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11 March 2012

EASTWEST QUANTUM LEAP MINISTRY OF ROCK 2 | €355.81 ($399)

REVIEW
Much has been said of rock and/or roll. It ain’t noise pollution, God gave it to you - put it in the soul of everyone, in fact - and it’s deader than dead. That’s presumably why it now has a ministry. I digress. EastWest Quantum Leap’s Ministry of Rock 2 supplements the original MoR, 2008’s 20GB ROMpler release containing rocking sounds for hit-record and filmscore production.

This latest Ministry draws on a super-sized 57GB sample library which is shoved through a host of virtual signal processors using the power of the Play engine (we’ve encountered this technology before in last October’s MuzoBlog post on The Dark Side, although Play is now at a more robust v3.0.32).

EastWest Studio 1 has an 80-channel
8078 Neve console - nice
In essence, then, MoR2 is a virtual rock band targeted at composers bereft of drummer, bassist and guitarist. To help out such loners, Quantum Leap composer/producer Nick Phoenix, in league with EastWest founder/producer Doug Rogers and producer Rhys Moody, teamed up with some top rock musicians and, armed with nifty bits of kit, set about laying down what is a truly immense core library for an affordable ROMpler. But despite the gear and the talent shaking the walls of EastWest Studios, could the assembled feasibly arrive at a software instrument capable of emulating the grunt of a rock band in all its sweat and lather? Let us investigate.



MoR2 fits into EastWest Play’s VST/AU/RTAS plug-in architecture operating at 64-bit provided your OS and sequencing host is also 64-bit. So, a PC running Windows XP to 7 or Intellichipped, OS X’d Mac are catered for, while a 7,200rpm non-energy-saving drive is necessary for sample streaming. Actually, if you like all the technical nitty gritty, download the manual and dig in.

Hopping along to the percussion section, the collection comprises DW, Gretsch and Ludwig kits supplemented by six additional snares, all recorded with top-of-the-line gear in the 61,000ft³ EastWest Studio 1 (where Ol’ Blue Eyes recorded My Way, fact fans). Kit pieces were multi-sampled for dynamic variation and to avoid that 'orrible, artificial, machine-gun effect on rolls, while three mic configurations were used. The Close-miked, compressed example gives one the inkling that, if cranked, the Ludwig kit could yield something wonderfully Led Zeppy, circa the Physical Graffiti album. Have a listen...

Close mics

Close & room mics

Close & compressed room mics

From close-miking, through roomy to compressed in a room, the differences are pretty clear. MoR2’s percussion scores well on realism thanks to something called ‘Live technology’ - samples extracted from a live performance and triggered when playing fast, repeated notes - plus round-robin articulation. There’s nothing to stop you adding more ambience, provided your system is up to it, either via the built-in Convolution Reverb, which has tweakable resonance and filter rotaries, or with an insert in your DAW. Do bear in mind, however, that convolutors are resource-hungry beasts and MoR2's is no exception. There’s also a Drum Mixer by which to set up various levels of close+overhead, room and compressed room which offers impressive control when determining the right amount of ambience for the percussion performance. Here, in two parts, is a look at how to plumb MoR2’s drumming depths...





Impressive stuff. The care taken over capturing good, rock-kit hits seems to have paid dividends. Casual listeners would have difficulty distinguishing between a real drummer’s performance and what emanates from the Play engine, which is just as it should be. There’s a varied collection of percussion sounds, hammered out by Tal Bergman, sticksman for Billy Idol, LL Cool J, Rod Stewart and Terence Trent Darby, and you can select individual kit items to create custom kits to suit whatever is called for by the track’s arrangement.

Now for the much trickier aspect of strings. Electric bass and guitar players have a lot of control over how a note or chord is triggered and how it develops. There’s the pluck, the sustain and movement to the next note, all in the hands of the player. Hence there’s loads of scope for expression employing sometimes miniscule variations in finger and hand position. It’s tough to emulate using a keyboard controller, despite velocity variation, mod-wheel manipulation and aftertouch antics. Try this octet of demos to see if they encourage adequate, string-related suspension of disbelief...

Destructo

Lotus Mother

Area 51

Mountains From Water

Fear The Resurrection

Damned Soul

Let Me Go

Manic Boogie

There’s clever programming in that lot which serves the bass well, but then straightforward basslines are, arguably, easier to mimic synthetically. The bass instruments, including the freshly recorded Music Man Stingray five-string, along with remastered offerings culled from QL’s Hardcore Bass and XP products (including the essential Rickenbackr 4003) are played through different amps on left and right channels for tonal variation. And toneful they are, ranging from Höfner Violin woof, through Fender Jazz fretless slide to Gibson EB2 hollow-body bark. More complex basslines present a greater sequencing challenge, but this is the Ministry of Rock, in which a solid bass groove should take precedence over funk-oid, mid-range twiddling.

It’s in wizardly twiddly that MoR2 starts to gasp, however. The talents of axemeisters Shane Gibson, Greg Suran and Doug Rappaport have been brought to bear on class instruments and amplification, although their adventures are limited to providing notes and hits, not licks. Multiple techniques, including legato hammer-on and pull-off, sliding legato and more, were captured in order to present as broad a rock-orientated tone palette as possible. Keyswitches are available by which you can trigger the various playing techniques, as well as the necessary scrapes, boinks and groinks of an electric in full throat.

While wielding six- or seven-string, plus baritone, tone (see the manual for a full instrument list), your sequenced riffs may be enough to fool even a trained ear, provided you’ve not mentioned to the ear’s owner that it’s a sample-based sound-set. But the fluidity of fiddly lead lines do suffer a tad from keyboard-itis - the mechanistic phrasing typical of actuating what is, in reality, a row of buttons. More so than with drums and bass, you’ll have to be cunning as a hen in a fox-fur when programming lead lines. Guitarists may have an easier time of things because they know the modes of expression possible when finger meets string, meets pick, meets fret. Then again, they may as well play a real guitar and knock it off with the samples. Nevertheless, you’ve overdriven and clean tones from which to choose and, like the bass, there’s variation to be had from recordings made to the left and right stereo channels. Here’s a couple of videos that give an idea of the shenanigans in which you can indulge when working up both clean and heavy guitar parts...





By now, you’ll have an idea of whether MoR2 offers enough control to make firing the rest of the band feasible, or to hold off on hiring session players. With care, it’s possible to approach reasonably realistic guitar performances, but you’ll have to be hard on yourself when pouring effort into programming. Just a whiff of keyboardiness in a solo will give the whole game away. Bass and drums, however, should rock out in fine style as long as you stay true to the expression possible with the physical instruments and their players, ie, no your drummer is not allowed to use his or her forehead to keep the hi-hat going while rolling around the toms. And unless you’re scoring for a Billy Sheehan tribute act, lay off bottom-end pyrotechnics.

On price, EWQL has got Ministry of Rock 2 bang on the nail at just shy of £300 (bear in mind, however, that this title uses iLok 2 copy protection, so if you haven’t already got a hardware dongle, budget for another ~£35). The library is immense, which makes installation something of a caution, but the sound quality is top-dollar. There’s a fair bit of debate online as to the rockin’ realism possible with this title. Some argue that there’s no way software can adequately emulate a real band, while others reckon it’s perfectly adequate to the task. You’ve heard the demos and seen the videos, which should be enough to persuade you one way or the other.

The MuzoBlog view is that MoR2’s drums are certainly up to the job of providing rock and metal percussion performances, with sufficiently flexible miking to cater for hardcore headbangers. The basses are equally super, full of usable tone and character. For powerchord-driven pieces, the guitars do a fine job, especially when smudged a little with additional processing. A real guitarist would still be necessary in order to please the rock cognoscenti when lead lines are called for. But for working up demos or putting together soundtracks where visuals take the front seat, Ministry of Rock 2 has enough oomph to realise reasonably realistic guitar shreddies through sequencing smarts.