Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 165 / JUNE 1994 / PAGE 76

Rock rap 'n roll. (Multimedia PC)(music software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May

One of the most interesting aspects of new technology is its elimination of the learning curve. Why toil through the basics of any subject or skill when the computer can simulate it for you? Armed with today's powerful creativity software, almost anyone can become an instant artist, architect, publisher, or video director.

A prime example of instantaneous creativity is Rock Rap 'N Roll, Paramount Interactive's award-winning multimedia music studio, now available for Windows. You don't have to know a chorus from a coda to arrange and record your own original tunes with this delightful, instantly accessible program. The only requirements are an ear for music and the desire to explore your sonic sensibilities.

This is essentially the multimedia equivalent of a custom-designed, digital sampling synthesizer. A key difference is that all the samples--hundreds of them, from guitar licks and drumrolls to vocal bursts and rhythm tracks--are prerecorded and at your disposal. If you can click the mouse button and press a key, you'll soon be jamming up a storm, regardless of your musical background. It's the ultimate instrument for those who love music but can't play a note.

The program is divided into ten musical styles, or studios: Africa, Big Band, Blues, Latin, Rap, Reggae, Rock, Soul, Street Jazz, and Techno Pop. Each studio contains its own library of unique instruments, vocals, and sound effects. Africa, for example, features a host of native percussion instruments such as steel drums, the shofar horn, and the unmistakable Winky Wanger. In the Big Band studio, choose from a wide selection of scat vocals, baritone and alto saxophones, and various muted horns. Some sampled sounds are of questionable merit, like the barrage of nonsensical blurbs in Techno Pop and the use of automatic gunfire and police radios as rap instruments. Overall, however, the designers address the diverse musical needs of each style very well.

Sound snippets are stored in Windows WAV format and recorded as monaural 8-bit, but they're sampled at a higher rate of 22050 Hz for maximum clarity. When you select a musical style, the computer loads that studio's entire sound library into memory. Because of this, you'll need at least 4MB of RAM, with 6MB or 8MB highly recommended. The advantage of this technique is that it gives you the ability to play, mix, and record sounds in realtime, unhampered by drive access.

The basic structure and graphical interface are identical for all the studios. Each contains a bank of ten unique song loops--prerecorded background tracks of various length and instrumental depth. Use these to form the basis for your musical excursions. Simply drag and drop the tokens representing each song loop into the sequencer, called the Song-A-Lizer. As many as ten loops can be used at one time, in any order, and repeated as often as you like. Click on the Start button, and custom background tracks play as a single loop, with seamless transitions between sections.

When you're ready to get into the groove, choose from one of five methods of musical interaction. At the center of the screen are two of the program's most dynamic components, called Mouse Kickers: the Vibe-A-Tron and Bop-O-Rama. Sounds are manipulated by holding the mouse button and scratching the surface at various speeds, as with the finger pads on some MIDI keyboards. Pull-down menus let you assign virtually any sound to each pad. Next to the Mouse Kickers is the Voc-A-Lizer, a push-button bank of eight sampled vocals guaranteed to enliven any song.

The program's main library of sampled instruments, sound effects, and vocals is accessed through the keyboard. The top two rows--the numbers row and QWERTY row--each contain only 1 sound, arranged in 12 variations of pitch. Depending on the sound selected from a pop-up menu, you can achieve some fascinating sound distortions. The bottom two rows of the keyboard contain the remaining 21 present sounds. Simply press a key to instantly hear its assigned sound. A popup keymap helps you see what you're playing.

Most people will find that not all of the included musical styles are equally suited to random, impromptu jamming. The best are undoubtedly Africa, Soul, Big Band, and Street Jazz. The Rock, Latin, and Techno Pop styles tend to produce odd combinations of tempos and ill-fitting instrumental solos. You may aspire for Kenny G and sound like Eric Dolphy, but don't worry about it. That's the challenge and reward of Rock Rap 'N Roll's remarkable musical world, where there are no wrong notes or twisted chords--only your imagination running wild.

Paramount Interactive (415) 812-8200 $69.95