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Marimba and Vibraphone Samples - DS Soundware Review

March 1, 2002
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The Christian and Lane Ultimate Marimba and Vibes ($199) two-CD library of marimba and vibraphone samples is another fine offering from orchestral percussionists Donnie Christian and Sean Lane. The samples for the marimba were taken from a Marimba One rosewood marimba with a five-octave range. The vibraphone samples were recorded from a Musser Gold Century vibraphone with a three-octave range. Each note on each instrument was recorded in stereo and mono using hard, medium, medium-soft, and soft mallets. In addition to the usual playing techniques, four Extras files include glissandi, resonator (the tubes under the sound bars) hits and scrapes, and random note runs.

The samples library also includes an Instrument called Marimba Rattan Handles, in which the notes are played by striking the marimba bars on the edge with the rattan shafts of the mallets. According to the documentation, the brighter-than-usual sound is a contemporary effect found in modern marimba literature. Another great nontraditional patch, Vibes Bowed, captures the haunting sound produced by bowing the vibes bars with a cello bow.

Articulating My Position

The playing techniques for the marimba patches include dead strokes, rolls, and hits. A dead stroke is produced when the player hits a bar but doesn't let the mallet head rebound, thereby damping the sound. Hits, on the other hand, allow the marimba bars to ring out freely to their natural decay. Rolls are the even repetitive strokes that “hold” a marimba note. As in live playing, the roll samples increase slightly in speed as the notes become higher to compensate for the more rapid decay of the shorter bars. Dead strokes and rolls have two Velocity levels; the hits have four.

The vibes patches include Mute, Sustain, and Motor Speed. The Mute Instrument captures the sound of the vibes when the sustain pedal is up. As you might guess, Sustain is the sound of the vibes when the sustain pedal is down. Both patches were recorded at three Velocity levels. Motor Speed lets you select the speed of the motor that controls vibrato on a vibraphone. Three speeds (controlled by the mod wheel) are provided.

Unfortunately, the scanty documentation in Ultimate Marimba and Vibes offers little help in identifying the various Instruments. For example, it took a while to figure out that “Mar Hrd Sus Rolls Mod” refers to a Marimba Hard Mallet Instrument using the mod wheel to switch between hit notes (Sus) and rolled notes. “Vib Hrd Full Fs Mt” identifies a Vibes Hard Mallet Instrument using the sustain pedal (instead of the mod wheel, as in other patches) for pedal-up and pedal-down hits. The “Fs Mt” part of the name indicates that the motor speed (vibrato) is set to Fast. In the same patch, the mod wheel switches between vibrato and nonvibrato, even though that isn't indicated in the abbreviated name.

A Good Bit More

As a supplement to the samples library's limited documentation, Christian and Lane plan to offer more detailed help on their Web site (www.dssoundware.com). There's another good reason to check out the Web site: as I was completing this review, four new stereo Vibes articulation files were posted. They improve on the original CD library by increasing the number of available motor speeds to eight. In addition, the eight motor speeds are selectable using key switching instead of the mod wheel, which provides more precise real-time control over vibrato speed. Moreover, each new file offers a new Vibes Crazy Instrument that extends to the full 88-note range of a piano. It uses LFO settings that are controlled by the mod wheel to create warped, oscillating sound effects.

Skimpy documentation notwithstanding, the quality and playability of the Ultimate Marimba and Vibes samples library are outstanding. The elaborate use of controller routings and Velocity switching makes it possible to perform a wide range of techniques in real time. Clean and carefully miked, the recordings offer consistent quality whether you're playing dead strokes, rolls, or riffs in classical or jazz settings. Overall, the Christian and Lane Ultimate Marimba and Vibes library is a good deal, and with its Web-site updates, it promises a good deal more in the future.


Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4.5 DS Soundware/Tascam (distributor); tel. (323) 726-0303; e-mail tascamweb@tascam.com; Web www.tascam.com

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