Review – Loomer’s Sequent: A Mangler for the Masses
Sequent is a modular multi-effects tool for mangling audio via “glitching”, slicing-and-dicing and introducing of other kinds of audio mayhem, on stage or in the studio. Check it out in this close-up look.
by Suleiman Ali, Nov. 2014
I am generally very partial to any effect plug-ins that take innovative approaches to audio mangling, which means everything from basic glitch to complicated slicing and dicing. So this particular VST plug-in caught my eye early on, and finally I got a chance to sit down and review it in detail. I must say, I was pretty blown away.
Loomer is UK based company founded by Colin and Kevin in 2009. From the beginning, it has made a mark as an innovator, both in terms of functionality as well user interfaces. In the words of founder Colin: I’d say the goal was to make great sounding plug-ins, with a focus on both flexibility, but without over-complicating the interfaces. I’m a fan of live electronic music, so both stability and low CPU-usage are also important.
I would say that with products like Sequent, Cumulus Shift and String they have come a long way to achieving that goal.
I used an i5-based HP Laptop with 6 GB RAM running Windows 8 (64 Bit) alongside a Roland Tri-Capture audio interface. The DAW was 64 Bit Reaper version 4.73 and the plug-in itself was 64 Bit. Both 16 and 24 bit mono and stereo WAV files were used for testing.
The Need for Speed
In this day and age, it is extremely important for software to be easily accessible online and simple to install. In this regard Sequent is great, as I was up and running in five minutes including the downloading and installation time. The whole process is very straight forward. The serial number is emailed after payment is made and it effectively authorizes the demo to work as the full software. Sequent can run as a VSTi (64 or 32 bit) or as a standalone. That is all there is to it. Does it not make you wish that other vendors took lessons from Loomer in consumer friendly processes?
The .pdf format manual (downloadable from the site) is very well-written and completely eliminates the need for any instructional videos or tutorials. It explains every single function in sufficient detail to get to you pulverizing your audio loops in a very short while, although some familiarity with FSU plugs and beat slicing terminology would get you up and running more quickly. For those not familiar with the term FSU, it is generally one applied to plug-ins that introduce degradations to the sound. The “U” stands for “Up” and the “F” and “S” are common four-letter words that you can probably figure out on your own.
Again, this is a good example of how a manual should approach the functionality of its subject. The first half or so of the manual completely covers the installation, registration, preset management and MIDI/audio-device configuration while the second half explains every single setting and button of the plug-in in simple clear English.
Go Go GUI
The GUI is indeed a sight for sore eyes as it features crisp clear colors and fonts, thankfully not going overboard with the dark futuristic design obsessions from which many modern plug-in developers suffer. Furthermore, the font and knob sizes do not require a magnifying glass and a laboratory-calibrated micro mouse. The routing window that allows for modular effect implementation works very nicely as well. I would, however, vote for bigger trigger steps, which could make a difference especially in a live set-up. There is plenty of screen real estate available to make the trigger and step bars larger.
F-in’ S Up
I bet you thought I would never get to the actual functionality of the plug-in. Well, hand over that fiver because now I address the question that is essential: How does it sound?
In summary, it sounds fantastic, which was to be expected given Loomer’s general reputation. What it does is that it slices incoming audio into equal length parts and lets you process each part via a chain of effects. But that is like calling an elephant a large mammal. Sequent provides a level of control and musicality that I had yet to see, despite having used most of more famous exponents of glitch and slicing.
Though there is no transient based slicing, the sheer depth of controls for each aspect of the multiple effects as applied to each step/slice is mind-boggling, especially in light of how simply it is implemented.
Interestingly it can also work as a resource friendly multi-effects module as well without any obvious use of the slicing and dicing functionality (in fact the company calls it a “modular multi-effects unit”).
FX In Action
From just exploring the plug-in interface as well as the manual, it quickly became apparent that Sequent has seven distinct effects that can be chained via the modular window in any sequence (hence the name). The effects include:
- Beat Looper: or as I like to call it, the instant fun unit. This is not only your access to the now classic stutter, glitch and tape stop style effects that are the heart of a lot of modern electronic, but a great tool to liven up straight loops (even acoustic ones). The per-step controllable parameters include the triggers, length, offset, reverse, pitch, pitch decay, sync and level. I could just write a couple of paragraphs on the versatility of this effect, but suffice to say it offers almost all controls that you may have ever wanted in a slice looper.
- Two Filters: offering low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass modes. The filters also have self-oscillation capabilities which make them more like a generator/effects unit. But a few words of warning – the self-oscillation only works with rather extreme cut-off and resonance settings and starts once a sound is allowed to run rampant in the “circuit”, so you need an initial seed sound to get it going. Furthermore, this can lead to some loud or unwanted noises which only playing around will let you tune. I used a DAW based mute envelope to trigger it in select parts of the song.
- Distortion Unit: simple controls yet quite powerful and gritty sounding. Subtle step-based use can lead to selective oomph for making a quieter snare louder in a loop, for example.
- Gate with variable depth and slew: a ducking control where the depth of the ducking can be set per step and the slew determines whether the ducking is instantaneous or a more sloped effect.
- Panner: is a per step pan position determining where that particular step’s slice lies in the spatial field.
- Delay unit capable of sub-millisecond delay times, great for creating everything for from dub, slapback, and bouncing ball style echoes, to metallic comb filters, flanger effects or even flams.
Besides these, each effect has some common controls that have the function. These include a simple “On” button (very useful for instantly killing an out of control filter, for example), scale dial (effect sequencer multiplier that can be MIDI controlled live), smooth dial (determines if changes between sequencer steps are abrupt or more gradual) and a rand dial (which allows for randomization of steps and effect parameters). Each effect section also has a randomization button which allows for hours of fun by completely randomizing all controls.
In case you missed the implications above, each parameter of each effect can be tweaked per slice/step. This is pure mangling bliss barring the perfectionists who may be tweaking for hours to get it exactly right.
One alternate method of controlling all of the effects from one screen is by using the Master Sequencer matrix view which is similar in functionality to sequencers in Effectrix and Glitch2 (a multi-track sequencer with a single row for each effect). Using this Master Sequencer overrides the current on/off setting of each effect.
I explored each effect block’s capabilities and parameters in detail, and once I was sure of the transformation of sound afforded by each, I started really enjoying the plug-in. Simple loops turned into Venetian Snares style nightmares with a few clicks and dial movements. While Sequent has the means to completely pulverize audio loops / WAV content it works equally well for subtle enhancements like adding some rhythmic excitement to the content.
For those who use presets as a starting point, there is plenty to chew on here and the included patches show the plethora of possibilities afforded by Sequent. Furthermore you can tweak these factory patches with these and re-save in a user folder (with searchable tagging).
Almost all the controls are assignable to MIDI controls. Helpfully, on activating MIDI learn the display shows the assigned CC controller for each parameter. Each preset can have up to twelve patterns that are switchable via MIDI notes from C to B (any octave). Combined with the program change messages this makes Sequent a very expressive live instrument and allows for infinite control at your figure tips in a live situation.
The A/B button allows you audition the current tweaked preset and the original preset state, while the two outputs in the routing window allow you to make or modify a new chain while another is playing. A cross fade dial allows for smooth transitions between the two outputs (top and bottom output routers).
As mentioned above, the GUI could be larger as the ergonomically pleasing design ensures that the clutter is at a minimum. A transient-based slicer would work wonders (maybe similar to the excellent one in CWI’s TX16WX sampler) and a slice re-arranger (similar to the excellent freeware Loop Drive 4) would pretty much make this king. But that just might be beyond the scope of the plug-in and the vision of the developers. While the random functions and the step based parameter tweaking is out of this world, some actual modulation sources (like some tweak-able LFO’s) would be very welcome. One or two more effect blocks (like the quite popular bit-crusher effect) would take this over the top. But none of these suggested improvements stops the present state of Sequent being one of the best FSU plug-ins I have ever seen or used.
This being 2014, there is some serious competition in the market with regards to FSU plug-ins, the aforementioned Sugar Byte’s Effectrix and dblue’s Glitch2 being the most obvious examples. But it is to Loomer’s credit that Sequent stands out even with such impeccable contemporaries, providing some detailed tweak-ability that the other missed. Price wise it is pretty much in the middle of the mentioned two plug-ins (GBP 49 = USD 79).
I can safely say that this will be my go-to plug-in for audio loop mangling. Do not be fooled by the simple elegant interface. This baby packs a lot of mangling power. I hope that Loomer continues in a similar vein of ground breaking original plug-ins (both in functionality and GUI) that still manage to remain quite CPU friendly.
Here’s the link to try out the demo or purchase this excellent plug-in: