Monthly Archives: January 2016

Exhale by Output (through Bestservice.de)

 

We examine one of the most unusual, appealing and original instruments found in VST world. It is truly unbelievable what can be done just with a collection of vocal samples and a few effects.

 

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2016

 

What It’s All About

It’s a vocal engine. What exactly does that mean? Actually it’s a Kontakt player based instrument that uses vocal samples as a base for the included presets. The end result is very impressive as all those vocal samples become almost unrecognizable, being heavily manipulated with all the tools, effects and modulators that are available inside the instrument engine. Presentation video clips somehow don’t show the full potential of Exhale because most of the presets are more for ambient-oriented music, but as soon as you start building melodies from the more vivid presets you will find Exhale to be one of the most inspirational and useful instruments of the latest round of releases. The main catch is that most vocal libraries sound somewhat fake – they are almost there, but you can still recognize the take is not a live recording. Exhale presets were not intended to sound like a recording take made with live vocalists, but in most cases, when you build a melody, it sounds like a real, live vocalist take that has been heavily processed with some weird effects. Of course, presets don’t bring any specific words or long phrases. In most cases they are some “doo, doo-woop” and “yea – yeaah” sort of phrases, but they sit perfectly well as background vocals. Or even better as a short vocal line to spice up your instrumental. The only bad news is that you can’t use your own vocal samples, but the main reason for that is quite simple: to preserve the high quality of material – as all those included vocal samples are professionally recorded by professional session vocalists or band vocalists and are already pre-produced. After all, we get more than 500 presets, and if this is not enough we can make our own, choosing up to two included vocal samples for the Note play mode or a bit of a longer sample like a vocal phrase in Loop or Slice play mode, further manipulating it (or them, in Note play mode) in many possible ways, tweaking various parameters. Or if you are the less adventurous type of fellow, just changing parameters on existing presets. After watching some video clips I realized it’s not rocket science and actually every user can do it without too many problems. Everything is straightforward and quite logical inside the Main window, also inside the Engine window where you can go far deeper with the manipulations, changing vocal samples or basic parameters.

 

Main Window

The first things we notice in the main window are four sliders for controlling the most useful parameters for a chosen preset. Those parameters are different for different presets and can be easily changed by simply pressing the Macros button in the upper right corner. You can assign any of the 24 parameters to each slider. The sliders are visible in all of the three main play modes.

Note play mode offers 250 presets containing various effected voices made from syllables, short vocal voices, or even vocal pads chromatically ranked over the keyboard. This play mode is perfect for building short-to-medium-length melody phrases that sound quite unique. As you know, most of the well-known hits contain simple hooks that can sound somewhat idiotic but still amazing since they are played with some special sounds. As soon as you try to recreate this logic in your songs, playing a simple melody with your synth, it just sounds idiotic, a long way from amazing. I tried to make a few such melodies with Exhale and the end result is quite appealing because Exhale sounds really unique, giving a steady character to those simple melodies.

The next play mode is Loop, where we can find another set of 125 presets bringing various loops ranked over the keyboard inside every preset. Loops can be tuned to fit your songs, just press the Key selector button near Macros in the right-hand corner and you will get the full rank of key notes that allow you to set the main key, and furthermore, there are two small buttons below that allow us to choose between major or minor scale. All those loops can be more useful than you think. In the past I’ve used plenty of similar sounds for transition between different  parts in composition or between some vocal parts. Of course, I have spent some quality time making such samples, manipulating a phrase or a word that I took from the main vocal take, and here we have it already processed, just a click away.

The last play mode is Slice. We can call it Skrillex mode, as it offers 125 sliced vocal phrases that are ranked slice by slice through the keyboard. I watched some video clips, how to recreate Skrillex vocal chops in various DAWs, and I have to say with Exhale it can be done in a second, and with a little trial and error you can get really impressive results that can put life back into a song previously headed for a dead end. Actually Exhale is a great “song saver” tool.

At the bottom of the main window is a preset browser where at the upper two rows we can choose between 12 different categories – or tags, as the Output team like to call them. With those categories you can filter your search by mood or character. So, at least if you are looking for some poppy phrase you can easily avoid all the Atmo sounds with slow attack.

 

Engine

In most cases, controllers in the main window give you everything you need. But if you want more, to make a preset from scratch or to tweak some other parameter (like increasing the pan amplitude or changing the wave shape inside the Rhythm panel – the latter can drastically change the character of the preset), further adapting the preset to your personal needs, then you want to try the Engine.

Pressing the Engine button in the upper right corner you get a new window with three horizontal rows of controllers. The first row is different from Note play mode, while the second and third rows are more or less the same for all three play modes.

In the first row for Notes play mode we get an option to select up to two different vocal samples that will serve as the source for the preset. By clicking on any of those two vocal icons a new window opens where we can find 80 different vocal clips ranked into four different categories: One shot, Pads, Tape 1 and Tape 2. Of course this is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as there you can set pan and volume. Then you can reverse the sample, determining which part of the sample will be triggered, or you can even select the Stack option allowing you to constantly retrigger the sample by using the sustain pedal. After selecting the source voices we are back in the first row, where we can set equalization for every sample as well as an ADSR envelope. Both options offer a very advanced set of controllers, so fine tuning is quite an easy task. Actually, all controllers in Exhale are really well done, offering a very good level of editing.

In Loop and Slice mode, in the first row, we get the same set of EQ, ADSR, reverse and volume controllers along with speed and formant shift knobs, and a wave window where we can set the start point for the loop or slice depending in which play mode we are in. We can also set a different tuning for each slice or loop, but I prefer using the before explained Key option that assigns loops and slices automatically to a key of a song.

In the second row is the Rhythm panel where you can set the level and shape of the sample modulation over time. You can select between various wave shapes or even using the step sequencer with a various number of steps. For both options, wave or step sequencer, we get a huge number of patterns and by choosing some of the more complex ones you can drastically change the end result. Making a new preset can be a really joyful task. I hope that Output will start some preset exchange option on their home page. It would be nice to try out what others have done.

The third row is set for Mod effects, where we can apply different effects to the Rhythm panel, setting the pan, filter, volume, phaser, and “Talk” – a formant filter and saturation. Of course all these effects have additional controllers.

Under the set of Rhythm panel Mod effects is a row of insert effects that are applied to all sounds without being effected with modulation. Compressor, reverb, delay, pitch, dirt (covering three different effects, Screamer, Lo-fi), Motion (covering the Flanger, Chorus and Rotator) and Tone where we can apply some basic filter types along with a three-band EQ.

 

Impression

What can I say? Writing this review was quite a frustrating experience, because for most of the presets that I tried I immediately got some ideas for a song, so instead of going through the whole Exhale instrument I had to save every idea that I got under different names, setting the right tempo, writing down some background chords, opening a new project and trying to go through the whole engine for review purposes. At the end of the week I made few songs for stock libraries where Exhale was used for the main hook. I made a few pop sketches for some future projects until I finally decided to disconnect the keyboard from the laptop and go through Exhale just by using the virtual keyboard in Kontakt, so I finally managed to get through all its functions without being distracted by inspiration. Not that I’m an especially inspirational animal, but Exhale is simply such a tempting instrument, so different from any other instrument I’ve ever putted my fingers on. Even the most simple phrases sound so good when you play them through Exhale. Over the years I have become rather picky, taking only the best from the best (that’s the secret behind my very positive attitude in almost all reviews) but this one is really something special. Exhale is an absolute winner for 2015. One of the most original and useful tools that I’ve had over the years. In combination with my new YouRock YRG-Gen 2 midi controller this becomes an absolute killer. It goes well with metal, pop, rock, IDM, cinematic and, as seen from Output video clips, ambient-chill electro stuff.

 

Any Objections?

Maybe it could be fun to use your own samples, but then I presume the result wouldn’t be so appealing, so I will forgive that. The only thing that I miss, or maybe I should say, that I would like to see, is the before-mentioned preset exchange section on Output’s website.

For more information visit the Bestservice site:

http://www.bestservice.de/en/exhale.html

or the Exhale site: http://output.com/products/exhale/

For $199 USD or €223 EUR you could get a piece of pure inspiration. The best fake vocals that money can buy.

 

Essentials – Albion One, Fischer Viola and Emotional Cello

Essentials

 

Santa brings to our Alex a virtual symphonic orchestra with two solo instruments. He had just one wish: that all presents should sound authentic, be simple to use, and not be overpriced.

by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2016

 

Our writer, Per Lichtman, is the SoundBytes expert in orchestral libraries, covering the full orchestral spectrum – from various solo instruments, orchestral sections, to solo classical instruments. His mission is to try and compare every piece of orchestral instrument available on market and give an objective opinion, along with offering you a full bag of details that could help you decide which library could be the right thing for you.

Being objective is nice. It’s ethical too. The only problem with objectivity is that it’s not always so very informative, so instead of digging through his articles I decided to give him a straight question: “I have a few fairly good orchestral libraries, but good is not good enough anymore – so are there any orchestral libraries covering the whole orchestral range? The ones that are not so expensive (good orchestral libraries are expensive, while cheaper one sound, let’s just say, inexpensive), but sound near enough like the real thing. And not just a good substitute, it should be well-programmed and simple to manage without needing to spend ages getting it to sound right.”

As soon as I got the short answer “Spitfire Albion One,” I decided it was time for another enquiry: “I would also need some solo instruments. I tried some violins, but most of them sounds a bit stiff, not so real, while the most advanced ones are ultra expensive, running only in the full version of Kontakt, while some others need to be heavily programmed to achieve realistic results. I’m open to all other suggestions.”

I know that there are more advanced tools with more options and with a higher price, aimed mainly at professionals, but this is not what Essentials is about. “Idiot-friendly” along with high quality is our main priority. One hour later I got an answer and soon I ended up with all three libraries. Albion One, Embertone Fischer Viola and Bestservice Emotional Cello.

Let’s start with the biggest one…

 

Spitfire Albion One

For $489 USD you get the whole symphonic orchestra, divided into its essential parts: strings, brass and woodwind sections with all the basic articulations where most instruments are divided into high and low part presets. The only exceptions, along with the brass section that also has a mid section, are the string presets where we can find all articulations ranked from high to low inside one preset passing discretely from violins through to viola and cello to the bass section in the low end. Usually, when strings are stretched through the whole keyboard range, the quality of the sound differs as soon as the instrument goes out of its natural range. Spitfire avoid this trap by putting all different string sections together, crossing the sound between all sections in an imperceptible way, so no matter which range you play it will sound very natural. This approach may give you a bit less freedom to go deeply into details, but on the other hand, its simplified work-flow allows you to make good arrangements in no time.

The main window for all presets brings plenty of easy-to-handle controllers, with a small mixer for four microphone positions, so finding a good sound is just a matter of a few clicks. With the mixer you also have vibrato, dynamic, tighten, round robin, expression and release controllers. There is even an arpeggiator where you can program staccato phrases. The whole interface is very handy and easy to understand making the whole production process quite easy. There is a great quantity of individual articulations divided into separate presets so you can easily compile your preferred set of articulations without overloading your RAM. Most of the presets take up around 100 MB of RAM, some more, some less. Anyway, I ended up with a gig and a half of orchestra, which is not so much really, especially considering the quality and versatility of implemented sounds. If RAM is not an issue you can also load master presets for all three main sections, getting all articulations in one window.

In Albion One you won’t find any separate instruments, or even groups of instruments, that form bigger orchestral sections, like violins, violas or cellos. Everything is brass, woodwind, strings and percussion (along with one Piano and plenty effects and loops). At first I was a bit skeptical about the concept, but after watching a few video clips and then trying to build an arrangement by myself, I found this approach has its advantages, as with these basic elements you can easily compile very complex arrangements in a very short time.

Albion One is an orchestra/cinematic collection library, so in the pack we also get a pile of orchestral effects, various string runs synced with host tempo, an orchestral percussion section collected inside the so-called Darwin Percussion Ensemble, and Brunel loops. The latter is a collection of cinematic loops, quite unusual ones. According to web info all of those loops were recorded with percussionist Paul, who whacked everything that came under his hands during the recording session. Quite original and packed with a nice set of controllers for further manipulation. There is also the Stephenson Steam Band directory with various drones, textures and effects.

It is a very user friendly library with top sounding orchestra, spiccicato and col-legno articulations sounding really fantastic, and even a less-skilled producer can get quite impressive results without any additional programming. After all, this is what Essentials is all about.

If you are after more specific details, Per intends to cover this quite soon in a more detailed, non “Essentials” way.

http://www.spitfireaudio.com/shop/ranges/albion/albion-one/

 

Embertone Fischer Viola

There is always the problem with a virtual solo violin, as with a viola: if they are not expensive they simply don’t sound good, and if they do then you’ll have broken your fingers programming it endlessly after making the basic recording. My programming violin sessions always ended up with me calling my niece to play the part on the real instrument. When Per suggested this one to me I was a bit skeptical (as always) but was pleasantly surprised after I’d tried it. Embertone also offers a virtual violin, but somehow the viola sounds more to my taste. I like it because it sounds so expressive and so real. It is also very simple to use – more or less all you need to do is to go through a few key-switches during the recording, changing from legato to staccato, pizzicato or tremolo. There are also additional key-switches for Sordino, Punticello or Tasto. Additionally you can also control vibrato and dynamic, bow position and many other things. Even without playing much with all those CC linked controllers you can make a very expressive, real human-sounding line in no time. All those controllers come in handy if you want to use this instrument in isolation where every detail counts. Actually, great results can be achieved by setting the dynamic (CC11 by default, though it can be easily linked to any other CC through the control window) to any external MIDI controller driving it in one take after you make a basic “note/articulation change” recording, and you will have your ideal performance. Dynamic and vibrato could also be controlled with “Touch OSC” software for iPad, as can be seen in the presentation video clips ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inkcek1bFJw ).

Fischer Viola comes with fantastic Staccato and Pizzicato articulation, so if you don’t need legato and want to use only one of the two, you can de-select the True Legato option in the Configuration window (you can find the menu on the note sheet picture at the bottom right), decreasing RAM usage by over 500 MB to barely 52 MB. Also Fischer Viola (and it’s the same for Embertone Violin) is one of the best programmed instruments, offering a really impressive level of expressibility, which comes to the fore when you control staccato with dynamic, changing the length of a note from staccato to spiccato. Very impressive, and this is only one of the cross-fades that can be done with dynamic.

For just $125 USD you can get your real-life viola player, very skilled and very expressive. If you are a skilled keyboard player, you can easily become a virtual viola virtuoso (I’m not so skilled on the keyboard, but I become a viola virtuoso with my beloved YRG Gen 2 MIDI guitar controller). Replace your synth lead melody with Viola and you will be surprised what such an instrument can bring to your music. It sounds good in electro, rock or any other genre.

http://www.embertone.com/instruments/fischerviola.php

 

Emotional Cello by Bestservice

There are a quite few virtual cello instruments on the market but this one is an absolute winner. It is not just about sounding authentic, sounding like a real cello player, the thing about this library is that it sounds absolutely beautiful, or – as the name suggests – emotional. As with Embertone Viola, you just need to press few key-switches to change from Legato to Spiccato or Pizzicato and that’s more or less all. All patches come in mono or stereo versions. Three main master patches – Emotional, Sunpanticello and Harmonic Cello – bring plenty of articulations. In the main one, Emotional Cello, we have a great number of legato articulations covering most of the playing techniques. The whole instrument is very well programmed, so you can even survive most of the time by just using the default articulation, changing it just for extreme note length changes, spicci and pizzicato. Emotional Cello comes with one of the most adorable sounding portamentos, which is triggered with the velocity threshold level. Another thing controlled by velocity threshold is the “Bow change” causing a more expressive, stronger sound at higher velocities. From the main window you can set portamento and legato speed, choosing between polyphonic or monophonic playing, setting the portamento volume, adding the round robin function, and that’s even more than you will actually need. Dynamic is controlled with modulation and if you are an obsessive tweaker then you have an additional FX window where you can turn everything upside down, being the master of all details. Truth be told, I opened that window just for reviewing purposes. If you are tight on RAM then you can use other non master presets, mainly containing non-legato articulations and a few legato ones. Out of all the instruments I got last year Emotional Cello is absolutely the most beautiful sounding one.

It is not just an instrument that you should use when you need a cello line. Lately I developed a habit of loading this instrument every time when I’m not happy with my synth lead line. Even the most boring and overused phrases become fresh with Emotional Cello, adding special spice by use of some non typical instruments for that genre. Truth be told, Emotional Cello saved a bunch of my songs.

All emotions that money can buy, for €259 EUR.

Check the audio and video clips at:

http://www.bestservice.de/en/emotional_cello.html

 

The Facts

Every time I hear a good sounding virtual instrument/library demo I ask myself if this is again one of those videos played by some skilled virtuoso giving you a false feeling of how simple it is to recreate similar results. Not this time, Albion One, Fischer Viola and Emotional Cello are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) applications.  Funny, I didn’t know it also worked for VST, not just for HTML.

All three libraries work with Kontakt Player and will be (or already were) covered in every detail by our Per Lichtman.

Essentials is not about the details, it is about “set it and forget it” – tools that should give you a professional results with no effort. It should sound good, be fairly priced and simple to use. After all, we are musicians, not magicians. 😉

 

Virtual Orchestra Composition and Production by Guest Author Jerry Gerber

Jerry Gerber is a composer of modern classical compositions, but his orchestra lives on computers in his studio.  Jerry shares some of his secrets of fulfilling computer-based composition in this illuminating tutorial.

 

by SoundBytes Magazine, Jan. 2016

 

Anyone who knows the history of classical music can tell you that a composer who decides to write a ninth symphony is risking demise shortly after completing the work.  The ninth was the last one written by Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler and several more of the great ones.  But that didn’t deter composer Jerry Gerber from thumbing his nose at mortality and undertaking that mission.  And we can all be grateful, given the stunning music therein.

Jerry is a San Francisco based composer who is a master of realizing his compositions using Vienna Symphony Library sampling technology along with a smattering of software synthesizers.  The results are so amazingly “lifelike” that any but the most astute listener would be completely unaware that the recordings were other than the real thing – an actual orchestra recorded in a high-end sound-studio.  Ironically, this is not actually his principal goal, as you will see in what he’s written.  But the results he achieves are striking, no matter what the primary intent was.

We interviewed Jerry in 2014 and that interview can be read here:

http://soundbytesmag.net/jerrygerberinterview/

Given the milestone of completing a ninth symphony, we asked Jerry if he would share some of his secrets on composing directly for a DAW medium, secrets which must surely have been accumulated over the course of constructing performances of nine symphonies, a number of other compositions for full orchestra and some lovely chamber ensemble pieces as well.  He graciously consented to do just that.  But we had to hope he didn’t take too much time to do so … now that ninth symphony is in the bag, who knows how much time he’s got left.   :mrgreen:

The baton is all yours, maestro!  Take it away.

 

My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.

                                                                                                Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music

 

A paradox of the medium I work in is that though I receive sincere praise as to how “realistic” my virtual orchestrations sound, my intent is not, and never has been, to fool listeners into believing that they’re hearing a recording of a live ensemble.  Instead, my aim is to create music and recordings that are expressive, satisfying and artistically effective as compositions and sound, in the medium of computer-based instruments.  My art is a studio art, not a performance art, at least not performance in the traditional sense.  To bring MIDI performance values up to a high level of artistic expression, the composer must understand composition and MIDI programming, and this understanding results from a long and deep commitment to the medium. As always the real work is in the details. The digital orchestra, like any artistic medium, has its strengths and weaknesses, its potential and its limits.  I try to be cognizant of both as I work with new music possibilities. 

My new CD, Virtual Harmonics, is a product of about two and a half year’s work.  This recording contains a new symphony for virtual instruments and four short pieces.   One of the most joyous aspects of composing for its own sake, rather than as an adjunct to film, TV or games, is that the music itself determines the content and form of the work.  This is both liberating and challenging; the piece expresses nothing but itself and the musical values and imagination of the composer.  

Symphony #9 for the Virtual Orchestra is a four-movement, 34-minute work for virtual instruments, including orchestral samples from the Vienna Symphonic Library Orchestral Cube, software synthesizers including Tera, Massive, FM8 and Z3TA, and choir samples from Requiem Pro.  Each movement is designed around a few themes, sub-themes and motives, and the development proceeds from the economical use of these materials. 

The 1st movement begins with double chromatic mediant harmonies in the divisi violins and divisi violas, setting the momentum and tension. Other primary material includes the horns at measure 3, the cellos at measure 10-11 and also at measure 32-33.  There are also counter-motives in most of my symphonic movements.  In this movement there are only orchestral samples, no vocals or synths. 

Structure evolves from content – at least that is my experience.  The form of a piece is suggested and sometimes determined by the ideas themselves, where they want to go and how they get there.   I don’t start off with a pre-existing idea regarding overall structure, at least not consciously; I usually have an approximate length in mind, but even this depends on the ideas themselves, the ideas are guided by subjective taste and aesthetic sensitivity.  Freedom of imagination is the artist’s closest ally.   

Example of Events List from SONAR Project

 

The second movement utilizes three instances of Z3TA-2, Cakewalk’s ingenious software synthesizer.  I often play off arpeggiated rhythms and LFO-modulated timbres in my orchestrations, these dynamic harmonics often give clues as to how the orchestration, rhythm and harmonies should proceed.   The integration of orchestral samples and software synthesis is a natural starting point of exploration in this medium.  Where virtual orchestration and traditional orchestration meet is often in specific ideas about the organization of timbre.

Brief Example of Some Score Notation

 

Here are a few principles of orchestral writing it’s good to be aware of:

Transparency:  This implies that each musical part can be heard and has its own sonic space in which to sound.  The ear rejoices in hearing chords sound together, but also in hearing each line as a thread in the tapestry of the musical texture.  One meaning of transparency can be demonstrated through hearing a complex and dense passage with thick chords, while the linear polyphony is audible and the ear can follow a given instrument.   This is often achieved by eliminating all unnecessary notes and materials.  Brahms said “It is not hard to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table”.  Often, it is what we omit from the composition that defines its expressive power.  The composer who doesn’t know the value of silence will not come to know the power in the notes.  Transparency allows the music to breath, to allow space and silence to infuse their expressive qualities into the work.

Orchestral Weight:  Orchestral weight is defined by how many instruments are being assigned to a specific musical part.  Other than true polyphonic texture, musical parts are often in a hierarchy of melodic and rhythmic importance.   There are numerous hierarchies in music; intervallic, dynamic, rhythmic and temporal processes are in a constant state of change.  In orchestral writing, the idea of the long-line is crucial because it is through a single melodic thread that the structures and ultimate shape of the piece unfolds.  The ability to sustain the long-line is part of every good symphonist’s technique, whether writing for acoustic instruments or computer-based instruments.  As Copland pointed out, it is one thing to write a successful 3- or 4-minute piece, another thing entirely to craft a much longer work that achieves unity, variety, cohesiveness, and both surprise and inevitability.  The depth of thought and feeling a composer brings to a piece directly influences how techniques will be used, and while technique itself can be learned and practiced, desire, imagination and the will to write music is something a composer finds only within his own psychological, intellectual and emotional resources.   

Orchestral Balance:  Balancing the ensemble means that loud passages are not too loud, soft passages are not too soft, and the transitions between them create the desired effect.  It also means the composer is considering the four basic areas of frequencies, 1) the bass (20-200 Hz) 2) the low mid-range (200-1000 Hz), 3) the high mid-range (1000-5000 Hz) and 4) the high range (5000-20,000 Hz).  The ability to hear the subtle interaction of harmonics, the inner voices of a contrapuntal or homophonic texture and the difference between very slight increases and decreases of volume (1dB and less), is a necessary skill in this kind of work. Bob Katz, the mastering engineer, says that mixing at around 83dB is a very good idea because if we mix too loud we get an artificial sense of how the lowest and highest notes will sound (they’ll be overemphasized) and if we mix at too soft a volume, we may be tempted to bring up the bass and high notes too much, thereby throwing the mix out of balance.  Obviously, there’s a huge subjective component at work, because musical style often sets the bar as to how a mix should proceed.  Another example of balance is about ensuring that the orchestration isn’t cluttered with instruments that are not adding to the desired tonal color of the mix, the overall sonic impression of the music.  The principles we learn in the study of harmony, counterpoint and orchestration must always be considered in context—every musical situation is different, even in the same piece, the musical experience must exist within the flow of time.  Theory may be a starting point in composition, but sooner or later intuition, imagination and the need to experiment drives the ultimate shape of the work. 

In the 3rd movement of the symphony, I programmed choir samples from the Requiem Pro library.  Sometimes I have the voices in front singing the primary line; other times, they are blended into the orchestral texture.   Syllabic variation is achieved via a MIDI controller and volumes are adjusted with controllers 7 or 11. Writing an adagio is challenging because a slow piece should not drag, it should not feel like it is aimlessly and slowly moving about, but rather it should have direction and momentum, even if very subtle.  By examining the tempo map to this movement you’ll see there are many tempo changes, serving to enhance the musical flow and maintain the sense of direction.

SONAR Tempo Map from 9th Symphony

 

The 4th movement makes use of various software synthesizers, more than the other movements.  It makes use of pedal points and counterpoint and is based on only a few melodic ideas and motives.  The violins at the opening measures (m1-m25) might be considered the main theme and there are sub-themes that occur throughout the piece.  I also use a variety of percussion in this movement, including snare, tambourine, cymbals, gong, harp and a complete drum kit from EZ Drummer’s software.

I cannot stress enough the importance of MIDI controllers.  Phrase-shaping is critical to crafting a musical line that has variation in dynamics, velocity, note length, location relative to the beat, attack and release time and sample-switching.   As illustrated in the event list in my compositions, a lot of programming goes into effective phrase-shaping, it’s not just a matter of choosing the right articulation – that’s only the first step.   Depending on the dynamics, tempo and orchestral factors, sometimes deep programming is necessary to create a line that has fluidity, expression, naturalness and a sense of intention that comes with attention to detail. This is why composing and producing in this medium can take lots of time, the composer is not just writing the music, but also interpreting the music through programming and mixing. I set up my controllers so that controller 18 is assigned to attack time and controller 19 is assigned to release time.  These are the two components of the ADSR envelope that I use the most. To create a smooth legato line, particularly in the strings, adjustments of attack and release are often required, in addition to choosing the best sample-set for the passage in the first place.  Another component of phrase-shaping is velocity.  The emphasis on strong and weak beats is needed to overcome the sense of mechanicalness which always degrades musical expression; it is the opposite of intention.  The precision by which the computer can perform music is only a liability when the musician doesn’t understand phrasing.  We can introduce randomness through various means, including variation in tempo, with strong and weak beats, by displacing notes slightly before or after the beat, and, with VSL’s software player, with the pitch of attacks. Sometimes I’ll use a sample-set built on three trumpets; in other words the sample-set is a recording of 3 trumpet players.  A unison line employing such samples will sound fuller than a recording of just one trumpet player.  Other times I’ll write for three independent trumpets (let’s say they’re playing the same line in unison) and I’ll offset them both in time, by several milliseconds, and by pitch, detuning them by 5 or 10 cents or so.  This creates a chorus effect and adds depth, complexity and variation to the sound.  A sample-set can consist of thousands of samples—every note is sampled in numerous playing styles and numerous dynamic levels. 

When I use reverb, I use one reverb for the entire piece.  A mastering engineer once suggested that I use one reverb for the winds, one for the brass, one for the percussion and one for the strings.  I tried this for a while, but didn’t like the sound; I heard it as weakening the cohesiveness of the space. Using one high-quality reverb (I use the Yamaha SPX-2000) allows for greater connection between the sections, and then I can adjust how much or little reverb each section gets.   With instrumental music, I generally record the final wave file in stereo with reverb.

After I am satisfied that the composition is finished, I then proceed to check the MIDI sequence for errors.  I export the file into Sibelius and create the score.  Why do I create a score if live players are not involved?  1) The score helps me find mistakes, miscalculations and other issues that I may have overlooked while composing, 2) the score allows me to discuss my work with students, and 3) if I publish the piece for players I add the necessary breathing, phrasing, bowing, dynamic and articulation marks and the piece can be played by musicians.  Another important creative purpose of a musical score is that it brings a second sense, the visual, to the process of composition.  Though it’s obvious that the way music sounds is far more important than the way it looks on the page, notation allows the composer to consider the orchestration, harmonies, counterpoint, structure and textures of the piece in high-level detail.  The details I don’t put in the written score are those which instruct players how to play a given passage.  Since this information is programmed abundantly in the MIDI sequence, and since there are no players, I have no real reason to include these markings.  The great power of notated rhythms are their potential for intricacy, precision and detail, the downside being only if they’re interpreted and performed without gesture, expression and intention.  Notation allows for greater control of complexity and contrapuntal processes, something that overdubbing tracks doesn’t achieve to the same degree. 

After I’ve finished the score, I then render the MIDI performance into a wave file.  I generally create a stereo wave file; stems are unnecessary at this point if the MIDI sequence was programmed with sufficient care.  If I am working with singers or instrumentalists I make stems as well.  The final wave file uses volume envelopes, which I think of as the macro-level of dynamics.  Here the composer takes off his composition hat and puts on his conductor’s hat (or mastering hat if you prefer) and works with the overall volume of the various sections of the piece.  Rather than use compression, volume envelopes on the stereo wave file accomplish a similar goal, with a high degree of precision. I use Ozone 5 for mastering, and often apply EQ, stereo imaging and a small amount of harmonic exciter to the music.   I take my time and give myself a few days or even a few weeks or months to get used to the mix.  If I am not satisfied I redo the signal processing until I feel I’ve achieved the best results I can.  I don’t consider the project complete until I burn the final master and send it off to the duplicator. 

 

Jerry Gerber is a composer and music producer and has produced 13 albums including 9 symphonies.  He has scored soundtracks for film, television, animation, games, dance and documentaries, including all of the music for The Adventures of Gumby TV series and Loom, the well-known computer game by Lucasfilm Arts.  He resides in San Francisco where he teaches music composition and electronic music production.  His CDs may be purchased by contacting him at jerry@jerrygerber.com.

 

Review – Falcon by UVI Part 1

 

Falcon might very well be the most powerful synth/sampler ever made, with a large number of oscillator types, modulators, and effects. Our reviewer goes through many of its features in this two-part review.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2016

 

If you’ve been reading our last few issues of SoundBytes, you might have noticed I have been reviewing some of UVI’s products that just happen to have caught my attention. The reason I love writing about this brand is that they have a large catalog of great titles to choose from, and they include many useful features and modulation possibilities. Quality audio samples are always present throughout their sampled products. Most of their lineup utilizes the powerful UVI Workstation, which allows you to have many instances across several tracks, a large amount of effects, and it has its own arpeggiator.

UVI has just released a new product called Falcon, and it boasts many powerful features. They call it a “Creative Hybrid Instrument”, which is a fitting title as you’ll soon discover. No less than fifteen oscillator types are available, letting you access basic sampling and some of the oscillator types use granular or wavetable methods. It isn’t just about samples however since the up-to-date synthesis methods will let you put together the sounds you want to hear. Falcon also has scripting, 80 quality effects, eight different modulation generators, and much more. With all that being said, it separates itself from the UVI Workstation, and is a full-fledged instrument on its own. Falcon retails for $349 USD, and you can get additional information and sound examples from their website here:

http://www.uvi.net/en/software/falcon.html

I will try to cover many of the features in detail, but with a product as dense as this, it is a challenge to say the least. Hopefully I will give you a good overview of how it functions, and clear up some of the mystery behind this new synth/sampler beast. To give this review even more depth, we decided to split it up in to two parts. The second part will be in our next issue.

 

Installation and Requirements

First of all, it’s important to note that Falcon is 64-bit only; there is no 32-bit version offered at all..  For the PC, you’ll need Windows 7 or a higher operating system, and at least a Core 2 Duo CPU.  For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 or a higher operating system, and an Intel CPU.

On either of these two platforms, they recommend at least two gigabytes of RAM, and you’ll need at least one gigabyte of disk space. Up to three authorizations are allowed, and this can be used with either (or both) a computer hard drive or an iLok dongle. UVI products also require that you have the free iLok License Manager installed.

After you download Falcon and start the installation, the installer lets you choose which directory in which to install and it will ask you to choose which components should be installed: AAX, VST, or Standalone. I chose the VST and standalone versions for my 64-bit Windows 8.1 PC. It does require the Pace copy protection, which it will eventually install along with Falcon.

The second part to the installation is just the simple placement of the “Falcon Factory” file in the directory you’d like. I placed it in the UVI Soundbanks folder to make it easier to find, as I already have a few of their products installed. For this review, I used Sonar X3 Producer as the DAW to load it into, but I also tried out the standalone version which, of course, doesn’t need a host. When you try to run it, or load it in to your DAW for the first time, it will ask you to activate it.

 

Scratching the Surface

Once you have it loaded up and it has been activated, you are presented with its main display. Usually I like to hear how a plugin sounds right from the start, and then tweak some of the preset’s settings. At some point I’ll build my own preset. For now, I will just mention how to check out some of its presets, which are called “Programs” in Falcon.

There are a few ways to get some programs loaded up. You can navigate to the “Parts” menu on the left side, right-click on the name field of a Part (I’ll get to more detail on “Parts” later), and it brings up a menu where you can select the “Falcon Factory” sound bank.  After you click on it, you will see a menu of the programs available in the sound bank. Every part you add can have one program loaded into it.

To add another part, click the + sign above the first part that is already loaded by default. This could be another part where you’d like to use another program from the Falcon Factory bank, or you might want to use another UVI product. Maybe you want to load UltraMini or CS-M for instance, if you happen to already have one of those products installed.

Banks can also be loaded up from the sidebar browser on the right-hand side. To do this, you just click the Files tab, and then select the “Soundbanks” directory. From there, you’re able to choose the Falcon Factory bank, or whichever UVI banks you may have installed there. Yet another way to load a bank is by clicking the wrench icon at the top of the Falcon display, and then you just click “Load Program”. That same wrench icon is where you can save your own programs and samples, and get to some other important settings. A few of these settings are for the screen size, changing the sound bank directories, and disk streaming. Those are all accessible from the “Preferences” menu.

After you have a program loaded, you’ll see some tabs going across the top of the screen that are labeled Info, Edit, Effects, and Mods. I won’t go into details about all of them right now, but if you click on the “Info” tab, it shows the name of the program, and it may have some extra controls there as well. These can be defined by the person making the program, and they can make it easy to adjust certain parameters (i.e. cutoff, resonance, delay time, etc.) without diving head-first into the actual controls within Falcon.

 

Programs, Layers, and Keygroups

To make your own programs from scratch, it does take a bit of know-how. Of course, this is also true with any other synthesizer or sampler plugin. However, Falcon does work in a slightly different way than others I have reviewed in the past. Once you get used to the basic concepts and figure out where most everything is located, you’ll be ready to roll. If you have just fired up Falcon, you will have an empty part that you can use to set up a new program of your own. Another way is to add an additional part (if you already like the one you have loaded or one which you created), then you can begin creating a new program from there.

Falcon uses a hierarchical structure to build a program. It can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. More complex programs may put a slight drain on the CPU, and the possibility to make some intricately layered creations is easily within the scope of Falcon. A “Multi” will have at least one Program, and every Program has at least one Layer. Each Layer can have one or more Keygroups, and a Keygroup has one or more oscillators.

To start out creating a new program, you just click the ”+” sign in the upper-left to add the new part, then click the Edit tab towards the top. Using the sidebar browser I briefly mentioned earlier, you can add various types of elements to your new program. Folders that you usually go to more often (a samples folder, for instance) can be made into favorites, which is done by right-clicking on the folder. It will then be found in the “Places” folder.

The Layer Editor is for changing such settings as the output level and panning for the selected layers. It also takes care of the play mode (mono/poly modes), unison, polyphony, and velocity curve. The Keygroup Editor can adjust the settings for the selected keygroup(s), such as the Gain and Panning, Trigger mode, Trigger Sync, Exclusive Group, and Latch. The Trigger mode lets you select different ways for a keygroup to behave, and includes settings to change the way that MIDI note on/off triggers the keygroup.

 

The Oscillators

To edit an oscillator that may be in your new program, or one that’s included in the Factory content, you’d use the Oscillator Editor. It has the normal types of controls you’d expect, such as Pitch, Coarse Tune, Fine Tune, and Gain. You can set it so that each oscillator is edited separately, or you can switch it so each change you make adjusts all of them at once. Each oscillator will have its own tab right below the editor, and you just click on whichever tab for the one you’d like to change.

Note Tracking is also adjustable from here, and Trigger Mode lets you trigger the oscillators in various ways. They can all be triggered at once, or set to “Cycle” which is a round-robin function. “Random” will play them in a totally random manner, while “Random Cycle” only triggers each oscillator once per cycle.

Adding a new Keygroup to a Layer will automatically add an Analog oscillator by default. You can add a different type of oscillator by clicking the “+” symbol below the Oscillator Editor, and a menu will appear with the different types available. For the sampling category, there are four IRCAM types: Granular, Multi Granular, Scrub, and Stretch. They also include three standard types: Sample, Slice and Stretch modes. For the synthesis category, they include eight types: Analog, Analog Stack, Drum, FM, Noise, Organ, Pluck, and Wavetable.

I won’t go over every oscillator type that is available, as that would end up being a whole article in itself. What I will do is go over a few of the various types, and a quick overview of how much is possible with the oscillators. The Analog oscillator is a good place to start, as it is the default type that’s included when you add a new Keygroup. It has three sections for its controls: Analog, HardSync, and Unison.

 

The first section is where you can select a waveform to use, and the standard waveforms are all here, including saw, square, triangle, sine, noise, and pulse. To the right, you have the Pulse Width Modulation control, Start Phase, and Polarity controls. Hard Sync is included, and is enabled with an on/off button. “Shift” adjusts the drift amount from the control oscillator when sync is enabled. In the Unison section, you’re able to use up to eight voices, switch from mono to stereo, adjust the stereo spread, and change the detune amount.  It also includes different choices for the phase spread type (Uniform, Exponential, or Random), stereo spread (Uniform or Hard), and the detune type (Standard or Large). Switching between these extra settings can yield a fair amount of variation in sounds to use in your own programs. Once you have it set the way you want, the oscillator settings can be saved as a preset. They’ve also included some handy presets for many of the oscillator types.

 

Another one I’d like to cover is the FM oscillator.  It is configured with four operators, and it has a Ratio and Level control for each one of them. The Ratio knob will adjust the frequency in comparison to the base frequency, so an amount of 3.0 would be three times the amount of the base frequency. The Level knob changes the output level of whichever operator you’re using. On the far right are the Feedback control and the Topology menu. The Feedback works with the D operator, and loops an amount of signal back into itself. The Topology menu lets you pick from eleven different arrangements of the operators. In comparison, the Yamaha DX-21 (a four-operator hardware synth) had eight to choose from.

 

Last but not least, I have to mention the Multi Granular oscillator. Granular synthesis has the ability to break up the audio into separate “grains” and then piece it back together in different ways. What’s different about the “Multi” variant versus Falcon’s regular Granular oscillator is that it can work with multiple voices, and each one of those voices can have its own setting applied to it.

Using the “Voice” setting, you can set it to use up to eight unison voices. The “Position Spread” spaces the individual voices apart over the length of the waveform. It uses lines on the waveform you’ve loaded to represent the voice’s positions, and the space between each line/voice depends upon that same Position Spread control. The line(s) move along the length of the waveform when you hit a note. The “Time Spread” changes the timing for the trigger on each of the voices.

In the Grain section, adjustments can be made for the grain’s size and density. “Size” controls the actual duration of the separate grains, while “Density” will adjust the amount of grains that will be triggered at the same time. Other controls in this section include “Jitter”, which adds a bit of randomization for the timing of the grains. “Duration Variation” differs from the Size control, as it changes the amount of variation for the grain size. “Fade” changes the amount of the grain envelope’s influence on the grains themselves, using a percentage of the grain’s size. “Symmetry” can adjust the attack and decay of the grain’s envelope. You might want a more percussive attack, or maybe a reversed grain sound is what you’re after. Changing the Symmetry amount changes the attack and decay, and will let you get these type of results. The “Reverse” button will reverse the separate grains, but will not change the overall playback direction.

“Pitch Variation” will give a random amount of pitch for every grain. This can be a very small change in pitch, or a crazier jump that can be up to an octave from the original pitch. “Pitch Correction” lets you switch between two ways that the grains will be transposed: “Grain Size” is basically the standard setting, as it keeps the grain size the same, while “Period” will change the actual size of the grain. Using various combinations of the many controls in the Multi Granular oscillator, you’re able to get a huge variety of sounds.

In the second half of my review, I will cover the modulation, filters, and effects that Falcon has to offer. This kind of instrument really deserves a good deal of coverage, and a two-part review is needed to touch upon all that this instrument has on tap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three High-end Hybrid Synths – A Side-by-side Comparison

 

Omnisphere 2, HALion 5 and Falcon are all superb software instruments of incredible depth which offer an overwhelming list of capabilities.  We offer a comparative feature evaluate herein.

 

by David Baer, Jan. 2016

 

Consider poor Paris – not the city, but rather the fellow from Greek mythology who was tasked with judging which of three smokin’-hot babes was the most desirable.  Of course, in his case, the fact that the babes were all vindictive goddesses who would be more than a little displeased at not being chosen did not help matters.  Well, when asked to judge which instrument is the most desirable from the group of Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere 2, Steinberg’s HALion 5 and UVI’s Falcon, that’s no easy matter either, but hopefully the outcome won’t start an epic war.

Actually, this is not going to quite be that kind of evaluation.  There will be no final “and the winner is …”.  Instead, the intent is to offer a survey of relative strengths and weaknesses so that the prospective buyer has a reasonable solid base of information from which to proceed with his own evaluation.  But make no mistake – each one of these instruments can be objectively called “smokin’-hot”.

Why these three instruments in particular?  They are all multi-timbral, sporting multiple MIDI input and audio output channels, they are all feature-rich hybrid synthesizers and sample players, they are all relatively expensive and they all sound absolutely glorious.  We don’t include Kontakt here because it has no synthesis capabilities.  We don’t include synths like Synthmaster (just one of many examples) because it is lower-end as far as sample playback goes and is not multi-timbral.  No, these are the big three “luxury vehicles” by many peoples’ accounting, and they deserved to be grouped alone in an elite class.

Before we begin, here are just a few notes on conventions.  For brevity I will be dropping the numbers from the instrument names.  If I say something like “instrument X has “the unique capability …”, I mean unique just among the three under consideration.  The term “wavetable synthesis” means the commonly accepted (but often mistakenly applied) meaning that the oscillators can seamlessly morph among two or more different waveforms with a position control.  If I say “unlimited”, I of course do mean “within the bounds of what your CPU can handle”.  Finally, I’m not going to sprinkle screenshots of various features throughout – if I did, we’d need so many it would just be a distraction.

 

Fundamentals

Let’s start with some basics like prices, formats and authorization mechanisms (a show-stopper for many).  All instruments are available on both PC and Mac in both 32 and 64 bit except as noted.

The retail price of Falcon is $349 USD.  Having just been release in late 2015, it’s too early to tell what sale prices we can occasionally expect, but UVI is not adverse to an occasional sale and future bargains can be anticipated after the initial excitement abates.  Formats are VST 2, AU and AAX and standalone.  Falcon is 64-bit only, however.  Authorization is with an iLok account, but a hardware dongle is not required.

Halion has a retail price of $349 USD, but Steinberg has been known to offer decent sale prices, so patience may be rewarded (I got my own copy for next to nothing in a Cubase/Halion bundle deal).  Formats are VST 3 and AU for Mac, VST 2 and VST 3 for PC and standalone.  Authorization is with an eLicenser, which will cause no grief for Cubase owners but might make others pause.

Omnisphere lists for $499 USD.  Spectrasonics has not been known to have sales, but modest (and I do mean modest) discounts can be had from third-party sellers.  Formats are AAX, VST 2, AU and RTAS.  No standalone support is offered, which I think is pretty shabby for the most expensive instrument of the three.    Of course, you can use a free VST host like SAVIHost … but still.  Authorization is the most customer-friendly, however, with a challenge/response activation scheme.

 One final comment on pricing.  Falcon has just been introduced at the time this is being written.  As you read on, you will see that it will be a fierce competitor to Omnisphere and HALion.  UVI has definitely thrown down the gauntlet – and one hell of a gauntlet it turns out to be!  How Spectrasonics and Steinberg react with pricing will be interesting to observe.  As my favorite newscaster likes to say “watch this space”.

 

The Big Picture

At the top architectural levels, there are structural similarities shared by all three instruments.  We have multiple slots at the topmost level into which patches can be placed (I’m using a common terminology just for the moment – patches in HALion are called “programs” for example).  Each of the slots can respond to different MIDI inputs.  Omnisphere has eight slots and HALion has a maximum of 64.  If the Falcon documentation specified the maximum number slots, I could not find it, but it’s a generous number.  The patches produce sounds that are routed to an internal mixer which can output audio to one or multiple audio channels.  Insert FX at various levels are available, but all three instruments supply four auxiliary send channels for efficient FX sharing and have internal bus structures that are almost mini-DAWs in that regard.

Each patch is made up of multiple sub-patches: there are two of these in Omnisphere and an unlimited number in the others.  Below the patch level is where things start to diverge – considerably.  When we get down to this level, the comparison starts to become apples to oranges to apricots.  There certainly are similarities at the lower levels, but the structures are substantially different.  So let’s examine the voice architecture of each instrument in detail, starting with Falcon.

But before we dive in, and because there’s no other logical place to put this, let me offer an important tidbit for that tiny portion of the synth community for whom alternate tuning capabilities are critical.  You’re in luck – such is supported in all three … now read on.

 

Voice Architecture – Falcon

 

A Falcon patch is called a program in which there is a fixed number of hierarchical levels: programs contain layers, layers contain key groups, and key groups contain oscillators.  There is a certain amount of control at each level.  For example, all levels have a gain and pan control.  The layer level offers a unison capability and portamento control.  Most of the action is at the oscillator level.  Oscillators can be synthesis-oriented or sample-oriented.  In Falcon, the mapping of multi-samples has one sample zone per oscillator, an unusual way to do things, but don’t overthink it and you’ll probably be fine.  Because synth and sample oscillators share the same role at this level, an interesting side effect is that you can direct Falcon to play synth oscillators in round-robin fashion – something I don’t believe has ever been found elsewhere.

There are eight synth oscillator types:

  • Basic analog – one oscillator with the usual fundamental analog waveform types, PWM, sync, unison (in addition to that found at the layer level).
  • Analog stack – eight oscillators much like those in basic analog but with a few limitations; all with individual gain, pan, pitch settings; all but the first can be synced (to oscillator 1).
  • Drum – geared specifically toward creating synthetic percussive sounds.
  • FM – just what the name implies; more below.
  • Noise – just what the name implies, but with fifteen varieties including Crackle, Dust, and other tantalizing selections.
  • Organ – emulation of an electronic organ with eight “drawbars”.
  • Pluck – something unique; more below.
  • Wavetable – offers morphing wave playback along with some interesting unison manipulations.

The FM capability is a four-operator engine with self-feedback for one of the operators.  This is a more advanced FM than that found in the other two instruments.  A variety of topologies (algorithms in DX7-speak) are offered – eleven different operator configurations to be specific.  It would be possible to duplicate most of the six-operator DX7 patch by putting another parallel key group in place.  But about a half-dozen of the DX7 algorithms use feedback structures that are not to be found in Falcon, so not every DX7 sound can be recreated.

The wavetable oscillator can import user tables and, interestingly, modest-sized graphic files from which wavetables are constructed.  This oscillator has another significant trick up its sleeve.  It can do phase modulation.  This is something like where one portion of the wave is stretched on the x-axis while another portion is squashed (like Bend+, etc. for you Massive users).  So, even if the wavetable contains but a single wave (and many of the factory presets are in fact just single waves), this oscillator has some nice capabilities.

Pluck is the other completely unique synth capability.  It combines a single waveform playback, noise and a physical modelling to produce the type of sounds implied by the name.

Of sampling oscillators, we have seven, one of them specializing in sliced rhythmic samples and two specializing in granular synthesis.  These are:

Sample – basic traditional sample playback: a sample triggered at a higher pitch plays back faster than one lower.

  • Stretch – for pitch shifting samples without speed alteration.
  • IRCAM Stretch – like Stretch but higher quality and more processor-intensive
  • IRCAM Scrub – similar to Granular but with IRCAM Stretch quality
  • Slice – for slice-delineated formats like REX and Apple Loop files.
  • IRCAM Granular – basic high-quality granular synthesis.
  • IRCAM Multi Granular – a multi-voice version of IRCAM Granular.

So what’s all this IRCAM business?  IRCAM is an abbreviation of the name of a French institution which in English translates to Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music.    UVI being a French company, the affiliation seems natural.

That will have to do for now.  We could easily devote an entire article to Falcon oscillators (and may well do so in some future issue of SoundBytes).

 

Voice Architecture – Omnisphere

 

Compared to Falcon, the voice architecture appears to be much simpler.  A sub-patch in Omnisphere is called a layer, of which there are two varieties: synth and sample.  But there’s much more depth to it than that. 

The fundamental source of sound when choosing a synth source is a wavetable selection of which there are several hundred delectable selections to choose from, including many vintage analog varieties as well as much more.  For the sample option, and this is what Omnisphere is probably most famous for, there is a vast sea of sounds to draw from, much of them exotic and unusual, and many of them are not to be found in any other source.  Parameters appropriate to the sound source type are visible in the UI: for synth, for example, we have a Sync control whereas we have a Sample-Start for sample.

Once a basic sample or synth wave is chosen, a group of sub-editors is available to further shape and manipulate it.  These are:

  • FM – frequency modulation, naturally.
  • RM – ring modulation.
  • WS – wave shaper.
  • UNI – unison.
  • HRM – Harmonia, more below on this one.
  • GRN – granular synthesis.

Each of these offers a great amount of manipulation, far more than can be even hinted at here.  Just as one example: although FM offers only a single modulator (i.e., a two-operator configuration), the modulator can be any of the 400 synth waveforms.  Most such manipulation is available for both sound source types.  Harmonia is a device allowing the addition of four additional sound sources, each with its own pan, level, tuning, and for synth sound sources, shape, symmetry and sync.

Unlike the other two instruments, Omnisphere sample manipulation is a closed system.  The underlying playback machinery is probably quite sophisticated, given how polished the sound is.  But it’s strictly hands-off as far as the end-user is concerned and we can only speculate about the niceties of the technology.  But this might actually be good news for the user in that that there will be no decisions as to which quality of stretch processing to make, for example, because there’s no user-control available for such things.

 

Voice Architecture – Halion

 

Halion is much closer to Falcon than to Omnisphere, but there still are significant differences.  The patch here is called a program.  The basic unit of sound playback is called a zone.  Multiple zones may be contained in programs, but an intermediate level called a layer may be introduced.  In fact, layers may contain layers, resulting in an arbitrarily deep hierarchy.

There are four types of zones:

  • Synth – traditional synthesis; more below.
  • Sample Oscillator – all-in-one sample playback, excluding granular synthesis.
  • Organ – another eight-drawbar organ emulation similar to that in Falcon.
  • Granular – just what is says.

The synth zone is a composite device with three oscillators, a sub-oscillator, noise and a ring modulator.  The wave types are usual analog types but also include special cases that act either like two-operator FM or a variant of ring modulation.  Other variants provide a sync capability.

Unlike Falcon, there is just one sample-player oscillator type, but it handles multiple duties like playing sliced samples.  There’s no doubt that there are nuanced differences, but don’t make anything of the fact that Falcon has multiple sample player oscillators and HALion has just the one.  The one in HALion performs a variety of duties.

HALion offers an important alternative at the zone level.  It comes with over a dozen fully realized instruments based upon the underlying sound production capabilities.  For example, there is Trium, a fully functional subtractive synth that has pretty much the same capabilities as the synth oscillator but more straightforward to program.  The difference is that is has been given a user interface that actually looks like that of a subtractive software synth.  Likewise, there’s Auron, a self-contained granular synth from the looks of the UI.  It would appear that HALion has a private scripting language used for creating these embedded instruments which is not available for end-user or third-party sound designer use.

 

Filters

Let’s move on to another key factor: filters.  Fortunately we don’t need to spend a lot of time here.  Everybody is a winner!  Seriously, all three instruments come with a fine collection of both clean and characterful filters of all variety.  While the filter collections don’t completely duplicate each other, there’s much to love in each instrument, and in my opinion, this area will not be a factor for most musicians in choosing one instrument over another.

I will give a nod to Omnisphere, however, for one lovely filter feature that we see too infrequently.  All filters are stereo and there is a control that allows cutoff to simultaneously be raised on one side while being lowered on the other.  This can be used for some sweet stereo manipulations.

 

Modulation

Again, we have marvelous solutions on all fronts, but the implementation is quite different in each.  We’ll first consider how modulation is applied (i.e., specified) and look at modulation sources after that.

Let’s begin with HALion, which has at once the most sophisticated and yet the least modern solution.  In HALion, we get three pre-allocated envelopes in a zone for amp, filter cutoff and pitch.  Everything else gets specified using the modulation matrix.  That’s the less-than-state-of-the-art part.  But what an elegant modulation matrix it is – in fact, it’s the best solution I’ve seen anywhere for this sort of thing.  For each entry, we can easily and clearly specify min and max values, a secondary source (e.g., mod wheel controlling vibrato depth) and can supply a custom mapping curve.  What’s unique (and I wish it were found literally everywhere) is that for key-follow as a modulation source, you can specify the pivot note.  Not only is this never seen anywhere else, no developers seem to ever bother to even document what the fixed pivot note is.

Moving on to Omnisphere, yes we have a modulation matrix here as well, but it’s mostly useful as a reference and for subsequent modulation tweaking.  There are dedicated envelope controls on the UI for amp and filter cutoff control.  Other modulations can be specified in a couple of ways.  The easiest is to right click a control and add modulation via the context menu.  The main page of the UI also has an easy-to-use section to add modulation or to edit existing modulation.   All and all, this is a perfectly satisfactory solution.

In Falcon, we have no modulation matrix anywhere.  Modulation can be added or modified with a right click of any control.  You only have to play with this system a short time before you fully appreciate what a thoroughly nice job the designers of Falcon did on this front.  And the only limit to amount of modulation is the ability of your CPU to manage it.  There are no mod-matrix slots that might eventually be all allocated.

As for modulation sources, my favorite are those found in HALion, but only by a very narrow margin.  HALion has the most elegant LFOs around, offering not only delay, and rise, but even a fade-out time control.  Falcon’s LFO is nearly as good, lacking the fade out, but allowing for user-supplied waveforms.  In Omnisphere, we only have a delay time but no rise.

All three instruments have basic ADSR-type controls and all offer highly flexible MSeg envelopes as well, of both the unipolar and bipolar variety.  All three have perfectly capable step modulators, but Omnisphere has an edge here in that it offers a way to tie the timing to the groove of a MIDI file.

But as I said at the top of this section, there is plenty to be happy with in all cases.  I can’t see modulation capabilities being a make-or-break factor for any of these instruments.

 

FX

I’m starting to repeat myself, but what a cornucopia of effects we have in all three instruments.  And in all cases, there is a highly flexible way of placing effects in the signal path where they can offer the most efficiency.  We can place FX at various layers in all cases, and in all cases there are send buses to employ when that makes the most sense.  Given the length of this article, I’m just going to suggest that the interested reader check the respective web sites if detail is required.

 

Ease of Use and Documentation

These are all deep and complex instruments, no doubt about it.  If any of them gives the untrained user a chance of sitting down and figuring out how to use it with no additional guidance, it’s probably Omnisphere.  I think both HALion and Falcon would send all but the most experience veteran of software synthesis away in frustration.  But although Omnisphere is possibly the most intuitive of the lot, it too would be no easy nut to crack without some guidance.

That’s not to say that any of these instruments are illogical in their interface.  There’s much method in all cases, and after just a modest amount of experience, one can feel like an efficient sound design practitioner.  In Omnisphere, we have the ubiquitous drill down metaphor present throughout.  In Falcon and HALion, both have a tree view that brings the overall organization into perfect clarity – once one has learned how to interpret the information therein.

So, in short, some good training is highly recommended and some dedicated study will pay off handsomely.  For that, the first place many of us would think of turning would be the documentation.  So, how good is that?

For Falcon students, there’s pretty good news.  The document (roughly 200 pages of it) is nicely organized in a PDF manual.  It has no index but does have a detailed table of contents.  There are actually two versions of the manual: the basic one and a print-friendly one.  I recommend the print-friendly version with its black characters on white background for all purposes.

HALion has a very detailed manual (c. 300 pages) with both a table of contents and an index.  However, in typical Steinberg fashion, the index is so sketchy as to be essentially worthless.  Making matters worse, Steinberg chose to cram four different language versions into one PDF file, a deeply annoying decision that makes navigating the pages all the more difficult.  Beyond those issues, there’s good news and bad.  The good is that the documentation found in the manual is clear and detailed.  This is a superb reference manual.  The bad news is that there’s no high level instruction on how all the many, many pieces fit together.  It’s almost worthless for initial learning purposes.

Omnisphere offers a lengthy PDF of roughly 600 pages.  But good luck trying to find anything – there is neither a TOC nor an index, and the organization seems to be rather haphazard.  For the most expensive instrument of the three, I feel a bit cheated on the documentation front.

 

Automation and Macros

This area may seem like a picky detail until you actually need to make use of it, so it’s actually a fairly important topic.  All three instruments offer such a vast number of parameters that every control cannot be made an automation parameter (although MIDI-learn is dead-simple in all three and available to use to your heart’s content).  Fortunately, setting up for automation is easily done for Omnisphere and Falcon, and not all that hard in HALion.  In the first two cases, right clicking any control allows you to make it an automatable parameter.

In HALion automation is limited (per program) to mute, solo, level and pan, plus eight quick controls.  “Quick control” is Steinberg-speak for what would usually be called macros.  In HALion there are eight of these, and they can be used to control multiple other parameters in the program.  For example, as with any good macro implementation, you could define a macro to open one filter while reducing the cutoff of another.  Macros can turn an already good patch into an even more musically expressive one.

Falcon does HALion one better in that there is no limitation on number of macros.  They aren’t quite as easy to assign nuanced parameter manipulation (e.g., make this control go from 66% to 33% as I turn the nob from full off to full on).  But they are powerful nonetheless.

Omnisphere comes up short as far as a macro capability is concerned.  For the most expensive of the three, this shortcoming seems a bit of a serious lack.

 

Factory Content

The sounds in any instrument are a very subjective matter.  What floats my boat may be of zero interest to you and vice versa.  But we must at least attempt to address this area, however perfunctorily.

I think there would be few that would argue that this is where Omnisphere shines, and does so almost blindingly.  In terms of sample content, not only does Omnisphere offer about five times the raw sample content in terms of size as the other two, that content has become the stuff of legend.  We have long had the iconic burning piano.  Version 2 adds to the lore with the musical stalactites that the engineers had to spelunk to sample.  If anything justifies the premium price of Omnisphere, I think it must be the factory sample content.  However, this is a lot of fairly exotic fare.  If you are doing cinematic fantasy scores or new age ambiance, just as two examples, you will probably be in heaven.  On the other hand, if you need sounds for conventional popular music, it may not suit your needs very well.

For that type of pursuit, I think you would find HALion more to your liking.  There’s a lot more conventional fare here, and, no, it’s not the stuff of legend.  But if you need a trumpet or a cello, you’re in luck – try finding a cello that’s not strangely altered in Omnisphere.  That’s not to say there isn’t some very nice synth content as well in HALion.  There most certainly is, and there are some great sounds that demonstrate what a powerful combination synth and sample layering can be.

Falcon has rather modest factory content that should probably appeal most to those principally interested in synth sounds.  UVI has a huge amount of other sound content available which is immediately compatible with Falcon – obviously not for free.  However, UVI’s Digital Synsations instrument was given away as a free purchase bonus recently.  So a lot of folks, including myself, were some of the lucky recipients who will already have this on their DAW.  I installed Digital Synsations and promptly forgot about it.  But I was absolutely delighted when it showed up in the Falcon browser.  Not only could I load any of the programs, the UI of the Digital Synsations instrument appeared within Falcon.  The bonus was that any of these programs could be further manipulated in Falcon as if they were natively programmed.

 

Browsers

OK so you’ve got good factory content.  Now, can you find it?  Yes in all cases, but a resounding yes in the case of Omnisphere, which probably has the best patch browser and also sound-source browser I’ve ever encountered.  That patch browser also has a unique feature: find similar sounds.  I’ve played with this just a little and did not find the results to be all that rewarding, but your mileage may vary.

The HALion and Falcon browsers are both perfectly adequate (once you find them – hint: do a “load program” and you’ll get to them).  There’s also a preset browser (presets for oscillators, modulators, etc. as opposed to programs) in both instruments.

 

User Import Capabilities

As far as Omnisphere goes, this is a non-starter.  One of the most touted features of Omnisphere 2 was the ability to import user sounds.  But it turns out that the imports are individual files only.  Multi-sample sets with multiple versions for individual note or velocity ranges are not supported.  Spectrasonics justifies this with the following statement:

Remember, Omnisphere is not a sampler, is a synthesizer. The objective is not to play multisampled instruments like a sampler, but to be creative in transforming your own audio.

But this seems to me to be a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do”.  Clearly multisampling is employed without restraint in the factory content.

Fortunately, the story is much more positive for the other two instruments, both of which support a number of sound file formats and offer excellent support in mapping samples to internal ranges according to file naming conventions.  Both instruments are great in this regard, but I would suggest that Falcon gets a slight nod for superiority given that it supports the import of sfz files.  Hopefully the next version of HALion will address this deficiency.

 

Special Extras

Now it’s time to talk about a few things that these instruments do that none of the others can.  With Omnisphere, the most obvious feature is the Orb, a powerful tool for both sound design and performance.  If you don’t know what the Orb is, I don’t have time to explain it here, but there’s plenty of online information on it, and it’s well worth checking out.  There’s also an iPad app for Omnisphere which is good for live control and is especially well suited to use with the Orb in a performance situation.

HALion, being the only VST 3 instrument, has note expression in its special bag of tricks.  So far, this feature seems to have only modest adoption outside the Steinberg product line.  But those who have used it can be pretty passionate about its worth.  Note that most DAWs do not support MIDI editing for note expression, although Steinberg’s Cubase certainly does.

For Falcon, we’ve already covered a few sound-production features that are unique, such as the string oscillator.  But the biggest thing may be the fact that Falcon has a user-accessible scripting language.  This will probably be of little interest to the average user, but for sound designers, it could be a huge plus and significant motivation to develop sophisticated content for Falcon.  Also, the scripting capability opens up a number of tantalizing possibilities like OSC (Open Sound Control) and MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression).  The first, a network-friendly MIDI-like protocol (and much more), is said to be supported by Falcon, although no documentation on this feature is in evidence.  MPE is a bit like Steinberg’s note expression and seems to be a coming thing.  Although this could be a big deal in the future, good luck trying to find a DAW editor that will allow you to work with it as of right now.

 

Which One Is for You?

These instruments are clearly so capable that any one of them could keep a sound designer happily engaged for many months.  And each has so much depth that we’ve hardly done justice to how feature-rich each is.  If you are just a preset user, then the choice will be a bit easier – you can just base your choice on factory content and what additional content can be added.

If I were a soundtrack guy, I’d probably be most interested in Omnisphere.  For my own purposes, being primarily interested in synth-only music production, I’d probably gravitate toward Falcon, which for the moment seems to have the most powerful synth sound generation capabilities.

But keep in mind that HALion is likely to be the first one of the three to next release a new version, given that Falcon is brand new and Omnisphere 2 is came out only about six months earlier.  Now that there are three competitors in this high-end stratum, the pace of innovation and improvement will likely become even more intense.  I very much look forward to seeing what the next incarnation of HALion will have to offer.  As I suggested earlier: watch this space.

 

The author wishes to thank Mario Krušelj (aka EvilDragon) for critiquing this article and for supplying several insightful suggestions for improvement.

CinemorphX by Sample Logic

 

Sample Magic has packaged three of their libraries into one brand new instrument, adding technology for a fourth, thus creating one of the most impressive tools in the cinematic market.

 

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2016

 

CynemorphX from Sample Logic is a virtual instrument built around three discontinued Sample Logic products, A.I.R Extended, The Elements and Synergy. All three products are very well-known among the cinematic-oriented public, offering a wide range of diverse sounds that combine various live sources, like traditional ethno instruments with electronic elements, giving very recognizable atmospheric, sincere and almost mystical out-of-this-world results, where a large number of the instruments and sounds have a very clean, resonant attack that fades in some rhythmically unique, echoed and arpeggiated pattern. Percussion loops and hits, meanwhile, come with some sort of tribal touch mixed with high energy orchestral percussion. Off course, all sounds, loops and percussions on all three products, actually on all Sample Logic products, are preprocessed, being really well-balanced and high quality, so implementing them in an arrangement is a piece of cake. It is not so clear, why Sample Logic decided to discontinue those three products, but one way or another, we get them back, packed into a great graphical interface which brings the best of all three libraries, offering a wide range of tools as a bonus. Sample Logic decided to implement the arpeggiator from their most desired new product Arphology. All you need is a Kontakt player, 30 GB disk space and patience during the download and installation process (Contiunata downloader will take care about both processes, so a good book and cup of coffee could help).

At $599.99 USD CinemorphX is not cheap, but considering that it brings over 6000 presets that can be heavily manipulated in real time and offers great manipulation tools that allow us to morph between four different elements producing quite unique results even from a standard preset, it is quite fairly priced. Three libraries in one with advanced Arph technology from an additional fourth one, joined with a powerful graphical interface that opens up totally new possibilities, that is something that makes this library / instrument quite appealing. Anyway, I have to admit that I was a bit scared by the price, but truth be told, if you are into cinematic music, with such a tool you will easily earn back this money in no time.

 

So, How Does It Work?

The whole engine is built around four independent players, where every player can use up to two sound sources. Each sound source, chosen through a dropdown menu, can be further manipulated inside the main – a very advanced graphical interface. Sound sources are divided into five essential categories: Atmospheres, Instrumentals, Loops, Percussive and Waveforms. Atmospheres are then divided in subcategories: Bizarre, Dark Mysterious, Electronic Effectual, Mixed Emotions, Stingers and World Organic. I presume you get the general impression about the sounds from these names. Instruments are divided into Organic Pads, Synths and Traditional categories. While the Percussive category is divided into four basic directories: Impacts, Kits, Traditional and Transitions. Loops are divided into six different categories, from action, melodic, through world to the electro. Inside any subdirectory are more than enough elements to spend another three lives combining. Actually, this is only the beginning since we have an option, actually a controller, that allows us to morph in real time between two sound sources inside one of the four players and then to morph between all four players with a joystick that is positioned in the center. Maybe the general concept sounds a bit complicated, but it’s not. All elements and controllers are very well-organized inside the main graphical interface, so once when you get to grips with it it’s quite simple to manipulate a preset in real time.

 

Presets

At the top of main graphical interface we have a preset browser, being divided into single and multi core sections. Single core Instruments, Loops, Atmospheres or Percussive presets are opened in just one player window, being compiled from one or maximally two sound sources. Multi core covers similar groups of elements (subcategories are not the same as they are in the sound source section), but there we can find four players that are combined with up to eight sound sources, two for player, that can be further manipulated inside every player. Let’s stick with a phrase from the manual, describing that Single core presets are made up for focused sound development.

 

Players (or Cores, As They Say at Sample Logic)

Every player has an additional set of controllers for setting the Convolution reverb source along with adding reverb amount. Then we can set envelope, filter, pitch along with adding various effects. You can also change the general mood of all players in one go by selecting one of the effect presets that change the whole set of presets available at the bottom of the screen under the four players. Also, every player has a record button that allows you to record any mods or morphings that you make inside a player. There is also a record function in the main joystick window, to record morphing between all four players. There are also four small buttons between Pan and Velo Sensitivity knobs that open new windows where you can find FX animator, where we can set the amount and steps for each effect along with the LFO pan section to select step, speed, fade and strength in percentage. Those are independent controllers for the left and right side of the stereo image. Actually the whole player is made for morphing being, bolstered with all sort of hidden gems, small symbols and tiny buttons that open new windows where you can control the pulsation of effects (as many of them are connected to the mighty Step Animator, the one that is taken from Arpology) or to control morphings between various elements. As we mentioned, everything is very well-organized, but this one is definitely not one of those that you can master without the manual. You can try by clicking everything that is not blue on the main graphical interface, but I highly recommend at least one scan through the manuals, at least to see what else can be controlled or changed in addition to the obvious visible things. To not fall into too many details, you can’t mess with sound source directly, but you can do wonders by manipulating each of the controllers that are connected to the sound source, changing and morphing effects that give life and movement to every sound source, pushing it to a totally new level. Actually, it is almost impossible to find a static sound on CinemorphX. Everything is moving and constantly pulsating.

 

Pulsating Part

Under the main graphical window you will find a selector for switching between the main graphical window with four players plus joystick and Step Animator. It is actually a very powerful arpeggiator that can be linked to many sources. Actually, it is the most advanced arpeggiator on the market at the moment, taken from Arpology, allowing us to do pure magic, starting maybe with one of the many arp presets, selecting which step will control which player. All of them or just specific one. With this arp you can control LFO, Pan and Velocity, being connected with the main window where the brush symbol inside the player window (placed near the central joystick window) will open the step sequencer window where you can draw the amplitude for every player to implement the Step Animator pattern. In Step Animator we can even find a MIDI drag and drop button that allow us to drag and drop arpeggiated patterns directly to a DAW.

The whole Step Animator is so advanced that we could spend the whole article just describing all the details. Maybe one day if we cover Arpology, but until then let’s just say that, with the pencil, you can draw pan, duration or velocity controls or you can set them for every step through sliders Then you can set if a step will be played normally, or will be triggered and subdivided by Stutter rate, or will use the glide function to slide to the next note. I know, it sounds complicated again, but actually it just opens the whole universe of possibilities. Step Animator heavily determines the end result, making the whole instrument sound very vivid, original and unique. Add all those morphing possibilities between the sound sources inside the players, then morph between players, and with this mighty Step Animator and you will get the impression why I wanted this instrument so badly immediately after I saw the first few seconds of the presentation video.

 

Effects

At the top of all this, there is also an independent section of general effects that can be added to the engine, bringing Compressor, Equalizer, Saturator, Phaser, Delay and Reverb along with a morph window where we can set the relationship between four of those effects in real time. Every effect comes with its own window with a set of additional controllers for taming and fine-tunning the end results.

 

 

Happy End

I presume there’s no need to stress that all sound sources, consequently also all presets along with implemented tools and effects, are on a very high level. CinemorphX is an absolute killer offering enormous number of very playable cinematic loops, percussion, instruments and textures. With this one, in tandem with Spitfire Albion One orchestral library and Impact from Heavyocity that covers various risers, falls, hits and textures, you can recreate more than 90% of all movie scores from current Hollywood productions. It is not just a collection of three discontinued libraries combined with the advanced technology from the fourth one. It has a very flexible and innovative main interface where all sound sources can be compiled, morphed and manipulated in an advanced way, providing very contemporary, rich cinematic collection of sounds. In all, it proves that the result can be much more than just the sum of the parts. It is a dream-come-true cinematic tool. It definitely goes into my essentials category for cinematic music.

More info and demo video and audio clips on Sample Logic’s website:

http://www.samplelogic.com/products/cinemorphx

$599.99 USD. It requires 30 GB of free disk space and Kontakt Player 5.5 or above. All other limitations are determined by your imagination (not included in the download pack).

PD – Pure Data – A Public Domain Patching Environment for Music and Video

 

PD is a useful and very versatile visual (and free) programming language for sound and video in which you can build your own composing systems from the ground up.

 

by Warren Burt, Jan. 2016

In David Baer’s review of Andy Farnell’s “Designing Sound” in this issue of SoundBytes, he points out that the book is filled with examples using Pure Data, more commonly referred to simply as ”PD”.  So what, exactly, is PD?  Briefly, it’s a free public domain visual composing language for music and video.  It uses graphic objects instead of computer code to make its functions.  You place these objects into a window (a canvas), and connect them with virtual patch cords, just as you would in an old fashioned analog synthesizer.  Your patches (the diagrams you make in PD) can be as simple or as complex as you like.  It is supported by a very large international community of developers, enthusiasts, and academics.  And there are a lot of resources out on the web for people who need help, or who want to try out resources that others have developed using the program.  It works on PCs, Macs, and Linux machines, and if you use the MobMuPlat app, you can even run PD patches developed on your computer on your iOS or Android tablet or phone.  A number of programs already released for both computer and tablet formats are based on PD, such as Elastic Drums (for iOS) and the Hayward Tuning Vine (for PC).

Your starting point for investigating PD is https://puredata.info/. This is a comprehensive site for those interested, with lots of documentation, examples, shared patches, etc.  It’s from this site that you can download a version of PD that will be suited to your machine.  Currently, up-to-date versions of, for example, PD-Vanilla for Linux, PC, OSX (from 10.3 to the present) and the Raspberry Pi single-board processor are available. (The other version is called PD-Extended, and includes a lot of resources developed by members of the PD community.)

Next, to learn PD, you’ll need an instruction manual.  PD is a very complex language, just like, say, Finnish, or Pitjantjatjara, and you’ll need to learn the vocabulary (the objects and what they do) and the syntax (how those objects are put together).  And then, just like any language, you have to practice with it.  But, like any other language, once you’ve learned a bit of it, you can start to function with it, and learn more and more of it as you go on.  Fortunately, there is a free on-line manual to learn this free program: http://en.flossmanuals.net/pure-data/. This is part of the Floss Manuals series which are instruction manuals for many of the most useful of current free programs.  Among the current sound programs that Floss Manuals cover are Ardour, Audacity, CSound, and ChucK.  I would highly recommend that if you’re wanting to learn PD, use the Floss Manual – it’s comprehensive and filled with examples.  I had difficulty downloading the zip files of the example patches, but I didn’t mind that, because that forced me to construct the patches from the pictures in the manual, and that provided a lot of practice in learning the program, or relearning in my case.  I had learned PD back in 2005, and then taught it at an introductory level in 2012 and 2013, but I had pretty completely forgotten everything I knew in the intervening years.

PD was written by Miller Puckette when he was at IRCAM (the French computer music research facility) in the 1980s.  Two programs, very similar, but which by now have evolved into distinctly different environments, came out of this work, PD and Max/MSP.  Both programs feature visual programming environments, both connect modules (functions) with patch-cords, and both can be used for real-time, or non-real-time applications in both music and video.  PD is free, and relies on the work of a large international community of volunteers to keep it going and growing.  Max/MSP is a commercial program, available from Cycling 74 (https://cycling74.com/products/max/) and has a lot of in-line documentation.  Skills acquired in using one language are directly applicable in the other.

The Floss Manual has an excellent guide to downloading the version of PD that would be right for you, and how to install it on your computer.  Assuming you were able to do that ok, let’s take a look at the bare beginnings of how to program in PD.

When you first start up PD, you’ll get a screen that looks like the left hand half of the screenshot below.  This is the basic window for PD.  I’ve also selected the “Media” menu and brought up Audio and MIDI settings, which you can see in the right half of the image.  Also, I’ve checked the “DSP” checkbox in the upper right of the main window, to turn on sound processing in PD so it will talk to your computer.


I then go to the “File” menu at the top left of the main window, and select “New.” This gives me a blank canvas that I can now patch things in.  The original window will be used for giving you messages about the program’s running.  In image below, you can see that numbers selected in the right screen are being printed in the original window on the left.


 

The Canvas has two different modes, “Edit” and “Perform.”  You move back and forth between them by clicking CTRL + E, or by selecting the Edit Mode from the Edit Menu.  In Edit Mode, you select objects, label them, connect them, etc.  In Perform Mode, you make adjustments to your controls and change your sound in real time.  I personally find this a minor problem – I’m continually wondering why things aren’t happening the way they should, until I realize that I’m in the mode where what I want to do is not possible.  For example, being in Edit mode and trying to change a number in a number box.  That’s only possible in Perform mode.  With some experience, though, you’ll learn to get comfortable with the two modes.

Once you’re in Edit Mode, you can now begin to select objects of various kinds and place them on the screen.  The next image shows most of the kinds of objects that you can select in Edit mode with the Put menu. 

 

In this screen, we can see the list of objects in the upper left, then a series of objects in the middle and the right.  Starting from the top middle, we have an object which handles data, in this case, “print”.  PD is case sensitive, so be careful here!  There are a couple of hundred kinds of objects that handle data in PD, so exploring all of them will take a while.  Below that is another object, but this one is for generating or processing audio.  The use of the tilde {~} at the end of a function says that this is an audio object.  In this case “osc~ 441.25” is a sine wave oscillator playing at 441.25 cycles per second.  It’s important to be careful with the final tilde for audio objects.  For example, “tabread” is a function to read data from an array (or a table); while “tabread~” is a function that will read the data in an array as a waveform.

Below the osc~ are four special kinds of objects: Message, Number, Symbol and Comment.  They all have different functions for sending and loading data around a patch, except for “Comment” which is what it says, and which you should make a lot of use of so that when you reopen your patch months later, you can remember what it does.

To the right are a number of useful objects: “Bang” is an all-purpose trigger, “Toggle” is a simple on-off switch.  “Number 2” is another number box, with a couple of different functions.  “Vertical Slider” and “Horizontal Slider” are slide controls for generating numbers.  By right clicking on them, a properties menu comes up (as it does on all PD objects) in which you can set the ranges and behaviors of the objects.  Similarly “Vertical Radio Button” and “Horizontal Radio Button” allow you to select between a series of values.  Notice that I’ve set the Vertical to 8 steps and the Horizontal to 12 steps for this example. 

Below this is a VU meter, and at the bottom left is a “Drawable Array.”  This is one of the most versatile modules in PD.  It can be used to store data, or audio, or to draw patterns in real time, or many other functions.  It can function as an oscilloscope, or to store samples. 

Connecting the objects is done as in this excerpt from the Floss Manual.  This diagram shows, while in the Edit Mode, how to connect and disconnect objects. 


 

Learning to patch in PD is an art all its own.  The Floss Manual covers this in great detail.  However, just to get you started, here’s a small patch, heavily commented, in which as you play on a MIDI keyboard, you can get a monophonic melody.  You can change the relative volumes of a sine wave, and a sawtooth wave playing a perfect 5th above the sine wave, and you can change the envelope slopes as well.  Note that data connections are represented by thin lines, while audio connections use thick ones.   It’s a very rudimentary patch, but it shows some of the capabilities of the program.  Remember, the more you practice programming, and the more elaborate your patches get, the more you’ll be able to accomplish.


 

This article is just a bare beginning look at the PD environment.  In the next issue of SoundBytes, in Music on Tablets, I’ll go a little deeper into PD, when I review the iOS and Android app “MobMuPlat” which enables you to turn your PD patches into functions which play on mobile platforms.  Until then, happy patching.

 

Ginno’s Sound Investments

 

Gino Legaspi looks at seven sound libraries from Famous Audio, Zero-G, Loopmasters and more in an ongoing series of such reviews.

 

 

by Ginno Legaspi, Jan. 2016

 

 

Famous Audio – Electronic Rock and Industrial Guitars

Influenced by artists such as Modestep, Pendulum, Prodigy, Glitch Mob and Celldweller and many more, Electronic Rock and Industrial Guitars by Famous Audio puts you in the driver’s seat in picking various loops and samples to produce electronic rock materials.  The library weighs in at 520 MB in size and is delivered in 24-bit quality. All loops are recorded in tempos of 128, 150 and 174 BPM. What’s included live bass, synth bass, riffs and tremolos, and pounding drum loops. Stylistically, the samples have an undeniable heavy raw feel. The drums are punchy, the guitars have that lovely crunchy tone and the basses sound, well, distorted. If you’re looking for an inspiration or to get your creative juices flowing, this sample pack will surely help you initiate some ideas. This is one good sounding, dirty and filthy library.

 

WEB:

www.loopmasters.com

 

FORMAT:

WAV, REX2, Kontakt, Halion, EXS24, Apple loops and NN-XT

 

PRICE:

$36.22 USD

 

 Zero-G – Legacy

Legacy offers 1.5 GB of samples in the vein of cinematic effects and soundtracks. The subtitle that reads “Sounds Inspired by Classic 80s Sci-Fi” is significantly accurate because the content is full of authentic sounds from that era. Legacy is broken into six sound folders of Atmospheres, Cinematic FX, Drones, Impacts, Rises and Suspense. This library is an “all electronic affair” and if you’re a producer looking for contemporary pop sounds, you won’t find it here. There are some really good, wildly, imaginative sounds included in this massive 1.5 GB library. I especially love the Atmospheres folder as it includes samples to inspire you to make music. Sound-wise, this library is clean and well recorded. Samples are mostly long one-shots. The processing of sounds is top-notch and the sound design techniques applied is most definitely very professional. Gareth Hester, the producer, did an exceptional job in creating this useable library that I’m sure will find a way in plenty of studios. Overall, Legacy is sort of homage to many of 80’s sci-fi films soundtrack. Very original and brilliant.

 

WEB:

www.timespace.com

 

FORMAT:

Acid WAV, REX2, Halion, Kontakt, EXS24, AIFF Apple Loops, Reason NN-XT

 

PRICE:

£55.95 BPS including VAT

 

 

Black Octopus – Echos by Holly Drummond

Echos is a vocal sample pack performed by the talented Scottish vocalist Holly Drummond. “Vocals” is the name of the game of this voice and FX library from sample developers Black Octopus. This library contains 540 royalty-free materials (44.1 kHz/24-bit, 1.4 GB) of vocal swells, vocal chops, tones, spoken, snippets, breaths, and atmospheres. The main selling point of Echos, though, is song construction kit folders. Each kit features sections such as verse, chorus, harmony and adlibs, which you can use in your own mixes. I love the samples with plenty of reverberation applied. Most of them sound huge, but that’s part of the clever sound design. The bone-chilling vocal atmospheres are my favorite in this collection as they sound lush and can be utilized in ambient compositions. As far as the sound design of the samples goes, they are very well made and the complex edits are top notch. This is a superb collection, and beautifully recorded!

 

WEB:

www.resonance-sound.com

 

FORMAT:

WAV

 

PRICE:

€44.95 EUR

 

 

Loopmasters – Organic Electronics

Electronic music producers who are into the natural, warm side of electronica are in for a treat. Loopmasters has cooked-up some melodic samples in the guise of Organic Electronics. Loopmasters has gone deep and tranquil into providing some modern, but contemporary loops that will put your listeners in a good mood. Organic Electronics is a 968 MB 44.1kHz/24-bit library comprising drums, perccussion, bass, FX, vox, pads and drum hits. It’s a unique sample collection and features some really good gems that would work well within a downtempo, chill-out, organic house or even in a new age mix. Instrument samples such as guitar, electronic piano, glockenspiel and clavs provide organic vibe to your mixes. The drum loops are brilliantly programmed. They are kind of soft but are bright sounding – not the in-your-face drum loops that you often hear in other electronica libraries. Still, the handful of drums will give a good rhythmic foundation to electronic compositions. My favorite sample folder, however, is the percussion folder. I just wish there were more FX samples included, though.

 

WEB:

www.loopmasters.com

 

FORMAT:

WAV, Live, Kontakt, Halion, EXS24, Apple loops and NN-XT

 

PRICE:

$36.22 USD

 

 

Bluezone Corporation Deep and Tribal House

Deep and Tribal House comprises 108 cutting-edge drums, music and percussion loops for the production of house music. All loops are recorded in 128 BPM and delivered in 44.1 kHz/24-bit format. This library is all about drums and percussion needed for constructing strong dance music. The loops themselves capture the genre beautifully, with percussive elements injected for that undeniable tribal sound. The thing I noticed about this sample pack is that the drum and percussion loops are mainly dry – which is good because you want those to be punchy and up front. However, the 67 music loops are decent “starter” loops to get your creative juices flowing. Stuck in a rut? No problem … you can use these to get you going. It’s a nice little sample pack and I think this library will suit just about every producer’s needs for drum loops. 

 

WEB:

www.bluezone-corporation.com

 

FORMAT:

WAV/AIFF

 

PRICE:

€9.95 EUR

 

 

Push Button Bang – Total Blues

An inspiring sample pack from Push Button Bang featuring 1 GB of samples, Total Blues is a blues-filled library that is totally on the rhythm and blues side of things. It includes 330 loops and stems and 200 instrument single hits in pristine 24-bit format quality. This pack is broken down into eight folders of Bass, Brass, Combo, Drums & Fills, Guitars, Harmonica and Piano and Key loops, recorded in various tempos and keys. What’s really good about Total Blues is that PBB has put something together that is something worthwhile. If you have lost your adventurous inspiration for producing blues materials, the contained samples are very effective and helpful in giving you new ideas to produce. Sound-wise, the samples are very well recorded, and the loop editing is superb. Also, the samples sound very natural, punchy and clear. I really like what I’m hearing as I was auditioning in Acid Pro 6. My favorites are, of course, the guitar and harmonica loops as they are central foundation in any blues tracks. With these two sounds, I can easily create ideas or starter tracks – just mix and match and you’re set. The brass loops are also great and sound natural. I give this collection a thumbs-up.

 

WEB:

www.loopmasters.com

 

FORMAT:

WAV, REX2, Kontakt, Halion, EXS24, Apple loops and NN-XT

 

PRICE:

$36.22 USD

 

 

Audio Boutique – Deep House Construction Kits

There have been plenty of deep house sample packs popping up lately, and this one from Audio Boutique focuses on construction kits. There are 15 construction kits included in this library – all with the elements to construct songs from scratch. Each folder is labeled properly with tempo and key information, and contains subfolders called MIDI, Samples, Stems and a demo mix file. Another folder called Bonus Files is filled with drum hits, guitar loops and vocal loops. Majority of the loops have that undeniable deep house flair and have been programmed very well. The drums patterns sound big, the guitar loops are useful and the vocals are seasoned with the right amount of ambience. The inclusion of MIDI files is quite nice – useful to say the least. Overall, a very fun sample pack from Audio Boutique that plenty of hungry EDM producers will find enjoyable.

 

WEB:

www.resonance-sound.com

 

FORMAT:

WAV

 

PRICE:

€24.95 EUR

 

 

Connect with Ginno at www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music on Tablets (and Beyond) – Nave from Waldorf

 

Nave, a unique iOS favorite from Waldorf for iPad, is now available for desktop computers as well.   We take a close-up look in herein.

 

by Warren Burt, Jan. 2016

 

In the tablet world, most apps are made especially for that environment.  Occasionally, an app will be a tablet adaptation of a bit of hardware or computer software (the Korg iMS-20; Propellorhead’s Thor).  Rarely, however does an app start off on the iOS platform, and then migrate over to the world of Windows and OSX machines.  Waldorf’s Nave is one of those.  It started off as a superbly engineered softsynth on the iOS platform, with unique capabilities not found in other synthesizer apps.  After a couple of years on that platform, it is now available (at a five times increase in price!) for VST, AU and AAX formats.  In the transition, some things have been added, and some things have been taken away, but basically, it’s the same beast on both platforms.  What’s been added is the necessity for an eLicenser dongle, and the four-track recorder that was part of the iPad app is now gone, presumably because the assumption is that the app will be used in a multi-track recording environment, anyway.  But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s start at the beginning.


 

NAVE is a wavetable synthesizer.  It has two oscillators that have a set of waveforms arranged in a table such that one can modulate through them in any number of ways, creating changing timbres.  Usually, these timbres change very smoothly, however, you can load some supplied wavetables, or load your own that will have quite abrupt transitions between waveforms. And using an LFO with a Sample and Hold waveform will produce random leaps around the waveform as well.  The wavetable display (in the center of the above illustration) is gorgeous, and can be set to display in a number of different formats and can be rotated as well.  Nave also has the ability to do rudimentary speech synthesis.  It can synthesize speech expressions up to about 100 letters long. The speech synthesis seems to be set for American English.  I tried a couple of German phrases in it, and (even though the synthesizer is from Germany) the German was rendered with American English pronunciation.   And I got the same result with French and Hungarian phrases – all rendered as if the words were in American English.

Nave can analyse external audio, and make a wavetable out of that, and it can also load externally designed wavetables, such as 2CAudio’s Architecture Waveforms.  So, in addition to the 80 or so wavetables the synth ships with, there are a LOT of timbral resources available for either the iPad or the PC/Mac versions.  In addition to the two wavetable oscillators, there’s also a third oscillator which can generate virtual analog waveforms and white and pink noise.  This can be mixed in with the other two oscillators, and you can also ring modulate either oscillators 1 & 2, or oscillators 1 & 3 against each other.  Oscillator 3 has an “Uberwave” setting which allows for massive doubling and detuning of the third oscillator, as well.

After the oscillators, there of course is a filter, two LFOs, three envelopes (one for filter, one for amplitude, and one “free” envelope that can be used for any purpose), a variety of modulation sources, such as a keyboard, a set of “key blades” (more on those in a moment), a set of up to three x-y pad controllers, a variety of basic effects (phaser, delay, reverb, equalizer, compressor), and an arpeggiator.  There’s also a modulation matrix which can independently route up to ten modulation sources to most aspects of the synthesizer.


 

The blades are worth a special mention.  They are three dimensional controllers.  They look like keys but they not only have touch on/touch off sensitivity, but a finger held on them can be moved in either the x (left-right) or y (up-down) direction, and those two motions can control just about any aspect of the sound.  For example, in this illustration, my up-down motion controls the speed of morphing through the wavetable, but my left-right motion controls the noisiness of the waveform.  So in addition to turning on and off notes, my motion could produce quite interesting timbral variations as well.  Additionally, the blades can be set to one of 24 different scales.  And each blade can play one of up to 24 different chords selected from notes in that scale.  This is quite a wonderful resource.  My one disappointment about this is that the selected chords only apply to the Nave internal synth engine.  If one wants to use the blades as an alternative MIDI controller, you’re out of luck – it just transmits the MIDI note it has been set to, and not the chord notes as well.  The blades work superbly in a multi-touch screen environment.  In a computer environment, with a mouse, they work less well.  Yes, you can have the same kind of control, but moving a mouse has a completely different kinaesthetic quality than moving a finger on a touch-screen.  Also with the touch screen, you can have multiple controls changing at once (if you’re clever with your finger work), but on the computer screen, you’re back to one control at a time.  So in one sense, migrating Nave to the computer environment is a bit of a small step backwards.

Not only can one move through the wavetable to get different timbres, but there is a spectrum control, which seems to shift the spectrum of the waveform, and this can be modulated as well.  This can be set to be clean shifting, or with the addition of noisiness to the waveform.  The combination of modulations of the waveform and the spectrum together can produce some amazingly animated timbres.  With all this power, it’s pretty amazing (to me at least) that all this timbral capability is then, in the factory patch list, divided into the usual limiting categories of Lead, Keys, Pad, Bass, Vocal, Arp, Percussive, etc.  There are lots of patches from a number of well-known designers, and I was very happy to see that some of them, such as Tom Fenn, provided a number of less-well-worn timbres in their presets.

In the computer version, the interface is changed slightly.  The page selections are at the bottom of the screen, instead of at the top. The main page in the computer version has more on it – such as the filter and the envelopes and the drive module – these are on separate pages in the iPad version.  As said before, the four track recorder is missing from the computer version.  This may not be such a problem, however.  On the iPad version, even though the four track recorder can do good recording directly from Nave, when one goes to export the mixdown, I’ve never been able to get a complete recording (say 3 minutes) to export.  Only the first 45 seconds or so seems to export as a Wav file in the mixdown mode.  In order to export the full recording, I’ve had to simply play the mix live, streaming the audio into a computer with Studiomux or MusicIO into a sound recorder.  This works, but it’s not terribly efficient.  So the lack of the four-track recorder in the computer version doesn’t strike me as a big deal.

The computer version comes with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions which will install in the appropriate places in your computer, and the computer version also has a choice of small or large interface sizes.  This I found quite handy.  The eLicenser works, and was installable, although I had a bit of trouble with the installation.  I also highly recommend that you download a demo version to try out before you buy.  The computer version works fine on my big ASUS i5 laptop, but even with a lot of very helpful and patient customer support, we were never able to get Nave to work on my ASUS Intel Atom Windows 8 netbook.  So check if it does work on your computer of choice before you commit to purchase.

Overall, I’m thoroughly delighted with Nave – it has a lot of power, and you can make timbres with it that you can’t make just about anywhere else.  The iPad version is a very flexible touch-screen performing machine, and the computer version, especially with an external keyboard (with a few continuous-control sliders attached), is a very powerful composing and performing tool.  My one serious complaint, of course, is that it doesn’t have any microtonal ability.  With all these amazing timbres, you’re still stuck with the same old 12 notes.  If you want to use these timbres in a microtonal setting (as I think is the completely logical way to use them), then you’re going to have to record performances of single notes with Nave, and import those into your microtonally enabled sampler of choice, such as UVI’s Falcon.  In frustration, I’m tempted to cry out “What will it take to convince synthesizer makers to incorporate microtonal ability into their synthesizers as a standard feature?”  But companies like Waldorf have been making synthesizers for more than 30 years now, and they show no signs of even being interested in the microtuning possibilities of their machines.  So I guess the lesson to take away from this is to use wonderful machines like Nave for the great sounds they can generate, and if you want to take those sounds into other realms, then export those sounds for use in other platforms, like microtonality-enabled samplers.  In both its iPad and computer versions, though, I recommend Nave highly.

 

Nave from Waldorf: iOS app – $30.99 USD in the App Store.  Computer version: VST/AU/AAX – €149 EUR from http://www.waldorfmusic-shop.de/ (download).

 

RX5 by iZotope

 

Rx5 is an audio fireman – you don’t know that you will need it until you do. It is an industry standard offering the best tools that can be found with just one purpose: to save your audio file.

 

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2016

 

RX5 is the most advanced audio repair and restoration audio editor you’re likely to find, able to fix most audio issues, rescuing your badly recorded clips, or even your otherwise perfect take that contains one or two unintended, unpredictable sounds, like noise from outside. It is a “Photoshop” for the audio world. It is also an essential tool for any professional or even semiprofessional video producer.  No matter whether you are just filming small weddings or working on a big budget blockbuster, you will need this. I presume that RX5 also saved many documentary movies, since it is almost impossible to make a perfect audio take in unpredictable conditions. You probably won’t buy this one just to fix a family video (but in most cases it could be cheaper to buy RX5 than sending the video to some pro houses) but if you need it at least once on month then you should definitely consider it. It can remove plosive pops from dialogue (advanced version only), it can also remove clicks or hum or any other sort of noise, it can remove reverb from your recordings, fix bad level issues (advanced version only) and even selectively remove unwanted sounds that appear in your recording, like a telephone ringing in a background of a dialogue or music take without effecting the main sound. It uses some sort of “intelligent replace function” analyzing the signal around the troubled signal. So you can remove a string fret noise from a guitar take or microphone stand rumbles from a vocal take. The advanced version also offers an “ambience match” function that allow you to fill the gaps with the same ambience or even adding ambience from one take to another take, giving the impression that all takes are taken in a same place. If you are in a movie, documentary job, than this one can save you many hours of work.

 

RX5 is also the right solution for restoring clips from old recordings recorded with lo-fi recorders, or takes taken from vinyl or old tapes. It’s essential for bigger radio stations for fixing any out-of-the-studio recording takes. It could also be useful at the mastering stage, especial if you are working with live recordings.

 

Main Graphical Interface

On the left we get a menu containing all the modules, the tools that will help you repair and restore your audio file. We will get through the modules a bit later. The rest of the graphical interface is filled with a wave view, where we can zoom any part of the audio file, selecting the tiniest part, not just vertically or horizontally, but even selecting just any separate detail in the audio just as we do with part of a picture in Photoshop. Of course, with the bottom left slider, right under the wave window we can slide between waveform and spectrogram view, setting the opacity of either of those views. The default setting is in the middle, allowing us spot any deviations containing different frequencies or different energy, being presented in spectrogram like a small stain somewhere in the clip, looking almost identical like those X-ray pictures from the movies. We get a whole palette of selection tools; the Time selection tool is the one that we are used to. It selects the region of the waveform from left to right. The next one is the Time + Frequency selection tool, allowing you to select various squares anywhere in a clip – small, big, long or high. The frequency selection tool, as its name suggests, allows you to select just a frequency range, selecting a horizontal segment of a whole file. Lower frequencies are in the middle while higher are closer to the outside edges of the waveform / spectroscope window. The lasso selecting tool is the perfect solution for isolating small parts, ideal for selecting just an intruding sound and replacing it using the Spectral Repair module. The paint selection tool allows us to select bigger parts of the sound clip. The last selection option between all the selections buttons at the bottom of graphical interface is a Harmonic selection tool that allows us to select up to ten subharmonics of a preselected part.

Of course there are also plenty of time meters at the bottom to let you know where exactly you are in a longer file, also displaying the start and end times along with the duration of the selected region. The standalone version also has an option to record directly in the editor’s waveform window. Yes, standalone means that most of the restoring modules are also available as VST plugins. The new version also brings an option to select markers and regions, so big files are no longer a big problem.

 

Modules

Let’s start with Corrective EQ, as this could be a good first step preparing audio for repair and restoration. This is a 6-band precise EQ with low, high and band filters for removing low rumble or harsh high end.

The next ones are the De-Click, De-Hum and De-Noise modules. All modules come with bunch of useful presets and options. De-Click also has a dropdown menu where you can choose if this is a single click, repeatable periodic or regular clicks. De-Hum and De-Noise also have a learn function, so applying editing is just a few clicks away. All you need to do is to set the threshold, sensitivity or reduction level (there are also a few other parameters, for more detailed editing). For better and more precise results we could select an option to listen only to the effected signal. As a bonus, De-Noise even has two different modules built under the basic one. The first is the Spectral De-Noise and the second is the Dialog De-Noise module.

Spectral Replace is one of the most impressive modules allowing you to select any sound or noise that should not be in a clip and simply remove it, and at the same time filling that gap by analyzing the harmonics around problematic areas (yes, we can select more than one part of the clip at once) adding material that is cloned and recalculated from the harmonic characteristic taken from around the problematic area. As harmonics are not just cloned from one spot but being really recalculated from all areas around, the end result is really magical. Of course good results are not so self-evident and require some surgical work, achieved by precise selection and a few additional tweaks. After a little trial and error, thankfully there are not so many sliders inside the Spectral Replace editing window, even the average music enthusiast can become a skilled audio engineer. Before you start your surgical practice I recommended you take some time to study the video clips accessible on the iZotope Youtube channel ( https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4dISychPQEsxHEurjxnooOEoR5I1D-O9 ).

De-Reverb has a fairly self-explanatory name. Yes, I run into this issue many times. Very helpful when you get some heavily reverbed clips that use quite a different space from the one you intend to use.

Instant Process is an option that we find under the main clip window allowing us to select an action that will be automatically processed as soon as we select part of the clip. So, all you need to do is to select click by click, or a sound that should be replaced, or an area that should be faded. It depends which action is selected in the window near the Instant Process button.

The other very handy thing that can help us process more files at once is Module Chain. It is actually a rack where we can set a few modules with additional settings in a row, being activated by just one click.

There are also a few other Gain and Dither functions along with signal generator, spectral analyzer, resample, third part plug-in support to add your favorite VST plug-ins, and as the last one, Channel Op, an module for phase and delay taming.

 

Pay More, Get More – Advanced.

All these modules and options are available in the standard version of RX5. The advanced version brings some very advanced (nomen est omen) really usable modules that can be a true life saver for all users that work with sound on a daily bases – production houses, recording studios or radio stations.

The first one is the De-Plosive module that can be applied to the whole file removing plosive pops and microphone bumps from your audio clip, giving far better results than just a low or high pass filter on a file.

Leveler is a module that can analyze the whole clip, achieving the same result as we got in olden times by driving a gain fader in real time. After the effect is processed, you’ll get the volume line with all the volume enhancements along with lots of control points that you can further adjust manually to taste. Of course the module window offers some additional independent controls for breaths and esses, determining the level of the applied De-Esser and determining how much breath will be reduced.

The Loudness module is the one that could help you to set your clip at the level that is required by some institution. Minus six decibels for video production, or indeed any value, according to the standards that some radio stations require. You don’t want to know what some radio or TV stations do when the signal doesn’t match their standard (fixed with macheteTM). I can just recommended you prepare it exactly as they require.

 

The Ambiance Match module can extract ambiance, intelligently applying it to gaps between the recording takes or even applying it to a new file. When you will need it, you will know. Sometimes when my kids are watching a movie and I’m sitting away from television, I can hear when a voiceover is used instead of using the set location. Big production always takes care of such details, adding appropriate ambiance to the voiceover, achieving a greater level of authenticity.

The EQ Match module can analyze harmonic content from one file and apply it to another. In the past I spent hours trying to match dialogs recorded in different places under different conditions. When you’ll come to this issue, you will be very thankful for this module.

Time and Pitch is similar to the one that we find in many modern DAWs, so I presume there is no need to explain what it does. As a bonus it also has an option to type in source and destination BPM for musical clips. It also offers a few different stretch and pitch algorithms.

 

Summary

There are some tools implemented in iZotope RX5 that maybe we could find in some other plug-ins, but as a whole it is a totally unbeatable tool offering some top-notch repair modules that cannot be found elsewhere. After some trial and error even unskilled users can fix many audio issues. If you have some skills in this area then only the sky is the limit. I have semi-pro video equipment and some additional microphones, but even ideal recording conditions are seldom perfect. So RX5 saved quite a few of my video clips, fixing even the most troublesome ones. Applying compression and reverb to unclean material will only worsen the end result, so after cleaning the audio tracks I could apply all the post production effects without worrying that background noise, clicks or camera hum destroying my take.

If you are in any serious audio production then I presume you already have this one, but anyway, if you are working with a lot with video clips or if you mess around a lot with sound clips then you should definitely consider getting this. There are plenty of audio issues that simply can’t be fixed without iZotope RX5.

For more information, video tutorials and dirty details, visit:

https://www.izotope.com/en/products/audio-repair/rx/

Standard edition will cost you $349 USD / €325 EUR, and the price for Advanced is $1,199 USD / €1,099 EUR.

Browse SB articles

SoundBytes mailing list

SoundBytes

Welcome to SoundBytes Magazine, a free online magazine devoted to the subject of computer sound and music production.

 

If you share these interests, you’ve come to the right place for gear reviews, developer interviews, tips and techniques and other music related articles. But first and foremost, SoundBytes is about “gear” in the form of music and audio processing software. .

 

We hope you'll enjoy reading what you find here and visit this site on a regular basis.


Hit Counter provided by technology news