Although it is technically inaccurate to suggest that thearchitecture wrapped inside E-mu's new Mo' Phatt Urban Dance Synthis the product of some freakishly intelligent mutant alien,sometimes it feels that deep and otherworldly. Sure, you can usethe Mo' Phatt — the hip-hop installment of E-mu's continuingline of Proteus 2000 sample/synthesizer playback units — as astraight-ahead MIDI device. And certainly most users (especiallythose familiar with Planet Phatt, an earlier E-mu sound source)will likely buy the Mo' Phatt for its excellent-sounding presets.But also locked inside this box are hundreds of musical patternsfrom some very talented players. If anything, the most difficultchallenge the Mo' Phatt presents is how to incorporate itsimpressive riffs and patterns without surrendering your ownmusicality.
The Mo' Phatt is a single-space, rack-mountable unit withstandard MIDI In, Out, and Thru connections. Although many projectstudio musicians neglect to hook up a MIDI Out from devices likethe Mo' Phatt to their MIDI patch bay, this connection is criticalif you plan on extracting the box's full potential. The Mo' Phattships with 512 user presets and 32 MB of sound memory that you canexpand to 64 MB with optional SIMMs for a maximum of 1,024 presets.Some of the unit's 16-bit samples — particularly pads andsynths — suffer in comparison to soft synths and other newerdevices that use 24-bit samples. However, in the hip-hop world thatthe Mo' Phatt is geared toward, 16-bit samples are still the norm.All of the sounds are well recorded and will integrate nicely intoboth live and studio applications.
FRONT AND CENTER
The Mo' Phatt's front panel houses a small LED screen, fiveknobs on the left side (a volume control and four real-timecontrollers), and eight buttons and a scrolling wheel on the rightside. The tiny screen is the Mo' Phatt's greatest limitation: youoften have to scroll through more than 20 pages to get to theparameter you're looking for when editing a sound. Fortunately,E-mu incorporated the Sound Navigator feature found on otherProteus units to help users become familiar with the sounds.
To get started, all you really need to look for is the bottomline of the LED. The Mo' Phatt's entire sound set is divided intocategories, which include bts (beats), gtr(guitars), and 15 other groupings. The “<” and“>” buttons located on the unit's upper right cornerlet you quickly navigate to a sound category, choose a sound, andthen scroll to the preset field to select an individual sound.
Once you have become familiar with the sounds, getting up andrunning with the Mo' Phatt is simple. The unit's real-timecontrollers, which are particularly helpful when used with theBeats Busy mode, are aimed primarily at DJs and stage musicians.Modifiable factory routings for these four controllers are laid outin three layers, access to which is gained using a button locatedon the Mo' Phatt's upper left side. A quick examination of thesilk-screened front panel reveals how these controllers are set upat the factory. By grabbing knobs when any of the three layers isselected, you can quickly alter frequency cutoff, frequencyresonance, and other common processing parameters.
The third real-time control layer, WILD 1-4, lets you modify thematerial being played either in Audition mode — in whichpreviously selected riffs containing up to 16 parts are played— or in Beats Busy mode. You can alter the number of parts aswell as their pitch.
I wanted to learn more about the WILD function, though, and whenI found that it wasn't covered in the printed GettingStarted manual that ships with the Mo' Phatt, I opened up thePDF version of the full manual. Unfortunately, I didn't find anyWILD listing in the index, and executing a search for this worddidn't lead me to an explanation of the functions that these knobsperform. I also came across some clumsy and misleadinginstructions, such as those dealing with the Master Arpeggiator.Step two (of four) clearly tells the user to advance the cursor tothe bottom line of the display and then, in step three, to scrollto the Master Arpeggiator page. In fact, you must leave the cursoron the top line of the display and advance 12 steps into the editprocess to access the Master Arpeggiator functions. I feel that ifyou're going to force a user to rely on a PDF manual, it had betterbe spot-on.
ARPEGGIO TO GO
Most of my misgivings about the manual vanished when I dug intothe Mo' Phatt's very cool arpeggiator functions. Each preset comeswith an associated arpeggiator, and you can have as many as 16arpeggiators playing in sync at one time. Some of the patterns areextremely complex and sound as if someone spent considerable timeand effort to program them. You can also create your own arpeggiosfrom scratch and store them as user presets. The arpeggiatortransmits notes through MIDI, making it easy to record theperformances in a sequencer and edit them to create your own customtracks. You can easily do the same thing with bass lines and othermaterial, including drum kit parts. This process is a greatcreative inspiration for getting out of those ruts we all get intofrom time to time. Working with the Mo' Phatt in this way lets youtap the talent of many excellent programmers and, in essence,collaborate with them.
Another plus: E-mu has programmed the Mo' Phatt so its triggeredbeats lock incredibly well with the arpeggio patterns. You can veryeasily take a handful of sounds and experiment with differentarpeggios until you find a blend that works. It's also possible tochoose a single arpeggio pattern as a master pattern and programthe other parts to follow it.
With 16 individual parts and 64-note polyphony, the Mo' Phattoffers excellent multitimbral possibilities for creating songs inthe studio. However, you will need to change some factory settingswhen you're using the unit as a multitimbral playback module. Ifyou don't change the Beats Channel and Trigger Channel to MIDIchannel 1 in the Arp/Beats screen, you might run into a problem.When you switch to another MIDI channel to look for a synth soundwhile a beat plays on channel 1, you'll lose the performance beingplayed on channel 1 because the device automatically defaults toplaying beats on the currently selected MIDI channel. (The manualcould have explained this more clearly.)
LIVE AT LAST
The Mo' Phatt's Latch feature, which ensures that any triggeredloop plays in time, makes it easy to play loops live. In Latch modeyou can assign several keys to turn individual loops on and off.Even if you trigger a loop too early, it will not play out of time— it waits until the next downbeat to begin playing the loopyou've selected. You can assign various drum and percussion loopsto the lower octaves of your keyboard, a bass patch in the middle,and a synth patch to the upper octaves, and you can triggerpatterns with a simple touch from your left hand between bass linenotes.
The Mo' Phatt's “patch cord” design, which isincorporated into all of E-mu's Proteus 2000-series modules, offersversatile programming capabilities similar to those of traditionalmodular analog signal routing where physical cords connectdifferent modules together. The Mo' Phatt's virtual patch-cordprogramming feature provides a greater range of sound-creationpossibilities than most users are ever likely to tap. You can usepatch cords to modify individual preset layers (up to four layersare available for each preset), to affect a complete patch, or tochange the way that beats and arpeggios are controlled.
For example, I wanted to assign the pitch wheel to control thetempo of a beat. To do this, I went into the Arps/Beats editor,scrolled to the Riff Tempo page, and instructed the Mo' Phatt touse the current tempo. I then entered the Master screen andscrolled to the Tempo Controller page, where I assigned Controller1 to the pitch wheel. This connection ensured that the pitch wheelwould modulate the Tempo Controller, which was being keyed from thecurrent tempo. At that point, I simply needed to make sure that Iset the MIDI channel on my keyboard to the same channel as thebeats pattern.
PHATT IS PHAT
My only real gripe with the Mo' Phatt is its incompletedocumentation. There are no tutorials to take users through editingprocedures. If you really want to explore the exciting potentialexisting within this box beyond using it as a sound source orarpeggiator, you're on your own. But even at its most basic level,the Mo' Phatt is still a powerful creative tool. Loaded with tonsof useful, inventive sounds for hip-hop and R&B, the Mo' Phattwill keep your music-making juices flowing for a long time.
Gary Eskow is a New Jersey-based composer and producer.He is currently working on an album of smooth jazz with altosaxophone player Baron Raymonde.
E-MU Mo' Phatt Urban Dance Synth
PROS: Extensive sound library. Hundreds of riffs andpatterns. Powerful real-time controls and flexible multitimbralcapabilities.
CONS: Sketchy, incomplete manual.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4