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June 1, 2000

Buzzes, beeps, and blips; static, stings, and swooshes; rhythms, rumbles, and robots; chirps, chuffs, throbs, thumps, clinks, and clanks. Welcome, weary traveler, to the dark domain of Pod.

Pod ($99) is another entry in Big Fish Audio's impressive collection of unusual sound-design CDs, which also includes Alien Artifakts, Alien Guitars, and Things That Go Bump in the Night. Pod is available as an audio CD or as a CD-ROM containing WAV files. These files have been "Acid-ized," so they are compatible with Sonic Foundry's Acid software. For this review I tested the CD-ROM.

Divide and ConquerPod sounds are divided into several categories: Ambient (bright, dark, harsh, medium, and smooth), Ensembles, Event Series (tonal and nontonal), Geeky, Harmonic Backing, Lifeform, Machine Process, Motif (tonal and nontonal), Omake, Outer Space Activity, and Rhythmic Element. Most of the samples are quite long, resembling miniature compositions. Durations of 20 seconds or more are common, and some samples even exceed a minute. However, a few are short single events, such as the supernaturally deep rumble of the pitch-shifted A La Pizz.

Some of my favorite sounds are in the Motif folders: the jittery, noisy murmurings of Stutter; the dark, rhythmic, eminently loopable synth bells of BelFendesque Rhythmo 2; and the delicately pitched noise of Angelenica. I also like several of the Machine Process samples, such as the throbbing NagNagNag and the pulsing, urgent static of I'm a Dog.

To me, Ambient's scattered, swirling clouds of randomized blips and bleeps evoke a bygone era of FM synthesis-based academic computer music. A friend-whose opinion may be more in sync with the intent of Pod's sound designers-was reminded of "the soundtrack for Star Trek." I like the rhythmic drive of Edgewise, which might work as a song intro.

Beam Me UpIn general, Pod is a well-executed sample CD, but I have two minor complaints. Many of its sounds have natural conclusions, while other sounds end abruptly. Big Fish Audio notes that the latter sounds are intended for looping, but I still prefer looping with a usable ending. Also, several samples contain noticeable clicks; this may or may not matter in a final mix, given the over-the-top nature of the material. According to the company, these clicks are intentional and are appropriate to the genre.

These caveats aside, Pod is a solid offering with lots of material in a mix of distinctive sci-fi styles. If you're searching for a packet of high-tech mayhem, Big Fish Audio's Pod could be the perfect "droid" for you.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 3.5

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