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Published July 2006

Project SAM Organ Mystique



According to the sleeve notes, "this organ is located in a church near a small Dutch village. During WWII, a German airplane crashed into the church, tearing down the front part and killing brave members of the resistance. The villagers say when the organ is played, you can still hear it weep for the fallen soldiers of 1944". Oo-er!

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Despite the spooky build-up, the instrument turns out to be a friendly-sounding, beautifully recorded instrument with a nice line in soft flutey stops. The Hol-Flute 8' preset is a good example — its innocent, child-like quality works very well for dreamy chordal meditations and quiet pastoral melodies. Pitched an octave higher, the brighter sound and quicker attack of Rohr Flute 4' copes well with fast lines, and at the top of the pitch range there's Octave 2', piping out very high notes with an extraordinarily precise, clear, and constant tone. The Viola Di Gamba preset has a reedier sound which is solemn, though still fairly cheerful, but for the full 'Here Comes The Bride' one needs the Tutti preset — this literally pulls out all the stops to create the classic triumphal church-organ racket.

It is unusual to hear a church organ using vibrato, and the Tutti Vibrato preset (which adds vibrato to the nuptial noise described above) put me in mind of a theatre organ. The Vibrato stop is another simple flute sound, with subtle vibrato and a nice 'chiff' — very playable and inspirational for improvisers.

Pedal stops are thin on the ground. The Sub-bass 16' patch supplies some very low notes, but their soft timbre lacks the power and grandeur one expects from organ pedals. Two octaves of these flutey-sounding bass notes have been tacked onto the bottom of each preset to extend their lower register. A couple of half-decent effects complete the preset list: the library is 2.33GB in size, so shouldn't put too much of a strain on your hard drive.

This legend-drenched instrument was miked from different perspectives, maintaining the house style established in Project SAM's excellent orchestral brass and percussion libraries. The miking positions of three and 10 metres sound surprisingly similar, and with some stops I had to strain to hear any difference between them. While the church's ambience has been exquisitely reproduced with release samples, the building's relatively small size means that SAM's instrument can't compete with a cathedral organ in terms of sonic majesty; nevertheless, there is an appealing personal quality to its sound. Retailing at a price which won't come back and haunt you, this is a well-sampled pipe organ which, despite its somewhat restricted menu of stops, effectively covers the basics. Dave Stewart

Gigastudio 3, Halion, Kontakt and EXS24 DVD-ROM, £94.95 including VAT.
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Best Service Peter Siedlaczek String Essentials

Kontakt Instrument


Peter Siedlaczek first made his mark with some fine string-orchestra samples which found their way (uncredited) into the Roland sound library. To this day, people tell me they still prefer these strings to any of the huge orchestral libraries released since! The Czech maestro's new 17.5GB String Essentials brings us a string orchestra of violins, violas, cellos and double basses. The sections are presented separately and also blended together into full string sections, something Mr Siedlaczek does extremely well — the mapping is done so skilfully that it's almost impossible to hear any joins.

The samples were recorded in a Warsaw studio from three microphone positions, not (according to the producer) to vary the amount of ambience, but to exploit the different tone produced by close, medium, and far mic placements. This calls into question the pleasant, brightish, one-second release tails heard on the end of the so-called 'ambient' samples. Once the release trails are turned off, the difference between the three mikings is pretty subtle; the most obvious difference being that the 'normal' position has a slightly lusher sound and wider stereo image than the 'dry' samples.

Hot New Sample CDs On Test String Essentials ' programs gather together a collection of playing styles which users can select via keyswitches. Each string section plays sustains, mono legato, tremolo and trills (all looped), three lengths of short note, staccato, pizzicato, and fast runs. The mono legato mode is OK for slow melodies, and its optional portamento effect introduces some tasty Bollywood-ish upward slides, but the legato effect can't cope with fast runs. Pitch wheel-driven glissandos (available for all sections) are difficult to control, but capable of yielding some thoroughly mad slides. In the staccatos program, push the mod wheel all the way up and you get an invigorating, disco-style fast 'fall' at the end of the note.

All four sections perform fast runs in a major scale which is chromatically shifted to fit all keys, and the violins have an extra set of 140bpm, key-specific major runs. You can use the Kontakt instrument's tempo control to change the speed (but not pitch) of the runs. Users get a huge amount of control over the samples: the Kontakt instrument's knobs control expression, crescendos, attack, and release tails level, and MIDI Continuous Controller number 24 can be used to introduce a layer of staccato samples — very handy for adding definition to fast lines.

These strings sound consistently good — each section has a distinct character, and the blend of the four is very satisfying. The Polish musicians play with an expressive, controlled vibrato, excellent tuning, and some feeling. Although some might find the wealth of technical detail intimidating, experienced samplists will be pleased to find such a large fund of high-quality, musically intelligent string performances in one ready-to-play package. Dave Stewart

Kontakt Instrument, £232 including VAT.
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Big Fish Audio Roots Of South America Volume 2



Way back in the September 1999 issue, SOS gave a four-star review to the original Roots Of South America sample library. While is has been quite a wait, Big Fish Audio have now released a second volume. I tested the WAV files in Acid Pro 5, and these contained nearly 900MB of audio files, organised into 26 construction kits and a collection of individual instrument hits. As with the original collection, the vast majority of the material is drum and percussion based — Congas, Bomba Shells, Cabasas, Cascaras, and Quijadas, amongst a number of others. However, this collection also contains both authentic rhythms and material that would suit more contemporary styles, including funk, jazz, or even hip-hop.

While Latin musical influences are much more widespread in mainstream pop music now than they were even seven years ago, there were still several musical styles amongst the construction kits that I was unfamiliar with. Alongside the well-known Bolero and Samba styles are others such as Chacarera and Bambuco. Familiar or not, the rhythms and feels of these construction kits are all very engaging. Tempos vary between a sultry and sexy 69bpm (is this deliberate?) right up to a frenzied and hedonistic 210bpm. Many of the uptempo kits shout 'carnival', and I could easily imagine these rhythms pumping out of a large street band in that context. Equally, this material would be just as happy as a bed for a Santana-style Latin/pop/rock tune.

Hot New Sample CDs On TestEach of the kits includes a 'full mix' loop, which is useful for auditioning purposes, while the rest of the loops are separated into the individual instrument layers or, where appropriate, small ensemble layers. While a few of the kits include an orthodox drum kit, the majority consist entirely of instruments associated with the music of the region. Throughout, the playing seems excellent and the 24-bit recording done to a high standard. With suitable attention to the groove (with perhaps a little groove quantising), and the usual requirement not to stray too far from the original recording tempos, it was perfectly possible to mix and match loops between the various kits. The library is therefore very easy to work with.

The 400 individual hits cover 29 different instruments. These include Seed Pods, Bata, Berimbau, Cajita, Chekere, Conga, Djembe, Guira, Tima, Trompe, and Udu. In most cases, several individual hits are included, covering different playing styles and intensities. In a few cases, there is enough material to map across a keyboard to make a playable instrument.

Roots of South America Volume 2 picks up very much where its predecessor left off, but because the feel is perhaps more contemporary, this more recent collection ought to have a wider appeal. The library also represents good value for money. John Walden

Apple Loops, REX, and WAV DVD-ROM, £55 including VAT.
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Big Fish Audio Soundscapes For Cinema

Apple Loops


This 2GB library comprises over 1000 Apple Loops and is primarily intended for composers and sound designers working to picture, but there is plenty of material here that would interest anyone working in electronic music, particularly if it has an industrial edge — think Nine Inch Nails.

For ease of browsing, the loops are split into six folders. Acoustic Oddities is split into three further folders (Percussion, Strings, and Winds) and there are all sorts of peculiar rhythmic things to be found here. Aside from the more usual drum and kalimba loops, there are some excellent bass loops — although this is not melodic material, but rather rhythms and textures. Harps, horns, saxophones, and various wind instruments get the same treatment, and the folder also includes some zither and digeridoo loops. For somewhat straighter rhythmic loops, the Percussion folder has plenty to offer, and these would give a composition more of a 'musical' feel as opposed to the rhythmic soundscapes created by the Acoustic Oddities loops.

Hot New Sample CDs On TestThe contents of the Pads & Atmospheres folder, which contains well over half of the whole library, is split into six subfolders with titles clearly indicating the contents: Alien, Dark Drone, Machine, Shimmer, Strange Textures, and Vocal Textures. There is some excellent material amongst this lot, and because many of the loops are over 30 seconds in length, they would make perfect beds to layer other elements over. The moods are mostly dark and, like the rest of the collection, would really suit sci-fi or straight contemporary horror images. In this respect this title covers similar territory to the various Cycling 74 Cycles loop libraries (such as Unnatural Rhythms), and there is plenty of sonic scariness here! For a slightly more melodic feel, the relatively small number of loops in the Tonal folder can be used, although the mood is consistent with the Pads & Atmospheres material.

The collection is rounded off by the One-Shot Effects and Mixed Loops folders. The former is really sound-design territory, but there are some very good hits that could be used to ornament a more conventional musical piece. The Mixed Loops folder contains a small number of loops that mix rhythmic and soundscape/melodic material and, aside from the need to stay within the terms of the license, these would need very little adding to them to form a complete sound bed.

It should be noted that this collection is a compilation from some earlier Big Fish Audio titles including Alien Artifacts, Alien Guitars 2, Fear, Gas Tank Orchestra, Groove Dimensions, Noize Loops, Pod and Toxic Textures. Provided that you do not already own these titles, Soundscapes For Cinema is very competitively priced. John Walden

Apple Loops DVD-ROM, £55 including VAT.
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