Reviewed by: Matt
by: Harmonix Music Systems, Inc., go to the web site
200MMX CPU or higher, 32MB RAM, Joystick, 16-bit sound card,
60MB free hard drive space
- US$29.95 (depending on which music collection
(Ed Note: Reviewed in 2000)
Music Systems, Inc., maker of The Axe, is a relatively
new company and boasts diverse investors such as Acer Group
and Softbank. In January 1999, Harmonix founded the Mentoring
Musician Program to support the efforts of The Mr. Holland's
Opus Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to
promoting instrumental music in schools throughout the
U.S. The goal of the Mentoring Musician Program is to use
the personal experiences of well-known musicians to inspire
children to study music. There are 15 well-known artists
in the mentoring program at this time, with more coming
on board all the time including everyone from Motley Crue
and Meredith Brooks, to the delightful Squirrel Nut Zippers
and DJ Spooky. Harmonix's The Axe software is an intricately
designed music program that provides hours of musical creation.
The Axe allows you to choose different songs from an Axe
CD, and improvise (jam) along with your choice of lead
instruments. This program concept is extremely creative,
and truly an innovation in today's digital music industry.
The Axe is a new approach to creating (or perhaps just
rearranging?) existing recorded music. As well as a great
selection of popular music, The Axe includes interactive
music videos (IMVs) which feature animated clay characters.
There are currently seven characters available and like today's
recording artists, each of them has a unique musical style.
To jam with the animated clay musicians, users can chose
from 8 lead instruments: electric guitar, jazz guitar, piano,
Fender Rhodes(R) piano, saxophone, synthesizer, trumpet,
and scat voice. While playing, the expressive clay characters
take on a life of their own and add an engaging dimension
to the IMVs.
As The Axe was installing, I reviewed the system requirements
and found them to be a bit strange. They were actually quite
high; not what I had expected for what I assumed was a very
basic music play-along program. I was in for a surprise as
it turned out. Delving into the excellent user interface
was easy and fast, and it took only a few moments to choose
an instrument (I chose the piano), and a favorite song. As
the first song played, I pressed different buttons on the
joystick and keyboard and heard notes, chords, cadenzas,
arpeggios, and even special effects typical of the piano.
The first thing I noticed about music produced by The Axe
was its incredible intricacy. What button I pushed at what
time made no difference. The music was constantly flowing
and any instrument I was playing never seemed to hit a wrong
note. Harmonix seems to have put thousands of hours of work
into finding or creating every single riff combination, chord,
and trick, putting it all together to create incredibly catchy
tunes every time you play. Because of the great variety of
different things you can do with the different instruments,
the combinations are almost limitless. The sound of each
instrument is very accurate, and each note flows together
with the next as it would in the hands of professional musicians.
The greatest thing about using The Axe however, is that
you don't need to be a trained professional at all. You don't
even need rudimentary music training. All you have to be
able to do is keep the rhythm (and most of the time, the
computer does it for you). The interface is smooth with no
visible glitches, and all of the options are clearly labeled
and easy to access. There are tutorials available for every
single instrument. The tutorials show you the ins and outs
of using each instrument. The multi-player mode is even more
detailed, as it allows two people to play together using
the mouse and joystick simultaneously. Two players can pick
any combination of instruments they wish and then play together.
There is an option to save what you have created, and play
it back later.
There is also an option to change the template on which
you play. My personal favorite is the clay musicians template,
in which there are different clay people on stage that play
the instrument you've picked. The different characters are
very well done, not overly cliched, and add flair and fun
to the program.
All in all, The Axe is a fabulous music program for anyone
with a passion for music, whether you are a hard core listener,
or a passing music fan. The Axe is easy to use, fun to play,
exciting for kids and adults, and produces a lot of terrific
music. Harmonix sells several CDs which include everything
from classic rock to classical music. The Axe is a different
sort of interactive entertainment and it's highly recommended.
Cons: Harmonix would do well to add more music collections
to its current line-up. Control over the instrument you've
chosen is limited by poor quality joysticks, so you'll have
to pick up something better than a ten dollar cheapie.
There are lots different templates supplied, including
amoeba blobs and exploding silver balls. You only need
install The Axe once. All of the music on the other Axe CDs
can be accessed by simply putting the new CD in your drive.
All in all, The Axe is a wonderful music program.
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