Mercury-1's all-too-brief user manual leaves plenty tothe imagination, but maybe that's exactly what TC Works intended.The software's virtual front panel (which begs comparison to theRoland SH-1's) is loaded with enough sliders, buttons, and knobs— 41, but who's counting? — to turn even first-timesynth tweakers into satisfied patch programmers. Even thetweak-phobic will find it easy and fun to dial up and play thebass, lead, percussion, and space-sound presets provided with thisdual-oscillator, monophonic, analog-modeled synth.
Mercury-1 works on both Macs and PCs (minimumrequirements, respectively: G3, 64 MB of RAM, and Mac OS 8.6;Pentium II, 64 MB of RAM, and Windows 95 or NT) and provides thesame basic analog building blocks that countless vintage monophonicsynths have used over the years. If you can't get what you want outof its two synchable oscillators, filter section with cutoff andresonance, two ADSR envelopes, synchable LFO, portamento, and pairof kick-ass pitch-bend and mod wheels, maybe you should try origamias a hobby instead.
Once you're past Mercury-1's mandatory registration andchallenge-response process, you can access the plug-in from withinthe VST instruments panel. When you select the plug-in, it pops upwith its all-business dark gray front panel, large verticalsliders, and compact three-octave keyboard and pitch-mod wheels.Moving the faders and adjusting the four silver waveform-selectorknobs is easy on a 17-inch monitor. Mercury-1's handyfile-tab interface along the display's top edge provides access tothe synth's four multitimbral parts. Simple controls make it abreeze to audition, mute, solo, transpose, and pan parts on fourMIDI channels or stack all four on one channel for some of thethickest synth tones around — especially wild for bass lines.Triggering each of the latter voices according to velocity and/orkey range is easy, too — so much so that you couldmomentarily forget that Mercury-1 is actuallymonophonic.
Mercury-1's patch list provides many noteworthypresets. If you're checking out the 21-day demo version, gostraight to SQ Filterl, a snappy one-finger sequence generator; thewicked drum machine patches like Dr. C Kik 2; and thebowel-massaging, inappropriately titled Subtle Sub, which produceslow-end rumbles I didn't know my small monitors were capable ofreproducing.
Even though Mercury-1 is monophonic, it allows you todedicate four plug-ins to four MIDI channels to play a multitimbralbass line; an electro kick, snare, or tom; and a Moogish lead lineall at once. Mercury-1 provides a great foundation forcreating your own songs — use it along with a polyphonicvirtual synthesizer and you'll have everything you need to makefull and rich-sounding tracks.
Whether you're a seasoned synth nut or just getting intosynthesis for the first time, Mercury-1 provides aknockout sonic punch that uses the same essential synth buildingblocks that taught and inspired the likes of Joe Zawinul, RickWakeman, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, and the Orb.
Randy Alberts is a musician, writer, and audio engineerexploring music and recording technology in his studio in Pacifica,California.
TC WORKS Mercury-1
PROS: Killer bass, lead synth, and sci-fi sounds.Ability to stack up to four synths. Very easy to use.
CONS: Monophonic. Manual lacks details. No bonus soundlibraries included.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3.5