I have to be honest with myself sometimes and assume that I will never own a Fairchild 660. Or a matched pair of vintage U 67s. My consoles will never sound like a TG 12345, nor will my room sound like Abbey Road Studio Two. I'm comfortable with that for all of the obvious reasons. Just as comfortable as I am telling a drummer that he will never in his or her lifetime sound anything remotely like Ringo in my studio or any other. (Actually, I guess I'm kinda lucky; I've never had to be that blunt.)
However, there's that Recording The Beatles tome (Tape Op #56)-referred to as "The Bible" in these parts-sitting there near the studio couch, taunting me with details and diagrams and lab-coated inspiration. Now, Ken Scott I am not, but my love of the Beatles and their recordings often leads me to chase the REDD rabbit down the studio-hole, so to speak.
Here's a pair of software instruments utilizing the same kind of period instruments and rare recording equipment the Beatles used to create their music. Set aside the temptation to dismiss such upstarts as blasphemers; think of these two as fun tools to help us catch up to the rabbit a bit. Or something like that.
First up is the Abbey Road Keyboards ReFill for Reason; of the two, it's the only official collaboration with Abbey Road. Packaged in an absolutely gorgeous box with a 40-page full-
color booklet, which is not only a guide to the software but a history lesson of sorts on the original instruments and the studio technology used to record them at Abbey Road. This ReFill claims (in a not-entirely-inaccurate, but nonetheless cheeky way) to be "Abbey Road in a box". The concept behind its creation is deceptively simple. Book a session at Abbey Road Studio Two, record the original Beatles-era instruments using the original mics, preamps, and outboard gear from the '60s and '70s sessions; then stuff it all into your Reason rack. This is a multi-sample, multi-mic ReFill, and it's pretty clear from browsing the samples and patches that an obsessive level of care was taken to faithfully reproduce these famous keyboard sounds. All of the sample sets are presented in both 16 and 24-bit versions, so you can choose the amount of CPU pain you wish to inflict upon your system. And having simultaneous near and far mic setups means you are able to dial in as much (or as little) of the amazing Studio Two ambience as you'd like.
You get sample sets of the Steinway Upright, also called "Mrs. Mills" (fancy a bit of "Lady Madonna"?); the Challen piano; the Hammond RT-3 drawbar organ run through a Leslie 122; the Mannborg Harmonium pump organ; the Schiedmayer Celeste; a Mellotron M400 (flutes, cellos and combi sounds); and Tubular Bells. In addition to the multi-mic samples, the instruments were also captured running through Abbey Road's Echo Chamber Two for additional "classic" ambience.
Every one of these instruments sounds amazing, and with the proper keyboard controller, they can sound really expressive. I became particularly fond of the Celeste and Tubular Bell sounds after discovering that these traditionally malleted instruments sound surprisingly natural when played via my MIDI-fied fat fingers. And the sustain of each of these instruments (particularly the pianos and bells) is just ridiculous (in a good way)!
If I had any hesitation about the Abbey Roads Keyboards ReFill, it would only be because it's, well, a ReFill. I love Reason-it's fun, intuitive and easy to use-but it would be great to have the option of using these samples with other software samplers. Piping Reason into a DAW via ReWire is relatively easy, but it's an additional CPU burden (especially within Pro Tools). Having said that, this really wasn't a deal-breaker for me; my tests on both Intel and PowerPC-based Mac systems never bogged down for lack of available CPU. And the quality of the samples (plus the ease of use within Reason) greatly outweighs any minor ReWire inconvenience.
Next is Fab Four, a fun and versatile virtual instrument inspired by the Beatles' oeuvre. EASTWEST's literature claims that "well over a million dollars" worth of instruments, amplifiers, microphones, consoles, outboard gear, and Studer J37 tube multitracks were used to produce Fab Four. Also note that the entire project was produced by Doug Rogers and engineered by none other than Ken Scott! [See Behind the Gear in this issue, page 24]
The plug-in itself is Mac and Windows compatible (VST/AU/RTAS), and there's a standalone application. The installation is painless, although sizable-a whopping 13 GB of sounds! Authorization is via iLok. CPU load is manageable, but I would seriously recommend at least a fast Core Duo system and over 2 GB of RAM.
The interface is fun and simple and reminiscent of some of the latest software from Digidesign's AIR division or IK Multimedia; the emphasis here is on immediacy and playability, with a simplified browser and easy access to effects and envelope features. MIDI implementation is a snap too, and my controller was recognized instantly. The
names of the included instrument presets are cheeky takes on the Beatles song titles, like "Ticket To Guitar" and "Yer Drums"-again, fun, simple, and intuitive; I'm into it.
The sounds of the various instruments are phenomenal and astoundingly deep, with a vast amount of effort put into realistic articulations. For instance, a single master guitar patch can offer chordal modes in major, minor, and diminished 5ths, 6ths, 7th, etc., and each of those can be played in either "long" or muted articulations. Add to that various performance elements like tremolo and sustain, and the end result is that you have the ability to play a convincing rhythm guitar part on a MIDI keyboard. Maybe I'm a bit behind the curve, but this was the first time I've even heard a realistic performance of what is essentially sampled electric guitar via MIDI. Weird and cool! The keys, bass, and drums sounds are also equally flexible. Each patch can be effected via the reverb, delay, or ADT (Artificial Double Tracking) sections of the Fab Four player. There is also a nice stereo spread feature; as all of the instruments were (faithfully) recorded in mono, this can be used to create a nice stereo image.
And yes, there is a "Screaming Girls" patch!
I had a blast incorporating these decidedly unique, vintage tones in otherwise modern recordings. I would recommend Fab Four to anyone (not just Beatles geeks like myself) looking for a fun and flexible virtual instrument. (Abbey Road Keyboards $229 MSRP, www.propellerheads.se; Fab Four $395 MSRP, www.soundsonline.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.