Machinedrum UW – IDM style tweaking

Here is a cool video that shows the awesome capabilities of the Elektron Machinedrum UW used to make idm and glitch style music.
A great part of the job is focused on the control tracks that can play a morph on the instrument traks making the machine change in quite unpredictable way the programmed sounds.
IMHO this is one of the BEST video about the ELEKTRON MACHINEDRUM on the net!
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Zoom ST-224 SampleTrack review

Zoom ST 224 Sampletrak

During the late 90’s started the phrase sampler commercial boom.
All the big brand had their “groove sampler” for the “groove musician”.
Boss started their SP-serie , Korg marketed the ES-1 , Akai had the Remix16 (mid 90’s) then the s-20, Yamaha presented their SU-serie.
Zoom came out with the ST-224 Sampletrack in 1999, a cheap alternative to the Korg Es-1 and Boss SP-303.

The Zoom can store up to 32 samples in memory and has a 3 bank kit with 24 samples in use max (8 samples x 3 kit= 24 samples).
There are 3 sample grades: Hi-fi 32 kHz , Standard 16kHz , Lo-fi 8kHz with 18 bit DAC.
The effect bank is really useful for creative manipulation of the recorded material but even to process audio in signals.
This machine is quite basic but has some really interesting features.

  • It can play samples with different samplerates in the same kit
  • resampling from the main out (it means you can resample a pattern with effects)
  • a bunch of interesting and useful effects that can be used even on “audio in” material, not only on samples
  • A great PITCH function (+/- 36 semitones)
  • pitch scaling (to play a sample chromatically on the pads).

Compared to other samplers of that period the zoom lacked a real sequencer and had no envelope for amplitude modulation.
On the other hand the pitch function is the best found on this kind of sampler, and the sound is really grainy (in lo-fi mode) to be up there with the old ones like the Akai mpc60 and Emu SP1200.
The Sampletrack was targeted to loops sampling/play this is the reason why the sequencer has only 8 songs and only realtime recording.
The good point is that the quantize and shuffle functions are really effective on one shot samples, making the sampletrack a really good beatbox.
The resampling capabilities of resample its own patterns with the sequencer running (not possible on the others loop samplers) together with the effects make the zoom stand up.

There is an application (for Windows users) that can be really handy , ZMF Producer, that let you edit and program all the parameters and samples stored on the smartmedia card and to load .wav and .aiff files on the machine.

This is an all in one great beatbox for hip hop / trip hop production, give it a try!

Photek interview in the late ’90s

Here ‘s an interesting Photek interview during the “Modus Operandi ” period.

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Despite todays “standards” the studio is simple room without any acoustic treatment.
The set up is really limited to a couple of Emu E4 serie (5000 and 64) , a Roland JV1080, an old Atari computer running Cubase and a master keyboard.
The main source of samples are old jazz LPs, the samples are chopped into a sampler and then rearranged and resampled as a loop in the second sampler.
The old way of sample treatment that lead to that great sound!

Akai MPC 500 tips…

Using the Akai MPC 500 I noticed that the downfall of the “baby-MPC” are :

  • the pads are a little hard to play
  • the volume of the machine is low compared to the big bros.
  • the filter does not always behave correctly

The first problem , which may seem quite hard to face, for me became not so limiting.
The air-space between the internal of the pad and the sensor is quite far, more than 1,5 mm, so you have to hit hard to make the rubber  to touch the sensor.
When you use the machine intensively the rubber of the pad bank tend to behave in a more soft way because of the use , so the pads beaten more often get more “easy to manage” with velocity on and react better to the thump of the fingers.

The second point is the volume.
Reading the manual you can see that the 500 has 12dB less of output volume than the 1000 and 2500, this is quite a lot of volume!
The only way to get it play louder is to use an external preamp or pump up the gain in your mixer.
The  problem is caused by the fact that at akai have studied the amp section for a battery powered use, so there are no special settings to get better results.
The one thing to avoid is to pump up the volume of the pads, and get the headroom under -6dB.
Setting the sample volume to 100 will lend for sure to a highly annoing overdive of high frequencies and the total lost of fidelity of the sample played.
My advice is to get the master volume knob to max, headroom to -6dB, and sample volume between 70/90.
In this way you will have a godd result and no overdriven frequencies, then using the gain in your mixer you will get the right volume to fit the 500 in the mix with the other instruments .

The third and quite absurd downfall of the 500 is the strange behaviour of the filters.
I noticed that the LP filter (used as preset in every program) is the main reason that leads to lower volume and distorted sounds.
Sampling a closed hat , the sample sounded good in the “preview” (pushing “play”) while had a different “fidelity and a total loss of high frequencies and a lot of  distortion in the program.
Switching the filter from LP(lowpass) to “–” (that means bypass) the sample sounded good again as in the preview.
So the filter was the cause of that awful sound!

I don’t mean that every sample sounds bad with the filter on , but I noticed that quite all the samples gained a little volume and a cleaner definition bypassing the filter, and however some samples sounds very bad with the LP filter on, especially the ones that are rich of high frequencies as hats, cymbals, etc..

Making fat drums using together hardware and software samplers

Actually most of the production process is done In The Box, only with softwares in the computer.
This is considered now a standard because of a total recall of the project settings, no loss of audio quality duing converions and more funtionality within the virtual intruments.
I totally agree with this modus operandi, and I too use a ITB approach for most of the production process, but I think that a little interaction between the “standards” and somenthing “personal” can make the difference.

A useful tip in my making music process is to treat the drum sounds Out Of The Box, usually using old hardware samplers.
In hip hop or r’n’b, even today, there’s a hard culture on old samplers, together with the vinyls and turntables they are seen as the “instruments” to have that phat beatz.
Paying attenction to the power and details of hip hop and black music, especially from the usa, the fact that the sound is incredibly present and detailed is true, even for the people who don’t like the genre.
The making of this sound is composed by three main points:

  • Choosing the right samples, not the ones that sound better standalone, but the ones that are thought to sound better in the contest we are planning to create.
  • Hardware sampler processing to give the sounds a certain “imprint” together with the ability to cut the samples in a personal way that makes the samples stand up in the composition.
  • Hardware processing with hi-end outboards to give more definition and to maximize the sounds and reshape the dynamics.

The aim of my post is not analizing the hip hop making of but take inspiration from that attitude.
Hi-end outboards are really expensive so I plan only to use old samplers to make an A->B test.

The first thing is to get the good material to sample.
Samples from a library are usually compressed and eqed so they are just perfect to try the sampling process in an easy way.
Using our own sampled or synthetized material can be often more difficult  because we have to “preprocess” the sound before sampling.
We can choose between two different tipe of processing:

  • Sampling a one shot sample into the sampler, tweak it and then sample again the sound played by the hw sampler into the computer.
    Making this process we obtain a “personal” drum sample with more punch ready to play with our favorite sw sampler.
  • Sampling a track of a drum element played by the sw sampler into the hw.
    Making this process we obtain a “coloured” new track to rerecord into our daw to mix or to use instead of the same track  “before sampling”.
    Usually sampling a loop not only change the dynamics of the audio material but create a particular “ambience” that’s the strong carachteristic of hw sampler.

At the end of the process we have two important conclusion to take care of:
if the sample is a short one shot the hw sampler give a more punchy and personal sound but that can fit really well in every softsampler because the short sample sounds “dry”, if the sampled part is longer, a kick loop  for example, the loop will sound more “processed” but also less or more (it depends on the sampler used) “ambiented”.
A famous hip hop statment about the Akai S900 is “everything sampled with the 900 sounds like old vinyls…”

Akai MPC 500 review

Akai MPC 500

Akai MPC 500

Akai is famous for their tradition in making samplers and recording machines.
The MPC500 is one of the last sampler produced in a world ruled by softsamplers, let’s understand why…
The MPC series is a sampler and sequencer combo that made history.
The MPC60 (the first MPC ever!) was the evolution of the sampling drum machine LINN 9000, a really revolution in the drum machine contest in the 80s.
The MPC concept is basicly a drum/percussion sampler with a powerful midi sequencer inside a box with sensitive touch pads.
That combination seems like a little rhythm making studio in a box, because you ‘re not limited to standard drum sounds but you can sample your own sounds and use it in combination with the sequencer to create a composition that’s something more than a rhythm.
After the 60 came the 3000 that offered more memory and some adds like easy scsi storage, than the 2000 that enhanced the possibilities of the machine with graphic editing and the 2000xl with multi timbral and melodic capabilities.
The top of the line during the 2000xl period was the MPC4000 , a large MPC that used the Z4/Z8 sampling engine (a standard sampler , not geared only towards beat making) with a big sequencer, control surface…

After the the 2000xl and 4000 Akai started a third generation MPCs: the 1000 and than the 500 , 2500 and now the 5000.
The new mpcs have a new dimensions that’s to compensate softsampler limits and the stability, they take the mpc concept a step ahead , to create somenthing that does not compete with softwares but that can be used with sw and workhorse for live duty.

The MPC 500 is the lighter and cheaper model of the serie, it lacks some interesting features of its bigger bros but has some winning points!
First It’s important to say what the 500 miss:

  • graphic editing of the samples
  • the sequencer has 48 midi tracks instead of 64
  • 12 pads instead of 16
  • no individual  outs
  • the volume of outs in this machine is lower than the others MPC.
  • the rubber sensitive pads are harder to on the touch, it seems you have to push them harder to get velocity 127!

The graphic editing is important on machine like this if you want to use it as a standalone production tool, but it has usb, and CF card for storage so you can edit and load or save your samples on your computer and it’s a fast operation, no sds midi dumps or scsi connections…

The sequencer has 48 tracks instead of 64… well 48 tracks for pattern are a lot, I don’t feel like missing the 64tracks using the MPC500…

12 pads instead of 16… well it maybe a limitation but I find useful instead!
When I use tuned samples 12 pads are like 1 octv keyboard, so I use to samples one sound for octv and then with 4 samples I can play a 4 oct sound without the feeling of loosing the “reality” of the sound, because 1 sample does not stretch too much.
And using the 12 levels the sample has 1 octv play!

The 500 has only the stereo out, and this is a limitation if you want to do record a bunch oof tracks at the same time, but if this is not your need the absence of the multi outs is not a bad miss.

One important aspect of this machine is the particular “low” volume output.
In a A-B test with the MPC2000xl the 500 outputs half the volume of the 2000 with an headroom set not to have distortion or degradation of the sound.
I think at AKAI designed this machine as a battery operated , so to let the batterys last longer they reduced the amplification consumption, leading to a lower volume.
I ‘m honest, this is one of the things I don’t really like in the 500, because this aspect influences the sound, annd if you want a “clean” sound you have not to push the headroom to 0dB and stay calm with the mixer section.
The more you try to pump the sound from the internal volumes, the more it sound harsh or with a light distortion on higher frequencies.
But if the volume are set in the right way (70/80 on the mixer, and a headroom of minimum 6dB) everything works very well, the sound is clean and punchy.
The only way to get the 500 pump louder is to rise the volume on your mixer or use a preamp/compressor.

The sensibility of the pads is another downfall of the 500.
They have a particular curve that can be tricky to manage at first.
To get a velocity value 127 you have to thump really hard, so my use of the velocity with the pads is quite limited…
I usually tend to switch velocity to 100% and play the main rhythm (kick and snare ) then I switch velocity on and start playng with the note repeat in order to make a quantised rhythm with velocity movements.
The other alternative is to record every track with velo at 100% and then edit the velocity using the slider in realtime.

Apart from these points  the 500 has some major  strenghts!

  • It’s superportable, superslim!
  • Battery powered
  • USB connectivity and CF card drive
  • A SUPERB timing!
  • A great sequencer that can control the onboard sampler together with other midi devices
  • It’s really easy to use
  • onboard effects are ok
  • can work as a multitimbral sound generator with /without using its own sequencer.
  • Multimode filters are good and are realtime effective (not on the previous models)
  • Sounds really good (if you don’t push your headroom to 0 dB!)

The sampler engine is complete with even resampling and easy editing.
The sound engine is well thought and has indipendent multimode filters , AD envelope, two efx with send/insert, mute groups…
The 12 levels (to play the sample chromatically) works as on the previous models, and the interesting aspect is that every motion recorded is realtime and fluid.
All in all this little machine has many strong features and some minor letdown (the hard sensitive pads and the “not so high” volume) but can be really useful to many task in every kind of music, and could be the portastudio for hip hop & R’n’B producers who want to compose in the park or in the subway…

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