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! W E N

! W E N








December 2015 / CM224






Mixdowns VIDEO











Master this brilliant beatbox

Indie-electro in-studio sesh

Vintage vibes from plugins

From chart conqueror to Silicon Valley innovator

intro / computer music <

DOWNLOAD See page 5 to find out how to download this issue’s exclusive content



Wherever you see this icon, there’s downloadable content such as videos, software, samples and tutorial files. See the Contents on the next page to find out how to access our Vault download area. Tutorials featuring this icon make use of our own Plugins – find out all about them on p14.



This icon means there are extra files to help you follow a tutorial feature: project files, audio examples, etc.

There’s extra video content wherever you see this icon.


See and hear the latest software in action! Get the video on the Vault, or


Subscribe to Computer Music!

See p30

Where to get PRINt in stores and online

ZINIo for PC, Mac, Android, iPad & more

welcome As much as we’d all love to think otherwise, the vast majority of end listeners to your music are not going to be staring slack-jawed at the speakers in awe of your mastery of parallel sidechain routing or dynamic EQ trickery. No, your listeners want to be moved by your music, be it a pounding EDM track, a sweet R&B jam, a monstrous metal juggernaut or a classical workout. Great source sounds, a good frequency balance and solid dynamics are certainly important, and a catchy song goes without saying. But you can have all of that and your track may still seem somehow sterile, cold and – the ultimate diss for those chasing phat and juicy mixdowns – “digital”. Beats don’t groove as one. Sampled instruments sound fake and plastic. Key song moments fail to excite. And overall, the mix sounds clinical and flat rather than alive and organic. Issues like these can prevent your track connecting with the listener, and it can be incredibly difficult to know how to solve them unless you’ve got the voice of experience to guide you. Well, now you have, with Organic Mixdowns (p34), our deep guide to banishing frosty digital blues! Finally, production ace Paul ‘InsideInfo’ Bondy is taking a break from helming our regular Designer Sounds tutorial to work on his new album, but instead of leaving you hanging, revered DnB don Charlie ‘Break’ Bierman has stepped up to fill the void. Big up Break! Check out his first instalment on p76 and…

“Your listeners want to be moved by your music”




for iPad, iPhone & iPod touch

for Android & Chrome for PC/Mac

Lee du-Caine Editor



Producer masterclass

Mixdowns We’ve got the recipe for adding soul to sterile, digital mixes – find out how to bake fresh life into your tracks on p34

55 PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING Explore the production techniques at work behind their unique, vocal sample-based rock

Tutorial 59 OLD-SCHOOL SAMPLING Recreate the quirks and personalities of the world’s most cherished classic samplers


Tutorial 67 HOW TO USE MICROTONIC Learn to program Sonic Charge’s legendary drum synth like a pro





Interview 82 THOMAS DOLBY 78




4 / COMPUTER MUSIC / December 2015

Now back from Silicon Valley, this 80s innovator is still keeping in stride with today’s fast-paced music technology

DOWNLOAD This issue’s exclusive free content from Computer Music

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On your PC or Mac, go to, then either register for a new Vault account, or log in if you already have one.

Click ‘add a magazine’ in the top bar, select the issue you want to add to your Vault (eg, this issue is 224), and answer a few simple security questions.

Go to ‘my vault’ to see all your mags – click a cover and use the links to download! You can download as much or as little as you like.


BassAmp CM

Get phat, throbbing low-end with our simple-butoh-so-effective virtual amp plugin, over on p10


You’ll find over 900 samples filled with Eastern promise in this issue’s free pack. Read all about them and how to download on p12

Reviews 90











Tutorial videos

High-quality videos to guide you through our tutorials. Wherever you see the icon on the left, there’s a video version to watch See this issue’s entire video content on the next pages

Essentials 22












Tutorial files

A folder full of audio examples, synth patches and project files to help you follow our tutorials



CM Plugins

Our exclusive collection of free plugins for Mac and PC. See what’s available on p14

This digital content has been thoroughly scanned and tested at all stages of production, but as with all new software, we still recommend that you run a virus checker before use. We also recommend that you have an up-to-date backup of your hard drive before using the content. Future cannot accept responsibility for any disruption, damage and/or loss to your data or computer system that may occur while using this magazine’s programs and/or data. Consult your network administrator before installing any software on a networked computer. If you have problems using our Vault download system, please contact * Please note that the Producer Masterclass video is not available as a download. From

221 onwards, this video is available via a streaming link.

December 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 5


Ur, ium re cus as dipsapitibus in cus et facillesti di cus.

Get all these videos on PC/Mac at

ORGANIC MIXDOWNS Read the full article on p34

20 ways to add life and groove with our expert videos

1  Humanisation using DAW randomisation

2  Improving the realism of programmed piano parts

3  Using articulations via keyswitching

4  Layering guitar string noise samples for realism

5  Using round-robin sampling to avoid repetition

6  Subtle tempo changes to add drive and excitement

7  Extracting the tempo map from an audio recording

8  Avoiding clashes of live and programmed beats

10  Matching mistimed drums when layering

11  The effect of loop length on the overall groove

12  Automatically matching grooves with a groove map

13 Adding life and depth to synths with modulation

14  Virtual ‘re-amping’ with AudioEase Speakerphone 2

15  Re-amping a synth through a real room

16  Vinyl crackle and tape hiss for feel and vibe

17  Blending and mixing subtle ambience beds

18  Creating ambience, life and depth with reverb

19  Clocked vs. free-running delays

20  Adding life with an ambient wash of reverb

9  Advanced warping tactics for better results

6  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015


Get all these videos on PC/Mac at PRODUCER MASTERCLASS*

OLD-SCHOOL SAMPLING We’ll show you how to ape the style of classic sampling gear and techniques using software Read the full article on p59

PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING Buckle up for an out-of-this-world masterclass video, and see how their funky release Gagarin was made Read the full article on p55

1  Getting an SP1200-style sound in software

2  Mimicking SP1200style sampling technique

3  Fitting reversed sounds into a beat

4  Recreating the SP1200’s ‘jack filtering’ effect

5  Adding grit to a sinewave bass with saturation

6  Slicing beats in the classic jungle style

BASS AMP CM This month’s plugin giveaway will have your bass tracks thundering – hear how it sounds in this vid Read the full article on p10 * Please note that the Producer Masterclass video is not available as a download via our Vault. See page 56 for viewing instructions, or watch on Apple Newsstand via built-in internet streaming.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  7

video Grab this issue’s videos via Vault download – see p5 for details HOW TO USE

MICROTONIC Hop aboard our guided tour of Sonic Charge’s sequenced drum synth Read the full article on p67

1  The top bar: presets and MIDI modes

2  Using the Morph slider for patch transitions

3  The synth mixer and oscillator sections

4  Taking control of noise and velocity sensitivity

5  Checking out new Microtonic patches online

6  Sequence programming with the Pattern section

7  Global pattern options and transport controls

/experts EASY GUIDE








Employ these alternative scales over different chords in a progression

Get epic atmospheres by stacking multiple software instruments

Owen attempts to get a wild, untamed sound under dynamic control

Get them right when programming any beat or virtual drum kit

Read the full article on p74

Read Readthe thefull full article articleon onp76 pxx

8  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

Read the full article on p78

Read the full Read the full article on p80 article on pxx

>  download / audio assault bassamp cm

>Exclusive full software

Audio Assault

BassAmp CM

DOWNLOAD Get the plugin, the video and the Tutorial Files on PC/Mac at

It’s time to tune up, plug in and rock out as the Plugins amp room takes delivery of a completely exclusive bass guitar amp simulator Back in 212, we introduced the mighty GrindMachine CM, a behemoth of a guitar amp simulation crafted exclusively for Computer Music by skilled metalworkers Audio Assault. We’ve been thrashing its five roaring amp heads and ten punishing cabinets into oblivion ever since, but even with GrindMachine CM’s towering stacks blasting away at full bore, we still felt that some low-end reinforcement was needed. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Audio Assault have bailed us out

with the incredible new BassAmp CM plugin! This high-quality VST/ AU effect is totally unique to , and Audio Assault say it’s loosely modelled on a favourite Ampeg amp pumped through an Ampeg 4x10 cab. As aficionados know, when it comes to bass guitar tone, it doesn’t get much more classic, solid or reliable than Ampeg. The no-nonsense interface will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever used a guitar amp, and you also get two cab options (actually the same 4x10 cab but

with a different mic). And just as GrindMachine CM makes getting a mix-ready tone easy with useful inclusions like output filters, BassAmp CM has a Mix knob that lets you blend the dry, DI’ed input signal with the amped one – a classic bass mixing technique that normally requires parallel routing. While obviously ideal for bass guitar, there’s nothing stopping you pumping synths, drums, or whatever you like through the plugin – give it a shot any time you need heft, thump and attitude!

When you’re done laying down phat basslines, do yourself a favour and get on over to Audio Assault’s site. You can download wicked freebies; check out the full version of the Grind Machine guitar amp sim and its low-down cousin Bass Grinder; and peruse top-notch mixing plugins like Head Crusher, Multi Transient, XCTR (9/10, 221) and FreaQ. Until 4 February 2016, readers get 20% off any Audio Assault order with the code computermusic, so get on it!

CAB Choose from two simulated speaker cabinet setups

DEEP Engage to push the low end harder into the drive stage

POWER Flick this off to bypass the plugin

GAIN Crank it up for a more compressed, growling tone

EQ Dial in your bass tone with familiar amp-style controls

10  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

VOLUME Clean level adjustment of the plugin’s overall output

MIX Dial this back to blend in the dry signal for a classic DI/amp tone

audio assault bassamp cm / download  < > Step by step

Installing and using Audio Assault BassAmp CM




Installation is dead easy: run the BassAmpCM installer file and follow the instructions. To follow along with this tutorial, load up your DAW, set the tempo to 121bpm, load DiscoBacking.wav and DiscoBass.wav onto a stereo and a mono track respectively, and loop the whole lot. Set the Bass track to about -1dB in your DAW’s mixer – you can balance the level as you please later on.


The Deep toggle does what you’d expect – flick it on and hear how the low end is boosted into the drive stage, emphasising the lowest frequencies. This sounds too much in our particular mix, so switch it off again. On the far right of the interface you’ll find BassAmp CM’s cab selection switch – give it a flick to hear how the two cabs sound. We like Cab B for this track, so leave it on this setting.


The Volume knob controls BassAmp CM’s output level. Crank it right up to the top to bring our bass into line with the rest of the instruments. Round off the sound with saturation from Satson CM, then bring in some consistency with HoRNet Fat-FET – set its Threshold to -47, Ratio to 6:1, Attack to 0.8ms, and raise the Output gain slightly to give about the same loudness when bypassed.


Solo the Bass track so we can hear it in isolation. This is a bass part recorded directly into an audio interface with no effects or amplifier, commonly referred to as a DI (Direct Injection) track. A DI track can be very useful when mixing bass, as we’ll soon see, but for that fat low end and organic thickness, we really need to run it through a bass amp, so add BassAmp CM to its channel.


Gain pushes the incoming signal harder into BassAmp CM’s drive stage, adding harmonics to the tone – raise it gradually and hear how the bass becomes firmer and more textured as you near the top. If you want, you can use a simple gain plugin – such as MeldaProduction’s free MUtility – placed before BassAmp CM to push the input harder, for gritty distortion. For now, remove any gain plugins and leave BassAmp CM’s Gain at 6.


This tone fits great with the track, but we can give it a pokier tone by using the classic bass mixing technique of combining the raw, DI’ed tone – which you can hear by toggling the Power switch – with the amped tone. BassAmp CM has a Mix knob just for this purpose – set it to 6 or 7 for a good balance of amp warmth and DI pop. Use the Volume knob to rebalance the level if needed.


Right away we’ve got a rich, convincing amped bass guitar tone. On the far left of BassAmp CM’s interface you’ll find the Power switch, which simply bypasses the plugin. Now unsolo the track to hear how it sits in the mix. It sounds good already, but we need to get busy with the remaining controls to bring out the best in it.


The Bass, Middle and Treble knobs represent BassAmp CM’s tonestack, and this section is responsible for the bulk of the amp’s character. There’s no right or wrong here, so set them however works best for your song. The default settings make a good starting point for a solid upfront modern bass tone, but for a smoother sound that works with our disco groove, we set Bass to 5, Middle to 3 and Treble to 4.


In a new project, load MetalBass.wav and MetalBacking.wav. For the bass, dial in the same settings as the disco bass, but with Bass and Treble at 5.5 and 8. Duplicate this bass track, delete its plugins, and add GrindMachine CM with the HP and LP filters at 3 and 12 o’clock respectively. Now dial in the other controls to create a blend of clean and dirty bass tones that cuts right through the mix.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  11

>  download /  samples

Exclusive samples

Arabian Nights

DOWNLOAD Download the samples onto your PC/Mac at

Not quite 1001, but 900 samples to lay your tracks firmly on the desert sands 900 EXCLUSIVE SAMPLES 4 5 34 24 152 135 117 3

hand drum kits tambourine kits drum/percussion loops instrument loops percussion beats drum hits musical loops multisampled instruments

Come with us on a trip to the Near East, where there are princesses to be saved, carpets to be flown, and plenty of samples to be downloaded and used in your choons. This month’s pack is tinged with the flavour of the lands where civilisation began, and accordingly, we’ve managed to contract two professors of historical audio anthropology to create it: Groove Criminals’ Oli Bell and Cyclick’s Robbie Stamp. We gave ’em a grilling to find out how exactly the pack was made.

Groove Criminals Oli Bell walks us through how his side of the pack was created. “All the percussion loops were a mixture of live recordings and programmed samples. We have a huge collection of hand percussion here in the Groove Criminals headquarters, so the majority of the single hits used either came from our collection of previously recorded samples or were quickly

recorded in the simplest way – normally quite simple with a carefully placed condenser mic. “The udu and dumbek – traditional percussive instruments to fit the theme – were recorded live using a small-diaphragm condenser that needed a bit of placement juggling to get a nice balance of tone and depth, as well as that higher frequency slap and tickle. “To help with the percussion duties elsewhere, we also grabbed our trusty Korg Wavedrum, which is notorious for being a bit of a pig to program, so we generally kept to the preset sounds (both the natural and more exotic ones). We then got creative and used a combination of hands, mallets and sticks to play it. “The Wavedrum was also externally processed using hardware (including a spring reverb and various Eurorack modules) and software plugins. We had a bit of a ‘road to Damascus moment’ when we discovered that the Wavedrum’s a much more a traditional instrument than may first appear. This is both a great and not so great thing, depending on your hand-drumming skills! “All the metallics and gong samples were created using a mixture of synthesised and sampled sources. We used a lot of downpitching of real cymbals (crashes and rides) to get some of the gong textures going, as we unfortunately lack a four-foot orchestral gong here in the Groove Criminals studio! “Loops were created using a mixture of samples, software instruments and hardware. The flute, vox, bowls, thumb piano and tribal drum bass were all taken from one or more of the above sources and then heavily processed.”

Cyclick Robbie Stamp threw himself into creating this pack with full force, and he’s still trying to get the sand out of his shoes. And mouth. “In this collection, we’ve used Middle Eastern and North African rhythms and sounds to create a set of percussion and instrument loops that conjure up the requisite atmosphere. Without proficiency in traditional instruments of these areas, I created the loops with more familiar sources and treated them to give a more ‘Eastern’ tonality. “Having often heard this sort of music through recordings on film and from archives, the sound quality I was going for is distorted, 12  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

samples / download  <

Oli’s black belt in bong-fu came in useful on this assignment

Oli and Robbie’s broad range of gear was pressed into service to make this pack

peaky and warbled from old tape and film reels. I arrived at this kind of effect using the wow and flutter of tape simulator plugins along with some heavy EQ curves and various saturation and distortion sources. “Two drum and percussion kits were collated and processed to make two sets of basic loops, presented as mixes and individual instruments. The rhythm mixes were printed a second time through an amp simulation-focussed process for a more evocative sound. The rhythms are all 4/4 here, though this is not as standard a time signature in this context as it is in Western popular music – rhythms and phrases in 11/8, 19/4, 5/4, 9/8 and 17/8 are common, but I thought it’d be better to use some of the accenting found in these rhythms to keep them in 4/4. The two kits used are also included in hit form in the Drum n Perc Kit folder. “The instrument loops were started with phrases written and recorded on an old classical

acoustic guitar I have (I call it The Dog). As this music is unfamiliar to me, I spent some time playing along to a variety of Middle Eastern and North African pieces to pick up general phrasing ideas and scale and mode preferences. The most regularly used modal signature utilised here is the minor second (a semitone above the root) combined with a major third, minor sixth and minor seventh. The guitar phrases are included clean and in ‘bad tape’ format. Adapted sample-based instruments (including my own church harmonium patch) were then played to match the guitar phrases, which seems fitting as often this area of music seems heavily reliant on unison relationships.” Grab these exclusive samples on your PC/Mac at – see page 5 for more on how to download this and the rest of this issue’s videos, files and software.

Selected kit list Classical guitar Sennheiser MD441 mic Focusrite ISA 828 preamps Akai S01 Universal Audio UAD plugins Soundtoys Decapitator Korg Wavedrum Kush Audio Clariphonic DSP MkII Waves API 550/560 EQ Sonnox Oxford Inflator IK Multimedia AmpliTube 3 iZotope RX 3 Native Instruments Kontakt 5 Steinberg Nuendo 5.5 Antelope Audio Orion 32

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  13

> download /



INSTRUMENTS Our exclusive collection of instruments and effects is included with every issue of Computer Music – it’s got all you need to make great music now! The Plugins collection is a suite of complete, limitation-free instrument and effects plugins. It’s an incredible resource, boasting more than 50 pro-quality plugins that you won’t find anywhere else, all for PC and Mac, in VST and AU formats. All of the included software is created exclusively for us by respected commercial developers such as Ohm Force, KV331 Audio, u-he, Cableguys, AudioThing, XILS-lab, Vengeance-Sound, Rob Papen and zplane.

Where do I get Plugins? As a download from our Vault (see p5 for instructions on how to access). How do I install Plugins? You’ll find specific installation instructions for each plugin in the How To Install file in the CM Plugins folder. What do I need to use them? A PC or Mac and a music program

(aka DAW) to host them (ie, ‘plug in’ to). You need a DAW that can host VST or AU plugins, such as Ableton Live, Reaper, FL Studio (PC), Cubase, Sonar (PC), Logic (Mac) or Garageband (Mac). What happened to…! As of 209, many Plugins have been upgraded to include 64-bit compatibility. The few older Plugins that remain 32-bit-only – such as Amplifikation CM, Rhino CM and KR-Delay/KR-Reverb – are now included in the 32-bit only subfolders. These plugins require either a 32-bit host or a suitable ‘bit bridge’ (eg, jBridge) for use within a 64-bit DAW. Still got questions? See the full FAQ at

14 / COMPUTER MUSIC / December 2015

GGet all of these effects on your PC or Mac right now at



Cableguys Curve 2.5 CM • NEW filter modes + more for v2.5! • Design-your-own waveforms synth • Phat 16-voice Unison mode • Based on Cableguys Curve 2.5 • AU/VST/RTAS, 32-/64-bit

KV331 Audio SynthMaster CM • Dual wavescanning oscillators • Multimode filter and built-in effects • Customisable waveshaping distortion • FM/AM synthesis modes • Based on SynthMaster 2.5 • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

SAMPLERS Synapse Audio Dune CM • VA and wavetable oscillators • Powerful per-voice modulation • 12-slot modulation matrix • Based on the full version of Dune • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS What is Plugins? Is it just freeware from the internet? No, and neither are the plugins limited or ‘crippled’. It’s a set of virtual instruments and effects created by some of the best developers in the business just for us – you won’t find this set of plugins anywhere else!


Expert Sleepers XFadeLooper CM • Creative crossfade-looping sampler • Hard sync mode • Modulation • Saturation section • Flexible looping • Based on Crossfade Loop Synth v3 • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

u-he Zebra CM • Blendable oscillator waveforms • Super-programmable step LFOs • Slick delay, reverb and chorus/phaser • Original synth designed just for CM • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Loomer Cumulus

Enzyme CM • Scanned synthesis sound generation • Straightforward preset-based setup • Assign presets’ parameters to controls • Based on the full Enzyme synth • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Granular sampler • Scenes function for sequencing slices • Not based on an existing plugin • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit • RTAS/Standalone 32-bit

plugins / download <

plugins reloaded / make music now <

focus > CURVE 2 CM

We turn our attention to this versatile, inspiring synth, the latest Plugins family addition to the

DOWNLOAD Download Curve 2 CM, the videos and tutorial files at


Last issue saw the arrival of the incredible Curve 2 CM, a Computer Music-exclusive version of Cableguys’ amazing Curve 2 synthesiser. The synth is now part of the Plugins suite, an awesome collection of proquality instruments and effects that’s yours free with every issue of Computer Music. For those unfamiliar with previous versions of Curve, this synth is based around a powerful waveform editor that allows you to create your own custom oscillator and LFO waveforms with ease. This means you can fine-tune the harmonic content of your oscillators with aand great deal of satson… on… finesse, and even blur the lines between LFOsescaped and arpeggiators It can’t have your with unusually attention thatcomplex we’ve used the modulation The LFO Satson CMsequences. plugin on almost can be synced your DAW’s host a every track intoour tune. There’s tempo or set to run free with a rate good reason for this: It’s that can exceed 5kHz! awesome! Satson CM emulates Curve 2 CM now includes unison the sound of a hardware mixer detune capability with up to 16 channel and it’s designed to be voices, and it also replaces the placedvolume on every in your AHDSR andtrack modulation mix, to lend itsflexible subtleenvelopes signature envelopes with sound that useto, thewell, sameeverything. advanced It’s light on CPU andoscillators can make waveform editing as the pretty any track sound and LFO.much Even more importantly, warmer and more rounded. The rather than having a single wave, pluginbetween can alsothe help to smooth shaped two out the sometimes-harsh sound oscillators, Curve 2 now has three oscillator – one for each of digitalwaveforms synths. Driven harder, oscillator plus an provide extra waveform Satson CM can some for oscillator 1 that can besounding balanced authentically vintage with the main waveform using distortion effects. Theby gentle the modulatable Crossfade highand low-cut filters give us a parameter. cool quick andAnother easy way ofnew thinning feature is the lows introduction of macro out muddy or rolling off knobs canand be assigned tinny that highs, you can to switch control multiple parameters

off the drive function if you just want to use it for the filters. For a

“You fine-tune the closercan look at Satson CM take a look at our YouTube video at harmonic content of your oscillators with a great dealby of finesse” > Step step

> Step by step

11. Piano and vintage synth sounds




We’ve got almost all the musical ideas we need to create a full tune, but we need to spice it up with extras and ‘ear candy’. First, let’s process a piano patch so that it sounds a bit like it’s been sampled from an older tune. We start by loading a MIDI track panned 9R with a patch from the Keys»Gran Piano preset in Alchemy Player CM.

We EQ the piano in quite a distinctive way in IIEQPro, using the curve shown here, cutting off the low frequencies and adding a big boost at around 8kHz, for a thinned out, vintage kind of sound. The piano sound is finished off by Satson CM, with the Gain increased to +4 and High Pass set at 400Hz to lose even more low end.



We play some chords into the track (Piano.mid) and copy some over from the strings track. The piano sound is quite short, so we raise the Release to 70%, to lengthen it, making it more suitable for our track. We also turn the Delay Mix to 0 to knock out off the inbuilt echo effect.

Next, a vintage synth lead line (Glide.mid) from PolyKBII CM, which boasts some truly great analogue-style sounds. We choose Lead»All»LD Soaring Glider JRM and play in a melody line using the pitchbend wheel to add interest (Glider.mid). We add Satson CM with -3 Gain, 750Hz High Pass and 16kHz Low Pass, enabling the tighter 12dB/oct mode.

12. risers and effects with alchemy Player CM

simultaneously. As well as these new capabilities, Curve 2 CM includes all of the original Curve CM’s goodies, including dual multimode filters, frequency modulation and independent glide times for each oscillator. In this Focus, we’re going to take a look at how you can get the most from Curve 2 CM’s filters, LFO, unison detune and FM functionality. Make sure you check out the included videos, and VIDEOyou can get all the remember TUTORIAL patches we create in the Tutorial Files folder. Curve 2 CM can be found in the We’re Plugins folder, going to need a few one-shot along with a selection of other percussion FX to sprinkle throughout stunning instruments and effects. the track, and a really simple way to create Get it installed and we’re them is to loadoff! Alchemy Player CM on a new track and select the Drums»Four Way Drum Morph preset. Add KR-DelayCM set to PingPong mode and 1/4 beat Sync Delay time. A Feedback and Dry/Wet level of 40% is perfect.



We take the easy option for the reverb, using ReverberateCM’s Cathedral preset, with the Dry/Wet at 10dB Wet to create some big, splashy hits and crashes. An instance of Satson CM set to 400Hz on the High Pass dial removes some of the more boomy elements, which could conflict with the kick drum and bass.


There’s a good white noise riser sound in Alchemy Player: Sound Effects»Breakdown Booom. This patch uses four different layers, so we use the X/Y 1 matrix to manipulate it. Dragging the control to the top right of the panel means that only the white noise sweep layer of the sample is played. In the track, we can use volume and pan automation to add interest.

December 2012 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 47

! W E N CM Plugins TuTorial Bank To help you get the most out of our immense plugin collection, we’ve assembled the Plugins Tutorial Bank, containing over 100 guides and tutorials for our Plugins, specially selected from past issues. You’ll find Getting Started PDFs and videos for most of the individual plugins, along

with tutorial PDFs and videos on using Plugins for sound design, mixing, and even creating entire tracks. You’ll find all of this as a handy download in our Vault – go grab it now and start getting more out of your plugins!



DopeVST Beat Machine CM LinPlug Alpha CM

DopeVST Bass Engine CM

• 50 ready-mixed, royalty-free kits • Kick, Snare, Hi-hat and Misc parts • Level, Pan, Pitch and Reverb controls • 50 MIDI beats included • Based on the full Beat Machine • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• 45 authentic hip-hop bass patches • Three eras of faux-sampled material • Envelope and note controls • 50 MIDI riffs included • Based on the full Bass Engine • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Dual oscillators with blendable waves • Easy operation • Modulation matrix • Slick chorus effect • Polyphonic glide • Based on the commercial Alpha synth • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit


Rob Papen RG-Muted CM • Creates realistic funky guitar grooves • Onboard sequencer • Effects and modulation options • Based on Rob Papen RG • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

XILS-lab PolyKB II CM • Models the ultra-rare PolyKobol synth • Packed with mix-ready preset variants • Knobs assignable to main parameters • Based on XILS-lab’s PolyKB II • AU/VST/RTAS, 32-/64-bit

AudioRealism ADM CM • Old-school-style drum machine • Emulates Roland’s legendary TR-606 • Also contains custom samples • Based on the full ADM • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Madrona Labs Aalto CM • Unique and powerful monosynth • Unusual oscillators with FM • Waveguide delay section • Intuitively patchable modulation • Onboard reverb • Step sequencing • Based on the full Aalto synth • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

XILS-lab XILS 3 CM • Modelled on the EMS VCS 3 modular • Authentic oscillators, spring reverb and ring mod circuits of the original • Added chorus and delay effects • Pin matrices to ‘patch’ the signal flow • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

AudioThing miniBit CM

Kirnu Cream CM • Master arpeggios with this MIDI tool • Get more out of plugin instruments by controlling them with Cream CM! • Program and store complex patterns • Musical controls for rhythm and notes • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• 15-waveform chiptune synth • Envelope and LFO modulation • Bitcrusher and sample rate reducer • Based on the full miniBit synth • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Camel Audio Alchemy Player CM

brunsandspork Grooove CM • Innovative drum instrument • Load in two samples per sound and choose how they respond to velocity • 50 built-in Micro Kits to play • Based on the full Grooove • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• 200 awesome ready-to-play patches • Loads SFZ patches – often included in our own sample collections! • Based on the full Alchemy synth • AU/VST/RTAS, 32-/64-bit

zplane vielklang 2 CM • Pitch-correct and retune audio • Harmonise melodies with ease • Level and pan harmony voices • Algorithms by the experts at zplane • Based on vielklang 2 Instant Harmony • AU/VST/AAX, 32-/64-bit

Eisenberg Einklang CM • Morph between a trio of oscillators • Envelope and timbre controls • Modulate tone with the LFO • Based on the full Einklang synth • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

December 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 15

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DOWNLOAD GGet all of these effects on your PC or Mac right now at


Ohm Force Ohmygod! DDMF CM EQ Pack


• Two superb equalisers • IIEQ Pro CM: 19 filter types • LP10 CM: Linear phase mastering EQ • Based on commercial DDMF plugins • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

G8 CM This advanced gate plugin from Unfiltered Audio can do things to your signals that you didn’t even realised you needed to! Set up envelope and Reduction controls, check out their effects via the intuitive display, dial in Lookahead and Hysteresis, make use of input and output MIDI signals, and more.

16 / COMPUTER MUSIC / December 2015

• Resonant comb filter • Distortion section • LFO with sync • Output filter • AU/VST/RTAS, 32-/64-bit

OverTone DSP Program EQ CM

eaReackon CM-EQUA 87 • Smooth three-band EQ • Adjustable low-cut filter • Switchable high/low shelves • Analyser, EQ tips, limiter and more • Based on eaReckon’s PR-EQUA 87 • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Pultec-style vintage EQ emulation • Dual bass boost/attenuate controls; high-mid boost; high shelf cut • Tube amplifier circuit-only option • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

AudioThing ValveFilter CM

Vengeance Sound Philta CM • Dual high- and low-pass filters • Four slope settings: 12/24/48/96dB • Resonance and width controls • Link function and notch mode • Based on Vengeance’s Philta XL • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Gorgeous filtering and drive • Low-pass filter circuit emulation • Vintage valve saturation section • Based on Valve Filter VF-1 • Settings randomiser and metering • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

plugins / download <




Blue Cat Audio FreqAnalyst CM

Unfiltered Audio G8 CM ToneBoosters Barricade CM • Intelligent mastering-grade limiter • Dynamic response controls • Stereo options and versatile metering • Based on the full Barricade • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Get tight dynamics or creative effects • Includes advanced gating controls • Real-time waveform display • Use MIDI as a trigger or output • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Subsonic Labs Wolfram CM • Pitchshifting, distortion, phaseshifting, panning, delay and filter • Flexible modulation • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Pro-quality, feature-packed analyser • Numerous customisation options • Based on Blue Cat’s full FreqAnalyst • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit • RTAS 32-bit

HoRNet Fat-FET

SKnote Snap • Boost or tame transient brightness • Brighten or dull a sound’s sustain • Uses two intelligently linked filters • Not based on any existing plugin • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• FET-style compressor • Similar to classic 1176LN Peak Limiter • Ultra-fast attack as low as 0.02ms. • Based on HoRNet MultiComp • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Inear Display Eurydice CM

Photosounder Spiral CM

• Buffer override/repeat, delay, bitcrusher and filter with modulation • Custom signal routing • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Musical, note-based spectral analysis • Useful for figuring out notes in audio • Based on the full Spiral plugin • AU/VST/AAX, 32-/64-bit

OTHER HoRNet DrumShaper

eaReckon CM-COMP 87 • Slick, punchy compressor • Mix knob for parallel compression • Limiter to keep the output in check • Clear VU- and LED-style metering • Based on eaReckon’s SD-COMP 87 • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Instant EQ & compression for drums • Dial in effect amount and in/out gain • 7 algorithms for kick, snare, loops, etc • Based on HoRNet TrackShaper • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Joey Sturgis Tones & Boz Digital Labs SideWidener

audioD3CK SunRuys CM

LVC-Audio Transector CM • Transient tweaking and saturation • Define and process envelope stages • Useful metering/display functions • Mix control for parallel processing • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Vengeance-Sound Scope

• Characterful bus compressor • Dry/wet mix and blend controls • Advanced options for serial tweakers • Based on the full SunRuys plugin • AU/VST/RTAS/AAX, 32-/64-bit

• Spectrum view for frequency analysis • Oscilloscope for waveform monitoring • Stereo phase and level metering • Tons of advanced analysis options • AU/VST/AAX, 32-/64-bit

• Add stereo width to mono sounds! • Signal retains mono compatibility • Goniometer for stereo visualisation • 3 widening modes, plus Width & Tone • AU/VST/AAX/RTAS, 32-/64-bit

Nyrv Agent CM • Create custom effects chains • Host your VST/AU plugins • Design your own interface • Based on the full Agent plugin • AU/VST/AAX, 32-/64-bit

December 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 17

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DOWNLOAD GGet all of these effects on your PC or Mac right now at




Cableguys Waveshaper CM • Graphically editable distortion curves • Design curves by dragging nodes • Syncable input vs output oscilloscope • Not based on an existing plugin • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit



Audio Assault GrindMachine CM

LiquidSonics Reverberate CM

• Five amp and ten cab emulations • Three-band EQ plus depth and presence • Djentbox for tightening low tunings • Based on the full GrindMachine • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Convolution reverb • A selection of real-world presets • Import your own impulse response • Based on the full Reverberate plugin • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Audiffex STA Enhancer CM • New for v1.5: CPU optimised, tube mode soft switch, new interface • Valve-style signal exciter/enhancer • Separate low/high enhancement • Choose from five tube circuitry modes • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Acon Digital CM Verb Sonimus Satson CM • Classic mixer channel emulation • Subtle warming saturation • Gentle, musical high/low filters • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

• Simple-but-versatile operation • Five modes: hall, plate, studio, etc • Built-in high- and low-pass filters • Based on Acon Digital’s Verberate • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Kuassa PreMix CM • Subtle saturation to screaming drive • Three-band Baxandall sweetening EQ • A/B comparison function • Not based on an existing plugin • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Rop Papen RP-Distort CM • Five crunchy distortion algorithms • EQ, dynamics, widener + modulation • Filter and parallel processing controls • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

VIDEO GUIDES Lindell Plugins 6X-500 CM • Classic preamp emulation with EQ • High and low boosts for musical tone • Modelled on Lindell’s 6X-500 hardware preamp/EQ • Based on the full 6X-500 and ChannelX plugin • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

Tek’it Audio CrossDr CM • Three independent bands of drive • Drive, Warp, Crush and Clip signals • Per-band Balance and Level • AU/VST, 32-/64-bit

18 / COMPUTER MUSIC / December 2015

Our Plugins Getting Started videos are also on YouTube. Head to the below address to check them out:

>  news

New releases • commeNt • iNdustry happeNiNgs

Akai MPC Touch The legendary groovebox is back, and now it’s got a touchscreen Akai’s original MPC60 made a huge impression on the world of sampling and music-making in general when it was released in 1988, and Akai have since kept the flag flying for their complete ‘Music Production Center’ (originally ‘MIDI Production Center’) with numerous updates over the years. The last major version, the MPC Renaissance, which has been Akai Professional’s flagship since its release in 2012, was the first MPC to operate its software component completely within the user’s Mac or PC rather than the MPC itself, proving that the much-loved company can certainly maintain their relevance in these computer-dominated times when they actually put their minds to it. Now, three years on, the latest version of the MPC, the MPC Touch, is upon us, furnished with multitouch technology that allows musicians and producers to reach out and manipulate parameters directly on its 7-inch display. Specifically, the touchscreen is used for browsing samples, tweaking waveforms, editing MIDI parts, sequencing, mixing and controlling effects. The MPC hasn’t gone completely touch crazy, however – key operations such as transport control remain accessible via buttons below the screen, and you get four knobs for performance control, plus the 16 velocity-sensitive pads that you’d expect on any MPC, now gloriously RGB backlit for

The MPC Touch’s touchscreen brings a whole new level of interactivity to Akai’s legendary platform

colourful customisation. On the back of the unit are USB and MIDI connections, and you can tether the Touch to your computer to pair it up with the powerful MPC Software, which comes complete with thousands of sounds from an array of soundware developers. As well as all that, a 2-in/2-out audio interface is baked into the unit. Beyond being generally handy, this enables you to

take advantage of the onboard Phrase Looper to capture sounds and turn them into loops on the fly, adding a nice extra edge to live performance. The MPC Touch will be available from November, with an expected price tag of £500. Incidentally, MPC fans won’t want to miss our Old-School Sampling feature, which kicks off on p59. READ MORE

Soundtoys 5 the latest version of soundtoys’ acclaimed plugin bundle sees the edition of little alterBoy and primaltap. the first is a vocal transformer with pitch, Formant and drive controls; the second is an analogue-style ‘retro’ delay effect with modulation and Freeze. perhaps the biggest draw in v5 though, is the addition of the effect rack, enabling combining of any and all soundtoys plugins. the price is $499, and it comes in Vst/au/aaX formats. The new Effect Rack lets you combine multiple Soundtoys plugins in one window

22  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015


Trackers & Demoscene Renoise, the world’s most powerful tracker, gets a slick new update

Ozone 7 adds vintage tools to its line-up of mastering modules

iZotope Ozone 7 The big-hitting mastering package is back, but the brand new version has a surprisingly old-school smell to it – we’re talking about its new Vintage Tape, EQ, Compressor and Limiter modules! While the new Tape, EQ and Compressor models are only available to Advanced users (along with a new Codec Preview function), Ozone Standard users now get access to the Vintage Limiter and

the Dynamic EQ module that was once the reserve of the top tier. Ozone can also now export more formats than just WAVs, so you won’t need to convert files separately. As usual, Advanced users get all the modules as separate plugins (RTAS/AAX/VST/AU), too. Ozone 7 is out now, with the Standard version retailing for £169, and Advanced for the newly lowered price of £339. READ MORE

The latest Komplete Kontrol is a fully weighted 88-key affair, and it’ll rock with your non-NI VSTs, too

Komplete Kontrol gets the VST treatment Native Instruments have updated their Komplete Kontrol software to version 1.5, imbuing their S-series keyboards with the ability to control any VST instrument. Released last year, the keyboards previously integrated with NI’s own Komplete instruments, but this opens them up to integration with third-party software too. While users can custom-map their favourite VSTi plugins to the S-series ’boards, plenty of developers have stepped

XLN Addictive Trigger & DS-10 Drum Shaper This month sees two new plugins from the makers of Addictive Drums. Addictive Trigger is a drum replacement tool, used to replace or augment the hits in a live drum recording with the included selection of

We’ve got Addictive Trigger (pictured) and DS-10 Drum Shaper on the testbench right now, natch

up and offered deeper integration with NI’s system, meaning that instruments from Arturia, u-he, Softube and others will be ready both to play and tweak automatically just as Komplete instruments currently are. At the same time, a new keyboard has been added to the S-series line-up, offering 88 fully weighted keys and hoping to catch the eyes of professional and studio users. This new model will set you back £729, and includes Komplete Select software. READ MORE

drum sounds from the AD library; alternatively, you can export the detected hits to MIDI, a function that includes ready-made maps for a range of popular drum software. The detection itself “uses FFT analysis to accurately identify drum sounds even if there is a lot of mic bleed or background noise in the source material”. DS-10 Drum Shaper is a transient-shaping tool. After selecting the input material type (Kick, Snare or Bus) and the algorithm (Classic, Natural or Smooth), operation is mostly a matter of tweaking the Attack, Sustain and intriguing Mojo parameters. Soft Clipping and Gain are also onboard. Addictive Trigger (€180) and DS-10 Drum Shaper (€90) are out in VST/AU/AAX format. READ MORE

Forget centenaries – decimal is so passé. If you’re reading this space, it means that you’re our kind of geek, and you’ll appreciate the hex-citing fact that this is Trackers and Demoscene column number 128 – that’s 0x80 in hex. Appropriately, for this momentous instalment, we bring you big news: the brand new Renoise 3.1 beta, the first update to the program in a year and a half, is here! Among the many notable enhancements is the revamped sound engine, which includes a rewritten filter section, optional band-limited/oversampled playback, and support for sample rates of up to 192kHz.

“Being incredibly stylish ourselves, we gravitate towards achingly cool demos” Phrases can now be triggered in both Keymap and Program mode, bringing them into line with the improvements we saw recently in Redux, Renoise’s pluginbased sibling. There’s also now a more powerful preset system to cover things like keyzone layouts, plus a brand new Content Library making the organisation of content packs and the like a great deal easier. For the first time, it’s now possible to use MIDI plugins to drive instruments in Renoise. It’s all exciting stuff that members of Renoise’s Backstage area can get their hands on right now. DEMO OF THE MONTH Luxe by Holon Naturally, being incredibly stylish ourselves, we gravitate towards achingly cool demos, and fresh from taking first prize at Berlin’s Deadline party in early October is Luxe, a 2D/3D geometrical mashup of impeccable style and finesse. The breakbeat soundtrack also makes this demo worth a visit, and what’s more, being Javascript, it all runs natively in your web browser.

Stylish, understated and beautiful… Just like


December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  23

>  news

Get with the programmers Multisampled recreations of real instruments are big business, but how do you get started making one?

Spitfire Audio

Christian Henson Director

What are the different stages required in creating a playable orchestral instrument? CH “They’re numerous, copious and nonlinear! I think the key to a successful playable orchestral instrument is in the recording, and the key to a good recording is picking a great player, in a great space, recorded by a good engineer. Possibly equal to this is having an experienced producer who can coax a performance out of the player. “Planning also ensures everything is shot, which then feeds into the post production process. First we mix as you would any normal recording; stem then edit and title; sometimes tune and noise reduce, then we have different teams implementing and testing. The final step is to try and use it in anger, which is where Paul [Thomson, co-director]’s and my input is valuable, as jobbing journeymen of the music for media world!”

Albion I is being retired. Why are you taking a successful instrument away, and do you plan to replace it? CH “Albion is our most successful line. We released it four years ago with a strong concept but no idea how well it was going to do and how ubiquitous it was going to become. We’ve since made over 60 new products including eight string libraries – we’re big on updates, so our libraries feel fresh, and the ‘legacy’ Albion Volume 1 didn’t quite match up to our other lines. “We felt we needed to start again from scratch, and what we have as a replacement [the forthcoming ‘Albion One’ library] is bigger, brighter, tighter, and massively more feature-rich across all sections of the collection. As composers, we’re impressed with the results.” What’s the most challenging instrument you guys have sampled? CH “Woodwinds are always a nightmare, especially the oboe. Most times when you hear an oboe in film scores, it’s in fact a cor anglais. It has a rounder sound and is an instrument that is easy to sample, so directors buy into that sound thinking it’s an oboe. Not only is it difficult to get right, but what is right may not sound right to the expectations of the listener, who actually wants to hear a cor anglais!”

“Provided the musician is enthusiastic, the process is all the more worth it”

What’s your ideal library? What would you love to sample and turn into a playable instrument? CH “Now that would be telling! We could go on forever – I’m quoting what the late and great James Horner said to Paul and myself once – and I’m sure we will. We recently recorded a whole bunch of stuff in LA, and the musicians there expressed a real interest in the end product. It was a loving and, at the end, cuddly experience. It reminded me that, provided the musician is enthusiastic, the process is all the more worth it.” What, if anything, would you like to see changed or added in Kontakt that would help you make better instruments? CH “The difficulty with Kontakt is that between its broad user base and the huge developer platform it’s become, to make changes, NI have to be incredibly careful. If anything, I’d love them to strip the features back a bit – but another dev or user may rely on the features we don’t need. So I feel for them. A bigger interface would be nice for us developers!” 24  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

Goodhertz Midside Today’s mixes have to tick the right boxes in the stereo department, and Goodhertz want to make it easier for you with this one. At the top, you get control over gain and ‘tilt gain’ for both the mid and side channels, as well as Solo and Mute controls for each. Down low, you can change the width in various ways and mono the signal below a given frequency. Midside provides you with both the basics – working as a Mid/Side encoder/decoder – and the advanced stuff such as mid and side panning and control over how its tilt operation works under the hood. It’s Mac-only (AU/AAX), 64-bit-only, and is available now for $79. READ MORE

Klevgränd Esspresso This de-esser comes in both iPad and plugin (AU/VST) formats, and promises to cut down on sibilance. It’s got a generally simple philosophy, using the classic ‘sidechain and compressor’ approach, giving you access to detector (top) and suppressor (bottom) circuits. The detector circuit can be soloed and its Sensitivity (input gain) changed, while the suppressor gives you a choice of filter types. Suppression and detection frequencies can be set independently. It’s available now for $50 as a plugin or $7.99 on the App Store. READ MORE

AudioThing Vinyl Strip A multieffects unit dedicated to giving your sounds some vintage flavour, Vinyl Strip offers compression, distortion, reverb and EQ along with vinyl simulation and sampler emulation. Vinyl gives you parameters like Dust Amount and Rate, Noise, Wow, Age and a Mono/Stereo knob; Sampler offers bit depth reduction down to four bits, and sample rate reduction down to a factor of a tenth. The whole thing is capped off by Mix and master Gain controls. Vinyl Strip is available now in VST, AU and AAX formats, and it’ll set you back a cool €55. READ MORE

Sinevibes Hologram It’s been a while since we’ve heard from these prolific Ukrainian developers, but they’re now back with a new plugin. Hologram is a resynthesiser that analyses and reinterprets the input audio signal. There are plenty of controls to adjust the effect of your ‘holosonic’ material, including Resolution, Sensitivity and Lag, and there are also two modulators onboard to give even more life to your re-imagined signals. Hologram is out now for $29, but as with all Sinevibes plugins, it comes in Mac AU format only. READ MORE

news <

years back Can’t quite put your finger on what your mixes need to banish that digital edge? It could be That Thing

Beatskillz That Thing What’s the one thing that’s missing from your tracks? Passion? Humanity? Pharrell? Beatskillz reckon it’s… err… That Thing! But what thing is That Thing? And what things does That Thing do to provide these missing things? Specifically, That Thing is a multieffects processor designed to ‘de-digital’ your tracks and provide them with the vibe of vintage imperfection. On the left is a Chorus section, offering control over Frequency, Depth, Stereo and Dry/Wet levels of that effect; on the right we have high- and low-cut filters; and the central display houses a sample player loaded with the ambience from old gear such as vinyl players, radios, tubes and plenty more, plus a bit depth reducer. That Thing is available now for $60, in VST/AU/AAX formats for PC and Mac.

We got into the nitty-gritty of our music software, and cast one eye to the heavens Our Burning Question in 94 (available in paper-only format in December 2005) was one of music technology’s eternal posers: does all music software sound the same? Our conclusion – that it’s down to you to achieve the sound quality you want to hear – is as valid now as it was back then, but you can still guarantee that, right now, someone on a forum somewhere is arguing that one DAW’s audio engine isn’t as good as another’s. Elsewhere, there was talk of us getting broadband from a “stratospheric balloon”

“There was talk of getting broadband from a ‘stratospheric balloon’”


Ins & outs JOHN CARPENTER LIVE John Carpenter’s eerie, synthfuelled movie soundtracks are the stuff of music technology legend, so it’s great to hear that he’ll be playing them live for the first time in 2016. His performance will take place at the ATP Iceland festival in July.

MISSING MPC We’ll reserve judgement on Akai’s new MPC Touch until we’ve tried it, but we must confess to being slightly disappointed that it’s not the standalone, Windows-powered Music Production Centre that was teased in 2014. Maybe that’s still to come…

3D (AFTER)TOUCH Potentially good news if you’ve upgraded to Apple’s new iPhone 6s or 6s Plus: it looks like developers will be able to use these devices’ ‘3D Touch’ pressure-sensitive displays to enable aftertouch support on onscreen music keyboards.

ALBINI VS DANCE MUSIC “I detest club culture as deeply as I detest anything on earth,” replied Nirvana producer Steve Albini recently in response to Oscar Powell’s email request to clear a sample. And how do we know this? Because Powell went on to post the email on a Shoreditch billboard.

MICROSOFT ‘HEARTS’ BITWIG On the subject of touch, it was great to see Microsoft and Bitwig working together as they launched their new Surface tablet/laptop products and the multitouch-friendly Bitwig Studio 1.3. This looks like it has the potential to be a pretty powerful hardware/software combination.

WRITINGS AREN’T FOREVER We can’t help thinking that it may have been a mistake for Sam Smith to admit that it took him only 20 minutes to write his new James Bond theme The Writing’s On The Wall. If we’d been in charge, we’d have asked him to go back and come up with a proper chorus.

(that one never quite, ahem, ‘took off’), and we reviewed version 6 of FL Studio. We also showed you how to emulate the then super-hot and still pretty popular Access Virus using software synths, and celebrated the “new wave of Britpop” that didn’t sweep the country by showing you how to sound like Kaiser Chiefs. Our cover, meanwhile, had a Blockbusters vibe (maybe that’s a reference for a ‘30 years back’ column) as we showed you how to piece your tracks together to create a perfect arrangement. We even dared to delve into Logic’s MIDI Event editor; never again…

We had a stab at arrangement with our huge guide to fitting all the pieces together

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  25

>  news

freeware news This month’s haul is high on utility, with a handful of useful mixing tools, though experimental types won’t come away empty-handed!

Plogue Alter/Ego With a nod to history, Plogue look to the future of vocal synthesis with this far-out freebie We’ve made no secret about our love for Plogue’s seriously slick singing synthesiser Chipspeech. That vibrant vintage vocaliser allows the user to type in phrases which can then be sung back by a rogue’s gallery of pre-fab characters. With their new plugin, Alter/Ego, Plogue have provided a more modern-sounding alternative, with less emphasis on classic retro electronic voices. It’s ideal for those who need semi-realistic virtual vocals as a stand-in for a real singer, or indeed, those who desire a synthetic voice. As with Chipspeech, Alter/Ego provides a text field for your phrases which can be played from any MIDI keyboard or, indeed, your DAW. Also carried over from Chipspeech are tabbed pages for Mix, Modulation

Dotec Audio DeePanpot If, as they say, simple is good, then Dotec Audio’s DeePanpot must be destined for greatness. It’s a utilitarian (VSTonly) plugin for both Mac and Windows, but why would anyone need it? After all, doesn’t every DAW offer a pan function? Well, sure, for mono tracks, but stereo tracks generally offer balance, which only alters the volume of each channel without affecting the mix of left and right in each side. DeePanpot, on the other hand, is a true stereo panning effect – very nice!

Needless to say, the internets are already awash with dodgy covers made with Alter/Ego

and Controls. This time around, your words and phrases will be performed by Daisy – despite the reference (a humorous nod to Bell Labs and HAL 9000), Daisy owes less to the C64 and edges a little closer into Vocoloid territory. There are 18 presets in all, including a pretty spiffy choir. And, despite

Matthieu Brucher ATKColoredCompressor and ATKColoredExpander Only two issues back, we featured Brucher’s ATKSidechainCompressor, and already he’s back with two new freely downloadable dynamics plugins intended as replacements for his ATKCompressor and ATKExpander. This time around, the plugins offer more parameters, most importantly those that add ‘color’ and ‘quality’ to the usual dynamics tools. It’s cross-platform with a donation option.

the feminine moniker, there are a few male presets as well, not to mention a few odd effects. As with Alter/Ego itself, Daisy is free for download. The developers suggest that more banks are on the way. Alter/Ego is available for both OS X and Windows in AU, VST, AAX and RTAS formats.

Noisebud Slow 1.1 Slow isn’t a normal mastering compressor – it uses an RMS detector to calculate the amount of gain to apply to (or take away from) the signal. The RMS level ‘target’ that Slow will kick in at is called the ‘Ratio’ (although it’s more a leveller than a compressor, per se). Under the hood are two attack and two decay envelopes, but you only get access to one of the Attack controls, as the rest are set permanently at two seconds. Give it a try!

CLASSIC FREE SOFTWARE DIGITALFISHPHONES FISH FILLETS These days, dynamics plugins are big business, with high-end models commanding big bucks from pro and wouldbe producers alike. Yet this wasn’t always the case. There were far fewer options in the early days of the plugin revolution, so when Digitalfishphones unleashed their free Fish Fillets collection, they were roundly lauded.

26  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

And deservedly so – with the Blockfish compressor, Spitfish de-esser and Floorfish expander, the Fish Fillets offered a complete dynamics solution. The Fillets will only work in 32-bit versions, and the AU versions were made for non-Intel Macs, but if you can get them running, they’re worth a look.

ISSUE 224 DECEMBER 2015 Future Publishing Ltd. Quay House, The Ambury, Bath, BA1 1UA Tel: 01225 442244 Fax: 01225 732275 Email: Web: EDITORIAL Editor: Lee du-Caine, Art Editor: Mark White, Features Editor: Joe Rossitter, Production Editor: James Russell,

What’s on your hard drive?

CONTRIBUTORS Tim Cant, Scot Solida, Dave Clews, Danny Scott, David Newman, Ronan Macdonald, Ben Rogerson, Charlie Bierman, Owen Palmer, Alex Williams, Leon Bailey, Tim Oliver, Jon Musgrave Photography: iStockphoto, Shutterstock ADVERTISING For Ad enquiries please contact: Leon Stephens, MARKETING Group Marketing Manager: Laura Driffield Marketing Manager: Kristianne Stanton PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION Production Controller: Fran Twentyman Production Manager: Mark Constance Printed in the UK by: William Gibbons & Sons on behalf of Future Distributed by: Seymour Distribution Ltd, 2 East Poultry Avenue, London EC1A 9PT, Tel: 0207 429 4000 Overseas distribution by: Seymour International CIRCULATION Trade Marketing Manager: Michelle Brock, 0207 429 3683 SUBSCRIPTIONS UK reader order line & enquiries: 0844 848 2852 Overseas reader order line & enquiries: +44 (0) 1604 251 045 Online enquiries: Email: LICENSING International Director: Regina Erak, Tel: + 44 (0)1225 442244 Fax: +44 (0)1225 732275 © Umberto Lopez

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The guitarist with veteran politico-groovers Asian Dub Foundation likes his software to get nasty APPLE LOGIC PRO 9 Way back in the early days, we started out triggering everything with Alesis MMT-8 sequencers. Of course, a program like Logic makes recording and writing so much easier, but I have fond memories of our basic MIDI/hardware setup. AVID PRO TOOLS As individual members, we’ve all got different platform preferences in ADF, but when we come together in the studio to start recording live, we always use Pro Tools. It’s about the only system that can handle Dr Das’ incredible bass sounds. People always ask if he ever backs up his bass with synth. Never! What you hear is all Das. METRIC HALO MH CHANNELSTRIP 3 Compared with a Mesa Boogie guitar stack, some software just doesn’t cut it, but the ChannelStrip always seems to add something extra to the sound – that’s some nasty compression they’ve got on there.

WAVES L1 ULTRAMAXIMIZER We used to use Waves a lot, but as we all started getting different computer setups, it kind of fell by the wayside. I have to say, though, that the Maximizer always did it for me… so good at pulling everything together. By the time you read this, it’ll be back on my hard drive.

“It probably wasn’t designed for guitar, but it’s a lot of fun!” SMARTELECTRONIX SUPATRIGGA When I first started playing guitar, the effects side of things was quite limited… unless you had thousands to spend. Now there’s so much out there! [SupaTrigga] probably wasn’t designed for guitar, but it’s a lot of fun!

Asian Dub Foundation’s More Signal More Noise is out now

/ burning question

MuTools “Essentially, I see two types of update: new feature updates and bug fix updates. Bug fix updates should always be released ASAP; new feature updates should come regularly but not so often that it creates an overhead that could interfere with the user’s creative flow – because that’s what it’s all about! As always, it’s about a good balance. Currently, MuTools are working on the new main version of MuLab and MUX Modular 7.0.” – Jo Langie

How often should music software be updated? Cockos “While as an average user I am often hesitant to update software, as a developer, I always want to make sure our users have access to the most options. If we find a serious bug, we’re inclined to make a fix available to our user base as soon as possible. We have a very long major version cycle (two to three years), so we can

spend a lot of time on the smaller details, and users don’t feel like they’re pushed to upgrade.” – Justin Frankel


Beatskillz “Software updates are needed to fix bugs that might occur in a combination of platform, DAW and some hardware configurations. After the first release and beta

“I understand the adage, ‘if it’s not broke…’; however, I’d love it if everyone was running the latest OS, DAW and plugins. As a developer, I’m still working on making everything compatible

with Windows XP, OS X 10.6, and Pro Tools 10. It takes a lot of extra work. It also means I can’t move to the latest compilers and programming language versions without significant headaches, although I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to mess with a stable setup. I try to pack a lot of new features in each plugin release, or at least squash major bugs. I know it’s cumbersome to update plugins, so I make it worth the effort.” – Matthew Witmer

AudioThing “It’s hard to give an exact answer. One of the advantages of being a small plugin company is the fact that it’s easier to listen to suggestions and feature requests. For me, this is one of the main reasons (other than bug fixing, of course) to update a product. This leads to at least one or two updates during the first two months after the release. Listening to the users is what makes my current and future products better than I could have designed in the first place.” – Carlo Castellano

Illustration by Jake

testing, we still find certain customers with issues; we try to recreate the errors at our end, and try to fix them and release updates. It’s most important to make sure the customers have a working product.” – Gaurav Dayal

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December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  31

Mixdowns Mixes sounding flat and lifeless? Take the ‘computer’ out of your ‘computer music’ and give it the human touch with our expert guide

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DOWNLOAD Get the videos and tutorial files on your PC/Mac at

The computer now facilitates all aspects of music recording, composition and mixing. The elements of a song – each drum hit, bass note, and vocal phrase – are all condensed down into regimented blocks on a monitor screen; and while modern technology is infinitely powerful, it also has the potential to reduce the art of music-making to a mere game of Tetris, resulting in tracks that sound overly clinical, sterile, and – dare we say it – digital. It can be difficult to figure out exactly what it is that makes your tracks sound cheap, robotic, and lacking in dimension when compared to your favourite releases. The EQ, compression, reverb and all the rest of it seem just fine, but somehow your tracks don’t quite come to life as they should. It doesn’t have to be that way, thankfully, and it’s entirely possible to engineer mixdowns that come across as ‘organic’ – a highly subjective, intangible term that encompasses buzzwords such as ‘groove’, ‘humanisation’, ‘realism’ and more. But how do we inject these characteristics into our compositions and mixes? There’s definitely no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Instead, it’s a culmination of small details that resonate with the listener on multiple levels, and with a

solid sprinkling of these nuances, you’ll begin to set your tracks apart from the competition – and we’re going to show you how to do just this. Over the next 14 pages and across 20 expert videos, we’ll get into the mind of a human player to find out exactly how to replicate organic performances when programming computerbased compositions. Find out exactly what ‘groove’ is, and how to incorporate and manipulate these grooves within your mixes; avoid the ‘machine-gun’ effect by incorporating performance variations, articulations and roundrobin sampling; tackle tempo manipulation techniques for subtle variation; use modulation effects, reverb, re-amping, convolution processing, delay and even real spaces to put a lifelike sonic stamp on generic, sterile, cold sounds; and more. The end result will be tracks that aren’t radically different to your original vision in terms of instrumentation, rhythm, tone and arrangement, but that sound more listenable, rich, and full of life in a way that’s tough to put your finger on – the same mix, but better! As ever, don’t forget to download the video and audio that accompanies our tutorials – head to and register issue 224 to get the Tutorial Files and Video Zips.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  35

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns

Goingorganic Put a piece of music in front of a world-class session musician, and they’ll perform it for you just the way you want it. Want a run of 16thnotes bang on the beat? No problem! Eighthnote chords pumping precisely in time to a click, each as loud as the last? You got it, boss! Only, you haven’t, quite. There’s a limit to the accuracy of even the most metronomic of musicians, and there will be minute variations in timing and strength of touch when put under the microscope of a DAW’s waveform display. Your computer, on the other hand, will perform that same piece with infallible synchronisation and consistency, giving us the theoretically perfect result that the real player was aiming for in the first place. Sounds good in theory, but in practice… not so much. It lacks what we might call that human factor: tiny and

Even the most proficient musician cannot play with the tightness of a computer. Luckily, the reverse is not true

unintentional random variations in timing, velocity, timbre and pitch that all add up to ensure that even the most repetitive of musical parts have subtle internal movement, rather than sounding stiff, static and ‘sampled’.

Depending on the nature of the part and the interaction of instruments playing together, the difference this makes can be either sonically profound or simply a subtle improvement that you can’t quite put your finger on but that just makes for a more pleasant listen. The obvious place to start in making your MIDI programmed parts sound more ‘human’, then, is to add random variation to the timing and velocity of every note. You can do this in seconds using most DAWs’ built-in MIDI functions. While there are more nuanced approaches (which we’ll explore later), this is an easy and often very effective starting point. While we’ve been talking about recreating the effect of human playing, the techniques can be applied equally to wholly electronic parts, but use your judgment as to what’s appropriate.

> Step by step 1.QuickandeasyhumanisationusingaDAW’srandomisationfunctions


Let’s use our DAW’s built-in features to make a programmed MIDI part sound more organic and true to life by slightly randomising note position. We’re using a simple repetitive electric piano part, but the principles apply equally to any situation where you want MIDI to sound more like a real player. In your DAW, import IntroBacking.wav, and add IntroPiano.mid, hooked up to a basic piano or electric piano patch.


This piano part has been quantised, with the notes snapped exactly to the grid. The software instrument plays back the notes with 100% accuracy, just how we programmed it. Even the tightest human player isn’t capable of this kind of precision – each of their notes would be at least a tiny bit off the grid, so repetitive hits wouldn’t be equally spaced, and when multiple notes occur (ie, chords), they wouldn’t do so simultaneously.


There are several ways to achieve this outcome depending on your DAW, but in Cubase, the easiest is to select the track and use the MIDI Modifiers section in the Inspector. Under the Random header, select Position from the first dropdown, then set its Min and Max to, say, -3 and 3 respectively. Now Cubase will adjust the timing of every hit on the fly, pulling some hits forward up to 3 MIDI ticks, and pushing some backward similarly.




We can now toggle the MIDI Modifiers section on and off to assess the difference. Without the randomisation, the piano sounds robotic, insistent and distracting; with, it has pleasing variation from chord to chord. Using the MIDI Modifiers method, the source MIDI file remains neatly snapped to grid; if you want to permanently alter it, select it and choose MIDI » Freeze MIDI Modifiers.

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Open the clip and zoom in to see how each hit has been moved slightly off the beat. Further methods for randomising timing in Cubase include the Random Quantise option, and using the Logical Editor to apply random offsets to note positions. Check the manual to discover how your DAW does it.

As you may have guessed, Velocity can be modified in pretty much the exact same way as timing. Adding a little random variation here can also help your parts to sound more real. We settle on a range of -4 to 4 for Velocity randomisation using Cubase’s MIDI Modifiers, and again, this can be ‘frozen’ to make the changes permanent. With some sampled instruments, there can be a noticeable sonic difference between one velocity layer and the next, so if your velocity randomisation is causing the instrument to awkwardly flit between layers, adjust the randomisation range or the velocities of the source notes to remedy the issue.

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns

GettingrealwithROMplers There are plenty of realistic sampled instruments available, but getting a convincing performance out of them can require some programming know-how. We’ll use a piano here for demonstration, but many of these principles can also be applied to other instruments. The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to rewrite your MIDI parts, but rather refine them. Let’s start by looking at how a pianist plays the instrument. Timing is crucial; when a pianist plays a chord, it’s rare that they’ll hit all the keys exactly at the same time due to natural human inconsistency. We already showed you how to mimic this in an automatic manner, but getting in there and slightly adjusting the timings and velocities on a note-by-note basis gives you ultimate control and potentially the most realistic results. For example, a pianist might hit

“A thumbed note may carry more weight than a little finger” certain notes in a chord slightly harder than others depending on the fingers used; a thumbed note may carry more weight than a little finger.

Becomingmorearticulated Another thing to consider is the use of an instrument’s different articulations. The piano’s sustain pedal, when pressed, allows the strings inside to vibrate freely until either the vibration

stops naturally or the pedal is released. Almost all virtual pianos offer this functionality via a sustain function that can be switched on/off via MIDI – using this, it’s easy to make chords flow into each other in a realistic fashion. As mentioned, we’re using piano to demonstrate, but you can apply this line of thinking to other instruments – take the accordion as an example. The velocity of the keys and buttons is fixed, with the dynamics of the instrument instead controlled by the bellows. Bearing this in mind, you could use volume automation instead of velocity edits, alongside articulation switching (which we’ll get to in a later tutorial), to improve the realism of a programmed accordion part. Now, let’s get busy adding life to a moribund MIDI piano part!

> Step by step 2.Improvingtherealismofaprogrammedpianopartwithmanualedits



We can use standard MIDI editing tools in any DAW to add a lifelike feel to a programmed piano part – let’s take a look at how it’s done. Open your DAW, set the tempo to 124bpm, and import BackingLoop.wav and PianoMIDI.mid onto the arrange page. With that done, loop the audio for playback.

We can use velocity to further imitate natural human variation in playing strength. Change the controller lane in the MIDI editor to Note Velocity, then change # the velocities of the first chords’ D 2 and G2 notes – we’ve set ours to 95 and 89. Then adjust the velocity of the other chords in a similar way. We make the lowest note loudest, simulating the harder notes from a player’s thumb.

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Logic has assigned a piano to our MIDI track by default – turn this down by around 6dB to bring the levels into check. Split the PianoMIDI region into two singlebar sections – we’ll edit the first and leave the second. Loop the first bar and doubleclick the first region to open the piano roll – the chords are tightly sequenced with identical velocity. Pretty robotic stuff. Let’s bring things to life with manual edits.


An important part of any pianist’s skills repertoire is using the sustain pedal to allow played notes to ring out without the keys being held – we can work that in via the MIDI editor. Change the bottom controller lane to Sustain Pedal and draw in some sustain between the third chord and the fourth, taking care to make sure that the sustain ends just after the fourth chord starts.


We’ll tweak each note’s start and end points so that they’re not all the same, imitating the slight inaccuracies of human playing. Turn Snap To Grid off and move # the D 2 and G2 notes in the first chord slightly after the beat, making them late. Repeat this with the other three chords – feel free to move some of the notes forward in time, too. Adjust them until it sounds right to you.


Finally, select both of the PianoMIDI sections and loop them for playback. You can now hear how the piano sounds with our edits applied versus the original programmed piece. The edited section sounds much more interesting, natural and less static, with its subtle changes in dynamics and timing allowing the other elements of the mix to shine through.

organic mixdowns  /  make music now  <

Theartof articulations So, you’ve painstakingly programmed a great MIDI part to play back through a ROMpler – but it still sounds a bit flat. What to do now? Simple: apply some articulations! Instruments typically have more than one playing style – you can play the violin with a bow or pluck its strings with fingers, for example – and an expert player will combine these styles during a performance to take full advantage of the instrument’s range of timbres. In our terms, these styles are known as articulations, and we can add more realism to a programmed part by switching between articulations in a similar way to a skilled performer. There are a few ways to add articulations to your productions, depending on the virtual instrument used, and the simplest method is keyswitching. This works by using redundant MIDI keys to switch between performance articulations – a simple yet effective way to add expression to a programmed part via your MIDI controller keyboard. Some DAWs have their own system for making articulations easier to work with; for example, Cubase users can use VST Expression technology, where articulations are added and edited on the Articulation Lane in the Key Editor, and you can create your own with the Expression Map.

> Step by step 3.Usingarticulationsviakeyswitching


We can add a more lifelike feel to a well programmed double bass part by switching articulations via MIDI. Changing the playing style of the instrument on the fly will make a ‘performance’ of the same tune that bit more realistic. Open your DAW, set the tempo to 100bpm and import HipHop.wav from the Tutorial Files folder onto bar 1 of the arrange page.


Duplicate the audio and MIDI regions. Now, let’s start adding flavour to our bass part with a staccato articulation for the first three notes in bars 1 and 2, giving them a shorter, less sustained feel. The keyswitch for staccato in this particular # # Kontakt patch is D 5, so add a short D 5 note at the start of bars 1 and 2 – this will change the articulation on playback.


We’re using NI’s Kontakt 5 as our sound source. Load a new instrument track with a fresh instance of Kontakt before importing HipHopBass.mid onto bar 1 of the track. Open Kontakt and load the Double Bass Solo instrument – you’ll find it in the VSL Strings section of Kontakt’s factory orchestral library.


Next, we’ll use a sforzando for the last two notes in bar 2, giving them emphasis without fully sustaining them. Draw in a short D5 on beat 3 of bar 2, then add a C5 note to the start of bar 3 – this will sustain the last four notes, giving a full and rich sound. Finally, loop all the audio and MIDI regions for playback to hear the difference our articulations have made.

> Step by step 4.LayeringguitarstringnoisesampleswithaROMplerforrealism


Real instruments often exhibit unintentional sounds like ‘handling noise’ from the player. High-end virtual instruments recreate these for convincing realism, but if yours doesn’t, you can layer in recordings of such sounds. Let’s layer some noises taken from an acoustic guitar recording. Import Guitar.wav and GuitarLoop.wav into your DAW.


String noises occur when a guitarist slides their hand along the strings to get from one position to another, commonly when switching chords. Turn your DAW’s snap to grid function off, import GuitarScrape.wav – we’ve placed it after the chord at the end of bar 1 – then import GuitarScrape2.wav and place it at the start of bar 1.


Now we’ll put in a few sounds of the guitar being handled. Import the files beginning “GuitarHit…”. We’ve put one hit on the second beat of bar 1 and the other just slightly after bar 2 starts. Finally, try muting both the GuitarScrape and GuitarHit channels to hear the difference our extra sounds have made. Set their level to your preference.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  39

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns

Round-robinsampling Ever found an astonishingly authentic ‘real instrument’ sample, or even recorded your own, only to discover that it sounds obviously fake when played repeatedly? You can avoid the dreaded ‘machine gun’ effect easily by using round-robin sampling. This is offered by most samplers and employed by many ROMplers to authentically mimic the sounds of real-life instruments such as drums, guitar and bass. Round-robin sampling enables us to assign two or more samples to a single key before playing them back either sequentially or in random order. By capturing several ‘takes’ of the same sound (hits on a snare drum, plucks of a string, etc) then triggering them via round-robin sampling, it’s possible to avoid the repetitive, ‘inhuman’ sound of the same sample being used

Samplers such as Battery let you load up several variations of the same hit for round-robin triggering

over and over again. A great tip when making round-robin patches is to use an odd number of samples relative to the track’s time signature; by using five or seven samples in a 4/4 piece, for example,

the order of the samples when played in typical musical groupings (eg, groups of four or six) won’t cycle in sync with the phrasing of the music, making the end result more natural and less like a musician playing accents. This applies for sequential round robin playback, but some samplers also offer a random mode, which in theory is more realistic but runs the risk of the same sample playing twice in a row from time to time. Luckily, most samplers offer the option to prevent the same hit sounding successively. If you don’t have a round-robin-capable sampler handy, our own Grooove CM can add an element of randomness to one-shots by setting up velocity switching between two samples. Use a MIDI velocity plugin to randomise the velocity of each triggering note – simple but effective!

> Step by step 5.Avoidingthemachine-guneffectusinground-robinsampling



Open your DAW, set the tempo to 128bpm, import the files beginning Clap… from the Tutorial Files folder, and set up a loop for playback. Now import HandClap1.wav – a single clap – and put it on beats 2 and 4 of every bar. A single clap works OK once or twice, but it sounds unrealistically consistent when used repetitively. We’ll create our own living, breathing handclap instrument using the round-robin function in NI’s Kontakt.

Select all the zones, right-click and select Move Each Zone To Own Empty Group, then make sure Edit All Groups is activated (top-centre of the instrument). With all our samples now triggered by the same key, we can use Kontakt’s Group Editor to trigger them randomly. Open it, click Group Start Options and select Cycle Random – it’ll be applied to all zones automatically.

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Add a new instrument track and draw in a one-bar MIDI region with C3 notes on beats 2 and 4, then duplicate the region four times and mute the Clap audio channel. Now, load a fresh instance of Kontakt. Click the disk icon (top right) and create a new Instrument before clicking the instrument’s spanner icon (top left) to start editing. For realism, though, we need several versions of the same clap


Now the five clap zones will be triggered randomly, but you might find that they repeat themselves here and there – we can fix this using a sequential round-robin arrangement. Pull down the Group Start Options and choose Cycle Round Robin from the menu, then disable Edit All Groups (top-centre of the instrument), so that we can edit each individually.


Open the Mapping Editor and import the files beginning “HandClap…” from the Tutorial Files folder – each sample will be given its own zone automatically. Next, activate List View (top left of the Mapping Editor) to make it easier to work with our zones. Set all of the clap zones to a key range of C3-C3 with a root note of C3 – this will place all of the zones on the same key, ready to be cycled through later.


We can now set the position of each grouped clap zone by changing the position of each group in the round-robin cycle. Select Group 1 and set it to 1, then set the other four groups to between 2 and 5 – the order in which the samples are triggered is worth experimenting with. We can even play the claps as a close bunch of notes to imitate a group of people clapping together.

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns

Fine-tuningtempo Though it’s generally fine for most genres of dance music, whose inherent metronomic character tends to demand it, the rigidity imposed by a DAW’s default fixed tempo and timing grid isn’t to everyone’s taste. The temptation of the mathematically perfect timing offered by our machines makes it all too easy to fall into the trap of choosing a single tempo and time signature and sticking rigidly to it for the entirety of the track. This tends to iron out any semblance of the feel that you’d get if the track was played by a roomful of musicians, and you end up missing the natural push and pull that occurs when humans get together and play a song. It’s an effect that tends to work best with “real” instrument sounds – be they recorded or virtual – but it can absolutely apply to electronic compositions too, of course.

“We’ll show you how to take the natural timing of a captured performance and lock your parts to it” Playing around with your DAW’s project tempo can have a profound effect on how your piece is perceived by your listeners. Even if the parts are still rigidly quantised to the grid, a tiny increase in tempo as you dive into the chorus

can do a lot to emulate the natural heightening of excitement experienced by a band doing the same thing. Although it’s best to make this a part of your composition process, it’s absolutely possible to apply it to your tracks late in the game, even if they use audio parts, thanks to the modern DAW’s ability to timestretch on the fly. Furthermore, the ability of DAWs to analyse and extract tempo information from prerecorded audio means it’s no longer strictly necessary to have a band play to a click track if you want to add new programmed parts to the song later on. We’ll show you how to take the natural timing of a captured performance and lock your parts to it, harnessing both the lifelike feel of organic material and the flexible programming and editing power of your DAW to combine the best of both worlds.

> Step by step 6.Subtletempochangestoadddriveandexcitement


When altering the global tempo of a project that contains both MIDI and audio, you need to make sure your DAW is set to allow audio files to follow fluctuations in tempo. Before you make any tempo changes, any audio tracks or regions need to be analysed. Each DAW has its own method for doing this – we’ll be using Logic’s Flex Time system.


Once all the necessary tracks have been analysed, we can start making global tempo changes. To do this, we need to access the global tempo track, which should look a bit like an automation lane, but for tempo instead of parameter changes. In Logic’s case, it’s conjured up by clicking the Show/Hide Global Tracks button in the track header list.

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Here’s a Logic project featuring a Drummer track, a MIDI bass part, a tambourine part from the Apple Loop library, and an acoustic guitar track made of samples. The Apple Loop tambourine will follow tempo changes automatically, since Apple Loops contain metadata that allows them to conform to the project tempo. The Drummer track and the MIDI track always follow the tempo anyway.


Many tracks feature a chorus that’s a little quicker than the verse, raising excitement and drive. We’ll speed up the track at the transition between sections at bar 9. To make a change in tempo at this point, double-click the tempo curve to create a node. Click-hold on the curve before and after the point and move the cursor up or down to select the required values. We’re going from 120 to 122bpm.


The acoustic guitar samples, though, need to be analysed before tempo changes can be applied, particularly as they’re four-bar loops and so with even a tiny tempo shift would be noticeably out of sync as they approach the final bar. So we enable Flex mode for the guitar track with the Flex icon in the track header, selecting the appropriate mode from the menu – Polyphonic.


As we play through the transition, the tempo now changes on the downbeat of bar 9, and all tracks keep pace. To get an even more human feel, we can use the same technique to input slight variations of 1-2 bpm every other bar, maintaining a quicker average tempo in the chorus. Other tempo tricks include varying the tempo for bars that contain fills or that lie just before a new section.

organic mixdowns  /  make music now  < > Step by step 7.Extractingthetempomapfromanaudiorecording


Extracting a tempo map from a real musician’s performance, then applying it to newly programmed material, can make a project sound more natural and lifelike. We’ll use Logic Pro X’s Beat Mapping feature for this, but many DAWs have a similar capability. Import CM Organic Piano.wav from the Tutorial Files folder. Disable any ‘import tempo from audio’ functions (or similar).


The graduations on the bar/beats ruler are displayed as thin vertical grey lines, while all the detected transients within the waveform are shown as thin vertical blue lines. Check through to see that each peak has a marker, and use the plus and minus buttons to adjust the sensitivity either way until it looks about right.


To align the beat ruler with the slowdown (rallentando) in the last bar, zoom in and pull beat markers to the notes in the arpeggio as shown. This will produce progressively lower tempo values for the final few notes in the piece, so any new programmed parts will be quantised to the grid and will slow down over it, providing an effective ending.


This is a recording of a pianist playing without a metronome and intuitively modulating the tempo to add feel. Zoom in close on the waveform so that you can clearly see the peaks within it. From the Edit menu, choose the Tempo » Show Beat Mapping Track option. Pull the Beat Mapping Track’s lower border downwards until it occupies roughly half the screen, with the audio file filling the lower half.


Position the mouse pointer within the ruler section of the Beat Mapping track and you should see a white vertical line appear over the nearest main division line. Choose the first marker you want to assign to a beat and drag it down and across until you see a white line snap to the target beat. Release the mouse and you should see the waveform snap to that beat on the ruler.


To check that any new programmed material will match up to the piano track’s tempo, let’s load up a Drummer track and hear how it sounds. Click the plus button in the track header list, choose Drummer, with Rock for the genre, and click Create. Hit play, and the Drummer track should exactly mirror the timing variations in the piano track.


The Beat Mapping feature is capable of automatically analysing transients in a waveform and calculating the tempo, but this tends to be a bit hit and miss with anything other than very basic, regular rhythms. Our syncopated part will benefit from us matching the transient markers up to the tempo ruler by hand. To begin, choose the Analyse Transients option from the pop-up menu.


As a result, the global tempo up to that point will have changed. Continue on down the track in this fashion, snapping ruler locations to their correct peaks in the waveform on the downbeat of each bar. Check your progress every now and then by enabling the metronome (Record » Metronome » Click While Playing) and playing the audio. The click should now follow the piano part perfectly.


Here, we’ve also added a bassline that, when quantised to a 1/16 note grid, matches the changes in tempo perfectly. You can also use this technique to extract a tempo map from a recording that you like the feel of – try it on a few of your favourite songs to get insight into the kinds of tempo shifts that work well for the music you make.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  43

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns

Gettingintothegroove Groove is a funny old thing. Everybody sort of knows what it is, but explaining it isn’t easy. The term comes from the grooves of a vinyl record, but the connection is more meaningful than that. A groove is when a band or group of different instrument parts fall into a cohesive rhythm – like a stylus sliding into the circular grooves of a record, musical parts are locked into a matching and complementary cycle. Of course, what constitutes a good groove is subjective, and often people only use the terms ‘groovy’ and ‘groove’ about music they actually like… but really, the factors at work are very similar – it’s just the amount (or absence) of these factors that people are squabbling about. So what kinds of things are we talking about? Put simply, we can say that groove is largely concerned with the timing and emphasis

(velocity) of individual notes and percussive hits and, importantly, the interaction of different musical parts and sounds. In this sense ‘groove’ is heavily related to ‘swing’, but where swing usually specifically refers to the nudging of offbeat notes off strict quantise placements, groove takes in a range of factors, of which swing is just one – albeit a critical one! When bands play live, all of these things are important, and the difference between a ‘tight’ live band and a less skilled one is the ability to lock into the same groove. The styles of groove vary massively from genre to genre, too, which is why skilled session musicians are so prized, as they’re able to move seamlessly from one style of groove to another, whereas even a skilled player in a rock band, for example, might struggle to play convincing reggae parts.

As with many aspects of ‘real’ music, recreating the effect of bands playing together can be tricky, but there are a number of simple ways to achieve close approximations. Perhaps even more tricky, though, is combining such live-style grooves with electronic programmed beats, especially with music typically designed around rigidly programmed drums such as dance music, pop and even modern breakbeat. Fortunately, there are a few key tricks involved in this, too. We’re largely looking at percussion here, but the same principles apply for musical parts as well. And as you begin analysing grooves to match them to your tracks, you’ll quickly notice patterns emerging between different styles. These are the trademark ‘grooves’ for those styles, and you’ll soon be able to recreate the feel of these genres at will!

> Step by step 8.Avoidingclasheswhencombiningliveandprogrammedbeats


Let’s see how to add live-played percussion to a conventional house beat. We don’t want to lose the live feel, but we still want to lock both into a groove. Start by loading Live Drums.mid (recorded via Roland V-Drums) onto a MIDI instrument track hosting a sampled acoustic drum kit (most DAWs include one), and House Drums.mid onto a track with Grooove CM’s 909 kit.


The live hats sound funky played alone but a little lazy in comparison to our dance groove, and they reduce its energy and drive a little. One way to match the two would be to use groove mapping (as explained on p45), but instead we’ll highlight all of our live hi-hat parts and pull the notes forward so they hit slightly earlier, imparting a sense of energy and urgency.

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Playing both parts together, the first thing we notice is that they clash. None of the live hits are perfectly quantised, and the 909 part has swing applied, so it’s not rigidly quantised either – but it’s at least consistent. Apply rigid 1/16 quantisation to both, and they come together perfectly but lose all the funk and swing. Not quite what we want!


We’re almost there, but the feel of the two loops is still a little different. This is because the 909 beat has an accent highlighting the offbeat hat between the kicks, whereas the live-played loop emphasises hits on the beats. We carefully go through and modify the live MIDI note velocities so that they emphasise the live offbeat hats to match the bounce of the 909 rhythm.


We need to find some common groove ground between the two loops, without completely losing the vibe of either. We start by highlighting the live hits that clash with rigidly quantised positions in the 909 loop – kicks and snares are the prime offenders – and quantise them to match the house loop. Playing things back yields a much tighter loop. It’s becoming a solid groove.


We finish up by looking for any remaining clashing hits – for example, some of our live-played hats still clash a little with some of the swing-quantised 909 hats. To keep the feel but lessen the clashing effect, we can make small manual adjustments to the live percussive hits, or simply lower the velocities of the clashing live hits. Locking your beats in this way makes for tight and groovy mixdowns.

organic mixdowns  /  make music now  <


12.Automatic groovematching


Audio and MIDI groove maps can be the quickest way to match feeling between parts.

When you’re warping drums, basslines or any other musical parts (including vocals) to match your own programmed beats, overdoing it can kill the groove that made the part so good in the first place. The key to getting the balance right is making as few adjustments as possible. Be sure to lock points either side of the part you’re moving so that only the hit being moved is adjusted. Also, experiment with different warp modes, as some can heavily impact the sound in unpredictable ways and may have a negative impact on your mixdown. Whatever warping mode you use, for a smoother and less glitchy sound, it can often be better to apply warp markers in a quiet spot, away from the attack phase/transient of a hit.

Skilful warping can help avoid lumpy grooves

10.Matchingmistimeddrums One of the trickiest aspects of sampling old tracks and layering them over modern programmed drums is that, often, the drums on those tracks will feature live drums with hits that

We’ll show you how to shape up raggedy recordings

don’t quite line up properly. As part of the groove, the drummer may have not hit, say, the kick, snare or hat at precisely the same time. So if you line up the hats perfectly, the snares may end up being pushed slightly off the beat. In fact, the problem can be caused by any strong sound that doesn’t quite line up on the original – like a clap, bass note, cowbell… Such oddities can really poke through your mix and upset the groove. In this case, simply line up the loop as best you can, then cut and paste the attack phase of a hit that does work from elsewhere in the loop. Keep the lengths as short as possible and remember to include the part of the sample just before the beat, too.

11.Lengthmatters! Appropriate loop lengths are key to adding organic grooves to programmed electronic beats. One of the things that identifies live music is the minute, almost imperceptible, differences from bar to bar, but a large appeal of electronic grooves is the sense of repetition. We need to find a middle ground, and a great compromise is to introduce variation and looser timing over a set looping length. The loop length should usually decrease as the looseness

of a bar increases, so a very heavily swung or loose part should probably repeat each bar to reinforce the deliberately wonky groove, whereas more subtle looseness, like an old funk loop, for example, can evolve over two or four bars before looping back to the start. When you start employing loops of more than four bars in length, you’ll almost certainly lose the sense of looping and will effectively be mimicking live play!

When adding parts with feel and groove, the length of the sample you import plays a big role in the result


We’ve shown manual methods for closely allying beats with different grooves, but most DAWs offer features for ‘extracting’ a groove and applying it to another source. To start, we create a groove map from our dance beat. Check out the video to see how we do this in Reason.


Add Live drums for groove.mid on a track with an acoustic drum kit patch, and apply the groove map to the MIDI part. This should line up all the parts for which there’s MIDI groove information, and apply it to only the hits that are close enough to clash. It instantly pulls things together.


Most DAWs offer additional groove map settings, with control (as a percentage of the strict value) of things like how much velocity and timing information is applied from the template, and how much random variation is added. For tighter matches, simply use stricter settings.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  45

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns > Step by step 13.Addinglifeanddepthtosynthswithsubtlemodulationeffects


Modulation effects are great for swooping, swooshing wobbles, but used subtly, they can give your mixdowns dimension, life and texture. Drop Square Riff.wav, Drums.wav and Bass.wav, into a 95bpm project in any DAW. We’re using Ableton Live 9 and its stock plugins for this tutorial, but you can follow along with any basic DAW that features generic modulation effects.


This synth riff sits squarely in the middle of the mix, as do the bass and drum parts, but a completely mono mix sounds unnatural – especially on headphones – as it lacks the stereo space and ambience that we experience constantly in real life. We can use Auto Pan – this time in its usual role – to gently move the synth part left and right. Insert a second instance on the synth track.


The default patch is far too cavernous and obvious for the discrete, natural effect we’re seeking, so adjust the settings. Set a short 0.30s Reverb Time, then change the Reverb Program to the Studio A algorithm. Note how this reverb is almost invisible, but its benefit is obvious when we mute the return.

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Subtle LFO-driven volume modulation – called tremolo – is ideal for injecting discrete movement into a synth sound. Live doesn’t feature a dedicated tremolo tool, but its Auto Pan device can act as one. Load an instance on the synth riff, then turn Phase to 0.00 degrees to disable the offset between stereo channels, turning it into a basic mono tremolo effect.


Set Amount to 100% to exaggerate the panning effect while we set the speed. This time, we’ll change the LFO Rate Type to Synced by punching the note button below the Rate knob. Set a Rate of 1/4 to rhythmically pan each note of the riff in time with the track, then set the Amount back to 10%. This gentle panning doesn’t stand out, but it adds life and motion to the mix nonetheless.


Reverb may sound static and unrealistic without modulation, and this can either be added with the reverb’s built-in modulation features, if it has them, or by using additional modulation plugins to apply movement ‘manually’. Load Live’s Flanger plugin after the reverb on the return, then set a slow 0.02Hz Rate and a 40% Dry/Wet amount.


When you want to apply a subtle modulation effect, it’s good to initially turn up the ‘mix’ amount to judge the rate and other settings. Turn Auto Pan’s Amount to the maximum 100%, then set a suitably fast Rate to achieve a ‘buzzing’ effect. We settle upon 21.6 Hz. Now back off the Amount to around 20% for the very slightest hint of volume movement.


Next, we can place the riff in a ‘space’ via a short reverb. Load Acon Digital’s CM Verb – found in this issue’s CM Plugins folder – on a new return track, turn off its Dry amount by untoggling the button under the Dry level slider, then send the synth track to this return by a 0dB amount.


To finish, add a new audio track and copy the square riff clip onto it. We can now A/B between the processed synth and our original starting point to hear the impact of our processing; note how our processes have maintained the riff’s original flavour, tone and dynamics while making it sound more ‘natural’ and organic in the mix.

organic mixdowns  /  make music now  < > Step by step 14.Virtual‘re-amping’withAudioEaseSpeakerphone2


AudioEase Speakerphone 2 is a convolution plugin that places your sound within a realistic environment, allowing you to virtually ‘re-amp’ a signal through hundreds of ‘sampled’ devices – ideal for adding life to sterile sounds! Load Synth Loop.wav on a new audio track, then call up Speakerphone 2 on its track.

Reampingin therealworld The technique of re-amping involves sending out an audio signal (usually a guitar’s DI signal from your computer), playing it back through a device such as a guitar amplifier, then using a microphone to record the re-amped signal back into your DAW. These days, it’s convenient to keep everything inside the computer and instead use virtual guitar/bass amps, but there’s still a lot to be said for routing signals out through a piece of physical equipment and back, which will impart the amplifier’s unique tone – not to mention the room acoustics and mic response – on the resulting sound and likely inject a sense of real-life ambience that can be hard to replicate using a computer. Amplifier settings and microphone placement can be adjusted to customise the results – for instance, backing the microphone away from the amp a little will capture more room sound and natural ‘air’. A similar technique can also be used to add the natural reverb of your own room to lifeless sounds. Play your unprocessed signal out through your speakers, then use a microphone to record this signal back onto another DAW track (being sure to mute the record channel’s output to prevent feedback). The recorded sound will capture your environment’s natural ambience, and you can then blend this signal alongside the original, dry source. Experiment with microphone placement and see what you can come up with!


To ‘reamp’ our synth pad through a tinny, distorted speaker system, we’ll choose the Indoor Announcements » Captain Speaking 2 preset. The plugin mixes in a bed of airport ambience for realism: we’ll turn this down to the minimum -144dB via the plugin’s bottomright Gain knob.


Now it’s a case of mixing the ‘re-amped’ signal with the unprocessed one. We’ll set the top-centre Dry/Wet slider to 20%, naturally blending the effect in an almost unnoticeable way. Turn the plugin on and off to A/B our effect – there’s an extra dimension of crunch, depth, texture and realism now.

> Step by step 15.Re-ampingasynththrougharealroom


Recording a sound out of speakers and back into the computer can impart character onto sounds that are sterile and overly ‘digital’. You can try this with absolutely any sound, but a plain synth sound is a great candidate owing to its ‘dry’ nature. Load Dry Synth.wav – a simple saw bass/lead patch – onto a new audio track in a 120bpm project.


Play the synth sound back through your speakers and set an appropriate recording level. Now hit record in your DAW and record the speakers’ output onto the new audio track. Once done, move your microphone to a different part of the room to record a second take of the same synth sound. It may take some experimentation to find the sweet spots for the mics, but that’s part of the fun.


Connect a microphone to one of your audio interface’s spare inputs and set the mic up somewhere in your room, facing your speakers. Create a new audio track, then set its input to the mic’s input channel – don’t activate input monitoring, otherwise the speakers and mic will cause an ear-splitting feedback loop!


You should now have two new recordings of the synth. Place these on separate audio tracks, line them up with the original part, then try out different level, pan and EQ balances to create a natural, ambient effect. Our recording space is pretty dead, so we’ve only added a subtle touch of room sound to the original signal, but you can try with more ambient, spacious environments.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  47

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns What’sthatnoise?

> Step by step 16.Vinylcrackleandtapehissforfeelandvibe


Many sounds recorded from analogue media feature noise, pops, crackles, etc that we associated with an ‘organic’ sound – something we can easily add to existing digital sounds. Beat.wav is a drum groove we’ve programmed with Grooove CM. Load it into a 120bpm project with Tape Noise.wav (from 207’s Layering Toolkit) on a second audio track.


Now let’s make our beats sound like they’ve been sampled from vinyl. Delete the tape noise region, then import Vinyl Crackle.wav in its place. This bed of pops, crackles and hum is now pumping around the drum hits, adding a sense of life that leaves things sounding unnatural when we mute the vinyl crackle channel.


The noise is far too obvious and loud alongside the drums, so turn the track down to -17dB. We’ll also sidechain this layer against the beats – around 5dB of gain reduction with the fastest attack and release settings emulates the effect of the noise jumping up between hits when recorded to tape.


For a truly authentic feel, keep the vinyl channel’s low-frequency hum and rumble in the sound – however, if you wish to prevent this rumble from clashing with other mix elements, then you’ll want to low-cut the signal: we’re using Cubase’s EQ to take out up to 2kHz, leaving only the fizzy pops and crackles in the mix.

Programming music in a computer will often result in a sound that’s almost too pristine and perfect. In contrast, the majority of pre-digital era music features tiny imperfections introduced by the recording medium – think vinyl crackle and pops, tape/amp/system noise, or other byproducts of the analogue recording process. Your DAW-based projects probably don’t feature these imperfections, so why not add them in yourself? Many electronic producers layer vinyl or tape noise underneath other track elements in order to emulate the dusty pops, crackles and noise floor of vinyl, automatically giving the listener a perception of ‘analogue’, and preventing the mix from being deathly silent during any gaps in the beat, for example. Another speedy and efficient way to add artificial life to a mix is by blending sampled ‘ambience’ or beds of noise in behind other track elements. Head to the outside world with your smartphone or field recorder, capture interesting natural textures and sound beds, then bring the recordings back into your latest track and subtly mix them behind more prominent elements for instant life, texture and movement. Keep them at an almost imperceptible level to add the ambience invisibly, or turn them up to make more of a feature. Don’t forget to treat any rough recordings – at the very least, high-pass them to remove rumble, if necessary.

> Step by step 17.Blendingandmixingsubtleambiencebeds


Subtly blending beds of ambient noise and field recordings under dry, unnatural elements can bring a mix to life in a way that’s hard to replicate through other means. Here, we’ll mix some synth chords – ZebraCMChords.wav – with a recording of a waterfall, Water Bed.wav. Import them onto audio tracks in any DAW in a 90bpm project.

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Remove microphone rumble by highpassing the waterfall at about 400Hz with an EQ. Set this channel’s level so that the layer is almost imperceptible in the mix, but missed when muted. We’ve set our channel at -32dB. Sidechain-compress the noise against the chords so it gently ‘breathes’ around the synth sound.


The waterfall recording is a consistent high-frequency bed of noise, but we can give it a more organic sense of movement with modulation effects. Insert Subsonic Labs’ Wolfram CM on the water channel, select the Phaser » CM Solina Phaser 2 preset, then relevel the channel’s gain to -20dB.

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns

Placingsoundsinarealisticspace Many of the dry, artificial sound sources we use in a DAW (ie, anything not recorded from the real world) are completely devoid of any environmental ambience, and therefore can sound unnatural – listen on headphones and it’s almost as if the sound is being beamed direct into your brain! If you wish to make the sounds in your DAW appear to exist in a realistic space through the use of artificial reverb, then it helps to have a basic understanding of how sound travels to our ears in a physical environment. When a sound wave occurs in a real-life space, we don’t just hear that sound in isolation – we also hear reflections of that wave immediately bouncing back to our ears (known as ‘early reflections’) and a cumulative buildup of those delays bouncing back and forth (the ‘late reflections’). Our hearing system deciphers how near a sound source is to us by interpreting the proportion of early reflections to late

“We hear everyday sounds alongside some form of reflections or reverb” reflections (amongst other audio cues – we’re simplifying here!); a sound swamped with cavernous late reflections will sound far away, whereas a sound with a greater proportion of early reflections will sound closer to us. Furthermore, if you’re closer to a sound source than the room boundaries, then you’ll hear the direct sound before the reflections enter your ears. The further away the room

boundaries are, the longer the time it takes for the reflections to reach you. This delay between the direct sound and the reflected sound is known as the pre-delay. It’s also worth noting that a close sound will contain a larger proportion of high frequencies compared to the same sound heard at a distance, as a sound loses high frequencies as it travels through air. So what does all this mean? Firstly, be aware that we hear everyday sounds alongside some form of reflections or reverb. This doesn’t mean you should mindlessly swamp your sounds in cavernous ’verbs, but simply be aware of the stark, dry, unnatural impact that dry sounds have – either bring them into the ‘real world’ with touches of reverb, or use their unnatural ‘dryness’ to draw in the listener’s attention when needed. Secondly, you should now be able to use EQ and reverb to place your sounds at a particular distance and depth from the listener.

> Step by step 18.Creatingambience,lifeanddepthwithreverb


Load this tutorial’s audio files – a kick, snare, hats, mid bass and sub bass – onto new tracks in a fresh 140bpm project. We’re going to use reverb, tone and level adjustments to show you how a dry snare sound can be made to sound upfront or distant without changing its basic tone. Techniques like this will help you arrange your instruments in virtual space, creating a mix with a 3D quality.


Turn the return channel down to -11dB. Our short early reflections add a sense of space and life, but it’s hard to actually hear any obvious reverb until we A/B by muting the return track. Now, we’ll use a longer reverb and high-frequency removal to place the upfront, bright snare much further back in the mix.

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By isolating a reverb’s early reflections, we can mix in a sense of short, invisible ‘space’ and realism without changing the sound’s timbre. Send the snare to a return track containing a reverb plugin – we’re using 112dB’s Redline Reverb, as it has clearly labelled sections for the early and late reflections, but any similarly equipped reverb will work. Set the reverb’s Mix to 100% Wet.


Head back to Redline Reverb, then set the Early/Late Reflections Mix slider to fully right, isolating only the late reflections. Set Late size to 35m, then pull the Treble knob down to -24dB to dull this long reverb tail, adding the perception of distance. Turn the return’s level up to -5dB to bring the reverb level up.


Let’s adjust our default reverb patch. The centre controls are divided between early reflections on the left and late reflections on the right, with the centre slider mixing between them; set this slider fully left to isolate the early reflections, then set the Early Reflections size to a short 6m. Push the right Treble dial to 0dB to set the high-shelf cut/boost to neutral, brightening the reverb.


A longer reverb helps to push the bright snare back in the mix, but we can push it further back by dulling the sound: insert IIEQ Pro CM on the snare’s channel, then apply a high-shelf cut of -6dB at 1.3kHz.

organic mixdowns  /  make music now  < > Step by step


Using tempo-synced delay will create a mathematically ‘perfect’ delay, but these copies can start stacking up too perfectly, sounding mechanical and robotic. Cranking up the feedback can stack copies of a sound directly onto each other, increasing the overall level.

Lifeinspace We often reach for reverb and delay tools with the assumption that these will automatically add an extra dimension of life, space and movement to static sounds. However, this isn’t always the case – if your source sound is very static to begin with, then the delay or reverb will probably also appear static, especially if it’s a ‘digital’-style plugin with no modulation. Algorithmic reverb plugins aim to artificially recreate the sound of reflections heard in a realistic space. When sound waves unpredictably bounce around real-world boundaries, many complex variables can affect the resulting effect we hear – temperature, number of boundaries, the materials the walls are made of, etc. By gently modulating an artificial reverb tail using pitch, chorus or phase effects, it’s possible to mimic environmental variables in reverb timbre change, removing the static, lifeless sound of an un-modulated reverb. Many reverb plugins use internal modulation effects to modulate the reverb tail, but don’t worry if your favourite reverb plugin doesn’t have these – simply use the reverb on a return track, then add separate modulation effects on this return for a roughly similar result. Plus, experiment with the resulting effect by placing the modulator either pre- or post-reverb.


Most old-school hardware delays measure delay time in milliseconds rather than at a fixed tempo, resulting in more organic, ‘imperfect’ delay repeats. At 120bpm, an eighth-note delay time is 250ms – you can work out other values using an online calculator such as the one at Dial it in!


We now have an exact delay running as before, but now we can add or subtract a couple of milliseconds to that delay time, offsetting the delay repeats ever so slightly. Doing this makes the delay more organic and interesting. Many delays’ offset or swing features can be employed to create a similar effect.

> Step by step 20.Addinglifewithanambientwashofreverb


Sending multiple elements to a single ‘ambience’ bus can add a sense of depth to the background of a track, almost like adding a room mic into a mix. Start by loading the audio files – arp, pad, vocal and drums – from the Tutorial Files onto separate tracks in a 95bpm project. We’re using Logic Pro X, but you can follow along in any host.


Mute and unmute the aux to evaluate its impact in the mix. In our case, it’s clear that this ‘ambience’ bus is adding a subtle wash of reverb that slightly glues the mix together. As our track is rather ‘floaty’, our relatively long reverb time suits the context, but you may have better success with shorter reverb times if your mix is particularly fast-paced or dense.


Send all three tracks to a bus/aux channel (known as a return track in other DAWs) by 0dB. Label the aux ‘Ambience’, then load Reverberate CM onto it. We’ll stick with the default preset, but turn the Dry/Wet knob to fully Wet. The bright drum reverb is overwhelming the effect, so turn the send amount down to -13dB.


Finally, note that you can add effects on the aux (either pre- or post-reverb) to change the character of the reverb wash; here, we’ve loaded Wolfram CM before the reverb on the aux, then we’ve used its Pitch parameter to transpose the signal up an octave before it hits the reverb, creating a shimmering background effect.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  51

>  make music now  /  organic mixdowns




While electronic beat programming and experimentation go hand-inhand, thinking like a human drummer will result in more natural, organic beats. Use choke groups to ensure your closed and open hi-hats don’t play at the same time, emphasise downbeats with higher-velocity hits, and keep in mind a drum kit’s layout when panning your drum sounds.



We all know that velocity programming can be used to control the volume of individual notes, but plenty more nuances can be introduced. For example, assigning velocity to a low-pass filter’s cutoff will allow you to emulate the way that real notes ‘open up’ when played more forcefully, and sound more dull when played softly; quieter notes will not only be quieter in level, but will contain less energy over the frequency spectrum. Incidentally, our awesome drum sampler Grooove CM is designed to squeeze the most out of velocity programming – check it out!


especially if they have a decay tail, be it a natural part of the instrument (eg, drums, piano, guitar, etc) or a little added reverb or other ambience, as this can billow up beneath the main hits in a pleasing, organic manner. It’s easy to overdo this technique or apply it in an overly-obvious way, so consider mixing the compressed and unprocessed signals (ie, parallel compression) to balance out the effect in a mix context.


BREATHEANDPUMP When used correctly, characterful compression can make static mix elements ‘breathe’ and pump,


We all love exaggerated parameter sweeps and abrupt changes, but minute variations can resonate just as much with the listener. Try automating a low-pass filter around by only a couple of Hz for almost-imperceptible movement, apply half-dB level changes upon a chorus’s arrival, or apply a very slight amount of high-mid boost to a signal’s side information to add gentle width at key places.



Many software instruments now include specific features designed to add that human/analogue life and soul. Examples include synth ‘slop’ to emulate analogue movement, samplers with round-robin functions, and tape simulations with wow and flutter. Dig out your plugins’ manuals and see what yours have got!



Bright, harsh, tinny treble screams “digital”, which we translate into lifelessness. Smooth out synths, hats and top-end elements with tape saturation, EQ shelving or multiband compression to make a track seem more organic in general.

Tinny treble is a dead giveaway of a ‘digital’ mix – smooth it out with tape simulation, EQ and multiband compression

52  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015



While it might be the quick option, the default straight lines of your DAW’s automation system won’t necessarily give the most ear-pleasing results. Instead, try logarithmic curves, which can sound smoother and more natural than straight lines – some DAWs let you curve the existing lines, or if not, you can use small straight-line segments to compose a curve. Even better, get hands on with your automation: hit record and use MIDI encoders or the mouse to record in automation on the fly, capturing natural sweeps.



If you have a MIDI controller or drum pads, get into the habit of hitting record then jamming your beats or riffs in live, even if it’s just for a bit of additional percussion or synth ‘ear candy’. Your timing may be off at first, but this will improve with practise. If you do need to quantise them a bit, don’t hard-lock them to a set grid; instead, use iterative quantise to slightly nudge them in time while keeping the natural performance, or even move the onbeat hits in line with quantise turned off. Programmed hi-hats can especially benefit, so perhaps program kicks and snares for solidity, and record your hats in live.



A sampled 4/4 kick sounds exactly the same on every beat, whereas ‘analogue’-sounding house and techno kicks often feature a specific type of randomness (often introduced by using analogue/modular synths to generate kicks). Add life by layering a subtle synthesised click or noise layer over the kick, add modulation and movement within the synth to vary this click over time, then compress with the original kick.



Vibrato is vibrato, right? Wrong! This wanton wobbling of pitch is extremely expressive when used correctly, so observe the nuances that the best musicians and vocalists apply to the technique: how far they deviate from the main note, how fast they do it, how long they wait before bringing it in at all, the contour of their pitch modulation (is it similar to a sine, triangle, or even a trill-like back-and-forth square wave?), and whether vibrato is applied upwards (ie, sharp of the main note), downwards, or ‘around’ the note. This can all add up to a recognisable vibrato ‘signature’ – our friends at MusicRadar have a great article analysing that of six famous guitarists at – and you can certainly bring a similar degree of expression to your MIDI parts with careful use of programmed vibrato. Using the mod wheel to introduce preprogrammed vibrato is the traditional method, but for finer results, use a MIDI CC (it could be the mod wheel, reassigned) to manipulate pitch directly, drawing in the exact pitch deviations you desire. Some ROMplers include performed vibrato as an articulation, which will ensure that you get a realistic result.

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Producer Masterclass

PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING The iconoclastic electro-indie act show us how they combine sampled archive recordings with epic music to get their unique sound December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  55

>  make music now  /  producer masterclass

With his smart attire and sensible specs, J. Willgoose Esq. isn’t your typical Producer Masterclass house hipster or DnB rudeboy – on the contrary, dear reader! Public Service Broadcasting comprises multi-instrumentalist Willgoose (John for short) and drummer Wrigglesworth, and their unique selling point is the sampled archive materials that accompany their cinematic, anachronistic sounds – news reports, documentaries, public information films and movies are mixed into their indie/ electronic tracks. caught up with John in his South London studio to find out how PSB came into being, and learn the secrets behind their vintage sounds. “I was making a lot of primarily electronic music at home,” begins John. “I was trying to sound like DJ Shadow, and doing some bluegrassy stuff with finger picking, trying to find out what was right for me. I’d been

“I just liked the sound of these old voices, and I thought they’d go well” trying to make music that was half-decent for a very long time, and it hadn’t really been happening. I was still trying all kinds of different genres, which is what led me to play all kinds of instruments and disciplines – both electronic and live. “I heard about these samples that the British Film Institute had put online one day, and I though ‘nobody is going to hear this, I can have a play around with it’. What came out was actually pretty good, by my standards, so I just carried on doing it. I used a lot of public domain stuff from the US to get going, and then I actually approached the BFI and asked for formal permission. We’ve had a great working relationship ever since then!” At first these samples were added purely for sonic decoration, but as PSB developed,

VIDEO MASTERCLASS Watch John pull together the audio and create the mix for Public Service Broadcasting’s complex, funky rocker Gagarin in this in-studio session 56  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

Selected kit list Selected kit list

John began to take things more seriously. “When we started out, I wasn’t using them for anything other than the sound and the sonic character. I just liked the sound of these old voices, and I thought they’d go well with some of the music I was doing. They weren’t structurally or historically adding much context to it – they weren’t really making much difference apart from being a purely sonic thing. “The songs became more focussed on different themes and ideas – colour TV, driving safely, a very tongue-in-cheek song about fashion. As that grew, I started to get a bit frustrated doing things piecemeal, and I wanted to tackle something a bit bigger and more serious, to show there was more depth to it than just the odd novelty song. “I ended up writing a five-track EP about World War II [The War Room] using archive material, and it seemed to connect with people. It got played on BBC 6 Music, and

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from there just took on its own life.” After PSB’s first album, Inform - Educate Entertain, was released in 2013, John wanted to get his teeth into another thematically rich topic: The Race for Space. “We released the first album, which was mostly stuff we’d been working on for four or five years, so it was more piecemeal and all over the shop thematically, but it was a general introduction to the kind of things we’re interested in. When it came to the second album, I was quite keen to focus on something conceptually tight, just to give it a bit more of a narrative and to use the historical aspect of what we’re doing to tell more of a story – to give it more emotional weight. I was lucky enough to hit on the space race as an idea and just ran with it!” In this exclusive tutorial, John shows us how he produced his bitter-sweet tribute to Soviet cosmonaut and first man in space, Gagarin, in Steinberg Cubase 5.

producer masterclass  /  make music now  <

Processing the drums with parallel compression


“I was always taught, when mixing, to start with the kit and the bass,” says John. “We miked the kit very closely when we recorded it, so there aren’t a great deal of ‘far’ mics. It was recorded in a very tight drum booth at The Pool Studio in Bermondsey, on an old Pearl kit... or maybe it was a Premier.” John uses parallel

compression to beef up the drum mix, using Universal Audio’s 1176LN limiter effect. “When the toms are playing it gets fizzy around the edges, which is the feel we were going for.” John regards another UA effect, the Ampex ATR102 Mastering Tape Recorder, to be his ‘magic plugin’, which excites the signal and smooths out its high end.

“I’ve really gone to town on this, editing it as tightly as possible” Getting the bass right


Gagarin’s bassline is a live bass guitar part recorded via DI. “I’ve really gone to town on this, editing it as tightly as possible,” explains John. “When it’s about trying to create a groove, you really need them to feel… they say ‘in the pocket’, which I suppose is a bit pretentious… but you need it to sound cohesive.” This is limited with the Universal Audio 1176SE, run through a bass amp in NI’s Guitar Rig, compressed slightly with the Universal Audio API Vision Channel Strip, and finally sculpted with Universal Audio Cambridge EQ. “It sounds a bit muddy without the EQ – I’m never too keen on low-mid sounds in general; I always seem to take around 250Hz out of stuff. I like the low-end weight, but I don’t like the cloudy picture you get when you have a lot of low-mid in there.”

Treating and adding brass parts


The brass was recorded by a sixpiece horn section comprising two trombones, two trumpets, alto sax and baritone sax, each close-miked with a variety of microphones. Extra reverb is provided via the Universal Audio Lexicon 224, with a relatively

short reverb time of 1.3 seconds. The Ampex tape sim is also applied to the horns, which makes them sound brighter and sparklier. “It adds layers of distortion and tape emulation that distort in a very musical way and really bring out the character of the sound,” John enthuses.

Adding strings


You’d expect a track about the first man in space to feature triumphant, soaring strings, but John has other plans: “The idea behind the song is, it’s a celebration of Yuri Gagarin – his exuberant personality and effusiveness. He was a talisman for the Soviet Union, but he was used mercilessly as a propaganda tool around the world, possibly developed a drinking problem, and died in a plane crash only about seven years after he went into space. So a tragic end for a really triumphant story. That’s what the shift to the minor key is about, and that’s where the strings come in.” The Lexicon 224 is summoned once again, this time to provide a longer 5.7-second reverb on the strings’ top-end. Universal Audio’s Helios 69 lightly equalises the sound, and UA’s Fairchild 670 compressor ‘tickles’ the signal with some mild compression.

Tweaking speech


Public Service Broadcasting use snippets of archive material extensively in their music. “Often, the speech samples are from material that’s very old and knackered and probably has a lot of noise on it, which is not ideal.” Gagarin features samples taken from a variety of films lent to John by the British Film Institute. Each of the audio sources had its own issues, and on the intro vocal, John uses PSP’s ClassicQex as a pre-compressor EQ before PSP’s VintageWarmer 2 “hammers” the signal. He then runs the signal through Guitar Rig’s pitchshifter pedal, which adds a slightly robotic feel, then notches out some excessively loud frequencies with the Cambridge EQ.


Gagarin Spitfire WWW

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  57

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Get the authentic sound and vibe of early sampling with our guide to recreating classic techniques

DOWNLOAD Get the videos and tutorial files on your PC/Mac at

It’s hard to believe that in the space of most of our lifetimes, a completely unknown new musical technology has gone from science fiction to utter ubiquity, via novelty and controversy – so much so that even those of us old enough to have experienced a time before digital sampling mostly struggle to remember it. As with most technology that we all take for granted, there’s a huge amount of confusion (ie, ‘bollocks spoken’) about what it is, how it works, and why we love or hate it so much. The term ‘sampling’ originally referred to the act of converting real-world analogue waveforms into ‘sampled’ digital snapshots of sonic moments, which could be stored, manipulated and played back. Nowadays, almost all the music we hear, whether on TV, radio, the internet or CDs is already in digital format; the only exceptions are music on tape or vinyl – and if those tapes or vinyl are playing music recorded in the last 20 years, you can bet they’ve gone through a digital process at some point. Of course, with modern gear, it’s near impossible to distinguish between

a high-quality digital sample/recording and the source signal, but it wasn’t always this way, with vintage units being noted for their lack of transparency. Early samplers were used to capture and manipulate real-world sounds. It’s crazy to imagine it now, but as recently as the early 80s, most people had never had the opportunity to record a spoken word and re-trigger it in a stuttering fashion, or play a tune with it; and the idea that a group of kids could take a section of their favourite track, play it back in a loop, add lyrics on top and make a hit record was laughable. Back then, some top producers even thought it was evil and inherently unmusical. One thing is for sure, though: those early samples – whether they were loops from 70s soul records or individual drum hits – all had very distinctive vibes, beyond that of the source material. Imperfections and limitations of the sampling technology of the day, and the inventive workflows created to compensate, added character that still sounds great today. Let’s take a look at how to recreate it…

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  59

>  make music now  /  old-school sampling

Sampling hardware: a slice of history

© Rex Features

It’s impossible to recreate the sound of oldschool sampling without knowing a bit about the technology of the era – in particular, its limitations, which gave rise not only to sonic character, but also hugely influenced the way things were sampled, what was done to them after, and, therefore, the music that came about. Following the little-known Computer Music Melodian, the first sampler to really make its mark was the mighty Synclavier, costing up to $500,000. Things ramped up further in 1979 with the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument). This 8-bit Australian monster cost the same as a nice house and was a gamechanger. Spec-wise, it was modest even by the standards of a modern children’s toy, but clever programming and exquisitely designed components allowed a surprisingly rich tone.

Early days Nothing remotely ‘affordable’ came along until 1984 – the first such device was E-MU’s Emulator II. The intervening years had seen a number of drum machines embracing basic sampling technology (Linndrum LN-1, E-MU’s own Drumulator and the Oberheim DMX being three classic examples), but the 8-bit Emulator II combined some revolutionary DACs (almost rendering its output at 12-bit quality) with a lush 4-pole 24dB/oct true-analogue low-pass resonant filter. At $8000 (about $18000 in today’s money), it wasn’t cheap, but it suddenly placed sampling within financial reach of a new generation of bands and studios. This price, combined with the Emulator II’s great sound and many third-party libraries, saw it dominate midto-late-80s pop and soundtrack music. 1987 saw the release of one of two defining samplers in hip-hop, E-MU’s SP-1200. It may have only offered ten seconds of sampling at 12-bit, but it allowed the construction of entire tracks, and so quickly became the first practical, compact ‘studio-in-a-box’. The following year heralded the other iconic hip-hop one-stop studio shop, Akai’s MPC60. Designed by the legendary Roger Linn, it introduced the 4x4 pad matrix we still love today, and was – in many ways – technically superior to the SP-1200 (cue three decades of arguments about which is the

E-MU’s Emulator II was the first bona fide ‘affordable’ sampler, proving a hit with acts like the Pet Shop Boys

better machine). Both were enjoyed by producers in other genres, of course, but it’s with hip-hop that they’ll forever be associated.

Classic sounds Alongside these production workstations, other 8- and 12-bit legends were being forged in the late 80s. Akai’s S900 and S950 were filling up studios across the world, and their meaty sounds cut proudly through mixdowns for hiphop and early house producers alike. On the fledgling house music scene, the growly Casio FZ-1 had stuttered vocals rocking dancefloors from Chicago to Ibiza, while the Ensoniq Mirage, Ensoniq EPS and EPS16+ shifted enough units to later provide cheaper second-hand routes into sampling for up-and-coming producers. The early 90s was all about keyboard-based sampling workstations, with Roland’s W-30 driving every Prodigy track until 1997 (and, reportedly, their stage shows until as late as 2007), while on the other side of the pond, Ensoniq’s ASR-10’s keen price made it the choice of such hip-hop legends as the Wu-Tang Clan,

D’Angelo, Kanye West and, er… Beck. For those with bigger wallets, the mid 90s brought hitherto undreamt of power. Akai’s flagship S3000 became the industry standard, while those with a hankering for more muscle and memory opted for the E-MU EIV series sampler. The legendary Z-plane morphing filters on this beast came to define the sound of DnB breaks, achieving an almost machine-gun-like gated-filter effect that you just couldn’t replicate any other way (then or now). Roland also contributed massively to the DnB scene, largely through the almost religious devotion of Roni Size, who began his seminal New Forms album on an S550 before adding a much meatier S760. All of these machines offered something different to the mix, both creatively and sonically – from the Mirage’s cheap and gritty convertors to the more musical Emulator II – and it’s well worth an afternoon’s net surfing to familiarise yourself with the tracks they facilitated. You’ll quickly come to recognise the sounds of individual machines at work, making it much easier to recreate the vibes you’re after.

A soft touch If you want to capture the sound of vintage gear, there are no shortage of sample collections available meticulously recorded via many of the classics we’ve listed here, but they don’t allow you to sprinkle your own material with that lo-fi fairy dust. Over the next few pages, we’ll look at ways to simulate the sounds of old machines, but for a number of them, you can go straight for a virtual recreation. One such, 112dB’s Morgana, is a painstaking recreation of Ensoniq’s beloved Mirage, right down to the chips. At times, the recreation can be almost too authentic, particularly when editing, although the virtual faders are more than you got with the original hardware unit! For the sound of an Emulator II, Togu Audio Line offer TAL-Sampler. This also offers an 60  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

You can still pick up an Akai S950 relatively cheap, if you covet that classic vibe and don’t mind the inconvenience

emulation of the classic AM6070 chip associated with many early sampling instruments (such as the Linndrum LM-1 and DMX drum machines), and different DA convertor models to approximate other samplers of the period. It’s not a strict recreation, but the sound and architecture

offer a fairly authentic experience. If all this whets your appetite to the point that you want the feel of solid knobs between your fingertips, you could consider trying out the real thing – it might be much cheaper than you think. While classics like the SP-1200 and MPC60 still go for ludicrous money on eBay – make that astronomically ludicrous money if you’re looking for a Fairlight – some lessercelebrated but beautifully characterful machines go for around the £100 mark when they crop up. One example is the Akai S950, which offers the 12-bit meatiness of an MPC60 for about a tenth of the price. Another is the E-MU e6400 (an upgradable version of their most powerful sampler, the EIV) which boasts some of the warmest digital filters ever to grace a 19-inch rack.

old-school sampling  /  make music now  <

On a loop: the history of sampling We’ve looked at the chronology of hardware sampler technology, but what about the sounds that were actually being sampled? Owing to huge prices, limited editing possibilities and, critically, low sampling time, the early years of sampling were dominated by exotic sample libraries, putting recreations of existing instruments in the hands of composers and mega-studios that could probably afford to get the real thing. The exciting new twist was that they could all be played via keyboard, and manipulated in entirely new ways. In this sense, they were being used as extremely fancy Mellotrons (the 60s tape-based instrument that brought us the opening flute riff on Strawberry Fields), but all that was about to change.

Born in The Bronx As early as 1979, there were signs of where sampling technology might take music. The Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight – released in the same year as the first sampler – is often cited as one of the first sample-based records; but the iconic Good Times instrumental was, in fact, replayed by a band. The track did reflect a new musical genre, though: hip-hop. Hip-hop was born in the block parties of The South Bronx and Queensbridge, where MCs would chat over classic funk breaks, manually looped by a DJ using double copies. And perhaps there hip-hop might have stayed, had it not been for the next generation of genuinely affordable samplers. Most early hip-hop tracks were simple, using basic synths and drum machines. Consequently, there were occasional breakthrough hits, but with no ready access to real instruments, aspiring young hip-hop producers had no way to inject real soul into their backing tracks, and thus the rapping itself couldn’t develop musically. It was in this climate that the SP-1200 and MPC60, arrived. Suddenly, producers raised on funk and soul had access to and could harness two decades of musical history. The effect, on not just hip-hop beats but the rapping they inspired, set the wheels in motion

for the global phenomenon we see today (and, as many grateful lawyers will testify, sowed the seeds of musical copyright law as we know it). And it wasn’t just hip-hop that was born of sampling. The nascent jungle scene of the early 90s owed its existence to the fresh availability of affordable samplers, capable of capturing drum breaks and speeding them up. By placing the means to create whole tracks in the hands of young producers in their bedrooms, away from the established studio system, these bits of kit were abused and put to uses their designers never intended. Stories abound of how many hardcore producers that actually had timestretching capability on their samplers simply didn’t know how to work it, so they pitched up vocals to make them quicker, creating two years of high-octane chart rave (and two decades of shame for those who bought it). Likewise, before Propellerhead’s ReCycle!, slicing breaks and resequencing them to change the tempo meant hours of work – much easier to just pitch them up! The technology not only made the music possible, it almost gave birth to it.

Sampled legacy Which brings us to the present day. In many ways, sampling has come full circle – the vast ROMpler instruments and libraries now available for instruments like Kontakt provide near-perfect recreations of whole orchestras, and the vast range of today’s prerecorded loops harks back to the earliest drum machines, when preset rhythms were the order of the day. In some ways we have, perhaps, taken a step back. With this in mind, over the course of the next few pages, we’re going to look at some ways to reach back to that exciting and rebellious period in sampling’s history, and apply some of its rough and innocent imperfection to our pristine modern productions. We’ll start with some walkthroughs showing how to capture the iconic 12-bit SP-1200 sound and apply it to our own music, then dive into some more general old-school sampling techniques.

The legacy of the E-MU SP-1200, with its 12-bit resolution and ten-second capacity, lives on in early hip-hop tracks

Capturing a classic Few people know more about capturing the sound of a classic sampler than The Professor, techbod-in-chief at sample masters Rhythmic Robot. They recently immortalised one of the most iconic sampler sound banks in history – the Emulator II’s Universe of Sounds – as a Kontakt library. Capturing its true sound for a new generation wasn’t a simple matter. “I think the biggest factors are sample depth and the convertors,” explains The Professor. “The ‘old skool’ sound owes a lot to the grainy resolution of early 8-bit and 12-bit machines, which bring a lot of imperfection to the waveform that our ears find curiously attractive. Aliasing noise, for example, sometimes adds a sheen to a sample that makes it sound crisp, while low bit depths seem to make bass tones sound weightier. “The Emulator II manual expressly suggests recording your sample to tape before sampling it into the EII, so as to be able to set your sample levels precisely; so there’s a kind of double-whammy of flavour being added.” Consequently, the Rhythmic Robot team had to be meticulous. “We resampled the whole library, patch by patch, from the audio outputs of a reconditioned EII. That means the sound of the convertors and the EII’s analogue filter is preserved. “We sampled every single note of every patch chromatically, so that the signature character of the EII’s interpolation algorithm was preserved. Original EII patches usually had just a few samples – often four or five – spread over the keyboard, maybe one per octave, and the machine can sound quite growly at the extremes. We were determined to preserve that. “You have no idea how long it took... and it’s only half. We’re doing the other half now, in between regretting that we ever started this madness!” readers can get 15% off Rhythmic Robot’s Universe of Sounds collection using the coupon code CMDEAL December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  61

>  make music now  /  old-school sampling > Step by step


For vintage sampling vibes, we must first make our loop sound as if its been recorded on tape and pressed to vinyl. Load 1. Funk Groove Dry.wav into your DAW and use filters to cut below 40-70Hz and above 12-15kHz (removing more frequencies for 60s vibes, less for 70s). We add a tape sim – the UAD Ampex ATR-102, but any will work – and drive the input quite hot (about 7dB).


Next, we need to make the signal mono. Most classic sample tracks simply took the left or right channel (we’ve chosen Left here, as it has a nicer sound). If you really can’t live with a totally mono loop, we recommend summing it to mono anyway, then adding width using artificial stereo plugins or reverb.

> Step by step


Toolbox tips

1. Getting an SP-1200-style sound in software


The tape sim is enough to add saturation and cohesion without ruining the dynamic range. Next, we introduce some simulated vinyl noise. We’re using Plug & Mix’s Vinylizer for a little ‘crackle’ and ‘pop’ (‘snap’ is optional). Judge the amount of these on the target age of your loop (again, more for 60s-style, less for 70s) but also on the style of track you’re making.


Finally, we recreate the effect of sampling via a sampler’s audio inputs. Signals were usually recorded quite hot, so you might add some gentle compression to simulate overdrive before applying your bitcrusher. We’re after an SP-1200 vibe, so we use D16 Group Decimort’s SP-1200 preset and apply input gain to capture that hot sound.

If you want a truly authentic vintage sampled sound, you’ll first need vintage emulation plugins to recreate the recording characteristics of the era. A tape emulator is great for saturation – UAD’s Studer A800 and Ampex ATR-102 emulations are exquisite, as are Waves’ Kramer Master Tape and Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Machines; but for tighter budgets, you could try SKnote’s tasty Roundtone. Next comes a bit reduction effect, for which you won’t find much better than D16’s Decimort, with its MPC60, EPS, FZ-1, Emulator and SP-1200 presets, and more. FabFilter’s Saturn is another good option (this also does a good tape emulation), and Togu Audio Line’s TAL-Bitcrusher, though not supported any more, is available as a free download. Alternatively, for a one-stop solution, AudioThing’s Vinyl Strip offers a selection of vinylemulating distressing effects plus sampler-style bitcrushing. Owners of NI’s Maschine might want to bypass these steps altogether and simply plump for its built-in MPC60 or SP-1200 sonic modes. Akai’s MPC Renaissance also offers vintage models of the MPC60, MPC3000, SP-1200 and other classics.

AudioThing’s Vinyl Strip lets you dial in the sound of effects, vinyl and samplers

2. Mimicking SP-1200-style sampling technique

To make the most of their samplers’ tiny memory, hip-hop producers recorded their 33rpm records in at 45rpm, then slowed the sample down in the sampler, further colouring the sound. To simulate this, load 1. Funk Groove for SP 1200.wav into a sampler, and simply play it five semitones up.

62  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015


We’ve left a little bit of music at each end. Another key aspect of the SP-1200 was its rough start/end point selection – its maximum editing resolution was 25 samples. Apply Decimort’s SP-1200 preset to reduce the bitrate, then render the loop. We then put this sample back into a sampler and play it five semitones down, just as those hip-hop samplists did.


We set our start point by ear with the waveform zoomed out for authentically coarse looping, and draw in two four-bar MIDI notes to re-trigger the sample. To change the tempo, simply raise or lower the playback pitch and adjust the tempo to fit the loop length in 0.1bpm increments (that’s all the SP-1200 offered)!

>  make music now  /  old-school sampling

10 old-school sampling tips



Although basic timestretching was a feature on early samplers, it didn’t always give the desired results. To fit a sample’s timing to a track, producers would simply play it at a lower or higher note, to speed it up or slow it down. Of course, this would affect the pitch of the sample, too – hence all the highpitched chipmunk vocals in early hardcore and jungle music. Often, though, it can sound even better and punchier than the best modern warping, particularly on drum loops, as it preserves transients perfectly. Try getting your drum loops in time by tuning them up or down (using a re-pitch mode) first, then render them at that speed before editing them further.



New genres go hand in hand with new technology, and the early-tomid-90s brought us both jungle (the forerunner to DnB) and affordable timestretching. Not only was it suddenly possible to take a vocal and add it to a track at a very different tempo without making it sound like a chipmunk on helium (or the devil talking slowly), but producers also realised that by halving the tempo, then halving it again (and so on!), they could create slowed-down versions of words and phrases. The process duplicates slices of the sample, creating a gated, stuttering sound – an almost sonic-strobe-like effect – and it still sounds great today!




Vintage samplers were nothing if not quirky, so it’s worth reading up on the unique idiosyncrasies of the kit behind your favourite classic tracks. For example, early-90s New York hip-hop was awash with grimy, low-passed basslines, in part thanks to an oddity of the SP-1200, as Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee explained to The Village Voice (Read the full article at HankVVoice). “One day I was playing Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos, and it came out real muffled. I couldn’t hear any of the high-end part of it. I found out that if you put the phono or quarter-inch jack halfway in, it filters the high frequency. Now I just got the bass part of the sample. I was like, ‘Oh, shit, this is the craziest thing on the planet!’” To recreate this, simply add a low-pass filter before your bitcrusher!


For almost as long as people have been sampling sounds, they’ve been reversing them. Reserve sounds can be great for edits, and can even form an integral part of your rhythm. Reversed percussion hits like drums and claps can feed into the unreversed hit, or even just sit within the rhythm to give a pump to the groove. It’s generally best to place them so that the end of the reversed sound lines up with a beat, even if there’s no other hit falling at the same time. If a reversed sound doesn’t end on a beat, try adding another bit of percussion at that point to maintain the groove.

We can all reverse a sample, but here we’ll show you how to fit it into an existing groove or track

64  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

In this video, we’ll show you how to artificially impose the limits of early sampling technology upon yourself



Early digital consumer technologies had memory limitations that we’d consider laughable now. Back then, sampling time came at a premium that we’re not used to today, but this led to some pretty inventive behaviour, which in turn resulted in some unique sounds. Memory could be saved in many places. In order to achieve sustain, for example, it was necessary to use just a short looped section of the sample. When you pressed a key, the attack phase would be played until it reached this looped section, which then continued to play until the key was released, at which point the sample would play from the looped section to the end. This looping effect was often imperfect and – more importantly – noticeable, and became a key part of the character behind many early sample-based riffs, such as the ubiquitous car horn noise popularised by Todd Terry. This memory limitation, in conjunction with lowresolution editing, meant that the sound of the short loop could be hard to conceal, but one way to deal with this is to throw caution to the wind and use the effect as an overt characteristic that adds to the vibe of the track.

old-school sampling  /  make music now  <



Akai’s early S900 and S950 samplers were famously prodigious synth bass monsters. Switching on either machine yielded a default sample of a simple sine wave bass, synonymous with early hip-hop, hardcore, jungle and DnB. Sine wave bass is notoriously hard to make interesting, but a combination of 12-bit circuitry and lessthan-transparent analogue outputs added real oomph. Recreate this by running a sine wave riff through a bitcrusher and some analogue saturation plugins. The difference may seem subtle until you throw it into a track with other elements.


We use the UAD Ampex ATR-102 to add grit to a simple sine-wave bassline


Some early sample-based machines – such as Roland’s D-50 – combined synthesis and sampling. This was partly for creative reasons, but also partly to overcome the limited sampling time available. This technique can produce layered sounds such as percussive strikes and attack phases (that need not change pitch when they’re played up and down the keyboard) over sustained sounds that can be played musically. Try your own combinations by mapping two different sounds to the same key-range in your sampler and adjusting their respective envelopes. For example, the attack portion of a piano with the sustain of a trumpet sample. Or a kick sample and an electronic organ, Daniel Beddingfield-style.



A classic sample-riff effect is to sample a chord and play a riff as if using a regular synth patch. Two things happen in this case: the length of the sample changes (higher notes are shorter, while lower notes get longer), which can have a dynamic effect on the groove; and the actual sound can be rather unusual, as real players don’t usually play riffs by transposing all the notes of a given chord up and down in identical semitone intervals. Recreate the effect by recording a chord playing your favourite synth patch, load that recording into a sampler and get busy creating a short riff.

World (Girls) – and continuing right up to the recent hit collaboration with DJ Snake and MØ, Lean On. The modern Major’s general approach employs heavy pitch modulation, but it’s essentially the same simple trick: take a word or syllable from a vocal, map it across the keyboard and play a riff or accompaniment.


Want to know exactly how to slice and play back drum loops the old-fashioned way? We’ve got you covered



The mid 80s saw a new kind of vocal taking the charts by storm: the sampled vocal riff. Whether your first introduction was Whistle’s Just Buggin’, ( or Stock Aitken and Waterman’s production of Mel & Kim’s Respectable (, nobody could avoid that distinctive sound. By the mid 90s, it was all but dead and buried – a cheesy anachronism born of naïvety and new technology… until a couple of years ago when Major Lazer made a career out of it, starting with Pon De Floor ( – subsequently sampled for Beyonce’s Run the


A defining innovation of early jungle sampling was the slicing and re-ordering of drum loops, achieved by slicing a beat into chunks and triggering each one in succession via MIDI. Tracks like DJ Seduction’s Sub Dub ( created a blueprint for the DnB that was to come by varying the playback pattern in each bar constantly over 8, 16 and even 24 bars. This was achieved in different ways, the first of which was by carefully chopping a one-, two- or four-bar break into parts with different start points for re-triggering from (choice snares, kicks, ‘shuffles’, fills, etc). Alternatively, it can be done by copying the same break to between five and ten adjacent keys, and setting a different sample start point for each key (again, choosing percussive hits like kicks and snares). Another way to do the same is to simply slice the loop into quantised measures (eighthnotes, quarter-notes, half-notes, whole notes, etc), complete with off-grid glitchy attack phases and some sliced ‘air’ to open the loop up again. December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  65


MICROTONIC Get grooving with our guide to all the main features and functions of Sonic Charge’s legendary drum machine

DOWNLOAD See and hear it all explained in video on your PC/Mac at

Launched way back in 2004 and the first of several plugins from the developer of Reason’s Mälstrom synth, Microtonic – also known by the slightly clumsy moniker TONIC – scored 9/10 in 71’s review of v1, then the same again in 163’s review of the current v3. It’s one of a surprisingly rare music software breed: a virtual drum machine, complete with step sequencer, that generates all of its sounds purely using synthesis, without a sample in sight. Each of Microtonic’s eight channels mixes a simple but effective analogue-style oscillator with an equally straightforward noise generator, then processes the resulting sound with distortion and EQ. The workflow is fast and intuitive, and the sonically fabulous drum, percussion and FX sounds it blasts out are perfectly suited to techno, house, hip-

hop and other dance and urban styes. Although Microtonic is first and foremost a drum machine – and that’s what we’ll be focusing on in this tutorial – its architecture is versatile enough for the programming of basses, leads and other synth sounds, too. The pattern sequencer doesn’t offer transposition, though, so unless you’re after monotone lines, you’ll need to turn keyboard input on for recording and playback of melodic parts. A classic instrument in every sense, Microtonic demands a place in the plugins folder of any electronic music producer looking for a powerful, musical, easilytweakable source of 100% synthesised percussion. In this tutorial and its videos, we’ll explore each of its three sections in turn, look at the morph function in detail, and gaze in wonder at the amazing Patternarium. December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  67

>  make music now  /  how to use microtonic > Step by step 1.Thetopbar


The top section of the interface is where presets are managed; each of the eight parts selected, soloed and muted; sound morphs applied; and other options handled. The Program menu (top left) contains 16 simultaneously loaded programs. A program is a complete Microtonic setup, including patterns, and you can switch between them here or using MIDI Program Change messages.


The Stop Voices with MIDI Note Off button switches Microtonic from its default ‘one-shot’ mode, where every sound plays to completion when it receives a MIDI note on message, to ‘gated’ mode, where the following note off message cuts the sound short. This is the option to reach for when you want to sharply tailor the lengths of your sounds – particularly useful for basses and leads.


To change the preset in the currently active Program slot, click the menu below and choose a new one, or step through the list with the left/right buttons. The Browse for Presets option opens a browser window at your Microtonic presets folder, where you can audition and load them (with or without their patterns), and narrow the menu down from All presets to just those in a specific folder.


Along the bottom of the top bar are the eight Channel buttons and their accompanying Mute buttons. Clicking a Channel button (or selecting it via MIDI with the Select Channel with MIDI button active) simply brings up the controls and pattern for that channel in the GUI below. Clicking it again triggers the sound at MIDI velocity 64, and Alt-clicking triggers it at 127 velocity.


The three buttons to the right activate a trio of useful MIDI options. The leftmost, Select Channel with MIDI, enables selection of Microtonic’s eight drum channels via MIDI note inputs. In the middle, the Pitched MIDI Mode button lets you play each sound melodically on MIDI channels 1-8, as opposed to the default behaviour, where each sound is triggered by specific notes.


Clicking a Mute button mutes its associated channel, but it’s important to understand that it’s not killing the audio output of that channel – it’s deactivating its input. If a sound is playing when you mute it, it’ll continue playing until it finishes. Alt-clicking a Mute button solos that channel, and MIDI notes C2-G2 (adjustable in the preferences) can be used to control the mutes, too.

2.Mightymorphings Introduced in version 3 of Microtonic, the Morph function gives Sonic Charge’s drum machine the ability to smoothly transition between two complete Drum Patch parameter states via the movement of a single control, the Sound Morph slider. Every parameter on all eight channels is affected, so your morphs can get mind-bogglingly complex if you want them to. Bear in mind, though, that morphing has no effect on the Pattern or Global sections – it’s just for the sounds themselves. The implementation is simple enough: with the slider positioned at either end of its track, adjustments made to the controls in the Drum Patch section are stored for that position, and moving the slider from one extreme to the 68  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

The Sound Morph slider is one of Microtonic’s coolest features – see it in action in our tutorial video!

other then interpolates all controls between the two setups. Editing parameters with the Sound Morph slider in between the two poles offsets both setups equally, shifting their parameter values together. Don’t limit your morphs to just obvious rises and overt transitional effects – by establishing only subtle differences between the two patch states, you can modulate the Sound Morph

slider to add gentle, organic motion to your sounds. Good targets for this sort of thing include EQ and filter frequencies, envelope decays and distortion amount. As you’d expect, the Sound Morph slider is available as an automation target in the host DAW, and can be assigned a MIDI CC for hands-on manipulation using your controller keyboard.

how to use microtonic  /  make music now  < > Step by step 3.SynthmixerandOscillatorsections


Onto the Drum Patch section immediately below the top bar. Although it’s actually the last stage in the signal flow, in the interest of working from left to right through the interface, we’ll start with the Mixer. Each of Microtonic’s eight synthesiser channels comprises a virtual analogue Oscillator and a Noise generator, and they’re blended and processed with distortion and EQ here.


The Choke button is mainly for programming realistic hi-hats. Any sound with Choke active will instantly cut off any other playing sound with Choke active when triggered, so by assigning closed and open hi-hats to the Choke group, you’ll never hear both at the same time – just as would be the case with the real-world equivalent.


The transient and tail of the sound are shaped using the Attack and Decay sliders. Attack ranges from 0ms to 10 seconds, while Decay goes from 10ms to 10s. The Decay curve initiates immediately after completion of the Attack stage and is exponential rather than linear – “the most natural-sounding type of decay”, to quote Sonic Charge themselves.


At the top of the Mixer is a menu for loading a single sound into the active channel, which works just like its presetlevel equivalent in the top bar. Below that, the Mix slider sets the balance between the Oscillator and Noise generator: all the way to the left, the channel’s output is 100% Oscillator; to the right, 100% Noise; and in the centre, a 50/50 mix of the two.


Microtonic includes two basic perchannel effects: Distortion and EQ, applied in that order. The Distort knob dials in the former, from subtle warming at the bottom of its range to overdriven decimation at the top. The EQ offers +/- 40dB of gain/attenuation, as set by the EQ Gain knob, sweepable from 20Hz to 20kHz with the EQ Freq slider.


Pitch modulation is essential in drum synthesis, letting you apply downward pitch curves for drums, FM-style metallic sounds for hi-hats, and more. The Pitch Modulator offers three modes: Decaying causes the pitch to drop to the base frequency; Sine wave is a standard LFO for wobbling the pitch around the base frequency; and Random uses the frequency of a filtered noise generator.


At the bottom, the Level and Pan knobs set the output volume and stereo positioning of the sound, while the Output A and B buttons switch the routing between Microtonic’s two output busses into the host DAW, for separate mixing and processing of each. The Multi version of the plugin expands on this with eight hardwired outputs – one for each channel.


Being designed primarily for the creation of drum sounds, Microtonic’s Oscillator section is very focused and extremely easy to negotiate. You get a choice of three waveforms – sine, triangle and sawtooth – selected using the top three buttons, and an Osc Freq slider for setting the base oscillator pitch anywhere between 20Hz and 20kHz.


The depth and speed of modulation are established by the Amount and Rate knobs, the ranges of which depend on the currently selected modulation mode. In Decaying mode, Amount runs from -96 to +96 semitones, while in Sine and Random modes it’s -48 to +48. Rate in Sine mode covers 0-2000Hz, while in Random it sets the filter frequency of the noise source between 0Hz and 20kHz.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  69

>  make music now  /  how to use microtonic > Step by step 4.NoiseandVelocitySensitivitysections


Blended with the Oscillator output in the mixer, the Noise section generates the noise signal required to effectively program snare drums, shakers, hi-hats, claps, stick impacts and the like, as well as adding bite to non-percussive sounds. By default the noise is mono, but a click of the Stereo button routes two independent noise signals to the left and right channels, for width and spatialisation.


A multimode filter is onboard to shape the frequency spectrum of the noise. Switch it between low-pass, band-pass and high-pass modes with the three Filter Mode buttons, and adjust the cutoff frequency by dragging the Filter Freq slider. The Filter Q knob controls the resonance, emphasising the frequencies immediately around the cutoff point for a sharper, more aggressive sound.


Like its Oscillator section equivalent, the Noise section’s amplitude envelope controls the onset and tail of the signal via its Attack and Decay sliders. Unlike the Oscillator envelope, this one has three shapes, selected using the three Envelope buttons. Exponential (at the bottom) is the default, applying the same natural-sounding exponential attack and decay curves as the Oscillator envelope.


>Gettingthe balanceright


The Linear shape hardens the attack from a curve to a straight line and cuts the decay off prematurely for a ‘gated’ sound. Modulated repeatedly retriggers the envelope, at a speed and number of repeats determined by the Attack setting, before concluding with the decay stage. At short Attack settings, Modulated mode is ideal for hand claps; at longer settings, you get a sequence of noise bursts.


At the right-hand end of the Drum Patch section, the Velocity Sensitivity section contains three knobs for tweaking the sensitivity of the Oscillator, Noise and oscillator pitch Modulator to incoming MIDI note velocities and accents in the Pattern sequencer. The further the knob is turned clockwise, the more its parameter is affected by velocity.

While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to mixing Microtonic’s Oscillator and Noise sources for specific types of drum, there are some rules of thumb. For a kick drum, you’ll likely want mostly Oscillator with a bit of low-pass filtered Noise for cut and dirt. Snare drums use a roughly even mix of the two, with short envelope Decay on both and band-pass filtering on the Noise. Toms are similar in balance to kick drums, but higher pitched and perhaps with more Decay. And finally, hi-hats and claps are mostly if not entirely noise, with high-pass filtering on hats and the Modulated Envelope mode used for claps.

5.ThePatternarium Although Microtonic offers Randomize and Alter options for full Presets, individual Drum Patches and Patterns, the Patternarium is a more involving, fun way to get your hands on new sounds and grooves. When you launch the Patternarium web page via the Preset menu, you’re presented with a randomly chosen patch from a 1000-strong library hosted on the Sonic Charge servers. These patches are made by combining pairs of other patches, selected at random from the library. You can audition the patch directly on the page, download it, and even copy and paste it directly into Microtonic. When you’re done, click the Previous or Next button to call up another patch – the order in which they come is also random, so different for each user – or return to the last one. Clever 70  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

At, only the strongest patches survive and thrive. Darwin would be proud!

stuff – but that’s not the fun bit… The background library of 1000 presets is constantly updated as new patches are generated, and by voting a patch up or down using the buttons on the web page, its

likelihood of being chosen as a parent or ‘ascendant’ preset is increased or decreased. So the Patternarium is essentially a serverhosted library generator, rather than a community-based resource per se. If you really dig a particular patch and want to get your friends to vote it up, you can email them a direct link to it. They don’t even have to have Microtonic installed, as the web page’s playback engine is entirely self-contained. The dropdown at the top right of the page reveals Global section info for the current patch, as well as the number of up and down votes it’s received, and direct links to its ‘ascendants’ and ‘descendants’ – even those no longer in the main library. Oh, and if you’re wondering where the weird patch names come from, they’re randomly generated, too!

how to use microtonic  /  make music now  < > Step by step 6.ThePatternsection


Up to 12 patterns can be stored at once, selected using the A-L buttons at the left-hand end. The two Pattern Chain buttons are activated per-pattern to define a chain that cycles in alphabetical order. With the left button active, the previous pattern chains into the current one; with the right button active, the current pattern chains into the next.


Clicking the upward arrow at the right-hand end of the Pattern section pops up the Matrix Editor. Clicking the number of a channel selects it in the main sequencer below; clicking it a second time triggers the sound on that channel; Shiftclicking mutes it and Ctrl/Cmd-clicking solos it. Reorder channels by dragging their numbers up and down.


The steps of the sequence are represented by the 16 oval trigger buttons, the note value of which is determined by the step rate slider in the Global section below. The length of the pattern is set by clicking one of the smaller buttons in the Length lane. Clicking a trigger button lights it up and triggers the drum on that step at MIDI velocity 64.


Every action in the Pattern sequencer is replicated with key modifiers in the Matrix Editor. Clicking a step activates/ deactivates it for triggering (light blue), Alt-clicking a step puts an Accent on that step (dark blue), Ctrl/Cmd-clicking makes that step a Fill (three segments), and AltCmd-clicking does both. Changes are reflected in the Pattern sequencer below.


Activating the button on the Accent lane immediately below an active trigger button kicks the velocity for that step up to 127. The Fill lane buttons trigger rolls, at a speed and number of hits set by the Fill Rate slider in the Global section. Automatic velocity decay is applied to fills, preventing them from sounding overly mechanical.


Right-clicking a step trigger or clicking the menu arrow at the left-hand end of the Pattern section shows the Pattern menu, offering editing and rendering functions, (shifting and reversing patterns, pattern randomisation and alteration, and audio/MIDI export). The copy and paste buttons below can be used on the whole pattern or individual channels.


The Global sliders adjust three Pattern sequencer timing parameters. Step Rate sets the note value of each step, from an eighth-note to a 32nd-note. Swing increasingly delays every even-numbered 16th-note to introduce a shuffled feel. And Fill Rate establishes the speed and number of rolled hits in a Fill step, as a multiplier of the Step Rate.

> Step by step 7.TheGlobalsection


At the very bottom of the Microtonic interface, the Global section houses a number of transport and playback controls, the self-explanatory Master volume knob, and the MIDI Drag icon. Drag the last into your DAW, Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder to export the current pattern as a MIDI file.


The Stop and Play buttons control playback of the Pattern sequencer. Clicking Play once starts playback in positional sync with the host DAW (the button flashes if the host is in stop mode); clicking it a second time starts playback immediately. Stop works in the same way: click once to stop when the pattern ends and twice to stop immediately.

NEXT MONTHGetyournogginaroundtheniftynewfeaturesofBitwigStudio1.2

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  71

tutorials  <

advice and videos from our computer music gurus

74 Easy Guide Music theory with Dave Clews

Learn how to put the theory of modes into practice when writing over a progression

76 Designer Sounds Sound design with Charlie ‘Break’ Bierman

Advanced production with Owen Palmer

Delay-loop pads

Break stacks instrument after instrument to come up with a unique atmospheric pad

78 Geek Technique

Soloing with modes

Deeper compression

Owen lets us in on the techniques he turns to when forced to compress the incompressible

80 Dr Beat Beat and drum design with Ronan Macdonald

The toms

Bring out the best from these less considered components of your programmed drum grooves December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  73

Dave Clews’


Soloing with modes

DOWNLOAD Download the accompanying video and the MIDI/audio files at

Inject some life into your melodies or lead lines by following a few simple steps – our resident theory guru is here to show you how Back in 207’s edition of the Easy Guide, I introduced the concept of modes: by playing major scales from starting points other than the root note of the scale – playing A major from B to B instead of A to A, for example – you get access to a world of different musical flavours. Having got the basic gist of this, however, what next? How do you take this new-found knowledge and expand on it to make use of it?

>Step by step

One possible way of putting this idea to good use is when improvising or constructing a solo over a set of chords. By switching to a different mode every time the chord changes, you can lock in a solo that faithfully follows and supports the chord progression. In this tutorial, I’m going to construct a solo over a changing chord pattern, changing the mode I use with each chord, and explain my reasons as I go along to help you get the full picture.

If you missed out on 207’s explanation, here’s a quick recap. In C major, playing from C to C (as usual), is known in mode-speak as the Ionian mode; playing from the scale’s second note (D to D in this case) is the Dorian mode; next, playing from the third note (E to E here) is the Phyrgian mode; go from the fourth and it’s the Lydian mode, the fifth and it’s Mixolydian; the sixth is the Aeolian (ie, the minor scale); and from the seventh, you’re in the Locrian mode.

Building a solo from major scale modes




So here, once again, is the C major scale – eight notes, C to C, played on the white keys of the piano keyboard. The pattern of intervals between the notes is T-T-S-T-T-T-S, where T is a Tone and S is a Semitone. The scale contains seven notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), so there are seven possible starting notes – seven different ‘modes’ that we can create.


When playing the scale, each note you start from places you in a different mode, by establishing a different pattern of intervals. Playing C major from G to G gives us T-T-S-T-T-S-T. Comparing this to the original major scale pattern, we can see that it’s only one note different – the seventh note, or degree of the scale, has been flattened by a semitone.

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To create a mode, all you have to do is play the same major scale from any note other than its root note. For example, as shown here, if we play the C major scale from D to D, rather than from C to C, it sounds totally different – a lot more mournful than its normal happy, major sound. So, what’s happened?


Now here’s the cool bit. Just like any other scale, you can take this new pattern of intervals – this mode – and play it starting on different notes. For example, b starting on C, we get C, D, E, F, G, A, and B . It’s just one note different from the regular C major scale, but that flattened seventh degree is what identifies it as a new mode.


We’ve switched modes from the Ionian (the posh word for the normal major scale) to the Dorian mode. The reason it sounds different is that when you play the scale from D but use the same notes as the C major scale, the pattern of intervals between the notes is different. Instead of T-T-S-T-T-T-S, we have T-S-T-T-T-S-T.


This is the Mixolydian mode, and the example in the previous step is known as C Mixolydian. This mode is great for soloing over dominant seventh chords, because these chords also include a flattened seventh. Here’s a solo (in the Mixolydian mode) played over a C7 - F7 chords. The solo shifts from C Mixolydian to F Mixolydian as the chords change.

easy guide  /  make music now  <

RECOMMENDED LISTENING MAJOR LAZER AND DJ SNAKE, LEAN ON The nifty sampled vocal solo in the mid section is played over a Gm backdrop, avoiding the sixth degree of the scale, making it either G Aeolian or G Dorian WALK THE MOON, SHUT UP AND DANCE This might just be the modern embodiment of 80s rock, complete with blazing synth # solo in C Ionian over a # # Bbm - C - F - Ab progression


Let’s now change the chords to minor seventh chords – Cm7 and Fm7. The modes that work best over these are Dorian or Aeolian, as they have a minor sound – Aeolian is actually the same pattern of intervals as the natural minor scale, so its notes line up nicely with the minor seventh chord shape of root, minor third, fifth and minor seventh.

Let’s start with the first chord, Cm7. We’ll choose a minor-sounding mode for this, as it’s a minor chord – let’s go with C Dorian. Following this is F major. As we’ve seen, the Mixolydian mode works well over both major and dominant seventh chords, so we’ll select F Mixolydian for this part of the solo.


Dave Clews


In a studio career spanning almost 25 years, Dave has engineered, programmed and played keyboards on records for a string of artists including George Michael, Kylie Minogue, Tina Turner and Estelle. These days, in between writing articles for and other magazines, he collaborates on occasional songs and videos with singer/songwriter Lucy Hirst, aka Polkadothaze.

MORE MODES Other major scale modes we haven’t explored here include Phrygian, which sounds great played over m7b9 chords; Locrian, which doesn’t work too well over anything to speak of; and Ionian, the major scale itself, which actually also works really well over maj7 chords due to the presence of the natural seventh degree.

PRACTISE PRACTISE PRACTISE It’s a bit of a cliché, but if you really want to get great at soloing with modes, there’s no substitute for simply learning and practising them as regular scales, getting used to the sound and feel of them under your fingers so that you can reel them off instinctively once you know the chords you’re playing over. That said, knowing how to construct solos piecemeal like I’ve shown here is also a useful starting point for your journey towards modal magnificence!


The Dorian mode is similar to Aeolian except for a raised sixth degree. Using C Dorian as an example, you would have b b C, D, E , F, G, A, B , in contrast to C Aeolian’s b b b b C, D, E , F, G, A , B . The A has become an A natural in C Dorian, but regardless, either of these two modes should sound great played over minor triads or minor seventh chords.


The Lydian mode (identical to the regular major scale but with a raised fourth degree) works well with maj7 b b chords, so for the A Maj7 and D Maj7 b chords in bars 5-6, we’ll use A Lydian and b D Lydian. In fact, for illustration purposes, we’ll just use two straight runs up these scales to climb back up the keyboard ready for a descending climax to the solo.

NEXT MONTH How to progress your chords the rhythmic way


Here we have a progression that mixes several chord types, namely Cm7, F, b b A Maj7, D Maj7, Cm9. We could just riff a C minor blues or minor pentatonic over the whole thing, but why don’t we see what happens if we construct a solo using a different mode for each chord?


Our final Cm9 chord demands another minor mode, so here’s C Aeolian, just for variety. With a couple of added bends for expression, the resulting solo describes a shape that shifts more musically with the chords than a simple minor-scale or bluesy approach would have done. Check out the whole thing in this month’s video.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  75



with Break


Delay-loop pads For the first in his stint of tutorials filling in for Paul Bondy, Charlie ‘Break’ Bierman wants to set the right atmosphere Pad sounds are very useful in many genres of music, whether they’re acting as a bed for other instruments to sit on or as the main feature of a track. There are many sources that can make an effective pad, from synthesisers, strings and organs, to keyboards, guitars, and so on. One really effective method that I’m going to show you today is using a delay effect to create a smooth bed of interesting harmonic material.

>Step by step

Ambient and soundtrack composers go to great lengths to create fantastic atmospheric pads, and that’s partly what inspired this tutorial. Layering several sound sources together to create a pad can really help make your material feel original and give you a rich combination of harmonics, and while you can get good results just layering synthesisers, using real instruments treated with effects can create a more realistic, natural atmosphere. So, I’ll be

DOWNLOAD Get the video and audio examples on your PC/Mac at

combining acoustic instruments with synth elements to create a tone that would be hard to find in your average soft synth preset list. The delay is vital to this pad, and real tape delay units loop a small section of magnetic tape to record and play back the echo. The more the loop is repeated, the more the sound on the tape degrades, which can create interesting artifacts. Plugins in recent times have managed to emulate this effect very well, so let’s try it out.

Creating a warm, organic pad by treating and layering several sounds




To begin, select a few different sounds or instruments to create layers with. The main desire is to use instruments that have a good resonance to their timbre, as this will create nice harmonics once delayed. I’ve used a grand piano, a glockenspiel, a cello, Logic’s ES2 Synth (for some white noise), an acoustic guitar and an orchestral percussion patch.


Adjust the settings on the delay to suit the tempo of the pad you’re making. You can sync the delay to the tempo of the song or use a metronome to help you adjust the delay speed to get a suitable loop effect. A half- or quarter-note speed works well, making things sound more hypnotic.

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Create a chord or melodic line (for about one bar) with each layer. I’ve used the piano and cellos to create a D minor chord, and the glockenspiel and guitar to add in sevenths and ninths for more harmonics. The percussion and white noise add texture so the sound isn’t too dry. A different combination of instruments will create a fresh result, of course.

Adding a reverb plugin after the delay can be cool as it will add more space and texture to the pad’s delay tail. I’ve used a Lexicon Large Hall reverb setting. As we aren’t using the initial hit of the source sound, but rather the long tail after it, having the reverb after the delay will keep the loop’s echoes big and soft.


Send all these instruments to an aux/ bus channel, and add a tape delay plugin to it – I’m using the UAD EP-34. ‘Normal’ delays can work too, but the degradation of the tape effect helps to make the pad sound more real and old, so a tape-style delay is ideal. The tail is the part to be focusing on here, rather than the first bar of the source sounds.


Add other plugins for saturation or colour – I’ve added a UAD Studer A800 simulator on a 15ips setting to warm up the delay/reverb bus. After that, there’s a UAD LA-2A compressor, which helps to boost the level of the feedback tail. Other variations of tape emulators or compressors will work well too.

designer sounds  /  make music now  <

Break RECOMMENDED LISTENING ROBERT FRIPP & BRIAN ENO, EVENING STAR Eno and Fripp created the Frippertronics technique using two reel-to-reel tape machines to loop sounds – mainly guitars in this example. PAULINE OLIVEROS, I OF IV This recording is said to be one of the first using these tape loop and tape delay techniques. Very ahead of its time for 1966.


Once you’ve got your delay chain going, you can go back and tweak the hits of the initial source instruments. As you’re listening to the tail rather than the initial hits, notice how changing the source will affect the resulting echoes. Adding or subtracting layers can help, or changing the position of notes to create different internal timings in the delay loop.

The delay plugin will usually low- and high-cut the sound, so it can come across as a bit muffled or thin, so it can be useful at this point to layer some other instruments under this bounced pad. Adding a lower pad or string sound to fill out the bottom end, and similarly, something airy for the top end, can fill out the frequency range of the sound.


Touted as ‘the DnB producer’s DnB producer’, Break has a discography that’s seen him release tracks through the likes of Metalheadz, RAM, Critical and Shogun, as well as his own imprint, Symmetry. His latest album, Simpler Times, has just been released to rave reviews after smashing up festivals and clubs this summer.

PRO TIPS CHAPTER AND VERBS Reverb can be used in the same way as delay in the creation of pads. Look for a reverb that has a release time that gives a very long tail, allowing you to use the tail of the reverberated sound as your pad itself. Try sending any sound through a reverb plugin set to a huge decay time – bouncing or recording the result will make it easy to play back and manipulate the tail. Reversing or filtering this, or layering it with a delayed version as I’ve done in the tutorial, can sound great. To go further, try adjusting the modulation, room style and diffusion settings on the reverb – these can have a real effect on the results.

A TOUCH OF SOFTENER When sending sounds to a reverb or delay, you can soften the front of the instrument’s notes by reducing the attack time – this will make the sent signal sound a lot more ‘floaty’ when it’s on the way out of the delay.


It can be really effective to automate the feedback of the delay. You can ride the control up and down to keep the delay echoing whilst keeping the distortion at bay. Doing this over a minute or two can create an interesting pad that’s constantly changing and resonating, which sounds much more interesting than one pad sound sustained for that time.


Keeping the notes you add as simple, long, one-note drones works well. Your layered pad can then be bounced again and will sound like a great film soundtrack sample, and it’ll be in one clear musical key – in this case D minor. The sound can be loaded into a sampler and easily transposed when added to any song to match the appropriate key.

NEXT MONTH Layering up a ferocious, heavyweight bass and sub line


To take it a step further, you could then bounce this performance down to an audio file to tweak. Reversing the file always sounds great and can make really good transition pads to lead into other parts of your song. The forward and reverse versions of the bounce can be blended, too. Any effects added at this stage can really advance the sound.


Building up a folder of sounds like this will make starting a track easy – you’ll have a big texture to load for the intro straight away. Throwing one into a breakdown can be just as effective, or for making a full ambient track, you’ll have long, moving textures that can work across a six-minute song.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  77


Technique with Owen Palmer

DOWNLOAD See the video and get the audio demos on your PC/Mac at:


Deeper compression Taming the dynamics of a twisting, turning sound can feel like a super-human task, but Owen’s here to show us how it’s done Let’s face it: today’s music is hypercompressed. But despite a few old farts kicking and screaming against it, I don’t believe the thirst for stylistic over-the-top compression effects will wane any time soon. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as taking dynamic effects ‘too far’. I mean, there’s no inherent limit to the amount of gain reduction or speed of a compressor’s release time that necessarily leads to aural disaster. However,

>Step by step

what I am fully against is sloppy, unflattering compression. Too many music makers take a heavy-handed and reckless approach to compression, and frankly, the results sound awful. If you’re going to go for nuclear-powered dynamics throughout your mix, that’s fine – but find ways to do it that retain the fidelity of the sounds you’re compressing. It’s not OK for your whole mix to lose all focus, to feel bloated and distorted. That said, I

appreciate that it’s a slippery slope. Having pumped up the drums as much as possible with heavy dynamic effects, it can be difficult to get the musical parts to cut through without letting them distort a bit more than you’d have liked – I get it. Well you’ve come to the right place, ’cos between this month’s walkthrough and the Pro Tips, I’ve laid out the recipe for successfully compressing those most challenging of musical parts. Let’s do this…

Compressing a varying full-frequency signal with dynamic EQ





To be fair, you probably don’t want violent compression action on every channel of the mix, but you’ll find instructions on how to hone these effects for more delicate scenarios in this month’s Pro Tips on the next page. I’m working with a simple chord progression played in short stabs on a unison sawtooth patch in Sylenth1…

You might turn to the amp envelope, but trust me, that’s not going to be sufficient to elegantly overcome the range of dynamics evident here. You’d hope that a tight and punchy compressor could help focus the attacks. For such an effect, I often use IK’s T-RackS CS Opto Comp with a long Attack, short Release and strong Ratio, which sort of works here...

78  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015


Looking at the waveform – I’m using Cableguys WaveShaper CM for this – you’ll see that, dynamically, it’s all over the place. There are no real transients to speak of, and some of the chunks of audio reach their peak volume somewhere in the middle or even towards the end of a stab – typical behaviour for free-running oscillators.


…I just feel that the compression has caused an annoying pop at the start of each chord. Plus, the high Ratio has made the body of the sound feel quite distorted. As an aside, lower compression ratios tend to produce cleaner results compared to higher ratios, which can start to sound like the same sort of muddy distortion effect you get when you push a limiter too hard.


If we activate Sylenth1’s oscillator Retrig, the phases of the oscillators in each note are retriggered. On one hand, this solves the problem of the wild dynamics of each chord. On the other hand, it sounds like a whole different instrument and has this annoying whiney aspect. That’s no good!


If the muddy, distorted sound is, in fact, acceptable to you (we’re not friends), the dynamics still aren’t really all that tight. Alternatively, we could lower the Ratio for cleanliness, then push the Input level up and reduce the Output to achieve more gain reduction, but that approach produces an even less tight effect.

geek technique  /  make music now  <

Owen Palmer



Compressors are very sensitive to the frequency balance of the input signal, because dominant frequencies trigger more gain reduction than weaker frequencies. That’s why many compressors filter the input: to prevent overreaction to the low end of the signal. Sometimes it’s useful to think of compression as a type of distortion, since it contorts the waveform which leads to some degree of harmonic distortion. Distortion is similarly sensitive to the frequency balance of the input – stronger frequencies distort more than weaker ones. The conclusion? Compression (and distortion, for that matter) works best after the frequency balance of the input signal has been levelled out. As a general rule of thumb, reducing the dynamics of an instrument per-band, before you add your compressor, results in less distortion and a more even compression action.

In the walkthrough, I’m using FabFilter’s Pro-MB as a dynamic EQ. I know what you’re thinking: “Owen, that’s a multiband compressor!” Well sometimes, but traditionally, a multiband compressor uses crossover filters to split the signal into discrete bands, which typically imparts phasing artifacts. Pro-MB in Dynamic Phase mode (as used in my example) doesn’t use crossover filters, so technically it’s a dynamic EQ. Crossover filters aren’t necessarily bad, though, and you can use a multiband compressor to tighten up the dynamics of each band in order to level out the frequency balance in the same way. A cool freeware multiband compressor is Xfer Records’ OTT. My strategy is to start at 0% Depth, then to slowly bring the Depth up, and use the High, Mid and Low knobs to balance the bands, and the Time and Out Gain to moderate the reaction speed and output level. Try it!


Problem is, there’s just so much movement, so much interaction between every unison oscillator in every note in each chord, that it’s chaos – but the free-running oscillators are essential to the patch’s character. EQing the sound throws off the frequency relationships, undoing what little tightness we’ve gained from the compression. OK, that’s it. I quit.

Notice that the lower the frequency of the band, the slower the Attack, making the attack of the sound come through more in the lower registers, giving it weight. Also note that the highest band has a deeper threshold than the others, so although its level is quite high to start with, that area is more strongly attenuated during the body of each chord.



Seriously, though, we’re going to need a two-stage approach, starting with dynamic EQ. It doesn’t really matter which dynamic EQ you use, but today I’ll call on FabFilter’s Pro-MB for its super-clear visuals and handy presets. If you don’t own a dynamic EQ, you can achieve very similar results with Xfer Records’ free OTT (check my Pro Tips for details).


Having the frequency bands behave slightly differently to each other like this means that you can really fine-tune the tone of an instrument as well as tightening up its spectrum. Doing a before/after with the bypass button reveals that the dynamic EQ is relatively unobtrusive, but a peek at the waveform shows we’re moving in the right direction.

NEXT MONTH Approaching headroom the Geek Technique way

As an in-demand dance music engineer, Owen’s worked with a slew of outstanding underground artists behind the scenes from his London studio. After years of meticulously studying what makes a great production tick, Owen has promised to share his most advanced and coveted techniques each month exclusively in . Get in touch with Owen about this month’s subject at…


The idea is to tighten up several frequency areas independently of each other. In the Mastering category is a preset called Heavy-Handed 6-band Squeeze 02 bM that demonstrates the kind of approach I’d suggest. Hopefully, you can understand what’s happening to the sound by studying the yellow curve as it moves.


Now we’re in a position to compress as normal, so stick your punchy compressor of choice next in the chain. The long attack and quick release strategy still works, only we can afford to use a much softer compression ratio since the dynamic EQ has already done much of the tightening. Mission accomplished: we now have a tight, punchy synth.

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  79

Dr Beat with Ronan Macdonald #11

The toms


Take a tour around these tuneful tubs with our resident guide Ronan Macdonald Having previously served as Editor of drummer’s bible Rhythm as well as Computer Music, Ronan is clearly the right man for this particular gig. He’s been playing drums for over 30 years and making music with computers since the 90s.

Continuing our whistlestop tour of the drum kit – over the last three issues, I’ve covered the hi-hats, snare drum and ride cymbal – we now come to perhaps its most misunderstood element: the tom toms, or toms, as they’re usually abbreviated. The average drum kit will feature two or three toms, although more flamboyant drummers may elect to include many more. There are two types: rack toms and floor toms. By and large, rack toms come in diameters from 8" to 14" and are mounted on a stand protruding from the top of the kick drum or their own floorstands, while floor toms range from 14" to 16" and are held aloft on three legs. Both kinds

See it in video and get the tutorial files on your PC/Mac at

can be fitted with heads on the top and bottom, or just the top, for a more ‘barking’ sound. In terms of their role within the kit in most styles of music, the toms are ancillary to the kick, snare and hi-hats. While that all-important percussive triumvirate is responsible for the beat itself, the toms are used to mark out the ends of phrases, for more prolonged fills and solos, or as an integral part of the main rhythm, their rounded, semi-melodic tones bringing depth, character and personality to the groove. In the following walkthrough and the video that goes with it, I’ll show you how to get your tom toms fit for sonic purpose, and demonstrate all three of those musical functions.

>Step by step Programming successful and authentic tom parts




Drummers tend to go for either two or three toms, with the extra tom in the latter setup making quite a profound difference to the character of the kit. Here’s a noodling jazz solo first with a fivepiece kit (three toms, kick and snare), then a four-piece (two toms), with hits to the high tom shifted to the mid one.


A straight-up roll around the toms may make for a perfectly good drum fill, but it’s not a hugely interesting one. By mixing toms up with other drums, exciting and ear-catching possibilities are revealed. Two of my favourites are crescendoing floor tom/snare flams, and fast linear patterns between the toms and kick.

80 / COMPUTER MUSIC / December 2015


Tuning toms to the key of the track can be an important consideration, and I’m using Toontrack’s Rock! EZX, loaded into Superior Drummer 2 for just that reason. Here’s a groove with two tomheavy fills, first at the kit’s default pitches, then with the toms tuned to the key of the b accompanying bassline (D, B , G).


So far, I’ve demonstrated the toms in the context of fills and soloing, but they can also be used in lieu of the hi-hats or ride cymbal to fill the spaces in a groove between the kick and snare. You’ll need to make sure those cymbals are silent for this (a drummer only has two hands at most), although pedalled hats are fair game.


Another important consideration with the sound of the toms is their duration. A longer, more resonant set of toms might be well suited to rock, but it’ll sound out of place in a drier funk- or dub-orientated kit. Here’s my kit with its original toms; then with their amp envelopes shortened; then with the kick, snare and hats reduced too.


Generally speaking, as house, techno and the like don’t use drum fills in the same way as ‘live’ genres, electronic drum tracks can employ toms within the main fabric of the rhythm. Think of them more as supporting percussion, bringing a suggestion of melody to the part, as heard in this classic-style TR-909 line.

NEXT MONTH We come full-circle in our journey around the kit, to the kick drum

© Photos – Bruce & Jana

82  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

THOMAS DOLBY The artist-turned-innovator remembers the excitement of the digital revolution and wonders where electronic music is heading It’s well over 30 years since Thomas Dolby first charted with the quirk-heavy electro grooves of She Blinded Me with Science and Hyperactive. Although he enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic, Dolby soon lost interest in the ‘music’ business, instead finding himself drawn to the tech revolution in Silicon Valley. Over the next couple of decades, Dolby became a known and respected dotcom name, helping to develop tools and techniques that would eventually lead music production away from the traditional studio and into the box. He admits that it made him a wealthy man – at one point, two thirds of the mobile phones being sold around the world were using a software synth that had been developed by his company, Beatnik Inc. Although he could probably have retired to the Californian sunshine, he somehow found himself hankering after his old job. “I missed making music,” says Dolby. “Yes, I had sort of been involved in music technology, but most of my attention was focussed on the business. When it eventually came to setting up a studio around 2005 and immersing myself back in the music-making process, I suddenly found a world that was as thrilling as that internet revolution of the early 90s.” Computer Music: It’s no surprise you got involved in the technical side of making

music. By all accounts, you were a bit of a geek at school. Thomas Dolby: “I guess the thing was that I had no fear of music technology. Like most people of my generation, I started off with traditional instruments – guitar and piano – but by the time I heard the likes of Roxy Music and the Berlin albums of Bowie and Eno, I could see that things were shifting. “Yeah, we’d heard synths in the 60s, but they were usually just there to add a bit of weirdness to a guitar-based rock song. With Bowie and Kraftwerk, electronics were forming the heart of the song. And what was wonderful was that the machines were being allowed to sound like machines – we weren’t trying to make them sound human.”

: How were you sequencing in those early days? TD: “At first, it was just synths and a two-track tape machine; no sequencing at all. Around the time of the first album [1982’s The Golden Age of Wireless], I got a PPG Wave Computer, which allowed you to sequence 16 voices of wavetable synth, plus one of the early PPG drum modules. It was all kinda clunky and crude in a rather engaging way, but I felt like I had the sequencing power of Tangerine Dream. “During the 80s, the race towards the future just went on and on. Each NAMM show unveiled a machine that literally rewrote the rules, like the Fairlight. I’m not in any way claiming to be a pioneer of electronic music, but I honestly felt like I was making sounds that I’d never heard before… we all were.”

“I was making sounds that I’d never heard before… we all were”

: Rumour has it that you were a very early Mac convert. TD: “The Atari was affordable in Britain, but the Macintosh was just as affordable in the US. I spent a lot of time over there, so I was able to get my hands on one. I had a very good working relationship with Opcode and Digidesign in the 80s and was quite heavily involved in their beta programme. That led me to Sound Tools, then Pro Tools, and the realisation that computers and music were, at some point, going to become inseparable. “Look at where we are today. There are December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  83

>  interview  /  thomas dolby

thousands of kids out there who get their first experience of a musical instrument on a laptop; a ridiculously powerful soft synth listened to on a pair of headphones in a coffee shop.” : You were relatively successful and yet you decided to walk away from the music business. Why? TD: “I was fed up of beating my head against a brick wall. I felt neither wanted nor valued, but Silicon Valley made me feel… wanted and valued. Because of my relationship with Opcode and Digidesign, I’d sort of got a foot in the door and found myself being invited to all the new music seminars, talking to people who were putting together multimedia projects, people in the gaming industry. It just seemed a lot more grown up than the music industry. “The final move away from music came when I started working with David Liddle, who’d been involved with all the innovative mouse/desktop work at Xerox PARC. Paul Allen then set up a company called Interval Research and asked Liddle to assemble a team of researchers like they’d had at Xerox – I was one of those researchers. It was all hush-hush and very well paid, which meant that I could make it my job. “We’re talking early 90s, here. We were sending music over the internet, enabling realtime interaction over the internet; people were jamming over the internet… we created musical interfaces that could be shared over the net. “This was before the days of having Pro Tools on the network. This was internet music with

Tom on stage with David Bowie in New York – that’s him on the keytar!

84  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

“We suddenly became aware that the world wide web was going to change everything” training wheels; we were taking basic computer skills and turning them into musical gestures. It wasn’t geared for the professional music market… I think we were looking more towards the games end of the market. “It was an absolutely thrilling time to be in Silicon Valley. We suddenly became aware that the world wide web was going to change everything. Not only was it going to affect how we made music, which was my sphere of interest, but it was going to change our lives.” : Were you already thinking about soft synths? A move away from the traditional synth? TD: “We were thinking about anything and everything. Look… I’ll admit that I was never a programmer. I knew just about enough about programming to be dangerous, but I also knew that I didn’t have the patience to be a programmer. What I was good at was breathing heavily down the neck of a programmer, waving carrots and sticks at them. “With my own company, Beatnik [originally known as Headspace Inc.], we started putting a

lot of effort into our own music engine, the AVRe – Audio Virtual Reality Engine. It was written in Max and could take control of tempo, key and instrumentation, but it would also allow you to make calls to it from another layer. For example, in a game, you could have variations on the score, depending on what was happening to the player. Any schoolkid who reads this will go, ‘So what!’, but back then, this was groundbreaking technology. “Quite a lot of people were excited by this, and Intel invited me to set up an installation at the Guggenheim called the Virtual Reality String Quartet. You wore these virtual reality goggles and found yourself in a room with a string quartet; the key element was that the sound mix altered as you walked around the room. If you put your head near the violin, you heard more violin. We even added a tool that allowed you to tickle the players of these virtual instruments; if you tickled the cellist, she stopped playing classical and started playing bluegrass. “That AVRe engine was developed and developed… yes, it eventually developed into a soft synthesiser. We took what we had and rewrote it in WebCode terms. In effect, what we’d got was a language that you could think of as Hyper Music Markup Language – as opposed to Hyper Text Markup Language [HTML] – and we could enable web pages to trigger MIDI and audio in an efficient way over a low bandwidth connection. And we were able to do it very quickly in the web browsers that existed then. “Later on, we also ratified a file format called RMF [Rich Music Format], which encapsulated MIDI and samples in a single file. We were actually using it for ringtones, breaking down guitar riffs into the smallest files possible. I remember that we managed to get the Smoke on the Water riff down to five basic samples. “Like I said before, as we sit here today, this all sounds like very basic stuff, but back in the 90s, something like a sonified web page – where you could trigger sounds as you clicked and moved about with the mouse – got a lot of people very excited. We were showing Silicon Valley what the web was going to be like in x years’ time, and investors were literally queuing up to give us blank cheques. “They said, ‘Go off and try to sonify the internet. Try to get multimedia companies, ad agencies, global brands and music tech companies interested in the idea of a world wide web with sound. Don’t worry if they don’t give you any money… we’ll keep funding you.’ “We linked up with companies like Yahoo! and Netscape, and made these grand announcements, backed up by impressive press releases. We had T shirts and baseball hats printed. We went to loads of business lunches. We had five incredible years and a lot memorable parties!”

thomas dolby  /  interview  <

: And you made a lot of money! Right…? TD: “That’s the crazy thing… we made no money at all. We were barely breaking even. There was so much amazing, innovative work happening back then, but zero revenue. That’s why the dotcom bubble finally burst. And, to be honest, we would have gone the same way as a lot of other companies had we not had secured one deal that had legs. “Nokia persuaded us to bring our engine into their phones, giving users a massive four voices with a reduced GM set. It was all rather underwhelming, but it worked very well. Of course, there were other software synth developers around like Propellerhead, but they were far more interested in adding more features and getting the most of the rapidly expanding CPU figures. Our synth was all about efficiency… fast downloads, with minimal stress on the system. It was only 50kB, which, as any programmer will tell you, is nothing.” : And then you made a lot of money! TD: “It took a while to get the ball rolling, but,

yes, there came a point where Beatnik became a viable company. Nokia exploded and other companies wanted to use our software; at one point, two thirds of the phones being sold contained Beatnik software. “OK… we made a lot of money, but, as you can imagine, it suddenly became all about the numbers, and I wasn’t very interested in that. It wasn’t exactly creative. What could I do that was creative? Ironically, I was back to music again!”

Kit list

: Had you kept all the old gear? TD: “Nah, I’m not one of those analogue fetishists. Most of it had been lost or sold. And, to be honest, I didn’t need it. If I wanted an ARP 2600 – a synth that I never owned – I could get a software version for a few quid and it sounded more or less like the real thing. “Because of my Mac history, I’ve ended up using Logic. Opcode went away, Studio Vision went away, and I shifted over to Logic after Apple bought Emagic. Those early days were… yeah, it was obviously a very powerful program, but the way you used Logic kind of annoyed me.

Access Virus TI Polar

Apple MacBook Pro Apple Logic Pro X Native Instruments Komplete Spectrasonics Omnisphere u-he Diva Nord Lead 3 Moog Voyager

December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  85

>  interview  /  thomas dolby

The future of computer music

“When I came back to music, I wasn’t quite sure what my music was going to sound like”

I had to stick with it, though, because it was obvious that Logic was going to lead the way. It’s definitely been the right choice.” : Do you currently have a ‘studio’? TD: “Yes, it’s built in an old lifeboat that sits at the bottom of the garden in my house on the East Anglia coast. It’s powered solely by a bank of batteries that are charged via a wind turbine and solar panels. It’s not exactly Abbey Road, but I love it. “Making music isn’t my only job, though. I still spend a lot of time in the States and, last year, I was offered a teaching post at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I’m actually a Professor of the Arts. [Laughs] Professor Dolby! “As people probably know, Baltimore has been in the wars. In the aftermath of that, there’s been a lot of interest in turning things around; reviving certain areas of the city. Johns Hopkins have invested heavily in an old Art Deco cinema in an area of the city called Station North, and we’re hoping to build a sound stage, a recording studio and a screening theatre… one of my jobs

“I think I’ve always been someone who writes songs in a very traditional way” 86  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

Thomas Dolby may have started out as a musician, but he spent the best part of 15 years in Silicon Valley watching the internet revolution rattle around the globe and helping to develop some of the music software that we now take for granted. So, who better to answer the question: where next for computer music technology? “I appreciate you asking me that question, but the answer probably lies with 15, 16 and 17-year-old musicians and producers who haven’t grown up with the same set of rules that I grew up with. There’s a new broom sweeping through the industry, and things are going to be very different in 10 or 15 years’ time. “I’d hazard a guess that those changes will have something to do with the human/computer interface; the blurring of the line between user and machine. The next generation of tools that we see will be driven by a desire to blend that interface. At the moment, we have very advanced tools at our disposal, but they’re still

is to get the local community involved. Give kids a chance to make music or make a film. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but music and the arts can really help to heal a city.” : After you moved in the box, did you find you were writing songs in a totally different way to the days of Hyperactive? TD: “Yes… and no. I think I’ve always been someone who writes songs in a very traditional way. Intro, verse, chorus, middle-eight, ending etc. As electronic music developed, there was obviously a move away from that; it was all about a great loop or an interesting bassline. “When I came back to music, I wasn’t quite sure what my music was going to sound like, but I thought, ‘Well, not many people seem to be doing intro-verse-chorus-middle-eight. Maybe if I do that, my music will stand out.’ I released an album in 2011 called A Map of the Floating City, and we just about broke even with that, which, in an age when record sales are going down the tubes, wasn’t too bad. “But it was in the process of making that album, I realised just how much the process of songwriting had changed. Even for someone like me who was regarded as an ‘electronic’ musician, the 80s were still about studio time. And studio time costs money. Writing songs in the studio and working on ideas could literally set you back thousands of pounds. But, locked away on my little lifeboat, I could spend as long as I wanted messing around on ideas without worrying what it was going to cost. I found that songs were coming out of… accidents. I could spend all day hooking up this plugin to this plugin and just seeing what happened. “If you look back at the development of electronic music over the last 20 years, it seems

rooted in the analogue past. Look at most computer screens and you’ll see simulated sliders, knobs, patch cords, mixing desks… most soft synths still look like synths. “There are various MIDI controllers out there; some people might have seen the footage of Imogen Heap demonstrating her musical gloves. Yes, you could argue that alternative MIDI controllers have been around for ages and they’re a bit of a gimmick, but if you look back through recent history, technology often progresses in a slightly haphazard fashion. A new technology arrives, people get excited, then they’re disappointed that it doesn’t work as well as they thought. It goes underground, it gets pushed even further forward, and the next generation reaps the rewards. “Eventually, someone is going to come along and start with a completely blank canvas. The only question they’ll ask themselves is ‘What is possible?’”

like so much of it came out of accidents; trial and error. Drum ’n’ bass, dubstep and a lot of EDM stuff. It exists because people suddenly had the opportunity to dig right into the innards of their equipment and tinker. “This is the golden age of the tinkerer, and God knows what sounds we’re going to come up with next. There are no rules, anymore… no boundaries.” Thomas Dolby’s The Sole Inhabitant is being re-released as a double vinyl set. Look out for his book, The Speed of Sound, next year.


Hyperactive She Blinded Me with Science WWW

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The latest computer music gear tested and rated! Our promise We bring you honest, unbiased appraisals of the latest computer music products. Our experts apply the same stringent testing methods to all gear, no matter how much hype or expectation surrounds it.

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90 COCKOS REAPER 5 Now at version 5, does this affordable DAW have what it takes to cut down the competition?

92 FabFilter Pro-C 2


This product’s problems outweigh its merits


A decent product that’s only held back by a few flaws


Solid. Well worth considering


Very good. A well-conceived and executed product


Excellent. First-rate and among the best you can buy


Exceptional. It just doesn’t get any better than this!

See and hear the latest software in action in our MINUTES … 2 WITH ‘2 Minutes With…’ videos! Wherever you see the icon, head straight to your DVD, the Vault download area, or our YouTube channel for a rapid-fire showcase of that product’s essential features and sonic capabilities. VIDEO

94 Sly-Fi OG Trifecta Bundle

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98 Klanghelm MJUC

100 IK Multimedia Stealth Limiter

102 Beatskillz Slam Dawg

104 MeldaProduction MDrumEnhancer

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108 Mini Reviews

In the opinion of the Editor, the best product reviewed in the magazine this month

December 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 89

>  reviews  /  cockos reaper 5

INPUT FX Apply audio effects to the audio inputs and MIDI effects to the MIDI inputs

TRACK FX The Track FX button opens a floating window for easier access to track insert effects

COMPING Audio and MIDI takes can be compiled using multiple lanes on one Track

ITEM FX AND ENVELOPES Item clips can be treated to their own automation envelopes

ROUTING Indicates which routing functions – Master, Send and Receive – are active FOLDERS Tracks can be easily assigned to a Folder for collective control and a tidier workspace

ROUTING OPTIONS Route signals between tracks without the need for busses

VCA GROUPING The upper and lower red markers indicate Master and Slave VCA Group status VIDEO MINUTES … 2 WITH

Cockos Incorporated Reaper 5 $60/$225 Combining affordability and power in a DAW is never easy, but this one has succeeded time and time again. Can v5 continue the tradition?

Deeper underground

The simple two-panel design, with the main Track Control Panel (TCP) and Mixer Control Panel (MCP) augmented by a multitude of context-sensitive floating parameter windows, is easy to understand but also customisable, with many user-created Themes available for download. VST, AU and DirectX support is bolstered by the user-modifiable Jesusonic (JS) plugin format (some examples are included and many more are available via the Cockos forum), and the JS Development Environment is

Reaper 4 (9/10, 170) was already a very capable program, sporting headline features such as multichannel audio support, end-to-end 64-bit resolution, its own suite of ‘Rea’ VST plugins (including ReaTune for pitch correction), very flexible internal routing, audio and MIDI take comping, a compact disk footprint (Reaper 5 takes up just 62MB), and support for older operating systems (Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.5).

“It’s the deeper features that mark Reaper out as a serious proposition”

Throughout its ten-year history, Reaper (Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering and Recording) has attempted to deliver a genuine alternative to the mainstream DAWs, prioritising functionality over bundled media content, and becoming, in many ways, more flexible and capable than the competition. And with its $60 non-commercial license, it’s always represented incredible value for money.

90  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

integrated into the plugin windows, enabling users to modify the code and customise plugin parameters to taste. That’s the basics covered, but it’s the deeper features that mark Reaper out as a serious proposition and competitor to the big DAWs: extensive freeze and render options, track Input FX for both audio and MIDI inputs, output Monitoring FX, in-track and floating MIDI editors, various timestretch algorithms with audio Stretch markers, Item (region) effects, Item grouping, undo history, customisable tabbed docking panels, screen sets and Ripple Editing mode, to name a few. In fact, the only thing missing in comparison to Cubase, Logic, Sonar et al is a ton of sample content and a decent set of virtual instruments.

The big 5 The first of Reaper 5’s new features is its overhauled default Theme, which, although not

cockos reaper 5   /  reviews  <

“VCA Grouping lets you control the output level and panning of multiple tracks” substantially different to that of v4, includes many more Layouts. These are applied either globally or – importantly for customisation freaks – per-channel, influencing everything from fader size and pan pot position to what’s included in the Track header. Colour modifications for existing Themes, meanwhile, are now accessed via the new Theme Developer/Tweaker panel in the Action menu. The new VCA Grouping feature lets you control the output level and panning of multiple tracks either from an existing track or by setting up a new dedicated VCA Master track – very useful for applying collective changes without messing up your carefully recorded/drawn track automation. Assignments (including Master and Slave roles) are made in the Grouping Matrix or Track Grouping panel, and automation envelopes can be made for the VCA Master, including Muting, which will kill the output of all assigned Slave tracks. It’s a doddle to set up and use. On the subject of automation envelopes, Reaper 5 lets you apply them to individual Items (ie, moving an Item moves its automation with it) as well as track-based (ie, automation remains in place regardless of Items on the track being repositioned). And as long as the targeted plugin has been written to support it, automation is now sample-accurate for both JS and VST3 formats (VST3 being newly supported in v5). Aside from this, changes to Reaper’s bundled plugins are minimal, and we’re disappointed to see no movement at all on the virtual instruments front, which remains a weakness. Scripting is better integrated in version 5 with the new ReaScript development environment for writing and debugging scripts in Lua, EEL and Python. It’s opened via the Action List and provides the potential to work up anything you like, from simple macros to deep customisation, should your scripting skills be up to the job. Further functional improvements of note include keyword plugin grouping in the FX Browser (so-called Smart Folders), and folderspecific file searching in the Media Explorer. Finally, Reaper 5 boasts improved video support. The video window can now be added to the Docker, and there’s a new JS plugin, Video Processor, offering a number of functions such

Reaper 5 introduces VCA Grouping – set up Master and Slave status via the Grouping Matrix, shown here

Peruse Reaper’s terms and conditions to get some clarity on commercial vs non-commercial use

Market forces Cockos have always used a two-tier pricing system for Reaper based on the buyer’s intended usage – Commercial or Discounted (non-commercial) – and we’ve always championed its value for money based on the much cheaper Discounted option. However, this time round we felt it was time to clarify the distinction, since to the typical home producer, it may not be immediately apparent what Cockos mean by commercial use. The Commercial license is for businesses or individuals using Reaper commercially, where gross annual revenue is over $20,000, and Cockos reckon this accounts for only 5% to 10%

as titling, opacity, colouring etc. It’s a little rough and ready, the interface consisting of lines of script recalled from a list, but we understand that it’ll be finessed in future updates.

A cut above In use, Reaper 5 is wonderfully responsive, with everything from scrolling and zooming to fader moves and Item editing feeling quick and fluid. Meaningful comparison of performance between DAWs is tricky, but Reaper’s CPU hit seems pretty light and the Performance Meter panel, showing individual plugin CPU load alongside overall RAM and CPU usage, is excellent for singling out ‘heavy’ effects and instruments. These elements, plus the developers’ continued commitment to integrated scripting, come together to deliver extremely efficient workflow, and although Reaper 5 isn’t a massive step up from v4 in terms of new headline features, it certainly consolidates its position as the most customisable and affordable DAW around. Factor in some (possibly significant) budget for the soundware of your choice and Reaper 5 makes for a top class music production environment. Web Info Discounted, $60; Commercial, $225

of their user base. For the remainder, which includes individuals, educational and non-profit organisations, and a sizeable chunk of commercial users not meeting the $20,000 threshold, the Discounted license will suffice. Importantly, there’s no difference between the two in terms of functionality whatsoever, and with so many users on the Discounted license, you could argue that that really is the going rate for the software. However, Cockos clearly feel the distinction is important, so the message is clear: if you plan to use Reaper commercially and you exceed the threshold, stump up the full commercial price.

Alternatively Apple Logic Pro X 195 » 9/10 » £150 Endless depth and loads of content at an incredible price PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist 221 » 9/10 » £69 Surprisingly powerful and very affordable version of the highly regarded DAW

Verdict For Many powerful features Extensive bundled effects Highly configurable Integrated scripting editor Improved video support Against Complexity can deter novices No good instruments/bundled content Customisable, powerful and affordable, Reaper is an amazing DAW, although the inclusion of some quality synths and samplers now feels long overdue

8/10 December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  91

>  reviews  /  fabfilter pro-c 2 KNEE AND LEVEL Visualises compression settings and input/output signals

STYLE SELECTOR Select one of eight compression styles here

PATCH MANAGEMENT Patch loading and saving, Undo/Redo, and A/B comparison buttons

LEVEL AND LOUDNESS METERING Input, gain reduction and output levels

TIME CONTROLS Envelope and lookahead parameters

DYNAMICS CONTROLS Pro-C 2’s main parameters plus Knee and Range controls

GAIN CONTROLS Wet and dry signal level parameters SIDECHAIN SECTION Sidechain parameters and internal/external routing toggle


SIDECHAIN EQ CONTROLLER A three-band EQ on the sidechain input signal GLOBAL CONTROLS Includes Oversampling, MIDI Learn and input/output level


Pro-C 2


Arguably the best all-round compressor plugin on the market, this Dutch powerhouse is back with some dynamic new features FabFilter’s original Pro-C compressor debuted back in 2007, which makes it something of an OAP in plugin terms. Back in 119, we were impressed with its modern design and sidechain routing capabilities, awarding it 10/10. However, dynamics plugins have come on a long way since then, and FabFilter have an impeccable reputation to maintain – their most recent release, Pro-Q 2, also garnered a perfect 10/10 score in 212’s review – so expectations of Pro-C 2 (VST/AU/AAX) are very high indeed. The first thing that strikes you about Pro-C 2 is that it makes the once-cutting-edge fascia of the original look rather dated. Now we have a radically redesigned front-end that devotes almost all of its real estate to the scrolling level and knee display, with level and gain reduction meters on the right-hand side 92  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

– although all of these can be hidden with a click of the ‘display hide’ button. It’s also resizable: the AAX, AU and VST 2.4 versions can be set to one of three sizes (740x450, 840x520 and 1000x660), while the VST3 version can be stretched to any size you like. All versions support Retina displays on Mac

“The VST3 version can be stretched to any size, and Pro-C 2 can even be switched into full-screen mode”

and HiDPI displays under Windows, and, like Pro-Q 2, Pro-C 2 can even be switched into full-screen mode. The main controls sit at the bottom of the main display, overlapping it to an extent determined by the currently selected GUI size (and not getting in the way too much at the smallest setting, where they only obscure the signal level below -40dB). Their layout is arranged in such a way that you intuitively start with the Threshold and Ratio knobs on the left, working your way over to the right via the envelope and output controls. This thoughtful approach to interface design might seem like a small thing, but it makes Pro-C 2 easy to get started with and quick to use.

Knees up There’s no denying that Pro-C 2 has a pretty, intuitive and info-packed interface, but what we

fabfilter pro-c 2  /  reviews  <

“Pro-C 2 makes improvements to the envelope section with new Hold and Lookahead faders” Eight compression Styles make Pro-C 2 more versatile

really care about is how it sounds. The two biggest enhancements in this area are the addition of five new compression styles (see Style Wars) and a Knee fader that can be set anywhere between 0dB (hard knee) and +72dB (soft knee), and which the manual describes rather vaguely as affecting the “roundness” of the compression around the threshold. That lack of explanation isn’t a major problem, as the Knee is really intuitive to use, and the theory isn’t particularly taxing anyway: at softer Knee settings, compression will start to kick in before the signal actually reaches the threshold, giving a smoother sound. Thus, the Knee fader can be used to harden or soften the compression (or even achieve almost saturation-like effects when a soft Knee is used in conjunction with a fast Attack). Having this extra dimension of control over the sound (the original Pro-C had just two fixed Knee settings) is a powerful thing that, in conjunction with the various compression styles, makes Pro-C 2 an even more flexible and creative part of your toolkit than its predecessor was.

Style wars The original Pro-C featured a choice of three compression Styles: Vintage (a retro-sounding, highly programdependant feedback mode), Opto (slow, linear opto compression with a very soft knee) and Clean (an all-round, low-distortion, soft knee, moderately program-dependent feedforward style). All these Styles are back in Pro-C 2 and joined by five new ones: Vocal (automatic Knee and Ratio settings, so all you have to worry about is picking an appropriate Threshold), Mastering (fast, transparent compression with minimal harmonic distortion), Bus (an SSL-like mode designed for ‘gluing’ sounds on a bus), Pumping (for over-the-top EDM-style compression)

Hold up Pro-C 2 makes improvements to the envelope section, too, with new Hold and Lookahead faders. Hold is simply another envelope stage that delays the onset of the Release stage. In the same way as Knee, it can be used to make the compression sound more transparent or, at longer settings (up to its maximum of 500ms), introduce pumping effects. Also new, the Lookahead function is turned off by default because it adds latency, but when active, it can be set between 0 and 20ms to increase transparency (check out 222’s Modern Compression feature for more advanced compressor functions explained!) There’s also now a second Audition button supplementing the sidechain Audition button of v1, which enables you to hear only the compressed component of the signal, giving insight into how much dynamics shaping is taking place. Useful and instructive.

Pro-C 2’s lush, large scrolling display makes it easy to see the effect your chosen settings are having

Big up Other newly added niceties include 2x and 4x oversampling modes; a convenient Mix fader that can scale the change in gain from 0 to 200%, effectively acting like an overall ‘compression amount’ control; a Range parameter for limiting the maximum gain change applied; and the ability to trigger compression via MIDI input. The sidechain section’s previously basic LP/HP filter section has been radically enhanced and now boasts a choice of slopes from 0-96dB/ octave for the low- and high-pass bands, plus a mid band that can be set to Bell, Low Shelf, High Shelf, Notch, Band Pass or Tilt Shelf mode with adjustable Q. Nothing revolutionary, but all solid enhancements that will please Pro-C fans. Pro-C 2 is immediately one of the best compressor plugins money can buy – it’s flexible, reasonably priced, and sounds beautifully clean. The only downside is that it never really gets down and dirty in an ‘analogue’ sense, but considering the excellent results it delivers for everyday mixing, that’s a mere quibble. Once again, FabFilter are leading the way with another sensational plugin. Web

and Punch (a traditional, analogueinspired mode). Each Style is a separate algorithm that governs the compression by changing all manner of under-the-hood parameters such as knee shape for the v1 Styles, and envelope speed. Between them they give Pro-C 2 plenty of soundshaping potential. That said, it’s always relatively tight, polite, clean and transparent, making it great for everyday mixing duties, but probably not as a replacement for your favourite vintage compressor, since it never imbues a great deal of character on the sound. Inserting a saturation effect after it can make all the difference to that side of things, though, of course.

Alternatively DMG Audio Compassion 166 » 10/10 » £150 Super-flexible dynamics processor with limiting and gating onboard u-he Presswerk 216 » 10/10 » $129 With its lush vintage sound and six task-orientated ‘views’, Presswerk is a modern classic

Verdict For Gorgeous, info-packed interface Lots of new compression styles Knee control is a boon Plenty of other new controls Full-featureed sidechain EQ Against Not a replacement for your favourite character compressor A thoroughly modern compressor that makes up for a lack of sonic character with its brilliant interface, controls and Styles

10/10 December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  93

>  reviews  /  sly-fi og trifecta bundle INPUT AND OUTPUT LEVELS With a fixed threshold, the input level is used to set the amount of compression

THD Two levels of harmonic distortion: subtle and heavy

MOVEMENT Subtly works up the bottom end saturation, bringing it forward in the mix

PUSH A high-frequency shelving boost on the sidechain signal for reducing harshness

ABUSE Further distortion circuitry adds more extreme dirt and grunge at the bottom and crunch at the top

ATTACK AND RELEASE Set the envelope characteristics of the compressor

SATURATION Drives the input amp to introduce analogue fatness OUT Sets the onward signal level after all EQ gain changes A/UBK/B Three EQ characters: vintage, modern and the more extreme UBK, with continuous controls

BREAKUP Sets the input drive level and hence the saturation of harder low frequencies

TONE CONTROLS +/- 12dB of gain for each band, with variable Q



OG Trifecta Bundle $239 The name alone is enough to spark curiosity in this trio of leftfield emulations from the brains behind Kush Audio Kush Audio have always been about innovative analogue hardware devices and software versions of the same – main man and certified audio genius Gregory Scott has never seen the benefit of simply emulating other commercially available units. However, his passion for heavily modifying his own classic gear has led him to realise that emulations of those mods could find an audience. The three plugins in the OG Trifecta Bundle (also available individually) comprise the Deflector compressor, Axis EQ and Kaya saturator, currently in VST and AU formats, with AAX “coming soon”. You may have noticed that they loosely correspond to Kush Audio’s UBK-1, Electra DSP and Pusher – see Sly-Fi vs Kush on the next page for more on this.

Deflector Although it isn’t immediately obvious, Deflector is based on a modified Empirical Labs Distressor, 94  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

a compressor found in most high-end studios, usually in pairs. It’s a digitally-controlled analogue VCA device beloved for its aggressive compression and saturation, and it makes a very effective orthodox dynamics leveller. Deflector has Input and Output knobs on the left (the threshold is fixed), Attack and Release knobs on the right, with a Total Harmonic Distortion

“Deflector is based on a modified Empirical Labs Distressor, a compressor found in most high-end studios”

switch (Off, 1 and 2), a Meter switch (I/O and Gain Reduction), a high-pass sidechain filter (off, 60Hz and 250Hz) and a Push control (Off, 2kHz and 6kHz) in between. In the centre is a 15-spot LED-style meter, below which sits the compression Ratio selector (2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 20 and 40:1). In the bottom strip are the preset management options, a Bypass switch, a Dry/Wet mix slider for parallel compression, and a Link/Unlink switch for dual mono/ stereo operation. The THD switch gives two flavours of distortion: 1 is mild with a hint of crunch, 2 is much dirtier and grimes up the bottom end. A few more flavours or an incremental pot rather than a switch would have been good. The highpass sidechain filter prevents the low-end from pumping the compressor; and for harsh material, the Push switch emphasises the high frequencies in the sidechain to attenuate them – a sort of de-esser, essentially.

sly-fi og trifecta bundle  /  reviews  <

“If you’re a fan of analogue distortion in all its forms, you’ll love them” On drums and bass, Deflector is particularly good at fattening and gluing the low-end, and giving it character. It also works well on vocals, bringing them forward nicely. Being such an aggressive effect, though, some sort of autogain correction would be helpful during the setup process, since there’s the potential for speaker/ear damage if you forget to turn the Output down before hitting the Input with a hot signal. And there’s no 1:1 setting as on the original, so you can’t just enjoy the distortion without the compression.

Axis Based on the classic API EQ, Axis is the most recognisable of the three emulations because its controls are so idiosyncratic. It has four bands instead of the three of the 550A series, and a three-way switch (A, B and UBK) flips between the two curve/character variations of the original hardware (the vintage A and more modern B) and a UBK version, which is customised and has continuous gain and frequency controls, rather than the stepped switches of A and B. This immediately makes it more precise for finding and adjusting problem frequencies. Each of the three settings hosts its own independent EQ setup, which is handy for A/B-ing. The most interesting addition, however, is the input Saturation knob. This adds a fatness and openness to the bottom-end that the EQ alone can’t. The sound of the EQ itself is reminiscent of the original API in its hardness, and the modification to this model clearly plays on the variable Q that goes with gain adjustment, giving quite a ‘nose’ to mid frequencies that helps them cut through.

Kaya Finally, Kaya is based on a one-off saturation unit built by sound engineer S Husky Hoskulds using an old Ampex valve tape machine preamp. It delivers dirty low-end distortion that can be exaggerated using the central Breakup control, while the Abuse knob adds further crunchy low- and high-end grit. A broad Treble shelf EQ gives relatively subtle control of colour, opening up or darkening the top end; and the Movement knob dirties up the bottom end even more. It’s a Marmite effect: variations on

Kaya delivers a single ‘colour’ of analogue saturation

Sly-Fi vs Kush There’s some resemblance between the Kush and Sly-Fi products, but although they do overlap in much of their functionality, there are also many differences between them. Kush UBK-1 and Sly-Fi Deflector are both great compressors, but the former has a broader range of colour and more attitude thanks to its saturation and drive, which make it more exciting and ‘pumped up’. Deflector is a more subtle and polite leveller, befitting a mix bus or lead vocal. The latter you’d take home to meet your parents, the former you’d take out on the lash, but it’d be a more expensive date. Kush Electra DSP and Sly-Fi Axis EQ

one saturation colour that you’ll either love or hate.

Three of a kind What all three Sly-Fi plugins have in common is a ‘de-digitaling’ effect. If you’re a fan of analogue distortion in all its forms, you’ll love them. They have a visceral fatness that you feel through your body and hear with your ears. Deflector is the star of the show for the variety of tones it makes available and the range of actions from gentle to violent; but Axis is a stunner, with its classic API sound, bullish attitude and the added precision EQing of the UBK setting. That said, though, you might actually end up using Kaya more than the others, because of its character and instant gratification. Web Info Deflector, $99; Axis, $99; Kaya, $79

are indirectly and directly modelled on the classic API, and sonic differences between them are subtle. Electra DSP might be slightly tougher and have more bite, but Axis has the saturation and the fully sweepable “UBK mode” for the gain and frequency controls that give more colour and precision, respectively. It’s also 50% cheaper. Kush Pusher and Sly-Fi Kaya are both saturation plugins, but the latter is based on one vintage preamp, giving variations on a single colour, while Pusher provides a host of controls for all sorts of beautiful distortions – it costs more but is clearly the more powerful of the two.

Alternatively Kush Audio UBK-1 176 » 9/10 » $149 Analogue compression/saturation with similarities to Deflector PSP Audioware PSP MixPack2 127 » 10/10 » $239 Contains MixSaturator2, an ace analogue-style saturator

Verdict For Stunning saturation colours Axis is a great saturation and EQ combo Deflector is an excellent all-round compressor and saturator Kaya’s subtle, unique tone could add character to anything Axis EQ’s UBK setting allows precision Against Deflector could do with gain compensation and more THD options Superb character compression, EQ and distortion from one of the coolest plugin developers around – get all three if you can

We’d love to see Deflector kitted out with automatic gain compensation, and some more THD ‘flavours’

9/10 December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  95

>  reviews  /  fxpansion strobe2 RANDOMIZER Drag on the X/Y pad to morph between four sounds randomised from your current patch

QUICK PRESETS Store up to eight patches for easy switching, comparison and morphing

SUB LINK The sub oscillators can be unlinked from the Main oscillator parameters

TRANSMOD The improved modulation matrix now has 16 slots

LEAK Blend in the pre-filter signal BROWSER Includes over 900 new categorised presets

SCOPE Visual feedback and access to Curve & Euclid modulation sources

TABBED INTERFACE Main functions are split between three panels DUAL LFO The enhanced LFO design includes a sub component

TONE Shelving filters for making quick changes to the high-frequency content of the oscillators





No longer part of any Squad, can this rejuvenated virtual analogue synth from a renowned developer stay relevant in today’s competitive arena? It’s been almost a year since we got a tantalising taster of FXpansion’s updated Strobe2, and well over five years since the original hit the streets as part of DCAM Synth Squad (9/10, 143). In the interim, FXpansion have taken the decision to dissolve the Squad and develop each synth independently. Strobe2 (VST/AU/AAX/RTAS/Standalone) is the first to arrive, with Amber and Cypher to follow, then some form of update to the Fusor host.

A quick recap Strobe is inspired by the classic single-oscillator synth designs (think Roland’s SH-101), but it’s polyphonic and features unison (32 unison voices for each main voice). The Main oscillator combines Saw and Square waveforms with level faders for each and pulse width for the latter, and includes a Stacking option with Detune, enabling up to four extra oscillators to be stacked, independent of the Unison. 96  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

Sound generation is bolstered by four sub oscillators (Sine, Triangle, Saw and Square, each with its own octave setting) and a Noise generator. The signal is shaped by a single multimode filter offering 22 filter types and a Drive control; an LFO with swing and pulse width; two envelopes (Modulation and Amplitude) with tempo Sync and Loop; and

“At the centre of the interface is the Scope display, providing visual feedback”

a VCA with adjustable analogue colour. The TransMod system enables modulation of most parameters, and each assignment includes a secondary slot for applying a scaling modulator. Other options include an Arpeggiator and a Ramp module for delay and rise time generation. Finally, at the centre of the interface is the Scope display, providing visual feedback on the oscillator and LFO waveforms, and filter curve.

Ground zero In terms of layout, Strobe2 is pretty much identical to Strobe 1; but under the hood, the audio engine has been completely rebuilt – to such an extent, in fact, that it won’t load Strobe 1 patches. You do get the original factory patches remade for Strobe2 in a Legacy folder, however. The new engine is far better CPU-optimised than its predecessor, and the previous extreme oversampling rates (x16 and x32) have been

fxpansion strobe2  /  reviews  <

“The Filter Drive is now gain compensated and includes a Leak level control for introducing the pre-filter signal” ditched, although oversampling is now always active (x2, x4 or x8), and the option remains to switch the rate when rendering. The new interface offers scale options (75220%), two colour Themes (light and dark), a fold-out preset Browser, plus two tabbed pages for the new Effects and upgraded Arpeggiator. Said Effects section comprises 28 processors, 19 of them lifted from Fusor (TinCan Reverb, for example), and new ones including FX-Verb (an algorithmic reverb), Pattern Delay (a multitap delay), Env Shaper, Enhancer, Nonlinear Ringmod, DirtyDAC (an old DA converter emulation) and various EQs. The effects are inserted in series in two three-slot chains, with mix blend dials for each effect and each chain. Meanwhile, the 32-step Arpeggiator has all the typical options you’d expect, such as Swing, Gate time, Rate and Mode, as well as a modulation Step Sequencer. This last can be used in tandem with the Arpeggiator (each can reset the other) and as a TransMod source. Further new features include eight Quick Preset slots for easy access to up to eight patches, with time-variable morphing between them, freezable at any point in the morph; 16 TransMod slots, up from the previous eight; parameter locking when changing patches (including the Arpeggiator); a Randomizer with X/Y pad (morph between randomly generated variations in each corner) and its own Quick Preset slot; and three new TransMod Processors.

Synth matters The new arp and effects contribute immensely to Strobe2’s 900-odd new patches, but there are changes to the synth itself that prove transformative, too. The sub oscillators can now match the Main oscillator octave as well as up to three octaves below (as per v1), and the Sub section as a whole can be unlinked from the main Oscillator’s pitch-related parameters (Sync, Stack and Detune) – ideal when you want to retain a solid underpinning while the Main Oscillator is doing something more complex. There’s also a Phase Reset option for the Main Oscillator, facilitating consistent note onset, and each oscillator section includes a Tone control,

The new tabbed interface incorporates an improved arpeggiator and modulation step sequencer

A closeup of the nifty new Scopes modulation section

New mod sources As well as the Scope, the central display now switches between various other tabbed pages, too, including the interfaces for three new modulation sources: two Curves and a Euclidian geometry and spring model. The Curves are actually freely drawable envelopes, which are ‘quantised’ into stepped shapes with an adjustable number of steps for each axis (XStep and YStep) and a Slew control for smoothing. They’re particularly handy as scaling sources for modifying modulators – we had a lot of fun applying both simple and complex stepping to regular sources (a sine wave LFO, for example), with the

which is basically a high shelving EQ. The Filter Drive is now gain compensated and includes a Leak level control for introducing the pre-filter signal; and the LFO offers an additional sub cycle, which is a multiple of the main LFO. Finally, both Envelopes have doubled maximum time ranges (32 seconds each for Attack, Decay and Release). All of this expands Strobe2’s sound capabilities considerably, and A/B-ing it with v1 reveals a much more vibrant- and expansivesounding synth. This is particularly noticeable with pads, leads and textures, where the new effects often play a big part. Of course, the arp patches are also considerably better, with complex 32-step patterns outshining the eightsteppers of v1, although sadly the Legacy arp patches don’t include the arp programming, rendering them pointless. Basses benefit, too, with more potential in the edginess department. Nevertheless, there was a certain directness of sound to the original Strobe that worked particularly well for simple basses, and that has changed. Overall, Strobe2 is a more rounded synth than v1, with a far broader feature set, a better preset library and greatly finessed sonics. Web Info Upgrade from v1, £52

output assigned via TransMod to a target parameter. Euclid is for creating more chaotic modulation signals. You position its X/Y pad crosshair manually, either via the (modulatable) knobs or directly in the display. The crosshair and the output ‘puck’ (dot) represent the two ends of a two dimensional mass/spring mechanical model, the behaviour of which is fine-tuned with the Rate, Damp and Slew controls. The modulation output is indicated by a small dot for each voice whizzing around the display, the X Position, Y Position, Angle and Radius of which are available as TransMod sources.

Alternatively D16 Group LuSH-101 186 » 9/10 » €149 A multitimbral SH-101-inspired mega synth that sounds totally awesome Native Instruments Massive 107 » 9/10 » £169 If you dig modulated sounds, this classic soft synth delivers them in spades

Verdict For Improved sound Better interface New preset library Decent Arpeggiator/Step Sequencer Onboard effects New modulation processors Against v1 patches not compatible Strobe is back and better than ever, with a classier sound, new effects and modulators, an improved arp and fantastic presets

9/10 December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  97

>  reviews  /  klanghelm mjuc


Klanghelm MJUC €24


Quality levels at the affordable end of the compressor plugin market are always rising, but this one sets a new benchmark Klanghelm is Berlin-based developer Tony Frenzel, and MJUC (AU/VST/AAX/RTAS) is his fourth commercial plugin release, following up the awesomely powerful DC8C (10/10, 196). This time around, tube-based compression is the order of the day, although, once again, MJUC is inspired by various hardware units rather than directly emulating any of them. MJUC features three selectable models that govern its overall workflow and sound: a gentle ‘early’ design (MkI), a more upfront 60s USinspired design (MkII) and a flexible modern design (MkIII). Each has its own controls and GUI, although they all have those big Compress (threshold) and Make-Up (-12dB to +36dB) knobs. MkI is the most straightforward, with ratio Mode (Comp or Limit) and six Timing constant settings. Reminiscent of the Fairchild 670, these include fast attack and release (option 1), slow attack with long release (4), and fast attack with long program-dependent release (6). MkII opts for a more conventional control array, with Attack (0.8ms to 35ms), Recovery (20ms to 3.6sec) and Ratio (2:1, 4:1, 8:1 and Limit) joined by Density, which adds a second variable mu stage, and IStage, which enables an interstage transformer that separates gain reduction from gain make-up, changing the tone and delivering cleaner compression. MkIII retains the Density and IStage options of MkII, but only offers two compression ratios

(High and Low), adding a Punch setting, which influences the attack and release. All three modes also give access to a foldaway panel containing Dry/Wet Mix, Side Chain Filter and two tone shaping controls: Timbre and Drive. Finally, global options include categorised presets, automatic gain make-up (AGC), 2x oversampling and model accuracy (HQ), level calibration (-24dB to 0dB), channel compression mode (Mono, unlinked Dual Mono and linked Stereo) and meter mode (In, Out, Gain Reduction and input-to-output RMS difference).

The three faces of MJUC Each of the three models offers something a bit different. MkI is at its best gently gluing things together, making a great second insert compressor for acoustic guitar and vocals, and primary compressor for submixes. Having said that, its fast Timing option (1) is pretty good at adding subtle poke to sounds like picked guitar. The MkII’s IStage option is particularly impactful on bass-heavy sounds and full mixes, which feel considerably more open with it engaged, while Density influences not only gain reduction (there’s more of it when engaged) but also transient handling, making the compressor more responsive to them. On the MkIII, Punch clearly influences release shape, with setting 3 feeling the tightest. As for the tone controls, the Timbre control is

better at darkening sounds than brightening them, and the Drive, although audible on solo sounds such as vocals and acoustic guitar, is most useful for smearing/smoothing transients. In normal usage, the plugin consumed around 10% of one core on our 2.3GHz Core i5 test machine, ramping up to around 30% in HQ mode, which does offer a noticeably crisper transient response, it must be said. In summary, MJUC is a superb plugin that easily rivals the best high-end compressor plugins on the market, making it another winner from Klanghelm at a ridiculously low price. Web

Alternatively OverTone DSP FC70 N/A » N/A » $60 Fairchild 670 emulation with independent L/R, Stereo and Lateral/Vertical operation Slate Digital VBC 195 » 10/10 » From $149 Three great ‘virtual buss compressor’ plugins, including the excellent FG-MU valve design

Verdict Drive all night Drive is a saturation control, variable from Clean (0) to Driven (10). It influences input and output transformers, and valve stages. Processing is inactive at 0. The Timbre knob dials one of two tone curves into the gain stages: Dark (boosted mids and attenuated highs) and Hifi (boosted lows and highs for a sweetening curve). The Dark curve applies a broad, gentle boost (2 or 3dB at its maximum setting) centred on 350Hz, and a high-frequency shelving cut 98  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015

(-2dB at 15kHz). Hifi’s shelving boost adds up to +2dB at 100Hz and 10kHz. Interestingly, Drive produces different harmonic distortions for each compressor model. At maximum Drive, MkIII has few upper harmonics, while both MkI and MkII have extended upper harmonics. Also, for all models, lower Drive settings introduce second harmonics, gradually shifting to third harmonics, then a balance of both at the higher settings.

For Three different models Crazy price Density and IStage are useful options Excellent Punch option on MkIII Adjustable saturation level Stylish interface Against Nothing at this price! A triumph of intuitive plugin design that sounds fabulous and really should cost much more


>  reviews  /  ik multimedia stealth limiter


IK Multimedia

Stealth Limiter


With limiters playing such a vital role in modern production, it’s good to see increasingly refined takes on the concept appearing Stealth Limiter (VST/AU/RTAS/AAX/ Standalone) is the latest addition to IK Multimedia’s T-RackS system, available via the T-RackS Custom Shop or direct from IK’s site. It can be used within T-RackS for standalone operation or building self-contained plugin chains within a host but also comes as a regular plugin, which is more convenient for DAW use. The interface is refreshingly straightforward, centring on just two knobs: Input (0dB to +20dB) and Ceiling (0dB to -20dB). The metering is also very simple, with a gain reduction meter flanked by input and output meters indicating both peak and RMS levels. That’s it for metering options, and the meter scale can’t be adjusted, which is sure to raise a few eyebrows. The rest of Stealth Limiter’s settings are laid out across four central panels: Main, Mode, ISPL (Intersample Peak Limiter) and Dithering. The Mode, ISPL and Dithering sections’ single buttons cycle through the available options (again, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea), while the three buttons in the Main panel directly select their respective settings – a strange inconsistency. The four Modes select the core algorithm at work behind the scenes, and range from ultratransparent (Tight) and moderate compression (Balanced), to valve (Harmonics 1) and solidstate (Harmonics 2) saturation. The Main panel also houses the Infrasonic Filter – a 22Hz high-

pass filter for removing unwanted sub frequencies – and the Unity Gain Monitor option, which compensates for the gain applied at the Input and lets you make gain-consistent comparisons between your processed and unprocessed signals using the Bypass button. At the bottom, the Intersample Peak Limiter is activated by selecting one of two oversampled rates (x4 and x16), while Dithering applies 24-bit or 16-bit dither noise.

Loud and proud Stealth Limiter’s first two Modes, Tight and Balanced, are indistinguishable at lower levels, while Harmonics 1 and 2 both introduce more obvious saturation. The Harmonics options are good for adding favourable colour to submixes, for example, and we found, to our surprise, that we preferred Harmonics 2 (solid state). Nonetheless, when you start to push it hard, aiming for a loud master with minimal obvious distortion, it’s definitely the cleanest option, Tight, that you want, and the simple control set lets you focus on listening and picking the exact level, rather than fiddling with parameters. IK boast that Stealth Limiter is the most transparent, clear and loud software mastering peak limiter available, which is quite a claim, but also, of course, totally subjective. We pitted it against some of the most highly regarded true peak limiters available, including models by

Intersample rescue You might be wondering why you need Intersample Peak Limiting in your limiter, as surely, if the digital ceiling isn’t exceeded, and the limiting is done in a controlled way using a decent limiter rather than just clipping the signal, your file should both sound right and be good to go. That’s sound logic, but it doesn’t take into account what happens during the digital-toanalogue conversion process. When you factor in the reconstruction filters used to

deliver the analogue waveform, the signal can easily exceed 0dB. Typically, it will only exceed zero by a fraction of a decibel, but it can get up to around 3dB. While welldesigned D/A converters often compensate for this, the cheaper ones found in mobile devices and computer audio systems don’t always fare so well. Bearing in mind that these are now the listening devices of choice for many, you can hopefully appreciate why this has become an important consideration.

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iZotope, Flux and FabFilter. Not all of these provide automatic intersample adjustment, so Stealth is straightforward in that respect, and for maximum loudness with minimum distortion, it ranked in the top three of the range we tested. The only snag is the massive CPU hit with the x16 ISPL option – a x8 setting would be more workable for most users. Stealth Limiter is certainly a fine limiter, with a streamlined but capable feature set. If it had more in the way of metering options and less fiddly selectors, it may well have scored full marks. Roll on v1.1, we say! Web

Alternatively iZotope Ozone 6 212 » 10/10 » £149+ Features a gem of a limiter with True Peak limiting and a whole lot more besides FabFilter Pro-L 160 » 10/10 » £129 Slick and easy-to-use limiter with great algorithms and visuals

Verdict For Simple operation Four modes for a choice of sounds Intersample peak limiting Two oversampling rates Unity gain monitoring option Against Cycling parameter settings are needlessly irritating Could benefit from more metering An excellent four-mode limiter that covers a range of uses, marred slightly by bloodyminded controls and basic metering


>  reviews  /  beatskillz slam dawg



Slam Dawg


Struggling to add polish to your finished mixes? This plugin from India aims to make light work of the task of mastering Slam Dawg (VST/AU/AAX) is the first plugin from Beatskillz, a sub-brand of Beatfactory Academy, the Delhi-based outfit behind the excellent Bollywood Sounds sample libraries. Essentially a self-contained mastering suite, Slam Dawg is billed as a one-stop-shop for cluband radio-ready masters, and promises “great mixes and beats within minutes”. Designed for quick and simple operation, it offers just a single control for each of its seven processes. Mud Out combines low-cut filtering with what sounds (and looks on an analyser) like a bellshaped 50Hz boost of 12dB – as you raise the dial, it brings up the main sub bass frequencies while cutting off the messy lower ones. It’s a blunt tool, akin to the ‘Mega Bass’ function on an old Sony hi-fi, but well calibrated. We wouldn’t trust it on a master, but as a drum loop fattener, it’s certainly interesting. Sticking with the bottom end, Boom adds harmonics to sub bass frequencies around 60Hz, giving more presence and warmth to the bottom end (similar ito Waves’ MaxxBass). It only goes up to 12dB at the highest setting, so it only covers a reasonably small range, but it affords fine enough control to be useful. The Thump control is intended to bring out kick drums and bass punch around 110Hz but actually makes things a little boxy, particularly acoustic parts. A small linked cut at around 230270Hz could have balanced this out, we reckon.

Compression comes in the form of the Pop knob, which dials in level and punch until about 12 o’clock, after which it generates such pronounced signal pumping on four-to-the-floor material that we had to double-check it wasn’t actually applying tempo-synced sidechaining! Again, we’d advise restraint on the master channel, but it is a very useful creative effect. The Crush component is a limiter, making the signal louder as it’s raised. There isn’t much room for subtlety here, but it does the trick. Widening is handled by the Stereo knob. Sonically, this is one of the weaker links in the chain. It does add width – and in a clever way, as a stereo correlation meter placed after the plugin barely twitches, even when Stereo is fully engaged – but quickly becomes a little harsh on the ear.

Hot air The last controls, Heat and Airzz, are meant to enrich the sound, the former offering secondorder harmonics for a saturation effect, the latter employing a shelving boost to the high frequencies. Both have their uses, but – yep, you guessed it – are more suited to use on mix channels and groups than the master. Finally, separate wet and dry level sliders enable parallel processing, followed by a master output level control. The lack of adjustable gain staging along the signal path – as well as the

The old in-out Proper gain-staging is essential to any good mastering workflow. This is the process by which a relatively quiet signal is carefully and progressively built up in level and perceived loudness as it passes through the processing chain, until the final limiter. Good metering throughout is essential for understanding what each effect in the series is doing, and to avoid overloading the signal and damaging the dynamics and frequency spectrum. But this is Slam Dawg’s greatest failing…

All you get are very basic left and right channel output meters and absolutely no input metering. The meters have no dB value display and can’t be switched between peak mode (telling you when your signal is overloading) and RMS (giving essential information about average loudness) – we’d guess they’re RMS, based on their reaction to incoming test signals, but it’s hard to tell for sure. In short, they’re hopelessly inadequate for mastering duties.

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fixed module order and ‘one-knob’ approach – are a clear indication of where this plugin’s strengths really lie: mixing. Even the ten presets back this up, most of them being geared up for creative processing rather than mastering. As a serious mastering tool, Slam Dawg simply doesn’t cut it in terms of tweakability (or metering), and it’s this criteria that we have to judge it on. Sonically, however, it really is rather good, and it’s certainly worthy of a slot in your channel processing chain – and, perhaps, even as part of your mastering chain on occasion. It could be handy for quickly adding oomph to demos before sending them out, too. Web

Alternatively iZotope Ozone 6 212 » 10/10 » £149+ More expensive, but a genuine mastering powerhouse IK Multimedia T-RackS Classic N/A » N/A » €75 This mastering bundle is still capable of excellent results for nearly half the price of Slam Dawg

Verdict For Good sub bass enhancement Mud cut is a handy bass boost Useful for quick demo fattening Creative compression Works well as a mixing tool Against Terrible metering Too blunt for serious mastering Quite pricey Slam Dawg is far from ideal for mastering, but it offers more than enough to earn a place in your mixing plugins folder


>  reviews  /  meldaproduction mdrumenhancer



MDrumEnhancer €149 Is it an exciter? Is it a reverb? Is it a drum replacer? Actually, it’s a bit of all three, collectively aimed at bringing colour to your drums Marketed as a “modern alternative to drum replacing”, MDrumEnhancer is an effect plugin (VST/AU/AAX) designed to combine the individual tracks of a multitrack drum part with triggered samples, which are resynthesised according to the characteristics of the input signals (the actual process is a secret), in order to, well… enhance them. The triggered sounds can be shaped using dynamics and EQ, with the latter configurable as a dynamic equaliser. The standard MO is to use MDrumEnhancer on an auxiliary channel, as you would a reverb (although there is a wet/dry mix control for direct insertion), and mix it with your drums. You’re always going to need the original sounds, because the processed samples don’t have transients – they’re only intended to improve the body of the sound, not replace the whole thing. They’ve also had most of the mid-range removed, so with kicks and toms you get added weight and some bright air left over from the subtracted attack, while the snare drum samples enhance the body of the sound and the fizz of the snare wires. It comes with a small set of kick, snare and tom samples in a range of styles (acoustic and electronic), but perhaps more importantly, you can drag your own samples in, and they’ll be put through the process required to make them work as ‘enhancing elements’. The sample can be detuned up or down by up to an octave, and manipulated in the Dynamics section. The Mode settings offer three attack

times (Normal, Fast or Smooth), although all are relatively slow. The Sustain parameter adjusts the fade time of the enhancing sample, even stretching to a reverb-like effect up to about six seconds long; while the Character control is essentially a bass/treble tilt, from very dull and bassy at 0% to very thin and bright at 100%. A Compression control brings up the tail of the sample, and a Gate prevents spill captured in the source recording triggering the sample. The metering is clear and flexible, and includes a sonogram; the Automatic Gain Compensation button allows for sensible comparative listening; and as with all Melda plugins, all sorts of stereo processing is catered to, including Mid/Side and Left and Right only, although that’s not hugely useful in this particular case.

Pull the trigger The first thing we noticed was how accurately MDrumEnhancer tracks the input signal and triggers its loaded sample. Dynamic tracking can be an issue with many drum replacers, but MDE effortlessly follows the envelope of the source. The next observation is its corrective and creative potential: it really does add fizz and space to lacklustre snare drums, and impressive weight to weak kick drums, as well as enabling shifting of stylisation by working, for example, a jazz kick sound into the mix. The sustain element sounds really good, too, especially

Five bands of fun MDrumEnhancer’s EQ is a five-band parametric device with an insane amount of flexibility. Each band can be set to one of 13 curves, including Peak, Band Pass, Notch, High and Low Pass, and set to affect the left or right channel only, if desired. Crucially, each band can be made ‘dynamic’ – the louder the input, the greater the gain change – with various controls used to shape its leveldependent action, including Attack, Release,

RMS length, Peak Hold and Threshold. This is supplemented by the Harmonics facility, where the relative harmonics of the centre frequency are also boosted or attenuated by a set amount, from 0% for no change, up to 100%, where the harmonics are gainchanged by the same amount as the fundamental. Up to 16 harmonics can be affected, and you can switch individual harmonics out as required.

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when it extends into a reverb-type effect, with its density adding palpable solidity. MDrumEnhancer is a unique, maverick device that can quickly and easily add character and style to lame drum tracks. To be clear, it doesn’t add punch, but weight, brightness and space are all there to be had; and it differs from an orthodox drum replacer in that the triggered sound has no transient and doesn’t stand up by itself. At first glance, it looks very complicated, but it’s an intuitive plugin from which you can quickly get very useable results. Web

Alternatively Wave Machine Labs Drumagog 5 159 » 8/10 » £305 The most popular drum replacer on the market does what it’s supposed to and does it well Slate Digital Trigger 2 201 » 10/10 » $249 A more recent replacer that’s excellent at rejecting spill to avoid sample misfiring

Verdict For Ingenious and unique process Precisely tracks source timing/dynamics Diverse and useful sample set Import your own samples Musically useful Sustain/reverb Stunning EQ control Against No EQ bypass If you find conventional sound replacers hit or miss, Melda’s alternative can quickly add just the elements your sound misses


>  reviews  /  mini reviews

mini reviews

A rapid-fire round-up of sample libraries, ROMplers and music gear Vibrant Digital Engineering



Web Format iPad

This 16-voice iPad drum machine is fuelled by an excellent and sizeable library of classic beatbox samples and original sounds by Dubsounds, Samples From Mars, 99Sounds and Orange Tree Samples, with all the essential compatibilities in place: Inter-App Audio, AudioBus, Dropbox, microphone and Core MIDI. Load a preset kit or combine sounds from the library and your own collection to make a new one, then program or tap in as many 16-step patterns as you like and string them together into a song. The 16-channel mixer-style Drum Machine editor lets you adjust the amount or mix of Distortion, Compression and Reverb effects, and tweak Volume, Pan, Gate time and Pitch. Diode-108’s big feature, though, is the implementation of per-step effects. Each channel includes its own series of step sequencers for modulating the above controls throughout the pattern, plus EQ (Tone) and the wet/dry Delay mix. Editing is done in basic Slider

Mode (set a discrete value per step) or the cleverly designed Advanced Mode, which interpolates between steps in various ways. Multitouch is supported for quickly creating ramps and curves, and switching the Pitch sequencer to Note Mode enables absolute chromatic pitching of the sound for melodic parts, with the note name listed at the top of each step. The Special FX sequencer, meanwhile, presents a rack of 15 creative effect ‘blocks’ (Reverse, Bitcrush Sweep, Dive, Flanger, etc) that can be dragged onto the steps of the sequence and stretched across multiple steps. It all hangs together very well, giving the user extensive control over both patterns and sounds. The problem is, while the effects sound OK, there’s very little on offer in the way of editable parameters for each one. The delay, for

example, has just delay time, feedback and filter controls, and they’re all quite restrictive in their ranges, while the compressor can’t be adjusted at all. The Special FX blocks, too, have no controls – you have to take them as they come. However, given the price tag, we really are nitpicking! As a highly creative, easy-to-use and great-sounding addition to your iPad music studio, Diode-108 is pretty much essential. n9/10n

IK Multimedia

iRig Mic Studio


Web Format PC/Mac/iOS/Android

The new flagship at the front of IK’s fleet of microphones is a small but reassuringly weighty large diaphragm condenser (1" back electret), available in moody black and natty silver models. Connection to the host computer, phone or tablet is made via a Micro-USB port in the base of the mic, which handles power and audio signals, and three cables are supplied, giving you options to connect to your device of choice via USB, Lightning or Micro-USB. Also in the box is a handy desktop tripod stand and a bag, while an included code unlocks a couple of mic models for IK’s new Mic Room modelling app, and draws your attention to the usual suite of free apps for iOS and Android, which can be downloaded from their respective online stores. On the barrel of the iRig Mic Studio, a minijack headphone output enables monitoring through the built-in audio interface. A pair of knobs control the mic input gain and headphone output levels, and a multicoloured LED in between gives clear visual feedback on input signal level. 108  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  December 2015

The AD converter in the iRig Mic Studio operates at 24-bit and 44.1 or 48kHz, while the quoted frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz and maximum SPL of 133dB imply a high degree of versatility. In our testing, we found the mic to be a very capable performer for the money, capturing the finer details of a variety of vocal deliveries and acoustic guitar playing styles well, with accurate dynamic representation. We were also quite impressed by the relatively low noise floor of the built-in preamp. While the iRig Mic Studio isn’t about to replace anyone’s main 500-quid-plus studio microphone, we enthusiastically recommend it to singer/ songwriters, mobile producers and field recordists as an excellent low/mid-range option, primarily for its peerless portability

and convenience, but also for its sensitivity and general performance. It sounds really good and ‘just works’ with any and all musicmaking platforms. n9/10n

mini reviews  /  reviews  <


Retro Organ Suite Web Format PC/Mac

Loading into their well-established – and free – UVI Workstation engine (VST/AU/AAX/RTAS/ MAS/Standalone), Retro Organ Suite is a 4GB (7GB uncompressed) multisample bank that encapsulates the sounds of a range of classic electronic organs in six separate instruments. Specifically, they comprise Hammer B (Hammond B3), Super VX (Vox Continental), Retrocorda (Philips Philicordia), EX III (Korg CX-3), GT2500 (Eminent Grand Theater 2500) and Combo K, (combining the Farfisa Compact Duo and Combo Compact, Elka Classic, Philips AG7500 and Hammond M100). The source organs were kept as authentic as possible throughout the recording process, with their original speakers, vibrato, percussion and other elements – over 20,000 samples in total. As is always the case with UVI’s multiinstrument libraries, the six Retro Organ interfaces aren’t actually as different as they first appear. All of them share a common FX page,

£115 housing a board of seven virtual guitar pedals (distortion, delay, reverb, etc), while the Edit pages of all but EX III give access to the same array of parameters – multimode filter, amp and filter envelopes, tremolo and vibrato control, and mod wheel filter modulation depth. The Edit page for EX III (which comes in monophonic and polyphonic versions) has a set of nine adjustable drawbars instead – it’s the only one that actually lets you get hands-on with the harmonics. The differences between the organs become apparent in their Main page controls and, of course, the sounds of the samples behind them. Hammer B, GT2500 and Combo K are dual-layer, for example, with their variably sourced and processed layers mixed and matched in the Main page; while Retrocorda instead offers seven preset voice combination buttons in ‘Normal’ and reverb/vibrato alternatives. It’s obviously important to understand that Retro Organ Suite isn’t trying to be a purist recreation of the original instruments it represents, and isn’t trying to be an algorithmic ‘emulation’ instrument exactly; rather, it’s a sort


Ample Metal Eclipse

of ‘reduction’ of these, designed for quick and easy access to the legendary sounds for which they’re known, with enough customisation to keep tinkerers happy. Approached with that in mind, UVI’s nostalgic sextet makes for a sonically expansive and satisfyingly playable arsenal of faux organs. n8/10n

Best Service $119

Organum Venezia


Web Format PC/Mac

Web Format PC/Mac

Beijing-based guitar emulation specialists AmpleSound have garnered high scores on these pages with their ‘acoustic’ Ample Guitar M (9/10, 191) and Ample Guitar T (9/10, 192). Running in the same host engine (VST/AU/AAX/RTAS/standalone), Ample Metal Eclipse is a 3.5GB virtual rendition of the ESP Eclipse I guitar, with eight articulations (Sustain, Palm Mute, Hammer On, Artificial Harmonic, Pull Off, Legato Slide, Slide In/Out) captured for every fret. Sound shaping is done via the main controls and a rack of eight virtual effects pedals (no amp sims, though – you’ll need to run it through your own), but what makes it ‘metal’ is the sound of the guitar itself, the low default tuning (C G C F A D) and the library of metal-orientated riffs included for loading into the Strummer sequencer. Tablature in various formats can also be loaded into the Tab player, and the engine does a superb job of playing it back. AME sounds so astonishingly realistic and expressive that we can forgive its poor documentation, lack of presets and the standalone host’s tendency to crash periodically. n8/10n

Developed by V3Sound in collaboration with Symphonia Concert Library, and running in the supplied Best Service Engine instrument (VST/AU/standalone), Organum Venezia is a sampled pipe organ “recorded near Venice, Italy”. There’s not much to the interface – just 18 buttons for activating a range of single stops and combinations, and sliders for volume and convolution reverb depth – and being a pipe organ, there’s only one velocity layer, of course, which explains the tiny 330MB footprint. For that full-on organ sound, all you have to do is activate the Tutti button, which combines all stops, and sounds suitably majestic. For custom tones, the individual stops – Trumpet 8, Flute 4, 8 and 16, Prestant 4, Celeste, etc – serve as a small library of stackable layers, while the Combis comprise various combinations of stops, some of which aren’t available singly. The pipe organ is all about power, and Organum Venezia certainly has plenty of that. We do wish the interface wasn’t quite so featureless, but the sound is good and the price seems fair. n7/10n December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  109

>  reviews  /  mini reviews

Soundware round-up Mode Audio

Deep Instinct – Sylenth1 House Presets £13 60 deep/tech house patches for LennarDigital’s evergreen synth, plus 50 MIDI files for auditioning them. The programmer’s skill and confidence are evident throughout, from the beefy basses and earstabbing leads, to the edgy pads, energetic arps and funky gated patterns. And while this is about as expensive as a preset library of this size should ever be, in our opinion, the inclusion of the MIDI files pushes Deep Instinct comfortably back over the line. n8/10n


Unrealistic Vibrating Particles $39

Fluffy Audio

TimeDrops $69 A joyfully mad Kontakt 5 library (1GB) that enables ‘freezing’ and manipulation of the loaded sample using a variety of granular playback modes and other controls. The movement of grains is visualised by the Waveform and Window displays, and modulation comes in the shape of an ADSR envelope and an LFO. On the down side, while you can import your own samples, doing so is such a faff that you won’t really want to. With its 92 lengthy included samples, though, TimeDrops gives you a wealth of starting points, in a very powerful engine, for conjuring up all kinds of pads, drones, atmospheres and rhythm beds. n


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A 2GB library (1427 samples) of “synthetic FX” made with Goldbaby’s extraordinary collection of vintage and modern gear. It’s a spectacular panoply of chiptune-style runs and burbles, picturesque drones and atmospheres, threatening sirens, energetic rises and drops, explosive impacts, delicious melodics and more, produced with the exquisite attention to detail we’ve come to expect from the ’baby. Suitable for use in all styles of dance and electronic music, UVP is a library you may well find yourself calling on for every project, and the value for money is simply ridiculous. n10/10n


Relative Dimension £30 100 Omnisphere 2 presets and their associated samples (1GB), aimed at film scorers and ambient composers. The vast majority of the library is textural, from shadowy, haunting beds to brighter, harsher soundscapes. The remainder is rhythmic – arps and pulses of the brooding, mysterious kind. Omnisphere’s modulation and effects have been put to good use, and the patches lend themselves perfectly to manipulation using The Orb. Our only concern is that Spectrasonics’ mighty synth comes well stocked with this kind of stuff out of the box; but if you need more, this is a solid buy. n8/10n

Rhythmic Robot

Platter £20 The source samples (vintage synths) for this threeoscillator Kontakt ’string machine’ were pressed to vinyl and replayed on a 60s Dansette and a 1910 handcranked record player – flip between the two with the Vintage switches. Add in modulation, vinyl-emulation processing and other effects and you have quite possibly RR’s weirdest instrument yet. We’re not mad about the rotary sample selectors (we’d rather they were stepped) or sure how much mileage there is to be had in such an overtly ‘antique’ sound, but for lovers of the strange and dusty, this is clearly a must-have. n8/10n

mini reviews  /  reviews  <

Sample Magic

Niche Audio

Soma Records Samples £20

Sublime Techno £25

Slam’s legendary label makes its soundware debut with this 640MB pack of techno loops, one-shots, MIDI files and sampler patches. Everything is generated by synths and drum machines, as befits the genre, with the loops – at 127 and 130bpm – taking in stemmed drums, basses, percussion, pads, synths and effects, and the one-shots covering drum kit elements and synth hits. The overarching mood is dark and menacing, the production is absolutely first class from start to finish, and there’s a trove of quality noises to be discovered here.

Niche Audio’s latest Maschine/Live project pack taps an unspecified roster of analogue synths and drum machines for “over 90%” of its sounds, resulting in a supremely phat, up-front library of 17 techno/techhouse Groups/Drum Racks (plus 51 Instrument Rack and Simpler presets for melodic play in Live), and 12 genuinely release-quality full projects (two of them Live-only). There’s also a WAV version available for the same price, but we’d question its value, since the playability and convenience of the instruments and their effects chains are key.



Native Instruments


Crystal Daggers £44

EDM Loop Essentials £16

The “perfect blend of underground and mainstream for crossover appeal”, this Maschine library draws on hip-hop, EDM, trap, R&B and beyond for its 45 kits (incorporating 20 presets for Monark, 40 for Massive, 15 Drum Synths and 320 samples), ten projects and 202 patterns. The cross-pollination of genres results in a broad spectrum of sonic flavours from kit to kit, but the production style is generally clean and spacious across the board. As ever with NI’s Maschine Expansions, you get a lot of stuff for your money.

50 four-bar drum loops, some with synth elements layered on top, presented in Full, Kick only and (often multiple) No Kick versions. The beats are fulsome, the production is in-your-face and thoroughly mix-ready, but with every sample starting and ending with an eighth-note (at 128bpm) lead-in/out, they don’t actually… well, loop without preparatory editing. Not ideal. Also problematic is that the pack feels like the Drum Loops folder from a larger library, which makes the price tag a little awkward – a shame because the sounds themselves really are excellent.





Post-Rock EZX £42

Roots Revival £35

Recorded at Reykjavik’s Sundlaugin Studios, Post-Rock adds four artsy new kits to your EZdrummer or Superior 2 library: Tama Starclassic, 1964 Rogers, Yamaha Oak Custom and Sakae Trilogy, plus Zildjian, Sabian and Bosphorus cymbals, and a handful of quirky percussion sounds (Tibetan singing bowl, studio stairs, etc). The kits share a common organic character and warmth, but there’s enough variety between them (the Sakae comes in brush and mallet versions as well as sticks) to make them equally useful. The included grooves, played by Arnar Gislason, are great, too.

A good reggae sample library is a rare thing indeed, and this 2.3GB epic from Samplephonics is one of the best we’ve ever heard, comprising over 550 loops (including ten construction kits) and 370-odd oneshots. Being based on consistent studio recordings of a live band (bass, drums, guitar, percussion, melodica, various keys, synths and FX), using it does entail signing up to one particular production style, but that actually brings cohesion to the pack, maximising its utility. Beautifully performed, tightly produced and resolutely focussed, Roots Revival is wicked.



Sample Tools by Cr2


Melbourne Bounce 2 £13

Back to the 80s £30

The quirky house sub-genre gets its second dedicated sample library from Cr2, consisting of another 15 ‘drop’ construction kits (including MIDI files and presets for the Sylenth1, Massive and Spire synths), ten bass multisample sets, and ten kick drums sampled at every note of an octave. Each kit is 32 bars long at 128bpm, and includes dry and wet versions of all lead elements. Bold, brash and bursting with enthusiasm, Melbourne Bounce 2 is even more inventive and bonkers than its predecessor – a bargain for any dance music producer.

Delivering exactly what it says on the tin, Back to the 80s is a 789MB smorgasbord of nostalgic electroand pop-inspired synth (bass and lead) and drum machine loops, hits and multisamples, exuding the bouncy, optimistic character of the era. As well as the period instrumentation, the requisite old-school effects are in full force, too – ie, there’s a lot of reverb going on. With plenty of very usable material to be plundered, and an impressive level of diversity, particularly in the drum loops, Back to the 80s is a retro trip worth taking.


n8/10n December 2015  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  111

Essential reading for the Live producer!

Aimed at producers of all ability levels, The Ultimate Guide to Ableton Live is packed with tutorials compiled from the pages of Computer Music magazine, plus 50+ pages of all-new content Available digitally on these devices

>  make music now  /  blast from the past



PAST © Image courtesy of

In an era when analogue reigned supreme, an unlikely cadre of researchers were breaking the mould and attempting to predict the future of synthesis

DK Synergy These days, synthesisers are big business, and as such, instrument manufacturers tend to play it safe, pumping out variations on previous successful designs. But this wasn’t always the case – take, for example, the DK Synergy. This awesome additive instrument got its start in, of all places, Bell Labs. Once a division of AT&T, Bell Labs have always been interested in far more than just lining the coffers of the telephone company. In fact, their work has been awarded numerous patents and no less than eight Nobel prizes. We have Bell Labs to thank for, among other things, radio astronomy, the transistor, lasers, Unix and C++ – but we’re interested in more important things: musical technologies! In the early 70s, Bell boffin Hal Alles set to work on some research. His task was to find a way to cancel echoes through phone lines, and what he created would eventually lead to the development of a high-speed additive synthesis engine. After a decade of analogue synths with their simplistic waveforms, this new type of synthesis had the potential to break the sonic mould. Alles’ technology first appeared on the market (well, sort of), baked into a keyboard

called the General Development System (GDS). Built in 1979, the GDS was a beast of a machine, with 32 sliders to program its 32 additive oscillators. As its name suggested, it was only meant as a development tool for future products – but that didn’t stop Wendy Carlos from embracing the system and using it to great effect in her score for Tron. The system cost a whopping $27,000, and only a half dozen were made, but a cheaper model was on the way… In 1982, GDS manufacturer MTI had changed their name to DK (Digital Keyboards), and were ready to release a machine for the masses. The Synergy was a preset-only additive synthesiser with some very interesting features: first, there was a keen 74-note velocity-sensitive keyboard that offered control of up to four sounds. The keyboard’s split point could be made to follow the position of the player’s hands – by all accounts, this actually worked very well indeed. The Synergy’s sounds were built from additive oscillators capable of producing up to 32 partials. Unlike with most additive synths, these partials were not limited to sine waves, but could draw upon a hybrid wave that combined both triangle and saw characteristics. Complex multistage envelope generators were used to

TECH SPECS Year of manufacture 1982-1985 Original sale value $5295-$5995 Current price $4000 Number made 800

shape the amplitude and pitch of those partials. A four-voice sequencer was included, as was the ability to load in more presets from optional cartridges. Eventually, a new and improved Synergy II+ was made. This one offered niceties such as MIDI and computer interfacing (with the KAYPRO II computer) for designing one’s own sounds. Unfortunately, the arrival of Yamaha’s DX7 signalled the death knell for the much costlier Synergy, but not before it found a place on records by artists including Donald Fagen, Fred Becker and Hall & Oates. Ahead of the game and still interesting, the Synergy is only now beginning to garner the respect it deserves.

$1 59


£6 .9 9


Three awesome additive instruments




Formerly Camel Audio Alchemy, this one features a powerful resynthesis engine. Alchemy combines the attributes of a fully loaded sampler, an additive resynthesiser and a complex virtual subtractive synthesiser in a potent musical powerhouse. Like it or not, though, Alchemy is now available only to Logic Pro X users, the lucky bleeders.

Also available as a more comprehensive VST/AU plugin (Cube 2, €160), this iPad synth is a great place to start getting into the sounds of additive synthesis. Cube gives you the ability to reach out and manipulate envelopes, seven effects, an arpeggiator, and an X/Y pad for morphing duties, all to sculpt its additive synthesis-based sound sources.

Image-Line offer a number of additive synthesisers, but Morphine remains one of the best. With 128 partials to play with, morphing, multistage envelope generators and modulation to burn, there’s no end to the sounds it can produce. Throw in the obligatory additive resynthesis engine and you’ll never run out of sonic possibilities.

114  /  COMPUTER MUSIC  /  December 2015


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