You are here

Heavenly Music <i>Song Builder</i> Series MIDI Files

The Song Builder series of MIDI files currently comprises at least seven volumes of patterns, riffs and phrases in Atari/PC format that can also be loaded into any Mac which has a Mac/PC file exchange program running — such as Access PC. Each volume contains a wealth of short MIDI files which can be copied and pasted into your own compositions, and in this respect, Song Builder is very similar to the Twiddly Bits files reviewed elsewhere in this column. The main difference is that while Twiddly Bits uses session musicians playing MIDI guitars, MIDI drums, MIDI wind instruments and so on, Song Builder appears to have been programmed directly from the keyboard. As the programmers in question are Joe and Pauly Ortiz of Heavenly Music, however, you can have every confidence that the programming is second to none.

Bytes and Pieces is a mixed bag of over 100 phrases including flute flourishes, brass stabs, harp glissandos, guitar and bass parts, rhythms, and a whole lot else. The files are mapped out for use with a GM module such as Sound Canvas, but once you've pasted them into your sequence, you can assign them to any instrument you like. However, I've a feeling that one or two of the examples may include cunning bits of SysEx and controller information, so if you don't have a suitable GM module, you may lose out on some of the finer nuances.

I also had the chance to check out two of the Doctor Beat disks, which are dedicated to drum and percussion patterns, and the first thing that stands out is the exceptionally human feel with which these patterns are played. Very little rigid quantising here. Most of the patterns are musically sensible rather than being taken up by overtly showy pieces, and there are plenty of nice fills in there too. I do have a criticism though, and that is that the documentation provided comprised only the album covers: you don't even get a list of the file names, let alone a description of what they are. Instead, you have to load the disk and browse the file names from your computer, but there's still little clue as to what style, key or time signature you can expect. In practice, this isn't too much of a problem as you can load the pieces one at a time and then make your own notes, but then if the Twiddly Bits disks can include good documentation, why not the Song Builder series too?

Quibbles aside, the Song Builder disks I've checked out so far have been uniformly excellent, and sensibly priced to boot. Few people can program drums as well as Joe and Pauly, so if you want to freshen up your songs, this could be the way to do it. If you want me to tell you whether you should choose these disks over Twiddly Bits, that's another matter — both products contain so much useful material in so many different styles that at the asking price, you shouldn't hesitate to buy both. It may not be exactly like having a session player inside your sequencer, but it comes pretty close. Song Builder is a refreshingly professional product at a price everyone can afford, and I wait with anticipation to see what they come up with next. Paul White