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reviewed Make Noise System Cartesian Koma Komplex Antelope Audio Orion Studio Cableguys PanShaper
MK YEASAYER in the studio
FM | WELCOME The Beat Goes On
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The vast majority of modern music is driven, in one way or another, by a beat. Be it the mechanised pulse of Techno, the syncopated rhythms of modern Jazz, the bounce of House and Garage or the bass heavy beats of Hip-Hop and Grime, much of the music we create, mix or master is tied to some form of percussive foundation. More often than not, getting that foundation sounding right is the key to perfecting your whole production. This issue, we’re focusing on the process of mixing perfect beats – from EQing and compression to blending electronic and acoustic sounds, replicating the feel of a real drum kit and more. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to master your percussion parts. Head for page 28 now to get started. As usual, be sure to grab all the samples, videos and tutorial files that go along with this issue from: http://vault. futuremusic.co.uk
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expert contributors this month…
Joe Rossitter musician, producer
Bruce Aisher musician, producer
JoE Silva musician, producer
Joe is the man behind this issue’s percussive cover feature. Head for page 28 now where he’ll show you how to shape and mix your drum parts to create the perfect rhythmic backbone. Don’t miss the videos on the Vault too.
Hardware sequencers are undoubtedly on trend right now, from Korg’s compact SQ-1 to Arturia’s BeatStep Pro. However, we’ve rarely seen sequencers as ambitious as Koma Elektronik’s Komplex. Check out Bruce’s review on page 90.
This issue sees our man from across the pond get his hands on the new system from one of the US’ most exciting Eurorack brands – Make Noise’s System Cartesian. Find out what he makes of this rack of modular power on page 84.
FM | CONTENTS
IN THE STUDIO WITH: MK Ever since he came to prominence with a pair of chart-topping hits in the ’90s as Nightcrawlers, Marc ‘MK’ Kinchen’s varied career has continued to go from strength to strength. FM meet up with the House master in his LA studio…
This Issue | Contents
IN THE STUDIO WITH: Yeasayer New York band Yeasayer give us the lowdown on new album Amen & Goodbye
In-depth tests of all the latest gear INCLUDES AUDIOl
84 Make Noise System Cartesian 88 Allen & Heath ZEDs 90 Koma Elektronik Komplex
Essential production advice and ideas
92 Antelope Audio Orion Studio
94 Spitfire Audio Olafur Arnalds & Samuel Sim 96 Apple GarageBand INCLUDES AUDIOl
98 Cableguys PanShaper 99 Violet The Atomic INCLUDES AUDIOl
100 Sam Spacey Epica Bass INCLUDES AUDIOl
102 ROLI Rise 49 104 Aston Halo 105 Focusrite Clarett 4Pre 106 Mini Reviews
rEvIEW: Make Noise System Cartesian We put Make Noise’s intriguing complete modular synth through its paces…
Mixing Drums Perfect your percussion
Modular Monthly Go gritty with the Defibrillator filter
Producer’s Guide Go under the hood of Novation Circuit 9
Contents The Vault | This YourIssue Bonus Content
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On the FM Vault vault.futuremusic.co.uk Future Music has outgrown its covermount DVD! We wanted to bring you more samples, sounds and high-quality video than ever before, so we’re putting it up online for you to download. Simply head to the FM ‘Vault’ at the link above, login/ register, then hit ‘add a magazine’ to register this issue and get all the video, audio and samples.
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THE TrACK: The Chainsmokers Roses The duo break down the creation of their hit collaboration with vocalist Rozes
This Issue | Contents
FEATUrE: Ultimate Guide to Mixing Beats Perfect your percussion! Get your drums sounding tight with our massive guide to beat mixing techniques
IN THE STUDIO WITH: Pig&Dan We catch up with the Techno DJ/ production duo Pig&Dan and talk mixing, Mallorca and Modular Baptism
18 14 16 16
Expert tips, techniques and tutorials 18 Classic Album: The Count & Sinden, Mega Mega Mega
In The Studio With: MK
56 In The Studio With: Pig&Dan
Watch our videos www.youtube.com/ futuremusicmagazine
All the latest gear from around the world 14 Blocs Wave
64 Modular Monthly
16 The 2020
25 Album Reviews
16 Steinberg WaveLab 9
28 Feature: Ultimate Guide to Mixing Beats
77 Producerâ€™s Guide
17 Talking Shop: OCH
22 Subscribe to FM
110 Gear Guide
Find us online at www.futuremusic.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter @futuremusicmag
Join us on Facebook www.facebook.com/ futuremusicmagazine 11
Contents | This Issue
See this monthâ€™s selection of free demos at vault.futuremusic.co.uk
05 06 www.loopmasters.com 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08
Loopmasters Artist Series Eveson: Deep & Liquid Drum & Bass Capsun Presents Lo-Fi Soul and Future Beats Industrial Strength Synth Wave Loopmasters Presents House & Nu Disco Loopmasters Terry Grant Pres. Dark Dub Odyssey Singomakers Festival Trap Soundbox Berlin Deep Tech Loopmasters Pres. Soul Trax
Filter | The Future Of Music
FM | FILTER
highlightsâ€Ś 16 2020
16 Steinberg WaveLab
17 Talking Shop: OCH
18 Classic Album: The Count & Sinden, Mega Mega Mega
The Future Of Music | Filter
Blocs Party Novation’s new spin-off brand makes waves…
ast month saw the launch of Blocs, a new sub-brand from Novation entirely devoted to the development of iOS music making apps, along with the unveiling of the new offshoot’s first product, Blocs Wave. Wave is a waveform-based sampler app designed to inspire creative ideas on the go. It comes stuffed with just under 300 loops, but also allows users to record and sample their own. The app’s main USP, however, is its “real-time stretch loop concept”, which lets users stretch and manipulate sounds with their fingers. The app allows users to blend up to eight tracks of audio at once, using a key matching system to keep everything in harmonically complementary keys. Blocs seem to be putting the content itself at the heart of Wave. The app is designed to allow users to easily browse through the large library of sounds by genre or sound type, with the aim of inspiring sonic ideas that will later gestate into full tracks. Along with the bundled loops, Blocs are making a regularly updated collection of soundpacks available for in-app purchase, with 12 new packs currently available and weekly updates promised. If you have an iPhone 6S, you can use its 3D Touch feature to preview sounds too. Should you wish to use your own sounds rather than the included packs, however, Wave lets users import audio
via Mail, AudioCopy and AudioShare, or record through a compatible interface, an Audiobus input, or the device’s built-in mic. Based on the company’s launch videos, it looks like Wave is just the tip of the iceberg though. Novation appear to have dedicated a full team of developers to Blocs, so it looks like the brand is fully throwing itself into the world of iOS development. We look forward to seeing what they come up with next. For now, you can grab Wave from the App Store priced at £3.99.
Primary focus Meanwhile, Novation parent company Focusrite have themselves unveiled a new addition to their rapidly growing range of Thunderbolt equipped interfaces, the Red 4Pre. The new 58-in/64-out flagship interface boasts a quartet of ‘Red evolution’ preamps, which offer the analogue-aping Air effect also found on the brand’s recent Clarett interfaces. Conversion wise, the Red 4Pre operates at up to 24-bit, 192kHz sampling, and uses a unique ‘parallel path summing’ conversion system where, according to Focusrite, two matched converters are run in parallel to increase the signal to noise ratio. The interface features four rear XLR/1.4-inch connections, along with a pair of instrument inputs on the front panel. Additional connectivity comes in the form of dual Thunderbolt 2 ports, twin DigiLink connectors, and a pair of ethernet ports for use with Focusrite’s Dante audio networking system. The Red 4Pre is due to arrive mid-April with an RRP of £2,099.
Filter | The Future Of Music
Steinberg unveil WaveLab 9
Steinberg have unveiled the version 9 update of their powerful audio editor WaveLab for both Pro and Elements versions. This latest incarnation has a new look and feel, based around a single-window interface, along with a new bundle of mastering plug-ins, an SoX-based resampler and a variety of workflow enhancements. The Master Section now gives you 12 (Pro)/five (Elements) insert slots, along with flexible channel processing and new metering/monitoring, plus
M/S support. The new MasterRig bundle of tools offers six multiband modules in Pro 9 – an Imager, Limiter, Dynamic EQ, Compressor, EQ and Saturator (the latter four support mid/side processing per band) – while
in Elements 9 the MasterRig offers all except the Dynamic EQ. Other new features are designed to help with project management processes, while the Exchange feature links WaveLab 9 to Cubase (and soon Nuendo). Pro 9 also adds a Multiband Expander and Multiband Envelope Shaper, envelope-based automation for clip-based send effects, surround rendering for MP3 and AAC formats, extended multi-rendering capability and customisable file naming. WaveLab Pro 9 (579 euros) and Elements 9 (100 euros) are available now. Upgrades are also available.
Looking for an alternative way to add some retro strings and pads sounds to your tracks? Check out ElectroHarmonix’s new Mellotron-emulating Mel9 Tape Replay Machine pedal. Following on from their B9 and C9 Organ emulators and Key9 Electric Piano Machine, the Mel9 takes a guitar or bass input and turns it into a recreation of a host of vintage Mellotron tones, with Orchestra, Cello, Strings, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Brass, Low Choir and High Choir settings available. This latest emulator pedal is polyphonic and features the same low-latency technology that can be found in the rest of the ’9 range. It’s available now at a list price of $295.10.
Brighton Music Conference returns BMC16 is set to take place Thursday 14th and Friday 15th April at Brighton Dome. This year’s program sees tech demonstrations from the likes of Pioneer, Native Instruments and Moog, along with stands from Korg, Novation, Steinberg, Yamaha and more. There’s also production and DJ Q&A sessions with the likes of Crazy P, Steve Mac, Hyroglifics, PBR Streetgang, Cooly G and Marcus Nasty. Tickets are £15 for Academy tickets and £99 for Professional.
Is 2020 the ultimate singlescreen beat machine?
If you’re bored with software drum machines that clone the classic x0x box template, then new, semi-modular beat machine, 2020, might be for you. Already funded on Kickstarter, this unique-looking standalone Mac drum machine (there are no plans for plug-in or Windows versions) is the creation of developer Yotaro Shuto, a member of Japanese electronic music group DUBRussell. Six years in the making, the application’s development has apparently been driven by his experiences as a performer and his overall philosophy towards sound design. There are two over-arching concepts: to enable users to generate “a million sound/sequence variations from a single, small idea,” and to put every parameter on one screen. The result is an eye-wateringly packed, although not unappealing, UI, offering everything from grid sequencers, samplers, FM synths, loopers and effects. The 2020 is set for release in May, priced at 89 euros, or 99 euros to get the Max objects included as well.
A Of BRAND-NEW The Future Music | Filter SUBSCRIPTION SAMPLE STORE
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The sounds behind his debut LP Time Tourism
ritish-born Stockholm resident OCH has been experimenting with electronic music since growing up immersed in the world of Acid House and UK Rave. Since 2010 he’s been releasing his own productions and remixes, leading up to the release of his debut LP, which is set to drop on Marc Romboy’s Systematic label this month. Ahead of the release, we caught up with OCH to find out how he creates his raw, underground sound. FM: Tell us about your studio… OCH: “At the moment it’s a dedicated room in my house, nothing super fancy – it’s a good enough shape acoustically. I’ve been here four years so it’s a case of ‘better the devil you know’. I’ve a double garage that I’m slowly converting into a purpose-built studio that includes accommodation so I can collaborate with people on a more personal level. Apart from when I’m recording guitars or vocals or my piano, I work entirely in the box. I love hardware synths as much as the next man but I just feel free creatively doing it like this. I don’t like to get too bogged down with technology so if I wake up with a riff in my head I want to bring it to life ASAP in the simplest possible way.”
When approaching a new track, where do you start? “It depends how I’m feeling – I often like to spend a week or so just sound designing and saving banks of pads and chords etc for a later date. Sometimes I’m in crate-digging mode where I’ll be buying up old Funk, Disco and Jazz vinyl for sampling. I may play the piano and record the session, record some vocals another day, so when I do feel motivated to write some beats it’s all there as a resource. There’s none of this flicking through synth patches aimlessly trying to find that missing part for your three-quarters completed track.”
909 State of Mind
Rough Analog Techno
OCH’s essential production advice Use a frequency analyser “EQ is a man’s best friend. Each of your parts (from the barely audible backing loop to your main synth) is a star and needs to be given the VIP treatment and its own unique place in the frequency range. First and foremost use your ears for this but also employ the help of a frequency analyser for fine-tuning. I use Logic’s Channel EQ. This is great because it gives you a real-time indication of exactly where things sit so there’s no excuse for frequencies to clash.”
Read the full interview: bit.ly/1Mj8JZl Talking Shop continues regularly at www.futuremusic.co.uk
SAMPLES | MIDI | PRESETS | & MORE
FM | CLASSIC ALBUM
Words by Roy Spencer
he year of 2010 needed squarely kicking in its balls. It was the Dance music scene, you see – it stank. Practically nothing of worth was out there shaking up the mainstream. All the radio was churning out was a never-ending stream of Gaga, Guetta, Pitbull, Peas, and other pap. All agreed – it was bollocks. Thankfully Graeme Sinden (aka Sinden) and Joshua ‘Hervé’ Harvey (aka The Count) were taking note. They’d already showed us the way with the smash hit club single, Beeper – its mix of bubbling underground styles feeling like a much-needed rush of fresh blood in Dance music’s arm. Sensing their potential, a new A&R at Domino Records signed the pair, looking to push new and edgy Electronic music on the traditionally guitar-based label.
© Chris Davidson
The Count & Sinden Mega Mega Mega
Work began on their debut album, Mega Mega Mega, in Hervé’s house. The tracks came together easily, as the pair were brimming with ideas, and itching to get all their wild and wonderful inspirations in the pot. “We were totally inspired by the sonics coming out of UK styles like Drum ‘n’ Bass and Garage at the time,” says Hervé. “Then we brought in some Hip-Hop elements, Afrobeat, and a lot of World Music sounds in for the percussion.” The formula proved successful, with singles like After Dark getting mad radio play from the get go. “That was the biggest selling single off the album,” says Hervé. “Which was great, as the only Dance music getting anywhere near the charts at the time was big vocal Pop stuff. We had a big radio hit with an Indie Tropical Bass record, which was pretty cool! You know a record is working when it goes against everything else that is going on.” The rest of Mega Mega Mega groans under the weight of their invention, and builds on Beeper’s forward-thinking energy. A taste of Carnival comes with Desert Rhythm, MC Bashy brings the Grime with Addicted to You, and future star, Katy B, gets early shine on the bass-heavy roller, Hold Me. This was more like it. “You have to remember that it was all EDM with R ‘n’ B styles back then,” says Hervé. “ We just wanted to completely kick it up and go in new, exciting directions.” Balls. Kicked.
Classic Album | Filter
Track by track with Joshua ‘Hervé’ Harvey Do You Really Want It “As we were making the album I was in the studio working on beats, as well as my solo Hervé stuff. Sinden was out on the road a lot of the time, DJing all over the world. That probably slowed the album down a bit. Still, on his travels he was always meeting new friends and Trackademicks, who guests here, was one of them. Sinden sent me an MP3 of his work and I loved it. We knew we wanted a Hip-Hop influence on the album, so he was a great fit. “The track was done over the marvel of the internet, as we sent vocals back and forth. It ended up being a great opening song.”
After Dark “We’d always intended to do a track with Will and Kai from the Mystery Jets, but we were all over the place with work and DJing and stuff. Then we found ourselves at the end of the album with some free time and sat down with Kai and said we need to make this happen. He played me five demos he had lying around as songs, and one had an amazing middle eight that I really liked, which became the chorus of After Dark. I took that and we built the track from there. “Turned out he only lived two doors down from me, so we just rushed back and forth across the street until it was finished.”
Desert Rhythm “This is where we started to take it into that more Global Bass sound. We always wanted the album to be a mix of these new Tropical flavours, along with Hip-Hop and the rest of the madness we were digging at the time. “Desert Rhythm came together really quickly. We were just sat in the studio playing around with some guitar samples and building the whole track around them. The guitar sample idea just informed the whole mood of the track and how it came together. Sometimes all you need is a good sample [laughs].”
Hardcore Girls “This has Rye Rye on vocals. She came onboard through Sinden, again.
Joshua ‘Hervé’ Harvey aka The Count is working harder than ever right now. Besides maintaining his own celebrated label, Cheap Thrills, the producer recently signed with Brighton’s very own Skint Records. A new album with them is imminent, but until then why not check out his latest EP, Dance To My Beat? It builds on the groundwork he set up with his 2009 Grime comps and features Baltimore rapper, TT, as well as a collaboration with long-time partner, Sinden, called Fuck The Speakers.
He was MIA’s tour DJ at the time, and Rye Rye was on that tour. “He phoned me up one night really excited, telling me about this girl on the tour that was amazing and that we just had to work with her. She came round to the studio to lay down some stuff. She was a real quiet girl, and real nice. But when she got on the microphone she just exploded. It was insane. Her confidence was incredible, and so was her timing. “We ended up throwing away the first track that she recorded on, simply because we thought she was so good that we had to go away and give her something better! “This and After Dark were the main tracks that everyone at our label, Domino, loved and really got behind. I think it was a bit ahead of its time.”
Roll Out “Me and Sinden just had this crazy beat going, but we were sat on the fence a bit with it. We didn’t know if it would be too wild because it was
“For this album we’d sample from anywhere. A lot of the stuff was off CDs, but we’d also rip from YouTube videos, and pull stuff out of weird old sample packs that I’d bought in the late ’90s. Me and Sinden are exactly the same now – anything goes… as long as it sounds good.”
quite uptempo – it needed a vocalist to anchor it. Then Sinden suggested that we get 77klash on the mic. Sinden met him and gelled with him – he was one of those. He loved the track and sent us some acapellas back and forth, and we put it on this crazy beat we’d had rolling around that was full of ideas. “It was pretty much done. It was just a matter of getting the vocals in and sorting the arrangement out. It then came together real easy.”
Elephant 1234 “This was one of the tracks that helped us balance the album. We knew we wanted the vocal tracks to be balanced with more club records. Elephant 1234 was definitely one of the more clubby ones. “Tunes like this would be getting road-testing from me and Sinden all the time. We liked to test the tracks on the album when we played out – then it’s a case of getting back in the studio to tweak it. Tracks like Elephant 1234 would go through
several permutations before everyone felt they were where they should be.”
Hold Me “Katy B here – or Baby Katy, as she was known at the time. The track she’d released before we met her that really hooked me into her voice was called Tell Me. You know how you first hear some people and you immediately notice something about them? That was her. “We made this beat in the same kind of vein as the After Dark track, with that Afrobeat, Tropical kind of vibe to it. Katy then came over and just nailed it. “We only had to tweak a few of the lyrics and the chorus. She had the song done, with the structure and everything – we just pushed for a bit more recognition in the chorus so it would really stand out. That gave it more of a stamp. “Again, she was like Rye Rye – confident and amazing in the studio. We were blown away. Then a year or two later she went on to a
Filter | Classic Album
bigger and bigger scale. Everyone knew she was destined for greatness.”
Mega “We just felt that we needed a theme tune for the album, if you like. As we were thinking about it, all I could hear in my head was the robot voice bit from Iron Man by Black Sabbath. I just imagined it saying ‘mega’, so I did an impression of that [laughs]. “That’s how that whole idea assembled. Then it took on an Afrobeat mash-up vibe. The original beat was more on a Bass House tip, but it didn’t have any magic about it. It just sounded like the stuff we’d been doing a lot of previously. “So we went at it and shook it up, and when the Afrobeat vibe took over it just became this really powerful, unique sort of thing. It was a really exciting track to make.”
Addicted To You “I was always really choosy about voices on our tracks. But as soon as I heard Bashy, who features here, I knew he needed to be on the album – I was drawn to his voice. “We were big into Grime. Our record collection was full of some really great and rare stuff that we were drawing inspiration from, and you can see that here.
“We made him this kind of House/ Grime track with some type of Egyptian percussion mash-up thing on it. We brought in some euphoric chords, and I wrote the big hook, which it was based around. “We played around with the drums for ages, as I remember. We
had this accordion thing in it. I just thought it was a really funny sound so I wanted to make a cool, weird, Global House record with something like that in. “Sinden just loved it, so we jumped on the idea. I just made sure I had the riff and then we built around that. “There are some random noises recorded from the jungle in there, too – it’s supposed to sound like a panther, hence the title. I’m reliably told it was a panther. If I was to find out it was a recording of a tiger, I think I’d be pretty miffed [laughs].”
We always wanted the album to be a mix of these new Tropical flavours, along with Hip-Hop were bursting with ideas at the time, so nothing took that long to come together in the studio. “Bashy came in and we sat around working on ideas for the chorus, then he started singing [laughs]. I didn’t know he could sing! Then he bashed it out [laughs].”
Panther “It was my idea to stick the accordion on a track. There was this song by The Good Men called Give It Up that
“The set-up at the time was built around my iMac with Windows running Cubase. I’ve been using Cubase for as far back as I can remember. Then I had some really nice KRK G6 speakers that I’ve grown to love; I’ve tried a lot of monitors that a lot of people rate, but I find that they can overpower everything. We also got a lot of use out of Rob Papen’s Predator virtual synthesizer – that and Sylenth were both really useful at that time for what we were doing. The one synth that I really used tons was my Novation K-Station. I repaired that myself a few times when the keyboard stopped working. That was a thing I used a lot on my early stuff – the bassline from Beeper was made on that. A lot of people ask how we get sounds like that. It’s never anything tricky; it’s just a lot of EQ on a nice bass preset. On the whole though, synths slowed us down. I love the immediacy of virtual plug-ins.”
Hervé Dance To My Beat EP Opening salvo from a whole new batch of beats coming from Hervé on Skint Records in 2016. add these to your playlist: Fuck the speakers, dance to My| Beat, doughnuts revenge|
The Count & Sinden FACT Mix 01 Super upfront mix (for 2008) with our boys ’pon the decks. Worth the ticket price alone for their everfresh track, Beeper, featuring Kid Sister. add these to your playlist: Bust a Move (don rimini remix),| Beeper, B-More Forward|
Llamamé “This features a friend of mine who went under the name Coolio Iglesias. We really wanted to bring a South American feel to proceedings so we put this track together for him to jump on. I knew he could sing and write so we got together and spent the day putting ideas down for it. “We were inspired by a lot of the Columbian sounds that were around at the time, and we knew he could bring that through for us. It was a really fun track to make.”
You Make Me Feel So Good
In The Studio With… Hervé
LIKE IT? TRY THESE…
“We ended on this track because we knew we needed a kind of ‘come down’ vibe at the end. It helped polish the album off. “I had a few little sketches I’d been working on, so me and Sinden sat down and listened through them, picking out what we thought would work. We picked this one out and developed it. It was just a case of tweaking it, and then adding a vocal. “This might sound quite weird, but the music was inspired by My Bloody Valentine. I loved their albums. Just in the way they layered stuff. We brought in some Aphex Twin-inspired analogue drumming in, too. Perfect to end on.”
WANT To KNoW MoRE? To keep tabs on what new bangers Hervé is dropping, point and click right here: https://soundcloud.com/hervespace
The Count & Sinden Mega Mega Remix Our featured Classic Album completely remixed by the likes of Lone, Canblaster, Krystal Klear and Dave Nada. add these to your playlist: desert rhythm (XXXy remix), panther| (Bambounou remix), hardcore Girls| (d1 remix)|
Katy B On a Mission She was just Baby Katy when The Count & Sinden drafted her in to work with them. By the time of her debut, she was all woman. add these to your playlist: Katy on a Mission, lights on, Broken record|
Sinden Crystal Maze EP Brand spankers new material from Sinden, who returns to his Night Bass roots with this jackin’ EP of weighty beats and basslines. add these to your playlist: Crystal Maze, phantom Force,| southend rhythm|
m e t r o n o m e click
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More than just 64 pads. The easiest way to take full control of Ableton. Launchpad Pro keeps you in your element by unlocking the essential tools you need to create music in a simple, intuitive and fluid way. Switch on a click track and play an expressive synth line or dynamic drum beat with Pro’s velocity and pressure sensitive RGB pads. Instantly quantise, create new clips, hit record and overdub. Duplicate or delete as you go, undo your mistakes, redo your mistakes that weren’t mistakes and double your clip length on the fly. Use Pro’s dynamic volume, pan and send controls to get the mix just right without ever looking up. Spend more time producing and less time clicking.
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ouse In The Tall Grass is the raw but delicate third album from psychedelic Japanese band, Kikagaku Moyo. Starting out as a busking outfit in Tokyo in 2012, the group have evolved into a forward-thinking and experimental project with a global sound, and have already amassed two albums and several world tours. House In The Tall Grass is even more expansive than their previous output, exploring a wide range of influences from Krautrock to classical Indian music, traditional Folk and â€™70s Rock. Soft vocal melodies interplay with warm sitar sounds to create a breezy sense of freedom and natural flow. Chiming guitars and ragged riffs cut and chop into the mix alongside Jazz-like percussion as the album drives forward with an improvisational aesthetic. This attitude coupled with the light, softly flowing melodies breeds a beguiling
album of the month
Kikagaku Moyo House In The Tall Grass spirit of freedom and possibility. The band make expert use of the transition between soft and loud, warm and cold. From quiet and tender Folk sounds, they can lurch into amplified Psychedelic Rock with a turn of the hand and some soaring guitar work. These changes intensify the colours and attitude of the record while also adding a laidback sense of structural progression. Gently unfolding itself through many layers, House In The Tall Grass is a captivating album that delights with every twist and turn. Just like the band themselves, you get the sense that anything is possible all the way through this record. Tom Jones ADD THESE TO YOUR PLAYLIST: Old Snow, White Sun, Melted Crystal, Silver Owl|
FM | ALBUM REVIEWS
Reviews | Albums
Kel Assouf Tikounen Igloo Records
Exiled musician from the Sahara, Anana Harouna delivers a spirited new record with his Tikounen outfit. Merging myriad western influences with his region’s traditional sound, the former Tinariwen member encapsulates the sound of the new Tuareg generation. Crossreferencing elements of Stoner Rock, Electronic music and Pop with his own version of Desert Rock, the singer and guitarist aims to
promote Tuareg culture around the world. Crashing drums, driving bass and cutting guitar riffs combine with Tamasheq chanting to create a fast-paced record that shimmers with personality and attitude. Inspired by a sense of anger and frustration at a world ravaged by war, injustice and pollution, the album is charged with all the passion of a revolution. The bass is a constant powerful
force throughout the record, just as the many rhythm structures conjure up the restless stampede of change. Embracing western culture with an open spirit but staying true to the traditions of his desert homeland, Kel Assouf delivers a stirring record that can be universally understood and admired. Tom Jones ADD THESE TO YOUR PLAYLIST: Ahile Lamma, Europa, Lehiyet|
J Dilla The Diary Mass Appeal Records
ADD THESE TO YOUR PLAYLIST:
egendary Detroit Hip-Hop producer J Dilla’s lost vocal album finally sees release ten years after his untimely death. The record offers a fascinating insight into what informed Dilla’s shift in attitude that ultimately led to seminal works like Donuts and Ruff Draft. The Diary was initially scheduled for release in 2002, as Dilla looked to capitalise on the attention he had received as a behind-the-scenes hit maker. The project ended up being shelved which then became the stimulant for Dilla to break free from the major label system and work on his own terms. The rest, as they say, is history. The Diary itself is a typically expansive affair that showcases Dilla’s innovative attitude. Production comes from Dilla, Madlib, Pete Rock, Supa Dave West, Bink! and more, with vocal performances from Dilla himself, plus Snoop Dogg, Bilal, Kokane, Frank and Dank, Nottz and Boogie. Dilla’s laidback, soul-flecked Hip-Hop sounds provide the backbone as he showcases his previously unflexed vocal talents. True, this is not amongst Dilla’s best work, but it is a tantalising historical document that contextualises the spark of the creative process that led to some of Hip-Hop’s most important records and ultimately cemented Dilla’s reputation as a hugely influential producer. Tom Jones
Obsidian Counterpoint, Music
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of the Air, Collapse Sonata|
The Shining Pt.1, Drive Me Wild, The Ex|
Tim Hecker Love Streams 4AD
Canadian experimental producer Tim Hecker delivers a highly atmospheric album with Love Streams. His first record for Indie label 4AD, it is Hecker’s first album since his much-lauded Virgins from 2013. Love Streams continues Hecker’s exploration of avantClassical orchestration and electronic processing but adds greater intensity and more raw emotion. The entire record has a
melancholic hue, conjured through rounded-off synths, warm pads and grainy textures. Influenced by 15th century choral scores, but then assembled by gradual layering of Hecker’s electronic sounds which are then distorted and evolved through Hecker’s painstaking but innovative programming, Love Streams is wonderfully unique and inventive. The Icelandic choir who
feature throughout the LP combine with tingling melodies, speckling drums and breathy woodwinds to create a haunting, almost mythical aesthetic. Tim Hecker’s most ambitious project to date, Love Streams is a highly immersive, spellbinding work of art. Tom Jones
Feature | Mixing Beats
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO
Be they acoustic, electronic, recorded or sampled, beats are the foundation of much of the music we make. Here’s how to make yours rock solid…
he quality of a production lives or dies on the strength of its drums. Modern tracks feature impressive beats that underpin all other elements and smack through in all the right places, balancing gutsy punch with sizzle and groove. Being the rhythmic focus of a track, and with so many processes involved, it’s no wonder drum mixing can be such a challenge: a beat will be comprised of multiple tracks and, not only do you have to perfect the elements individually, but each must also
contribute to the collective kit sound, making it difficult to know where to start in the quest for a punchy, cohesive drum balance that sounds just as good as the records you love. So, to help you along the path towards beat-mixing mastery, we’ve put together an extensive guide to blending and balancing both acoustic and electronic drums. We’ll take a look at the broad array of aspects you’ll need to consider when at the faders, as well as specific tactics and processes that will raise your drum-perfecting skills to the next level.
Mixing Beats | Feature
Drum mixing concepts Before we dive into drum mixing specifics, this seems like the appropriate place to cover a few overriding concepts and approaches that will stand us in good stead come mix time. Firstly, bear in mind that the quality of your drum mix depends upon the quality of the source material, and that processing inadequate sounds will usually result in an inadequate mix. A great acoustic drum mix begins at the tracking phase: nail your microphone choice, placement, phase and performance at source, and the subsequent mixing session will be
spent tidying and enhancing your way to a professional drum sound. In contrast, a poorly-recorded drum kit will cause plenty of headaches as you strive to fix problems that could have easily been avoided at the tracking stage. The same principles apply to programmed electronic beats, too: always select the best drum samples you can, and spend sufficient time ensuring any synthesized elements are expertly programmed to fit your track. Be ruthless and evaluate the quality of your ingredients, and don’t ever plan to ‘fix it in the mix’.
Despite this, assertive drum processing is often a necessary evil. You may be mixing someone else’s record, in which case you may need to squeeze the most out of lacking drum parts in order to help the artist’s original concept and vision flourish. Perhaps the drummer’s performance must be worked with in spite of recording shortfalls. That muddy breakbeat loop might have a texture and groove that you just have to incorporate in your latest beat. In these cases, advanced software such as multiband processors, noise removal suites and drum replacement tools give us the ability to correct, enhance and sculpt like never before. But even then, it can still be more efficient and beneficial to simply swap out a lacklustre drum part for something more suited to the role, so decide whether using a better sound would get you to the finish line faster. In a similar vein, mixing is all about context, and so working on
drums in isolation is ultimately pointless if your goal is to balance beats alongside other musical parts. What sounds good soloed won’t necessarily sound good in a mix, and vice versa. Beginners will often solo each drum part in turn, focusing on the intricacies of that sound away from the core essence of the kit as a whole – we’ve all wasted time tweaking a kick’s EQ or compression settings only to un-solo and realise the entire drum mix is below-par – but this approach ultimately results in a disjointed, unbalanced mix. By all means solo something to get a feel for its characteristics and tone, or to listen carefully for noise or errors, but make critical processing decisions with all the other parts playing at the same time. You’re building an entire mix, and so the drums must groove and gel together as one – both as a singular kit and as the rhythmic backbone sharing the stage with other instruments.
Feature | Mixing Beats
EQing and compressing beats When it comes to drum mixing, EQ and compression are the two bread-and-butter tools you’ll turn to after basic level and pan. Broadly speaking, there are two flavours of EQ: correction, usually in the form of subtractive cuts; and enhancement, meaning broad ‘sweetening’. A digital parametric EQ is an essential tool for the former task, allowing you to attenuate problematic frequencies to an adjustable degree of precision. Many drum elements contain undesirable low and high frequencies which may cloud or impact other instruments that occupy those areas, so use high- or low-pass filters to remove problematic rumble or treble. Be careful, though – be too aggressive with this filtering and you may thin out the final mix too much, so stick to gentle slopes if you’re after a smooth, natural sound. Kicks and snares often exhibit midrange boxiness in the 300500Hz area that can be accurately
scooped away with a parametric EQ, while hi-hats often have harsh resonant frequencies in the upper mids and treble. The popular trick for finding these problems involves boosting and sweeping a narrow EQ boost across the frequency spectrum to magnify a problematic frequency, then reducing the boost to a cut to pull down the harshness.
Whereas digital parametric EQs are clean and precise, more characterful EQs (either hardware or analogue-modelled plug-ins) can impart flavour or character at the expense of accuracy, and so are best used for ‘broad strokes’ enhancement and sweetening. For example, the classic Pultec EQ design features a unique low-shelf boost and combined low-mid dip that can simultaneously raise low frequencies and carve away mud, making it ideal for kick drum enhancement. Other EQs such as the Maag EQ4, Manley Massive Passive and Eiosis’ AirEQ plug-in are widely known for their sweet treble boosts and lifts, which will add luxurious sparkle to dull snares, hi-hats and overheads.
Classic Drum Compressors When it comes to drum shaping and squashing, several iconic compressor designs have earned legendary status. Let’s look at three of the best In comparison to sustained signals such as vocals and pads, a drum’s envelope occurs over a short time period and so a drum compressor must exhibit certain characteristics. Fast attack times will catch loud transients or fine-tune the amount of transient allowed through, and a quick recovery time means gain reduction will return to minimum before the next drum strike. So fast-acting VCA and FET designs are usually more suited on drums than the slower opto models. Here we look at three famous compressors that are great for beats. Other iconic designs we haven’t mentioned include the famous SSL Bus Compressor, which excels at gentle drum group gelling and softening, and the flavoursome Fairchild 670, with its ‘vari-mu’ design causing ratio values to automatically alter in response to the input signal.
The dbx 160 is the industry-standard compressor for drum hits, with its VCA design, hard-knee and auto attack and release settings adding tight punch and snap to kicks and snares. It has three basic controls: Threshold, Compression and Output Gain.
Urei’s 1176, the most famous compressor, is often used to shape individual hits, slam drum groups and add weight when mixed in parallel. There are four ratio settings, but engage them all at once for the exaggerated ‘all buttons mode’ – perfect for overt drum squashing.
Empirical Labs’ ELX8 Distressor is a modern classic which emulates multiple compressor types, plus three colouring modes that add tube- and tape-style harmonic distortion. A very popular drum compressor as it sounds good at almost every setting!
Drum compression Dynamics processors and drums go hand in hand and, like EQs, these come in both clean and characterful flavours. Starting with the corrective uses, a compressor can even out level inconsistencies in a drummer’s performance by pulling down the louder hits. Successful drums feature a balance of punchy transients and powerful sustain, and a compressor allows you to sculpt the volume envelope of individual drum hits. Use compression with a fast attack and fast release to reduce a spiky hit’s attack and add sustain and power; or add punch to a lifeless drum by engaging slow-attack compression, which will clamp down on the signal’s body while allowing the initial transient through. When shaping individual hits, set the compressor’s release time so gain reduction resets to zero before the next drum hit, but doesn’t cause unnatural pumping. Limiting, which is essentially compression with a ratio of 20:1 or more, is often a more elegant solution for invisible transient reduction. Routing all of your drum parts to a single buss before compressing the overall drum signal as one – buss compression – is a widely-discussed technique that’s extremely useful for adding the mythical ‘glue’ across a drum mix. To do this effectively, gently compress your drum group using low-ratio compression (a 2:1 or 4:1 ratio is a good starting point), using a slow attack time to allow the all-important transients through. The gain reduction should smoothly ride over the peaks and lightly squeeze on the mix’s sustain, gently shaping the individual sounds into one unit. If the kick’s low-end is triggering excessive gain reduction over other elements, engage the compressor’s sidechain filter, which will remove low-end from the detected sidechain signal and reduce unwanted pumping. These types of compression all work by pulling down the highest drum peaks, but you may wish to add weight without destroying transient detail. Mix in a highly-compressed copy of your drum signal side by side with the unprocessed signal, blending the original transient detail with the exaggerated body of the squashed version. Finally, while compression is usually used transparently, heavyhanded application can give drums a creative ‘breathing’ effect, helping to add movement and character.
Mixing Beats | Feature
Parallel Compression Techniques Blending compressed and uncompressed signals in parallel is a common technique – but do you know how to use it effectively? Let’s explore the process in depth
Let’s first use basic parallel compression to add body and sustain to a drum loop. You can follow along with any kind of beat – we’re using a tweaked acoustic kit from Addictive Drums 2. Send the drum signal to an aux return, then place a compressor on this return.
If your beats require extra snap, apply slow-attack compression in parallel to blend in extra transient punch. Here, we’ve inserted a dbx 160 emulation over a flat drum loop. Note that many plug-ins feature a Wet/Dry mix so you can easily apply the effect in tandem.
Dial in a medium ratio, fast attack and fast release, then pull the threshold right down to squash the parallel signal’s transients. Now fade this second signal up alongside the first to blend in extra weight and sustain while maintaining the original signal’s transient detail.
If you’re using an aux return to mix the effect in parallel, things can be taken further by processing the parallel signal after the compressor. We’re using a high shelf boost to lift the compressed aux’s high-mid, which brightens the exaggerated transients.
You may wish to experiment with more flavoursome compressors in the search for a more characterful sustain characteristic. We’ve switched out Cubase’s Compressor for an 1176 emulation, which is great for adding pump and vibe in parallel.
Treatments such as saturation and subtle bitcrushing can further enhance the parallel signal, and these can even be blended in parallel to completely tailor the effect. We’ve mixed in grungy distortion over the attack, with exaggerated settings for demonstrative purposes.
Feature | Mixing Beats
Panning and ambience
Recording or replicating the acoustic qualities of a real space is a great way to make your beats sound more ‘natural’
When mixing an acoustic drum kit, panning can be used to replicate the position of the drum kit from the drummer or the audience’s perspective. So the kick and snare remain in the centre of the mix, the toms are panned slightly to one side, then the hi-hat to the other. The two overheads will likely be generously panned in opposing directions for maximum width and space. Electronic drums can be mixed more experimentally: while the kick should remain in the centre, snares and claps are usually spread out with spatial effects, while hi-hats can be panned around the stereo field, or even moved rhythmically with an auto-panning plug-in. Electronic beats are usually comprised of synthetic sounds that haven’t been recorded in any kind of physical space and are devoid of any natural reverb or other cues that tell our brain that we’re hearing a ‘real’ sound. A touch of short room reverb gives a drum hit this sense of realism, often to a point where the reverb can’t obviously be heard but is missed when muted. Whereas a touch of reverb can help blend close-mic signals in amongst the overheads, reverb is less important when mixing a multi-tracked acoustic kit, as there will already be a fair bit of environmental ambience captured in the overhead mics. Also, an ambient room mic or stereo pair placed at a sufficiently live-sounding area of the recording space will capture the room’s natural reverberation, and this can be blended underneath the rest of the kit. For reverb application: either use a single instance on an auxiliary channel, then send each drum element to this aux by differing amounts; or insert different reverb instances on each drum channel. The former is preferred for realism, as it places all the drum sounds in the same acoustic environment. The latter allows you to fine-tune each sound’s reverb to suit the context – for instance, a bright plate reverb for the snare and a dark room for the hi-hats and toms.
Feature | Mixing Beats
The importance of referencing when mixing beats Earlier, we discussed the importance of recording or selecting the best drum sounds possible – but what exactly is a ‘better’ drum sound? With each individual mix posing an infinite set of variables and potential issues, how exactly do we know what constitutes a ‘good’ beat compared to a ‘bad’ one? Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to this scenario – you simply need to train your ears and artistic taste with hundreds of failed mix attempts. Through trial and error, you’ll begin to hear how to help a kick or snare sound pop through the mix, or if a sample just isn’t going to make the grade. Of course, your all-important monitoring chain and room acoustics play a huge role in this learning process: if you can’t accurately trust the sound emerging from your
speakers then you’ll have a tough time making critical mix decisions. Luckily, there are ways to advance your listening skills. One particularly useful method involves comparing your current drum mix to other professional mixes that cover
similar sonic ground, using the reference as a road map to ensure you’re on the right track. Drag a professionally-mixed track onto an empty audio track in your project, turning it down to ensure the mastered track is at equal level to your current mix, then quickly A/B between this file and your efforts. Listen to how the drums sit in relation to each other and the rest of the track. How much sub weight does the kick contain? Are the hi-hats sharper and brighter than yours? Does your snare need more or less 2-4kHz in comparison to the reference track? Use the commercial mix, or a selection of mixes, as your sonic reference point to guide you towards a pro-sounding drum mix.
Assuming you’re mixing and not creatively designing drums, it’s best to use saturation and distortion (via either outboard or analogue-emulation plug-ins) subtly through gentle insert application and/or through parallel means.
If excessive transients are causing a compressor to work too hard, place a limiter first in the chain and gently pull down a few dBs of the highest peaks, lessening the compressor’s workload.
Drum Distortion From subtle warmth through to assertive crunch, distortion and drums go hand in hand. Let’s explore three ways to gently add warmth to your beats We can’t escape the fact that drums sound subjectively better when run through multiple stages of analogue circuitry – from the grunt of hardware preamps and mixing desks through to the warm, gluing tone of tape saturation. These processes add harmonics, warmth and cohesion that we’re used to hearing on almost all hit records from the past several decades. Even the low sample/bit rates and aliasing imparted by primitive digital samplers can give electronic beats a particular vibe that can be exactly what a mix needs. As a side effect, tape saturation also tames harsh treble frequencies and reduces spiky transients in a pleasant way. This tonal and dynamic ‘smoothing’ reduces the need for drastic EQ and compression later in the mix, helping you achieve a pro-sounding result in less time.
When beefing up drums with auxiliary parallel compression, the increase in level will make the effect instantly sound impressive. Evaluate the effectiveness of your compression – minus the extra loudness – by grouping the two channels and turning them down.
Virtual console plug-ins emulate the harmonic drive and crosstalk side-effects of summing channels through a mixing desk, which drums can greatly benefit from. Just insert on each drum channel, place the master plug-in on the stereo out, and drive each channel to taste.
Signals used to be recorded – and often re-recorded several times – onto analogue tape, adding pleasant harmonics and gently rolling off harsh high frequencies. Tape saturation and drums are a great couple; you can enhance the effect by reducing excess treble with EQ.
Early hardware samplers operated at low sample and bit rates, introducing harsh digital distortion and aliasing. Electronic drums often sound far crunchier with a dash of bitcrushing, especially on dull hi-hats. Mix the effect in parallel to tame harshness.
Rather than reaching for an EQ, try brightening dull hits by layering synthesized white noise underneath. Use longer bursts for snare ‘splash’, or shorten the noise’s ADSR to create bass drum clicks.
Mixing Beats | Feature
The art of drum replacement
Acoustic drum tracks heard in popular music are often unrealistically consistent, but drummers are humans, meaning that imperfections can easily find their way into a performance. In these cases, drum replacement software uses the signal from a drum sound to trigger a one-shot sample, which can either be used to layer with the original sound, or replace it entirely. For a more natural result, replace lacking hits with ones recorded from the original kit. Once you’ve finished recording your final drum take, it’s a good idea to record a handful of one-shot hits in isolation. Get the drummer to strike each piece of the kit several times at varying forces, leaving plenty of space between strikes to allow each hit’s decay to finish. This will be a big help if a particularly weak drum sound needs replacing at the mix stage, as you’ll have a collection of oneshots to splice in at the appropriate point.
Use Contrast Effectively
Mix Drums With Sidechain Compression
When putting together a drum mix, think about using contrast as a powerful tool. As an example, imagine trying to make every single element of a drum kit sound as punchy as possible; in this case, all the hits will have a similar dynamic profile, meaning that no one element will slap you round the face. Now imagine the reverse: by using a soft kick and a snappier high-pitched snare, the groove will exhibit much more contrast and give each part much more impact. Use contrast with width and placement, too: keep some sounds in the centre of the mix, and pan or spread others out to the sides.
Sidechain compression is great for perfecting the dynamic interplay of drums and other mix elements. Instead of using a channel’s input signal to trigger a compressor’s sidechain circuit, gain reduction is only engaged when triggered by another sound in your mix, causing the signal to drop in volume when a competing sound fires at the same time. Identify elements that blur the kick and snare’s attack or mask the same frequency ranges, then duck the offending signal out of the way. Use rapid attack and decay times to engage the effect quickly, and aim for only a few dBs of gain reduction to avoid obvious pumping.
Set A Reverb’s Predelay Time
Save Time With Sample Swapping
Consider the predelay time when applying reverb to drums. This defines the distance in milliseconds between the source signal and the reverb, used to virtually distance the source from the listener. Too short a predelay time can mask the source signal’s transient, whereas too long can disconnect the two signals. A good way to perfect settings is to initially set a long predelay time, so you can hear a gap between source and reverb, then dial the parameter back until the reverb just merges with the original signal. If you’re using more obvious reverb set the predelay time so the reverb works rhythmically with the tempo of your song.
If you’re assuming the roles of both composer and mix engineer, it’s easy to become attached to certain drum sounds. Stay impartial, and be prepared to change parts as your composition develops in order to accommodate new sounds and help everything fit. As an example, a sub-swamping 808 kick drum may sound cool, but the key of your track may mean that a low sub bass will need to occupy the same frequency area. Rather than laboriously EQing both parts to fit, you’ll have quicker success by swapping the kick for one that has a higher fundamental frequency.
Feature | Mixing Beats
We talk to Hal Ritson of The Young Punx Hal Ritson has had a diverse career on the borders between acoustic and electronic music. As well as running sample replay company Replay Heaven and two record labels, producing as The Young Punx, and being live music director for Dizzee Rascal at the Electric Proms and Glastonbury, he’s also written and co-produced with Katy Perry, Duke Dumont, Sigma, Chase & Status, Kanye West, Cassius and many more. We asked Hal his expert opinion on mixing beats of all styles.
complicated skill in which different engineers could make the same kit sound entirely different depending on their approach. Today’s in-the-box producers assume that samples and loops will come ‘pre-mixed’ with the sound they can use, or they get extremely good at getting the kick and snare to sit in the mix the way that works for their own sub-genre of
music. But my fascination has been learning all the different ways kits have been treated over the decades, resulting in totally different sounds. My bizarre personal quirk is trying to identify the exact year any track was recorded just by listening to the snare sound – and the funny thing is you can usually do it! Each year had its own combination of micing and
You’re obviously an expert when it comes to recording and mixing drums. How have you refined your drum mixing process over the years?
“I think drum mixing, particularly with your own recorded drums, is something of a lost, black art. In the pre-DAW days, every record producer had their own style of drum recording and mixing, and it was a deep and
How To Get A Vintage Drum Mix Retro-sounding drums will never go out of fashion – so let’s get that classic mojo in the box Hal Ritson gives us his tips on how to achieve a vintage-sounding drum mix. “If you’re dealing with a kit that is already recorded, I would recommend sending the whole kit to a buss, then using a lot of ‘vintage’ compression, EQ, tube and tape effects on the kit as a whole to get it to gel and saturate together like the old recordings. I would also recommend using a vintage reverb like a convolution of an EMT plate reverb, and putting that somewhere in the middle of the drum buss chain, so the verb starts to breathe in the gaps in the beat, which will make it sound like an old ‘found’ beat. On the end of the chain I would always put a tape model; UAD’s ones are great, and also the Slate one, and then PSP Vintage Warmer set to ‘Mix LiteDriven Tape’ at the very end, just to remove all those digital sharp edges.”
processing technique. So, I don’t really have one approach for drum mixing; it’s more like a never ending journey, constantly trying to find out different techniques and approaches. This week I discovered that using a specific gate on the kick and snare gives it a Disco feel. It’s just a gate, which you’d think would be a fairly transparent process, but it seems to affect the attack, EQ and colour of the drum. Every week I learn something new!” Is there a drum element that you find particularly tricky to mix?
“With live kits, it’s very hard to control the cymbals on more ambient micing set-ups like the Glyn Johns technique. Modern players tend to hit them really hard, which makes them dominate the overheads and introduces a lot of trashiness in the kit you might not want, plus also introduces unwanted pumping compression issues. But if you look at a lot of ’70s players, even the mental ones like Keith Moon, they may be thrashing around, but they often use the cymbals quite delicately, which keeps a better mix in the recording. “In electronic music, the battle is always about how loud and punchy you can get the kick and snare. It’s a constant competitive war of producers using a bigger and bigger arms race of techniques to really get the drums to dominate.” How does your approach vary when mixing electronic drums?
“I tend to use programmed elements to hold the core of the beat together, such as an electronic kick and snare playing the ‘step’ of the beat. With these elements, you’re aiming for solidity and intensity. Seeing how loud and punchy you can get them to really command the dancefloor. Then live (or sampled/sampled-sounding) drum elements sit within and around the electronic core, defining the groove and ‘human’ feel of the beat to give the live feel, colour and space.” What’s your one essential drum processing tool?
Let’s use buss processing to turn a modern drum kit into a faux-sampled recording. After a touch of treble reduction via EQ, we’re squashing the beat’s output with gritty saturation and forceful compression to create a dark, grungy, squashed effect.
We place PSP’s 2442 reverb plug-in before the saturation and compression plug-ins in the chain so the dark reverb is squashed and pumped by the subsequent processes. Logic’s Direction Mixer, placed at the end of the chain, sums the output and reverb to mono.
For a real retro touch, we’ve placed iZotope’s Vinyl plug-in at the start of the plug-in chain, which gives the impression that the drums have been sampled from a vinyl record. Finally, a tape saturation plug-in is used to virtually print the final signal to tape.
“SPL Transient Designer is a great tool. You can add or remove attack and sustain, and it is a really fast way to add more snap to the front of a drum and then either make the beat really short and tight, or long and flowing. Similar control can be had with compressors, but the transient designer puts the control right there.”
Mixing Beats | Feature
Six tips for EQing electronic beats
To get pro-sounding drums, you need to be familiar with both corrective and creative equalisation. Here are our tips for better drum EQing
Kicks can often sound ‘woody’ due to excessive bloat in the 300-500Hz area, so clean this muddiness away with an EQ dip. A high-mid and/or treble boost can help the kick cut through the mix – to start try adding a large boost at 2kHz and a smaller one at about 10kHz.
A great way to thicken out weedy electronic claps is via a hefty dose of saturation – but watch out as distortion can heavily amplify bass and low-mid frequencies. Always follow any extreme distortion processes with EQ to carve out these affected areas.
Often, rather than EQing out excess high-end, it can be better to begin with a darker sound and then add the desired amount of treble using an EQ designed for the task. This open hi-hat is purposely rather dull, so we’re then using a high-quality EQ to dial in sufficient brightness.
Rolling off unwanted sub frequencies from hi-hats and percussion is a standard technique, but don’t high-pass everything way up into the mids. Sometimes, a bit of low-mid in a hi-hat can give it weight and power, especially in a more raw, analogueesque track, so judge your filtering in the context of everything else.
Treble can build up quickly in a mix, giving the illusion of brightness while actually thinning out your frequency balance. Pull down a shaker or tambourine loop’s unwanted highs with a high shelf cut, then add back upper-mids with a high shelf boost to re-focus the upper areas of your mix.
Snare or clap reverb can make the difference between an average beat and a professional one. Apply reverb via an aux return, then EQ the reverb to tailor the signal’s tone to fit the rest of the beat. High- and low-pass filtering will help sink the reverb into the mix a little more.
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In The Studio With | MK
© Ye Rin Mok
After having two No 1 hits on the US Billboard Dance Charts in the early ’90s, Marc ‘MK’ Kinchen became a prolific remixer/producer. Now, as Danny Turner reveals, after 20 years MK is finally working on a second album
MK | In The Studio With
merican DJ and House producer Marc ‘MK’ Kinchen’s extraordinary story is inspirational. From the age of 14, MK set his heart on writing and producing for some of the biggest artists in music, and within little over a decade was doing just that. By the age of 21, MK had already scored No 1 hits in the US with the classic House anthems Always and Love Changes under the pseudonym Nightcrawlers. Within two years, he was remixing tracks by Pet Shop Boys, Celine Dion and Bobby Brown, and by age 26 MK was introduced to Quincy Jones, who opened his path to a career in production where he’s worked with megastars including Will Smith, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna and Beyonce. Having co-written the theme song to Men In Black 3 with rapper and producer Pitbull, MK now has his heart set on a career in sound design for the film industry, but not before he’s recorded a follow-up to his debut album Surrender, released over two decades ago in 1993.
FM: How did you come across Kevin Saunderson who was a mentor to you? MK: “Well, basically, I did my first Techno record when I was about 16. A local record company put it out and a year later Kevin was doing a compilation of Detroit Techno and licensed this song that I’d made. That’s kind of how we met, because he wanted to hear what else I had. He pretty much liked what I was doing and kept inviting me down to his studio to work on music. To be in that position from such a young age was surreal.” Where did you draw your influences from in those days? “At that time it was Depeche Mode and a lot of ’80s alternative electronic music, which had a lot of synths going on. The likes of Howard Jones and Thomas Dolby would always use very cool equipment, and that got me into wanting to produce. Although I did have a band when I was in high school, I always made sure we’d be using synths and electric drum machines.” What gear did you buy? “The first thing I ever bought was a small white Casio keyboard called a PT-1, which had a speaker on it and the keys were like the size of your fingernails. I think it had an onboard sequencer, but just one track, nothing crazy, and a built-in drum machine. Then I got a Juno-106; I had every family member save up and give it to me as a present.” You had some huge House hits in ’93/’94 as Nightcrawlers. How do you think the genre has evolved since then? “I always think that House music is one of the easiest types of music to get into. Even people that have never really heard of House will automatically like it if you play them the right type of track. It’s pretty simple: four-on-the floor with a very simple
bassline that doesn’t have too much going on and it’s usually really catchy and repetitive with a pretty basic drum beat. Now people have taken that basic element and popularised it; that’s why there’s so many genres of House music like Tech House, Deep House and Progressive House. It’s all in there, but if you’re smart you don’t want to lose what made it popular. If you take what made Rock ‘n’ Roll popular, it was the guitar – and you don’t really wanna do a Rock song without the electric guitar. You wanna keep those basic elements that work and add to that without going too far leftfield.” Your new single, Piece Of Me, definitely retains that classic old-school House sound… “Yeah, exactly, that’s how I try to keep it. Usually when I start my tracks I begin with the basic elements of a kick, clap and a hi-hat and try to build from there. Eventually, I’ll replace some of the sounds and then I’ll continue from that point.” Do you adopt the same attitude to remixing? “Before I agree to do a remix, I’ll listen to the entire song, give it a quick once over and then, if I agree to mix it, they’ll send me the parts and I’ll usually just take the vocals, wipe everything else and start from there. I start playing it in acapella mode and then go through my sounds and all the different patches to see what inspires me. Once I have a basic skeleton of a song I’ll take the vocals away and just start working on the music a little more before bringing the vocals back in to see how it all fits together.” In tandem with the single, I understand you’re relaunching your own Area10 label? “When I was working with Kevin Saunderson, he had his own record label called KMS. I saw how he did everything and it was pretty easy, so it was more just a way for me to put my music out in the early ’90s. I had a song called Burning that I made, but nobody seemed to like it, so I just figured I’d start a record label and put it out myself. I used to work on a parking lot in Detroit called Area10. I always thought that was a cool name, so I called it Area10 Records. I didn’t have any artwork, so I made a black label with Area10 written on it, called it Burning and put my phone number on the vinyl. Because I didn’t have any money, I sent the distributors a cassette of the song and they ordered 1,000 or 2,000 copies, then I asked if it was okay if I fielded the orders to them and they agreed. So when the vinyl came, they sent the money directly to the pressing plant who took out their cut for pressing the record and sent me what was left over. So it was a win, win for everyone.” Was that when Virgin Records called you up? “Yeah, maybe a year later someone from Virgin Records called me and said they thought it was a great record. I told them it’s available if you want it, so they signed me. Once Virgin had signed me, I started doing remixes and wasn’t interested in running the label anymore because I really wanted to be a label artist and producer. But now it makes sense to get back into it, because part of my project
In The Studio With | MK
is signed to Sony Columbia throughout the world, but not North America.” After your initial success, there was a big gap between 1997 and 2011. Was that because you had moved into production? “Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. I just got tired of doing the House stuff because I was getting so many remixes and everyone wanted it to sound like Nightcrawlers. I wanted to write music and at the time remixing was still quite a new thing, so I was wondering if I could actually make a career from
remixing or whether I’d better start doing something else before the whole remix era died down. It didn’t though [laughs].”
Mode remix that would give you something from the original that was still cool. I think the whole remix thing’s been a little bit abused now.”
What’s your view on remixing today? “I even argue with people who want to work with me about remixing. For Piece Of Me, they said we need to hire remixers but I was adamant about the style of remix to do. It was like, I don’t want this person to do it just because they sound like MIA – I’m not one for just blowing out remixes. I prefer to go back to the late ’80s when I heard a Depeche
You’ve remixed so many artists. Are Depeche Mode a band you ever got the chance to remix? “You know, Depeche Mode is the one I’ve been waiting for but it’s never happened. I think I put it out there that I wanted to do it and hoped that somebody who knows them would run with it. But it’ll happen one day, hopefully [laughs].” How did you move from remixing to producing? “Well, since I was 14 I always wanted to be a producer. I didn’t plan on being a DJ, remixer or even a House producer. I just wanted to be a songwriter and producer, and my ultimate goal was to do that for big artists. Around 1996 I met a guy named Jay Brown who’s now partners with Jay-Z, but Jay worked with Quincy Jones. So at that time, Jay heard my music and said he wanted to take it to Quincy because he thought he would like the music. So he took me to Quincy and they signed me to a publishing deal and started just fitting me in with a lot of different artists to see if I could write and produce songs for them. So I would basically work on music at home, make a demo song and submit it to these different artists, and I ended up getting a lot of placements doing that. Sometimes they would give me a song and ask me to make it better, update it or make it more current.”
You know, Depeche Mode is the one I’ve been waiting for but it’s never happened… But it’ll happen one day, hopefully
That must have been amazing… “It was fun, but then I started realising what a rat race it was because there were a lot of producers in the same boat as me sitting at home all day writing songs and submitting them. At the time the whole music industry started to crash; after Napster, producers were almost producing songs for free because labels didn’t want to spend that type of budget for a song. Back in the ’90s, a label would spend 30 grand on a song for me to produce and it might not even make the album, but you’d still make that money and get to record with the artist. So it got to a point where they would only pay for ten songs and I was spending six months trying to produce a song for Usher and he may not even get it. That started to happen more and more often, so I knew this was going to be tricky. Then I met Will Smith during the time I worked with Quincy, as someone from Will’s camp said he was looking for an in-house producer and wanted to use me if I was down with it. They said they’d put me on a salary, but the cool part was they told me to make a list of any equipment that I wanted because they were going to build me a studio. I was like, what!? So I literally made a list – a crazy list, and they got it all.” Can you remember what was on that list? “I can’t remember now, but I know it was a new Mac with Logic. There weren’t that many virtual
MK | In The Studio With
Which hardware synths do you use? “Right now, the Oberheim OB-Xa – I just bought it a week ago and it’s been hard to find. Once you start playing it, it reminds you of every ’80s song that you ever heard [laughs]. The only trouble is you have that problem with using MIDI, stuff not working and wondering why you have this latency. So there is a lot of trouble that follows using analogue stuff, but once you forget about that they sound so good. I have a Moog Mother-32 too, and there is another modular one on my shopping list; forgive me but I can’t remember its name. I’m just now getting into modular and I don’t know enough about it yet, but the idea behind it definitely appeals to me.”
In The Studio With | MK
synths yet, but I think they got me an Akai MPC2000, a load of keyboards and quite a lot of rackmount gear too.” What was it like working with Will Smith compared to other artists you’d worked with? “He gets very involved and knows what he wants. Some artists go in and they don’t even know how to tell you what they want, but Will knew exactly what he wanted and would tell you how he would want a song to be, or how he wanted it to feel, like Fat Joe’s Lean Back – he wanted a track to have that feel to it. So he made it really easy, not to mention he’s a super nice guy. I’m assuming you’ve seen The Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Well he’s exactly the same; it’s almost as if he didn’t have a script when he was on that show because he jokes the same way and is easy to be around. That was a fun, easy time.” You co-produced the theme for Men In Black too. Was that one of the biggest projects you’ve been involved in? “Yeah, it was funny because at the time I’d kind of stopped working with Will to work with Pitbull. Then someone from Will’s camp called me to say would I like to work on something for Men in Black. I said that’s funny because I’m already working on a song for the movie with Pitbull, so it was kind of weird how those two paths crossed.” Are the demands placed on you by the film industry completely different to those of a record label? “Totally. I think I must have 25 versions of that song because every day one of the movie producers would call and say, hey I need you to change that. I thought they were kind of nitpicking a little bit and overthinking things [laughs]. I don’t know too many details about their budget and all that, but to have 30 versions of a song, thanks to every single person in the company from management to people editing the film giving me advice, was overkill. But one of my goals is to work on soundtracks and sound design for films – it just
One of my goals is to work on soundtracks and sound design for films – it just goes back to me loving this equipment goes back to me loving this equipment, what it can do and having fun with it. But I always figured that would come a little later in my career, maybe when I’ve slowed down. The funny thing is, I was working with Idris Elba last week and he asked me whether I’d be interested in doing some film stuff and I told him what I just told you – so he said, when you’re ready, let me know.” Do you work from home or in a dedicated studio space? “I’ve always had a home studio since the beginning
of time. When I was 14, I had a Juno-106, a Yamaha sequencer and a drum machine – that was my set-up. Then in the ’90s, I ended up getting a mixing board and a desk, and then I got rid of everything and started working in the box. At the time it was like, oh, so there are no MIDI cables? I was in the box for over ten years, but when I started doing more things and could afford it, I tried to get out of the box and bought a Solid State Logic AWS 948 console. I prefer the quality of it and it’s more fun to use. A lot of House producers now don’t have that luxury and I want to do something that’s
different and maybe bring back some old-school techniques.”
What sort of techniques? “Well I’ve been going back to a lot of older gear. I’ve gone back to all my old drum machines, my Roland TR-909, the E-mu SP-12 and all my Roland synths. I just got a Juno-60, and I have a Jupiter-6, an Oberheim OB-8, a Roland D-50 and a bunch of Moogs. I want to keep that warmth, which is hard to get when you’re in the box. I think if you know what you’re doing you can get a different sound, and I have a couple of tape emulators that give the music that warmth that you just can’t normally get.” Are you still using Logic? “Yep, still on Logic. I tried to go to Ableton, when everyone was saying ‘use Ableton, use Ableton’.
In The Studio With | MK
Do you find that hardware gear needs less EQ when it comes to balancing the mix? “Yeah, exactly. Back in the ’90s when I made tracks in Kevin Saunderson’s studio, he had every piece of gear you could think of and I didn’t even know how to hook up a compressor. So I’d just play the sounds and let it go and the hardware would produce that vintage, raw sound that I liked, where it’s not too polished. What I like a lot is the Thermionic Fat Bustard II. It’s a 12-channel black mixer that sounds super analogue and has this attitude switch which I run my drum machines through. You can just crank it up and it fattens them up so much. But I’m online every day looking at stuff. I bought the new Akai MPC Touch, which has a touchscreen. It’s plugged in and I haven’t used it yet, but I had to have it the day it came out – I’m that type of guy.” 46
MK | In The Studio With
People say Ableton’s much faster and talk about its sound quality, but I never got far enough to even notice that. Even when I was working with Pitbull, I was working on Ableton for a couple of songs, but I always found myself going back to Logic because I know my way around it so well. I have the new version, but there is a problem now with them using the Apple software, because every time they update their operating system it blows everything off. I’ve used Pro Tools too, but for some reason the Native Instruments stuff and Pro Tools don’t talk to each other.” Is Native Instruments the main package you turn to for inspiration? “I’ve been using Native Instruments stuff a lot. Apart from my mixing board, I’d say the Maschine software lies at the heart of my studio in terms of production. It just has a lot of good sounds, so a lot of times I’ll start my songs using NI stuff. The thing is, I’m not that good at using EQ and compression; that’s probably my weakest link. When I make a track, I cannot get it loud for some reason, so I’m trying to teach myself to at least get halfway there before the tracks go to mastering, even if it’s just for me to play out during my DJ set.” Can you identify your weak point when it comes to mixing? “I always try to buy really good EQ plug-ins and compressors but I just get scared I’m going to kill the track, although I think the Waves plug-ins seem to work pretty well. Right now, they’re the only ones that seem to work for me, but I want to understand the mechanics behind them and not just shove a plug-in on it and say, okay that makes it louder, I’m done. With effects, I prefer to use an Eventide H8000 and a Neve 33609 stereo compressor, and I just got a Neve 542 tape emulator. I used to have a Mara Machines MCI 2” 24-track machine, which I bought for about $15K, and I remember when I was recording with it just how good it sounded – the difference was like night and day, so I’m trying to work with tape emulators and they seem pretty good so far.” What are you using for monitoring? “I have the Focal SM9s, but my studio is in a guest house and it’s basically a little room that is not treated, so I got Focal subwoofers to give it that bottom-end. I also bought these ASC Attack Walls; they’re like acoustic cylinders that you place in a room and they help dampen the sound. A lot of mastering houses use them. The way the cylinders are made – one side is hollow and the other isn’t, so it traps the sound so it doesn’t bounce all over the place. I’ve placed them in a semi-circle around my mixing board and behind the speakers. The thing is they’re pretty expensive, about $500 a cylinder, and I’ve got 14 of them. I have foam on the walls too, but it doesn’t work the same.”
want to know more? MK ft Becky Hill – Piece Of Me is out May 16th. Keep up to date with Marc on www.facebook.com/officialmk
The Track | The Chainsmokers
FM | THE TRACK
INCLUDES VIDEO VaULt.fUtUrEmUSIC.CO.Uk
The Chainsmokers Roses
Disruptor Records/Columbia, 2016
© Joe Branston
aving formed in New York back in 2012, DJ/production duo Drew Taggart and Alex Pall, aka The Chainsmokers, made a major impact on the global EDM circuit with the internet success of their debut single #Selfie. However, it’s Roses – a collaboration with Elizabeth Roze Mencel, aka Rozes, released last June – that gave the duo their biggest global success to date, hitting number 6 on the US Billboard chart and being certified platinum in Australia, New Zealand and the States. With the duo in the UK for a sold-out live show, FM caught up with them in London’s Tileyard studios to see how the track came together.
Track origins Alex: “Drew and I came up through Hype Machine, which is this blog aggregator on the internet. A lot of Indie artists, and even a lot of huge Pop songs nowadays, start out on Hype Machine. So we’re always on there looking for new songs. Rozes, the singer on this track, had a song called Limelight on Hype Machine that we were big fans of; she has a really unique voice. Usually what we do is just make a list of singers we want to hit up, and she was on there. Drew will make demo sketches – melodies, beats and strippeddown things that let people go wherever they want – and I’d send them out to these different singers. She was really nice and super pumped, so we sent her our track Waterbed, or at least a stripped-down version of what became Waterbed. She came over to Drew’s apartment in New York to work with us in the studio. She had some lyrics she had written, but Drew actually had a completely different beat that we were really hyped about. The song came together really quickly – not completely finished, but in about six hours we’d come up with the full idea.” Drew: “Except for one little vocal glitch part, everything came together in one single studio session – from writing the vocals to recording the vocals and making the entire beat. Rozes basically wrote the first verse of the song to our demo beat for Waterbed and
The Chainsmokers | The Track
Watch the video here: http://bit.ly/ fmtrack304
Drew: “There are no rules in making music. I’d encourage everybody to watch as many tutorials as possible, try out all the techniques, but don’t limit yourself to what you’ve learned. Experiment and have fun. I feel like every great producer has made their own rules and has their own unique sound.”
when she brought it in I had the beginning of the beat for this song, Roses, which I was really feeling. So we kept her words and changed the melody to fit the new beat. Once we had that down we built the entire song from there.”
Building the beat Drew: “I think I started making this beat on an airplane. It started with this airy synth lead from Sylenth, which is super simple – just two notes. I wanted to give it some energy, so I threw a few things on it. Firstly a plug-in called Kickstart, which is a sidechain plug-in made by Cableguys and Nicky Romero. It’s doing an 8th note sidechain, which gives the track that pumping feel. Then I used Ableton’s multiband compression, which is one of the main things that I use. It just smooths everything out and tightens it up. I’ll use that early on in the production process as it gives you a better idea about how much space you have to work with so you can make better choices about what other sounds you use. Then there’s a really simple EQ that just cuts out the rest of the low-end. There’s an Auto Filter too – I usually transition sounds in and out by pulling down all the low frequencies or pulling out all the highs. “The beginning is basically just that synth sound with a pretty simple drum pattern. After years of producing you usually come up
The Track | The Chainsmokers
Recording the vocal Drew: “The biggest blessing about making this song was that Rozes has an insane voice, and I suck at producing vocals. I’ve got better at it now, but at the time I was pretty awful. Thank god she would sing perfectly on key – I don’t think I even used Melodyne on the majority of it. I only put very basic reverb on it too, as her voice is very strong. Because of that, it wasn’t over-processed, which I think makes it sound super authentic.” Alex: “We recorded it in the middle of the living room with the air conditioning blowing.” Drew: “All these vocals were done without a vocal booth, with my Telefunken mic and a reflection shield. Luckily my NYC apartment was high up in the building. Typically we try to get a cleaner audio recording, but it’s really cool that we made this track almost as a bootleg, in a way, and it’s gone as far as it’s gone. I think that’s something important to keep in mind when writing or producing – that sometimes when things aren’t perfect, it makes your track more authentic. It adds a certain vibe to it. “I used the Chris Lord-Alge vocal plug-in on Rozes’ vocals. I didn’t use any of the presets, I just threw it on in its basic state. It just tightens up the vocal and I think I would be ruining her voice if I pushed it further. I also cut out the low-end at around 167Hz, which was the point where I felt anything below that didn’t need to be there. I used the Ableton reverb here to sweep the vocal out to make a nice easy transition to the next part of the song.”
with your own little sample packs, and I’d just made this drum kit which I use on Roses. It’s kind of a Pop-y, Hip-Hop/Trap-style drum kit. They’re all in one kit, but obviously for mixing purposes I separated the kick pattern from the snaps and clap pattern. The kick is a sample I found in a pack a while ago; I threw some reverb on it, just to give it that big, airy feel. I love ‘concert’ style drums – big war drums and timpani’s, that kind of orchestral sound. “To create the snaps, what I do with a lot of my drum samples is I throw a guitar amp plug-in on them. I love the Chris Lord-Alge amps from the Waves collection. I’ll just throw its most basic preset on top of a drum sample and it tightens things up and gives it a really cool spread throughout the track. I’ve ended up going though all of my favourite drum sounds and throwing that on each of them individually. So all the drum sounds on this track come from really good sample packs, but mine are extra crispy because I’ve done that kind of processing on them. “I always add in little subtle vocal effects or weird sounds that build on the spacing of the song – the sorts of things that the average person won’t ever hear, but will add a certain vibe that people will definitely feel. There’s some weird little vocal samples in there that keep the beat going.”
The Chainsmokers | The Track
Creating the synth chord sound
Drew: “The brilliance of this part is in the chord progression itself. It’s really just a great progression with a pretty basic sound.”
“I added an 808 bass sound that I made in Massive. When the top chords are coming down, the bass is starting low and going up, then they meet in the middle. That’s what makes it sound big and gives it that bounce.”
“The main sound is a Sylenth1 preset I’ve opened up a bit. It’s in Sylenth’s bank three, called Icicle. It doesn’t sound that dope on its own. The preset is a little too soft, so I opened the filter cutoff, threw the sustain up, cut down the release time and took the delay off.”
“I went a little crazy with Kickstart and sidechained every quarter note. A lot of sidechains are programmed to follow the kick. This one follows the downbeat of the song, leaving the kick to do its own thing.”
“One thing that I’ve learned is that the best way to make stuff sound bigger is to add different melodies, so it isn’t just the bass and chord doing the same thing.”
Video | www.youtube.com/futuremusic
FM | youtuBE MORE UNMISSablE VIDEO FEaTURES FROM FUTURE MUSIc Meet our line-up of exclusive YouTube goodness. Head online for all this and more!
Top producers go in-depth on the sounds, ideas and techniques behind their latest releases.
|CHANNEL The world’s top producers show you the world of Steinberg in our monthly series. DON’T MISS:
From our famous studio sessions to gear tours, technique tips and much more. DON’T MISS:
We pay a return visit to Ost & Meyer in Kiev to learn more about their creative process using Cubase.
Watch electronic legend Jean-Michel Jarre discuss collaborating with Air on his new LP, Electronica: Part 1.
We head to Brighton to visit My Digital Enemy and watch the duo create a track from scratch in Cubase.
Want the sound of a classic synth in your Eurorack system? Try a filter clone. We put the best head-to-head.
We pay a visit to Justin Prime to see him break down his remix of Rita Ora and Iggy Azalea’s track Black Widow.
Watch Berlin-based producer, composer and sound designer Emika break down tracks from her LP Drei.
We head to Kris Menace’s studio to watch Menace & Lord discuss creating their new project in Cubase.
Techno Baron Dave Clarke invites us aboard his floating studio in Amsterdam to see how he works.
Marc JB Botany Bay
The London-based producer takes us on a trip to the beach to watch him build an Ambient House track from scratch in his campervan studio. DON’T MISS:
Catz ‘N Dogz, Killing With Kindness The Polish duo explain the production process behind this Hip-Hop influenced cut from their new LP.
Daddy’s Groove, Where I Belong Watch the Italian production duo break down the creation of their vocal-led House track, from conception to finished mixdown.
Ralph Lawson, Lost In The Storm We visit the UK producer in his studio to watch him talk through his Dub House production technique.
Luca Pretolesi, Too Original Watch the Vegas producer and engineer talk through the process of mixing and mastering Major Lazer’s Dancehall infused track.
KEEp it www.yOUTUbE.cOM/FUTUREMUSIcMagazINE for your rEguLAr ELECtroNiC musiC tECHNiquE ANd tECHNoLogy fiX 54
Studio Sessions the monthly video series from the makers of The worldâ€™s top producers show you the world of Steinberg
Just part of
In the latest episode, we visit FuntCase in his Bournemouth studio to watch him break down his remix of The McMash Clan and Kate Mullinsâ€™ Requiem.
Direct link: http://bit.ly/1Rqn2rc
In The Studio With | Pig&Dan
ÂŠ Joe Branston
Having met on a flight to Mallorca in 1999, Pig&Dan joined forces to become a prolific DJ/ production team with a compelling signature sound. Danny Turner drops in on the duo to discuss their fourth album, Modular Baptism
Pig&Dan | In The Studio With
or over a decade, Pig&Dan (Igor Tchkotoua and Dan Duncan) have been jamming in the studio and bringing it to the masses with their own special synergy. Best known for their Techno productions, the duo are also recognised for blurring the boundaries with their unique take on Tech House and Downtempo/Lounge. Flouting convention, they’re as comfortable working in planes, trains and automobiles as they are a nice comfy studio, even if that studio happens to be a makeshift hotel room. With their hectic global DJ schedule no obstacle to writing new material, new album Modular Baptism sees them take another left turn. Returning to their Techno roots, Pig&Dan apply their infectious passion to the world of modular recording.
FM: How is Mallorca treating you? Would you recommend it as a DJ/production base? Dan Duncan: “Yeah, we both live in Mallorca basically, but our production base is literally my laptop because we fly so much that we often write on planes. It’s a weird one because living in Mallorca we’re not influenced by trends. If you’re in Berlin or London or NY you’re always surrounded by crews of people doing things that are hot at the moment. It’s been to our advantage from the very beginning that we’ve just made the music we wanted to make. But honestly, a studio is a studio.” Igor Tchkotoua: “For me, producing music is about being inspired or not being inspired. It doesn’t matter where I am, it’s whether I’m inspired and connected to that vibe, so my surroundings don’t make that much difference. I always say it’s about the ideas you have. DJ Ricardo Villalobos once said ‘everything’s a remix of everything’. I like to compare music to food; you have different genres or nationalities, but the way the chef interprets it is what differentiates him from everybody else. In Techno, you can make a track with a stab, but a particular artist will add a certain effect, delay or reverb, close it with a filter and then distort it – so the post-production of that stab is what makes it special, as opposed to a typical Detroit stab.” If everybody is influenced by somebody else, is it possible to be original? DD: “I think so, but there are only 12 notes right? There’s loads of chords, but in reality the tones limit everything don’t they? It’s like Igor said, it’s what you do to that tone and the way you put it together.” IT: “A very important thing for me is the material you are using, the sounds. Like with food, if you have a good base, like good meat, you don’t need to add so many spices or sauces to it. If you start with a really good analogue stab from a good synth and get a really fat sound out of that, then you don’t need to post-process it as much as you would if you sampled some crappy sounding MP3.” What was your first entry into gear? IT: “Basically, I started DJing when I was studying business at university in London and spent most of
my time going to Soho and buying vinyl in Black Market. I started mixing with really crappy decks, they were like belt drives, not 1210s that’s for sure, but they were great for learning on because you had to be so refined. Anyway, instrument-wise my first contact was working in a Rock studio in Germany. They were recording vocals on Logic but guitars and drums on a tape recorder. So that was like a tutorial for me of how to record real music with tape and a massive mixer. I remember them having Genelec speakers, and from there I started with a PC and Logic and a MIDI keyboard.” DD: “I started with CV gate, 909s and 303s. My first contact with an instrument was the piano, because I studied it from four years old. Then I went down the same avenue as Igor and worked in a studio in London doing big cheesy Pop records learning about editing and cutting tape – I’ve still got the razor blade scars on my hands. I started from the very beginning of the electronic scene, so I remember when the first Akai sampler came out and moved on to the Atari and Cubase. I actually used to work for Cubase, because there were only two programmers in London who were doing that professionally, so I used to give them a lot of feedback. But, for me, moving to Logic was a big advancement. Although people do argue that Cubase is phenomenal, we’re Logic lovers and we love the sound of it.” The last album, Destination Unknown, was pretty Downtempo; would you say that Modular Baptism goes back to your Techno roots? DD: “I think we’re Techno artists and always have been. We’ve always come from the Dance realm but Destination Unknown was an album we reached out to because we’d made a load of tracks together with other people but never found the right avenue for them. It was actually John Digweed that wrote us an email saying he was thinking of doing an album of Chillout or Downtempo records from Techno artists. I came from a family of Soul music; my dad was in Average White Band, so I grew up in that whole scene. Igor and I always refreshed our sound by making Downtempo tracks every so often.” IT: “Each type of music has a set of rules, but our mentality is that you can make anything you want, there is no limit. If you want to make Jazz you can make Jazz, and then you give it your own style. All our albums are like that. We just make music and compile it and say, wow this could be an album. We’re not a band that lock ourselves in a studio for ten days and say we’re going to do an album now. And John Digweed wants another Downtempo one now, which we are already thinking about.” Is Techno an area you look to innovate in or are you looking to stay faithful to its generic roots? DD: “We always push the envelope.” IT: “I don’t even want to call it a genre; we make music and that’s it. What is Techno nowadays? Is it 170bpm Berlin Techno? The purist will say our music isn’t Techno, that it’s between that and Tech House. My interpretation of a Deep House track is going to be dubby Techno – the old-school Deep
In The Studio With | Pig&Dan
House, not now. It all evolves. For me, House music was Paradise Garage, Larry Levan and Mr Fingers. Now you listen to House and it sounds like EDM.” DD: “Adam Beyer did a podcast the other day and featured a mix of ours. He talked about what he thought Pig&Dan was, and said the thing about Pig&Dan is that, whether it’s House, Tech House or Techno, it has a certain signature sound. And I think we’re really lucky because that means we don’t always have to be tied to a genre.” IT: “There’s so many factors; it depends on where you are and your audience. If you’re in a bloody factory, you’re not going to play anything happy –
you’re going to play something harder and more industrial. You’ve got to feel it. It’s about psychology; if you go to a Rolling Stones concert they’ll have an intro, then play their hits, then a decline, then they’ll have a climax and a conclusion. And it’s like that with everything. Everything has a structure; sex has a structure, food has a structure – you have hors d’oeuvres, a main course and a dessert, and then you can fuck around with that.” So what do you make of EDM? IT: “It’s appealing to Joe Bloggs. It’s all high frequencies; it’s for the young people. When I
was 13, I used to listen to Hardcore, bands like Thunderdome.” DD: “And Gabba. Mate, I’ve got into some really bad music [laughs].” When I was 13, the choice came to me. Does the mainstream give the same choices now? IT: “Not really, it’s all marketing; I agree with what you’re saying. In EDM, it’s all about branding; they buy their careers and half of them have ghost producers. It’s like everything, it’s a cycle. There are guys that are actually admitting to it, that they’re not even DJing. Look at Steve Aoki; no offence to him, but he said that he plays a role – he’s an entertainer, but you can’t call him a DJ. He probably has someone putting his set together and then he presses play. I’m not going to name names, but we were told at a festival that a lot of these guys have pre-mixed sessions because they don’t want to fuck up, and that’s how it is. It’s like Pop music; it’s play back. We’re making a lot of friends now [laughs].”
There were tracks where we were both physically playing three and four minute solos, which was great fun I’ve got to say
On the new album you’d just play for hours, record everything and select the best bits? IT: “Exactly, but we’d do it in layers. For the song Growler, we wrote it on a Roland System 100 from just a riff. To not waste time in the creative process, we sampled a kick drum that already sounded good from a master track and started building the track. We’ll record live, but we like to have it in audio because with MIDI you can lose it. Once you have it in audio, it’s cemented. So we’d do one riff then build another one until we have these three, four or five-minute strips, fucking around with the octaves, opening and closing the cut offs, the waves and the release. After, we’ll do this jamming session, clean the track up and go more into the mixing and post-production process.” DD: “There were tracks where we were both physically playing three and four minute solos, which was great fun I’ve got to say. The thing is, our creative process is quite fast, so what we love about working this way is that you can really get your teeth into it.” IT: “We also used a mini Korg, the Moog Sub 37, the Nord Lead and the Moog Sub Phatty. We haven’t got into Eurorack. We’d love to but I can’t afford to buy that much stuff. We also have a Roland TR-8, I forgot to say.” How did you find using modular in terms of sound quality? IT: “That’s the whole thing about what I was saying – like a steak you know? If you use a fine steak, you don’t really need to do that much to it and the sound you get out of a Moog is just brilliant. But to get that Pig&Dan sound, there is still a lot of processing to do afterwards.” DD: “There’s a couple of go-to plug-ins, but because we both come from the old school we’ll still use AMS delays and real, proper Manleys – stuff
Pig&Dan | In The Studio With
So your new album, Modular Baptism, implies you’ve been getting into modular gear, right? DD: “That’s exactly what it is. The whole basis for the name of the album was because most of it was done on synthesizers twisting knobs. If you look at some of the tracks, they’re not even sequenced, we didn’t sample anything. To come back to your question, how do you become unique – if you’ve got that same exact sound, you can be different depending on what you do with the knobs.” IT: “It gives it more of a human touch; it’s like a live session feeling. The problem is, once you’ve recorded it you can’t do it again in the same way. We have a really simple set-up. We wrote some of the album in Mexico and created a pop-up studio at a friend’s house. We had a Moog, a Nord Lead, a couple of speakers and the laptop. We basically just started jamming and recording there, and four tracks came out of that.”
In The Studio With | Pig&Dan
from the analogue days. We go back to using a lot of the UAD plug-ins, just for adding that tube warmth, which really lends it itself to Techno. Our mastering engineer says he really notices it when we send him stuff that is out of the box and has a lot of tape emulation, something that’s going to crunch it up a bit more.” Which plug-ins are you excited about using? DD: “The absolute killer for making things sound dirty is Kombinat by Audio Damage. It’s an amazing plug-in that I shouldn’t even be telling
I understand you’re also Soundtoys fans? DD: “I love Soundtoys but we also use a lot of FabFilter plug-ins, and have you heard of ToneBoosters? They’re a set of free plug-ins I found on the internet. I downloaded them for a laugh, but their tape emulators are maybe even better than UAD or Slate Digital’s. They’ve got a sound to them that’s incredible for warming up kick drums and sub bass. We also like Waves SoundShifter; for pitchshifting it’s the best one out there.” IT: “We love playing around with octaves you know? Especially on vocals and melodies.
sound. We use a lot of the Brainworx stuff; they’re made by a very clever team of guys from Berlin. But our mastering guy, Beau Thomas, is the guy that makes us sound much better than we actually are.” IT: “How do you compete with £90,000 speakers?” DD: “Yes, but if you look at his equipment, it’s the circuitry it’s going through. I noticed this from my analogue days; you didn’t even have to activate some of the EQs and limiters they had back then. They do what they’re designed to do – colour sound in a certain way that is sexy. Yeah, you can go and spend £100,000 and have this stuff at home, but at the end of the day it’s always good to have a fresh pair of ears to overlook things.”
I mix most of our tracks with headphones, which is shocking, but I’ve got so used to working on aeroplanes and in hotel rooms everybody about. It adds a gritty edge to pretty much anything you put in it. You can choose how it distorts the low, middle and top-end, so it’s kind of like frequency compression, but it’s a frequency distorter. And you’ve got a ridiculous, over-the-top compressor on it. When you have a live recording that goes from just a subsonic bass and opens throughout time into something that is very melodic, putting this on brings everything to the front. The Eos reverb from Audio Damage is also amazing, and the Ratshack reverb – because it’s not a synchronised delay and reverb, you can do echo on it that moves the sound by milliseconds which adds a great effect.”
Sometimes we’ve already recorded in audio and don’t want to go back to MIDI, so we’ll just put the Waves pitchshifter on and it works perfectly and makes things really quick and easy.” DD: “That’s actually Pig’s favourite saying in production, ‘What about if we try an octave lower?’ [laughs]. Some of our biggest tracks to date are singular riff tracks, like Growler or Sandstorm, which are built on one riff evolving and exploding with reverbs going off it. It enables a person to get really locked in to that one sound, but there’s a lot more going on behind it than people think; we’ll probably have two or three octaves running in the background and combining to make one
Do you mix as you go? DD: “Funnily enough, I’m mixing most of our tracks with headphones these days, which is shocking, but I’ve got so used to working on aeroplanes and in hotel rooms, so we use that downtime to our advantage. I’m using Sennheiser HD25s – the aluminium ones. Beau said my mixes have got even better than when I was mixing on Genelecs. I did a mixdown and sent it to him and told him I’d changed my monitors, but he said it sounded much better than it normally does and that the sub-end was much tighter. Of course, when you’re making Dance music you’re playing in rooms with huge amounts of reflection and echo, so having a very tight area is super important because you play it on fat systems. If it’s all waffling around, it’s a nightmare.”
In The Studio With | Pig&Dan
Do you still have to work on your partnership, or does it all come very naturally now? IT: “Now, yeah. We basically know what the other one is going to think before we even do it.” DD: “Igor will write a track on his own, but it’s like we both wrote it because we know what the other one is thinking so well.” IT: “He has a little Pig saying, ‘that’s really cheesy, don’t do that’, and I’ve got a Dan going, ‘yeah I don’t like that’ or whatever. At the beginning we used to have fights and argue during the creative process. We’d be working on a track for two or three days, and suddenly I’d go, ‘it’s crap’. But we’ve worked through that – the work we had to do was with the egos. Creating is about creating and destroying and creating again. But if I said it’s crap, we’d still keep one element and maybe that element would make the track. You must have chemistry in the studio; it’s like sex man – if you don’t have chemistry with someone it just doesn’t work, and that’s the same with music.”
Pig&Dan | In The Studio With
What is the benefit of mixing on headphones? DD: “You’re not dealing with any room, so you haven’t got any of those issues. Even though my studio is really well built and doesn’t have any reflection, you’re still dealing with air moving around a room. I am from the old school, working with Yamaha monitors and NS10s, and I understand how to work with them, but for some reason with headphones you can create a higher impact mix with less room in it; it’s just tighter. I don’t think many people would agree with that funnily enough, but it’s what you’re used to.” IT: “The thing is; we make music so we can play it. We don’t just play with Ableton and all that. We tried, but it felt like we were acting. We had a bit of a live set-up with a machine playing samples and we were filtering and playing with delays and reverbs, but we don’t feel comfortable with that. We like the fact that we can DJ, change the set a little bit and be more flexible and test our music. We’ve finished a track on a plane, Dan mixed it down on his Sennheisers and we’ve played it the next night.” So what are you using when you DJ now? IT: “Just CDJs. We’re very simple – I still have my 1210s at home. But nowadays to travel with vinyl is a pain in the arse; I’m not going to put my vinyl in the baggage lock for someone to steal, so we’re comfortable with USBs. We also tried Serato, because one day we arrived in a massive club – it was a mansion in Miami with 3,000 people, and the guys said they didn’t have any needles. So I had my Serato set up and thank god there were a couple of CDJs there, so I just took my hard drive, stuck it into the CDJs and fell in love with it as it was so simple. And also, the bloody fact that when you’re DJing people will come and change the cables through the back of the mixer; I fucking hate that.” DD: “It’s so annoying when there are other DJs leaning over you; I’m like, hey mate I’m communicating… with thousands of people.” IT: “Yeah, 20 minutes before you’ve finished your set someone comes in and starts setting up cables in front of you, or when you have to do it and Serato doesn’t work because the bloody little circle doesn’t come up on the screen and you lose your vibe. So now we just get there and boom!” DD: “Two CDJ 2000s sound amazing. Their converters are outstanding compared to other set-ups like Traktor or Serato. We use an Allen & Heath mixer – XONE:92, no effects, no looping and no pretend build-ups. We play records that have enough production in them, so we don’t need to add. We’re old school man; we play records, we really do.” IT: “Traktor sounds like a tin can. For us, it’s just old-school DJing, but we create our own set by making our own music. So if we’ve been making very linear and melodic tracks, we can decide to do something a bit harder. We’re constantly designing and seeing what we need and don’t need.”
want to know more? Modular Baptism is out now. Keep up with the latest from Pig&Dan at http://www.piganddan.co.com
FM | MODULAR MONTHLY
iNcluDes auDio vault.futuremusic.co.uk
Studio Electronics Boomstar Modular Grainy Clampit | £269 Studio Electronics might be makers of “Premium Quality Analog” but their gritty Grainy Clampit shows they aren’t afraid to go against the grain(s)…
oomstar Modular Modstar is a range from Studio Electronics, who are perhaps better known to folks of a synthy persuasion as the makers of the Boomstar monosynths, each with a famous filter clone inside. And it’s these circuits, their rather uncompromising build and discrete topology which got busted apart to form their Boomstar Modular Eurorack designs. Since they have a lot of analogue essentials catered for already, Studio Electronics are turning their sights to modules that go beyond their existing range and the semi-modular machines that preceded them. Enter Grainy Clampit, a thoroughly digital, gritty additive VCO with granular and phase distortion synthesis inside. The name comes from the feisty shotgunblasting character Granny Clampett in old-school US TV show The Beverly Hillbillies… and feisty
old-school digital describes it pretty well. It’s as grainy as you could hope for, extremely ‘vintage arcademachine’ sounding and rarely clean and pure sounding at all. But, importantly, it’s not ‘thin’ in the least – quite the opposite; it’s pretty ballsy, with a definite penchant for harmonic organ tones. And all these are good qualities when you want something ear-catching and different to pair with more traditional analogue VCOs, or if you want grit and fluff to give a filter some material to work with, of which Boomstar Modular have several. You wouldn’t necessarily want it as your only VCO, but it makes sense as a complement to perhaps more conventional ones. The architecture is very unusual, not much clearer to us on a first read of its product page, which doubles as manual (the Clampit was missing from their Boomstar manual at the time of writing). In fact, Studio
Electronics half-jokingly acknowledge this on their site: “It’s just additive mixing of several combinations of harmonics using a choice of 16 waveforms, followed by granular or phase distortion processing for detuned and wave sequencing effects, with a sync option for further pitch variations. Capiche?” With intuition alone, it wasn’t hard to get up and running with the Clampit straight out of the box, twisting and clicking and exploring sounds and modes. It wasn’t essential to know how it works to get cool sounds from it. But to hopefully ‘capiche’ a little better on the above: it’s an additive digital oscillator with post-processing. The ‘addition’ is of four harmonics (and there are 16 different pre-set harmonic combinations you can choose using the ‘OT TYPE’), and there are 16 different waveforms you can pick (with the ‘WAVE TYPE’), but you only
get one at once. We can then detune these harmonics to make things fatter, looser, and break apart, and control the harmonic mix with one balance knob that blends between low harmonics and high harmonics. But then… depending on a two-position switch, this end result is then passed to either a granular processor, or a phase distortion processor, affording us two types of subsequent processing of our fourpart harmonic input tone. The lower sets of controls control the settings of these granular or phase distortion modes, doing different things depending on which is currently selected. Rather than reproducing their website content here, we recommend you read the All Controls descriptions lower down on the product page for what we found were the simplest descriptions of what these will actually do for you – it’s never easy when shared controls have different functions depending on a selected mode, but there are really only five key tonal shaping knobs, and again it’s gratifying even just exploring intuitively. If you’re still following along, in short it most easily lends itself to making chord-like organ tones, but you can coax out many other timbres too. Via the phase distortion option it can achieve FM-synth-like growls and pseudo vocal tones. We got metallic-edged basses, throaty and woody basses, and awesome wave-sequenced rhythmic animation – sounding like a complete melody without any input CV modulation at all. We used the granular aspect to add pleasing life chorus and fattening, and created enormously spooky and doom-laden jittering digital drones and swirly 8-bitty basses, sync effects; and, of course, it excels at a range of different electronic organ-like drones and chords with various timbres and tunings… always with this crunchy, gritted ‘retro Atari arcade machine’ aesthetic at heart. Indeed, it’s important to stress it’s not a clean sounding device at all – its sound is loaded with artifacts – not that that’s a bad thing. There’s hiss on the output, there can be background crackling and popping, there’s aliasing, and with the Low Res switch it adds a wall of digital trash to the normal output, pushing the gritty aesthetic pretty much as far as it can go. We can also set the OTT
Modular Monthly | Round-up
dial actually in-between the timbre selections (none of the controls are detented) and achieve strange little output freakouts. It can almost sound like a geiger counter is being mixed in with the output at times. But run it through a VCA and filter, and this is all good texture for your patch; it’s the point, clearly. Build-wise, much like other SE gear we’ve tried, and please pardon our French… it’s built like a brick shithouse. They are fiercely proud of their use of more expensive parts, and it shows, particularly in the pots, which are smooth, firm and rock solid (equal to or in fact the best we’ve tried), and in the layout, which is considered and ergonomic. Fingers fit around every control without obstruction. And since the top of the module is black and the bottom is silver, they include two black and two silver screws – nice touch. It’s possible to achieve sonic animation without any CV input, but we did on several occasions wish for full CV control, particularly to have inputs for Wave Type and Len/Pitch, rather than the OT Mix and Space/ Amt. The Clampit really tends to lean towards making ‘chordy’ organ sounds, though there are wild and curious timbres to find amongst the sweet spots. It should still keep you busy, especially combined with more traditional VCOs. It’s hard to judge versatility in the limited time of a review, but we heard tones we’ve not heard another VCO make, beyond the organs. You could never mistake a Grainy Clampit for anything else but a Grainy Clampit. But that’s good, right? It can make some excellent, show stealing tones, full of character, crackle and cojones… and, of course, being specialised and having character is what modular is all about.
Meeting Studio Electronics Marc St. Regis of US family business Studio Electronics spills the beans on the company and their uncompromising philosophy… FM: Who are Studio Electronics and what is your design philosophy? Marc St. Regis: “Studio Electronics is now Greg St. Regis, Marc St. Regis and Tim Caswell. It was founded by papa Val St. Regis and multi-platform design guru Tim Caswell in Hollywood in 1981. Our first rackmount Minimoog was assembled on the family kitchen table... “We create what we would enjoy using, and attempt to make products as well-crafted, durable, and compelling as possible. We don’t overthink it. Our interests are varied and we are always open to the ideas of potential collaborators. 31 years of continuity has allowed SE to venture into rackmount synths, Class-A audio with Slate Pro Audio, guitar amps, stomp boxes, and then more recently returning to their roots with the Boomstar synths desktop, and the current focus of Boomstar Modular. Tone and tradition are the foundation and purpose of Boomstar Modular. We start with the sound… and work our way outward. “Truth be told, our sales manager (sometimes life coach)
specs size: 18hp, Depth: 35mm including connectors, Power usage: 50mA max
contact Who: MSL Pro tel: 0207 118 0133 Web: www.studioelectronics.com
verdict Grainy Clampit is a unique and uncompromisingly digital VCO, with all the fizz and noise that comes with it. Specialised in organ tones, but with much to be explored besides.
The Boomstar Modular Modstar Sensei system
Geoff Farr, has connected us with every ‘outside’ designer. We recently shared a NAMM booth with Marc Sirguy of Eowave and tag-teamed on our new Charcot Circles and STE. 16. We’re quite excited about our partnership and offerings in the pipeline with Marc.
all possible. It doesn’t hurt that Tim Caswell is a self-taught musical/ electronics genius.” Tell us about the genesis of the Grainy Clampit – how was it conceived and developed? “The Grainy is a sub-species of the Cygnus X-1, an analogue/digital hybrid monosynth built in July 2010. Maurice of SpaceHardware – Symbiotic Waves designer – came into the fold via Geoff (formally with Pittsburgh Modular), who remembered the ‘buried’ expressive digital synth and its sparkle – a quality Mr Farr relentlessly pursues in all prospective SE joint projects. He convinced Maurice to port a portion of the magic into Eurorack format. The quad oscillator Quadnic is the latest Cygnusinformed recruit. SE weighed in on feature/layout refinements and a few innovations. “Designer Maurice Roche from SpaceHardware says: ‘The idea behind SpaceHardware designs is to revisit the immediate control of synths from the ’70s and ’80s, push the sound shaping further using digital and analogue processing, and build instruments that are interactive, tweakable and playable.’”
Our first rackmount Minimoog was assembled on the family kitchen table “You can start with our Oscillation module for discrete, Class A tonal purity, pursue digital generation with the Quadnic, tactile, circular Charcot Circles sequencing, or jump into a fully realised system with the Sensei Analog, and the Sensei Hybrid (soon). “Of course, custom work has continued to pepper the production. Greg’s soft hands and ears make it
Lastly, Boomstar Modular is a pretty complete looking range now. What’s next for the range, if you can say? “A premium quality Eurorack synth voice called Tonestar 2600, in early April. Tonestar is priced so now everyone can afford a Studio Electronics module. Tonestar doesn’t sidestep any quality marks; it shares the same highly admired and loved ‘Premium Quality Analog’ sound, using the same care and components which have made the Boomstar, Boomstar Modular and Omega synths prized and valued by top musicians worldwide – 31 years tested and true. Now that voice is surprisingly portable and affordable. “Apart from the Tonestar we’re tight-lipped around here, but some very sizable surprises should surface fourth quarter… and be touchable at NAMM 2017.”
Monthly Modular | Tutorial
Set Filters To Scream Let’s explore the filtering, saturation and VCA in combination to create a synth voice’s backend To start making the most of the Defibrillator we’ll need sound sources, with the obvious choice being an oscillator. Analogue or digital, all is welcome for processing and it sounds great on a variety of sources such as drums and acoustic instruments too. Using the filter processing the input signal(s) in series, we can create a variety of FX including bass boosts with the resonance up on the high-pass before hitting the low-pass or we can create a band-pass filter with modulatable bandwidth. Try using different CV sources such as LFOs and filters to control the two filters for a varied and modulating tone that can create pushes and pulls swelling in the high and low frequencies.
Somebody call a Medic!
First up, let’s use our standard analogue saw wave as an input and check out the sound of the filter. Using an envelope to modulate one of the low-pass filters and another to modulate the VCA and we’re in classic synth patch territory.
Using both filters in series with high-pass on the first filter and low-pass on the second we can adjust the cutoff settings to create a band-pass filter. Using different LFOs to modulate each cutoff frequency we can create swirling filter FX.
We delve into the sonic beast that is the Defibrillator from Medic Modules, exploring its characterful take on the MS-20 filter circuits
et’s cut to the chase – the Defibrillator is like an MS-20’s dual filter left to hit the gym alongside a serious steroids habit. It simply sounds HUGE! Three different ‘sub modules’ make up the Defibrillator with the two input mixer, dual filters and a VCA at the end of the chain. Routing signals is easy with a series of switches selecting different signal paths which, along with the various inputs, allow for easy use of the module as a single signal path or for breaking down into its smaller parts. The Defibrillator is based on the classic Korg MS-20 filter circuit which is known to be aggressive and a small amount of hiss/noise in the original Korg-35 filter circuit would drive nicely into the filter at higher resonance settings adding lots of character. The MS-20 is a well regarded synth with notable users including Air, Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, Depeche Mode, Gorillaz, Justice, Mr. Oizo, The Prodigy, Skinny Puppy and
many more. It really doesn’t need much of an introduction so it’s easy to see why Medic Modules (a sub brand of Analogue Solutions) would base a product on it. It’s a versatile module that can be used as two low-pass filters both running with a 12dB per octave cut-off slope, a single 24dB slope low-pass when combining the two low-pass in series or as a classic high-pass into low-pass. The high-pass into low-pass filter allows us to combine the two to create a band-pass filter with adjustable bandwidth. Knowing what filters we have on board, if we scratch our heads and think ‘what’s a filter’s best friend?’, you’ll no doubt come to the conclusion… overdrive! You can overdrive this module at every single stage. The mixer, filters and VCA all will saturate and add a ton of character to the sound. What would Acid House be without that screaming TB-303 resonance hitting a distortion pedal? It would be
A well-known trick with the MS-20 and other dual filter designs is to use the resonance peak on a high-pass filter to cut into the fundamental frequencies at the input and boost those with higher resonance settings. Let’s try that on a bass patch.
Why should oscillators get all the fun when other instruments sound great through filters and saturation? Let’s use a guitar as our input. We’ll make use of the input saturation and filtering. We’ll modulate the filter with an envelope follower tracking the guitar’s level.
thinner sounding and we want fat, bacon for breakfast kind of sounds! You can of course back off the input levels and get softer and more gentle filtering, but where’s the fun in that? We got in touch with Tom Carpenter from Medic Modules to ask what drew him to creating a module inspired by the MS-20. “The MS-20 was the second analogue synth I bought sometime in the late ’80s, and the one that I owned the longest before selling. Since then, I have
owned a few. I have one currently. It is far superior to the ‘new’ MS-20. So I have always had a strong affection to the style and sound.” So why did Tom make a dual filter with a mixer and VCA all in one module? “A VCA is always a good module to add after a VCF; it’s the most logical path. A LP and HP together can work as a band-pass. Plus, controlled and set up right, you can use both resonant filters to create really nice vowel type sounds!”
In The Studio With | Yeasayer
ÂŠ Daniel Byrne
With their elastic grooves and psychedelicsounding arrangements, Art Rock vanguards Yeasayer always keep us guessing. Danny Turner discovers whether new album Amen & Goodbye is quite as fatalistic as it sounds
Yeasayer | In The Studio With
easayer first came to the public’s attention at the Texas-based South by Southwest festival in 2007. Comprising Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder, the trio describe their sound as “Middle Eastern-PsychSnap-Gospel”, which does little to clarify their assimilated influences or accurately describe their wildly eclectic use of syncopated instrumentation. For most bands, having two songwriters would cause untenable friction, but for Yeasayer friction is the wellspring of their creativity. Their fourth album, Amen & Goodbye, is another exercise in deconstruction and experimentation, enabling the group to perfect the art of making technology sound acoustic and acoustics sound electronic. The album, recorded in rural upstate New York, took the band away from their home comforts, and had them wrangling with chickens, goats and thunderbolts.
FM: Are you used to no longer being the new kids on the block? Chris Keating: “Yeah, we’re like a legacy band now [laughs]. We’re going to start playing state fairs. On our first record we were trying to respond to what we were hearing, felt we should do and how we could make something that would sound unique. I think we try to do that every time. It’s like, damn let’s just try to make something cool and different to what we’ve done or what other people are doing.” Has being on the road a lot affected the time you can allot to making music? Ira Wolf Tuton: “Pretty much I guess. The only other way to make money is by publishing or selling yourself to commercials. Once that comes to a band, other companies will use that same song over and over again, but we haven’t had to negotiate our conscience on that one yet.” CK: “We’re trying to get a little pot from all of these things – touring, records – a media pot. I’d like to think of it in a positive way. Touring is a good, natural barrier to have between projects so that you can develop a fresh approach. You have the ability to reset and recalibrate when you have these chunks of time that are totally distant from actively writing. You also get to see other bands and what they’re doing, but at the same time it’s hard to jump back into the headspace of creativity after being on the road so much as it’s such a myopic thing to do.” Has your approach to writing and recording changed over the past decade? IWT: “It seems to have changed a lot, but we still don’t know what we’re doing. We’re always trying to figure it out and do something new, and stay current with technology too. I still get excited when I read about a new piece of gear, trying to learn it. I think engaging with new technology is important to creating music.” CK: “When I started recording demos with Yeasayer I was doing it on a four-track, so through the space of this band I’ve learned how to use a computer
and that interface completely changes the way you approach editing.” Anand Wilder: “On this last record, you can see the different interfaces that all these pieces of gear have, beyond whether you relate to Logic or Ableton. Chris used the Dave Smith Tempest a lot on the record, which has a very specific interface as opposed to the Nord Drum Machine or other programmable devices, so we’ve had to recalibrate our brains to using different technology with every record. Every album should have a character.” IWT: “One thing that’s been consistent throughout the four records is using different recording devices to capture sounds and throwing them all together to give it more dimension and more dynamic.” How do you feel the new album Amen & Goodbye evolves your sound? CK: “I think it was really the idea of making an album that is a cross between a live band playing music that’s recorded to tape and then manipulating that later and collaging those elements together as if they were almost found samples. But it’s all us playing, so anything would be possible at any moment. You could go from a song that sounds slightly Industrial to something that’s more Folk-driven at any given moment of a tape edit. To me, the best DJs and curators are able to drastically shift gears, but still be in the same language. That could be jarring, and sometimes people don’t want it, but we like it.” Do you jam in the studio or work on ideas separately and then work collectively? AW: “Separately, then come together and break it back down. We did do a bit of jamming on this one, creating rhythmic beds and figuring out riffs that would go over it.” CK: “To give you an example, I would make some pretty dissonant, distorted drum beats with the Tempest and Native Instruments Maschine, and Joey, the drummer, would try and copy some of the rhythms and sounds by playing chopsticks on pieces of metal. That gave it this push and pull between programmed sounds and organic sounds. Once it gets to the point where we don’t really know, then it’s in a good place. I hate it when you hear a record and you’re like, oh, I recognise that drum machine or that’s the third synth patch on the Nord or Moog Slim Phatty.” AW: “That’s a good patch though [laughs].” So replacing electronic with acoustic sounds is a premeditated approach? CK: “Yeah, unless you’re making an aesthetic decision, like for a guitar to sound like a Fender. In that case, you’d want to reference that, and there can be a place for that too, but in general I think we are trying to always manipulate sounds to make them into something different.” IWT: “I think it was a much more interesting challenge, on this record in particular, to try and bring a lot of humanity to the record but definitely stay away from it being a reference record or come off as a classically arranged Rock band. And yeah, I
In The Studio With | Yeasayer
think for us that’s done by chopping up and layering or using outside guests that can give a unique take on the music.” CK: “You can try all you want to make a synth sound like a saxophone, but it’s a lot cooler to make a saxophone sound like a synth. If you get someone to play a horn and then run that shit through the same chain that you might run a synth through, you’re like whoaahh.” Brass sounds do seem to be the ones that hardware synths struggle to capture the most… CK: “There’s so much air being moved. I mean the same could happen with drums, it really depends, but I sometimes like that sad keyboard crap.” Your sounds don’t come from any DAW I know. Do you gravitate towards untypical sounds? CK: “Even when we think a sound is awesome, we leave the studio for months, come back, and it sounds so normal that we need to fuck it up more by detuning it or running things through pedals that you would not traditionally run them through. To me, that’s why I like late ’70s Bowie records. In this day and age, when everyone has software and you can sort of do anything, it becomes a little bit of a challenge, but then again, you still find pervasive aesthetic trends in electronic music that you’re aware of and want to stand out from.” Do you use organic and acoustic sounds or try to create those types of sounds in the box? IWT: “The songs I’m most excited about on the record are where a sound is laid over an out-of-tune guitar, laid over a synth and then beat matched so
Even if we think a sound is awesome, we leave the studio, come back, and it sounds so normal that we need to fuck it up more they create some kind of new space and sound so you can’t tell if it’s digital. There’s also something in trying to create something completely new that also has something a bit nostalgic that triggers some kind of music from the past that you enjoy.” Your production sounds quite ’70s, which is not meant as an insult – it has depth… CK: “I don’t know if it’s really ’70s but, yeah, there is an approach to the songwriting that has this nostalgia for turning on the radio, and not just the songwriting but the arrangements and the attention that’s paid to those arrangements. The music that I’ve always gravitated towards and learned from has so many nuances to it.” The video for the track Prophecy Gun is a bit grisly. What was the concept behind that? CK: “Yeah, we were trying to do it like Hieronymus Bosch. I love his painting The Garden of Earthly Delights – these weird, sinister things happening in
purgatory and the different levels of hell. We worked with an artist we respected, made a list of characters that we wanted to see in it and approached him specifically to make it. Some of them he just made himself. We were like; did he misinterpret it or just do something else?” I noticed Donald Trump was one of them… IWT: “It was surprising to all of us. He was not on our list of characters but he wanted to include him with this disgusting satanic head.” Where was the album recorded? CK: “A lot of different places. It started at this farm called The Outlier Inn. It’s a working farm that also has a studio at the centre of it, so that was pretty cool. We spent the summer tracking, fucking around and writing, then moved it to Brooklyn and flipped it around and recontextualised a lot of the stuff. That’s where we added a lot of the electronic and organic elements.”
Do you all have your own studios? AW: “Yeah, just little home set-ups. We all have some hardware and four-track recording, some random Lunchbox stuff. We’re kind of like Voltron; we all have different synths and come together, but it’s mostly recorded in computers as demos. They have a certain hiss to them, kind of amateurish, but it works in contrast with the more polished professional recording.” CK: “Then we’ll meet up to get in a little headspace. We lived in the Catskills, and that allowed us to get into a routine, away from our families. Just making a record in New York City, you’re cooped up inside. Working all day and taking the subway home just feels like you’re commuting to a job. At Outlier Inn, you’d be inside working, go for a walk around the property, hang outside, take a swim in the pond, sit around a fire – it was a completely different routine. We spent about five or six weeks there, then another two months down in Brooklyn.” And it was the first time you had a producer… CK: “I don’t really know what a producer does for a band like us, because we’ve made three records on our own and have become pretty good at making
In The Studio With | Yeasayer
sounds and getting our concept across, but we thought it might be interesting to work with someone we’d been inspired by and Joey Waronker was that guy. He’s not like a traditional producer; he drummed for R.E.M. and does all the rhythm stuff for Atoms for Peace, which we thought was really inspiring. We were familiar with him playing with Beck for years, and we’re a big fan of his music.” IWT: “We knew that we couldn’t really work with someone who is just an ideas guy because we’re ideas guys. And we don’t have a drummer in the
core band, so he filled that void. It was good to work with someone that we all respect; it’s going to push you to a much higher level. If we had disagreements, we would have to really fight for it, and that was good – he was a good arbiter.” How do you think he changed the sound or direction of your music for the better? CK: “I think he just created a really nice working atmosphere. I really like him; he’s incredibly amenable, very easy to work with.”
AW: “It’s good to have a guy there who when you work on something that maybe the other two guys don’t care about it, can come in and say ‘I love what you did, that made the song – keep going’.” IWT: “We know we can produce ourselves because we did our first three records, but for me, I thought it was a great experience and hopefully we can replicate that, not in terms of the sounds he helped us make, but the good vibes he brought.” Which are some of your favourite analogue and digital synths? CK: “I’ve used the Nord Lead 1 for about 14 years. I bought it from this kid and it was all fucked up. One of the keys was already broken and one of them had permanently popped up. One day I smashed the keys with a drum kit; I didn’t think they were going to shatter but they did. Now it’s like an old friend sitting in the corner and when you turn it on it sounds even better! One thing about hardware is that I don’t think I would investigate software from eight years ago. You might still be using it, but you wouldn’t dig it up.” IWT: “We love that activity of chaining and unplugging. Y’know, putting an MS-20 through a Moog delay, going through a filter and then through a ring mod before you even get into the box. There’s something about semi-modular in that there’s so many things you can do with it.” CK: “I have a modular set-up that is just for chaos basically. I think it’s called The Phonogene, a tiny sampler from a company called Make Noise. It has a three-second max sampler that just destroys the sound and is really cool. I don’t really run sequences through it, although sometimes I’ll run CV to it just to get a little chaos going. There’s a bunch of companies popping up now that make this really cool modular stuff, but it’s so costly. I’m glad Korg and other companies are doing more affordable versions, otherwise it gets prohibitive and you can’t tour with it. The whole modular thing is fetishised, but I like using them for a specific purpose.” IWT: “I’d like to check out the new ARP stuff that Korg are putting out, and it’s exciting to think of what they could put out in the future.” CK: “We’ve used software emulations of ARP synthesizers too, which I think work well. I like Arturia a lot; they do a great job sonically. I don’t have a preference and it doesn’t have to be analogue. The ARP Solina sounds beautiful, but I don’t need to own it. I can write the parts on another synthesizer and make a note to use the Solina later.” IWT: “I still like using a Tascam four-track; it’s the only thing you can use to bend time while you’re recording with its little pitch knobs. That’s still so hard to do digitally while you’re recording. I like the tactile nature of it and not looking at a screen; just judging by your ear. I prefer it if when I crank something up it’s not telling me it’s clipping or that ‘the computer has run out of hard drive space’.” CK: “I love the Tempest drum machine. I found the workflow incredibly frustrating when I first went
All the bands I really like – The Clash, The Beatles or Fleetwood Mac – have different vocalists and obviously different ideas
Yeasayer | In The Studio With
How do you ensure having two songwriters in the band doesn’t create conflict or an album of disparate ideas? CK: “It probably does sound a bit disparate, but with all the bands that I really like – I’m thinking The Clash, The Beatles or Fleetwood Mac – they have different vocalists and obviously different ideas and sometimes conflicting ideas. With The Clash I can really hear that conflict, more so than on our records – like, did Joe Strummer really wanna do this?” IWT: “I also think if we’re all bringing something creative then that in itself is going to bring some kind of cohesion. Whether that’s energy through struggle, compositional ideas or collating ideas, as long as the cream rises to the top.” CK: “If one person’s telling everybody what to do, it’s kind of strange to be calling it a band; it might as well just be called one person’s name.” 73
In The Studio With | Yeasayer
over to Dave Smith at his lab in San Francisco and saw it. It had a little screen and tiny little buttons, and because of that you’re able to start with one thing, quickly move, move, move, and then you’re like, I can’t get back – I don’t know how to undo! That’s so cool and so much fun.” IWT: “A lot of synth tones came from the Tempest and pitched, distorted drum sounds. It’s really cool to not have a specific programming language that is delineating what your kick drum, hi-hat and snare is, and I don’t know of any other drum machine that’s like that. Korg are reissuing a lot of these old, unattainable synths that are museum pieces, but at a much better price point.” Do you all use the same DAW? CK: “I started with Logic in 2000 when it was still part of Emagic and it was really frustrating. I was 18 and I didn’t know what the hell to get. I had Pro Tools for a while, but it was frustrating using their plug-ins, the way it dealt with MIDI and the dongle thing. I think Logic caught up and I like the interaction a lot, although sometimes it’s about what you like the look of. Within that, I use NI Maschine 2 – the studio version – UAD plug-ins and I’m big into Soundtoys. Now I wanna get iZotope’s Iris 2. It’s old, but I love anything whose stated goal is crafting bizarre, unattainable sounds that you didn’t know you wanted. I’m attracted to that and music where you’re asking, what’s going on? What’s this sound and what’s the world you’re in? That’s why electronic music is exciting and Rock bands are very unexciting.” IWT: “I think that’s the fun thing about combining the two worlds. Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere is amazing, but because it’s so amazing you tend to hear the same tone on a lot of people’s records. I’m just as guilty as anyone in saying I don’t need to do anything to that sound as it sounds great already.” CK: “Do you remember when the OP1 came out from Teenage Engineering? That little synth is mind blowing, but I’ve heard like ten records where it’s clear they’re using it. It’s such a classic, pure tone, but I guess there are some sounds that you’re never going to mind hearing.” What role does outboard play? AW: “The Eventide stuff – the H3000, is great. They seem to have been able to bridge the ability to use your studio gear with tour-ready pedals. I have these guitar pedals – although I guess they could be used for anything – and they seem to be as good as a thousand dollar rack of studio equipment. I use it on my demos all the time to tweak a sound or harmonise it using all these modulation effects.” IWT: “We like expensive vintage gear, or the super cheap. We used an early ’90s digital delay thing – the Effectron, that just sounded awesome. It’s just a $150 nothing box, broken in the most charming way. But the Space Echo and any tape-based effects units are always appealing to us.”
want to know more? Amen & Goodbye is out now. For the latest news and tour dates head to http://www.yeasayer.net
Yeasayer | In The Studio With
Did I read something about a storm wreaking havoc and destroying some of your gear? IWT: “It rained for like two to three weeks straight and did not stop. Here we are recording things and some of the stuff we did got messed up but we were able to salvage some of it. We thought about sampling that stuff that the tape machine saved and found we could create a new rhythm based on it and build it up again.” CK: “The studio is like two converted sheds, or one converted garage and a horse stable. You’d basically open the door where that tape machine was and during the storm there was a little river between two buildings that you’d have to cross. The goats were at the top and chickens would wander into the vocal booth at the back. It was funny that eight feet away from your vocal booth you could slide open the door and chickens would wander in. We did record the storm, but I don’t think we have any chickens on there.” 75
FM | PRODUCER’s GUIDE
INCLUDES VIDEO aND aUDIO VaULt.fUtUrEmUSIC.CO.Uk
Advanced synth editing and sequencing When we reviewed Novation’s Circuit groovebox in issue 299, we loved its tweakable interface and its fantastic sequencer. At the time, we noted that one of its few weak points was the slightly cryptic nature of its onboard sound design tools. Circuit packs in two polyphonic digital synth engines – based on Novation’s Nova range – which are controlled via eight ‘Macro’ rotaries. In its self-contained mode, these Macros are great for experimentally tweaking sounds but they’re somewhat limited when it comes to deeper editing of synth sounds. Fortunately, with the recent release of a software editor, that’s all changed. Created alongside developer Isotonik, the Max-based Circuit Editor allows users to hook the device up to a computer via USB and access every parameter of each synth’s engine and mod matrix. It allows patch changes to be saved into the device as part of a Session, or by overwriting Circuit’s built-in patches. Best of all, it allows users to create and edit their own Macro controls. The editor is available free, either as a MaxForLive device for Mac or as a standalone application for both Mac and PC. Over the next few pages, we’ll show you how to use the editor to go deeper into Circuit’s synth engine, and explore some advanced sequencing techniques. To get started, grab the editor here: http://bit.ly/1RgSuy7 77
Producer’s Guide To | Novation Circuit
Under the hood So what do the Circuit’s two synths look like? We asked Novation Product Owner Olly Burke to explain more about the device’s sound engine: “The synthesizers are based on our MiniNova synth engines. We’ve taken bits out so that we can fit essentially what is two MiniNovas and four drums and all the effects into the same box. Rather than having three LFOs and six envelopes, we stripped it down to two and three respectively. We’ve added Macros which give you a much more controllable and exciting way to play with the synth using only eight knobs.” That leaves two independent sixvoice synth engines, each with two oscillators offering an array of wave shapes along with shaping controls including Wave Interpolate, Pulse Width/Wavetable Index, Virtual Sync, Detune Depth and Density. The Mixer section, as well controlling how the oscillators are blended, allows Noise and Ring Mod to be introduced. There are two LFOs with a variety of wave shapes, along with a trio of Envelopes – one routed to the Amp,
one to the Filter and a third unassigned envelope for use with the Mod Matrix. The Filter itself is multi-mode and features a pre-filter Distortion. On the effects front, each synth has a Distortion section – with a range of types on offer, from analogue-emulating drive to bitcrushing – along with a Chorus and an EQ section. The Mod Matrix
and End Point. These settings allow different portions of the rotary’s range to control different parameters. For instance, a Macro can be set up to raise the filter cutoff during the first half of its range, and then boost the resonance during the second half. Alternatively, Macros can be set to control complementary parameters in opposite directions, allowing users to, for example, morph between oscillator shapes of effects types. By setting short distances between start and end points, it’s possible to set up ‘switches’ too, allowing the Macro rotaries to flick effects on and off, or make rapid sound changes. All these types of controls can overlap too, and with four destinations available, you can set up fairly complex sound shaping all controlled by a single knob. A Macro could be set up to simultaneously increase the depth by which an LFO controls the filter, while also boosting the filter resonance, and perhaps altering the LFO shape and adding a touch of distortion when pushed up to max.
It’s the eight Macros that offer the most sound shaping potential offers 20 modulation slots, each with two sources and a destination. It’s the eight Macros that offer the most sound shaping potential, however. Each rotary can control up to four different destinations at once, with adjustable Depth, Start Point
Using Circuit with external gear Even if you ignore its built-in sounds completely, Circuit is a handy tool to have on stage or in the studio. Let’s take a look… With two flexible 128-step sequencers onboard, along with MIDI In/Out and USB, Circuit is a great tool to use with external gear – be it hardware, soft synths or a DAW. Its pads are velocity sensitive, and surprisingly expressive when it comes to playing instruments too. If using the pads to ‘play’ an instrument – whether one of Circuit’s synths or an external instrument – remember you can enter Expanded Note View by hitting Shift and Note. This will hide the two sequencer rows at the bottom giving you four octaves (or slightly less in Chromatic mode) of notes to play across your chosen scale. Below, we run through three ways that Circuit makes a handy controller when hooked up to external gear…
Circuit comes with Save disabled. Before you do anything else, activate it by holding down Save and Shift when turning the unit on, or you won’t be able to store any of your work!
If you’re using Circuit to sequence external gear and don’t want to hear the builtin synths, turn them down in the mixer but don’t mute them – muting turns off the MIDI output too.
Don’t want to use Circuit’s Scale modes? Or sequencing the synths via a DAW or the MIDI input? Set the Scale to Chromatic to allow the full range of notes to be played.
Using Circuit’s sequencer to control external hardware is a lot of fun, and great for live use. Simply hook it up via the MIDI out and get sequencing. Synth one’s sequencer outputs to MIDI channel one, synth two’s to channel two.
Hooking Circuit up to a DAW, meanwhile, makes for an interesting, compact alternative to a standard MIDI keyboard. Its MIDI I/O allows it to act as a MIDI interface too.
Circuit’s eight Macro knobs are particularly well suited to controlling NI’s plug-in synth Massive, as well as Ableton Live’s Instrument and Effects Racks, all of which also feature banks of eight Macros. In Live, hit MIDI learn and turn one of Circuit’s rotaries to assign it.
Looking for new patches or fresh ideas? A good community should spring up around Circuit Editor users. Join Novation’s Circuit Owners Facebook group for starters: https://www.facebook. com/groups/ circuitowners
Novation Circuit | Producer’s Guide To
Setting up custom Macros with the Circuit Editor
Circuit’s Macros are hugely powerful sound design tools. Here’s how to get started with them…
Start by hitting Initialise Current Patch in the top right of the editor window to revert to a basic saw wave sound. We’re going to use one of the LFOs to add some movement to this basic sound and set up one of our Macros to control this.
In Slot 1 of the Mod Matrix, select LFO1+ as a Source and the Filter Frequency as the destination. In the filter section, set the Filter Type to Low Pass 24dB, turn the Frequency down to around 55 and set resonance at around 35.
Watch this issue’s video here: http:// bit.ly/fmpg304
We’ll set up Macro 1 to control how much LFO 1 modulates the filter cutoff. Set Macro 1 slot A destination to ModMatrix1 Depth. Turn the Macro slot Depth all the way up to 63. Now turn Circuit’s first Macro knob left to right to hear the effect.
Different areas of the Macro’s travel can be assigned to control different things. Let’s use the first two-thirds of the Macro to control the modulation depth, and the final third to control LFO speed. Lower the End Position of Macro 1 slot A to around 90.
Assign Macro 1 slot B’s Destination to LFO1 Rate and set the Depth to Around 30. Set the Start Position to 90 and End Position to 127. Try turning the Macro again, and hear how doing so now firstly increases the depth, then speeds up the rate.
We can use Macros to morph between sounds too. Turn the Chorus Level up full, then assign that as Macro 2 slot A’s destination with a Depth of -64. Set slot B’s destination to Distortion Level, with a Depth of 63. Now turn the Macro knob to morph between Chorus and Distortion.
Producer’s Guide To | Novation Circuit
Save Session And Patches
Play With Polyrhythms
There are two ways to save any sounds that you have created using the Circuit Editor to the hardware. Saving a Session on the hardware itself will capture any sound edits, along with all current sequencer info, drum patterns, effects and automation. This will keep your edited patch available for the current Session, but won’t make it available to other Sessions on the device. Alternatively, using Upload Patch To Circuit within the Editor will allow you to overwrite one of Circuit’s presets, making your synth patch available to all Sessions, but not capturing any sequencer or automation information.
Feel like your melodic lines stick too rigidly to 4/4 format? Circuit’s synth sequencers allow you to change the lengths of patterns individually. Try a simple 4/4 bassline on one synth using the full 16 steps, with an atmospheric synth sound on the other with the pattern length set to 12 steps, to create an interesting rhythmic offset. A bit of simple maths lets us create some creative patterns: eg a standard 4/4 phrase is made up of four 16-step patterns – 64 steps in total. Try accompanying this with four 12-step patterns and one 16-step, to create a complementary 64-step phrase but with a different rhythmic template.
Fill ’er up
Chords and melodies created in a DAW can now be bounced into Circuit’s bank of Patterns
Create Your Own Synth Editor
Restore The Factory Sound Bank
The ‘hidden’ synth parameters controlled by the Circuit Editor application are all editable via MIDI CC messages, so it’s possible to create your own editor using any customisable hardware or software MIDI controller. Obviously, replicating the entire functionality of Isotonik’s Editor would be tricky. Consider picking a few key parameters – Filter Freq and Resonance, or the Oscillator shaping parameters – and assign these to the device of your choice to give you instant control over specific areas of every Circuit synth sound without the need to dive into the Editor and reassign Macros. Grab the MIDI Guide at http://bit.ly/1SPFr5Z
As we’ve shown, the Circuit Editor is an essential tool for any owner. There is, however, the outside chance you might get a little carried away with it and end up saving over the bulk of Circuit’s presets, only to lament the loss of the factory sound bank. Fear not, as the Editor comes bundled with a sysex file containing all the original sounds. In the Editor, simply hit Load Bank From Disk, select the Circuit Factory Patches file (which will be .syx format) and Upload All Patches To Circuit. In the same way, you can save your own banks of patches to your computer’s hard disk and sub them in and out of Circuit as needed.
The latest firmware update – which should be available by the time you read this – allows Circuit to record MIDI data from its inputs, as well as output it. Perhaps the most interesting consequence of this is the fact that it means you can transfer chord patterns or melodies from a DAW into Circuit’s two banks of eight patterns. This has some handy implications for live performers. Say, for example, you’ve created a track in the studio using hardware instruments and are looking for a way to trigger these live without using a laptop. Simply record the chord or melody data into Circuit and hook up its MIDI output. Similarly, if you’ve got a sampled chord progression, bass or lead line you like the sound of, but want to try playing using one of Circuit’s built-in sounds, you can use something like Ableton’s audio-to-MIDI functionality to harvest the MIDI data, then ‘bounce’ it into Circuit for some instant inspiration. Just remember, if you don’t want Circuit to snap your MIDI to a scale, set it to Chromatic mode.
Novation Circuit | Producer’s Guide To
DIY chord mode and Macro triggers Circuit’s sequencer is great in its step-sequence and play modes, but with a little creative tweaking, you can make it do more too
Saving the Session will save your bank of chords, which can be used to trigger Circuit’s built-in synths, external hardware via the MIDI out, or your DAW via USB. Try changing the Scale to put your chords into a different key.
When in step input mode – ie without the play and record buttons active – each of Circuit’s sequencer steps can be manually assigned to trigger chords with up to six notes.
Alternatively, you can use the steps to trigger Macro changes. Press Record without playing any notes. Hold down a step and turn a Macro to save its final position to the selected step. By doing this you can input a sequence of automated Macro positions for any or all of the eight Macros.
To do this, hold down a step and press any note on the ‘keyboard’ (the top two rows of pads), to assign it. Play around with note combinations; if you change your mind about a note you’ve added to a chord, simply press it again to deactivate it.
Deactivate Play and hit individual sequencer steps – Macro positions will ‘jump’ to where they were in the automated sequence. Great for triggering quick-fire automation changes when using Circuit as a MIDI controller.
Try filling a number of steps with different chord variations (remember there are 128 steps available across all the patterns!). You’ve now got a bank of chords, each of which is triggered by pressing a single button. Try hitting various steps (without hitting Play) to hear them in action.
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highlightsâ€Ś 88 Allen & Heath ZED Series Mixers
98 Cableguys PanShaper
100 Sam Spacey Epica Bass
104 Aston Halo
Reviews | Make Noise System Cartesian
Make Noise System Cartesian | £1,899 One of the better-known names in modular synthesis assemble an intriguing new system aimed at the everyman. JoE Silva gets converted… WHAT is iT? Eight module Eurorack system offering multiple synthesis options
ConTACT Who: Make Noise Web: www. makenoisemusic.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Multiple synthesis options (Subtractive, Additive, FM, and Phase Modulation) 2 Affordable 3 Portable and easily expanded
here it was once fairly common for synth bods to have never laid hands on a modular system, the divide between those who have and those who haven’t shrinks daily. As pointed out recently in the excellent documentary I Dream Of Wires: “The Eurorack standard plugged in a whole new group of users… a generation raised on laptops and digital instruments who were looking for something fresh and, ironically, finding it in a form once thought obsolete.” So much of the post-NAMM excitement is now shifting to the modular world. We’ve actually heard that some manufacturers have to remain tight-lipped about what they’re planning to release, lest their ideas wind
up being ripped off by competitors. As DMX might say, “It’s about to get a lot less boutique-y up in here”. In the thick of this resurgence is Asheville’s Make Noise, who’ve been releasing modules and systems for the better part of a decade. And with the arrival of their System Cartesian the company have now deliciously lowered the price of entry while continuing to demonstrate why boutique synth modules can be so addictive.
3U high and rise Cartesian delivers a variety of synthesis options in one 3U (by 104hp wide) layout that’s spread across eight of their top shelf modules. Marrying a couple of powerful sound sources, the system also brings inventive sequencing and full
modulation to the package. The STO (as in Sub Timbral Oscillator) module is a full analogue VCO, while Cartesian’s other voice, the tELHARMONIC, brings its digital and additive harmonic vibe to the collection. Between the pair, the system has a total of six audio outs that can be patched as the basis for building some fairly complex sounds. The STO and the tELHARMONIC both sport FM inputs so that users can dive into that realm of synthesis as well. Cartesian starts off on the left with the WoggleBug, which can generate random voltages for the purposes of modulating your sounds. Just 10hp wide, the unit follows on from the Buchla world’s Source of Uncertainty module by providing not only stepped and smooth fluctuation but also ‘woggle’ CVs (a different kind of stepped fluctuation based on the decay of a sine wave). The WoggleBug can also operate as a clock and has a random gate burst output as well. Accompanying the WoggleBug in the Cartesian’s modulation scheme is Make Noise’s extremely popular MATHS module. So common are the requests for the company to swap it into systems that did not originally feature it, it was a smart move to include MATHS here. Because the module was designed to be useful in a variety of core modular synthesis techniques (lagging, slewing, adding/subtracting voltages, or delaying and changing the width of pulses, etc),
Make Noise System Cartesian | Reviews
it can be a highly educational element to have here in the System Cartesian. In terms of processing, the system sidesteps digital entirely and instead sees the inclusion of the 4hp slim LxD (Low Strike Duo), and its next door neighbour, the modDemix. LxD is the company’s analogue 12dB/octave low-pass filter and low-pass gate module, which offers users “simultaneous control over the amplitude and frequency spectrum of an input signal”. The modDemix can function as a VCA, ring modulator, and also provide the functionality of a voltage controlled mixer. Lastly, the Rosie handles the output side of the house, allowing your Cartesian to interface with your mixer, headphones or monitoring system. But where the system takes its name from is the Darth Vader black
The Noise Maker Make Noise founder Tony Rolando is so clearly passionate about synthesis that when he’s not directly demoing a particular feature of his kit, you can almost see the cartoon bubble over his head that reads: “I wonder what would happen if I did this?”. It’s that particular strain of wonder that brought
the System Cartesian into existence. “The core idea here was to present a small system that could do a lot of different types of synthesis, some all at once, and that had a full sequencer so that you could actually create melodic lines or percussive sounds. So we thought maybe we could do a
to denote when a ‘location’ (vice ‘step’) is reached. By accepting separate clock inputs for the X- and Y-axis, which generate a number from 0 to 3, René derives a specific coordinate for the
system that people would want and we started completely from scratch instead of just making this a ‘lite’ version of something like our bigger Shared System. It’s just going to be its own thing. And there’s a lot of functionality built in here. All of the core concepts of what I consider modular synthesis are represented.”
Size: 3U Total HP: 104 Utilised HP: 104 Expansion HP: 0 Includes 20 Ad Infinitum Patch Cables Includes power supply and AC Adaptor Dimensions:
546 x 130 x 89mm Weight:
way to approach sequencing, especially when trying to break up the doldrums of beat making.
Rational vs empirical Despite what might seem like only a handful of bits to work with, you quickly realise that the System Cartesian opens up tons of sound and sequencing options. The case comes already outfitted with a power supply, which is fed by the included AC adaptor, and to our ears powered up noiselessly and without any electrical hiccups. Make Noise also include a healthy array of
You quickly realise that the System Cartesian opens up tons of sound and sequencing options René sequencer module that uses Descartes’ (that’s right… the French philosopher/mathematician) coordinate system to create inventive patterns. Each of its 16 steps are denoted by the 4x4 knob grid which uses amber LEDs
sound to be mapped to. The associated 4x4 gold touch grid lets the user play the René in real time, stopping/holding a sequence at a particular note or regenerating the pattern’s starting point altogether. It’s a mind-bogglingly deep
Reviews | Make Noise System Cartesian
Pittsburg Modular Lifeforms System 201 $1,399 Based around two analogue multi-wave oscillators, this rig packs in a touch-sensitive keyboard, arpeggiator, trigger pads, and a sequencer into a Eurorack compatible set-up. www.lifeformsmodular. com
Doepfer A-100 Mini System 1,410 euros A single row of powerful modules by one of the best known names in Eurorack. Includes two of their A-110 VCOs, ring modulator, and a noise/random voltage generator. Also includes a MIDI-to-CV/Gate/Sync interface to tie you back to your ‘traditional’ gear. www.doepfer.de
Synthrotek MST System 84 $1,975 An east coast style system that adds dual envelopes, an LFO, dual VCA and a low-pass filter to its double VCO configuration. There’s MIDI-to-CV as well and a stereo output mixer. www.synthrotek.com
coloured cables so you can build up a fairly complex patch without feeling the immediate need for more. Using the variable shape (it includes sine and sub outputs as well) out of the STO’s triangle core provides a rich set of harmonics to drive some subtractive synthesis options, especially when
simultaneously. But if you’re looking to maintain the FM ratios of a sequence, going for the tELHARMONIC might be the preferred option. When using one of the three sources from the STO patched directly into the FM In of its digital neighbour, you’ll find that nonlinearities of those analogue outs can
During our all too brief visit with the System Cartesian we encountered no discernible stability issues with any of its modules. Make Noise doesn’t produce a MIDI to CV converter of its own but, despite having no external controllers or additional effects processors, we had no trouble losing ourselves for hours as we plumbed the depths of its sonic potential. There don’t appear to be any patch sheets for the system on the Make Noise site, but we believe they’re forthcoming since there are PDF templates for the company’s other set-ups already available. But even then we weren’t sure if we were 100% clear on how we’d come up with the sound we ended up chasing. Because, in a sense, even if you don’t have a complete grip on what you’re up to at a certain moment, the sound you’re hearing/feeling will absolutely let you know you’re right.
Once you’ve mastered Rene’s logic functions, your adventures with Cartesian are bound to expand pushed through the LxD and hitting it with an LFO from the MATHS module. The LxD’s 12dB per octave filter has a somewhat gentler slope that’s also slightly resonant and is capable of producing some very lovely tones. FM fun can be had by sequencing the STO and the MATHS
give the resulting signal a bit more of an unpredictable edge to it, unlike something you’d hear from a software instrument with a similar routing. If you’re just trying to create percussive sounds that are rich in harmonics then the MATHS and STO combo is a good FM solution.
The René Sequencer Because the René’s microprocessor is capable of logic functions, you can have the sequencer store patterns and it comes with eight sets of ‘snake’ coordinates pre-programmed. These are more predictable locations for the module to travel to using all 16 locations. But once you truly get your head around the René’s logic
functions your adventures with Cartesian are bound to expand. This took a bit of doing, but after we’d spent some time with the module’s manual, we were able to generate some fun and truly unpredictable grooves. You can store four groups of Stored Quantized Voltages (SQVs) alongside a scale, which gives you the
option of playing any of them back via the quantised CV output. One of our favourite things to do after programming René, was to come in and out of a complex pattern by hitting one of the touch pads and having the module briefly latch on a step to give our sounds some periodic structure. Worth the price of entry on its own.
EASE OF USE
A fantastic starting point for exploration into the world of modular synthesis.
Reviews | Allen & Heath ZED mixers
Allen & Heath ZED Mixers | from £95 Alex Blanco goes on a journey with two new portable mixers from Allen & Heath WHAT is iT? Portable mixer suitable for live and studio use with built-in USB interface and onboard FX
ConTACT Who: Allen & Heath Tel: +44 (0)1326 372070 Web: allen-heath.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Affordable, portable and well built 2 Built-in DI and USB interface makes the mixers very versatile 3 Excellent sounding effects on the 10FX
£95 ZEDi 10FX
ot so long ago, if you wanted an affordable low-noise, durable mixer for small band live performance and studio recording your only sensible option was the Mackie 1202VLZ (mk1). But now there’s a huge range and Allen & Heath’s ZEDs are a big part of that.
ZEDs cater for a variety of purposes, from powered PA to 32 channel four buss options. They’ve just updated the diminutive but durable end of the range with the ZED 6 and ZEDi 8 mixers, plus a substantial update to their acclaimed ZED 10. All come in regular and FX flavours and the 8 and 10 include a
built-in 24-bit 96kHz USB audio interface (2 in, 2 out and 4 in, 4 out, respectively). I’m testing the ZEDi-10FX and ZED 6 options here but the major components are the same throughout. ZEDi-10FX offers up four mono mic/ line channels (with phantom power) plus three stereo inputs plus those builtin FX. The four mono channels feature separate balanced/unbalanced TRS and XLR inputs while stereo inputs come via TRS jacks. The GSPre preamps have bags of headroom and could go toe to toe with a dropped pin in the silent stakes. A&H say they are “developed from the revered GS-R24” desk and they sound nice on everything I tried through them, even my own voice.
Ditching EMOs The first two channels feature a guitar mode, engaging high impedance DI inputs, which means less kit to worry about on the road and less chance of session guitarists/clients accidentally wandering off with your precious EMO 520. The next two channels have a Line/Pad button which drops the mic input level 20dB. There’s also a low-cut button (100Hz) for all four. Most controls are knob-based and the mono channels feature 5-60dB of gain (more than enough for sensible purposes), balance, mix level, FX-send, auxiliary send and a three band EQ. The swept-mid band of the original ZED 10 is now fixed and the centre frequencies (80Hz, 600Hz, 12kHz) are obviously tailored for live mixing. Allen & Heath’s MusiQ system for automatically
Allen & Heath ZED mixers | Reviews
adjusting the Q in response to the amount of gain keeps things smooth. The stereo channels aren’t so well-equipped, the first offering only high and low EQ and 15dB of gain, while the second and third offer only mix level (Stereo 2 shares a level knob with the onboard FX ). Also, considering the obvious appeal of this mixer to small bars and restaurants I find the absence of any RCA/phono inputs odd.
Grateful ZED The USB interface is class compliant for Mac users (PCs require a driver).
for Cubase LE for PC/Mac and Cubasis LE Mobile for iOS. The FX sound excellent with 61 presets split between delays, verbdelays, echo verbs, plate verbs, hall verbs, chorus/doublers, phaser flangers, symphony and gated verbs. There’s one controllable parameter for each and a tap tempo button. Unfortunately, when changing presets there’s a second or two interval until the next effect is engaged. It would also be great to be able to route the FX internally to a free channel for basic EQing of effects and to send the FX out via USB.
The eight LED stereo level meters are a step down from the original ZED 10’s 12, but it’s not traumatic. For monitoring there’s a stereo RCA/ phono pair with a level knob, and the signal can either be the main mix or headphone feed. And there’s a button to redirect the PFL monitoring signal to the main outputs, allowing control room monitoring in the studio. Apart from the mains input and switch, all controls and connections are housed conveniently on the top panel. The knobs feel tough and are bolted securely to the front panel but are tightly packed and can be difficult to turn. But if you’re buying this mixer you’re happy to trade size for a little ergonomics. The whole thing feels very solid and I know it’s portable as the first thing I did with this review model was put it in a carry-on bag and take it on a plane. Allen & Heath’s ZED series of mixers are all well designed, well built, well equipped and suitable for a variety of studio, live and mobile recording duties so it’s no surprise I like these two. The ZEDi-10FX is clearly the more versatile, but both accomplish the jobs they set out to do and at very reasonable prices for this level of quality. Truth be told, I find the older models easier on the eye, but in terms of features things have improved in many important regards. If either mixer ticks your particular feature boxes then you can trust them not to disappoint… for many years to come.
The whole thing feels very solid and I know it’s portable as the very first thing I did was take it on a plane Sound quality both in and out is excellent, with inputs wired into ST2 and ST3 and three output configurations: Mix1-Mix2-AUX-FX, Mix1-Mix2-MainL-MainR and, by default, Mix1-Mix2-Mix3-Mix4. It’s also compatible with iOS devices (via the camera connection kit). It’s a nice and versatile system suitable for studio or live show capture and, sensibly, the USB Mix outputs bypass mixer and EQ controls (apart from low-cut). And for bands just starting out, there are download codes
The master section is straightforward. 1/4-inch headphone monitoring features plenty of level. By default you hear the main mix. Engaging PFL for any channel cuts the main mix monitoring and you can also choose to monitor the FX Send, Aux Send or Stereo 3 in. Main outputs are XLR with a 60mm master fader, TRS Auxiliary out with a dedicated level knob, a TRS FX Out (from FX sends, not built-in FXwet signal) which cleverly doubles as a foot-switch input for muting built-in FX.
Stripped To The Bone The Zed 6 is essentially a bare bones version with four channels: two stereo with line/instrument inputs as balanced XLR or 1/4-inch jack (and those DI inputs). Then there are two stereo channels offering TRS jacks. All four channels feature input trim (infinity to +15dB), high and low frequency EQ, pan, level and headphone monitoring. The output section is almost as
simple, offering a 60mm master fader, 1/4-inch headphone jack and dial (loud but not too loud), eight-step stereo LED meters, a phantom power switch and 1/4-inch outputs. It also retains the internal power supply of the bigger models. By design, the small feature set and channel count greatly limit ZED 6’s range of applications. For solo live performers, for example, featuring,
say, a mic, guitar and laptop backing track feed, it’s a tough little option for stage and studio (although even then we’d suggest at least one set of phono stereo inputs alongside the jacks). But for most broader applications it runs out of channels and features pretty fast. And in the absence of any send/receive options, I’d suggest looking at the FX version.
inputs: 4xXLR, 4x TRS, 2 x stereo TRS pairs (incl. 2x DI, 4x 48v phantom) Outputs: Stereo XLR, stereo phono/RCA, 2 TRS EQ: 4x three band (high, mid, low), 1x two band (high, low) Fader: 1x master 60 mm Rotaries: 46 regular, 1 with push button Buttons: 24 Headphone output: Stereo 1/4” FX: 9 types, 61 presets USB audio: 4 in, 4 out (with three output configurations), 24-bit 96kHz Power: Mains 100-240v, 50/60Hz Dimensions:
333 x 275 x 97mm Weight:
Mackie ProFX12v2 £299 More channels, bigger metering and FX returns make this USB-audio enabled mixer with built-in FX a strong contender at a similar price. http://mackie.com
Behringer X1204USB £125 Behringer might not be held in quite the same esteem as Allen & Heath but it’s hard to ignore the features on offer at this ridiculously low price. behringer.com
EASE OF USE
If you’re in the market for a small mixer you’d be daft not to take a look at these durable gems.
Alesis MultiMix 8USBFX £115 An even lower price, but this time at the expense of some channels and features. But still features built-in USB audio and FX. alesis.com
Reviews | Koma Komplex
Koma Komplex Sequencer | £1,229 Koma deliver their much-awaited Komplex step sequencer. Bruce Aisher gets stuck in WHAT is iT? A MIDI and CV/Gate equipped step sequencer
ConTACT Who: Koma Elektronik Tel: +49 (0) 3091557028 Web: koma-elektronik.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Large number of CV and control options 2 Independent sequencers 3 CV Recorder
he last time I tested a piece of Koma Elektronik kit, I ended up with a diminished bank balance. So it is with both trepidation and excitement that I took delivery of their biggest slab of hardware to date – though calling the Komplex a slab pays a disservice to Koma’s overall design aesthetic. Taking its cue – as with much previous Koma gear – from early Oberheim hardware, the Komplex was smaller than I expected. This expectation was in part due to the sheer number of ports and controls, summarised neatly as – 87 minijack patch points, 64 sliders, 33 knobs, eight slide switches, 90 backlit buttons and two MIDI ports. It’s also significant
that there is not an LCD or LED display in sight. The Komplex, despite its name, is clearly intended to be straightforward to use. In fact, almost everything is covered in a single page of the included poster/user manual, though it does presuppose a familiarity with analogue interfacing. Could it really be this easy?
Step in time At its simplest, the Komplex can be thought of as four independent 16-step sequencers. Each of the sequencers has a fader and switch per step, with the faders setting the CV output level. Luckily, for those not wishing to make atonal music, these can be set to
quantise their output to chromatic, major or minor intervals (and with a choice of three voltage output ranges). The sliders themselves have a small LED built into each ‘handle’ which indicates the step that’s currently playing. In use, this reveals a potential downside to the cream front-panel livery – the LED indicators can be tricky to see at times under normal daytime lighting conditions. Beneath each CV slider is a Step Select button, the function of which varies with the status selected in the central Section Controls area. By default (orange LED), these determine which steps are active. Unlit steps are either skipped or held at the previous value, depending on the Skip Step Behaviour setting in the Mode Menu. Like other (expert) Mode Menu choices, this can be set per sequence via a set of unlabelled LED/switch presses. This may offer ultimate flexibility, but is potentially confusing, even if many are of the ‘set and forget’ variety. The buttons also allow you to choose the sequencer start point, glide and gate output status, alongside the step repeat feature. Glide time (portamento) is set by a dedicated knob or via the sequencer’s Glide input jack. Each sequencer has its own Speed (tempo) and clock divider controls alongside
Koma Komplex | Reviews
those for Sequence Length, Gate Length (time) and Play Mode (Forward, Reverse, Ping Pong, Ping Pong Reverse and Random). This is only the start of things, as almost all of these (and more) can be altered in real time by signals coming into the profusion of patch points. Each Sequencer outputs conventional (V/Oct) CV and Gate as well as Start Of Sequence, End of Sequence and Analogue Clock pulses. On the input side you get Clock In, Transpose amount, Sequence Length, Gate Length, Glide Time, Sequence Start Point, Start, Stop, Skip Step, Repeat number, Play Mode alongside Clock and Clock Division amount. Before we even get to the CV Recorder section (see right), it is clear that this potentially allows you to create constantly evolving sequences of incredible complexity given a bit of planning and a few metres of cabling. The central section of Komplex has a set of master sequencer playback
CV Recorder The CV Recorder allows you to record and play back CV signals separately from the four main step sequencers. There are seven CV Recorder banks. The first four send their output to the REC Out jacks in each of the sequencer patch panels. Under normal circumstances the playback speed is
determined by the clock speed of each sequencer but this can be overridden for a separate timing reference. Three other banks are available for use by the fifth CV Out in the central panel. Any CV recording has to be patched into the CV In here as well, with the speed of recording determined by another
clock input. There are buttons for bank selection, play and record – though the playback and selection elements can come under their own CV/trigger control. There are no sliders or visual feedback so this offers a different approach – and ups the number of independent CV outputs to nine!
CV inputs: Clock, Rec Clock, Transpose, Start, Stop, Skip Step, Sequence Start Point, Repeats, Seq Length, Gate Length, Play Mode, Glide, Division, CV Recorder (CV In, Clock, Start, Bank Up/ Down) CV outputs: CV Out, Gate Out, Start Of Sequence, End Of Sequence, Clock, CV Recorder CV Out (A, B, C, D and CV) MIDI: MIDI In, MIDI Out, MIDI Clock Out (1 trigger per quarter note) Power requirements: 12V AC power adaptor Included accessories: dust cover, manual and power supply unit Optional accessories: rackmount kit Dimensions
462 x 290 x 40mm controls. A notable inclusion is the ability to switch each sequencer to one-shot mode, where a sequence only plays once through before stopping.
to dismiss the Komplex, as it offers a good set of MIDI features and is capable of excellent results, even when using only digital control. However, at over £1,200 it is a considerable investment – particularly when pitched against units such as Arturia’s BeatStep Pro – though I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that the Komplex is poor value for money. Those wanting to explore simple step sequencing, however, can now opt for something like the diminutive sub-£100 Korg SQ-1, albeit with a much more modest feature set than the Komplex. Despite issues with the legibility of LEDs, and ease of use (in relation to the Expert settings in particular), I was lured in by the Koma Komplex, and will be loathe to send it back. In the end, for most, it will likely be a question of whether you can, or cannot, justify the investment.
You will need to dedicate plenty of time to get the most out of this amazing piece of hardware Koma karma The Koma Komplex certainly lives up to its name. It offers an amazing array of patching and control options, of which it is only possible to scratch the surface in the confines of a review such as this. In the shape of their new hardware Koma provide you with a way to almost completely rethink how you approach the use of a CV sequencer. Four instruments, each controlled by its own sequencer – easy. Are two of them MIDI-only – not a problem. Want to create new wave shapes? Feed an audio-rate clock into a Clock Input and ‘draw’ the wave shape with the sliders. Slow it down, and you have a custom LFO generator. Love to capture some modular-twiddling real time? Capture it with CV Recorder and send it to one of five different outputs. This complexity comes at a price though – both mental and monetary. You will need to dedicate plenty of time to get the most out of this amazing piece of hardware, though regular users of modular systems will likely embrace this as a positive point. Despite this, those who aren’t steeped in the world of analogue connectivity would be foolish
Arturia BeatStep Pro £165 The BeatStep Pro crams a lot into its slim frame – four CV outs, eight drum triggers, analogue clocking as well as strong MIDI (and USB) integration. www.arturia.com
Analogue Solutions Oberkorn 3 £600 A more traditional rack-based 16 step, three CV/two Gate channel analogue step sequencer. There are no buried functions here, so this approach can be more straightforward. analoguesolutions.com
EASE OF uSE
It is complex but it could be just what you need to free yourself from the dreaded screen and mouse.
StepPolyArp (for iOS) £9.99 There are numerous iPad apps for creating MIDI-based arpeggiated and step-sequenced patterns. StepPolyArp is a relatively mature example. This approach may be more appropriate if you are not laden with analogue gear. laurentcolson.com
Reviews | Antelope Orion Studio
Antelope Orion Studio | £2,345 With its multiple inputs and outputs and onboard DSP this could be the ultimate studio in a box. Stuart Bruce investigates WHAT is iT? A very comprehensive multi-channel convertor with 12 mic pres and much more
ConTACT Who: Antelope Audio Web: www.antelopeaudio. com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Incredible connectivity 2 Great sounding convertors 3 Onboard DSP
speCs I/Os: 12 mic pres, 16 analogue line outs, 2 headphone outs, 2 analogue inserts, 2 pairs of monitor outs (switchable for 2 sets of monitors), 2 re-amp outputs, 16 ADAT inputs and outputs, 2 channels of S/PDIF, USB 2 and Thunderbolt ports Sample rates: 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz
he idea of the complete digital studio in a box is something of a holy grail for the manufacturers of audio interfaces. A laptop and a portable interface may well give you the option of recording wherever you like but it’s still better to be able to treat and monitor a sound on the way in. If you don’t have the luxury of a rack full of mic pres and EQs then you can easily find yourself having to compromise on the sounds you set up and monitor as you play, as nobody wants to hear a latent sound in their cans and as soon as you have eight or ten channels of EQ and compression on inputs in a native system you will need to significantly up your buffer size. Antelope already have a few products with onboard DSP but the Orion has been designed with the musician or band in mind. Lets’s start with the physical features. On the front panel you have four dual XLR/TRS inputs, two independent headphone outs and two re-amping outputs. There is one control knob and then three switches dedicated to mic pre control and monitor switching, and then three soft switches. To the rear you get a further eight dual XLR/TRS inputs plus monitor A and B outs (TRS) and two
d-sub connectors providing line outputs 1 through 16. Digital connections include S/PDIF in and out, word clock in and outs and two ADAT inputs and outputs. Finally there is a screw-in connector for the external power supply and the Thunderbolt and USB sockets. So, plenty of connectivity and a sensible layout. Each of those front panel inputs can be mic, line or hi-Z (instrument DI), and the re-amp outputs are there too, as are the headphone sockets. For most applications those are the connections you will need to change regularly and having them on the front panel makes them instantly accessible. All of the connectivity needs to be managed somewhere and this is where the software comes in. I installed this on two machines – on my laptop it was very simple; on the studio computer I ran into trouble but Antelope’s Tech support were excellent and sorted the problems for me via Skype and Teamviewer. Good to know you have backup that works (and it’s free). The first thing you have to get to grips with is the routing matrix. This is understandably complex as there are a lot of connections to deal with. There are connection points for all physical ins and outs but also for the internal DSP
channels and the four internal mix busses. The flexibility this gives is huge but you do have to give yourself time to understand it or you can get into quite a muddle. On a tracking session you could set up all 12 mic inputs each running through its own DSP processor going to individual inputs of your DAW while having up to four separate latencyfree monitor mixes for individual musicians. In effect, this is like tracking through a recording console with the added flexibility of being able to save and recall the whole session. The DSP side of the system has a compressor, emulations of Pultec mid and full range EQs, a reverb and three guitar amp emulations. These amps are based around a Vox AC30, a Blackface Fender and a modern Hi Gain (think Boogie). The Pultecs are excellent and in tandem give you a great full range EQ. The compressor is powerful and quite coloured so it may not suit every application but, what it does, it does very well. The Amp emulations are also very good. They don’t sound particularly digital and, despite there only being three of them, they cover the full range of warm and clean through crunch and wild distortion. The quality of the mic pres and convertors is excellent as you would expect from a company with Antelope’s reputation. As with any piece of complex gear you are going to have to spend time to figure out how to get the best from it, but as the centrepiece of a music production system it will give you all the flexibility you need.
EASE OF uSE
The Orion is without doubt one of the most flexible and best featured interfaces we have seen.
Reviews | Spitfire Audio Olafur Arnolds & Samuel Sim
INCLUDES AUDIO l
WHAT is iT? Two separate libraries each building on the foundations of one beautiful sound source
ConTACT Who: Spitfire Audio Tel: 07909 843972 (Jonathan Miller, Miller Music and Media Ltd) Web: www.spitfireaudio. com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Two libraries of rare and distinctive delicacy 2 Sounds are as happy to lead from the front as they are to ‘blend in’ 3 Plenty of sonic variety from multi-microphone positions and ‘sound source sliders’
priCinG Olafur Arnalds’ Composer Toolkit:
Samuel Sim’s Chrysalis:
Olafur Arnalds’ Composer Toolkit & Samuel Sim’s Chrysalis | from £129 Two of Spitfire Audio’s newest collections build on the ethereal, evocative Enigma library. Jono Buchanan gets floaty with Chrysalis and the Composer Toolkit
wo of Spitfire Audio’s recent releases are designed to pick up on the excitement caused by the release of Enigma, Leo Abrahams' library of warped and wonderful guitar textures, which has found favour with producers and composers alike. Olafur Arnalds’ Composer Toolkit and Samuel Sim’s Chrysalis, like Enigma, offer the distinctive sound of two leading composers. The libraries are available
separately and both require the full version of NI’s Kontakt 5 sampler to work. Download for each library is made available after purchase from Spitfire Audio’s own download application and, once this is complete, all you need to do is point Kontakt at your chosen drive location and you’re good to go. Chrysalis is the slightly larger library of the two, occupying 15.86GB of hard drive space, while the Composer’s Toolkit requires 15.22GB when unpacked.
Icy textures Olafur Arnalds’ Composer Toolkit presents the felt piano as its primary sound source, though, as we’ll find out, there’s plenty more here besides. The main piano is available via two primary patches – a ‘Mixed’ treatment which blends the piano source with an evocative and delicate pad, and as a separate program, which offers individual microphone sources you can use independently, or blend together. These instruments are worth the entrance fee alone; composers, please note that you’ll lose hours on these two instruments, such is their seductive playability. However, it’s well worth exploring the full Composer Toolkit folder too, with sounds here organised into further sonic categories. The Organic Warps folder contains pads, atmospheres and textures designed to sit under other instruments, providing layers of delicate sonic richness, which are perfect for adding additional bedding to your productions. The Synth Embellishments folder goes further, offering a plethora of richer pads and instruments, many of which benefit
Spitfire Audio Olafur Arnolds & Samuel Sim | Reviews
from analogue synth circuitry passed through pedals and effects to wonky, dusty end points, giving this collection an incredible sense of character. The Tempo Locked folder is also highly useful (if a little sparse), giving you sequences and rhythms which locate your project’s tempo and offer highly playable patches which are equally happy driving things forward or slotting into busier arrangements.
A Chrysalis hatches At the core of Spitfire Audio’s other new library, Chrysalis, is the harp of composer Samuel Sim. Like Olafur Arnalds’ Composer Toolkit, this multi-sampled core sound is available in one folder of the Chrysalis library, called Initial Pupae, which features a number of harp articulations captured through a broad collection of mixable microphone sources. Things begin to take on a more experimental edge through the following folders, which use these harp recordings and mutate them via a number of processors and techniques.
Meet The Composers Samuel Sim is a London-based composer who shares studio premises with Spitfire Audio founders Paul Thomson and Christian Henson. The genesis of the Chrysalis library stemmed from wanting to have a ‘piano-like’ sampled instrument from which Samuel could compose and, as a prodigious harpist, creating a deep, multi-sampled harp library provided the
perfect foundation. His credits include scores for TV shows including Home Fires, The Mill and feature film Awake.
‘warped’. Finally there's the smooth as silk Cocoonase folder, awash with textures, ambiences and pads, which also features the twin-slider approach to allow you to create your own sonic balances. While the GUI is different to the Composer’s Toolkit, both libraries
Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds’ score for TV series Broadchurch is how UK audiences might know him best but, as one half of Kiasmos, he’s well established in the electronic community too. The Composer’s Toolkit follows his evocative Evolutions: Frozen Strings library for Spitfire. The main felt piano in this library is a 1904 Bechstein Grand, recorded in Olafur’s studio in Reykjavik.
accompany picture, they’re excellent ‘mixers’. In other words, if you’re looking to add extra flavour to existing sounds in your tracks, perhaps because you’re seeking additional weight and atmosphere, copying your existing pads and ambiences to these patches will add the depth you seek. Simultaneously, you’ll widen the stereo image of your mixes and increase the sophistication of your productions. Any quibbles? Based on the material provided, none; though the greedier side of me feels that some folders within the Composer’s Toolkit, in particular, could be more generously stocked with sounds. This is particularly true of the Tempo Locked folder, which has just five patches, beautiful though they all are. However, this is a minor criticism as both libraries are a joy to play and each patch inspires musical ideas in its own right. If you loved Enigma, you’ll love both of these too, irrespective of your chosen musical style.
So, is there interest here for EDM and Pop producers as well as composers? Without question, yes The Nympha Pedals folder provides patches created by recording the harp through a chain of guitar effects pedals en route to a Marshall JCM800 amplifier. These new recordings have then been sampled back into pads, textures and highly evocative, playable programs. The Metamorphosis Warps folder uses 23 sound sources blended via individual sliders, where the original harp recording is joined by a processed ‘version’ of itself, allowing you to create original sounds from ‘straighter’ to more
also offer internal effects aplenty, with EQ, Lo-Fi, Filtering, Chorus, Reverb, Delay, Distortion and Phasing all ready to be configured per program.
Composers only? So, are both libraries for composers only, or is there plenty of interest for EDM and Pop producers too? Without question, the latter. What’s so pleasing about both collections is that, while they will certainly appeal to composers seeking immediate, evocative tones to
Olafur Arnalds' Composer’s Toolkit: 4691 samples 22.7GB uncompressed WAV 15.2GB disk space required 30.4GB disk space required during install Samuel Sim’s Chrysalis: 7230 samples 30.5GB uncompressed WAV 15.9GB disk space required 31.8GB disk space required during install Both libraries require the full version of NI’s Kontakt 5
Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 $499 If warped organic sound sources are your thing, you’ll find plenty here, alongside a whole lot more to boot. www.spectrasonics.net
Spitfire Audio/Leo Abrahams’ Enigma £99 Leo Abrahams’ warped and manipulated guitar textures provide pads, atmospheres and much, much more via his Trussart guitar and pedal array. www.spitfireaudio.com
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Six separate microphone sources can be blended for the main harp patches in Chrysalis
To find two libraries content to seduce with such compelling, delicate charms is a delight.
Sonic Couture Geosonics £139 A more leftfield choice, as Geosonics’ textures, pads and atmospheres come from Chris Watson’s recordings of, among other things, wires and swamps. But there’s plenty of evocative playability here too. www.soniccouture.com
Reviews | Apple GarageBand for iOS
Apple GarageBand | £3.99/ Free with new hardware Apple’s doublepack of Mac and iOS music makers power up. As Daniel Griffiths explains, it might be time to think again about GarageBand… WHAT is iT? Not just ‘Baby Logic’ but a stunningly easy-to-use full DAW (on iOS and Mac) in its own right. And it’s FREE. Gulp!
ConTACT Who: Apple Web: www.apple.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Superb Logic-quality instruments and presets 2 Like Logic but with all the chaff stripped away 3 Live Loops on iOS is like a DAW and hardware controller in one
speCs Pricing: GarageBand is free to owners of recent Apple Mac/iOS products. For owners of older devices the app is a £3.99 download on each platform. Check the Mac/iOS App Stores for more details. Versions: Mac, Universal iOS
arageBand has always had a difficult time with music makers. ‘Not powerful’, ‘Too basic’, ‘For beginners’… But coming to this latest version for the first time in years I discovered a DAW that delivers the most powerful features around in a deceptively simple way. GarageBand opens with a simple set of templates for making popular tunes. If you’re the kind of songwriter or composer who just wants to get notes into a DAW with a great set of sounds, quantise with a click, and for everything to sound great in minutes, then GarageBand is the DAW you’re looking for. Everything flows and there’s zero time searching for features (changing synths, adjusting velocity, trimming note lengths) as it’s all just ‘there’. As a long-time Logic user, GarageBand has really opened my eyes as to how much I actually need those ‘powerful’ features. No lie. It’s a popular misconception that you can’t use plug-ins in GarageBand
but a couple of clicks reveals the familiar Logic-style AU tree letting you jack with any of your synths and effects. Smart Controls even does a great job mapping knobs to commonly used parameters. Quantising regions, building tracks in the arrange window, recording, editing… there’s even super easy-to-use automation (of the most granular parameters) that positively flies in use. Sure, ‘pro features’ are missing but time and time again I found that what I actually needed was right there, up front and obvious. On iOS, GarageBand has had a serious kick in the useful pants with the addition of Live Loops. There’s still the ‘fun’ ‘intro’ Smart Instruments (strum a guitar that’s always in tune) and a Tracks view akin to the desktop, but Live Loops is like a whole new DAW in itself. Instruments are replaced by Style buttons (EDM, Hip Hop, Dubstep etc) and the arrange view is replaced by a clip launcher akin to Ableton Live with an APC controller attached. Hit a region and it plays. Loops, in fact. Press
another and it does the same, in sync with the first. Press again to silence. Everything you do sounds great and it’s possible to turn in an amazing-sounding ‘hot knobs’ DJ performance with zero effort or practice. Of course, the feature only really comes alive when you start adding your own loops alongside the (superbly recorded, highly-numerous) presets but that’s easy enough. Loaded up, you could conceivably run an entire Ableton-style set with just your iPad. Or phone for that matter – but the extra room on the iPad Pro really comes into its own and the audio quality of the output can’t be faulted. If you’re an iOS fan then there’s no reason not to make GarageBand your next favourite app and, if only for fun, we strongly suggest you give Mac GarageBand another spin. You might not go back.
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GarageBand delivers the goods on mobile and desktop with surprising power and style. Give it another try.
Reviews | Cableguys PanShaper
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WHAT is iT? A dynamic ‘stereo width’ processor providing auto-panning and much more
ConTACT Who: Cableguys Web: www.cableguys.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Create varied, dynamic ‘pan sequences’ to apply to any audio or plug-in instrument source 2 Intuitive interface lets you customise pan curves easily 3 Multiple modes and ‘start point shapes’ to get you started
Cableguys PanShaper | €34 Cableguys’ PanShaper offers multiband, dynamic panning capabilities. Jono Buchanan gets pushed left, right and centre… speCs System requirements: PC: 2GHz CPU with SSE2 support, Windows 7, 8 or 10, VST host sequencer, 32 or 64-bit Mac: 2GHz Intel CPU, OS X 10.8 or later, VST or AU host sequencer, 32 or 64-bit Key features: Waveformbased modulation editing, Multiband split with spectrum view and 6dB or 12dB slopes, Independent modulation curves and stereo width controls for each band, Multiple Panning Modes, Sample accurate LFO, in sync with your DAW or in Hz
tereo placement of sounds has long been a source of fascination for mix engineers and producers. Long gone are the days when pan positions were considered ‘fixed’, with every sound locked in a position somewhere between ‘hard left’ and ‘hard right’. While DAW automation of the pan dial can offer good results, auto-panning plug-ins frequently offer more creativity if you’re looking to get elements of your mixes moving. Cableguys now enter this arena with PanShaper, which has plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
Throw some shapes Once you’ve downloaded PanShaper and its corresponding licence file, you’re good to go. The interface is effectively split in half, with the left-hand side displaying the incoming audio signal as a waveform through the middle, while settings for your pan choices are controlled to the right. PanShaper’s active nodes, controlling pan position, are displayed as a series of break-point envelopes superimposed on the waveform and these occur from
‘top to bottom’, so that you can plot movement through the duration of your pan sequence, before the sequence starts again by jumping back to the top. You can click on the graph to the left to create a new point, or select one of a number of starting shapes from the Basic, Edge, Rhythm and Creative menus on the right, whose shapes can then be tweaked to taste. Equally, if you create a pan sequence you particularly like, this can be saved to one of six user slots. Similarly, each point can either hard pan – represented as a block around a specific step of the sequence – or curve, to allow sounds to slide more sinuously from left to right.
Three pan bands All of this can be applied to three frequency-separated bands. In the upper right-hand corner, you’ll see ‘flags’ around a Mid band and adjusting these inwards will reveal separate Low and High bands. So, if you want to make a sequence sound’s mid-range move but keep its sub content panned centrally, you can, while DJs will enjoy panning entire tracks with different
settings applied to treble, bass and mid frequencies. Each band can be solo’d but what’s even better is that each frequency band offers a Width control, allowing you to make super-stereo effects in one band, with more contained movement assigned to another. A number of different pan Modes are offered too, with repeating sequences clocked to tempo in your choice of bars, alongside Retriggering and LFO modes, which can even use MIDI note triggers to spark PanShaper’s activities for one-off spot effects. There’s an awful lot to like here but what separates PanShaper from many of its competitors is its multiband functionality. That, coupled to its ease of use and wide range of creative possibilities, makes this a must-have for anyone interested in wide and dynamic stereo sound shaping.
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PanShaper’s multiband approach to auto-panning is worth the price alone but there’s lots more besides.
Violet The Atomic | Reviews
WHAT Is IT? Cardioid condenser microphone
ConTACT Who: Violet Design Ltd Tel: +372 5584628 Web: violet-design.com
HIGHLIGHTs 1 The rich low frequency response 2 Great for intimate vocals 3 Its solid but lightweight design
spECs Transducer: 21mm diameter true electrostatic condenser Polar pattern: cardioid Head amp circuit: class A discrete, transformer-less Freq response: 20Hz-20kHz Signal to noise ratio: 88dB A-weighted Sensitivity (1kHz into 1kΩ): 22mV/Pa Max SPl (for THd 0.5% into 1kΩ load): 134dB Head amp dynamic range: 128dB dimensions:
160mm (l) x 42mm (dia) Weight:
Violet The Atomic | €249 Everything is atomic; difference comes from arrangement and composition. So what’s different about this latest mic from Violet? Robbie Stamp gets particular
he Atomic is a neat, simple and robust large diaphragm condenser microphone that proves lighter than it appears. This is partly due to the transformer-less head amp design, which is class-A discrete, ie does not use IC op-amps. Coupling class-A amplification with a transformer-less output is beneficial for minimising distortion and phase shift, as well as mass, with the added bonus of lower production cost: a transformer worth putting in a microphone, where benefits to decoupling, impedance matching and S/N ratio outweigh additional weight/housing volume, can seriously change this value. The Atomic has no onboard controls, such as high-pass filter or pad, which again keeps things light, simple and cheap. The downside is that the internal headroom of the mic amplifier cannot be adjusted to prevent distortion in high-SPL, loud LF situations. The specs
for the Atomic are respectable in this regard, though I didn’t get to try anything louder than a guitar amp, which it handled without audible distortion. At the other end of the scale, the Atomic is a quiet mic and you’ll be as likely to hear your mic preamp noise floor as much as this mic’s. The Atomic does have a weighty low-end response and so the decoupling from impact transmission is minimal, making a preamp with low-cut essential, and I’d also recommend using a shockmount. The Atomic is billed as a ‘warm’ mic, which it certainly is. The richness of the low frequency response is pleasing on many sources, especially voice, and it does not appear to exhibit any unwelcome resonances in this region, ie the response ‘curvature’ is smooth. Frequency response is a relative property, and so this richness is balanced by a less forward mid frequency range. At the top of the range
there is a peak and this occurs just past vocal sibilance, though well beneath what many refer to as ‘air’. The result is an intimate sounding mic that really sits a voice forward of the room without over emphasising the ‘esses’ and breath. This can help add body to voices and acoustic instruments, as well as capture bass instruments without having to cut away unwanted upper frequency components. The flipside of this is that mid-focused sources need EQ-ing into shape, and resonant body instruments that need MF and HF presence can come across rather boomy, especially acoustic guitar. Playing with distance can help mitigate this. This is not an ‘open’ sounding microphone, a characteristic that in combination with its cardioid pickup pattern can be useful for vocal recording in reverberant spaces. Coupling it with a good quality reflection filter reaps rewards for a dry upfront vocal. Though the HF peak is out of the sibilant range, it does feel a little narrow, so if the source lacks harmonic content within this window it can sound rather dull. The Atomic is a well-made mic at a relatively low price. It has a distinct characteristic, which makes it a little limited, but it would definitely see regular action within a larger collection where a darker mic is often called upon to balance the prevalent mids/highs from other mics. Voice and bass instruments (acoustic and amplified) are the Atomic’s key areas, where proximity can be used creatively to bring out body and weight without reaching straight for the EQ. Conversely, liberal application of low-cut or high-pass filters will render a source without the harshness that can often accompany low cost in condenser microphone design. Finally, the Atomic, coupled with a quality preamp, can take a heap of EQ without breaking up, which is indicative of low/smooth phase shift, and that’s always good.
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By avoiding an ‘all-rounder’ design Violet have created a unique mic that can add weight to a recording.
Reviews | Sam Spacey Epica Bass
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WHAT is iT? A Kontakt-based sampled virtual instrument with broad-ranging filtering and MIDI control features
ConTACT Who: Time and Space Tel: +44 (0)183755200 Web: www.timespace.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 A large library of very varied samples 2 Broad-ranging filter and dynamic control 3 Excellent user interface and MIDI implementation
Sam Spacey Epica Bass | £89
Following up the excellent Epica, Sam Spacey moves into the Bass zone, with some rather surprising results. Stuart Bruce investigates… spECs
PC: Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10 (latest Service Pack, 32/64-bit), Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD AthlonTM 64 X2, 4GB RAM Mac: OS X 10.9, 10.10 or 10.11.1 (latest update), Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM Sample Library requires 7GB of disc space
he original Epica was understandably well received here at Future Music. With its broad range of samples and excellent user interface it covered a wide range of styles and genres. With this release Sam Spacey has narrowed his view and focused on the bass end. While this approach may seem more specialised, you will be surprised at the breadth of this new instrument. The first thing that you notice is the all-new user interface. There are three basic pages: Main, ARP and FX. Main is divided into four sub pages which are as follows… Amplitude gives you a comprehensive AHDSR envelope and also allows for velocity control to Startpoint, Filter and Amplitude. Modulation has a pitch envelope plus pitch and start point modulation, including portamento. Then comes the Filter section with seven different filter types including Vowel and Formant and these are controlled by an ADSR envelope with a key track option. Finally, there is an LFO section with three separate LFOs for pitch, filter and
amplitude. Each of these is completely independent, allowing for some very comprehensive modulation control. The ARP section is powerful with plenty of options for manipulating key, scale and range. I personally get quite frustrated with some more complex arpeggiators – perhaps something to do with being an old step time kind of guy – but this one is fun and lets you get in there and really move things around. That said, I would like to have a bit more feedback from each individual control, perhaps via a pop-up display as you adjust. Sometimes you just want to write a number down.
sounds. All the sounds are built from samples of real analogue synths, nothing virtual here, and they are characterful and powerful. Sam Spacey has gone out of his way to ensure that every sample has been recorded with a bespoke EQ and compression. He has then built the patches with his own suggestions of FX from the FX rack and you will find that the Mod wheel always does something special to the patch. Add to that the filtering and modulation possibilities within Epica Bass plus Kontakt’s simple way to assign controllers and you have a very powerful set of sounds, easily controllable and programmable. The only thing I might question is the use of the word Bass as, although I found plenty of great bass sounds, many of these patches are just as at home being used for pads, leads and rhythmic parts. Add to that the power of the filter and mod sections and the sound design possibilities open up too. Great stuff.
The last page is for FX. These include the latest Native Instruments emulations of the 1176 Compressor and SSL EQ along with a Flanger, Chorus, Bit Crusher, Delay and a Convolution Reverb. Straight out of the box there are literally hundreds of great sounds here. There are simple monophonic basses right through to big layered polyphonic
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Well thought-out, highly controllable and user friendly, and packed with usable sounds.
Reviews | ROLI Seaboard Rise 49
ROLI Seaboard Rise 49 | £949 The Rise just got two extra octaves! Dan ‘JD73’ Goldman looks at ROLI’s latest Seaboard model INCLUDES AUDIO l
WHAT is iT? 4-octave slimline MIDI controller featuring silicone multi-dimensional ‘keywave’ keyboard
ConTACT Who: ROLI Tel: +44 (0) 2078129985 Web: www.roli.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 The extra two octaves increase playability and practicality 2 Offers an innovative new approach to keyboard playing/sound triggering 3 Solidly built and more slimline compared to other 4-octave controllers
ast year I was very impressed by the Rise 25, ROLI’s more affordable version of their flagship Seaboard Grand, and I again commend any company that are brave enough to attempt the reinvention of the standard keyboard. The only real downside was its 2-octave keyboard but this is addressed with the Rise 49. I’m really digging the current crop of 49-note keyboards (Prophet-6/JD-XA etc) as they strike a nice balance between portability and playability and the Rise 49 scores highly here due to its low profile, portable, yet tough design (though it remains to be seen how the keywave sensors and surface will stand up down the line). Like the Rise 25, the left side houses connections for a sustain pedal, an external power adaptor and two USB connectors (DIN MIDI via a breakout cable would have been great too). The Rise 49 can be powered via USB, an external power adaptor or by the built-in rechargeable battery (charges over USB). One of my criticisms of the Rise 25 was it relied on being tethered to a computer but, now that ROLI have their own Bluetooth app ‘Noise’, you can go fully wireless with the Rise range and any iOS device (no support for Android currently). I love that you can now roll
up to a gig with any Rise model and an iPhone/iPad and have a fully selfcontained wireless rig. ROLI also now include a bespoke soft carrying case with the Rise 49 (Rise 25 came with just a polystyrene box), although you’ll still need a full flight case for touring. Setting up the Rise 49 is a breeze – register at ROLI’s website, create your user profile on the MY ROLI section, confirm your email and download the content for PC or Mac (or grab the free Noise app from the Apple App Store).
You’ll then receive the software manual, the MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) capable Equator sound engine software and ROLI’s Dashboard App for setting up the Rise 49 from your computer’s desktop.
Rise and shine On the left of the Rise’s front panel are a combined mode/power switch and white backlit performance controls. The switches/sliders are made from soft black silicone rubber (like the ‘keywaves') and are smooth/grippy. The power switch changes colour to denote the operating mode (Expression, MIDI or Bluetooth) and there’s an assignable XY touchpad for controlling multiple sound-shaping parameters in Equator or Noise (or it can control MIDI CCs for other connected DAW software/hardware MIDI instruments). Above this are three touch faders with backlit level strips which take on MIDI CC duties in MIDI mode and control three of the Rise’s ‘dimensions’ in Expression mode – Glide, Slide and Press(ure). Above these is a switch for
ROLI Seaboard Rise 49 | Reviews
changing presets in Equator or Noise and this can also double as a MIDI program change switch. The Rise’s five ‘dimensions’ are key to the Rise’s uniqueness. Strike = MIDI velocity; Press = aftertouch which can send channel or poly MIDI messages so that you can affect all, or each note in a chord individually; Glide = left to right finger movement for vibrato/glissando; Slide = the vertical movement of your fingers up/down the keys (great for adding filtering/tonal changes); and Lift = lifting your fingers off the ‘keywaves’. The Rise 49 uses the same keyboard as the Rise 25 (albeit two
octaves longer, allowing you to play full chords and basslines simultaneously) and it’s made from high-quality non-toxic silicone rubber which is soft yet resistant, plus smooth and rubbery! The ‘black’ keys have white stripes down their centres for a quick visual reference point but all the keys are narrower than on a standard piano keyboard. While it’s great that the black keys extend down all the way to the front edge of the white keys in a narrow ridge (so you can slide smoothly from a white key to a black key), this will likely throw off ‘standard’ keyboardists and it does take some getting used to. As a
bonus, the strips of space above and below the keys can be used for pitch slides and glissandos too. Having five dimensions of touch available simultaneously via single/ multiple keys (plus all the assignable left panel control) lets you achieve sound-shaping that simply can’t be achieved with a standard keyboard and this is the Rise’s key selling point. The ‘keywave’ keyboard works well for most sound types, though you do need to adapt your technique compared to a standard keyboard – the biggest obstacle is the white keys being narrower than the average finger (due to the black keys extending forward so far) and consequently you need to play chords very accurately and in a more claw-like fashion with the tips of your fingers in order not to hit the wrong notes (although it’s easier to play monophonic lines more cleanly). £949 is a fair price considering the technology onboard, plus it’s built in the EU and the new Noise software is very capable. For anyone bored with standard keyboards, the Rise is an exciting option that brings to life any sound type and I feel the future of the keyboard is in good hands with ROLI. However, now that I’ve spent time with both Rise units, I feel that alternative models with key spacing matching standard keyboards would expand the appeal of the Seaboard ranges greatly and simultaneously eliminate the need for keyboardists/pianists to adapt their playing styles/techniques.
The five dimensions of touch allow sound-shaping that simply can’t be achieved with a standard keyboard Bring The Noise As well as the Equator software, the Rise 49 ships with an 8-track cutdown version of Bitwig; but the real breakthrough is the Noise app which can work standalone on an iPhone/iPad, or over Bluetooth with any Rise model. Pair Noise with the Rise on your iOS device and you have a self-contained portable set-up. Latency between
hardware and iOS devices is minimal and 25 quality sounds are included, with additional sound packs available via in-app purchases. The Noise interface on your iOS device looks just like the Rise hardware and you have all the same controls that are found on the Rise hardware’s performance panel, though there’s no
way to deeply edit sounds at root level (as you can with Equator). For those with the iPhone 6S you can use 3D touch for pressure (aftertouch) which is neat, though on earlier iOS devices you are limited to Glide and Slide and also there’s no velocity sensitivity (Strike). Regardless, it’s great to get a free virtual Rise and it’s fun to use.
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The extra two octaves and wireless capability with the Noise app make this an appealing package.
Hardware: 49-note (4-octave) ‘keywave’ keyboard, 2 touch ribbons, 5 dimensions of touch, 3 touch faders, Octave Switch, Power/Mode Switch, Preset/Program Change Switch I/Os: Continuous pedal input (1/4” jack), USB B port (MIDI out and power), USB A port (for charging peripherals), 9-12V 2A DC port Internal battery Full MIDI compatibility over USB and Bluetooth System requirements: OS X 10.8+ / Windows 7+ / iOS, Intel Core i5 2.5GHz or faster recommended, 4GB RAM, 2GB available disk space for Equator installation Included accessories: Equator and Bitwig 8, ROLI Dashboard for tweaking settings, Bespoke carrying case, USB cable Dimensions
834 x 210 x 22.86mm Weight
ALTERnATiVEs Haken Continuum £5,529 The Continuum (like LinnStrument and the ROLI Seaboards) features a continuous touch surface with several touch dimensions for controlling MIDI instruments but it also has its own sound engine onboard. www.hakenaudio.com
Roger Linn Design LinnStrument £1,249 Roger Linn’s innovative and wearable LinnStrument offers several touch dimensions like the Rise but, instead of employing a keyboard, it uses 200 multi-touch square pads for notes and MIDI CCs. www.rogerlinndesign.com ROLI Seaboard Grand Stage £2,499 61-note version of the Seaboard Grand, featuring 3D touch (though no Y-axis like the Rise). Equator runs natively in the hardware and there are two pedal inputs plus balanced audio outputs. www.roli.com
Reviews | Aston Halo
Aston Halo | £199 The Halo wouldn’t look out of place in Prince’s Paisley Park studio, but can it help isolate the funk? Robbie Stamp finds out WHAT is iT? Reflection filter
ConTACT Who: Sonic Distribution) Tel: +44 (0)845 500 2 500 Web: www.astonmics.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Reduced proximity effect 2 Depth of isolation 3 Light enough for most mic stands
speCs Key features: PET felt construction. 360 degree filtering design. ‘Easymount’ hardware.
he Halo took me straight back to a ’70s armchair I loved as a kid: a purple egg-shaped swivel chair which semiblocked out the sights and sounds around you. Luckily Aston Microphones’ Halo reflection filter is smaller and lighter, so it provides little extra challenge to a mic stand. The ridged moulded acoustic absorber material, covered with a coarse felt, is not only light, but remarkably rigid; this makes a change from the regular foam affairs that just collect dust and a variety of vocalists’ oral ejectamenta! The metal mounting attaches to the mic stand via a 5/8-inch threaded socket. The slotted mount rail allows the Halo to slide back and forth as well as swivel, while the mic mounting bar, which is effectively static with regard to the mic stand, can be raised/lowered ~125mm. The ~100mm travel of the Halo along the slotted rail, in conjunction with rotation of the mic
mount means a mic can sit well proud of the reflection filter as well as be buried right at the back, depending on how much you need to protect the mic. For mic mount positions heading further into the Halo the available distance from the bottom of the mic to the slotted rail can be an issue for the mic cable and XLR plug, though I found moving the mount to one side alleviated this problem for larger mics. Though reflection filters such as this favour side address mics (large diaphragm condensers and ribbons), there is enough depth and rail room to use end address mics (ie dynamics), though they tend to poke further out of the Halo and reap less of the side-spill protection benefits. The most impressive quality of the Halo is its sonic neutrality. Placing any (semi) solid object close to a microphone, especially those with cardioid and figure-eight polar patterns, tends to seriously affect tonality,
whether the intended source is close or at a distance. While working with the Halo I found that it had little effect on the sound of distant sources, just their amplitude when off axis (ie blocked by the Halo). This bodes well for usage in multi-source recordings where tonal (phase) shifts in bleed can really make it hard to balance a mix. Of course the raison d’etre of the Halo is close sources, in particular the human voice. Its effect is two-fold. Firstly the source is absorbed, or not reflected back into the rear/sides of the mic, in a way that appears to limit proximity effect, which allows for an up close address to the mic with less marked LF rise: this was both surprising and pleasing. A closer address of the mic increases the ratio of source to background level, further ‘drying up’ the sound. The second part of the effect is more obvious in that the Halo protects the rear and sides of the mic from the room, further increasing the ratio of direct source sound to the mic. In a bright room the noticeable loss of sibilant reflections is clear, making mix adjustments a lot easier. In the days of heavy compression, a subtle room sound can quickly rear up as a monster problem. Though the Halo is most suited to vocal usage, I find it works well with acoustic guitar, especially considering the proximity effect behaviour. It is well worth playing with the mic depth into the reflection filter as this can have a ‘drying out’ effect – a little room helps acoustic instruments live in a mix. The Halo is more expensive than many similar products, so it does need to trade on quality over value for money. The combination of off axis neutrality, seemingly reduced proximity effect and lightweight construction means it does achieve this. If you regularly record in a reverberant space which you can’t/don’t want to alter, or you operate a mobile recording set-up, the Halo will serve you well.
EASE OF uSE
It filters reflections effortlessly, allowing vocals and instruments to get right up on the mic.
Focusrite Clarett 4 Pre | Reviews
Focusrite Clarett 4 Pre | £500 With their new Thunderbolt interfaces Focusrite combine high-quality audio circuitry with super low latency. Stuart Bruce gets up to speed WHAT is iT? A small format 8 in/4 out Thunderbolt recording interface with ultra-low latency
ConTACT Who: Focusrite Tel: +44 1494 462246 Web: uk.focusrite.com
HiGHLiGHTs 1 Great sounding mic pres and line inputs and outputs 2 Excellent user interface, both physical and software 3 Very low round trip latency
speCs System requirements: OSX 10.9 Mavericks, 10.10 Yosemite or 10.11 El Capitan Supported sample rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz All inputs (mic, line and instrument) Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz +/-0.1dB Dynamic range: 118dB (A-weighted) (Instrument 116dB) THD+N: 0.001% Line & monitor outputs Dynamic range (line outputs): 119dB Dynamic range (monitor outputs): 117dB Headphone outputs Dynamic range: 116dB
ocusrite have a number of excellent small format interfaces but with the new Clarett range of Thunderboltonly units they have taken advantage of higher data transfer rates to get the latency as low as 1.67ms on the round trip. This means you can potentially set your DAW buffer size higher and have more processing power available, even when monitoring through the system. There are four Clarett interfaces in the range, the largest being the 8X. Here we are looking at the 4. The first thing you notice is its compact size. It’s roughly two rack units high and about half a rack unit in width. The front panel hosts four Dual XLR/ TRS sockets, each with independent level control, a large monitor control level pot and two smaller headphone level pots with corresponding 1/4-inch sockets. Nice and simple and all obvious. The only extra items are two phantom power switches which put 48 volts to channels 1 and 2 or 3 and 4 respectively. Next to the first two gain pots are two LED indicators, one to show if the input is switched to
Instrument (Hi Z) and the other to show if the Air circuit is enabled, channels 3 and 4 only having the Air indicator as they cannot be switched to instrument inputs. To the rear are four extra line inputs and four line outputs (all on 1/4-inch TRS), MIDI in and out, the Thunderbolt port, S/PDIF in and out and an optical input. Power is connected by the ubiquitous wall wart and that is it. Neat and compact, the pots feel positive in operation and the unit feels substantial despite its size. Download and install the Focusrite Control software mixer, launch your DAW software and you are ready to go. I started by plugging in an electric guitar to channel 1 and pulled up an instance of Amplitude. The surround of the level pot lights up, green when there is level present, yellow as it gets hot and red when it overloads. Normally I just want a meter but this is an intuitive indication of what is going on so setting a level is straightforward. Popping over to the controller software, the mixer page is very simple. You can set up four independent balances selected by the boxes to the left-hand side. These are
Monitor out (line out 1 and 2), headphone 1 and outputs 3 and 4, headphone 2 and lastly for S/PDIF. The mixer itself is very simple consisting of up to eight inputs and eight DAW returns (which you can gang together as four stereos). So balancing direct signal to DAW return is very simple. In my case I had no direct signal going to Monitor as I wanted to hear the sound of the Amplitude instance in Pro Tools. My buffer was set to 256. With my usual USB interface this would have meant a small but noticeable latency but with the Clarett it was fine – no slight latency pulling me out of time and still with enough buffer to get some reasonably serious plug-in action going. Moving on to microphones and an acoustic guitar and vocal, the first thing that struck me was the quality of the mic pres. They sound very good, better than I would expect at this price. Switching in the Air circuit adds a little presence to the sound and meant I had less need to reach for an EQ. Air actually changes the analogue circuit of the mic pre so you really are affecting the source signal, not just doing something in the digital domain. Finally, the lines, the monitor and headphone outs all sound great, comparing favourably with units costing far more, making the Clarett excellent value for money.
EASE OF uSE
An excellent unit that punches well above its weight in audio quality, functionality and ease of use.
FM | MINI REVIEWS IceGear Mersenne | £7.99 http://icegear.net/mersenne
Mersenne is a polyphonic melodic percussion synth, which may not look like your average FM synth, but boy is it fun and easy to use. It’s made up of three sound sources: Tone A, Tone B and Noise. The signal path can then be mixed into the Resonator for extra resonance and grit, then finally to the Effects, which feature Reverb, Delay, Chorus and a Filter. The workflow is very intuitive and the results extremely satisfying. Dialling all the controls down to zero and starting from scratch, you can slowly build your sounds, starting with real glitchy, minimal pops, and opening up to some epic pads. All your classic metallic FM tones are there, but with bags of character. IceGear have really struck gold with Mersenne in my book – it’s percussive focus sets it out from the rest and you shouldn’t hesitate in downloading it now. Simon Arblaster
PEDALpUNK | $399 www.pedalpunk.com
TommyD 808 Whisky | £32 http://808drinks.com UK producer TommyD has launched his own brand of Scotch inspired by Roland’s iconic TR-808. Its website describes it as “the sub bass of drinks” and we have absolutely no idea what that is supposed to mean… (It’s inaudible via laptop speakers? Best mixed using a spectrum analyser?). Still, we took a bottle to the studio and consumed the best part of it during a rigorous drum machine jam session. Last thing we remember is we’d created inarguably the best Minimal Techno track of all time. Sadly we blacked out soon after and turns out we forgot to hit record. In conclusion: quality studio fuel. Recommended! Glenn Morangie
PEDALpUNK comes from US musician and producer Scott Eric Olivier. It’s described as an analogue interface for connecting guitar effects pedals to a computer, although the ‘interface’ part of that is perhaps a little misleading as it doesn’t handle any A/D conversion. In fact, the device is closer to a DI box that’s specifically designed for use with effects pedals. Similar to something like Pigtronix Keymaster, it’s main use is converting an unbalanced signal into a balanced one in order to maintain audio quality between an analogue effects loop and an audio interface. It offers a single XLR/1/4-inch jack input, and separate XLR and 1/4-inch jack outputs for connection to a computer or recording device. On the other side there are 1/4-inch Send and Return connections. On the top panel you get level controls for the Send and Return, along with a Focus knob, which adjusts the impedance of the signal at the Send jack. There’s also a switch for reversing signal polarity. In all, it’s a handy tool for those wanting to run sounds through stomp boxes without the worry of unnecessary background noise. Conversely though, when pushed, the pedal has a secondary function of acting as a nicely warm distortion effect. It’s not an essential bit of kit, and it’s very pricey, but it fills its niche well. Si Truss
Mini Reviews | Reviews
Korg Gadget 2.0 | £29.99 www.korg.com/uk Korg’s iOS synth studio gets its most significant update since its launch, which the company are codenaming ‘Mountain View’. Front and centre of the new features is the fact that Gadget is now a universal app, meaning that a single purchase will run across both iPhone and iPad. On the whole, the iPhone implementation has been handled very well. Unsurprisingly, some functions become slightly fiddly given the smaller interface – inputting notes on the piano roll can be a little awkward and it can be difficult to accurately hit the Solo/ Mute buttons in the mixer window. For the most part though, Korg have done an impressive job of adapting Gadget to fit multiple screen sizes. The app runs surprisingly well on my two-year-old iPhone too, allowing for a decent number of Gadgets and effects to be added to a project before it all becomes too much for the device. In general, it’s great being able to have Gadget on a phone – with its
accessible interface and easy export to Ableton Live, Gadget has always been a fantastic sketchpad for ideas, and having it in a truly pocketsized format makes it an unbeatable tool for starting tracks on the go. Support for iPad Pro has been added too, for those who wish to go in the complete opposite direction and enjoy the more spacious experience of using Apple’s largest touchscreen device. There are other new features too. There’s now EQ and compression insert effects available for every mixer track. An arpeggiator and chord mode has been added to every polyphonic Gadget instrument. Various smaller tweaks have been implemented throughout too (such as a handy undo/redo). In all, Gadget remains one of the best mobile music making experiences. An essential download! Si Truss
Loopmasters Man Vs. Machine| £34.95 www.loopmasters.com The pioneering German electronic outfit, Kraftwerk, blazed a trail ever since forming in Düsseldorf in the early ’70s. They made revolutionary music with machines, finding new rhythms, harmonies and sonics that would later take root in everything from Rap and Techno to Electro and House. Loopmasters have revisited their computer world to bring you a rewired retrospective of the synthesized sounds behind this iconic band and their defining work. The body of this 2.25GB sample pack is made up of 748 samples, comprising musical loops, one-shots, drums and pads. You’ll want to check the synths out first, though. The broad selection of loops come in all the major keys and run from 110-120bpm. You get a considered balance between choppy basslines and smooth leads and arpeggios, all fizzing with retro/future tension. Also included are some trademark Vocoder vocals, a nifty batch of Reason drum kits and over 50 patches for NN-XT, Halion, SFZ, Kontakt and EXS24. Robot rock! Roy Spencer
Copy Paste Soul – Deeper Shade of House | £23.90 www.samplemagic.com Jim Rivers, aka Copy Paste Soul, has been making waves with his WAVs over the last two years. His left-ofcentre productions – full of classic Detroit as well as contemporary UKG and Drum ‘n’ Bass influences – have been getting caned by everyone from Laurent Garnier to Annie Mac. Deeper Shade of House is made up of the kind of bass-heavy, broken beats that made his Pong EP such a winner. The low-end troubling grooves are designed to soothe, as the jackin’ drums remind you of the type of tracks that got you first dancing. From there on out the balance is kept between sweet memory sounds, and dangerously modern workouts. Perfect if you’re looking for a retro mood with an upfront sheen. Roy Spencer
Loopmasters Undercover Funk Vol 2 | £29.95 www.loopmasters.com Undercover Funk Vol 2 feels like it’s drawing its tone from the moodier end of the Blaxploitation genre. Over the course of its 25 construction kits you’ll get the kind of live bass, percussion, drums, guitars and synths that should be soundtracking the
shiftiest scenes in Shaft. Each folder has key and tempo information upfront, and comes with its own movie scene-inspired title to clue you in to the mood of the loops inside, with names like ‘The Plant’, ‘Hostage’, and ‘The Clock’. The quality of the playing is top-notch – the grooves are loose and expressive and feel vintage, while still punching through. And the ‘Treated Beats’ folder full of processed drum loops, adds a modern touch. Roy Spencer
BL3R Jungle Madness Vol 1 | £17.99 www.soundstosample.com If you’re looking for tearing Amen breaks and rolling D ‘n’ B basslines then jog on. This is a different kind of ‘jungle’ we’re talking about here. In fact, it’s straight-up EDM, but with insanely menacing tribal drums, wild animal sound effects and the kind of white noise sweeps and searing synth sounds that can give you a nose bleed just talking about them. Heavily inspired by the music of upstarts like Wiwek, this collection wants to turn the club into the Amazon. Imagine if Skrillex did the soundtrack to the next King Kong movie and you’re halfway there. The BL3R sound design team have outdone themselves here. The bass has a spatial resonance that gives you goose bumps, and the drums feel like iron fists in velvet gloves. Roy Spencer
Shaman Stems Acid House | $18.95 www.primeloops.com Shaman Stems will sort you right out, matey, with their latest Acid House sample pack. As you’d hope, it’s full to bursting with the kind of euphoric, warehouse vibes that will have you digging out your white gloves and Vicks all over again. It’s 100% analogue so each and every bleep and beat has been wrung out of a who’s who of vintage Dance music machinery. Spiffy sound banks pulled from classic sequencers from Korg, Boss and Roland all make appearances, as do some proper old-skool drums, and dreamy Orb-like pad sounds. Rounding off the pack are some suitably glitched-up vocal samples. The quality throughout is superb, and it feels like everything has gone through a meticulous chain, so these iconic bits of kit get new life breathed into them as they are distorted and processed through the outboard gear. All in all, well worth a punt. Lasers, to reach for, not included. Roy Spencer
FM | ADVICE
How do I recreate the sound of old-school samplers in software?
Although not many of us would like to go back to the days of tiny displays, laughably limited memory and seemingly endless menu diving, there’s no denying that much of the charm of many of the classic loops we remember was derived from
the hardware that was used to sample them. If you have a loop that you’d like to make sound old school, try using filters to cut below 40-70Hz and above 12-15kHz. You can then add a tape sim for some saturation, followed by a ‘vinylising’ plug-in (check out iZotope’s recently re-released Vinyl for an excellent free option) to recreate the crackles and pops that you would have got when sampling from a record. For the sake of authenticity, you should also make the loop mono, before adding compression and a bitcrusher.
Is there any point in buying a virtual analogue hardware synth?
Pimp my MPC3000 or MPC1000?
Improving vocoder intelligibility
One of the best ways we’ve found for getting better intelligibility from any vocoder is to mix in a white noise wave with the synth wave used as the basis for your sound (the ‘carrier’). As white noise transmits its power consistently across its frequency range, the vocoder has something solid to bite onto at all times, providing better/clearer intelligibility.
For a while, it seemed like the only new hardware synths being released were virtual analogue ones, but they’ve come under attack on a number of fronts.
If you want a clean-sounding well-featured sampler with USB/card reader integration, grab a later-model MPC1000. A maxed out later-model (black) MPC1000 is around £400 fully-loaded (the third-party JJOS is a must-have too). However, an MPC3000 with a card reader installed is a great option, super-tight sequencer with lots of vibe/mojo! 108
Firstly, there’s the abundance of high-quality virtual analogue plug-ins to consider, many of which are broader in scope than their hardware cousins. What’s more, the best of these software synths sound fantastic, to the point where doing everything in the box can seem like a very attractive option. Then there’s the analogue hardware revival to consider. You can now buy a decent analogue synth for well under £500, leading some people to reason that, if their virtual analogue requirements can be met inside their DAWs, if they’re going to buy any hardware they might as well go down the true analogue route. All of this being the case, it’s easy to see why virtual analogue hardware might be getting squeezed out, but you certainly shouldn’t discount it. ‘Proper’ analogue might be flavour of the month, but VA synths offer many of the same advantages – real knobs, intuitive editing and instant playability to name but a few – while typically giving you greater flexibility (increased polyphony and a greater tonal range, for example). So yes, virtual analogue hardware still has its place – we can’t see the likes of the Access Virus and Nord’s Lead going anywhere any time soon, for example – and should definitely be in your thoughts when the time comes to go synth shopping.
Could virtual reality systems be used for controlling music software?
We remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed (and more than a little nauseous) after trying one of the first wave of virtual reality headsets in the early ’90s, and, after a blaze of publicity, the whole concept seemed to die a death rather quickly. There’s little doubt that it’s
Professional Distortion | Feature
Taming inconsistent bass parts How do I get my bass parts more consistent? I often get mud, while certain notes jump out too! First decide whether you want your kick drum or the bass sound itself to carry most of the low-end weight. If it’s the kick carrying the lows, you can high-pass/EQ your bass sound to avoid ‘sonic mud’ building up. If it’s the bass sound carrying the low-end, high-pass/EQ lows out of the kick so they slot together nicely. Watch for too much build-up around 200Hz – often cutting this range a little really opens up mixes. If certain frequencies/notes are jumping out more than others there are a number of approaches to consider…
Rackable line mixer for keyboards?
There aren’t many options for submixing multiple stereo keyboard/line sources. However, if you can find one, a great solution is the Speck Xtramix (approx £1,500 used). It has a very high-quality signal path with plenty of inputs/outputs/busses/effectsends/returns and flexible routing, all within a 4U rack. Otherwise, the old Mackie LM3204 is a good bet, though with any older mixer be prepared for some maintenance. New (cheaper) options include the Rane SM82S and Rolls RM219.
risen again, though, with the games industry seemingly viewing VR as its next big cash cow. Could it have applications in the music making sector? Theoretically, there’s no reason why not – in fact, an enterprising New Zealander by the name of Byron Mallett has already managed to use the forthcoming Oculus Rift VR system (combined with some gesture-tracking gloves) to create the immersive Pensato controller system for Ableton Live. The technology is there, then, but the bigger question is whether or not musicians will really benefit from using it? We’ve seen all manner of
potentially disruptive control systems come along, but the fact is that the vast majority of us are still happy to pilot our desktop DAWs using a keyboard and mouse. Even multi-touch technology is struggling to gain much of a foothold outside the mobile sphere, so it’s debatable whether or not we’d be willing to abandon our screens and tactile interfaces at this juncture. That said, we’re sure that there’ll be some attempts to sell VR systems to musicians in the coming years, and we can’t deny that we’re eager to get our hands on them (and our heads in them).
If certain frequencies are jumping out (or not present enough) don’t jump for EQ/ compression straightaway. Try MIDI velocity to louden or soften notes (if your bass is a MIDI part) or, for more natural results using audio parts, go in deep with volume automation.
The next option is to use EQ to massage problematic areas. It always helps to pull up an analyser for a visual reference to areas that are too present or not present enough. As already mentioned, try cutting a little in the 200Hz area, as it’ll likely diminish mud.
Next, try compression. If it’s mainly the topend that’s problematic, try a multiband compressor to compress or expand this frequency area. There’s no point killing all your low/high frequency dynamics with a single band compressor if only one area needs treating.
Try layering a synth/electric bass above or below a real/synth bass for more presence, or use an amp simulator to add a little more drive to subby bass sounds. Or, copy/split your bass into separate high and low frequency parts for treating independently.
Any older interface with ADAT in/out should work well but if you want dirt-cheap (and new) the eight-channel Behringer ADA8200 is just £160. It offers a lot of bang for buck but there are downsides, such as not being able to bypass the preamps and less transparency/ accuracy than more expensive interfaces.
Got questions that need answering? Send your queries to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and our team of experts will endeavour to solve them
Gear Guide | Essential Tools For Music Making
FM | GEAR GUIDE
Arturia BeatStep Pro | £185
Korg SQ-1 | £106
Review FM296 Arturia’s sequencer bridges the
Review FM290 Korg’s compact sequencer is one
gap between MIDI and CV, and is easily the most
of the most budget-friendly CV tools out there,
versatile device you’ll find at this price.
but it’s still got a decent amount of flexibility.
Electro-Harmonix Clockworks | £150
Analogue Solutions Oberkorn 3 | £600
Review FM294 A simple clock divider rather
A classic-style rack-mounted analogue
than full sequencer. Rough and ready fun.
sequencer. Straightforward but quality.
Koma Elektronik Komplex | £1,299 Full Review: FM304
Komplex by name, complex by nature. Koma’s sequencing beast is a real quality bit of kit that offers a ton of flexibility.
Focusrite Clarett 4Pre | £500 Full Review: FM304
The whole Clarett range is excellent, and this punches well above its weight in audio quality, functionality and ease of use. 110
Universal Audio Apollo 8 Thunderbolt | £1,699
Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt | £1,999
Review FM293 The Thunderbolt connection
Review FM294 Excellent sound quality, flexible
adds near latency-free data transfer to UA’s
I/O and some very clever re-amping capabilities
already exceptional Apollo package.
make this a great high-end interface.
Antelope Orion Studio | £2,345 Review FM304 A comprehensive multi-channel
Universal Audio Apollo Twin | £565
interface with 12 quality mic pres, onboard DSP
Review FM278 UA’s most accessible Apollo
and very flexible I/O options.
combines two high-quality ins and built-in DSP in an attractive, desktop-sized package.
Essential Tools For Music Making | Gear Guide
ROLI Rise 49 £949
Ableton Push 2 €699
Coupled with the excellent Equator software and the new Noise app, ROLI’s unique, multidimensional controller is an appealing package.
Push and Live were already a great combo, but version 9.5 and Push 2 raise the bar for one of the best hardware/software experiences around.
NI Komplete Kontrol S61 | £599
Akai Advance 49 | £389 Review FM293 Combined with Akai’s VIP
Native Instruments Maschine Studio | £799
Arturia KeyLab 88 | €799
Review FM285 A beautiful hardware and software package that just works. Now works
software, the Advance controllers remove the
Review FM273 A great package for creative
the addition of all those sounds makes it one of
with third-party plug-ins too.
disconnect between controller and DAW.
beat-making with excellent hardware control.
the best synths on the market too.
Arturia MiniLab | €99
M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro | £299
Novation Launchpad Pro | £195
Akai MPC Touch | £499
Review FM269 Proof that small can be beautiful
Review FM296 The Launchpad Pro’s Live
Review FM301 The addition of a touchscreen
and the hybrid hardware/software alliance is still
Review FM280 In combination with the bundled
control isn’t quite as extensive as Push, but it’s
narrows the gap between software and hardware,
software, it is an inspiring, creative hybrid
more compact and works standalone too. Easily
bringing an all-round more tactile and integrated
one of the best controllers around.
Full Review: FM304
Full Review: FM302
Review FM301 A top keyboard controller, and
Gear Guide | Essential Tools For Music Making
Roland Boutiques Korg Minilogue From £229 £435 Full Review: FM303
Full Review: FM302
Despite lacking the voice counts of the hardware they’re based on, each Boutique does a decent job of recreating the sound and vibe of the classic polys that inspired them.
Four-voice polyphony, killer sound, flexible features and great build quality. We’re not sure how Korg pulled this off for the price, but they’ve nailed it. An essential purchase!
Novation Circuit | £250
Yamaha Reface DX | £347
Moog Mother-32 | £499
Waldorf Pulse 2 | £406
Review FM299 A broad range of sounds with a
Review FM298 Finally we have a new DX with
Review FM302 It can be a standalone synth, or
Review FM273 Being a sound module without a
fluid and intuitive workflow makes Circuit a
an intuitive interface that helps bring FM to life.
you can plug it into any number of gadgets to
keyboard, it’s not quite a ‘go anywhere’ synth.
winner. Its sequencer is absolutely killer too.
It’s well built, portable, has an improved 4-op
create a modular monster. With a Mother-32
But for our money this is the most power you’ll
engine with FX and it sounds suitably DX-y!
under your arm, the world is your oyster!
find in a small package for the price.
Korg Volca Bass | £100
Arturia MicroBrute | £230
MeeBlip Anode | £110
Review FM271 A great little three-oscillator bass
Review FM273 The MicroBrute certainly lives up
Review FM284 It’s just a synth module, so you’ll
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators| €69 each
synth with a lively filter and some handy
to its name. It’s a fantastically gritty monosynth
need to add your own keyboard/sequencer, but
Review FM303 They may be fiddly, but the POs
sequencing capabilities. Can do Acid riffs or
that is easily compact enough to bundle in your
the MeeBlip is a great little synth that’ll fit in the
remain a great-value source of inspiring sounds
rounded subs with ease.
rucksack along with a laptop.
palm of your hand. It packs a great filter too.
and sonic fun.
Essential Tools For Music Making | Gear Guide
FL Studio 12 From £64 Full Review: FM294
Despite bringing mostly functional updates, version 12 is great. Like fine wine, FL Studio improves with age and is a superb production environment for any level of user.
Ableton Live 9 | £315 Full Review: FM265
Version 9.5 has just arrived as a free download for current users. The overhauled Simpler is fantastic. Plus Suite owners get a trio of new Max synths to play with.
Logic Pro X | £139
Pro Tools 11 | £550
Tracktion 6 | $60
Review FM270 Version ten of the popular DAW
Review FM269 Pro Tools 11 sees much of the
Review FM293 More comprehensive and well
PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional | £279
revamps the interface and introduces some
new tech from 10 finally bedding down and
implemented than you might think, Tracktion 6
Review FM295 Studio One 3 is stable,
long-awaited MIDI effects plugs. And let’s not
making sense. It’s now caught up with other
is a well-rounded budget DAW worth trying.
reliable and capable of sating any music
overlook that price – wow!
DAWs for fast workflow to match its power.
Sonar X3 | £419
Steinberg Cubase Pro 8.5 | £448
Bitwig Studio | €299
Propellerhead Reason 8 | €369
Review FM275 A well-bundled package that
Review FM301 A solid update, built on strong
Review FM278 Recent point updates just
The update to version 8 was more about
features an audio-engine that beats some of its
foundations, with some genuinely useful new
continue to make Bitwig stronger and more
interface and workflow improvements than new
rivals on paper. Most certainly a heavyweight
features. 8.5 is here now too, adding even more
refined than ever. 18 months on from its release,
tools, but regular users are likely to appreciate
contender with enough extras to lure new users.
features and an overhaul to Retrologue.
it continues to impress.
this latest incarnation.
Gear Guide | Essential Tools For Music Making
Spectrasonics Rob Papen Omnisphere | $499 Blue II | £109 Full Review: FM294
Full Review: FM282
Version 2 of Omnisphere is a must try. Audio import is the standout new feature but dig a little deeper and there are improvements in all areas.
Papen’s newly-revamped Blue is a must-have with myriad synthesis options, assignable routings and extended modulation capabilities.
Native Instruments Massive | £169
Eisenberg Vier | €99
XILS Lab XILS 4 | €179
LennarDigital Sylenth1 | £168
Review FM288 An excellent synth, the lack of
Review FM283 A fantastic emulation inspired by
Sylenth1’s classically-minded feature set might
One of the most widely used synth plug-ins on
mixer section notwithstanding, with a very
the classic VCS 3 modular synth, and proves to
not be that flashy, but its warm, gorgeous sound
the market, Massive has a cutting-edge sound
distinctive tonal colour.
be far more than the sum of its parts.
makes it a must-try virtual instrument for any
with a sonic size that lives up to its name.
Synapse Audio Dune 2 | $169
AAS Ultra Analog VA-2 | $199
PPG WaveMapper 2 | €99
Cakewalk Z3TA+ 2 | £79
Review FM284 Extreme oscillator stacking,
Review FM281 Version two of Ultra Analog is a
Palm’s best yet, WaveMapper 2 has made
A popular plug-in ever since version one was
packed wavetables, endless modulation,
top-shelf piece of virtual kit. It’s easy to use,
the transition from iPad to desktop. It is
released in 2002. With its well-designed
gorgeous filters and great effects – undoubtedly
sounds great and features a huge range of
immensely powerful, hugely enjoyable to use
interface, powerful mod matrix and flexible
one of the best out there.
presets to get your teeth into.
and truly unique.
sound engine, Z3TA+ 2 is a must-try synth.