noticeably to the CPU load.
Anyone who fancies trying their hand at some Steve Vai‑style speed‑freakery will be pleased to see the provision of legato scripting in certain patches. The legato effect is triggered by pushing up the mod wheel and playing overlapping notes; having detected the lack of gaps, the scripting removes the initial plectrum-noise transient from the front of the samples, thus making them flow together smoothly. Although this smoothing effect is a welcome relief from the relentless barrage of small scrapes one would otherwise have to endure, I didn't think the legato effect was at all realistic — it seems to introduce a small pitch-glide between notes that wouldn't occur in real life. In itself, this effect is rather agreeable and on occasions put me in mind of Middle Eastern reed instruments such as the shenai, but I don't suppose that was the intention! The moral, as ever, is that the only way to achieve truly convincing legatos in a sampled instrument is to employ real‑life interval sampling.
Having sung the praises of the original MOR's impressive guitars, one online reviewer (speculating on the possible content of a follow‑up volume) commented, "I'd like to see more acoustic guitars, maybe one clean Strat.” Sadly for him, there are no acoustic guitars in Ministry of Rock 2, and no Stratocaster either, but there are two other iconic Fender models: the first of them, a Fender Jaguar, is said by EastWest boss Doug Rogers to be modelled after Kurt Cobain's cleaner sound. The combination of the Jaguar's tough, clean, natural tone, fine performances by guitarist Doug Rappaport and Quantum Leap's careful sampling job has created a highly playable and expressive sampled instrument. I liked the way the clean signal gets dirty when you play harder; subtle, bluesy slides and passionate 'scrape picked' notes are also a great aid to expression. Since its release in 1962, this model of guitar has been used for every conceivable style of music, and this superb sampled rendition should widen the net still further.
The library's second Fender six‑string is a Telecaster recorded simultaneously through two amps, one of them a Vox (presumably an AC30). The Fender/Vox combination kick‑started rock music as we know it in the 1950s, since when the bright, cutting and earthy tone of the Telecaster has been used by legions of legendary guitarists, Steve Cropper, Albert Lee, George Harrison and Jimmy Page among them. Somewhat less delicate than the Jaguar, this sampled Tele has a very nice, super‑clean patch optimised for chordal strums and arpeggios, and a wealth of handy lead styles that include so‑called 'fall‑ups', the opposite of a fall-down! I particularly enjoyed the instrument's harmonics, though I was disappointed that they aren't chromatically mapped.
Moving on to the basses, MOR2's Music Man Stingray five‑string instrument is (as mentioned earlier) the one genuinely new bass in the library, the others being remastered versions of Quantum Leap's Hardcore Bass titles. The Stingray is clean, highly dynamic and very sensitive to touch, and I found its fingered samples ideal for lyrical, expressive passage. When I played back an improvised solo I'd sequenced using the fingered sustains, the nuance and detail in the instrument really gave the impression of a live bass player. Though not overdriven, these samples contain plenty of thump when played loud, and the highest velocities trigger a vigorous, fruity clank. For situations where every note needs to be super‑distinct, a full set of 'high‑definition' picked samples are also provided.
By contrast, the QL Hardcore basses (originally released in Kompakt Player format in 2003) sound a little lo‑fi, but what they lack in high‑end sheen, they make up for in attitude. A Lakland five‑string has a good, booming low‑end and some thunky, muted, unpitched, staccato samples that sound great filling in 16th‑note funk patterns. There's a bit of amp buzz in there, but, if anything, that helps the vibe. Another Stingray five‑string (listed as 'Music Man Vintage') has a very aggressive pick sound, which will cut through any amount of drum‑kit racket.
The remaining five basses in the library were first released in 2004 in the XP (expanded) version of Hardcase Bore, sorry Hardcore Bass. All are vintage '60s models bearing distinguished brand names: a fabulous, modified Fender Jazz bass is one of the best sampled fretless basses I've ever heard, possessing a huge, warm and powerful bottom end and a lovely, singing middle register. The player shows restraint and uses a light, controlled vibrato on his sustained notes, which means you can use the pitch wheel to add a little extra vibrato without the overall effect getting too warbly. The library's timbral variety is extended by the agreeably muffled low end of a Hofner 'Beatle' Violin Bass and a raunchy, angry‑sounding Gibson EB2, while the Danelectro Silvertone and Rickenbacker basses both have a classic, clean, somewhat piano‑like tone.
All the basses are played by Pierre Martin through Ampeg rigs (mostly presented in dual mono with a different rig on each channel) and recorded with Sennheiser 451 and RCA 44 ribbon mics. As with the library's guitars, the numerous performance variations (slides, bends, hammer‑ons, pull‑offs, harmonics, effects, and so on) are combined in 'Keyswitch' programs comprising up to 20 articulations, enabling users to introduce on‑the‑fly sound changes such as throwing in a slide at the end of a bass run — a facility the original Hardcore Bass library lacked. The keyswitches are marked in blue on Play's GUI. Alternatively, if you want to load individual articulations, you'll find them grouped together in the instruments' 'Elements' folder.
Some MOR2 instruments are programmed to play monophonically, enabling you to use the sustain pedal to produce smooth, connected performances without any danger of ugly note overlaps. If you want to play a chord on one of these instruments, you'll have to increase the number of voices on its 'Advanced Properties' page.
When planning MOR2's drum content, the makers set out to record "the best rock drums possible”, which would "stand up to any of the dedicated drum VIs out there”. To tackle this demanding task, they hired Tal Bergman, a man whose insanely varied CV lists drumming stints with Billy Idol, LL Cool J, Rod Stewart, Chaka Khan, Terence Trent D'Arby and Joe Zawinul (a dinner‑party grouping that would surely have thrown up some interesting exchanges). Mr Bergman played three leading makes of kit, which the producers sampled using the usual tricks of the trade: repetition samples, multiple dynamics and round robins. Given this drummer's track record and EastWest's studio facilities, extensive microphone collection and sampling pedigree, what could go wrong?
Well, nothing. From what I've heard of the competition, these kits do indeed measure up to the industry's leading virtual drum products, and they certainly match anything in my overflowing sample library for quality, depth and power. The three kits are presented with a choice of snare drums: if you select, say, a Drum Workshop kit with the Ludwig Black Beauty snare (my favourite), you actually get a five‑layer multi consisting of kick drum, snare drum (including cowbell), hi‑hat, toms and cymbals. The articulations used in each of these five modules can be varied, so if you decide you'd like to exchange the DW toms for the higher‑pitched Gretsch ones, simply go to the toms' 'Articulations' box, load the Gretsch set and de‑activate the DW's — or if you prefer, layer the two for a composite sound. To facilitate such sound‑swapping, all the kits use a standardised General MIDI mapping.
These kits sound very healthy: the kicks have sufficient high end 'tap' to cut through the dense guitar fog of contemporary metal, the snares are bright and beefy and the toms sound thunderous. My favourite cymbals are the Zildjian set, which combines a light, airy ride, two hefty crashes and an extremely raucous China cymbal. In this library, EastWest present the kits in 'close' and 'room' mikings, and have also provided the option of heavily compressed room mics, which is the way to go if you want to create a walloping, John Bonham‑esque drum sound. A new drum mixer with three dedicated faders allows you to blend the dry, room and compressed room signals. (The two room options can't be heard simultaneously; when you select one, the other is automatically deactivated.) Whack up the compressed room fader on any of the kits and you're instantly transported into Led Zep sonic territory; after hearing its effect, you probably won't want to turn it off again, though you may prefer to hear less of it on the cymbals and hi‑hats.
It's good to see the proliferation of value settings for control knobs in MOR2's GUI, even if some are a little eccentric: for example, a pan pot whose first five movements to the right are displayed as 1.33, 2.66, 3.99, 5.33 and 6.66! (The last value can only refer to the Number of the Beast, obviously included here to placate black metal fanatics.) Quirky though such values may appear, their inclusion makes it possible to exactly replicate settings from instrument to instrument, an important facility for programmers and control freaks like myself.
Some numerical idiosyncrasy is also in evidence in Play's pitch‑bend setting (hidden away in instruments' 'Advanced Properties' menu): rather than showing a number of semitones, pitch‑bend intensity is displayed as a percentage value, with the standard two‑semitone bend represented as 16 percent. Since a tone step is one‑sixth of an octave, this actually makes some kind of mathematical sense, though to be pedantic I guess the number should really be 16.66 percent. Anyway, the good news is that Play's pitch‑bends now track properly in both directions and I was able to achieve my favoured four‑semitone bend setting by dialling in the figure of 33 percent!
Like the original MOR, Ministry Of Rock 2 contains no riffs, phrases or licks, but simply gives you the means to create your own. The makers' blueprint for the library was "to create a virtual (software) instrument capable of producing sounds that could actually produce a hit record or film score without any live drum, bass or guitar overdubs.” Having used the original MOR in a movie soundtrack myself, I'd say they've cracked the film score part. A hit record is a tougher call, as I suspect most rock listeners would prefer to hear real-life guitars, especially when it comes to the guitar solo! However, there's no doubt you could use these samples to make a storming demo of what might end up being a smash hit, and certainly many of its sounds are strong, characterful, vibrant and dynamic enough to grace a master tape.
Thankfully, the era when sampled guitars and basses were weedy, unplayable travesties of the real thing is now long gone. Like its predecessor, MOR2 mixes enormously powerful sounds with more tender timbres, while maintaining a high standard throughout. There are no 'fillers', and every instrument sounds like it has a right to be in there. Not to be confused with UK institutions Ministry Of Sound and Ministry Of Defence, this West Coast Ministry dedicates itself to the quasi‑religion of hard, modern rock, uncompromising and devilishly effective.
Although there are many individual rock guitar, electric bass and drum kit multisample libraries on the market (some of them very good), I was unable to find any collections other than the MOR titles that combine these three types of instrument within one package. It appears therefore that the only true alternative to Ministry Of Rock 2 is the original Ministry Of Rock.
- Danelectro Baritone
- Carvin seven‑string
- Gibson Les Paul
- Schecter Hellraiser seven‑string
- Fender Jaguar
- Fender Telecaster Thinline
- Music Man Stingray (f/p)
- Lakland Skyline* (f/p)
- Music Man 'Vintage'* (p)
- 1961 Fender Jazz Fretless* (f)
- 1963 Hofner Violin* (f/p)
- 1965 Gibson EB2* (p)
- 1966 Danelectro Silvertone* (f/p)
- 1972 Rickenbacker 4003* (p)
- Drum Workshop kit
- Gretsch kit
- Ludwig kit
Additional Snare Drums
- Noble & Cooley (2)
f = fingered
p = picked.
* Remastered from Quantum Leap Hardcore Bass (2003‑4).
MOR 2 requires 57GB free hard disk space, an iLok security key (not provided), 2GB RAM (4GB recommended) and a 7200 RPM or faster hard drive* for sample streaming. The Play sound engine runs stand‑alone and as a plug‑in on both PC (Windows XP SP2, Vista or Windows 7) and Mac (Intel machines only, OS 10.5 or later). Supported interfaces are: (PC) VST, ASIO, RTAS; (Mac) VST, Audio Units, Core Audio, RTAS. For a full list of supported hosts, go to www.soundsonline.com/Ministry‑Of‑Rock‑2 and click on 'System Requirements'.
The makers recommend an Intel Core 2 Quad/AMD Quad‑core 2.66GHz (or higher) system for PC users and a Mac Pro Quad‑core Intel Xeon 2.66GHz (or higher) machine for Mac zealots. However, you can run MOR2 with these minimum system specs: (PC) Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Dual Core 2.1GHz; (Mac) Intel Core 2 Duo Processor 2.1GHz.
* EastWest recommend non‑energy‑saving hard drives. See the 'Play 2 Frequently Asked Questions' document at www.soundsonline.com/updates.php for further details.