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New year, new ideas
The new year drive for self-improvement can seem like a bit of a cliché, but as musicians and producers it’s never a bad thing to seek out new ideas and develop a few new skills – and the new year is as good a time as any to give your workflow a refresh. That’s the aim of this issue’s bumper cover feature – to share a selection of new ideas, projects, tips and techniques to help you work smarter and create new music in 2017. From enhancing your critical listening skills to discovering new instruments, refining your compressor techniques, exploring new arrangement ideas and beyond, we’ve plenty of ideas to help you shake up your workflow. Be sure to head to http://vault.futuremusic.co.uk to grab the videos that accompany our new year projects. We hope you pick up plenty of new ideas!
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FM | CONTENTS
IN THE STUDIO WITH: Roman FlĂźgel German producer/DJ and label owner Roman FlĂźgel is known for his nonconformist approach in the electronic music scene. We visit him in his enviably synth-packed studio to find out what makes him tick
This Issue | Contents
106 98 102 90
INTErvIEW: Tycho We meet Scott Hansen and get the lowdown on his latest album, the Grammy-nominated Epoch
In-depth tests of all the latest gear INCLUDES AUDIOl
82 Elektron Analog Heat 86 Pioneer PLX-500 88 JZ Microphones V16-BB
90 OTO BAM Space Generator
Essential production advice and ideas
94 Round-Up: EQ Plug-Ins 96 Expert Sleepers ES-8 98 Spectrasonics Keyscape 102 Roland Super UA Interface 104 Group Test: Studio Furniture 106 Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer 110 Sounds & Samples
rEvIEW: Elektron Analog Heat Elektronâ€™s first effects processor combines distortion, EQ and filtering. We take it for a drive
New Year Production Workout 12 projects packed with fresh ideas, tips and techniques
Modular Monthly We explore the Happy Nerding MMM multimode filter
Contents The Vault | This YourIssue Bonus Content
FM | ONliNE VaulT
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Exclusive new sounds with every issue grOOvE CrImINAlS prESENT…
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VIDeO & aUDIO
Hear the gear first with our demos ON vIDEO
> New Year Production Workout 2017 > Modular Monthly: Happy Nerding MMM VCF > The Track: Keeno
> Elektron Analog Heat
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Download the ‘Sample Archive’ packs and get over 8GB of loops, hits and instruments from our back catalogue of high-quality and royalty-free samples. From vintage synths and beats to esoteric sounds and FX – think of it as our best of. All the samples you need to create great music!
62 INCLUDES VIDEOl
THE TrACK: Keeno, Enigma. The Bristolbased Drum ’n’ Bass producer breaks down the title track from his latest EP
This Issue | Contents
FEATUrE: New Year Production Workout 12 projects packed with fresh ideas, tips and techniques to help you make better music than ever in 2017
INTErvIEW: Vermont Danilo Plessow of Motor City Drum Ensemble and Innervisions boss Marcus Worgull talk analogue synth jams
Expert tips, techniques and tutorials 16 Classic Album: Darude, Before The Storm 22 Album Reviews 25 Feature: New Year Production Workout 52 In The Studio With: Roman Flügel
In The Studio With: Tycho
76 Modular Monthly 78 Interview: Vermont 112 Advice
© Edd Westmacott / Alamy Stock Photo
14 16 12 14
Find us online at www.futuremusic.co.uk
Watch our videos www.youtube.com/ futuremusicmagazine
All the latest gear from around the world 12 New Akai MPCs 14 Steinberg Cubase 9
Follow us on Twitter @futuremusicmag
14 Tracktion DAW Essentials Collection 17 Talking Shop: ANGLE 20 Subscribe to FM
Join us on Facebook www.facebook.com/ futuremusicmagazine 9
Contents | This Issue
This month’s demo selections free with FM at vault.futuremusic.co.uk. Download and enjoy!
01 01 02 03 04
05 06 www.loopmasters.com 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08
Splice Sounds Sounds of KSHMR
Splice Sounds Laidback Tropical House
Hog Productions Loopmasters Presents 25 Years Of House rv_samplepacks Electro Swing Bass Boutique Nu Era Loopmasters Lack of Afro Presents… Analogue Soul Vol.2 Loopmasters Maison Records Presents Tribal House Tech Soundbox Dalston Deep Tech Dabro Music Retro Dance Music Loopmasters Kate Wild Presents Vocal Hooks & Acapellas Vol. 3
Filter | The Future Of Music
FM | FILTER
highlightsâ€¦ 14 Steinberg Cubase 9
14 Tracktion DAW Essentials Collection
15 Talking Shop: ANGLE
16 Classic Album: Darude, Before The Storm
The Future Of Music | Filter
Akai revive the standalone MPC Meet the compact MPC Live and flagship MPC X
ver since Akai launched the Renaissance, their first ‘controller’ MPC, in 2012, there have been calls from certain parts of the music production community for a return to the classic standalone, laptop-free MPC format. Now, with the launch of a new generation of the Music Production Center, Akai are answering those requests. This latest line of MPCs comes in two flavours: the compact, portable MPC Live and the flagship MPC X. Both straddle the divide between newer and older generation MPCs with their ability to run both as standalone production tools and as controllers for the MPC software. The MPC Live is the smaller of the two, housed in a relatively compact, touchscreen-equipped chassis that isn’t massively dissimilar to that of last year’s MPC Touch. It’s equipped with 16 velocity and pressure sensitive performance pads, which act as the main tool for playing and sequencing. Around the back it features six configurable ¼-inch outputs along with a mini-jack headphone output and two inputs (RCA and ¼-inch jack). There are also two USB ports and an SD card slot for loading samples into the machine, along with MIDI in and out. Under the hood, the MPC Live has a multicore processor with 2GB of RAM and an expandable 16GB drive for storage. Possibly the most interesting aspect of the MPC Live is
the fact that it runs off a built-in, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, meaning it can be used to record, perform and sequence away from any power source – making it arguably the most ‘standalone’ MPC ever.
The X factor The MPC X, meanwhile, is something of a behemoth. Alongside the expected 16 pads, the X features a 10.1-inch touchscreen, an array of 66 buttons promising “direct access to all aspects of the MPC software” and 16 touch-capacitive, fully configurable control rotaries with their own OLED displays. It pulls no punches on the connectivity front either, boasting eight balanced ¼-inch jack outputs, four inputs covering XLR, RCA and instrument jacks, dual headphone outputs, USB, SD card and four MIDI ports. It also has eight configurable CV/gate outputs for sequencing analogue or modular gear, and 16GB of expandable onboard storage. Both MPCs natively run the same MPC 2.0 software used by the current generation of MPC controllers. Each unit has 10GB of sound content and a full licence for the software, which can run either standalone or as a plug-in on Mac and PC, so projects can easily be transferred between a computer and the MPC units. Both MPCs are due within the first quarter of 2017, the MPC Live at £819 and the MPC X at £1,499.
Filter | The Future Of Music
Bitwig adds Maschine Jam compatibility
Steinberg unleash Cubase 9
In what is a first for the company, last month saw Steinberg release three new versions of Cubase on the same day: Cubase Pro, Artist and Elements 9. The good news is that some of the big new features are available in all three iterations of Cubase 9. One of these is the Lower Zone, a new area in the project window that’s used for the mixer and other tool panels. There’s also the Sampler Track, which provides you with an easy way of playing samples chromatically. These can be manipulated with filters and controls in the Lower Zone, and the Caleidoscope library gives you hundreds of samples to play with right away. There are some Cubase Pro exclusives, of course: a new 8-band EQ known as Frequency, for example, and up to ten marker tracks, which you can use to specify ranges within projects so that you can export stems and group mixes. Other features are common to both Cubase Pro and Artist. MixConsole History gives you more undo/redo flexibility; Audio-Ins enable you to send audio to VST 3 instrument plug-ins that support sidechaining; and VST Transit aids cloud collaboration. Cubase Pro 9 comes with VST Connect SE, the latest version of Steinberg’s remote recording software. Returning to improvements that have been made to all versions of Cubase 9, many of the software’s built-in plug-ins have been enhanced, while the deliciously-named Plug-In Sentinel is on hand to scan plug-ins on startup and ensure stability. All three are out now with Cubase Pro 9 priced at 579 euros, Cubase Artist 9 at 329 euros and Cubase Elements 9 at 99.99 euros.
Native Instruments’ Maschine Jam controller already plays nicely with Ableton Live, thanks to a custom mapping created by NI, but now NI have teamed up with Bitwig to create what they are calling “the most powerful and versatile Maschine JAM integration to date”. The advanced control script allows you to not only control the Maschine VST plug-in, but also control Bitwig Studio and to seamlessly switch back and forth between the two. You can record from the step sequencer into Bitwig Studio in real time while making full use of the advanced performance effects in Maschine. The script is available in the latest version of Bitwig Studio which can be downloaded from the Bitwig website at https://www.bitwig.com/en/ download.
Tracktion bundle 16 plug-ins for $99 Everyone needs a set of workhorse effect plug-ins. Tracktion's DAW Essentials Collection includes 16 plug-ins that cover the majority of mixing bases, with an emphasis on “sound quality, ease of use and utility”. The bundle includes an EQ, compressors, reverb, delays, limiter, gate/ expander, ducker, flanger, crusher, phaser, filter and chorus. Each effect comes with a
control set that enables you to adjust its “most expressive” parameters. The plug-ins are said to be efficient enough to run on a wide range of systems, and you can use them in pretty much every DAW going. The DAW Essentials Collection costs $99 and is available for PC and Mac in VST/AU/VST/Linux VST formats. There’s also a free trial version.
The Future Of Music | Filter
The Italian duo on their modular-focused set-up
ith their audio-visual project ANGLE, Italian producers Piero Fragola and Thomas Pizzinga combine their shared passion for modular synthesis to create muscular, machine-driven Techno.
FM: Tell us about your studio… ANGLE: “Half of the studio is a modular system: a Station 252 and four Mantis cases full of Eurorack modules. This part is always changing; the modular synth field is still growing and we are always
waiting for a new module to add and test within the system. At the heart of this part of the studio are the Circadian Rhythms modules by Tiptop Audio. These are synchronised together to form the backbone for writing the track. “The modular system flows into an Apollo audio interface from Universal Audio. We record everything on separate channels in order to alter the track if necessary. Single channel preamps, equalisers and compressors support the process of sound recording and editing. “We often use a Neve preamp from the Shelford series, Universal Audio LA610 MKII, the Empirical Labs Distressor and an EQ built by Rodolfo Foffo Bianchi in collaboration with Mark Bass. “As for plug-ins, we are currently using the UAD emulations and the Acustica-Audio plug-ins, which are in our opinion two brands that focus on reconstructing the sound of original machines. For monitors, we use Focal and Genelec; usually Focal for the mix part and Genelec to test the ‘club effect’ of a track.”
What's your latest new gear? “We are running tests on our new Quantizer by Tiptop Audio, which is a surprising and easy-to-use module – finally an all-in-one quantiser! As for plug-ins, we are working with the new White 2 by Acustica-Audio – definitely a ‘must’ in a studio.”
ANGLE’s essential production advice Forget the rules “The excessive use of a canonical path – VCO, ADSR, filter etc – might constrain you to the classic synth sound in a Eurorack system. Instead, putting atypical elements inside the patch allows you to customise your sound, as long as their use gets you motivated. A system that always sounds unpredictable may have the opposite effect by keeping you too distant from enjoyable listening.”
Read the full interview: http://bit.ly/2gGVMhI Talking Shop continues regularly at www.futuremusic.co.uk
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FM | CLASSIC ALBUM
Darude Before The Storm 16 Inch Records, 2000
Words by Roy Spencer
ou can make it! Look at Darude. He’s the man behind Sandstorm – Trance anthem, Internet meme, and the biggest selling vinyl single of 2000. He’s got three Finnish Grammys in his trophy cabinet, and a debut album that clocked up 800,000 sales. But, before all that, he was just little old Ville Virtanen – a wannabe producer with a glint in his eye and a CD-R tucked under his arm. Luckily that CD-R (featuring an early version of Sandstorm) found its way into the hands of national Dance music icon, Jaakko Salovaara, aka JS16, in August of 1999. On hearing the youngster’s ludicrously infectious blend of euphoric Trance riffs and pulsating beats, he called the number
scrawled on the front and immediately signed him to his new label, 16 Inch Records. From there he swiftly took him under his wing, mentoring him in the studio, developing his ideas, and nurturing his talents. “I was so wet behind the ears, but Jaakko showed me the ropes,” says Darude. “And within two days we had Sandstorm and a few other tracks finished and bounced down to DAT.” On release, Sandstorm surged up charts across the globe, causing a clamour for new material. Luckily the pair had bunkered down in Jaakko’s studio, and had the bulk of what would become the full-length album Before The Storm in rude shape. “Our purpose was to make great Dance music,” says Darude. “But we had to follow the success of Sandstorm. The process did feel quite rushed but we took it one track at a time.” The resulting album succeeded in quashing the public’s thirst for more Sandstorm-esque tracks, while exploring Hard House, Electro, Breakbeat and Trance. “It’s an important album for me,” says Darude. “It has the first track I was ever signed with on, and it was also the first full project that I ever did. “Credit where credit is due, though. Jaakko Salovaara was the one who, so to say, ‘found me’. Within a week or two I went from being a part-time worker and a student to a professional musician.” Darude there: proving there’s hope for us all.
Classic Album | Filter
Track by track with Darude Sandstorm “Why name it Sandstorm? It’s quite a boring story. We had a blank piece of paper and started filling it with names we thought were cool. Then we looked at the Roland JP-8080 and the sound that we used as a pad was called ‘Sandstorm’. “The first version I made of this originally had a different name. I’ll never play anyone that version [laughs]. It had a vocal that I’d done myself. It was called Back In The Time, or something like that. I was humming or chanting on top of it. “It’s hard to know the total sales this song had. The first year I think Sandstorm sold about two million copies. I think it was most sold vinyl of 2000. Then it went on to sell four million, or more, after we reissued it in 2006.”
Burning “Burning, composition-wise, is more Jaakko’s doing than mine. All the sessions were done together, but he’s the mastermind with the chords, definitely, on this one. “The vocal is by a guy called Rummy Nanji. I met him in Finland, but he’d been in the music business for a while. Jaakko and me had this melodic idea and needed a vocal so we had him come over and work on it. I’m not sure where the lyrics came from, but they just came out of him. We recorded a couple of takes of him and it just added really nicely to the instrumental of the track. “Burning uses a lot of the same basic drum loops from elsewhere on the album, and the same arpeggiated basslines and stuff. The kick in the tune is from the 909, which was a real one, and an interesting thing to work with because I’d only seen those as software plug-ins.”
Feel The Beat “I went to Jaakko’s studio and he was playing with this arpeggiated sound, but couldn’t get any further and was going to trash it. I asked if I could take it, and began working on the samples in the same way and bpm that I had been working on with Sandstorm and it just came together.
Darude released his fourth studio album, Moments, in late 2015. It was his second without friend and mentor JS16, and features a greater list of collaborators and experiments with a wider variety of music styles then previous material. A DJ-friendly version followed this year, with extended cuts, remixes, and stems being made available. Lately Darude has been continuing work alongside Australian producer, Uberjak’d, after remixing his track, Fix You Up, as well as collaborating with another Aussie, Zac Waters, on new music.
“As we were making this, Sandstorm wasn’t a big international success, but it felt natural to continue that vibe across, but when it was released I received criticism from people who said, ‘You’ve just tried to make a copycat record’. I understand where that comes from, but it wasn’t like that because we had no idea that Sandstorm would have such success when we were making Feel The Beat. We just had the same tools in the studio and the same vibe going on.”
Out Of Control “Time went by a little bit before we started making Out Of Control, so there was a conscious decision to not use the same kind of underlying drum loops as the earlier stuff. “I wanted a percussion vibe on it – the groove here relies on that. We wanted to change up the normal straight-up hi-hat pattern too. I think it’s about 137bpm, as well, which added a new flavour. “The first version was an instrumental, but then we added
“The album has a nice binding factor in there because of the use of similar synths and stuff throughout. Listening back you can hear things that tie it all together. The JP-8080 is on a lot of it, and you can hear a TR-909 kick on almost everything. And there are a couple of Nord Lead 2 patches that are all over the album as well. It helped to rely on the same equipment.”
Tammy Marie and called it Out Of Control (Back For More). That was a good move, commercially. We were worried it might be too cheesy, but I think it hit a really good market. I get asked for this track a lot when I DJ.”
Touch Me Feel Me “Besides the chords, overall slow vibe of the track, and the arpeggiated melody of the piano that comes in later, what I really like about this track is the actual vocal bit – it’s really cool. “We used the Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler, and added a female vocal sample that goes ‘touch me, feel me’ really quickly. When you put it in the sampler and create a tiny loop, then lock the loop length and then assign it to a mod wheel and then scan through the vocal, it lets you advance slowly like a DJ CD player. “I’d never seen that ever before. I was so excited when Jaakko showed me that. The Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler was the only way to do that back then.”
Calm Before The Storm “This was a track I made in my kitchenette studio in my apartment one day in 1999, before I made Sandstorm. I started it around noon and ended up bouncing the final version down around 11pm or midnight, and took it to a club where my DJ buddy played it there. “For the album, we redid it like we did Sandstorm. Jaakko took the main guitar part, the main melody, and developed it further so it became more sophisticated with the chords than mine. “One thing I’m really regretting right now is that back then we’d made a really cool Chillout version of the track and all I have left is one crappy quality bounce of it and the project file doesn’t exist any more.”
Let The Music Take Control “This was my track initially, as well, but it was just half a track, with Acidic 303 sounds that I made in ReBirth, the Propellerhead software.
Filter | Classic Album
Then in Jaakko’s studio we redid the 303 parts with a JP-8080 – it had a rather nice 303-sounding patch. Then we sampled my 303s from the first version. “I really liked the Breakbeat part as I’d loved that style of Jaakko’s music and was so happy that I was able to get some of that in one of my tracks. “There is also a ‘woo-woo’ train horn sound in there that comes from the JV-1080. It was a preset sound that was kind of like a joke, but it’s there to make people smile.”
Drums Of New York “Jaakko was a already a great DJ back then, and was always following trends and sounds from places like New York. Although this is quite fast, driving and Progressive, some of the Tribally stuff that we used triggered the name of the track, Drums Of New York. “What’s interesting about the track right now is that the original is 142bpm, and now that I’m revisiting them to play in some of my sets I’m having to edit the speed down. “It’s hard for me to play them as they are as they are so fast and a different style to what I play these days. I found that taking Drums Of New York down one semi-tone brings
it to about 134bpm and that’s almost playable to me.”
was a big thought process behind it, but it works.”
Sandstorm (JS16 Remix)
“My friend Toni Lähde aka Luzid is on the Rap here. We had a crew called Mindmachine and this is one of the tracks we did together. Originally it was 134bpm and lighter sounding.
“Jaakko’s JS16 Remix is quite different. It’s more laid-back. It’s not as relentless. I’m not sure if he realised it at the time, but if you listen back to it, it’s in the same key of E Minor still, but he gives it different chords, and it ends up very close to Robert Miles’ Children’s chord progression. It doesn’t have anything else the same, but the chords are quite similar. I’m not sure if it was conscious. Jaakko isn’t someone who’d copy anything like that on purpose. If you time-stretch Children you could probably fit those two on top of each other. “Jaakko’s remix is also different as he was way more conservative with the main lead of Sandstorm as well. He wanted to make a distinction between his mix and mine.”
In the first year Sandstorm sold about two million copies. It was most sold vinyl of 2000 “The drums on this and Drums Of New York are like a sister and a brother – the bass is the same. They are like split personalities of the same track. Drums Of New York is the hard banger, then The Flow is a more melodic take on that with the bassline. It’s interesting now that when you listen to it, one track ends and the other track starts and similar stuff comes back in. I kinda like how we did that. I’m not sure if there
In The Studio With… Darude “The demos were done in my studio… well, the corner of my kitchenette at home. I had a Pentium 2 PC running Cubase VST-32 and a Korg TR-Rack. Then I used FastTracker 2, Propellerhead’s ReBirth, HammerHead and Sound Forge. Then I went to Jaakko’s studio, which was in the basement of a hotel in the centre of Turku, Finland, which he used to live in, and we developed the tracks and wrote the rest of the album there. He was using an Atari ST 1024 and Cubase, two Ensoniq ASR-10 samplers, a Tascam DAT, a Nord Lead 2, a Roland Super JV-1080, an Ensoniq DP4 effect unit and a Roland JP-8080. And everything was mixed through a Mackie 24/8 analogue mixer and a couple of Behringer compressors. All the filter, effect level, and volume rides were made manually, as there was some sort of difficulty getting MIDI back and recording it in Cubase. On the final mixes of Sandstorm, for example, we’re opening and closing the Nord Lead and JP-8080 filters by hand on the synth rack, live.”
Feel The Beat (JS16 Dark Mix) “The Dark Mix is probably the mix that I have played the most in my sets over the years. Right at the start I needed to play the original mix, but as things started to settle as I started to DJ more I turned to this. Before that I was doing more live sets. I started playing an edit of the Dark Mix because it was more banging. “I loved the bassline that he’d created for it, too. It was typical Jaakko for me at that point. We had this so-called single version, and he just wanted to be like, ‘Screw everything. I wanna do what I wanna do’. And on purpose did a darker and more banging version. “It’s interesting to talk about the first album because I was so wet behind the ears, so there are not many things on the album that have a message, or thought-out direction. Everything just kind of happened as we were working on it.”
WANT To KNoW MoRE? If any nerds wanna catch the main man live, check out his Twitch.tv/darude channel for production master classes and software reviews.
LIKE IT? TRY THESE…
JS16 Stomping System 1998’s Stomping System is the only full-length artist album from Jaakko Salovaara under his JS16 moniker. See what first attracted Darude to his Finnish mentor. add these to your playlist: stomping system, love supreme, stomp| to My Beat|
Darude Hits & Remixes Perfect comp for getting acquainted with today’s featured artist. Contains all his hits, and more, with some deft remixes in to keep the styles varied. add these to your playlist: sandstorm (Jan driver remix), Music (Megara| vs. dJ lee remix), Feel the Beat (robbie| rivera’s tribal sessions Mix)|
Robert Miles Dreamland Featuring dreamy smash Children, which sits nicely with tracks like Sandstorm. Check in to see if there are any more complementary vibes. add these to your playlist: Children, Fable (dream Version), in| My dreams|
Paul van Dyk The Politics Of Dancing The German Trance maestro’s first mix comp features the cream of the scene from the dawn of the millennium. Check the pulse of the genre here. add these to your playlist: ashtrax – digital reason, Jimpy – Feeling| Good, Joker Jam – innocence (paul van| dyk remix)|
Darude Moments Darude defied genres by exploring Dubstep, Electro, Pop and House sounds on this, his latest album. add these to your playlist: Beautiful alien, Moments, one lifetime|
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FM | ALBUM REVIEWS
onobo’s sixth studio album is his most ambitious and far-reaching album to date. Three years on from 2013’s widely acclaimed The North Borders, the UK producer, real name Simon Green, taps into a rich and lush soundscape for his new album, Migration. The record is densely layered, bursting with colour, texture and emotive melodies, creating a rich tapestry of Green’s deftly constructed electronic explorations. Deep, fluid basslines flow with a natural ease alongside intelligent drums, warm pads, emotive strings, beautifully subtle melodies, shimmering synths, jangling keys and soulful vocals in an album that feels personal, intimate and heartfelt. At times melancholic or wistful and at others joyous and upbeat, Migration has a diverse and constantly shifting palette. As the record progresses, Green takes a step further into the sort of bass-driven club atmospheres that mark his DJ residencies, with shuffling House grooves, spacious Techno and driving Disco coming into the fore. The shifting between styles and tempos is a constant theme of an album that gradually evolves throughout. Green’s highly skilled and complex compositions seem to let light flood into his music from all angles, illuminating the record with a calm, reassuring sincerity that interplays perfectly with the album’s energetic feel. A masterful and highly expressive record, Migration is yet another reminder of why Bonobo is so highly regarded around the world, not just in electronic music, but beyond. Tom Jones
© Neil Krugs
ADD THESE TO YOUR PLAYLIST: Bambro Koyo Ganda, Kerala, Figures|
album of the month
Albums | Reviews
Babe, Terror Ancient M’Ocean Phantasy
Ancient M’Oceans is the beautifully mysterious new album from Brazilian experimentalist, Babe, Terror. The Sao Paolo producer invites us into his strange yet intimate imagined world that whirls and fizzes with an uncompromisingly lo-fi aesthetic. Awash with feedback, tape hiss, submerged noise and woozy analogue equipment, the record has a delicate aesthetic that makes the album
feel unusual yet familiar. Its warm but strung-out and warped melodies that drift over the top add a deeply personal flavour. Its rough, grainy structures traverse twisted Pop, lo-fi experimentalism and distorted Ambience to create endlessly curious psychedelic compositions that imbibe beauty and depth of feeling with each turn. The producer’s richest and most expansive work to date,
Ancient M’Ocean is a highly immersive soundscape that truly takes you on a journey into the unknown. Yet from the hazy mist of foggy, meandering layers emerges something warm, personal, gentle and approachable. Babe, Terror at his ingenious and distinctive best. Tom Jones ADD THESE TO YOUR PLAYLIST: Allureon Part 2, Windsurf For| Souls II, Forever Home|
Blue Fields Swimming In The Shadows Haunt Music
ADD THESE TO YOUR PLAYLIST:
our years on from their masterfully haunting debut, Mike Shannon and Takeshi Nishimoto’s Blue Fields project returns with their emotionally charged sophomore album. That 2012 debut won the Canadian DJ/producer and Japanese guitarist widespread acclaim for its beautiful concoction of Downtempo, Jazz and leftfield Electronica. The new record is in much the same vein, but takes on a moodier, darker hue. Whereas the first album sounded calm and laidback, Swimming In The Shadows feels unsettled, paranoid and full of sadness. The production is deeper and more experimental too, exploring more sparse soundscapes where lingering guitars drift over quiet smatterings of drums and grainy textures. The vocals are hazy and sultry, adding to the eerie atmosphere. Moving through various shades, tones and tempos, the album begins to quicken in pace, the grooves become musclier, the basslines more driving and the synths more immediate, referencing Detroit Techno and European Experimental Techno with the duo’s own nuanced approach. Despite its varying styles, the tone of the whole album is melancholic and dreamy and it has a deeply personal, reflective feel. A beautiful and beguiling record, this is Blue Fields proving their imaginative and expressive personalities once again. Tom Jones
Ondatrópica Baile Bucanero Soundway Records Four years after their inimitable, awardwinning debut album, ground-breaking Colombian outfit Ondatrópica return with their highly anticipated follow-up. Baile Bucanero somehow manages to be even more expressive, diverse and full of life than that immensely joyous debut. Combining traditional Colombian folklore with insatiable grooves, funky percussion, Calypso,
Lapsteel, Salsa, Dancehall, Funk, Dub, Reggae and a whole host of Caribbean flavours, the new record is bursting with colour, energy and personality. The album includes a huge list of musicians, coming together in a melting pot of tropical sounds and far-flung styles. Celebratory to the last and seemingly created with a total freedom of expression, the entire record is full of energy yet unfurls with a
natural and easy going vibe. Long, winding grooves build and build as impassioned vocalists bring swagger and attitude. Its unmistakable passion is the driving force that makes this record soar. Immensely creative and forwardthinking, it was well worth the wait. Tom Jones De Mar A Mar, Lazalypso,|
ADD THESE TO YOUR PLAYLIST:
I Felt That It Was True, The Breeze Through The Floor|
Production Workout 2017 | Feature
YOUR 2017 PRODUCTION
The new year is the perfect time to polish up your production skills and discover some new ways of working. Let us show you a few fresh ideas…
hether you’re new to music production or have decades of experience under your belt, it’s always good to step out of your comfort zone, try new things and mix up your workflow. Working in a way you’re unfamiliar with, or with a tool you’ve not used before, can help
inspire fresh ideas and break writer’s block. That’s the aim of this issue’s new year tutorial special. Across the next 20-or-so pages we’ll cover topics from sound design to compression via music theory, Eurorack and listening skills. What binds every tutorial is the aim to get you trying new things, whether that means writing or arranging in
a new way, working with a more esoteric instrument or processing your mixes in a different way. Make sure you head to the FM Vault at http://vault.futuremusic.co.uk to grab the assorted videos, exclusive samples and project files that accompany the tutorials. We hope we inspire you to make great music this year!
Feature | Production Workout 2017 INCLUDES VIDEO VaULt.fUtUrEmUSIC.CO.Uk
shape up your musical ears You can kit your studio out in the best gear money can buy, but the most important equipment of all are your ears – so get yours into training! After eating to excess over the Christmas period, the new year is the perfect time to get your backside off the sofa and start a strict regime of diet and exercise. Yet, shouldn’t you also consider pumping up your aural skills for 2017? After all, your mixing skills rely upon two key components: your ears! So, to sharpen your decisionmaking skills when choosing sounds, composing, mixing and more, check out ear training – the process of improving your listening chops through specific audio training
exercises, just as you’d build muscle and burn fat through long-term dieting and physical exertion. One of the most comprehensive online training programs is SoundGym, which offers a full regime for improving skills in frequency detection, compression deciphering, pan placement, delay timings and more. We spoke to Noam Gingold, SoundGym CEO, to get the lowdown. FM: What exactly is ‘ear training’? Noam: “Ear training is a process for improving certain listening skills such
as frequency and compression detection. With SoundGym, each skill has its own game. The main idea behind the games is to break the complex mission of mixing into simple distinct abilities that can be trained and improved – so we keep the games focused and simple. But we also want it to be fun, so practising will be an enjoyable act you will want to do again and again. “Different SoundGym games train different abilities. ‘Peak Master’ and ‘Kit Cut’ will help you get better frequency detection, ‘Filter Expert’
Ear Safety If a long and successful audio career is your goal, you must protect your ears against loud decibel levels Prolonged exposure to excessive noise levels – either in loud environments, or by playing headphones or speakers too loud – can easily result in permanent damage to the hair cells in the cochlea, causing hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing-related ailments that will ruin your enjoyment of music. The solution is simple: keep headphones and speakers at a moderate level, and wear ear protection any time you’re in an environment with loud music playing, no matter how small the venue. We’re big fans of Flare Audio’s Isolate earplugs, but any ear protection is better than nothing, so don’t worry about wearing some free foam ’plugs if you need to. Ear protection isn’t a particularly cool or trendy topic, but it’s much better to think about this now than to potentially ruin a musicmaking or DJ career through ear damage. Here, we’ll show you how to test the frequency response of your ears using SoundGym’s Ear Doctor test.
This SoundGym Ear Doctor test requires the use of high-quality headphones in a quiet listening environment. To calibrate listening levels, the program plays some white noise, then asks you to turn up the headphone volume from silence, until you reach the point where the noise can only just be heard.
Once the noise tone is calibrated to our listening level, hit Start Hearing Test. Now, a high frequency tone is played through the left ear only, and sweeps down in pitch. You’re asked to press the Left Ear button as soon as you can hear the tone. Once done, the process is repeated for the right ear in isolation.
The highest frequency our test subject – a 30-year-old producer/DJ – can hear in his left ear is just under 16kHz, but the right ear reaches almost 16.5kHz. These results aren’t that bad, but the slight imbalance between ears could be attributed to years of wearing a single headphone earcup over the right ear while DJing.
will add the detection of different EQ filters with different settings, ‘PanMan’ will help you learn about the stereo field in your mixes. ‘DB King’ will teach you about gain differences, and ‘Dr Compressor’ will help you to detect compression. Finally, ‘Delay Control’ will help you decipher different timing settings.” How exactly does SoundGym work? “With SoundGym, the whole process is personalised, so each user has their own level on each game. Depending on your skill level, you can compare your score with other users and get objective feedback about how good you are at each skill – what your strengths are, and how you can improve.” Is there a benchmark for someone with ‘great’ ears? Perhaps there’s an optimum score for us to work towards? “That’s exactly why we give ‘medals’! If you get the gold medal, your ears are great. I’d like to believe that any professional in the audio industry will earn at least the bronze medal.” How long does it take someone to improve their listening skills? “It depends. A novice engineer or producer will be able to improve their listening skills very quickly. The improvement will be great, and it should be quite easy to achieve. A more experienced engineer who uses SoundGym might first have an enlightening experience – ‘I’m great at this, but not as good as I thought!’ is quite common. Then, after training with SoundGym on a regular basis, most engineers will see a significant improvement for detecting subtle nuances. Our results are objective, so when progress is made, it’s very easy to detect and monitor.” Why would a producer or mix engineer need to train their listening skills in this kind of controlled way? Is it not enough to simply practise mixing ‘on the job’? “Just to be clear, you need to mix to get better in mixing. Ear training is not a replacement for experimenting or learning while mixing – but it sure can accelerate the learning process and make it much more effective. Mixing is a complex and emotional process; we train the separate simple skills that you must have in order to get great mixes.”
Production Workout 2017 | Feature
SoundGym Ear Training Workout Are you a heavy lifter when judging tonal change, compression and delay? Find out with a workout!
These challenges ask you to evaluate the exact frequency value of a bell boost or cut. Two buttons – Original and After Gain – sit in the centre, and you click between them to instantly A/B between the unprocessed and EQ’d signal. Once you’ve made your mind up, you click on the main frequency graph at the point you judge. As with all the tasks, they seem fairly easy at first, but the values become more subtle as you progress.
This training session is all about evaluating subtle amplitude change. A song is played, and two different dB values are displayed on either side of the screen (eg, -1dB and +1dB). Now punch between the Original and After Gain settings to compare, as you try and assess which of the two dB changes has been applied. This task seems pretty easy when the dB variations are large, but it gets much tougher as the value variations become more subtle.
Here’s another challenge that appears to be incredibly simple on the surface, but requires skill and focus to master. A sound source is played at a position from left to right within the stereo field, and your task is to identify exactly where the sound is panned, by clicking as close as you can to that pan position on the main left-to-right strip.
Here, you’re asked to switch between two copies of an identical FX sound, but one has a delay effect applied. As you might have guessed by now, your task is to judge by how many milliseconds the copy has been delayed by. Being completely honest, we struggled to guess the delay times on our first session, but we passed first time on our second go – proving the exercise works.
This exercise is also extremely straightforward. You’re presented with two different versions of the same sound source, one more heavily compressed than the other. Your job is to assess which sound is the more compressed version. It’s pretty easy to judge between the two versions when one is obviously more squashed than the other, but sometimes the difference is so subtle that you really have to listen carefully.
This workout presents you with two different filter settings – for example the left option might be a band-pass, while the right is a low-pass. After you’ve A/Bed between the dry and processed signals, you simply have to choose which of the two filter options has been applied. Although we were sceptical at first, all of these SoundGym challenges genuinely help you improve your hearing skills with a few days’ practice – and also expose issues with inaccurate monitoring!
Feature | Production Workout 2017 INCLUDES VIDEO VaULt.fUtUrEmUSIC.CO.Uk
Break your compression habits Compression is one of the first things you learn about in music production but one of the hardest to master. Our tips will help you step up your game Getting basic dynamics right can be the difference between a hard-hitting masterpiece and a squelchy, underpowered mess, and so we’ve all become well-versed in the art of grabbing a compressor, throwing it onto a track, and dialling it in. When you’re first starting out in production, this can be a hard concept to grasp, but when you’ve mastered it, things become easy, straightforward, and… well, a bit run-of-the-mill. When it comes to the art of compression, ‘a compressor’ is only the beginning. As production becomes more complicated, and the competition between tracks more
complex, it may be time to step up your game and get to know some of the latest compression techniques.
More flavours The first alternative to ‘standard’ compression is parallel compression. We don’t need to tell you that this involves duplicating a signal and harshly compressing only one, but it’s worth keeping in mind that any of the techniques we’re about to show you can be used as parallel processes if the situation is right. Multiband compression is another obvious alternative to standard compression. Instead of processing
your signal, different settings are applied to different bands, helping you create transparent processes over varied material, or creative effects over similar material. Originally a mastering mainstay, multiband compression is now accepted as a mixing or ‘clean-up’ process.
Mid/side compression Mid/side is an alternative stereo format to left/right, which divides the signal into its mono-only element –
When it comes to the art of compression, ‘a compressor’ is only the beginning ie, what’s equal in both speakers, or ‘mid’ – and the stereo-only element – ie, what’s different between both speakers. It’s not to be confused with summing a stereo track to mono. Digital compressors can operate differently on stereo material, either compressing left and right channels separately, or together via stereo
Mid/Side Compression When a one-channel compressor just won’t cut it, this flexible way to split dynamics across the stereo field could be your answer We can use mid/side compression to treat the fully mono (mid) elements and stereo (side) elements of a stereo track differently. Not only can we dial in compression settings for side and mid signals separately, we can also use one to sidechain another, letting the mid duck the side in order to give it more definition and really ram home its powerful focus. If you don’t have a mid/side-capable compressor to hand, you can set up your own using a mid/side encoder such as Voxengo’s free MSED, as explained below. A similar trick to step 3 below can be achieved if your mid/side compressor can be linked and processing bypassed per channel.
This drum track features kick and snare in the middle, with the overheads wider in the stereo field. By compressing the sides only, we can dial in faster and harder settings for the overheads/room sound, like parallel compression, bringing up the side signal to add character.
To use a compressor that’s not got mid/side built into it, we’ve duplicated the channel and added Voxengo MSED to each – one set to Side Mute, the other to Mid Mute. Now we’ve got two channels, one for mids, the other for sides. Here’s where it gets interesting…
linking, but add mid/side encoding into the bargain, and you have a very useful form of compression. The mid element technically accounts for a very small angle – what’s immediately in front of the listener, so only things panned to the centre – but this narrow slice of the stereo field is a crucial one: kick, snare and lead vocal are most often found here, taking up the very centre of the sonic stage. So having dedicated compression control over only the mid element (or indeed, only the side), can be especially useful, and by using sidechaining between the two elements, we can take it even further, as seen in the below walkthrough.
We can set up a sidechain routing between the two, placing a compressor on the sideonly channel and using the mid channel to duck it. Like normal sidechain compression, this gives the snare room to pop through, but it’s all happening on the same channel.
Serial compression Why use one compressor when you could use two? That’s the thinking behind serial compression, which is the focus of our second walkthrough. While it might sound a little unnecessary, most audio material in any track will actually be compressed multiple times, accounting for any group processing and master compression applied. The idea is to use one high-ratio, slow-attack compressor to scalp the peaks from a waveform – which we could describe as clipping or limiting, depending on how it’s applied. The next step is to use another compressor, this time set with a lower ratio and slower timing, to bring the whole de-clipped signal down and add character. The technique works for a few reasons: by separating the workload between two compressors, each performs a specific function more efficiently. You can select the compressors used based on their talents – harsh, digital compressor for peak limiting, and analogue-style compression for the gentler stage. The order of the two stages is interchangeable – our method avoids pumping, but this could be desirable for some tracks. When you’ve mastered the dual-compressor approach, give it a try using even more, to get the best out of every device in your chain.
Production Workout 2017 | Feature
Serial Compression If using more than one compressor sounds hedonistic to you, think again. It’s a real technique, with real benefits, and it’s called serial compression
We all know about parallel compression, blending a heavily compressed signal with an unprocessed one… but serial compression is a different animal. It uses multiple compressors placed in a chain. The principles were first used in mastering, with the Shadow Hills compressor being a good example, but we’re using it in a mixing context here. So how is serial compression different to just whacking a single compressor onto a channel in your mix?
Now for the second compressor placed after the first. This will be slower, and designed to add character – a classic buss or desk compressor could be great at this point. Now dial in some gentler settings: slower attack and release, lower threshold and a gentler ratio should bring the whole vocal into line and also give the sound a bit of personality.
Here’s a raw vocal track ready for some compression. The obvious first step is to throw a compressor on there and dial in some appropriate settings. That’s fine, but we can go one better. Instead, let’s start again with serial compression. This time, we add the compressor with one intention in mind: to scalp the topmost peaks off the waveform only – almost like a limiter or a clipper. This means we can choose a compressor that’s better for that specific task.
In essence, serial compression is comparable to the effect of sub-group or mastering compression, but allows even more control to be taken during the mixing/ sound-design process. Serial compression won’t just work on every track, but it’s a good technique to have at the ready when you need to get the right response, reining in unruly material. We’ve used a vocal for this example because they can be especially tricky to knock into shape.
Let’s tackle the peaks – whack the attack and release down to a minimum, activate Lookahead to make sure it clamps right down. The ratio and threshold should be fairly high, as we’re trying to affect just the highest peaks, and hit them hard. With the fast timing and high ratio, be very aware of distorting the peaks too much as the waveform starts to get shaved off at the tops.
The ordering of the two compressors isn’t set in stone. Placing the peak-clipper first as we’ve done will help reduce pumping, for example. But why stop at two compressors – here’s the same vocal balanced with four stages of compression, ranging from very fast timing and high ratio/threshold settings, to slow timing and low ratio/threshold settings. Admittedly, this is overkill for our specific vocal, but we have to admit that it sounds better than it did before!
Feature | Production Workout 2017
unusuaL souND DesiGN iDeas Trying something a little unorthodox in your sound design creation process can really open the door for unexpected and new creativity to emerge… Extreme distortion
Take a ‘distortion synthesis’ approach to extremes by sculpting entirely new tones and timbres using only simple sounds and distortion – for example, push a pure sine wave into a distortion stage to square off the waveform, and vary the input gain with volume modulation (ie, tremolo) to create wavering waveform change.
Sometimes it’s the sounds made by mistakes that really inspire – so create hardware malfunctions on purpose… Plug a cable into the wrong ports to
generate buzzes/hums, crank up an empty mixer channel’s preamp gain to capture the amplified system noise, and pull a turntable’s needle off the record for scratches and pops. Now use these for sound design!
Get the bends
Some of the best Dance music basslines feature lip-curling pitchbends that add that special something – but drawing in specific bends via MIDI can be tedious. Instead, try and incorporate these movements at the sound design stage – create a cool bass patch in a synth, assign an LFO to global pitch, then print a bunch of
Break the rules
Music production advice usually involves sweeping statements such as “watch your gain staging between plug-ins”, “less is more”, and “you can’t polish a…”. Well, although these statements are founded in truth, the most important quote of all is “the rules are there to be broken”! So when you’re stuck for sound design inspiration, try breaking the rules! Overload plug-ins, stack up dozens of devices, and make it your mission to transform awful recordings into sonic gold.
Stick to one synth patch
Modern ‘power synths’ such as Xfer Records Serum and Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 give you a flabbergasting amount of synthesis options. A good way to make use of all this potential is to try and create an entire drum groove – or even an entire track! – within the same synth patch. For example, use Serum’s four LFOs as separate step sequencers to design an entire beat loop – use a tight ¼-note LFO spike to trigger both volume and pitch modulation over Osc A’s sine wave to create a kick; trigger the Noise oscillator with a rhythmic LFO 2 pattern for an intricate hi-hat groove; drop in a clap/snare on the 2 and 4 via Osc B and LFO 3; and use LFO 4 to create a simple bass via the sub oscillator. 30
live tweaks to audio as you alter this LFO’s speed. Once recorded, chop up and save out the various sections, then throw these segments into a track at the composition stage to inspire clever bends and twists.
Make an uber-sound
Max out your computer’s processing power by designing one single uber-sound! Stack up unison voices, go mental with modulation, and purposely assign everything to modulate everything. Once you’ve reached the limit of your computer’s processing power, resample the patch into a sampler and start the process again!
Make music with your ears, not your eyes, right? Wrong! Fire up a synth’s init patch, turn off your speakers, then create an entire synth patch without listening to it! You can plan how it will sound by choosing waveforms by eye, or go crazy and hook up random parameters. It’s worth a try if you’re completely stuck for inspiration!
Feature | Production Workout 2017
Get started with eurorack With the modular revolution well and truly here, we take a look at the history of modular synths from Moog and Buchla to Doepfer and beyond
So before we dive in face first, what is a modular synth? Well it’s a synthesizer whose components come as individual modules allowing the user to define the functions and layouts of the system and
then define the signal paths for both audio and modulation through patching. The first available modular systems were designed in parallel by the R.A. Moog Co (on the east coast
of the US) and by Buchla (on the west coast of the US) in 1963. Who made ‘the first’ modular synth is a debated topic with both Bob Moog and Don Buchla often citing the other as the first to get there. It’s likely we’ll never have a definitive answer but both Moog and Buchla were developing their own modular systems at the same time. Move forward 32 years and we see Eurorack brought to life by Doepfer in 1995 with the release of ten modules and a system that defined the Eurorack standards. Eurorack modules are 3U high (U is rack units also used to measure rackbased synths and studio processors) and module widths are measured in HP (standing for horizontal pitch). So why choose a Eurorack set-up? That’s a simple one… ease of entry and the vast range of options to build your own instrument/device to suit your exact needs. The format has been expanded not only by Doepfer but by a huge range of companies releasing modules ranging from the cheap and cheerful to esoteric and unique. Eurorack offers a platform that can pull ideas from not just Moog and Buchla but also Serge and EMS, a range of digital synthesis methods, modern DSP technologies and more.
Eurorack Must-Haves Unlike other gear, Eurorack modules are far from ‘plug and play’ without some architecture around them. Here’s what you need… There are three things you need to get started: a way to mount your modules, power and a way to control your modules. Modules mount on rails that can be screwed into end cheeks on a desktop, connected to brackets or rack ears and mounted inside a case. You screw your modules onto the rails and then plug in their power cables (16 or 10-pin ribbons on the module side) into the buss boards that distribute power (these are headers with 16 connection pins) through the system. Power either comes into the case as mains voltages and is controlled with an internal supply or can be an external supply that regulates voltages for the buss boards in the case. Power can even be a module itself. You also need a way to control your system, be it manually, with controllers, sequencers or keyboards. There’s lots to explore.
Be careful when plugging in your modules. It’s easy to offset the position of the connector against the pins on the buss board. We recommend plugging them in one by one and testing they power up just in case you’ve made a mistake.
Check out http://modulargrid.net to plan your system. The size of the case will be measured in HP and rack units so you’ll need to make sure the modules you want fit in that space. Create an account, create a rack and start planning!
Think about how you’re going to control your system. Be sure to leave space and budget for integration/control modules to make the most of your system. Whether it’s MIDI interfaces, joysticks, touch controllers, sequencers or audio inputs, you’ll need something to get going.
DOs & DON’TS In the World of Modular
Look at putting together a Frankenstein system that pulls in ideas from all forms of synthesis… west coast FM and wavefolding, subtractive fat filtering, drums, FX, sequencers and controllers – you can make a truly unique system.
Check your buss boards and modules before plugging them in. The general rule is the red stripe on the ribbon cable carries the -12 volts and is usually facing downwards on the module and buss board.
Patch the output of a module into the output of another module. This is the only ‘rule’ to stick to. You’ll be sad if you break your new modules!
Be afraid to mix up audio and modulation. Your CV inputs often yield new sonic territory when modulated at audio rates.
Production Workout 2017 | Feature
Which moduLes to choose?
Make Your Own Patches
Emulate The West Coast
Once you have a case, power and a way to control your modules, you’re no doubt going to be in a world of excitement dying to create your own sonic adventure. There are lots of options for different styles and sounds even within the same type of synthesis. Say you want to build a Moog replica, there’s more than one set of modules that will get you close. The same applies for a Serge voice replica or Buchla-style system – it’s pretty endless. We recommend avoiding a very specific pre-planned route and to think in more simple terms. You’ll need a sound source, a processor and a modifier. That could be an oscillator, filter and envelope. Or it could be a sampler, FX and LFOs. Thinking in more simple terms will help you explore options and build a system that is unique to you. Mix up your Moog-style oscillators, Serge wavefolders and modern DSP. That’s the beauty of the platform.
Every patch you make on a modular system is your own. There’s no presets and prerouting that define the sounds you use or the modulation. Patching is done with 3.5mm mono cables and any output can be plugged into any input. Patch up something familiar to get started. Look at your favourite soft synth/hardware synth and follow the signal path. Chances are you’ll have oscillators going into a mixer, into a filter and into a VCA, and LFOs and envelopes used to control sound. Try to remake its signal path for both audio and modulation on your modular. Then try re-routing signals to create something more unique.
Start with a dual complex oscillator – a module with two oscillators that can modulate each other to create a range of FM and AM sounds alongside oscillator sync and sometimes even additional waveshaping too. This is where you can generate a huge range of unique and complex tones not heard in many other synths. You’ll want a low-pass gate (LPG) to control the high-end frequencies and amplitude in your signal. Patch in your gates and triggers to the LPG to open the sound and let the vactrol ring in with its natural sounding decay. A good place to start is with Make Noise, Sputnik Modular and Verbos Electronics.
Create An FX Processing Set-Up
Create A Moog-Style Monster!
You’ll need audio inputs to bring in external sounds so pick out an input module then choose some FX. Modulation is often key to creating something engaging and unique. So while filling a case with FX modules might be fun, it will be even better with some modulation. Be sure you have envelope followers to get input dependent CV data you can patch around your system. Imagine if the harder you play the longer the reverb trail, or more resonant your phase shifter is… nice! LFOs/sequencers will help animate even the more stale FX (think of this as your automation generation) so be sure to leave room for some.
However experimental we’re trying to be it’s hard not to love the sound of a deep saw wave through a meaty low-pass filter that’s saturating and chewing your frequencies like it’s not had a meal in days. For us the Moog sound is all about the filter; not entirely but get the right filter and you can get very close to sounding like a Moog system regardless of the oscillator(s) at the input. The filter was a low-pass ladder design and we suggest checking out the AJH Synth MiniMod range for incredible clones of a Moog Model D. To re-create the Model D you’ll need three oscillators, a mixer, a filter, two envelopes and a VCA.
Feature | Production Workout 2017
unorthodoX arraNGemeNts Sometimes to get in touch with the creative side of our brain it helps to approach things from a slightly different angle. Here are some ideas to try… Do the opposite
An often-cited arrangement technique is to take a commercial track you like and drop the file on your arrange page, so you can copy the structure of this track as a guide for your own arrangement. One absolutely unintuitive but nonetheless effective way to turn this method on its head is to start with a track you like, but then use its arrangement as a template for what not to do! Has the artist’s track got a long, drawn-out, progressive style? Then make your arrangement short and snappy! You get the idea…
We’re always told to use our ears at all stages of the production process… so go against the grain and create a rough arrangement without listening to what you’re doing! Try crazy techniques such as throwing samples
straight onto the arrange page, loading synth presets and automating parameters, and laying out all your parts on the timeline before blindly deleting sections, without even listening through the track. Once you’ve chucked a bunch of ideas down, listen through and see if you’ve come up with something you wouldn’t normally have thought of.
Pick the right time
To arrange music naturally and spontaneously, you need to be able to tap into the creative part of your brain at the right time. Therefore, don’t try and lay out a track after you’ve spent several hours building up an eight-bar loop, as you’ll have already spent a lot of your brainpower generating the ideas. Instead, stay up late creating your stacks of parts; sleep on the idea, to let it simmer away in your subconscious; then wake up first thing in the
Use a dodgy acapella
We all have endless acapellas filling up our hard drives – many of which are bad quality, downright cheesy, or both. It might sound silly, but why not make use of one purely as an arrangement guide? Use a terrible acapella as the basis of a song’s arrangement and structure, make a track around it, then delete it! 34
Start in the middle
We all arrange tracks in different ways: some like to begin at the first drop and flesh out the surrounding sections once the meat of the track is in place, while others lay down the track’s intro first before naturally building the track up as the listener would hear it. These methods can leave you stuck for ideas, however – so try the unorthodox approach of starting a track at the second breakdown. At this specific point, you can freely introduce parts and assume the listener has already heard them before, meaning you can go more wild with automation and change – it’s much easier to then work backwards and fill out earlier sections by subduing the elements from the second break. Plus, you know this section is probably going to build to the most important climax of the track, so you can focus solely on ramping up the maximum amount of tension possible without having to hold back. morning and arrange it quickly while you’re still sleepy, to tap into that fuzzy brain state and unlock a creative spark.
Draw it out
There’s something about putting pen to paper that’s proven to get the creative juices going, as it helps
you impress an idea more firmly into your creative subconscious. So instead of slogging away in your DAW as usual, bust out a notepad and draw out a visual plan of your arrangement. Not only will this help solidify your arrangement gameplan, but it’ll also set you up with a handy guide for you to refer back to if you get stuck.
Feature | Production Workout 2017
makiNG Beats with maX chapman We chat to rising Tech-House star Max Chapman and he gives us the lowdown on how he goes about getting his funky, rolling beats Max Chapman has delighted TechHouse aficionados with his bassheavy, groove-laden take on the genre, and his releases on Elrow and VIVa have caused dancefloor devastation the world over. We catch up with Max in his Clacton-on-Sea studio…
make their kicks a lot more powerful. Also I wanted to show how I don’t usually use groove pools, because sometimes it grooves the whole track too much. So I’m going to show them how I do things manually; it’s a quick way to do it and easy to understand.”
FM: Why approach FM about a drum programming/processing tutorial? Max: “People message me so many times asking me for kicks, and what they don’t realise is that they can take almost anything and make it a lot punchier. So I wanted to teach people how to use parallel compression on a buss or with a return channel, and
Do you always start with drums when you’re making a track? “Every time, and then I’ll probably go with a vocal, maybe chop something up and put a bassline around it so it’s in key. A lot of people make tunes and then try and put a vocal in at the end and it’s not so good because it’s hard to make it fit.”
Some producers seem to underestimate the importance of tuning their drums… “That’s another thing – with my kicks I kind of instantly know what note to go off on the bassline, but I think that’s mainly playing around and having a little go on the keys afterwards. There’s nothing really too advanced about the stuff I make!” What’s your philosophy when it comes to production? “A lot of people ask me where I get my inspiration from… I get inspired by so many different things, but nine times out of ten I just sit down and
Adding Beef To Kicks With Parallel Processing Max shows us how to make raw drum machine kick samples heavier with a little parallel compression and filtering A solid kick is important in practically every genre of Dance music, especially House. But the current vogue for retro-sounding drum machine kits presents a challenge: how can you keep that retro feel without the kicks sounding too thin? Max has a clever answer, which involves parallel ‘New York’ compression and filtering to accentuate his kick’s low-end thump. This effect can be replicated in any DAW using a buss or return track, and any basic compressor or EQ/filter effect. Having this processing occur in parallel means the amount can be dialled in subtly without affecting the original track, so you can get the perfect balance between dynamic punch and booming low-end.
Max uses Ableton Live’s Simpler instrument to play back his kick sample, triggering it with short MIDI notes. He tweaks Simpler’s Release time to control how long the kick lasts. Max wants to beef the kick up with some parallel processing, and opts to use a return track for this.
A Compressor is placed on the return track, followed by an EQ Eight. Max sets one of the EQ Eight’s bands to a low-pass filter at around 100Hz, filtering out everything but the compressed kick’s low-end thump. He then turns his attentions to the Compressor.
Max sets the threshold, ratio and knee. “The bendier knee is more for the low-end of the kick, the tighter knee is more for high-end, so on the kick we’ll go more for high-end,” he explains. To apply parallel processing, he turns up the send level on the kick track.
make it off my own back anyway! Sometimes I’ll reference a tune that I really like, and most of the time it turns out nothing like it.” How do you pick your drum sounds? “I like 909 stuff really, a lot of classic sounds. Most of the time I’ll use 909 open and closed hats. Shaker is one of the only things I use as a loop really, and sometimes some congas and stuff like that, things like 808 rimshots. I usually use a 909 clap, but I’m going to use something a little bit thicker in this today. Sometimes I’ll layer the clap with a pitched down one and EQ them so they don’t clash. Sometimes I’ll widen the lower one, but today I’m just going to use standard Ableton effects. I usually use Waves and things like that but I’m going to go with standard stuff today. You can use choruses but it doesn’t really do the job properly. There’s probably something in there, just not something that I know of, or haven’t played with enough.” These days House has a lot of energy in the lows. How do you ensure your 909 kicks are heavy enough? “I do like the 909 kicks but unless I do the parallel compression or something like that I find it tough to work with them unless they’re put through something and made a bit tougher – maybe some drive, sometimes saturated or whatever. Sometimes I think it can be too much, so today I’ve just got a 909 that might have had a little compression on it but it’s pretty standard and I use the parallel compression to get the bottom-end coming through a bit more, and that seems to work for me all the time.”
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Fleshing Out The Beat With Claps, Hats And Percussion Once Max has got his kicks sounding substantial, he laces his beat with a selection of other drum machine samples and a funky shaker loop
Next Max adds a clap, and like the kick he does this by sequencing a short note and using the Simplerâ€™s Release time to control how long the sample plays for. To apply manual swing, Max zooms the MIDI grid editor in and repositions one of the hits manually. He also turns down the velocity on the swung hit to make it less prominent.
An open 909 hat is added next, which Max tunes to fit with the kick and the clap, and he then applies reverb to it via a return track. He complements the open hat part with a closed 909 hat, and he applies 1/16th note swing by moving the hits manually.
Unlike the previous sounds, the shaker part is an audio clip. The loop is stereo and is louder on the left channel than the right, so to make it mono Max adds a Utility effect with the Width parameter set to 0%. He then groups the hats, puts a Compressor on the shaker track, and uses the hat group to feed the Compressorâ€™s sidechain input, ducking the shaker when the hats play.
A high-pass filter in EQ Eight is used to take the unwanted low-end out of the clap, and Max sets this to around 1kHz. He then duplicates the clap track, and transposes the duplicate part down four semi-tones to make a thicker clap sound.
So that the open and closed hats donâ€™t clash, Max puts a Compressor on the closed hat channel, and sets its sidechain input to the open hat track. This causes the closed hats to duck in volume every time the open hat plays.
Max picks out a snare sample and uses his MIDI controller to record a part live. He then tweaks its timing in the MIDI grid editor, and complements it with another snare sample which he sequences in a similar fashion to create a funky rhythmic interplay. He pans the snares slightly to give the beat a little stereo width.
Feature | Production Workout 2017
10 underrated synths to Get oN your raDar! These days, it’s genuinely hard to find synth bargains but if you keep an eye out on the likes of eBay and Gumtree, some great and reasonably priced synths do still pop up. Below you’ll find the lowdown on some underrated, yet still relatively cheap synths that are worth grabbing…
Those in the know understand that the EX5 is a special synth. It was ahead of its time when launched in 1998 (ie a multi-engined flagship synth-workstation that pre-dated
Korg’s Kronos by 13 years) and it’s still massively underrated. Incorporating not just AWM2 but also an FDSP mode (that could emulate electric piano pickups and water amongst other things) plus VL acoustic/physical modelling, AN (virtual analogue), effects and sampling (sample loading is slow over SCSI/ZIP), the EX5 is a warm/
Waldorf Pulse 2
This is one of only two current products in our list of underrated synths but that’s because it’s truly underrated! Considering how much power is under the hood, it’s a real steal for just £369. You get a well-built module containing a versatile three DCObased analogue sound engine with powerful multimode filter (which can do classic Moogy and more punchy modern sounds), along with a paraphonic mode that can produce up to 8-note chords. Then you have a powerful modulation matrix to work with to twist your sounds, plus a versatile arpeggiator. A bargain! lush sounding machine that was only held back by its underpowered CPU. You can get hold of one for £500 or less today.
> Roland V-Synth
The 2003 V-Synth (or later GT/XT Rack) is still ahead of its time and can be found fairly cheaply (£480-£750). It uses VariPhrase/Articulative Phrase technology, allowing real-time manipulation of samples/waveforms, resulting in other-worldly, unique sounds with realistic articulation. VariPhrase is especially effective when using the Time-Trip multi-axis pad to warp the PCM/VA waves or incoming/sampled audio in real time. The GT/ XT also had Roland’s powerful vocoder/Vocal Designer feature. 38
Launched in 1989, the flagship SY77 was the true successor to the DX7. While it included Yamaha’s respected AWM2 sample-based technology, the real heart of this machine was its super-powerful 6-operator (oscillator in FM-speak) 45-algorithm AFM engine which could be modulated by the AWM2 engine for unique textures. The SY77/99 also featured resonant multimode filters (the DX7 had no filter onboard) plus powerful effects derived from the SPX 90II. It’s very complex to program (like most FM synths!) but the rewards are great – it’s capable of precise/warm/dirty digital and very convincing analogue vibes too. Expect to pay around £200-300 used.
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Roland JX-10 (Super-JX)
Essentially two JX-8Ps in one box, (and with a close rack-mountable relation in the form of the MKS-70), this was Roland’s last monster synth from the golden era of Roland analogues and featured 12 voices and 24 DCOs, plus a 76-note keyboard with aftertouch/splitting/ layering capabilities. It also includes cross-mod, sync and a chorus effect (in a similar vein to the Juno-106s). It lacks real-time controls on the front but can be paired with Roland’s PG-800 programmer for more handson control of the many onboard parameters. Excels at pads and warm brass sounds. Expect to pay £700+.
Moog Slim Phatty
Now discontinued, the Slim Phatty packs the Little Phatty’s sound engine and features into a desktop/rackmountable format and it sounds every bit as great as its keyboard-equipped relation. At £400-500 this polyphonically-chainable monosynth has two fat-sounding Bob Moog designed oscillators (with continuously variable waveshapes) and the Moog 24dB low-pass filter (with variable poles), plus an intuitive interface. All controls/parameters send and receive MIDI and the overdrive/overload circuit adds subtle or more damaging grit to your sounds.
Realistic Concertmate MG-1
A real Moog in disguise and badged under the RadioShack (Tandy) brand ‘Realistic’, this great little synth was a mix of bits from the Moog Liberation keytar and the Rogue, with an additional polyphonic square wave driven (divide-downtype) ‘poly’ section. Features include two oscillators (labelled as ‘Tone Source’) with oscillator sync and square/saw/pulse waves, the Moog 24dB low-pass filter with resonance (Emphasis), an LFO and an attack/ release (with switchable sustain) envelope shared between amp/filter. If you can find one it’s a great synth and it really does sound like a Moog should. Prices are creeping up – expect to pay £500/600.
Korg Poly-800 (Mk1 and 2)
Currently selling for around £200, these compact 8-voice synths include two DCOs for sound production (though using both DCOs halves polyphony) coupled to a single (paraphonic) filter with three envelopes and a single modulation generator (sine wave LFO). The Mk1 featured a chorus effect to thicken the sound (Juno-style), while the Mk2 featured
a 12-bit digital delay instead. One other bonus is these synths had strap connectors so you could wear them in a keytar fashion! Like many other synths of this era, the interface was largely devoid of real-time controls but it does have MIDI and 64 presets.
Hard to find these days but nonetheless a killer polysynth for around £700. It has a big, dirty and raw sound and was Akai’s response to the Juno-106 in many ways, even including a similar dual-mode chorus effect. However, instead of DCOs, this beastie had six voices utilising VCOs (so sonically it was pretty vibey) plus a 4-pole resonant filter with separate HPF (also like the Juno). It also had upper/lower parts for splits (bi-timbral over MIDI), an input for Akai samplers and you could modulate the filter using the VCOs for more clangorous FM-like sounds.
At just £370-400, the JD-Xi often gets overlooked but it packs in a helluva lot and sounds fantastic. You get two 64-voice fully-blown SuperNatural synth parts/engines with PCM waves, a great-sounding analogue monosynth, a vocoder, guitar synth capabilities and to polish things off, a killer multi-track drum machine/sequencer with up to four drum layers per key and individual drum filtering/tweak-ability.
Feature | Production Workout 2017
Brush uP oN music theory Let’s face it, most music theory is stuffy and offputting. Here are a bunch of principles you can put to good use – no jargon, just simple techniques Scale up and forget
Scales and keys are simple – instead of creating a track using all of the 12 available notes, you create it using seven. The patterns between the notes are what define a scale. If every instrument in a track is playing only from that same set of notes, then you should be in key. The root note is the focal note of the track – D in D major, for example – the one that comes right at the start and end of almost every musical phrase. Start at your
root, and move the keyboard in the pattern 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 to play a major scale. For a minor scale, the pattern is 2-1-2-2-1-2-2. As examples, move up all white keys of the keyboard from C to C and you’ll play the C major scale; go from A to A and you’ll have played the minor scale.
What chords can I use?
If you’ve got yourself a scale, it’s not hard to figure out which chords will go with it. Again, your chords will only
A sequence of chords will sound best when the notes make fewer huge leaps between chords. If there’s a huge difference in height between chords on your piano roll, there’s usually an inversion (see right) you can make to bring all the notes closer together. In the picture, the first two chords are in normal position, and the second two are inverted. The second pairing puts the notes of each chord closer together, and this makes for a far smoother transition and sound. 40
Simple stuff with pentatonic scales
Musical scales don’t have to even contain seven notes – perhaps the simplest scale for listening to and creating music with is the pentatonic scale. Start at F# and play all the black notes, and you have the F# pentatonic scale. Therefore, to start at any note, you just need to know that the gaps between notes go in the pattern 2-2-3-2-3. Pentatonic scales are simple but can be extremely compelling.
be made from the notes of the scale you’ve chosen. A basic ‘triad’ is made of three notes, moving up the scale but skipping a note every time. If you’re using C major (all the white notes on the keyboard from C to C), your first triad will be C-E-G. Start at a note: C, miss one (D), play one: E, miss one (F), play one: G.
What about flats and sharps?
Anyone who’s ever sat down at a keyboard will be able to tell you that Db and C# are the same note, but music
theory has different ideas. Music theory’s job is to name things, and the difference is only in the name. These notes are exactly the same, and it’s only for advanced purposes that they’re given different names – even then, they’re the same note, just referred to differently. Don’t let the theorists’ will to name things discourage you from experimentation.
More chords to try
Basic triads are fine, but for a bit more musical sophistication, try adding more notes to them (again,
Production Workout 2017 | Feature
skipping every other scale note) to make sevenths, ninths and elevenths. Next give suspended chords a go – these involve taking the middle note of the triad and moving it up or down by one scale note.
A sense of tension
A diminished chord has three notes separated by a gap of three – eg, F-G#-B. When it comes to ‘standard triads’, they bear more resemblance to minor than major but, with the notes separated by the same gap of three, and the top and bottom separated by a gap of six, diminished chords are especially disturbing and aggravating. For this reason, they’re great to place at the height of tension, potentially best used during a build-up, though sometimes just as good as a connecting-chord between two normal triads. For an even more suspensive note combination, try adding another note on the top, again separated by three steps – the diminished seventh.
One of the best ways to know and understand the useful parts of music theory is to get yourself on a course of ear training. Using websites or apps specially designed for the task, you can quiz yourself on different note combinations and chords in quick quizzes based on sounds. Pretty soon, when having to think about the combinations of notes presented, you’ll start to absorb the different relative sounds, and back at your DAW, you’ll be able to reach for ‘that note in your head’ a lot faster.
Inversions are, put simply, the idea of playing a chord with the notes in the ‘wrong order’, so instead of playing a D major D-F#-A, you could play it A-D-F#, and still maintain the exact same feeling. One way to use inversions to good effect is so that the lowest notes match a bassline below it; another good use is in the tip below…
Two ways to change key
Changing the key of your track in the middle is a way to make things interesting. So how is a key change performed? The first and simplest way is to just abruptly change it from one bar to the next, with no warning. The second way is to introduce the next key just after playing a chord that this key and the current key share. Transitioning from G major to A major, to give an example, can be done using the chords Bm (B-D-F#) or D (D-F#-A), as both keys share these notes and chords.
find music played in a mode rather than in a major/minor scale, but this is one way to keep things interesting.
A la modes
When you’ve had your fill of standard major/minor scales, try some modes. Remember how C major and A minor were both played using the same notes, just starting at different places? Well, there are five more starting points you can use, and each is known as a mode. It’s unusual to
Keep it in key
If you’re having trouble keeping to a key, your piano roll might be able to help. In Ableton Live, for example,
you can wrap the piano roll to show only the notes that have been programmed into it so far, hiding the others. Add to this the fact that you can also drag notes back to before the first beat, and you can program in the notes of your scale before you start, drag them back behind the first bar, and ‘Fold’ the notes so you can only program acceptable notes. Many hardware controllers and sequencers allow you to do a similar thing. NI Maschine, Ableton Push and Novation Circuit all feature scale modes that ‘fold’ all the notes in a key across a grid of pads.
Feature | Production Workout 2017
7 non-daW softWare iDeas Not every piece of software exists to create, play or process a sound – these workflow and signalrouting apps aim to make your studio life simpler Soundflower
Mac users can use this software as a virtual audio driver. Soundflower can pass audio signals from one place to another, connecting to an audio interface in the process, making a bridge between it and any software on which you can select Soundflower as an output. Additionally, the software can be used to bypass interfaces entirely and route audio from one application to another.
This open-source protocol was created to help send and receive audio from anything and to anything – or at least anything that can run it. JACK, which stands for ‘JACK Audio Connection Kit’, can run on Windows, Mac and Linux, aiming to unify multiple audio systems into one. What this means, practically, is that you can install the same version of JACK on a Windows
machine and a Mac, and connect them via, say, ethernet cable, allowing you to run cross-platform set-ups – VST plug-ins in Logic, for example. You can also use JACK on a single computer to provide a link between bits of software that can’t usually talk to each other. Fancy running Omnisphere 2 with Reason? This and more is possible with JACK.
Mixed In Key
Mostly similar to the sample organisers above, Mixed In Key organises samples by their key, helping you to track down which fit together musically. The idea of ‘harmonic’ mixing that Mixed In Key is based on may sound a bit academic, but it’s simple in use – the program detects the notes in your samples, works out what key each sample is in, and helps to connect the musical dots for you, knowing which samples will safely slot into the same track together.
Most of us have a bunch of samples lying around in a loosely defined system, some scattered folders and a few highlighted files. If your new year’s resolution is to sort out your samples once and for all, check out the programs that can make the task easier. AudioFinder catalogues every sound on your system (OS X only), and lets you insert metatags, rename files, edit waveforms. Audio Ease’s Snapper 2 even lets you drag your sounds right into your DAW. Also check out Revel Breezer and Aural Probe. Studiomux
Get audio and MIDI to and from your iOS device with the Studiomux app. Rather than using wireless connections,
Rogue Amoeba’s awesome software for Mac lets you select another program on the same computer and rip audio straight from it. If you’re the kind of producer who likes using foley recordings and real-world sounds – or a budding fan of government mass surveillance programs – you can use Audio Hijack to capture from things like Skype, Chrome (a good back door to YouTube and Spotify), your system audio, and attached mics, audio interfaces, and so on.
Studiomux is a solution for connecting your music-making computers using the standard USB connector wire. When all is said and done, this is often the simplest and most reliable way to make the connection.
Tablet Controllers for DAWs
If you’re still in a monogamous relationship with your USB mouse, you may want to consider livening things up by taking tablet-based control of your DAW. Most major DAWs can now be controlled – in whole or in part – by an app on iOS and/or Android. There’s variation in what different DAWs’ apps can do, their prices, platform compatibility and so forth, and there are also third-party options available, especially for Ableton Live. Whether you’re using it to control the whole program remotely, or just as a second screen for one part (your mixer, perhaps), there’s plenty to be getting on with.
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customise your pLuG-in and fX chains Streamline and speed up your new year studio sessions by sorting out some custom instrument and effects configurations Although it’s no secret that we’re big hardware lovers here at FM, software sound generators and processors certainly have their advantages – one of the main ones being the ability to instantly recall not only one specific plug-in’s settings, but a whole collection of them as one single preset chain or channel strip. All DAWs offer at least one method for storing chains of plug-ins (and their current settings) for later use: Cubase lets you save channel strip settings and entire track presets, Logic houses Smart Controls, Studio One 3 users have Extended FX Chains, and Ableton Live has Racks.
Alternatively, if you want to package up third-party plug-ins within a ‘host’ device that works across all DAWs, Nyrv Systems’ Agent and New Sonic Arts’ Freestyle are two commercial options that let you build your own effects combos. The most obvious benefit to this ‘rack-building’ process is the efficiency and workflow it encourages. Why reinvent the wheel for every studio session? By packaging up carefully-crafted collections of software instruments and effects, then saving them to your preset folder, you’ll be able to quickly call up your saved chain at any time.
It only takes a few mouse clicks to save a chain of plug-ins, and it’ll save you bags of time in the long run. The complexity of these chains is entirely up to you: a basic vocal processing strip may only consist of an initialised EQ, compressor and de-esser, designed only as a simple jumping-off point for you to tweak from scratch; alternatively, you may have very specific set-ups you like to use for a particular vocalist, in which case settings can all be dialled in,
As well as saving you precious time, these custom racks can really boost your creativity ready to go. The plug-ins within your chain can still be reordered, replaced or removed, but you’ll immediately save time instead of trawling through a long list of devices. As well as saving you precious studio time, these kinds of custom racks can really boost your creativity. If you’re not quite ready to build your
Parallel Routing With Grouped FX Chains Ableton Live’s Racks offer an easy way to run multiple plug-in combinations side-by-side. Let’s give it a try... Most variations on the ‘rack’ theme allow you to set up and route your chosen effects via multiple series or parallel configurations within an unassuming interface, without you having to set up complex routings/auxiliary channels in your DAW. Ableton Live’s Racks, for example, consist of a Chain, which is one single collection of effects loaded in series, with its own volume and pan sliders. Unfold the Chain List editor, and you can create additional Chains in parallel alongside the first, expanding the Rack’s potential for multiple streams of parallel processing within a single, space-saving virtual container. Presonus Studio One 3’s Extended FX Chains offer similar functionality…
Drop a fresh Operator onto a MIDI track in Live, then hit Ctrl/Cmd-G to group it into an Instrument Rack. Open the Chain List and you’ll see the Operator’s single chain – right-click in this area and select Create Chain to add a second parallel chain.
Now drop another instrument onto this second chain, and MIDI input will now trigger both instruments within the Rack. Drop an Audio Effect after one of the two instruments to process only that signal path and leave the other unaffected.
own devices from scratch using programs such as Reaktor or MaxMSP, an easier option is to chain together various combos of plug-ins directly in your DAW before saving your inspiring new creation for later use. You might decide to combine an FM synth, sampler, distortion, chorus, reverb and delay – creating one mega ‘Sound FX Generator’ that can be called upon when your track needs a splash of ear candy. Building these from scratch or harvesting them from older projects is a productive way to spend a shorter studio session, or when you’re not in the mood to work on an actual piece of music. And you can even swap your bespoke devices with fellow producers so you have even more creative potential!
To process the combined output of the two instruments as one signal, select the entire Instrument Rack and use Cmd/Ctrl-G again to encapsulate this Rack within another Rack. Now place effects within the last ‘slot’ of the Rack to treat the combined signals as one.
Macro magic Most chain containers feature macros of some kind – essentially ‘blank’ knobs, sliders or buttons that can be assigned to control any plug-in parameter contained within the rack, giving you control over specific parameters (or even multiple parameters) with the turn of one knob. For example, you could assign distortion drive, delay feedback, reverb size and global wet/dry parameters to be controlled by a lone macro, creating a ‘one-knob build-up’ device to induce cavernous, complex-sounding breakdown swells with only a single dial sweep. These can also be labelled (and sometimes colour-coded), giving you an instant indication of the controls in front of you. For instance, if a chain of effects involves a complex network of slow-attack compression, transient shaping and limiting, several parameters could be assigned to a brightly-coloured dial simply labelled ‘snap’. This approach is great for keeping your brain in the creative flow when composing, as you can simplify very complex plug-ins and parameter combos down to essential descriptive terms such as ‘crunch’, ‘bass boost’, ‘sizzle’ and so on – then package it all up into a single widget.
Production Workout 2017 | Feature
Deconstructing Six Essential Ableton Live Racks Custom devices can supercharge your sessions – let’s break down six Audio Effect Rack recipes. Grab them from http://vault.futuremusic.co.uk
For this reverb rack, we’ve first created two parallel chains – the dry chain is empty to allow the unprocessed signal to pass through; the wet chain contains a reverb device. As well as assigning four reverb-tweaking parameters to the rack’s macros, we’ve assigned both of the chains’ volume sliders to two of the rack’s macros for dry/wet level balancing. An EQ Eight, after the reverb, gives us accessible high-/low-pass filters for sculpting the reverb signal’s tone.
Ableton Live’s channel pan offers only a simple levelling of the left and right channels in tandem, so this custom gadget provides precise control over the positioning of the input signal’s left and right channels. The first ‘L’ chain contains a Utility device isolating the left channel, while the second ‘R’ chain isolates the right channel. Both Utility devices’ pan/gain amounts are mapped to macros so you can pan/level the left and right channels independently.
Here’s a cool creation for live performers and DJs. We’ve stacked up a high-pass filter, reverb and delay in series, then a handful of key parameters (filter frequency/resonance, delay mix/time, reverb mix/size, etc) have all been assigned to the rack’s first macro knob. One spin of this knob will make a track descend into filtered rhythmic ambience – perfect for quick breakdowns and DJ-style FX!
Lovers of robotic chaos and glitched-out weirdness will love this custom rack, which elegantly combines two of Live’s more eccentric devices, Beat Repeat and Grain Delay. The former device provides rhythmic buffer repeating and timing ‘malfunctions’, while the latter sprinkles odd, metallic, pitchshifting delays into the mix. Try throwing this one over any source signal to stutter, mangle and mash up your way to sonic oddities.
This rack is designed to virtually ‘age’ pristine signals. First up, the Vinyl Distortion device’s Crackle Volume and Density parameters are mapped to the first two macros, so you can mix in authentic vinyl noise, pops and artifacts. Next, Overdrive adds crunch and grit. After that, a simple high- and low-pass filter allow you to restrict your signal’s frequency content for an ‘aged’ tone. To finish, a touch of compression can be dialled in.
Built for transforming drum and percussion loops into weird and wonderful tones, this device stacks up three creative effects. Live’s Redux (aka bitcrusher) first adds crunchy downsampling; the Vocoder’s internal noise carrier blends in artificial fizziness; and Corpus drops in LFO-driven metallic tones. Make sure you download this issue’s audio content to get your hands on the six Live Racks covered in this tutorial.
Feature | Production Workout 2017
liveN uP your drums Drums are the backbone of most tracks, so getting a distinctive sound from them is vital. Check our tips to add another dimension to your beat making Liven up your snare
Liven up electronic drums by layering hand claps or finger clicks in with your snare, clap or percussion. Record a few takes in using any dynamic or condenser microphone before picking the best ones to layer with your drums. If you’re adding a clap layer to your snare, try using two takes panned left and right to easily create a stereo clap that will also sound good in mono. If you’re making classic boom-bap Hip-Hop beats try layering a humble tambourine over your snare. Experimenting with the timing can give a more live feel.
Steal the groove
An easy way of adding flavour to a rigidly sequenced drum break is to extract the groove from another break you like
(maybe a sampled Funk break!) into a groove template before applying it to your own creation – a great trick for adding that familiar Funk without breaching any copyright rules.
Pre kick click
If your kick is lacking a bit of edge, subtly layering a high pitched ‘click’ layer over it before using your DAW’s channel time delay to make it play 5ms before the kick will increase the perception of attack while giving the kick more presence on small speakers or headphones.
Using a round-robin capable sampler such as NI’s Kontakt allows us to trigger a selection of one-shot samples in order which is ideal for giving
Crunch it up
Nature documentaries or sample packs of rainforest sounds are a rich and varied source of sounds that can be turned into original drum hits with a little processing. A great example is using a sample of a gorilla beating its chest as a kick drum; by placing the sound in a sampler, we can pitch it to suit a track before using the amp envelope to tighten the sound up suitably. Sounds of animals treading on the forest floor can be a rich source of percussive sounds that can be turned into hi-hats, snares or even a ride simply by applying some clever processing such as time-stretching, granular synthesis or extreme distortion to take the sounds out of context.
Even the most boring, vanilla drum samples can be turned into something exciting simply by experimenting with abusing everyday EQ and dynamics processors. One example is making a loud, crunchy jump up Drum ’n’ Bass snare. Simply take any standard drum machine snare sample before applying around 10dB of gain reduction using a limiter such as Waves’ L2 – this’ll crush the snare’s attack, making it into an abrasive block of noise that sounds nothing like the original sample!
drums a more organic, realistic feel. Take a snare drum as an example… We can make several slight variations of the same snare before retriggering them in an order of our choosing – or completely randomly! Although we’ve used a snare as our example, this technique works really well with all drum parts.
Adding a ghost snare to a programmed two-step breakbeat can really help to give the end product a chunky sound – while you can use your main snare if you wish, picking a more subtle, quieter snare or rimshot sample to complement it instead will make the whole break sound more interesting. If your main snare is playing on beats two and four, try placing the ghost snare on beat three’s last 16th note as a starting point.
Feature | Production Workout 2017 INCLUDES VIDEO VaULt.fUtUrEmUSIC.CO.Uk
spice up those static souNDs While the core sounds in any track are of vital importance, we can develop them even further by making use of some clever techniques to spice them up Think of this like cooking your dinner – mashed potato is great, but it tastes much nicer with salt and pepper added into the mix! By using the ingredients in our effects processing cupboard, we can add extra flavour and individuality to our music. A simple example is using an envelope following modulation effect such as Soundtoys’ FilterFreak on a plain synth patch. Tuning the plug-in’s modulation amount, attack and release times carefully lets us amplify any modulation already present in the sound or impose our own – great for making warping D ’n’ B basses or adding subtle movement to a solid pad. Using the stereo width
in a mix to its fullest is another great way of adding listener appeal and excitement; if you’re using any one-shot sound FX or vocal snips in your arrangement, try experimenting with panning them around the stereo field in a sequential order – this can either be done by automating your channel’s pan control or by drawing from one of the many auto panning plug-ins out there. There’s also a clever ’80s trick for adding stereo width to a mono synth; first, set up a mono delay or reverb send from the synth before panning the wet and dry signals left and right by equal amounts. This trick not only sounds unusual, but works well in mono too.
As well as processing sounds in their own right, we can create variations of a track’s signature sounds that can be woven into the arrangement to spice things up. A
Pushing the decay time of a vocal reverb up during a chorus adds an epic, soaraway feel
Attack Of The Reverb Add brightness and the illusion of sharper transients to your mix by using this clever reverb processing trick Modern commercial music often has a crisp, bright sound but it can be hard to extract that sound from our own productions without the high frequencies sounding over-processed or fatiguing. A great technique to help with adding brightness and sharper transients to your mix is to add a transient shaper to your reverb sends before boosting the attack subtly. When used with care, this’ll give a more defined feel to the track’s high frequencies while avoiding the excessive transient spikes that applying similar processing to the dry signal typically brings and putting less strain on any master limiting. This can work well on any reverb send, but we’re using it on a dry drum break.
We’ll start by adding some reverb to a dry sounding drum break – add Liquidsonics Reverberate 2 on a fresh FX channel before setting up a -12dB send from our drums to the reverb. Quickly set Reverberate’s wet/dry control to 100%. Now let’s pick a suitable drum reverb preset.
As our drums have a classic feel, we’ll go for a nice plate reverb – choose the Thin Plate preset. Now, we can add a transient shaper (we’re using Cubase Pro’s Envelope Shaper) to our FX channel after Reverberate before pushing the attack amount to 3 and length to around 50.
great example is a snare drum. By triggering your snare from a drum pad sampler such as Ableton Live’s Drum Rack or Native Instruments’ Battery 4 it’s simple to copy the snare to several blank pads before processing each variation differently. If you’re making choppy, Jungle-inspired drums then applying time-stretching, bitcrushing or pitchshifting will give a selection of snares that would sound great used for a drum edit or in a breakdown. Making more organic sounding variations is easy if you’ve got a MIDI controller handy; try assigning the pitch of your kick, snare or hi-hat to a knob for live tweaking – great for making trap snare rolls or pitched hat loops. Another great way to make things sound more exciting is to apply some automation to send based effects such as reverb, delay or distortion. By manipulating the effects we commonly use when mixing, we can make the arrangement evolve and bring the song to life. An example of this is pushing the decay time of a vocal reverb up during a chorus to add an epic, soaraway feel to the song at that point – simple, yet effective. Equally, making the vocal reverb decay shorter during a stripped-back section of the song can give a more claustrophobic, dry sound that will add contrast to the arrangement. We can use a ping pong delay in a similar way too. Using a short delay time of 1/64th notes will add stereo width to our dry signal, while pushing the delay time down to 1/4th notes will give the traditional ping pong effect – a great one to dial in for certain sections of a track as an edit. Distortion is also an amazing effect to experiment with – FabFilter’s Saturn is brilliant for this. Using some LFO modulation to push the distortion amount of a low mid frequency band up and down can give aggressive, snarling results; while dialling in a little automation of the effect’s wet/ dry amount will add further movement to the sound, making it sound like the distortion is pulsing or even tearing through the speakers when using more extreme settings.
Turning the transient shaper on/off a few times will demonstrate the difference our small tweak has made – the drums now sound sharper and more defined without overly dominating the mix. Finally, we’ll set up a -30dB send from the guitar track to the reverb channel to gel the mix together.
Production Workout 2017 | Feature
Flavoursome Tips And Tricks We’ve already let some great tips and tricks out of the bag, but if that still isn’t enough here are some more prime cuts…
We can add another dimension to moribund synth sounds by splitting them across two or three FX sends by frequency before processing the groups independently using layers of modulation/distortion effects. To minimise ugly phase combing or distortion, use pre fader sends and pull down the original channel’s volume to silence before dialling in some linear phase EQ filters on each send last in the chain to split your sound into low/mid/high frequency channels.
Chopping up a static drum loop couldn’t be any simpler. By using a stutter plug-in such as Ableton Live’s Beat Repeat, we can repeat certain parts of the loop automatically. Tweaking the Grid setting allows us to choose how big a slice of the incoming audio gets repeated while the Chance and Variation controls let us add a random element to how the audio is repeated; great for making dramatic variations to your beats – or even for vocal chops!
Giving any boring mono vocal chop an exciting makeover is easy. Simply set up two sends panned wide left and right from the vocal sample before placing a pitchshifting plug-in on both. After this, tune one plug-in up by 7 semitones before pitching the other down to -5 semitones to create an instant vocal harmoniser. Although this one’s a great move on vocals, it’s also well worth trying on any mono synths or one-shot effects you have lying around.
Channel your inner Lee Scratch Perry by using a characterful tape style delay such as Soundtoys’ EchoBoy to create dubbed out soundscapes. Riding the send levels to the delay alongside the delay’s timing and feedback amount can give us everything from a subtle splash of delay on a snare through to that distorted, screaming dub siren sound. To really get in the spirit, assign your send and delay controls to a MIDI controller before tweaking on-the-fly.
Adding a massive delay/reverb to a riff can sound interesting, but will typically swamp your mix. To push those effects harder while retaining clarity use a sidechain compressor triggered by the dry signal to duck the effect’s volume. This’ll create room in your mix while adding a layer of movement as the effect pumps and breathes around the dry sound. Dialling in your sidechain compressor’s release at 250ms will help avoid an over-the-top pumping effect.
An effect that often gets overlooked but can be incredibly creative is frequency shifting – unlike pitchshifting which preserves the harmonic relationships present in a sound, frequency shifting instead destroys them by literally shifting all frequencies in the sound by a user defined amount! This can be great for sound design or taking staple sounds out of context but a more gentle use is drum tuning; a 40Hz shift is ideal for transparently shifting a kick’s low punch.
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In The Studio With | Roman Flügel
© Nadine Fraczkowski
A mainstay on the electronic scene for over 20 years, producer/DJ and label owner Roman Flügel has been acclaimed for his nonconformist approach. Danny Turner meets the German ‘chameleon’ whose addiction to synthesizers shows little sign of abating
Roman Flügel | In The Studio With
ew artists are able to inject a sense of soulful sustenance into the quirky world of electronic music. While some genres are burdened by their own dogmatism, Roman Flügel’s multifaceted approach has always been enlightening. Since 1995, the German workaholic has amassed seven solo projects (including Eight Miles High and Soylent Green) and nine collaborative aliases. To illustrate his diversity, you only have to look at Flügel’s output. Despite not arriving until quite late in his career, his solo debut album Fatty Folders (2011) was a journey into mellow Tech House, followed three years later by the punchy Electronic Pop of Happiness Is Happening. Meanwhile, this year’s All The Right Noises once again demonstrates Flügel’s eclectic mix of styles, falling evasively between the apertures of traditional House and Techno. In terms of sound creation, Flügel is a hardware buff and synth fan, having amassed a hefty collection over the years. However, while he is more than happy to absorb what the digital world has to offer, Flügel does not consider himself a laptop producer and would prefer not to be defined by the technology he uses. More important is his commitment to sound itself and his ongoing desire to locate the source of his creativity.
FM: Some people might not know, but the first music you got into was EBM, which is a Dance splinter of Industrial music? Roman Flügel: “That was definitely part of my youth when I grew up in the ’80s. It was between ’84 and ’86, right before Acid House hit Germany I would say. There was this period of time when I was really into that electronic music, which was coming from Belgium: bands like Front 242, Nitzer Ebb from the UK and Skinny Puppy in Canada. But things changed very quickly when I heard the first Acid House tracks back around ’87. I’m sure there are still a few EBM fans here and there, but back then it was all part of my youth culture.” Your latest album All The Right Noises is very serene. Was writing and recording the album an antidote to the hectic world of DJing? “I would say it’s always been like this for me. Growing up with Techno in the ’90s, there was always this ‘night’ experience, but then you also had the next day and a big part of that was stuff like Warp Records and the more chilled sound. So while I’ve released plenty of 12-inches and club music, I’ve also made music to listen to or home listening music. I would say that with this latest album, everything is more connected to me.” Your music’s always had a strong identity, but would you agree that you’re a non-conformist? “I’m trying to achieve this and it’s not something that I think about too much, but I think it’s important to not just imitate. Of course you might start imitating in the beginning, that’s how you learn how to do things, but then it’s very important that
you try to shape your own sound and character within the music you’re making.” Much of the music on the new album was a result of live takes. Did you want to avoid quantising or perfecting the sound too much? “Some of it was live takes with less quantising, just playing with my fingers, recording and then doing little edits here and there. But that approach is something that’s changed over the years. I’ve finally found it more interesting to be less obsessed with perfection, whatever that means, and having a certain amount of levity within the creation process, just letting things happen without trying to cleanse everything.” Does creativity still come naturally to you, or do you have to work harder to cultivate an environment in which you can be creative? “First of all, it comes naturally, but it’s a lot of work at the same time. If I don’t go to the studio and do something every day, there’s hardly anything coming out. I need to have this constant workflow to do something I’m satisfied with at the end. I usually go into my studio every day, where I can be playful and start to record and use those opportunities I have to trigger my creativity. If I lean back and wait for something to happen, nothing will happen.” Does experience allow you to throw out what’s unnecessary from the production so you can focus on the essence of whatever you’re trying to get across? “I definitely feel that a lot more these days than when I first started. Over the years, you find your own way to treat instruments and their possibilities, and I found out that it’s a lot more important to keep the essence of what you are trying to create rather than recording track after track after track.” How do you get a clear separation of sounds and how important is sound placement? “Well for me it’s always about putting the lower frequencies in focus. If you do club music, there is always the balance between the bass drum and the bass frequencies, which is very delicate. I found out at a certain point that it’s very important to separate certain frequencies from each other to get a good result in the mix. For example, there are always some frequencies that are a bit disturbing and make things a lot more difficult to mix, so I’m looking for those disturbing frequencies and trying to separate things in the stereo band by working a little bit on the EQ.” Do you adopt certain principles for EQing? “I’m not usually too harsh when using EQs. I don’t use them to extremes, just to come close to the sound I want to have because you always have to find a balance. If you push a lot of treble then you probably have to push a lot of bass as well, but that doesn’t make the music sound a lot better in most cases. It’s the same with mid frequencies; they can be really harsh in the beginning and you think they’re going to sound brilliant, but after a while they actually sound quite annoying.”
In The Studio With | Roman Flügel
Is EQing something you analyse right at the start or is it best left to the final mix? “I would say I do it when I collect ideas. Sometimes collecting ideas is a lot faster than doing the EQing, but I at least try to listen to the mix at the very beginning to see if something is too disturbing or doesn’t sound right. At the very end, once I’ve done the final mix, I check it again to take a look at the EQs and the final stereo sequence. Of course, finally
terms of sound and that has become an important component in the creation of my own sound.” In terms of delay, you use the analogue Ibanez Time Machine and a digital DM1000… “I think what is very important to my music is the combination of everything in my studio. I’m not a laptop producer, but I’m not a computer nerd either. I have plug-ins and all the digital options in my
something new. That’s why I never sold anything and just bought things and kept them in my studio. After all these years, I have this collection of things to use, like old effects reverbs from the ’80s. It’s just something I really like; they have a certain character and you can also get them quite cheap [laughs].” What else do you use for effects? “I use the Eventide H3000 B Ultra-Harmomiser because the chorus and flangers can be used in a very drastic way allowing you to create some very interesting things within your stereo range. It also has some pretty crazy effects in it that are especially good for percussion. The Eventide produces a very interesting and flexible effect that is of a very high quality. The one that I have is made especially for guitarists, but I use it for something very different.”
I find it more interesting to be less obsessed with perfection… just letting things happen without trying to cleanse everything I go to a mastering studio to use someone who helps me [laughs]. I’d say I do 50% in the studio and the other 50% is done during the mastering process.” Have you found someone you can trust who truly understands what you’re trying to achieve? “I actually found someone who used to work with dub plates and mastering – his name is Lupo. I’ve been working with him for many years now and we have a good relationship. As soon as he gets the files, we talk about the music and then he does his own work on it. I don’t usually go to his studio because he knows what I like, but it’s very important to get along with him and have the same perspective so we can hear the same things that need to be changed. You want somebody who listens a bit differently to you and also has an interesting view on what to change. For example, making things louder without destroying the mix – some people think it’s an easy thing to do but it’s not at all, and that’s something I leave to my mastering engineer. It’s the same with very detailed frequencies or transience – he knows the technical side a lot better than me, has the best equipment and knows exactly how to use it.” Do you adopt a less is more approach to reverb and delay too? “After all these years, I have a few effects that I use a lot because I’m very familiar with them, and that includes on the digital side. I have a few settings that I’ve created on my own – a chain of delays and reverbs that works best for me and gives my music a certain character. I’m not trying to programme something new all the time. When it comes to using chains of effects, there’s certain parts of the production where I go back to techniques that I’ve used before, things that work well for me and shape my personal sound.” So creating your own identity can be done just as easily by creating a chain of production techniques as using particular sounds? “Yes and I think that’s something that comes once you start working in production on a very constant basis. These days, I know exactly where I will end up by doing something and there are certain chains of events that not only work well for me but work in
computer, but it’s very important to use a lot of outboard too. You mentioned the Time Machine, which has such a specific character. The delay and the flanger can give the music a very specific flavour, and I like to combine this with an old reverb from Ensoniq. Combining those things can allow you to come up with something extremely interesting.” So you prefer using analogue gear to plug-ins? “It’s not about using pre-programmed plug-ins all the time, but combining things to come up with
So in terms of software, you use Logic, but mostly as a sequencer rather than a sound generating tool? “I use it for sequencing MIDI obviously, but it’s also my digital tape machine, so I use it for a lot of wave data within Logic and arranging different tracks. With the MIDI stuff, everything goes through my
In The Studio With | Roman Flügel
mixing desk and back into Logic. Basically, I record everything on my mixing desk, combine all of the effects and then go through a Fireface 800 audio interface and back into Logic.” And Waves is your go-to software package? Do you think it complements analogue hardware? “There are plenty of things to discover within the Waves package, but at the very end there are only a few things that I’m using a lot. It’s pretty much the same as everything – you find out about certain settings you really like and start using them; but I’m very happy with everything that Waves Complete offers. All the software packages are so flexible and useful that I don’t really need to buy new ones all the time. I’m already confused by the amount of sounds I have in my computer; it’s incredible what they offer – even just using the sounds within Logic.” How are you using Ableton these days? “I’m using Ableton for certain things because it’s so easy to use, particularly for doing interesting loops in a very fast way. When I prepare things for my DJ sets, I start recording old records and doing edits, which is also very easy to do in Ableton.” So when it comes to performing live, you’re using Ableton and the Technics 1210s I notice you still have? “I used to play live for a couple of years, and back then I used Ableton Live, but these days I don’t play live anymore, I just DJ, so I’m not using Ableton. Honestly, I would love to play live one day but I’m just waiting for the right concept because I don’t want to just open a laptop and press play. In the very beginning, I was travelling without a laptop and using hardware sequencers, which was not only a lot of work but I was always afraid during the soundcheck whether everything would run smoothly. So I’d rather do something with other people then maybe try to recreate whatever we did in the studio on a different level in a live situation.” You have a Teac A-3340 reel-to-reel tape deck. Is that to get tape saturation on your sounds? “I used to do that in the past, but right now it’s unfortunately broken. I need to get it repaired, but it’s a great machine. I used to record with it when I was in my first band, because that was our only way to record music back then. They are quite fragile, and it’s not very easy to find someone who can do a good job in repairing it.” You have some drums and a guitar in your studio. I can’t hear them on the album, but do acoustics make it onto your records? “Not on the last couple. The first solo album I did, some of the recordings were made with live instruments, but again they were processed in the computer so they are quite disguised. I used to play drums in the past when I was in bands and still have them set up in the studio. I can’t really play the guitar – my brother used to play the Ibanez – but it’s good for doing sounds that don’t sound like a guitar, more like drone sounds.”
Roman Flügel | In The Studio With
Tell us about your favourite compressors… We’re guessing you prefer to use outboard for that too? “There are two compressors that I have in my chain: the Neve Portico 5043 Duo Compressor and the Phoenix Thermionic Culture Compressor, which has this warm analogue sound. I use the Phoenix because it adds a real beauty to the overall sound; it’s not for harsh compression or anything like that. The Neve is more detailed and the Phoenix warms things up. I’m not a big sidechain compression guy. Some people use it in a very good way, but I find that it doesn’t fit my style of music too much.”
In The Studio With | Roman Flügel
You’re a big Korg fan… Which Korg synths do you use the most? “For me, it’s definitely the Korg MS-20. It can be very harsh but it has a very specific sound. The MS-20 is a good way to start with a synthesizer, especially if you want to learn about how to programme an old analogue machine.”
You’re not interested in modular? “Unfortunately, I don’t have a modular synth yet. That is something to still discover. I know some people that manage to make fantastic music using modular synthesizers but it seems to be a world of its own. Maybe it’s because I still have to discover so many things with my gear, but I hope to at least have a small modular set-up in the future.”
Roman Flügel | In The Studio With
You have a ton of hardware synths. When did this addiction start? “It started very early on. I’d already played in bands and always tried to play the synthesizers because I liked them so much. In the early days, we had a Yamaha DX7. But the addiction started when I was a child because my uncle had a lot of musical gear in his house and also owned a Roland System 100. In those days, I was happy to mess around in his music
parameters. You could programme the JX-3P without using the programmer, but only by using a certain combination of knobs, which is a lot of hard work, so the PG-200 helps a lot.”
there already with all these instruments, so I’m not too sure about the concept of reproducing them for very cheap money, but it seems to work very well for all those companies.”
Which Roland synths really stand out for you? “For me, the standout Roland synth is the MKS-80 Super Jupiter with the MPG-80 programmer. That is a very beautiful instrument. It’s very flexible
You have the classic Yamaha DX100, but also the DX200, which is not the evolution some might have expected but more like a very colourful desktop sequencer? “Right now, the DX200 is a machine that many people are looking for. It used to be pretty cheap back then. It was kind of a workstation with a sequencer that had two or three drum tracks, one synth line and different effects, but it has a very interesting concept when it comes to creating FM synthesis. When the DX100 came out, and the DX7, which also has FM synthesis inside, it wasn’t really easy to programme, but the DX200 has knobs to twiddle and is very accessible. Actually, the DX100 played a major role in early Techno. One of the reasons I bought it is because there were a few sounds inside it that were already used in early Detroit Techno and Chicago House music.”
I would love to play live one day but I’m just waiting for the right concept because I don’t want to just open a laptop and press play room, turn knobs and press the synth. At a certain point I was able to buy things here and there – it first stated when I bought the Roland JX-3P in 1987.” Your JX-3P has a PG-200 Programmer, which looks like some sort of module add-on? “It’s a small programmer that was part of the instrument back then. You put it on the side of the instrument because there’s a space there that’s magnetic so it sticks to the synthesizer and finally you have a very easy way to access all of its
because you can create almost any sound with it, and it has this beautiful string sound. I would say that the most beautiful string sounds always come out of this instrument.” Are you interested in the refaced synths that have been coming out recently? “To be honest, I don’t have any of these because I have all the original synths. It’s a bit difficult for me to be too enthusiastic about them because it’s almost like people are looking back too often. The cult is
Talk to us about the bizarre-looking Oberheim Matrix 1000 and its Access Programmer? “The Oberheim Matrix 1000 used to be a very common synthesizer in the ’80s. It has this beautiful Oberheim sound, but you couldn’t change or programme them. At a certain point, there was this company called Access that put out the programmer. So at the end of the’ 80s I bought the programmer and suddenly had an opportunity to make my own sounds on the Matrix. Finally, it was like having the big OBX synthesizer where you could change every sound in front of you.” Are your hardware synths all wired up to one console? “Yes, that’s the concept. Everything is connected to the mixing desk to give me as much flexibility as possible – I just have to change a cable here and there. I don’t usually have many problems with my set-ups because you can change the delay of your MIDI instruments within Logic and then you’re ready to go. Usually it’s stable, but it’s never the same as whatever you might have set up in your computer. But that’s all part of using MIDI – there’s always latency involved.” Are there any synths you would still love to add to your collection? “Yes, I would still love to have a Moog synthesizer one day. The characteristic sound of the Moog is something that’s completely missing in my set-up. It’s basic, but at the same time I find that the Moog sound has a very unique character.”
want to know more? All The Right Noises is out now via Dial. Check out http:// facebook.com/romanfluegal for more info and tour dates.
The Track | Keeno
FM | THE TRACK
Med School, 2017
W © Joe Branston
ill Keen, aka Keeno, may just be a young lad in his early 20s, but he’s already carved a niche for himself as the master of heart-tugging musical D ’n’ B. After just a few releases on underground liquid D ’n’ B labels (including the infamous Liquid Tones) he signed to Hospital spin-off imprint Med School in 2014, and has already released two albums, 2014’s Life Cycle and last year’s Futurist. We caught up with him in his Bristol studio for an exclusive peek at the title track from his latest EP, Enigma. So, how did the idea for this track come about? “Every morning before I sit down for breakfast I’ll just play keys for 15-20 minutes and see if anything happens. The initial idea that
happens in the breakdown of Enigma was one of those ideas that I had. I didn’t know what to call it, so I just named it Enigma on my phone and that title just seemed to inspired me. The song has got a bit of mystery behind it; it’s moving in a different direction to the stuff that I’d written previously.” How so? “With Life Cycle and Futurist, I was impressed with how the music went down, how everything developed, and how the songs fit together, but they didn’t really work for DJs. Enigma is kind of like my first attempt at trying to adapt the mixable 16-bar D ’n’ B structure, to put as much as I can into that to make it interesting musically, but also have it mixable and repetitive enough so that DJs can get their heads around it as well. The end goal in that is really to create as much contrast between the music and the beats, so there’s as much energy as possible when it drops. If the musical idea just kind of carries on over the drop that’s good for liquid-y, floaty tunes that just kind of roll on. I wanted contrast, impact and energy from this release, so I really focused on making sure that the drums and the bass are as tight as they possibly can be without sacrificing the music. I guess that’s just how the concept came about for the EP, and I want to build on that for the next album.”
Keeno | The Track
“The end goal in that is really to create as much contrast between the music and the beats, so there’s as much energy as possible when it drops. If the musical idea just kind of carries on over the drop that’s good for liquid-y, floaty tunes that just kind of roll on. I wanted contrast, impact and energy from this release.”
Fitting slamming D ’n’ B elements into a mix with emotional strings must require a few compromises? “I think it’s more a limitation of how good I am at production rather than a compromise based on a stylistic decision. If I was as good at mixdowns as Break or Noisia I probably would be able to get the song exactly how I would want it to sound, but it wouldn’t sound like Keeno. People know my previous music and expect a certain thing, and if suddenly it’s perfectly polished and really clean and the sound design is incredible they’re not really going to recognise it as Keeno. I think it’s important that I focus on developing an ongoing style that leaves as many possibilities open in the future as possible. In Enigma I had to compromise with how prominent the strings were versus how prominent the bass was. I ended up sidechaining them and that was about as drastic as I could get. “I literally could have cut the string audio when the bass played, but it just wouldn’t have flowed as well. These kind of small compromises to make sure there’s still a piece of music going on in the background when there’s a bass sound going on, I think that’s where the two things kind of meet. I guess I could have developed the music a lot more; I could have built on that original string motif and done something new with it for the second time around, but I don’t think it would have been an effective D ’n’ B
The Track | Keeno
The Gear Software:
Steinberg Cubase EastWest Symphonic Orchestra iZotope Nectar Valhalla DSP ValhallaRoom Camel Audio CamelPhat LennarDigital Sylenth1 iZotope Trash 2 NI Supercharger NI Absynth 5 Sugar Bytes Effectrix
tune if I’d done that, because it would have been too much in a four and a half minute tune. I could have done a ten minute version, but again that wouldn’t have worked – there’s the compromise. It’s on how much time I have to present this idea in a D ’n’ B tune, and how much attention people have.” Does working with Junglistic breaks make it easier to make this kind of music than big one-shots? “Oh definitely, because people recognise breaks and it means that you can have them less prominent in the mix than they necessarily should be. Because people recognise a Think break you can have it in a mix at -25dB and people will still be able to pick it out. As I want these musical elements in the song so loud I had to fall back on the Jungle break to make sure that people were still able to groove with it. I could have put super clean, synthetic drums on top of this and it would have sounded sick, really clean and kind of like a Camo & Krooked tune I guess, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing for the strings – it wouldn’t have blended as well.”
WANT TO KNOW MORE? You can keep up with all the latest release info, news and DJ dates from Keeno at www.facebook.com/keenodnb
Keeno | The Track
Composing Enigma’s epic strings
Keeno’s signature string sounds are carefully composed for maximum emotional impact…
Will is arranging Enigma for a virtual string quartet. He records the part via MIDI from his keyboard, then splits the MIDI into separate voices so he can use a different instrument for each one: violin, viola, cello and double bass.
Will uses EastWest Symphonic Orchestra to play his orchestral parts, and selects the SVL Stac RR x4 ‘round-robin’ solo violin patch for the violin part. The four alternating round-robin samples prevent the part from sounding overly repetitive and artificial, and give it a natural rhythm too.
The viola is also a four note round-robin patch, and the cello part is a three note round-robin patch which means that it’s ‘out of sync’ with the violin and viola parts, resulting in an even more varied, natural-sounding effect.
To sequence between the first and second part of the intro Will uses inversions (transposing particular notes down an octave) to create a downward melodic movement in the violin part which maintains the same chord.
Originally opting for a pizzicato playing style, this was too similar to another of Will’s tracks so he switches this up to a staccato style which sounds more mysterious and in keeping with the vibe of the track. The violin part switches octaves to give it a more animated feel, rather than sounding like the same chord playing repeatedly.
Video | www.youtube.com/futuremusic
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Top producers go in-depth on the sounds, ideas and techniques behind their latest releases.
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In the latest episode we head north to Glasgow to meet up with Raj from Bhangra duo Tigerstyle.
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In The Studio With | Tycho
Tycho Tychoâ€™s 2011 Dive took the electronic world by storm, and Epoch completes a trilogy of stunning releases. Danny Turner talks to Scott Hansen about his studio and his journey from graphic designer to Grammy nominated artist
Tycho | In The Studio With
nitially influenced by early Drum ’n’ Bass, Scott Hansen stumbled into the world of electronic music via a secondhand Roland MC-303 and the Downtempo obscurity of early Boards of Canada and Ulrich Schnauss. Following his largely unnoticed debut Past Is Prologue in 2010, Hansen’s second Tycho album, Dive became a Chillwave classic. Awash with heavy effects processing, its sublimely atmospheric electronics and equally resonant cover art, designed by Hansen himself, attracted almost unanimous critical acclaim. His latest album, Epoch, is seen by Hansen as the end of a trilogy of releases that have micro-explored a five-year experiment in multifaceted Post-Rock Electronica. The reward for his efforts is a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic album of 2017.
FM: You were into Drum ’n’ Bass initially, but your music doesn’t reflect that… Tycho: “I think a lot of it is reflected in the music. I’m talking about a lot of the more atmospheric types of Drum ’n’ Bass that were around at that time – I think it was afterwards that it became a Danceoriented thing. But if you listen to LTJ Bukem’s Logical Progression it’s much more ethereal and ambient, so I did start out making D ’n’ B but it really didn’t come naturally to me and I floated into this more DJ Shadow-type space. The title track from Past Is Prologue, Spectre from Awake and Rings from the new album are examples of me studying my original fascination with that style of music.” When did you first start experimenting with sound and what gear did you buy? “It was kind of serendipitous I guess. The same friend that got me into Drum ’n’ Bass had cleaned some guy’s house that didn’t have any money and told us to keep his gear. I didn’t know if I could fix these things – it was a little Alesis drum machine and the matching sequencer – so I took them to a music store in Sacramento and they said they could fix them, buy them off me or trade them in for other stuff. So I traded it in for a Roland MC-303, which is a little drum machine thing.” The change from Past Is Prologue to Dive was tangible. Whereas some artists broaden their sound, you seemed to distil it. Did it just click? “Yeah, I think that was the crystallisation of everything. I was introduced to Boards of Canada right before Past Is Prologue was wrapped up and I found that Ulrich Schnauss and BOC really shaped the way that I looked at how music could be. They showed me a different dimension and allowed me to focus in on a very specific space and style of music. I think they’re all very connected and all part of one big idea. I see Dive, Awake and Epoch as a singular work: a trilogy.” So where might you go next – a new direction? “I don’t see the trilogy as the end of these ideas, I just think it’s the first time I truly felt that I’ve completed the original concept that I’d been working towards all these years. Epoch kind of realised the vision of
exactly what those albums were about. So personally I can set that thing to rest, and I can’t really say for sure what that means, but it definitely means that a weight has been lifted. I don’t owe anything to that sound anymore and can do whatever I want.” Would you consider bringing vocals in? “Yeah, that’s something I’ve always been interested in pursuing. I actually went into Epoch thinking that I might include vocals, and some of the music was written for that purpose, but towards the mid-point I realised it was more a part of the story than I thought it was going to be. But I definitely think that, in the future, using vocals is on the table.” With Epoch are you moving even further away from electronics towards Post-Rock? “No, I think the opposite actually. I feel like Dive was this thing that threw a bunch of ideas out there with all the artwork and new elements I’d never used before. It had an organic element but also a very electronic backbone, and I felt Awake was as far a foray into the Rock world as I’ll ever go. But for Epoch, the goal was to get back into that electroniccentred space and pull on those organic elements from Awake without making them the focus. My passion has always been electronic music, so I think I’m finding my way back to that. When I play guitar, I’m thinking of Led Zeppelin or the Beatles and all these songs that are part of the fabric of popular culture, but when I sit down with a synthesizer it’s much more open-ended.” The artwork is such a strong element of your identity… What do the circles, shapes and planet themes mean to you? “For me, the ideas behind the artwork are intended to keep it open-ended for the listener to project their own ideas, so I don’t want to define things too much. But, yeah there’s a lot of recurring themes and, for me, nature and things we don’t understand about nature, space, the sun and the moon, have always been a central part of the way we try to understand things we can’t understand. I guess I’ve always tried to play on that. When you have instrumental music there is no defined narrative, so the artwork becomes much more important as you’re filling in a few of the blanks for people.” You designed all the covers yourself… “Yeah, I’ve spent most of my adult life as a professional graphic designer. I’ve always thought my life as an artist is about making things more efficient, finding the core of the idea and trying to express it with as little extraneous information as possible, and I think graphic design in general tends towards minimalism as a rule, just because it’s all about clear and concise information.” How have you changed as a producer in the ten years since your debut album? “I was doing music in my spare time, after work and just as a hobby. I definitely took it seriously, but it wasn’t my living and there were no deadlines or anything like that. I was doing what came naturally
In The Studio With | Tycho
to me and not overthinking it, but slowly it became a process and the struggle has always been to maintain the inspirational aspects of it and still enjoy the process while knowing it has to fit inside this box and be done by this time. So there’s a lot more constraints, but the professionalisation of the project has been the big story.” I understand you wanted to get the album out quickly rather than sit on it for months? “With my label, Ghostly Internationally, our release schedules usually dictate that it’s about four to six months before the music sees the light of day, and there’s definitely something about not being able to share the experience in the way that fans are going to experience it. Five or six months doesn’t seem like a long time, but your life is in a different place as an artist and a person, so that music feels kind of dated to me and it doesn’t feel like I’m sharing in the excitement of this new thing. Music is a product of the time it’s released and to me that’s important.” You’ve been promoted in some circles as a band for this release. Is that for live purposes or were the tracks recorded as a band? “At this point, it’s definitely a partnership between Zac Brown and me. For this album, he was involved in the arrangement at the end because he’s really good at thinking about the songs and trimming things down within the context of an album. And then Count, the engineer that I work with, has a lot to do with the final stages of the mixing, and Rory the drummer is on a handful of songs too. I try to come up with concepts and send them around, then it’s just a process of adding and changing, but with this album in particular I wanted to return to my bedroom producer role. I spent four months just working up a base of material to work from, and at the beginning we went to a studio and recorded with an engineer, but it just sounded like jams and I didn’t really know what to do with it. It didn’t feel like the right way to close this chapter, this album needed to be Dive 2.0 – with me going back to spending long solitary periods of time in the studio.” Do you still consider the computer to be the engine of your productions? “Yes, that’s everything. For me, the editing is such a huge part and I use plug-ins more and more. They’ve just become so good in the flexibility they afford. Most of the time I prefer the plug-ins to the real things they’re emulating. Apparently, the human ear thinks that Neve EQs sound pleasing, so of course people are going to make EQ plug-ins that try to sound like a Neve EQ, but really they’re just making this other thing that has its own strengths and weaknesses and you have to use it accordingly. But I will say that FIR and IR-type stuff, like the Kemper Profiling Amp, Nebula and all those new Aqua plug-ins they’re making, is the stuff I’m most excited about. I feel like they’re not modelled, so they don’t sound exactly like the hardware but rather like the hardware perfected, taking away all the defects and artifacts you have to deal with when you’re trying to work with analogue hardware.”
Rupert Neve Shelford Channel “This is a modern interpretation of the classic Neve preamp and EQ design from Rupert Neve himself. Between the transformer and EQ, these channels can add plenty of colour and harmonics to any source.”
Korg MS-20 “I’ve had this for a while but only really started digging in on Epoch. It can be very aggressive but always maintains a warm, pleasing colour. There’s something about the timing on the LFO that is really special.”
Some say analogue has more character… “Analogue has a character, of course it does, but so does digital. I guess I started to realise that after using a Korg Triton, which I used for almost the whole Past Is Prologue album. And I used all these little digital reverbs and delays, which have really crappy converters – everybody talks about the SP1200 being amazing because it has this really crunchy digital sound, but the argument starts to break down when you say that, by default, things must be good because they’re analogue. I mean what does analogue even mean – are you talking about tubes? I think people are focusing way too much on this specific thing when you have all these other tools, and sometimes they’re going to be better; it really depends on the context.”
reality as quickly as possible. I felt I was really held back by other DAWs in the past. It’s very openended. There are no real rules and you can get yourself into trouble if you don’t keep organised and do things the right way, but all the other software programs force you into a way of working with them. A basic example would be, on any given track you can actually have infinite other tracks nested within it, almost like one track can be a whole project. It just keeps drilling down and the routing is incredibly flexible. I come from a software engineering background, that’s what I studied in school, so I still use Windows and PCs in the studio, and with Reaper it feels to me like if you understand computers on a technical level and know your way around them, that really opens up its possibilities.”
What software are you using for sequencing? “I’ve been using Reaper since Dive. I switched in 2010 and that was the thing that really opened the floodgates and allowed me to connect my ideas to
What soft synths or VSTs are you using? “On the last record I really liked using Arturia’s CS-80V and also got into the Jupiter VE for pads. I also use Minimoog a ton and I found that Native
In The Studio With | Tycho
Instruments’ Monarch is the best emulation of Minimoog that I’ve ever heard. There are examples where I had a Minimoog sitting right there but I could get a better sound out of Monarch because I stacked three instances of it or I was just able to tweak it so much that I could get it to sound exactly how I wanted it. Oh, and the XILS-lab stuff, like XILS 3 – the one that’s supposed to be like an EMS Synthi, which sounds like a real analogue synth.” What about the latest soft synth emulations? “Soft synths always try to emulate the synths perfectly, but what are they emulating? Are they
emulating the preamp you recorded it with in your computer? For me, a lot of the tone shaping isn’t just the synth, but what you record it with – are you mic’ing a cabinet or going straight into the back of your interface? These things have a huge effect on how things end up sounding.” You also have an original Korg MS-20 and some other hardware synths… “Yeah, it’s weird because I’m only just getting into the MS-20. I think I might have used it on one song, but I’m really excited to take that further with the next record. I got the Prophet-5 about two years ago
and just started getting into it at the beginning of this album. It’s a synth that has a great sound but you can’t just have layers of Prophet-5 – that’s just going to be a disaster. For me, it’s all about layering and juxtaposing the synths and finding which ones complement each other. If you’re going to have some big, warm blobby giant sound in the mix, you’ve only got room for one of those synths.” Are there any other classic synths you’d like to get? How about an ARP Odyssey? “I’ve got the new Odyssey, the one that Korg put out recently and I really like it. I’ve never played a real Odyssey, although Rory the drummer has one and he’d send me recordings of it which are amazing. I’ve always wanted to get a Jupiter-8. I had a Jupiter-6, but because I’d only been doing music for a short while I didn’t really understand it. I’d love to try it out again.”
Plug-ins have just become so good in the flexibility they afford. Most of the time I prefer them to the things they’re emulating
You have two Moogs right? “Yeah, the old one’s been the most inspirational – I think I’ve used that more than any synth I’ve ever used. When the new one came out, I got it to take it on the road. From the demos I heard, it sounded like the real thing. I think I have the Moog revision 3 or something, and never usually pay attention to people when they say one version of a synth is better than another, but if I could choose I’d keep the new Mini over my old one – there’s something about it that’s more interesting. It’s a little more aggressive.”
Moog Minimoog 1972 & 2016 “Snappy envelopes, creamy oscillators and one of the best filters ever designed. This has been on pretty much every song since Dive. I got the 2016 reproduction near the end of Epoch and was really impressed; just as good as the original and actually better in some ways.”
It sounds like everything is being processed through physical outboard… Is that the case? “Yeah, on the front-end almost everything without exception is running through something. On the first record, I used Neve Portico outboard and I got the Shelfords channel strip right after that. For this record, pretty much everything went through the Strymon Timeline and BlueSky delay and reverb pedals, and I used a Strymon Deco a lot for tape saturation. Those are all at the front-end then everything would go through a Neve 542 broadcast console. I do everything DI: guitars, bass and synths. Once in a while I’ll use an amp, but it’s pretty rare.” Is the purpose of running everything through hardware to give it a sense of shared character? “I don’t think that’s a conscious decision, it’s just an artifact of my process – being in my house and wearing headphones because I can’t really blast guitar amps. I don’t have good mics or amps because I wasn’t really a guitar player and it took me a while to mic them properly to get the sounds I wanted. So when I was first learning guitar, I thought, okay, I’ll just plug it into instrument inputs and hope for the best [laughs]. I’m impatient.” How would you advise people integrate guitars and electronics for a seamless union of sound? “A lot of it is the mix and a lot of processing of each thing individually, and thinking about the final song
In The Studio With | Tycho
Kemper Profiling Amp
Neve 5432 12-Channel Console “This compact console has 12 stereo channels and was originally designed for use in broadcast. It makes a great summing mixer and has original Marinaire transformers on the outputs that impart rich harmonics. It’s great for warming up digital audio.”
“I can’t say enough good things about the Kemper. It uses impulse responses to create a profile of pretty much any non-time-based signal path. It was designed to profile guitar amps but works on preamps, EQs and compressors. I’ve never played an amp sim that sounded anywhere near this good and even prefer it over real amps a lot of the time.”
Universal Audio 6176 “Combining the classic 610 tube amp and 1176 compressor designs, this is my desert island channel. DI bass through this is magic.”
We understand that the Korg Minilogue is your favourite synth right now… What does it bring to your productions? “I don’t know how to explain it, but I’d say it’s very precision analogue. I’ve had some modern analogues that sounded digital in a way I didn’t want – like a cold clinical sound – and then they can just be this blobby, slow, undefined, messy kind of sound, which is great, but I have a ton of gear like that. But the Korg was the first modern analogue that struck a really good balance between being very tight and punchy. The envelopes are really fat and the sounds really seem to cut through the mix, but at the same time it has this natural warmth and an organic element that means I don’t have to work as hard to make it fit in like I would with a soft synth, even though it’s just as precise.” 74
Tycho | In The Studio With
as a whole and how all these pieces are going to fit together. But to tell you the truth, I don’t have any specific tips because a lot of it’s just trial and error. I’d do things over and over again because my ear just wants to hear one certain thing and end up making everything sound like it goes into a specific space. I didn’t go to engineering school and didn’t read up on how you’re supposed to do this or that, so experimentation led me to find the sounds that I gravitate towards.”
Korg Minilogue “I got this synth just as I was beginning to make Epoch and it really blew me away. A four-voice analogue synth, it’s surprisingly affordable and compact. I ended up using this synth more than any other on the album.”
And you can’t underestimate the role that the mixing process plays in that… “Absolutely. Before I started working with Count, my stuff sounded so dense and layered. There were so many things going on that if I didn’t get the mix right it would just sound like a mush. So my relationship with him has allowed me to not fear that and build as much atmosphere, dirt and colour into the sound. He’s really helped me broadened my sonic palette over the years. We spend about two months mixing at the end and definitely try to make that element parallel to the arrangement side. We mixed it at my place and mastered it and summed it at his studio, because I think it’s important to go into a different listening space to master and get a different ear on it. There’s always this rule that somebody else has to master it and you have to go to a mastering studio, but I think it’s better if we just master it. We know the speakers, we know what we’re aiming for and Count can mix into the master.” Presumably, the music is much more satisfying to play as a group now. It might not have been possible with Dive to play as a four piece? “Totally. When an album has just come out, I like to stay true to the spirit of that song and not get sidelined too much. At least for me, when I go to a show, it’s kind of like, just play the song as it is on the record, we don’t need any funny stuff [laughs; but a few years later when I’ve seen that band twice I want to hear a weird version of a couple of songs. So yeah, with the older sets we try to incorporate some changes and switch things up. We’re rebuilding all the technology for the live show right now, which will give us a lot more flexibility on a moment-tomoment basis.” Congratulations on your Grammy nomination by the way… “I just found out three hours ago when my wife woke me up to tell me she saw it on Facebook. I really can’t believe it. I definitely thought that if we ever had a shot then this album was probably the closest we’d ever come to it, but I think of it as more of a recognition of the last three records than this one individually. I don’t think I’m even going to entertain the notion of winning it, but thank you.”
want to know more? Epoch is out now via Ghostly. For the latest release info and live dates head to www.tychomusic.com
Producer’s Guide To | XXXX
FM | MODULAR MONTHLY
Set filters to stereo! Happy Nerding bring us the first stereo filter in the Eurorack format.
tereo isn’t totally new to the modular world – we’ve had options for a long time. The most primitive method would be to just buy two of any given module to have a left processor and a right. Stereo filtering has also been possible through the use of dual filters which can often process signals in series or parallel, allowing you to go classic high-pass into low-pass like the Korg MS-20 (or other combinations of course) or to use both sides independently. However, the MMM VCF from Happy Nerding is the first specific stereo filter. It’s got two inputs and two outputs but with shared control. It’s not two independent filters à la dual filters mentioned above as both inputs share the cutoff control, resonance control and modulation input. This may seem limiting but in
a smaller space than a dual filter you get two great sounding filters perfect for processing the growing number of stereo modules in the format. There’s another unique element to the MMM VCF and that is a little trickery, magic and electronics wizardry that gives us a multimode filter based on the Moog Transistor Ladder design. The classic Moog low-pass filter often remains just that, a low-pass only. But here Happy Nerding have given us a low-pass, band-pass and high-pass per side allowing us to make creative stereo images with different filter types per side – all with that classic Moog ladder sound. It’s a common DJ trick to apply filtering over a full mix, so at 8HP it’s nice to do that in modular without needing two filters or a bigger dual filter which would then need two hands for a full mix filter wiggle!
Tutorial | Modular Monthly
Diving into the width and girth of the MMM VCF
Let’s explore a range of inputs and ideas for creating fat and wide patches…
You can use the MMM VCF in mono but let’s go stereo. Take two oscillators tuned in unison and take the low-pass output per side for some classic bassline sounds. Try detuning your oscillators for a wider stereo image.
Using the same input on both sides we can take different filter outputs per side to create a stereo image. Try using low-pass on one side and high-pass on the other. This creates an interesting stereo image from a mono source.
Juicy filters shouldn’t be restricted to the domains of subtractive synthesis. Let’s take a stereo modal synthesizer like Rings and filter its rich and wide-ranging tones. Rings has bags of tone control and modulation points already but it’s great through further filtering too.
Let’s make a phaser! Modulate the filter with an LFO while taking the band-pass output. You’ll have a moving band of frequencies that when mixed with the original dry input, sounds like phasing. Invert the band-pass for further phase shifting!
Let’s go DJ mixer style and process a full mix through the filter. DJ mixers tend to have high and low-pass filters for creating sweeps and builds easily across a mix. Try creating transitions by mixing the filtering with reverb to build tension and release.
Get creative and patch up a feedback system. Create a vanilla synth patch with an oscillator into both inputs and take the low-pass output from one side as your output. Then patch the high-pass output from the other side into the FM input.
Interview | Vermont
Vermont German electronic luminaries reconvene to produce the sumptuous Downtempo analogue delights of Vermont II. Hamish Mackintosh takes a chill pill and finds out more
Vermont | Interview
hey are perhaps better known for their respective DJ/production skills and projects – Marcus Worgull for a slew of floor-fillers on the Innervisions imprint, and Danilo Plessow for the Funk-fuelled House of his Motor City Drum Ensemble alter-ego… But when the two come together as Vermont, the tempos drop, the vintage synths are dusted down and mesmeric sound reveries are duly fashioned. Debut album, Vermont, landed to much acclaim in 2014 and Plessow and Worgull enjoyed the experience of collaborating so much they hunkered down in Plessow’s then Amsterdam studio to create, Vermont II. From the languid opening refrain of Norderney, to the analogue arpeggios and lush string synths of standouts Chemtrails and Ufer, Vermont II is a 5am triumph of an album with its echoes of Tangerine Dream and the kosmische music of the early German synth pioneers. With a mouth-watering collection of desirable analogue synths and outboard at their disposal, FM couldn’t resist the chance to talk tech with Marcus Worgull and Danilo Plessow and find out a little more about how Vermont II came into being.
FM: Your debut collaboration, Vermont I, was written and recorded in Danilo’s Cologne studio; is that where Vermont II was created? Danilo: “No, actually I moved to Amsterdam so this album was done in my studio there. Not everything but I’d say maybe 80% of the equipment was the same. The whole concept behind Vermont is that we collaborate in person where we can share an environment and a mindset.” Do you have set roles or is it a case of doing whatever is required on any given track? Marcus: “We don’t have a specific plan or anything… we just meet, start and share. We always seem to quite quickly find the mood that we like and that’s how we continue. Most of the tracks are done fairly quickly, with simple melodies and without over-thinking things.” Vermont II is a feast of vintage electronics but there’s also a real sense of less is more or breathing space in amidst the music… Was that a conscious decision? Marcus: “Not a conscious thing – as I said, we go with the flow and how it feels. If it feels good then we go with it. We don’t have any special concepts or anything behind it. We go with the things that feel good and that we like; that’s it really.” Danilo: “It’s very liberating from our own respective projects as there’s no pressure, no preconceptions or expectations such as I might have with a Motor City Drum Ensemble project where I’m constantly over-thinking, ‘is this the right way to do it?’, ‘should I use a different sound?’ or things like that. Vermont is born more out of the moment and very spontaneous, which makes it very satisfying in that regard. It feels like a vacation for me.”
Is Vermont a democracy in the studio? Danilo: “It’s very much a democracy although the one thing I would say is that Marcus is maybe more responsible for the initial chord structures or the melodic foundations of the tracks, which I then work around playing the Fender Rhodes or soloing. It’s not always like that but I’d say maybe 60/40 it is.” You’re both more known for filling club dancefloors; is Vermont your attempt to corner the after-club market too? Marcus: “[laughs] Maybe! That would be a good idea. It’s very contrary to what we each do with our own music but I think that’s why we both like it so much to meet and make this kind of music. To have the freedom and the space to make the music we want and, as Danilo said, it’s being able to accept that when it feels good, then it feels good.” Danilo: “It’s interesting that we both have common things that we like but if you look at the music we release individually then it is quite different. What I like about working with Marcus is that it’s like we meet somewhere in the middle and it doesn’t have anything to do with our solo careers, which is pretty liberating.” Certainly, making electronic music can be quite an isolating pastime so it must be nice to have that one-on-one time in the studio together? Marcus: “Exactly. One of the most difficult things when you make music on your own is to make decisions because you can do pretty much anything to your music very easily nowadays. When we’re in the studio together if one of us says, ‘this isn’t working,’ or ‘this isn’t so good,’ then you don’t go with it whereas if one of us says we like what the other is doing then we work on it. That makes is easier for us.” It would be remiss of FM not to ask you about your envy-inducing collection of vintage synths and outboard you used to make the album… Danilo: “Since it’s mostly my equipment I guess I’ll answer that. The main synthesizer that’s pretty much on everything is the ARP Odyssey. We’ve both got MKII Odyssey’s from the ’70s. Mine is the ARP filter version and Marcus has a Moog filter one. For me, I think the Odyssey is the most musical synthesizer I’ve ever heard in terms of how live it sounds. Basically, if you play the same note ten different times there will always be slight changes… it just breathes. “The other thing that’s on every track is the Roland Space Echo. When you put the Odyssey through that it’s just magical. Similarly, the Fender Rhodes through the Space Echo, even though you can’t tweak the Rhodes, immediately has the sound we want for Vermont.” FM couldn’t help noticing that lovely Moog Prodigy… Danilo: “The Moog was a very late acquisition by Marcus that we only really used on one track but on that track pretty much everything is the Prodigy.”
Interview | Vermont
Marcus: “We’d literally just got it from a friend one morning, plugged it in in the studio and we used the very first notes we played on it!” Danilo: “Again, we plugged the Prodigy through the Space Echo but also into an old ’70s Eventide H910 harmoniser, which sounds wonderful. As well as the Moog we used my Roland Jupiter-4 a lot. It’s another incredibly musical synth and it’s my favourite Jupiter. I had a Jupiter-6 and I played a lot on the Jupiter-8 but if the Jupiter-4 had eight voices it would be one of the best polyphonic synths of all time. The Juno-6 we used a lot for the arpeggiated sequences. On the opening track, Norderney, that opening arpeggio sequence that begins the track is the Juno-6 triggered through the Roland 909. There’s a Yamaha CS-15 on a few of the tracks…” Marcus: “…I have a Realistic/Moog MG-1 Concertmate synth that’s great for pad sounds.” What do you think it is about some of the vintage synths that makes them sound so magical? Danilo: “They’re analogue, so they’re voltage meaning that it will never be exactly the same tone even if, as I said before, you play the same note ten times. My gut feeling is that Vermont is not about ’80s sounds but more ’70s so even if it’s a VCO synth from the ’80s like, say, the Juno-6, which still sounds really alive… it doesn’t compare to ’70s machines like the ARP Odyssey or my recent acquisition, a Korg PS-3200, which is fully polyphonic, semi-modular. It sounds ridiculous because whatever you do on it sounds so alive! With the later VCOs and more modern synths they just lack that kind of musicality, for want of a better word.” So, you trigger some of the old synths up… any MIDI possible given some of the gear you have is pre-MIDI? Marcus: “We use CV/gate for the ARPs and mostly we find the melodies on them. We do also use MIDI to repeat some of the patterns.” Danilo: It’s a healthy mix, really. My Juno-6 doesn’t have MIDI but we trigger it with either the 808 or 909. The Jupiter-4 I had MIDI fitted and the others,
The Odyssey is the most musical synth. If you play the same note ten times there will always be slight changes… it just breathes like the Moog, the Yamaha and the other analogues we just play live and try to stay as tight as possible… [laughs] because we’re German!” There certainly seems to be something in the German DNA that predisposes you to electronic music, is there not? Danilo: “I was just joking about the tightness, really as the music I do solo is way more rooted in the American Funk/Soul tradition, which has more
looseness and swing to it. With Vermont though we wanted to channel that Krautrock, Harmonia, Cluster, Kraftwerk and all the Dusseldorf school. That really precise timing. I can be, because I’m a drummer, so fucking serious about timing! When something is even milliseconds out then I can’t listen to it! “We had one track we worked on where we had a crazy arpeggio coming from the Jupiter-4 which was never really perfectly in time so we spent about
five hours moving around the parts of the arpeggio until it was perfect! That’s me being a timing-nazi in a way… it has to be right otherwise I can’t listen to it.”
In amidst the lush arpeggios and synth lines, Robbert’s guitar is a nice addition… Was that planned prior to recording starting? Marcus: “It was just a case of Robbert being a friend who shares the apartment with Danilo and he’s able to play the guitar. He was in another room making a coffee and we thought adding guitar would bring another element to things. Guitar is different, even if you play super-tight. We did have a guitarist on the first album too but this with
Vermont | Interview
originally want to do everything on this album 100% analogue, which included recording to tape and only using hardware EQs and effects but in the end it became too much of a pain in the ass to do in that studio in Amsterdam. For the next album it’s actually going to be possible so I’m very curious as to how that will sound.” Are you both Cubase users out of Vermont? Marcus: “Not at home… at home I use Ableton. We used a little bit of Ableton at the end of the album when we put the audio parts into it from Cubase. I don’t feel those big differences between DAWs if you’re not using any of the native plug-ins. For me, if the audio signal is good then it’s good.” Danilo: “I disagree slightly although in principle Marcus is right. You shouldn’t use any of the time-stretch on Ableton otherwise you end up getting that sound, which is my main problem with Ableton.” Was there any other hardware outboard you used on the album? Danilo: “We used the Eventide Space reverb pedal on a lot of things, a couple of Boss pedals and an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone on the Rhodes. Nothing fancy, no Mu-Tron Bi-Phase or stuff like that. What we tend to do, for example with the Space Echo, is to use it as a Send but we’d go straight from the Fender Rhodes into the Space Echo and then into the amp. This way it gets a different characteristic and also, importantly, it leaves you with something that you can’t touch any more… That’s how it sounds so that’s how it is at a certain moment and you can’t endlessly tweak things in software! For me, personally, I feel the less software things you use, EQs or effects, the better so I’m a big fan of having final audio that’s already EQ’d or with the effects so you’re basically just using your software more like a tape machine.”
Robbert was much more spontaneous and we didn’t have any specific ideas in mind… He just came into the room and played it.” Danilo: “When we started working on this second album my aim was to involve way more acoustic instruments but the studio in Amsterdam didn’t really allow us to do it. Now, in my new studio I’ve moved to I have space for acoustic instruments so that’s something I’m keen for us to explore more on our next album. “We were thinking at the outset, ‘do we really want to repeat ourselves and use the same synthesizers?’ but, in the end, I feel we have a certain sound that we really like that you can tell is a Vermont track.” FM can’t help but harken back to that sense of space that exists on the album in amongst all
the electronics… That requires discipline in these times when we can fill up every single track on a DAW, no? Danilo: “Marcus is the one who is always saying, ‘no, man, let’s put another 32 bars of the same pattern as the track needs to breathe and have space”. At first I was always like, ‘are you serious?!’. Then, when you listen and get caught up in it, it begins to make total sense.” With all that vintage analogue gear at your disposal is there any place in Vermont for soft synths? Danilo: “No… just Cubase. We did most of this new album going through the analogue desk I have from the ’80s. It’s not a Neve or anything fancy; it’s a rare German brand and it’s not particularly expensive but it has a really nice tone to it. I did
Do you think people who have never worked out of the box maybe don’t realise the difference things like routing and signal chains can make to your sound? Danilo: “Absolutely. I also find it interesting to work a lot with guitar amps and put synths or things like the Hohner String Melody through them too. It’s like a Solina and just to play these kind of instruments through an amp because they sound so much better and that’s the way they were played back then. If you have a decent microphone then it’s perfect.” Is there going to be a live incarnation of Vermont? Marcus: “We will see. We’ve been talking about what would be a good way to present it and how to avoid giving it a ‘laptop’ feel if we take it live. It will be difficult and we’re hoping to find a solution but it’s not done now.”
want to know more? Vermont II is out Feb 10th on Kompakt. For more release info and live dates head to www.kompakt.fm/artists/vermont
Reviews | Elektron Analog Heat
FM | REVIEWS
Elektron Analog Heat Sound Processor £679 Elektron’s stereo effects box puts its distortion front and centre but, as Si Truss discovers, it’s got plenty more up its sleeves too CONTACT
WHO: Elektron WEB: www.elektron.se I/O: 2x 1/4-inch jack in, 2x 1/4-inch jack out, 2x 1/4-inch jack control in, MIDI In, Out & Thru, USB audio/MIDI, 1/4-inch headphone out FEATURES: 8x stereo analogue distortion, stereo analogue EQ, stereo analogue multimode filter, assignable envelope generator/follower, assignable LFO DIMENSIONS: 215 x 184 x 63mm WEIGHT: 1.5kg
Elektron Analog Heat | Reviews
THE PROS & CONS
Eight characterful variations of stereo distortion circuit Modulation tools are great for adding shape to sounds Can function as a plug-in and audio interface via Elektron’s free Overbridge software Stylish looking and solidly built
Relatively expensive for a desktop effect
fter more than 15 years in the hi-tech hardware game, Elektron have released their first effects unit. Sliding into the brand’s ‘Analog’ range, alongside the Analog Four and Analog Keys synths and Analog RYTM drum machine, Analog Heat is a stereo effects processor pitched as an “audio enhancer and audio destroyer”. At its core, the Heat is a combination distortion, EQ and filter,
of which the former section is the star of the show, offering a range of eight different stereo analogue distortion circuits. Selected via a large rotary to the left of the unit, these circuits are labelled Clean Boost, Saturation, Enhancement, Mid Drive, Rough Crunch, Classic Dist, Round Fuzz and High Gain. Pleasingly, these eight variations offer a decent amount of sonic variety, both in comparison to one another and within themselves depending on how hard each is ‘pushed’ using the associated Drive
control. Toying with these two parameters alone, it’s simple to achieve anything from a nice mid-range ‘warmth’ to transient destroying fuzz and harsh high gain. The two-band EQ does a lot to add to the individual character of each distortion type. While the unit offers Low and High cut/boost in all situations, both the base EQ settings and the specific set-up of these controls changes dependant on the distortion circuit selected. For instance, in Clean Boost or Saturation modes the EQ’s initialised state is simply a flat line with no cuts or boosts; in Mid Drive mode, however, the EQ always features a low-pass curve, the extremity of which is changed by turning the High cut/boost rotary. Similarly, in Enhancement mode, increasing the Low rotary adds a general low-shelf boost, yet for the Saturation circuit the same parameter control adds a more precisely targeted frequency boost at around 50Hz. The filter, meanwhile, can be switched between seven different modes, offering 6dB or 12dB lowand high-pass modes, band-pass, band stop and peak filtering. There are cutoff and resonance dials for
shaping the chosen filter type and the filter select buttons double up as an on/off switch for instantly bypassing the filter circuit. The filter also features a pair of ‘hidden’ parameters accessed via the screen and settings rotaries. The first of these is frequency pan, which can offset the cutoff point in the left and right stereo channels, the second is an additional drive circuit, which can push the input into the filter, adding extra, subtle distortion. Beyond these core effects elements, the Heat also features an envelope and an LFO for shaping sounds. The envelope has three modes: Attack/Decay, Attack/Release and Follower. The LFO, meanwhile, offers seven waveshape types, can run in sync’d or unsync’d modes and features a phase control for offsetting the wave’s start position. The unit also has a pair of control input jacks on its rear, which can accept either CV or an expression pedal input. Within the settings menus lies a modulation matrix which allows both the in-built modulation sources and the external control inputs to be routed to a host of different effects parameters (it also allows for many of the LFO and
Reviews | Elektron Analog Heat
Waldorf 2-Pole £150 Waldorf’s gritty filter-come-distortion ticks a lot of the same boxes as the Analog Heat, albeit without any of the modern tricks or plug-in/interface capabilities. It’s mono too. www.waldorf-music. info
Thermionic Culture Vulture £1,500
Thermionic Culture’s two-channel outboard distortion is an excellent highend outboard unit with a classic sound and feel. www.thermionic culture.com
Elektron Analog Drive £349
If you’re after pure distortion without the other trimmings of the Heat, Elektron’s new analogue stomp box might be just the ticket. www.elektron.se
Env parameters to be modulated by these external inputs). The final step in the Heat’s signal flow is a pair of rotaries controlling wet signal level and wet/dry balance. There’s also a global Active switch for bypassing the effects entirely, which is handy for quickly A/Bing effects without having to fiddle with your wet/dry configuration.
Feel the Heat While the Analog Heat might initially appear to be just a fairly well-spec’d distortion effect, its combination of circuits and the flexible modulation options make it suitable for a broad range of studio applications. With a bit of aggressive drive combined with conservative use of the wet/dry control, the Heat is great for adding pseudo-parallel compression or providing a ‘trash channel’ for drum mixes. Routing the LFO to the filter cutoff offset, meanwhile, can create an auto-pan style effect that works great on pads or top lines. Combining the envelope follower and Enhancement or Saturation circuits provides a really nice tool for transient control too, which works particularly nicely for adding a bit of attack bite to kicks and snares. Once you add a bit of external control or some more complex modulation into the mix, it becomes a great tool for adding shape to static sounds. The Heat is surprisingly intuitive. While many of Elektron’s instruments are very highly regarded, they tend to have steep learning curves. But Heat
DISTORTION The eight distortion circuits range from a subtle warming boost to transientdestroying high gain.
EQ The base settings and set-up of the two-band EQ adjust depending on the distortion circuit currently engaged.
keeps most parameters up-front and accessible. While there is a certain amount of menu-diving needed for setting up modulation and accessing some less obvious parameters, a collection of clearly labelled page buttons makes navigating the various menus on the backlit LCD screen a fairly straightforward affair. The bank of 128 preset slots comes in handy here too, offering a convenient spectrum of pre-built effects and plenty of space to save your favourite set-ups for easy recall.
IN AND OUT THE BOX Around the back the Heat features a stereo pair of 1/4-inch jack inputs, a pair of 1/4-inch jack outs, two 1/4-inch control inputs, MIDI In, MIDI Out and MIDI Thru (the latter two ports doubling up as DIN Sync outputs). There’s also a headphone out, power in and USB connection. Via its USB connection and Elektron’s free Overbridge software, the Heat can function as a 2-in/2-out audio interface. Overbridge lets it function as a VST/AU plug-in allowing it to easily process DAW audio complete with in-the-box modulation and automation. Best of all, it can be a plug-in and interface at once. It’s a super convenient, portable and multi-functional tool to pair with a laptop. On-the-go producers will love it!
FILTER The multimode filter features semi-hidden cutoff pan and drive parameters, which add an extra layer of sound-shaping.
It’s the Overbridge compatibility (see In And Out The Box) that really pushes Heat into the top tier of studio tools though. While it’s not the only outboard effect out there to ‘play nice’ with digital workspaces, Elektron’s system is very fluid, and the ability to easily process digital sound while modulating and automating Heat from a DAW creates a really winning synergy between the best of the analogue and digital realms. The fact that it can function as an audio interface and still operate in plug-in mode at the same time will likely be a big selling point to a certain ilk of on-the-go producer. At over £600, it might seem expensive but, particularly bearing in mind its flexibility, portability and general quality, it easily justifies the outlay.
The Analog Heat is a deceptively flexible box of analogue effects that partners perfectly with a modern digital set-up.
Reviews | Pioneer PLX-500
Pioneer DJ PLX-500 £299 Looking for a low-cost DJ deck from a name you can trust? Roy Spencer investigates whether Pioneer’s latest budget turntable is the one for you CONTACT WHO: Pioneer DJ Europe Ltd TEL: +44 (0) 208 836 3523 WEB: www.pioneerdj.com KEY FEATURES High-torque, direct drive turntable, with USB output for digital recording, that plays at 33, 45, and 78RPM. Available in black or white
Pioneer PLX-500 | Reviews
he launch of Pioneer’s high-end PLX-1000 DJ turntable last year caused a few ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’, and fitted nicely into that gap left by the demise of the mighty Technics 1210. Seemingly enjoying their saviour status, they’ve now decided it’s up to them to rescue the budget end of the DJ turntable market too. Enter the PLX-500 – Pioneer’s sub 300 quid deck. It looks like a PLX-1000 (and therefore a Technics), but it doesn’t inherit all the muscle of its (£500+) big brother. The platter pickup isn’t as fierce for a start, but it’ll do zip to thirty three and a third in one second. Compared to 0.3 seconds for the PLX-1000, it may feel a tad sluggish for top-end turntablists, but the other 99% of the market will be more than happy with that performance.
THE PROS & CONS
This deck has a solid Pioneer build and great torque and stability for this end of the market At just under £300 each the PLX-500 won’t break the bank, unlike the laughably expensive Technics SL-1200GAE
We were a bit let down by the RCA cables. They do look cheap, and aren’t detachable
Up to scratch Speaking of you scratchy types, the PLX-500 doesn’t buckle under duress from intense platter wobbling scratch manoeuvres like drills, tears and hydroplaning (look ’em up). It ships with a slipmat, needle, and headshell, which are actually up to the job, but add a Shure M44-7 stylus and headshell to the mix and this deck approaches 1210 invincibility. How is it for mixing? Well, let’s compare it to the 1210 again. When rocking the PLX-500 in a set-up with a Technics as the other deck you’d think it would pale next to its legendary counterpart. Not so. We found that Pioneer’s deck more than holds its own. The 500’s platter isn’t as rock solid as a 1210, rightly – a lighter rub of your ‘slowing the deck down’ finger is needed as you’ll encounter less resistance than you’re used to – but once you’ve got accustomed to it, it’s plain sailing. As for other features on this deck you get + and -8 on the ‘tempo’ control, 33, 45 and 78RPM choices and, like other turntables out there hovering around this price point – Audio-Technica’s LP-120, for instance – a USB-out port, allowing you to digitise your vinyl for listening on other devices, or dropping into apps like Pioneer’s own rekordbox DJ software.
The 500’s platter isn’t as rock solid as a 1210, but once you’ve got accustomed to it, it’s plain sailing A quick look round the back, however, and you’re greeted by the kind of budget RCA cables you’d pick up for a quid at Maplin – and they’re hard-wired into the deck. Pffst! Also, the tone-arm shoulder looks a little cheap, but you’ve gotta keep costs down somewhere, right? And, fair play, it doesn’t mess with performance – if you calibrate the weight, height and anti-skipping dial to match your stylus and needle set-up, then you’re golden. Predictable quibbles aside, the PLX-500 is a great deck – arguably the best out there at under 300 smackers. It’s pretty much perfect for would-be turntablists not wanting to break the bank, or any new wave DJs finding controllerism a bit naff, fake, or fiddly.
Like every other turntable on the market, it looks like a Technics 1210. Not a bad thing, but how about some bold design or feature decisions, deck makers?
Bottom line: turntables are the foundation of disc jockeying, and Pioneer’s PLX-500 decks are more than capable of helping uphold that precious legacy for the next generation.
Is the Pioneer PLX-500 the best budget deck on the market? Yes. It looks like a Technics 1210, and doesn’t perform too far off. 87
Reviews | JZ Microphones V16-BB
JZ V16-BB €998 The JZ Vintage range gets a new addition aimed at vocal and acoustic instrument work with the V16-BB. Robbie Stamp checks its studio credentials CONTACT WHO: Hand In Hand TEL: +44(0)1752 696 633 WEB: www.jzmic.com KEY FEATURES TRANSdUCER: 24mm condenser, POLAR PATTERN: Cardioid AmP TOPOLOgY: Discrete Class-A SENSiTiviTY: 20.5mV/Pa @1kHz OUTPUT imPEdANCE: 100Ω mAx SPL (iNTO 2.5KΩ, THd 0.5%): 133.5dB S/N RATiO: 86.5dBA dYNAmiC RANgE: 131dB (@2.5kΩ)
JZ Microphones V16-BB | Reviews
THE PROS & CONS
Sensitive and well-balanced frequency response A pleasing twinkle at the top without harshness High output, low noise makes it great for tracking acoustic instruments
he V16-BB is a handmade large diaphragm condenser mic. There’s no pad or low cut, and the pickup pattern is a fixed cardioid. The grille and capsule proximity give the impression it places little between the source and the diaphragm, and aurally it appears to do just that. This is a sensitive mic, providing a healthy output alongside a low noise floor making it ideal for quiet, delicate sources. This sensitivity is most noticeable in the high-frequency range where there is a ‘tinsel’ quality that really brings out the life and detail of a source. Cheap condensers often feature a hyped high-end that is quite grating and breaks up easily when EQ is applied to correct an over/ underemphasis. The V16 does not do this at all, which is why it is not cheap. Transients are captured beautifully and in tests I found no reason to lift the high-end, or even touch it, and though sources could be overly sibilant, the V16 did not add to this. Vocals and acoustic instruments really benefit from this high-end quality, though the sensitivity of the mic does mean extraneous noises get equally well represented in recording. At the other end is a surprisingly weighty bass response and, much like the HF range, it seems smooth and satisfyingly malleable in a mix with
Light grille makes it very easy to ‘pop’ with vocals
In the high-frequency range a ‘tinsel’ quality really brings out the life of a source regard to EQ. The V16 does not offer a lot of protection from external impacts, either direct or transmitted through the mic stand and shockmount, despite some absorption in the latter. Vocals and many acoustic instruments are best recorded with a low-cut or high-pass filter engaged, but when recording bass instruments or alongside drums some effort is needed to mitigate this weakness. The relatively unguarded capsule necessitates a pop filter for vocal work too, especially as getting right up on this mic can produce a wonderfully rich and intimate sound. The pickup pattern is relatively wide: more ‘super’ than ‘hyper’ in cardioid terms. This is good for vocal work as well as acoustic instruments that rarely stay put during recording. Maybe as a consequence the rear rejection is not as extensive as some condensers of this type, so placement and baffling are key in a multitrack situation. In a room on its own it can hold focus on the source while still allowing in a quality room sound.
Shockmount doesn’t reject quite enough mic stand vibrations
The V16 possesses sensitivity, openness, a well-balanced frequency response and a little sprinkle of magic treble dust. It does not carry a vintage pricetag and has a five year warranty. I would like a more comprehensive shockmount solution so its qualities could be deployed over a larger range of recording duties. If vocals and acoustic instruments are regular work, then the V16 will be worthy and satisfying tool in your studio.
The v16-BB is not necessarily an all-rounder, but when it comes to vocals and acoustic instruments it delivers a high-quality finish. 89
Reviews | OTO BAM Space Generator
OTO BAM Space Generator â‚Ź460 Take the best features of classic digital reverbs and put them in a small, affordable box. Stuart Bruce explores Space Generator CONTACT WHO: OTO Machines TEL: + 00 33 (0)1 75 50 61 04 WEB: www.otomachines.com KEY FEATURES SmALL FOOTpRiNT: a knob for everything so plenty of real-time manipulation possibilities. Captures the sought-after sound of early digital reverberators. Great MIDI control with access to everything
OTO BAM Space Generator | Reviews
THE PROS & CONS
If you like the sound of early digital reverbs, BAM has it in bucket-loads The real-time and miDi programmed manipulation possibilities are enormous and create some great effects Extremely small footprint and sturdy construction so you can take it anywhere
it only has a miDi in. i’d love to see it have a miDi out so that you could jam with it, record the miDi and then edit it to fine-tune
aris-based OTO Machines are dedicated to making a small range of effects boxes with more than a tip of the hat to the early days of digital. With a great digital delay under their belt (the BIM), it was time to head into the world of reverb and the BAM is the result of many months of painstaking researching and testing. First impressions are very good. It’s housed in a substantial metal box
and well finished with a retro-ish design and has six knobs and eight buttons. The back panel has four 1/4-inch TRS sockets (two inputs/two outputs), a MIDI in socket and a power socket for the external power supply. The pots feel positive and smooth and the buttons are big and light up. I love the way it looks and feels – simple, functional and tactile. Looking at the knobs from left to right you have a size control which is the algorithmic equivalent of changing the physical size of the room. Next comes the pre delay (0ms
The sound of it really is like those classic earlier digital reverbs such as the Lexicon PCM60 to 500ms) and last on the top row, the mix control (100% dry to 100% wet). First knob on the lower row is called Data. There are four function keys – Type, In Gain, Filters and Chorus – which latch when you press them (you can only have one at a time) and the Data knob becomes that parameter. Type, is reverb type and there are seven to choose from. In Gain is exactly that and Filters has two parameters, High Pass and Low Pass which happen on the input stage and are stepped from 20Hz to 450Hz for the HP and 1.8kHz to 15kHz for the LP. Chorus adds modulation to the reverberated signal. Reverb Time sets the decay length of the reverb, and lastly damping sets the amount of high-end rolloff in the reverb decay.
Get Active There is an Active button which is effectively a bypass but this is smarter than your average bypass as it has three modes. In Mode 1 it is like a classic bypass; the input is sent straight to the output so it cuts the reverb. Mode 2 still cuts the reverb but leaves the tail. Mode 3 is Aux mode, so the Mix control is now the reverb output level and bypassing switches off the input so you still get the decay. Very clever and obviously designed by somebody who uses this type of gear all the time. The Tap Tempo button can be switched to either pre-delay or to Reverb Time which is another very cool feature, especially with non-linear type effects. There is a Preset button
Reviews | OTO BAM Space Generator
lexicon MX200 $299
The entry-level Lexicon has plenty of useful features and knobs to manipulate the sound with. It has USB options in crude editing software and the ability to run it as an insert in your DAW. It doesn’t have vintage sound but lots of control possibilities. www.lexiconpro.com
Eventide Space $579
A high-quality stomp box-style unit that offers much more than just simple reverb and has high levels of real-time manipulation. Again, it won’t give you the sound of a vintage digital reverb but gives you access to the performance capabilities. www.eventideaudio. com
yamaha SPX90 From £75 (used)
The SPX90 really started the revolution of affordable reverb units. It is a great unit with a unique and coloured sound. Editing is via menus and a set of up/down keys, so jamming is pretty tricky, but it is the real thing. eBay etc
which allows you to recall and store patches and lastly a Freeze button. This loops the current buffer and disables further input to the reverb. So the big question is what does it sound like? And the answer is bloody great. It arrived on a day I was editing and manipulating sounds on a particularly experimental track so BAM came out of the box, was attached to an aux and a return and was being recorded within five minutes. The sound of it really is like those classic earlier digital reverbs such as the Lexicon PCM60, especially on the rooms, the Yamaha Rev 7 and the SPX90 for the plate, but it also has a touch of the EMT 250 in the hall and the AMS RMX16, particularly on the Non-Lin setting. The reverbs sound deep and full and with the combinations of Type and the Filters there is plenty of tonal variation. Real-time adjustment of the Pre-delay and Reverb time is smooth and without any pitch variation but playing with the Size control does sweep the pitch, and it’s a very usable effect. From subtle moves to great swooping waves you can get some truly mad stuff going. The fact that all the parameters are in front of you gives you so many options in manipulating the reverb in real time that you end up playing with it a lot. Just manipulating decay length on a vocal, a bit shorter in the verse and longer in the chorus, gives a really powerful effect but, once you get into adjusting the Pre-delay, adding a touch of pitch effect from the Size or even changing the Reverb Type with the Data knob, it becomes a real performance tool.
THE FREEZE BUTTON A simple effect but it can create wonderful textures. This one is beautifully coloured and no artifacts.
THE DATA KNOB Puts all the other parameters not assigned dedicated knobs directly under your control.
Get in quick! The different Reverb Types, Room, Hall, Plate, Non-Lin, Ambient, Chorus and Primitive have distinctive characters and in combination with the controls it’s possible to find a multitude of different sounds. As a performance tool it is second to none. Those bypass modes make perfect sense and in a stripped-down track you can get into some really amazing spatial effects. The MIDI control extends to program changes, parameter changes, filters and
SiZE If you want some mad pitch effects then this is where you need to go. From the subtle to the extreme, it’s addictive.
chorus… In fact pretty much everything so, if you need to be very precise, you can automate to your heart’s content. But really it comes down to this. OTO Machines set out to make a great ‘early’ sounding digital reverb with modern performance controls, and they have done just that. They are a small company who currently make limited runs of each item and the batches always sell out really quickly. BAM has gone onto my Studio purchases list and when budget and production runs allow I will be getting one. So keep an eye on their website and get in quick – these things fly out of the door for a reason!
WHy viNTAGE diGiTAl REvERB? Every major studio I use still has digital reverbs from the late ’70s to mid ’80s. Their technical limitations include extreme high-frequency filtering, limited memory and sometimes 12-bit conversion. The algorithms had to be very efficient to allow for limited memory and so the designers had to make bold decisions as to the aspects of reverberation they prioritised. The result was highly coloured, individual sounding units with a remarkable amount of spatial information. It won’t suit every musical style, but nothing does. It gives you a palette of sounds you possibly can’t get your hands on too easily.
A fantastic reverb unit whose size belies its power. Great sounding vintage reverb with a very modern approach to live performance.
Reviews | Xxxxxxxxx
FM | ROUND-UP
EQ plug-ins are one of the most important parts of the modern production tool kit. Stuart Bruce takes a look at a selection of the latest sound shapers FM | STUDIO ESSENTIAL!
Soundtoys Sie-Q $129 Like the Lindell TE-100 this is directly inspired by another German EQ, this time the Siemens w295b. Unlike the TE-100 this is simple stuff. LF shelf, switchable midrange (0.7 to 5.6kHz) and a shelving HF. The last control is the Drive which basically gives you more character and eventually distortion. I know these EQs from years ago. The originals have a certain something in the high-end, a kind of magical sheen and translucence, rarely found and all the more special because of it. The lows and mids also have a special depth to them and can be powerful without getting too harsh, even with extreme settings. The joy of this is that the Sie-Q has it too. As modelling progresses it gets better and better and this, like the TE-100, is a fine example of it. It’s like the best ‘tone’ control you ever heard breathing life into a dull sound and further enhancing a great one. http://www.soundtoys.com
VERDICT 9.5 94
Sound Radix Surfer EQ2 $199 This is a highly individual EQ, the main reason being that it will follow the pitch of a monophonic musical source and adjust each band to remain ‘in tune’ with it. There are sophisticated controls to keep this tracking accurate and they work well with a minimum of octave leaps. The EQ itself is 5-band with switchable curves for each band including a very interesting Harmonic Filter which turns a single band into a four mode tracking filter. Each band can Surf (track) the pitch individually so you can do a bit of low mid removal and just have the high-end ‘Surfing’. It really does give a different kind of presence to a lead line or a voice and, as you are not fixed to just the octave harmonics of the incoming note (you can offset each filter to the pitch), when used with extreme settings you can force some fantastically strange sounding harmonics out of a melody. It’s a good sounding EQ too, and that Harmonic Filter is great. Very creative. www.soundradix.com
Kush Hammer DSP $149 Another emulation, this time of an excellent modern valve EQ, the Hammer is a twin channel 3-band device with low and high-shelf, a bell midrange and switchable low and high-pass filters. Each band has switched frequencies which all seem to be in exactly the right places. When using it on a stereo source the channels can be ganged or left independent so it’s a true dual channel EQ. The low-end is warm and round while the highs can be subtle and smooth but can also add a real bite to a dull sound without harshness or any nasty artifacts. But it is the midrange which is most impressive as it is powerful and warm without ever being offensive. It’s quite remarkable
Round-Up | Reviews
as you can radically change the character of a sound without losing its musicality, especially good for putting some bark into an electric guitar while retaining the body. Well up to Kush’s high standards, and something you’ll come back to again and again. www.thehouseofkush.com
FM | MUST HAVE!
iZotope Neutron from $249 Neutron is something of a one off. As a processor it has six stages, a 12-band equaliser, two compressors, an exciter/saturation circuit, a transient shaper and a master limiter. The equaliser has eight parametric bands plus high and low shelving and high and low-pass filters but the really novel feature is the Masking Meter. With multiple instances of Neutron across different instruments you can compare two channels and Neutron shows you where potential frequency buildups are so you can easily adjust each instrument. It’s particularly effective where you have two sources in the same register and, because you can link bands across two channels, boosting a frequency on one channel automatically reduces it in the other. The EQ sounds great, clean and open but with a subtle bit of warmth. The masking option helps to open up a mix and put definition into every part. The compressor has switchable characteristics that go from vintage warmth to digital clarity, the exciter has four types of saturation colour and the transient shaper has three response curves and separate controls for attack and sustain. All three of these dynamic processors are capable of being divided into three bands with variable crossover points so the dynamic shaping possibilities are endless and sound excellent. There is a final peakstop limiter which can go from a clean pumping to a hardedged brickwall feel. An incredible device that can get clarity into your mixes and add colour to any sound. www.izotope.com
Lindell Audio TE-100 $149 The TE-100 is a very faithful reproduction of the all valve Klein and Hummel UE-100, an incredibly sophisticated equaliser first produced in 1961 but with the simple addition of finer control of the boosts and cuts than the original. As you can see, there are a myriad of controls but in essence it is a 4-band EQ with high and low-pass filters. The HP and LP frequencies are selected using push button steps and you have a choice of slope. The same push buttons are used on the other bands, LF and HF boost are shelving with a choice of slope while the mid range filters are something very different. The red and black buttons define the upper and lower frequencies of the filter so it is possible to make some pretty individual sounding curves which you can switch into boost or cut mode. Finally there is a Low Shelf cut at 60Hz and a High Shelf cut at 10kHz. But it’s the sound which matters and somehow Lindell have managed to reproduce the character of the original. Smooth and strong lows with a powerful yet forgiving midrange and the sweetest of high-ends, it’s a real enhancing tool with a true valve-like warmth. I regularly use a pair of the originals so I’m very impressed at how close they have got this. Hats off Lindell – I love it. https://www.plugin-alliance.com
VERDICT 9.5 95
Reviews | Expert Sleepers ES-8
Expert Sleepers ES-8 £375 It’s not often you come across an audio interface in Eurorack format. Bruce Aisher goes modular and gets patching CONTACT WHO: Expert Sleepers WEB: www.expert-sleepers.co.uk KEY FEATURES Width: 8HP, Depth: 50mm. Class-compliant USB 2.0 (not Windows). 12-in, 16-out. Sample rate/depth: 24-bit at 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz. 3.5mm TS jacks, DC-coupled + 1x ADAT input and 1x ADAT output. Maximum CV: ±10V DC Expansion headers: 1 for ES-5, 1 for ES-6
Expert Sleepers ES-8 | Reviews
he ES-8 is a USB 2.0 multi-channel audio interface compatible with iOS and OSX hardware. However, before diving into the detail it’s worth considering why, with so many audio interfaces on the market, Expert Sleepers have decided to enter the competitive fray. The answer lies squarely in the fact that the ES-8 comes in Eurorack format, and that Expert Sleepers produce a whole panoply of hardware gear aimed at interfacing the analogue synth world with that of the DAW. Most of this would be of little use without appropriate software and, unsurprisingly, this is available from ES (amongst others) in the shape of Silent Way, a suite of plug-ins that take care of CV/gate and trigger conversion, envelope and LFO generation, and more. In essence these use your audio interface inputs and outputs to send and receive voltage-based control signals rather than audio. Unfortunately, audio interfaces are required to be ‘DC-coupled’ in order for this to work with static or very slow moving voltages, and the numbers of these are limited. While there are some workarounds, the maximum available CV range can still be problem. Enter the ES-8, a 12-in, 16-out, DC-coupled interface that claims an impressive CV range of ±10V on both inputs and outputs, and all in an unassuming 8HP unit with eight inputs and eight outputs on 3.5mm sockets plus an additional 8-in/outs available via the ADAT connectors. There is no legending to indicate the difference between analogue or digital ins and outs, though there is some (subtle) colour coding on the sockets, LEDs built into the socket to indicate signal level, a couple of indicators for USB connectivity and clock sync. Alongside the connections on the front panel there are two expansion headers on the rear PCB that facilitate interfacing with a range of other Expert Sleepers modules. For example, the ES-5 can provide up to 48 gate/trigger outputs, and there are a host of other modules adding additional ins and outs in various formats (including low jitter MIDI). The online manual is short, and lacks much detail, just focusing on the basic functions. This does mean
THE PROS & CONS
Analogue inputs and outputs are DC-coupled and capable of handling a large voltage range (±10V DC), so suitable for both audio and analogue control duties Class-compliant, so no driver required (under OSX or iOS) and linkable as an aggregate device for multi-interface DAW routing
Being class-compliant, it just requires plugging in to work with a Mac or iOS device that connecting multiple ES modules is less intuitive than it might be. Luckily, being a class-compliant device means that the ES-8 simply requires plugging in to work with a Mac or iOS device. OSX helpfully allows the creation of aggregate devices, allowing you to use multiple interfaces within a DAW session – useful if you want to use an existing interface in parallel for more conventional audio duties. Windows drivers are promised, though simultaneous interfaces may be harder to utilise as soon as ASIO is involved. One could, of course, use some of the ins and outs on the ES-8 for conventional audio duties, though these are all unbalanced, and the
unit offers little in the way of additional functionality. The ES-8 was designed with a specific purpose mind, and in practice does it well.
The analogue ports are unbalanced – though this is not an issue if the interface is used solely for CV/gate or short audio cables Limited options for internal monitoring/routing/ patching of signals in comparison to audio-only interfaces Mac and iOS only (at present)
For serious modular users (running OSX) the ES-8 would make a great purchase, and with decent expansion potential. 97
Reviews | Spectrasonics Keyscape
Spectrasonics Keyscape £285 From Stylus to Omnisphere, Spectrasonics’ plug-in instruments are widely respected. Dan ‘JD73’ Goldman tries their latest CONTACT
WHO: Spectrasonics WEB: www.spectrasonics.net 64-bit virtual instrument plug-in. 36 unique classic/hybrid instruments, meticulously sampled/mapped with 32-level velocity-switching/round-robin behaviour. Over 450 patches with unique controls/behaviour for each instrument including bespoke FX and amps. Currently DAW-hosted with upcoming standalone version (TBC). Omnisphere 2 integration adds further functionality
Spectrasonics Keyscape | Reviews
THE PROS & CONS
The realism and playability are the best I’ve experienced in a plug-in/virtual instrument collection The attention to detail/general quality is extremely high
PROCESSiNg Each instrument has unique effect/tone combinations under the Effects/Tone tabs. Pull up the LA or Classic Rhodes and you’ll get bespoke bass/mid/treble controls with boost, de-noising, and tone shift. Then you’ll find authentic models of eight classic amps plus FX including studio and spring reverbs, echo, several choruses/phasers, vibrato, Univibe and a tape effect, all with the same super-realistic vibe and high-quality tone as the instrument samples. Similarly, the C7 piano has reverb, compression and tape emulation, while the clavs include several classic wahs and amp models.
Various hybrid combinations and great FX/amp models
Currently some classics are missing (including Clavinet D6, Rhodes Dyno, Sparkletop, MK2 and MKV, Hammond B3 and a standard upright piano model) The duo-instrument combinations are largely preset. An ADSR and transient designer function would be great No hardware version
onsidering the current love of all things vintage and analogue, it’s genuinely surprising that as yet there’s no definitive ‘industry standard’ go-to sample library for super high-quality acoustic, electro-mechanical, vintage digital and hybrid keyboards. For the more discerning players and listeners out there, perhaps it’s fair to say that nobody has truly nailed the likes of Rhodes, Clavinet, Wurli and acoustic
pianos to the extent where you could put them next to the real things in a blind test and the listeners/players be hard-pushed to know which is real or not. There will always tend to be giveaways which could include obvious velocity switching, sloppy release tails, a plastic-ness to the sound or the sounds not reacting to the extreme subtleties of touch when played. As a Rhodes technician myself, while there are undoubtedly great libraries and sample-based hardware instruments out there, up to now, I’ve not found anything that has
that ‘wow-factor’ and detailed super-realism that would give me a convincing enough alternative to my real Rhodes or clav when touring or playing sessions. Spectrasonics’ products have always had that wow-factor for many, concentrating not only on super-realistic samples/ models but also providing intuitive interfaces that encourage creativity and exploration. Let’s see if Keyscape can match the high standards set by their other products… Coming in at a reasonable £285 (inc VAT) as a boxed set (on credit card style USB keys or as a download for the same price), Keyscape is a multi-format plug-in that will run in any 64-bit DAW host. The installation file is sizeable at 77GB (the uncompressed size is nearer 200GB) with Spectrasonics employing their own lossless compression to reduce overall file size. There’s also a ‘Lite’ 30GB download option on install if you are short on space, plus a ‘thinning’ option to take the strain off older computers. On my late 2012
2.3GHz quad-core i7 Mac Mini, (running El Capitan with 16GB RAM), a single instance of Keyscape ran in Logic X very reliably. However, once you get lots of tracks happening (drums, bass, vox etc) on your arrange page, you’ll definitely want to bounce audio from Keyscape to disk to save on CPU drain (also have as much RAM and as fast a computer/drive as possible). Notably, Keyscape uses Spectrasonics’ proprietary STEAM Engine (also used for Omnisphere and Trillian) which allows Spectrasonics great technical flexibility when building their sample sets (and super-fast/smooth streaming of samples), while also allowing further flexibility for upgrading and adding new features/instruments to Keyscape going forwards. This will hopefully ensure that it remains reliable and fully compatible with any new operating system that arrives (and thus, it’s a solid investment). So what makes Keyscape stand out amongst the competition? Well firstly, the clue is in the tagline
Reviews | Spectrasonics Keyscape
Neo-Soul Keys 5X EP $199.99
This has some nicely authentic models of the Rhodes Stage and Suitcase, plus the Wurli EP. Great tone and realistic FX. www.gospel musicians.com
Modartt Pianoteq 5 £188
A very tweakable modelling acoustic piano engine, to which you can add instrument packs including acoustic and electric pianos, Clavinets, vibes, marimbas, steel pans and celeste. Closest to Keyscape. www.pianoteq.com
Ni Scarbee Vintage Keys (For Kontakt) £129 This collection of four sampled vintage keyboard instruments includes a Rhodes, Wurli, Clavinet and Pianet with mechanical/ electrical noise and authentic FX. www.nativeinstruments.com
‘Collector Keyboards’. Spectrasonics have gone to great lengths over ten years to find the finest examples of each of the main instrument categories. They’ve worked with some of the best technicians in the world (including Ken Rich/Ken Rich Sounds, Chris Carroll/Vintage Vibe and LA piano tech Jim Wilson) to ensure all the instruments are in tip-top condition and sounding/ playing their absolute best. Secondly, there are up to 32 velocity layers per-key/per-instrument, so the finest nuances of touch are possible with what I can attest to be seamless transitions between samples. You can also select and tweak the velocity curve to suit your playing style and several different controller templates are included. Even when played from a basic synth-action keyboard, Keyscape reacted just as I wanted across a wide range of velocities – a testament to the smoothness of the streaming and the STEAM engine. Finally, a
‘round-robin’ system means that each key press results in a different sample being used for even more authenticity; these subtle features make a huge difference to the all-round playability and general authenticity and give Keyscape a serious edge over similar products (software and hardware). As space is limited here, I will concentrate on acoustic piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Clavinet, as these will likely be the most-used samples. There are three basic
Rhodes models available: Classic (Stage), Classic (Suitcase/Speaker) and LA Custom, with over 30 variation presets between the models (eg LA Custom Chorus, Classic Late ’70s, Classic Suitcase Spacey). As an avid Rhodes player, my first test was to pull up the LA Custom – an instrument of the ilk that made its way onto many classic records back in the day and that was sought after by prominent artists. My first reaction was ‘wow this is crazily good!’ In fact, it’s the first time I’ve had my Rhodes
As a Rhodes/EP emulator this is certainly the best I’ve ever heard or played, without question
KEySCAPE iN uSE So who will use Keyscape? Well, for anyone looking for the most authentic EP samples around it’s an essential purchase. Without wanting to knock other libraries, this one just screams authentic tone and playability. The detailed sounds seriously inspire and draw you in like a real instrument. In the studio it’s very versatile/intuitive and for anyone who doesn’t own a real EP (or collection of real electro-mechanical or digital vintage EPs!) this is the next best thing. In a track or solo it is pretty hard to distinguish Keyscape from the real thing, plus to buy all these amazingly maintained instruments would a) cost the earth/ be impossible and b) require a huge amount of floor space/upkeep. Stylistically, the preset sounds and combinations are versatile and will suit anything from Hip-Hop, Jazz/Funk/Soul, House and Ambient styles, through to dramatic/quirky film scores and Classical/Baroque/ orchestral music. On stage and for touring Keyscape is also a great lightweight/ more reliable alternative to the real deals (especially considering the upcoming standalone version, TBC); add a powerful computer host and a decent weighted controller and you’re sorted!
Spectrasonics Keyscape | Reviews
Suitcase 73 from 1972 plugged in next to a sample set and been genuinely blown away at how well the samples stood up. Spectrasonics have really nailed the important character, tone and vibe; sure it’s never going to be the same as the real thing, (and I wouldn’t expect that – similarly a sample set of a piano can never be exactly the same as the real deal), but as a Rhodes/EP emulator this is certainly the best I’ve ever heard or played, without question. The tone controls work authentically and when switching models, a further custom set of controls appears, specific to that particular instrument. You’ll find release noise, mechanical noise, pedal noise, amp controls, FX and an authentic auto-pan feature just like the real thing; the all-round attention to detail is really something! The Classic Stage and Suitcase samples are similarly great/authentic with a darker (but just as realistic) tone and feel. In addition, there’s also a very authentic Rhodes ‘Piano Bass’ sample and as a bonus, the new Vintage Vibe Electric Piano (basically a super-tweaked-out lightweight Fender Rhodes/tine piano) is also included and it sounds great! Next, I moved onto the LA Custom C7 Grand sample which has 21 variations (bright/classical/studio/pop etc). It’s extremely playable, very authentic and musical (even in an intimate/upfront/solo setting) and the various custom controls allow customisation/personalisation of the sound. Again, there’s pedal noise, release noise and tweakable velocity response. Connecting a pedal can also be done easily via your MIDI controller; in fact it’s very simple to assign any controller to control any onscreen parameter too – simply right click and move the control. You can also store your custom patches once tweaked to your liking – it’s all very intuitive. For my taste, I found that the default release setting needed a little tweak towards the longer side in order to sound more natural (and on the Rhodes’ too) but using the T (Transition) button, you get more control over release length; otherwise you can stick with the default super-tight setting for key-off. I observed some characterful overtones in the upper octaves on this sample at higher velocities, though I’m presuming these are peculiarities attributed to this specific sampled piano and that they’re meant to be
BROWSER Here you select from the ten instrument categories including acoustic pianos, belltone keyboards, Clavinet, electric pianos, hybrid pianos, keybass, mini pianos, plucked keyboards, vintage digital keys and wind keyboards.
there. Regardless, it’s a beautiful piano sample and I’d have no hesitation using it instead of the real deal on stage or in the studio. The classic Wurlitzer EP models available (140B and 200A) sound superb and again, these are the most playable and natural-sounding Wurlis that I’ve heard in a sample set. You’ll find variations including Retro Phaser, Amp Wide Tremolo, Amp Distortion and more. I’d have no hesitation using any of these samples in critical roles on stage or in the studio and that’s a testament to how meticulously these samples have been crafted across the board and how well the instruments were set up before sampling. Last but not least, there are several classic Hohner models onboard including three Pianets (M, N and T) plus the legendary Clavinet C and the later E7/Pianet Duo model. These all include authentic pickup setting options and options for
SETTiNgS TAB Here you can set the voice count in order to reduce CPU tax, hit the ‘thinning’ button (again to reduce CPU load), choose a velocity curve for your brand of controller (and edit it), choose from one of 65 custom scales/tunings, and more.
making the tuning looser, plus damping/muting and release noise. In addition, the clavs are joined by Vintage Vibes’ own take on the clav (the Vibanet) which sounds great and is unique to Keyscape. Let’s not forget there’s also a huge bag of other great and more obscure keyboards including celestes, Dulcitone, mini/ toy pianos, clavichords, electric harpsichords, a wind organ, plus hybrid ‘Duo’ models (including Rhodes with tack piano, modified upright with acoustic grand and the famous Yamaha CP70 electric grand). These all sound fantastic and are indispensable additions. Plus, there are several excellent vintage digital EP samples, including Roland’s MKS-20, MK-80 and JD-800. To sum up, if you want superauthentic Piano, Rhodes, Wurli, Clavinet and other unique keyboard/ collector instruments with authentic performance controls, bespoke/ authentic modelled FX and first-class
SYSTEM PAgE Select if samples are continuously streamed or loaded into your computer’s RAM, the percentage of samples pre-loaded into memory, plus tweak the ‘round-robin’ behaviour, master tuning and MIDI channel/wheel settings.
playability/musicality, Keyscape is a must-purchase and the best there is right now. If you can’t own the real things, then Keyscape is the next best thing and you’ll not be disappointed. And one last thing – I sincerely hope Spectrasonics make this as a standalone instrument in its own bespoke hardware; that would be one serious machine! Top drawer!
A unique and brilliantsounding product, it sets a new standard in terms of realism and playability. The closest yet to the real deals. 101
Reviews | Roland Super UA Interface
Roland Super UA Interface £449 Compact and high-end needn’t be contradictory terms, as Jon Musgrave discovers with this rather fancy interface CONTACT WHO: Roland UK TEL: +44 (0) 1792 702701 WEB: www.roland.com/uk KEY FEATURES USB 2.0 interface with 2 XLR ins/outs and 2 TRS jack ins/outs, XLR connections on breakout box, Twin headphone outputs on 1/4” and 1/8” jacks, Multifunction knob for setting levels. 2.8MHz/1-bit DSD and 192kHz/32-bit floating point PCM playback. Up to 192kHz/24-bit PCM audio.
Roland Super UA Interface | Reviews
oland’s Super UA is a high-quality desktop USB 2.0 interface which features full 24-bit/ 192kHz support and also allows playback of 1-bit DSD (direct stream digital) and 32-bit PCM format audio. It includes four physical inputs (two line level TRS 1/4-inch jack and two mic XLR) and six physical outputs (two 1/4-inch TRS jack, two XLR, one 1/4-inch headphone and one miniature headphone). The interface comprises two units joined by a 1.5 metre multicore cable. The main unit is a compact desktop design and includes all the jack connectivity, micro USB connector and PSU input, along with a large volume dial, three input selectors (Mic 1, Mic 2 and Line In) and three output selectors (Phones, Line Out A and Line Out B). Meanwhile the breakout box handles all the XLR connectors, and includes two LED phantom power indicators. Both boxes feel solid and the two unit configuration allows you to keep all your clunky XLRs away from your workspace. If you don’t need the XLR connectivity, you can disconnect the breakout box and use the main desktop device on its own. In this form the Super UA can be USB buss powered, however, as soon as you connect the breakout box you’ll need the external PSU. Despite the four physical inputs, Super UA only handles two simultaneous input streams. However, said inputs can be configured as two mic inputs, one line and one mic, or two lines, which is reasonably flexible. The only thing not available is a high impedance instrument input, although in use the line input handled a guitar with passive pickups well enough. The outputs can operate in two stream or six stream modes, and DSD playback is limited to two stream mode. Nevertheless, for regular PCM audio, the six stream mode provides independent control of three stereo pairs – headphones, line A (jacks) and line B (XLRs). The headphone jacks receive the same output, and both can be used simultaneously. Super UA’s volume dial adjusts whichever input or output you have selected on the panel (backlit in green), and its own white backlit scale updates to reflect the currently
THE PROS & CONS
Stylish and robust design is tactile and feels well made Plenty of connectivity including two headphone outputs and separate rather than combined mic and line inputs Onboard real-time software processing for inputs including compression/gate
Quite pricey for a two input interface The breakout box configuration won’t appeal to everyone
selected input or output level. It also has a push action for muting. To really get inside this box you need to fire up the included UA-S10 Control Panel. Here you’ll find control for obvious stuff such as input gain, phantom power, output levels and direct hardware monitoring, and also a host of further input processing that can be applied before recording. This is available for both mic and line inputs and can be stereo linked. Options include phase invert, highpass filter, gate and compressor, with the dynamics opening on a separate floating window. Rounding things off is an automatic input gain option. Super UA is an extremely slick unit that delivers pristine audio alongside real-time input processing,
direct hardware monitoring and high resolution playback, and with a 2-in 6-out capability is well suited to modern working methods.
Super UA does everything you’d expect and more, and can easily hold its own alongside similar compact high-end interfaces. 103
Reviews | Xxxxxxxxx
FM | group test
IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R stands From £68
Us producers all have one thing in common: the space in which we work. It’s no good having all the gear, but nowhere to put it. From low-cost problem solvers, to major investments, it’s time to put a little love into your studio furniture. 104
Cremacaffè stands From €35
Zaor Yesk workstation €640
Group Test | Reviews
SynthRacks Eurorack case From £325
Built around rubberised feet mounted on plastic frames, the ISO-L8R stands come in a variety of sizes depending on the size of your monitors. Each model gives you a plethora of height and tilt variations, courtesy of the different length risers supplied in the box. What you’re getting from IsoAcoustics is a reduction in low frequency energy loss, creating a punchier and more focused sound. In short, if you can afford good quality monitors, you can afford these stands. www.isoacoustics.com
Handmade in Italy are these rather nice looking instrument/laptop stands, which are laser-cut from poplar plywood. Arriving flat-packed in card wallets, the pieces interlock to form stands that can hold anything from an iPad to a small controller keyboard. Despite feeling a little too lightweight, once assembled, they are very sturdy indeed and feature tiny rubber feet to prevent movement. Each stand design is compatible with a whole host of instruments and devices, with detailed lists available on the Cremacaffè website. cremacaffedesign.com
So you may think that upcycling any old desk found on Gumtree is more than suitable for your studio, but believe us when we say you’ll always be disappointed. The Yesk from Zaor is in the Romanian firm’s lowest price bracket for workstations. The design is a solid-wood frame with Melamine-faced chipboard surfaces. It features a pullout keyboard drawer, two 4U rack spaces and a monitor
Herman Miller Aeron chair From £899
shelf. The desk arrives flat-packed and, while the instructions are by no means useless, in a world of Ikea and Lego manuals, our expectations were slightly higher. That said, assembly is pretty painless and the final product is a very sturdy, yet lightweight workstation. We like that the drawer is open-ended, so you’re not too limited on keyboard size. www.zaorstudiofurniture.com
Is it time to ditch that tatty old, homemade skiff case? Treat yourself to a premium, solid wood case from SynthRacks. The Peter model here is 6U and comes in 104, 110 and 126HP variations, as well as a variety of finishes, of which the walnut is our favourite. You can either purchase powered or unpowered versions. synthracks.com
It’s funny that some of the working environments we subject ourselves to in our Techno dungeons have more of the ‘dungeon’ than ‘Techno’ about them. Throw away that tatty old dining room chair for what has to be the undisputed king of chairs. If the Aeron from Herman Miller looks familiar to you, that’ll be because we have seen it in countless pro studios we’ve visited around the world. The highlight of Aeron’s ergonomic design has to be the woven suspended membrane; it’s breathable and eliminates fatigue to those pressure points. However, it costs around the same price as a Behringer DeepMind 12, which may be slightly higher on your list of priorities right now. www.hermanmiller.co.uk
FM VerDICt THE HIGH PERFORMER Zaor Yesk Workstation: If you make one investment in your studio furniture make it this one. A good desk will make your life much easier – fact! THE BEST VALUE Cremacaffè Stands: In terms of bang for your buck, these are easily the quickest way to spruce up your working environment. 105
Reviews | Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer
Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer ÂŁ369 The original TR-909 can still be heard on tracks today. Bruce Aisher tests the new TR-09 to see if it has some competition CONTACT
WHO: Roland TEL: 01792 702701 WEB: www.roland.com/uk Portable digital recreation of the iconic TR-909 drum machine. Hands-on control over many parameters, including tune, level, decay. Programmable via classic Step and Tap write modes, Four separate outputs via USB audio, Trigger output for controlling external instruments equipped with trigger input, Battery-operated or USB powered, Built-in powered mini-speaker
Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer | Reviews
THE PROS & CONS
Authentic 909 sonics, parameter editing and programming system, plus unlike the original 909 you can continue playing beats while switching between write and play modes Far less background noise than original Separately programmable front-panel trigger
Additional outputs only available via USB when connected to a computer with relevant driver and DAW software A lot cheaper than a real 909, but still a bit pricey for a ‘onetrick’ digital box
few months on from Roland announcing their digital reincarnation of the TR-909 and the noise about the apparent folly of Roland rejecting the analogue world is still raging. The fact that it started long before the TR-09 landed says as much about the debate as any direct audio comparison might. Let’s not even delve into the possible problems associated with making comparisons
of musical hardware via compressed internet-based audio, or the less than scientific approach of switching the audio source while saying which unit is active – after all, who is going to admit that they can’t hear the difference between the cheap digital copy and a real analogue legend? Let’s get this out of the way first – the review TR-09 didn’t sound the same as a real TR-909 sat beside it. On some sounds, even when tweaked to be as close as possible in terms of timbre, the differences were obvious. But this is entirely unsurprising. The
original 909 underwent various changes during its lifetime that both corrected issues and (intentionally) altered the sound. Roland list all of the alterations in their TR-909 Service Notes. Secondly, being a largely analogue beast (where even the digital playback elements are linked to, and play through, analogue circuitry) there’s no reason why two 30-year-old original units would even sound the same. Finally, on many recordings where we think we hear a 909, it may in fact be a sample (possibly via a 12-bit ADA stage) – and heavily processed at that. So it is with all this in mind, that Roland introduced the world to its next round of Boutique units utilising their ACB (Analog Circuit Behavior) modelling technology found on the earlier Aira TR-8 drum machines. Remove the TR-09 from its box and the visual and functional similarity to the real thing is clear – albeit in a much reduced, battery-powered footprint. Unlike the original, the top panel is made of metal which helps make it feel more substantial than expected. Button placement is broadly similar, so anyone familiar with the 909 will be able to create Patterns and Tracks without reading
the new manual. The ability to chain patterns was an annoying omission in the earlier TR-8. Knobs have similar functions, though the parameter ranges are, in most cases, quite different to the real 909 test unit. One downside on the TR-09 is the size and feel of the knobs, making editing fiddly at times. There are some sub-functions littered throughout the interface, but these are generally indicated on the front panel. The TR-8 had an increasing number of hidden key presses that became frustrating to remember. Although the TR-09 still only offers a basic four-digit LED display, there is at least a way of adding extra parameters more sensibly via the Edit button. So far, it’s possible to adjust internal gain for each sound, tuning for Rimshot, Clap and Hats, and decay for Rim, Clap, Crash and Ride. Roland have also added full Pan implementation in the latest update. Unlike the original you have full CC control via MIDI (and USB) of most parameters. Turning back to sonic comparisons with a late model TR-909, the differences are striking. When the Snare and Clap play together, the TR-09 exhibits the
Reviews | Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer
Roland TR-909 (secondhand/ used) £2,000+
The real deal. But don’t forget to check the serial number to see what modifications Roland made. Some prefer the kick drum in earlier versions. www.ebay.co.uk SOUND EDITING Although smaller, and slightly rearranged, the sound editing knobs are the same as those on the original TR-909.
D16 Drumazon €99
A plug-in recreation (or reinvention) of the TR-909. Drumazon, while similar in look and feel to the original – in software terms – offers a wider range of sound parameter tweaks and the convenience of routing straight into your DAW. www.d16.pl
COMP BUTTON The TR-09 loses the reverb, delay and glitch effects of the TR-8, but keeps the compressors assigned to the kick and snare.
expected phasing quality caused by the sounds sharing the same internal noise source – a good way to hear when samples are being used. The one area where a break from exactly replicating the real thing might have been worth it would be in the ability to change the overall pitch of the kick drum. On this subject, Roland have remained silent on their overall approach to emulating the
TRIGGER OUT The original had a trigger output controlled by the Rimshot pattern. This time you have a dedicate trigger lane.
909. I suspect that they chose favourite sound versions from the various revisions – don’t forget some people backwards mod their 909s for the V1 kick sound. Also the TR-909 main outs were known for removing a hefty chunk of the low-end due to overzealous DC-blocking capacitors in the mix path – something (thankfully) not included in the TR-09.
BETTER THaN THE REal THiNg?
Roland TR-8 £409
Roland’s first foray into modelling some of their past rhythm boxes. It can now host the full range of classic 909, 808, 707, 727 and 606 sound sets. www.roland.com/uk
KICK – the TR-909 was a semi-tone lower and with less well-defined attack. SNARE – the TR-09 Snare’s pitched tone has a noticeably more complex harmonic make-up (which is actually more pleasing), with the original 909 also having a slightly shorter decay. The TR-09 ‘Snappy’ (noise amount) extends much higher than the real one. Tone has to be set differently to match the duller TR-909. TOMS – both have very similar pitched components. The TR-09 has a longer audible noise burst, whereas the real 909 has a shorter ‘click’ and more perceptible pitch sweep (though this is perhaps somewhat masked by the longer attack noise). RIM SHOT – the TR-09 is duller even after some sub-menu tweaking. HI HATS – very similar after slight detuning of the TR-09 and some rebalancing of Closed vs Open gain. CLAP, CRASH and RIDE – all very similar after some slight sub-menu decay adjustment.
REAR PANEL USB carries MIDI and audio data to a computer. The only analogue output is a 3.5mm jack, making out of the box mixing limited.
This begs the question as to why Roland couldn’t be more explicit with all of this, and perhaps offer different mods for each voice based on authorised revisions (or even after-market mods). Also, although additional outputs can be harnessed when connected to your DAW via USB (and hardware hacking is off-limits with DSP boxes of this type), I would like to have had at least a couple of extra analogue outs, even if accessed via an optional expansion port. Price may also be an issue. The TR-09 seems the wrong side of £300, though street prices may well fall with increased supply. So, is it a TR-909? Well – we now know there’s no such thing as a perfect 909, just one you prefer. The TR-09 sounds great and is fun to use. You choose – the decision could save you £2k.
Portable and with the flavour of a real 909, it’s capable of great results. Extra analogue outs and more sonic tweaks would have been welcome.
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FM | SoundS & SampleS Sonokinetic Maximo ¤302
Spitfire audio albion V Tundra £399 Spitfire’s Albion V Tundra collection is a Kontakt library, but with the focus on the other end of dynamic register to Sonokinetic’s offering. The raw samples were recorded with the performers instructed to play at ‘mezzo piano’ (medium quiet) and below – to what Spitfire describe as ‘the edge of silence’. Clearly a solid recording chain and excellent environment are required to make the most of this approach. As such, the 100 piece Tundra Orchestra (and individual ensemble elements) were recorded at Air Studios with its superlative mic collection via a Neve desk and Studer 2-inch multi-track tape machine. There are 133 articulations on offer – no phrase triggering here – and frankly they sound fantastic. Although including some conventional playing styles, the real joy of Tundra comes from the custom articulations such as ‘Richocet’ or ‘Air and Ice’ which combine ‘noise’
and harmonics in a very beautiful, and immediately playable, way. Alongside the Tundra Orchestra you also have ‘Stephenson’s Steam Band’ which takes the orchestral material and morphs it through Spitfire’s eDNA interface. This allows you to create pads and other textures that sit well alongside the more formal articulations and the ‘Vral Grid’ instruments’ cold evolving drones. It’s not all slow-moving material, however, as you also get the percussive ‘Brunel Loops’ (again using eDNA) and individual hits of ‘Darwin Percussion’. This isn’t a cheap library, but it is quite different to many more conventional orchestral collections, and makes for an extremely inspirational writing tool. Bruce Aisher www.spitfireaudio.com
Sonokinetic are back with the latest in their ever-growing range of phrase-based orchestral instruments. This time, they ‘go large’ with the expanded ensemble sound of Maximo. Interestingly this isn’t by employing overdubs, so what you get is many musicians moving substantial amounts of air in a real space at the same time. In terms of numbers, the orchestra consists of 60 string, 22 brass and 19 woodwind instruments. There is a lot of focus on the low-end with eight double basses, 16 celli, six bassoons and a contrabassoon – a subtle library this is not. Like their previous offerings, Maximo makes use of Sonokinetic’s phrase layering interface with separate instances for Strings, Brass and Woodwinds. Incidentally, for those with limited memory or CPU, every version comes in Full and Lite versions at both 16 and 24-bit. The playback engine is very well put together, and allows for far more
nuance than one would expect given the apparent limited musical flexibility of the phrase-based approach. ‘Harmonic Shift’ is worthy of mention as it allows you to create complex chords and more interesting harmonic movement by transposing only selected phrases in any given layer. Further timbral shaping is offered by the four mixable mic positions, though the futuristic font and icon design in Maximo does make accessing some parameters a little less intuitive than it might be. Also, time signatures are strictly 4/4, so you will need to look to Grosso or others for other rhythmic flavours. Maximo is big, bold, and classy. Combined with some electronics it is capable of delivering excellent hybrid textures for film, TV and even club use. Bruce Aisher www.sonokinetic.net
Mini Reviews | Reviews
Rhythm Lab Vinyl Revolution | £7.95 www.primeloops.com Look out your windows – there’s a vinyl revolution going on! The streets are awash with the great unwashed, clutching their Record Store Day purchases under their arms, ready to take them home, play them once, and frame them on the wall. We live in a world where the record is back, and possibly 2-4-1 at Tesco. With the sound of this revolution in their ears, the beat team at Rhythm Lab have been working round the clock to bring you another volume of their live drum loop sample pack. Like the first two instalments, we have 500 more authentic, warm and vintage vinyl vibe breaks, fit for the freshest beat programming sessions. Hip-Hop heads will check in first, but you can craft up some UKG or Jungle with these badman beats, too. If you’re after some analogue drum hit fodder, you can’t go wrong here. Roy Spencer
VeRdICT 8 Sample Magic Raw Tops | £14.90 www.samplemagic.com Although it sounds like a tribe category on a gay dating app, Raw Tops is actually a collection of 101 jackin’ synthetic percussion lines for House and Techno producers. Like all the SM101 range, it’s an indispensable set of core, workmanlike, components that every beatmaker needs for their backbone sound. These releases are like the ‘Everyday’ range in your local supermarket. Here we get top lines, and 101 of these dancefloor inciting drum machine workouts from some iconic bits of studio kit, buffered by that golden MPC swing. Each one of these 123bpm tempo-sync’d loops is infectious and they are pitch-perfect for Big Room tracks, or the Techier side of your chosen genre. Great stuff, and each file in Sample Magic’s Raw Tops collection comes with its constituent Apple and Rex2 loops as standard. Roy Spencer
VeRdICT 8 Sample Tweakers – 400 Trap Vocal Cuts | £16.50 www.soundstosample.com You won’t be surprised to hear that this pack contains 400 Trap vocal cuts. Inside you have enough urgent and choppable vocals to keep you tinkering away for days. Chances are you’ll have a field day pushing these high-quality recordings through a range of octaves over your next skittering Trap workout. EDM, Dubstep, House and Techno heads are also welcome
to play. Once you’ve squeaked and tweaked these Dirty South Rap-sounding phrases and punchy syllables (examples: “killer”, “dope”, “hot”) you’ll find they ride well on just about any style. And if you’re a fan of the Sample Tweakers’ sound, try twinning this release with other packs in their killer range, like the rather natty Trap Invaders NI Massive & Sylenth Patches. Dope! Roy Spencer
VeRdICT 8 Freaky Loops Analogue Hip Hop Cuts | £ 34.95 www.loopmasters.com Welcome to a world of Jazzy soundscapes, dusty loops, Souled out synths, and neck snapping drums. This is Analogue Hip Hop Cuts and it clocks in at a whopping 1.87GB. Inside you get some sonically rich riffs, punchy one-shots, and other DAW or MPC-ready samples for your beat-making pleasure. Tempos run from 80 to 90bpm, so think on the woozier side of the tracks. But classy sounding material from the Rhodes, and the driving basslines on offer keep your ears and pulse rates pricked up. The percussion folder is a highpoint here, with crisp rides and sticks meeting splashy crashes and tambourines. Always a bedrock of your sequencing. Alongside the 300 loops and 201 single samples you also get two full tracks, with 14 stems in, to dismantle and look under the hood of. All in all, it’s quite a haul. Plenty to fire your imagination up with, then. Roy Spencer
VeRdICT 9 Rockwell UK Drum & Bass | £17.47 www.loopmasters.com Besides sporting some of the sharpest cheekbones in contemporary D ’n’ B, Rockwell also makes some of the scene’s most cutting-edge music – tracks like Detroit, Reverse Engineering, 4U, and the mighty Underpass, are just a handful of his forward-thinking productions. No wonder Loopmasters drafted him in for an artist sample pack, then. Fans checking in here after a bulk load of his trademark production ammo won’t be disappointed. For the cover charge you get 1.26GB of the kind of killer loops and layers that make his hits such hits. Hundreds of dynamite stabs, dreamy pads, rolling bass loops, militant drums, tops, and vocals, are ready and waiting. Plus, 11 pre-formatted multi-sampled instruments with that Rockwell blessing are bundled in, alongside over 200 Rex files. With all this and more, it’s your turn to rock… well. Roy Spencer
With nostalgic analogue synths, late-night beats and glo-fi melodics Retrowave takes a trip into a neon-tinted dystopian cityscape, inspired by the euphoric sounds of Kavinsky and the house-tinged grooves of Com Truise and Lone.
ORGANIC ELECTRONICA At the crossroads of Bonobo, Ninja Tune and Four Tet exists ‘Organic Electronica’ – as musical and rootsy as it is original and contemporary.
£34.90 RETRO TECHNO Take a trip back to the lucid heyday of Rave, Bleep and IDM with over 600MB of carefully crafted loops and MIDI inspired by Drexiya, Surgeon, R&S and classic Reflex.
£19.90 BIG ROOM FX 3 Euphoria inducing impacts, epic textural risers and dense noisey atmospheres feature in over 101 tempo-synced and one-shot loops.
VeRdICT 10 £14.90 111
FM | ADVICE Synth for transition sounds/FX
> Can plug-ins replace knowledge when mixing and mastering?
Over the past few years plug-in developers – and music software developers in general, to be honest – have been trying to make their products more accessible and easier to use. Some of us still demand access to every parameter under the sun, but plenty of others
are happy with simplified control sets and even single-knob processors. Perhaps the ultimate aim is to be able to take control away from the user completely by producing a plug-in that can be fed music so that it can ‘just make it sound good’ but, while we’re not there yet, steps are being taken in that direction. Leading the charge are iZotope, with a ‘smart’ mixing plug-in known
Any synth with a single characterful resonant filter is great for this but a dual resonant LP/HP filter arrangement allows even more sculpting power. Our all-time favourite FX/transition machine is the Korg MS-20 so, whether it’s the mini, module or a plug-in version, you’ll be able to create transition/rise/ drop sounds with ease using the LP/HP filter and piercing resonance!
as Neutron. This promises to analyse your tracks and identity the instruments within them, then make suggestions on the EQ and other settings you could use. Neutron also features the Masking Meter, which identifies frequency clashes so that you can sort them out.
Starter semi-modular on a budget?
The two products that immediately come to mind are the Make Noise 0-Coast (£455) which has some hardwired functions but plenty of places to break out with cabling for re-routing, or the Korg MS-20 mini (£425) which works on a similar principle; ie, it’ll work without any cabling but you can break out the cables for re-routing signals if desired. 112
While, in the end, it’s up to you whether you accept the plug-in’s suggestions, Neutron could certainly help you to get a good way down the road when you’re mixing. On a similar theme, there’s Mastering The Mix’s Levels, which breaks your mix into four areas – Headroom, Stereo Field, Dynamic Range and Bass Space – and gives you visual feedback in each to show you what needs attention. Returning to iZotope, the company are also attempting to ease the mastering process with Ozone 7 Elements. Based on their highlyregarded Ozone mastering software, this simply requires you to select a suitable preset, which conceals a complete mastering chain, then make manual tweaks using EQ and Dynamics Amount Sliders, before running the track through a maximiser. Critics may argue that simplifying the mastering process to this level is little short of heresy, but if you don’t know anything about mastering, you’re likely to get better results this way than by tinkering with complex effect chains that you don’t understand. Let’s not forget, too, that there are also online services that completely automate the mastering process, LANDR being the most notable. In the end, no plug-in is going to be a substitute for a lifetime’s worth of mixing and/or mastering knowledge, but software that simplifies these processes is undoubtedly here to stay, and will only get more capable going forward.
When do I need a new audio interface?
Your audio interface, once set up and working properly, is generally forgotten about, so if you’re noticing it for any reason,
Your Production Problems Solved | Advice
Making simple transition sounds/FX Could you show me a quick way to make simple transition sounds using Logic’s native plug-ins?
© Edd Westmacott/Alamy Stock Photo
Transition sounds and spot FX can add sonic interest while also helping to smooth over or punctuate between different sections. Transition FX sounds can easily be created with a bit of noise, resonance, filtering and some delay, so that’s a good place to start. Also, you could try pitchbending swoops (up or down) automated panning, mod delays and tape delays too. Or you could place a high-pass or band-pass filter on your master buss and automate it to cut in and out at key transition points. Here are a few starting points…
Current best keytar/ synth options?
Secondhand, the Yamaha DX100 is great for around £200-ish and has a fouroctave range (mini keys). Also around £200 is the Alesis Vortex three-octave keytar which includes full size keys and the often-missing aftertouch. Then there’s the Yamaha Reface CS with optional keytar kit around £350, Korg’s RK100s at £600-ish and Roland’s AX-Synth at just under £700.
there’s a good chance it’s because it’s causing you some kind of problem. In some cases, you can resolve the issue without spending any cash, but there are a few reasons why you may consider buying a new interface. Most obviously, your I/O requirements may have changed; if you don’t have the inputs/outputs you need, it’s time to upgrade. Also if your sound quality is not up to scratch, it may be time to go shopping; make sure it’s not some other part of your set-up that’s causing the problem first though. Other performance issues – latency, for example – might prompt you to consider switching, or it might
be the case that, even with the latest drivers, your interface just isn’t working reliably. On a more extreme level, your audio hardware could have been rendered obsolete by an OS update. Alternatively, you might just have seen a different product that offers more features – Universal Audio’s Apollo interfaces also have the advantage of being able to power UAD plug-ins, for example. However, if your interface is behaving itself and you’re happy with its performance, don’t change it. Newer models might promise great things but, if things are working well as they are, leave well alone.
Using noise: Here we’re using the noise slider in Logic’s polyphonic synth plug-in, with a little resonance to add some juice! You can sweep the filter frequency up and down to add drama and add some release and delay to the sound so that it tails off naturally.
Using pitchbend or LFO mod: Here we’re using Logic’s ESP again and we’ve played in a long chord to use as a transition sound. We’ve added pitchbend using Hyperdraw and some LFO automation to add more drama while the chord is bending upwards to the next section.
Using panning: The quickest way to use panning in Logic is with the Tremolo plug-in, rather than the time-consuming task of drawing it in by hand. Set the waveshape to a slightly rounded off square, gradually increase the rate using automation and add some ‘verb!
Using filtering or mod FX across your master buss: It’s been done to death but we love putting a filter, flanger or phaser on the master buss and automating away! We’ve added a flanger, put automation into ‘touch’ mode and tweaked speed, feedback and intensity.
Avoiding cymbal bleed
Drummers love to record with their whole kit (with crashes/rides/toms), but using these elements can cause problems when mixing, particularly if you want plenty of separation and an upfront sound. If your drummer is up for it, always record with just kick, snare and hats, then overdub ride, crashes and toms.
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
Advice | Rockschool
PaRT 5: WHaT’S THE BEST ROUTE? Rockschool course tutors Hannah V and Sam Vasanth take us through their graded Production Syllabus
n this instalment we want to delve deeper into the world of routing techniques – essential tools of high-level production and mixing. Signal flow or routing is the path an audio signal takes from the original source to the master output. This includes all the processing, such as equalisation and compression, including effects. It gives producers more options and control, and the benefits include organisation, automation, master effects and sophisticated effects chains. Let’s look at some different routing techniques…
VCA/Groups Two ways of grouping your stems are using the VCA or the Group function. VCA: The VCA function creates a VCA channel. This channel is solely used for volume control – it lets you adjust the volume of several sounds at the same time. This is beneficial when programming the overall volume balance of vocals for example. Choose all vocals and route them to a VCA to keep an overall balance in reference to drums and other instruments. You can still edit each channel individually (panning, audio effects, automation etc), ride vocals (bringing a vocal to the same level of loudness) and program automation. This technique can be applied to any group of instruments. Groups: The group technique is very similar but controls more than just volume. It also gives overall control of pan, mute, solo, record, track zoom and many more configurable parameters. One application for groups are drum stems. Once all your drums are programmed and initially mixed (volume and pan balance), you can group all the channels. Now you can treat them as a whole. For example, muting/soloing on channel in the group will mute/solo the whole group. Editing the volume fader or pan pot of one channel in the group will do the
YOUR ROCKSCHOOL TUTORS Hannah V is a London-based music producer, songwriter, pianist and keyboard player. She was previously a touring keyboard player for many major Pop acts including Rihanna, Jessie J, Jason Derulo, Lalah Hathaway, Taio Cruz, Jay Sean, Sugababes and Anastacia. Sam Vasanth is a music producer, pianist, educator and entrepreneur. In addition to working for artists such as Jason Derulo, Sam has also been delivering Rockschool qualifications for over six years.
sounds, ie piano, strings, organ etc). There are a lot of benefits to bussing stems…
Once your stems are bussed you are able to use master audio effects. Using a buss compressor on the vocal buss will tighten the vocal, giving it more impact. Adding more hi–mids with an EQ on the same buss can give vocals a nice sheen and add more presence.
Arguably the most important routing technique is bussed stems. This technique requires you to send all of your instruments that make up a specific instrument group to an auxiliary or buss. The main groups are drums, bass, keys (all other melodic components) and vocals, but you can sub divide in any way that makes sense with your particular track. (Sometimes we sub-divide all the synth sounds to the ‘natural keyboard’
Bussing stems is also useful after you’ve layered sounds. Let’s say you find a great sound for your main synth pattern, but the sound choice is lacking in the high-end of the frequency spectrum. Choose another sound that specifically targets high-end frequencies, turn it down in volume, cut the low-end out using an EQ and copy your MIDI notes onto this channel. So effectively, you have two sounds playing the same pattern. Buss all the sounds/layers that make up the synth sound. Then use compression on the buss to tighten up this combination of sounds and make it seem like one pad. You can also use this technique by layering a clap under a snare to make the snare sound bigger or adding a distorted bass to an 808 bass to ensure that the sub bass is audible on a smart phone or other devices that are not capable of producing low-end sounds. Of course,
SSL Compression on the Drum Bus
Mute Automation on the Drum Bus
same for each fader or pot in the group, while maintaining the relative parameter values of each channel. Both the VCA and Group function give you overall control and can help you edit efficiently.
layering is a major part of making vocals sound big but we will discuss the complex world of vocal editing in a later edition.
Using master automation can help you with details in your arrangement. We use Mute and Bypass automation most. We use mute automation to cut out drums in specific parts of the arrangement. This means we do not have to painstakingly delete MIDI instances and worry about reverb tails. Using mute automation can give you interesting and unexpected ‘hits of silence’. Rather than thinking structurally, you can randomly draw in mute automation and decide if it feels good or not! Sam uses bypass automation on his drum buss for filters. At certain points, usually in the first half of a verse or in the pre-chorus, he filters all the high-end of the drums, giving it the ‘underwater’ effect. This gives the next section more energy, feel and impact, when he releases the full sonic of the drums back into the mix. He uses this by bypassing (turning on/ off) the filter EQ. Understanding and applying routing techniques gives you a whole new level of control. Even though these topics seem very technical, they actually end up giving you more creative freedom. So, embrace all the routing possibilities and take your productions to the next level!
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