Review – Tremor by Fxpansion

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Our reviewer thinks that with a little experimental tweaking you will quickly understand why many electro-drum enthusiasts put Tremor at front of the virtual drum machine list.

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2014

“Dream machine” (a drum machine — as Inspector Clouseau pronounces it).


From the Bottom…

There are a few things to reproach FXpansion about Tremor: You can’t drag and drop MIDI patterns made with Tremor to a DAW arranger window, and MIDI automation doesn’t work in Studio One (which is a pretty underrated sequencer, so it happened here and there that plugins were not tested with this sequencer). A few other virtual drum synthesizers are offering a bigger bank of included hits and patterns. There are also a few others which are offering a better set of exotic, electro-friendly sort of unusual hits, and others are offering accurate simulation of specific analog beasts from the past…. But when you start toying with Tremor’s pattern editor, adding some beats, or when you start to tweak some sound parameters, effecting the sound in a real time, then you will know in a second why most of the electro drum freaks put Tremor in front of the other virtual drum machines, when the conversation gets down to drum routing.

… To the Peak

I’m some sort of a programming idiot, always being jealous of those fellows who can easily make wine out of water by screwing some knobs and changing the world just by tweaking this and that. After five minutes with Tremor, I also felt like being a part of that geek world.

Pattern Editor

The pattern editor is so big and self-explaining, that you simply can’t miss the thing. Also, most of the closed hi-hats are so mellow and sweet that even when you draw some idiotic patterns inside the hats row, everything still sounds ”in place,” giving you the impression that you just gave a touch of originality to the pattern, not just random madness. (OK, you can’t do that with the snare and kick, as it would sound like a random madness.) Patterns can be saved, copied, modified and triggered with a keyboard through the Pattern’s memory keys row, so building an arrangement is a matter of minutes. I should be honest here – it would be easier with MIDI drag and drop, but according to the FXpansion, this option will be added in the next major update.

Tremor ControllersThe pattern editor plus one of the most impressive in rank of all controllers put this excellent sounding drum machine on a totally new level. Under the pattern window, you will find a Kit window with a small set of the most-used controllers for every drum sound from the selected kit, the ones that really make a difference when a pattern is running. Pressing the Synth button in the left corner of the Kit window will open a pure heaven of controllers for every drum sound from the selected kit. I could bug you with a million details here, but the main issue with Tremor is flexibility. At first sight, it could look a bit complicated, but after seeing a few video clips on YouTube, everything comes to its place. Many parameters can also be controlled through the graphs page, a special window which can be opened in place of the pattern editor, where you can draw with a mouse some movements for selected parameters. It is not hard to map any modulation source with a graph, as you have all modulation sources ranked in the bottom Transmod row in Tremor’s main window.

I always find a few things to complain about regarding FXpansion stuff, but when it comes to how deep you can go with their instruments, I have to admit that most of their instruments are almost like a space ship, from the obvious to the less obvious, to the tiny details which are only a door to even deeper editing. The same goes with the Pattern editor window, where you can add beats through the MIDI keyboard or draw hits with the mouse, but this is only the beginning. At the end of every pattern’s row is an arrow that you can simply drag toward the starting point, adapting the loop length for selected hit. After few trials and errors I made a few nice loops that evolve over time. Also, in the row under the pattern window are a few drop down menus with many useful options. You can start with insert which will offer you a great measure of preprogrammed patterns for selected hits. So creating the initial Four on the Floor is a matter of a few seconds. Swing amount offers you additional capabilities: Slightly looser, tripled feel, slower and faster. My favorite drop down menu is Drag Edits where the default mode is set to Velocity edit, offering to add beats normally with a left click or to erase it with a right click, and dragging up or down with the pressed mouse button for increasing or decreasing the velocity for the selected beat. The next option in Drag Edits is Repeat mode, allowing you to make glitchy beats, which is like adding a rank of 64th notes to 16th beat pattern. The density of the inserted beats on a single cell is controlled by dragging up or down mouse button over the repeated single cell.

Tremor Presets

There are plenty of additional options for editing patterns, but that would take too much space to describe in detail (for example, the ability to make various velocity decreasing or increasing rolls and similar stuff). The pattern-editing window allows you to make unique bits in a minute, no matter if you are a skilled beat programmer or not, and is one of the main advantages that make Tremor stand out in rank. The next advantage that makes a distinction is provided by the most impressive set of controllers that is associated with single hits. It is not hard to put everything together in one window; the main difference is how you arrange them all over the place, and which one to use and how to use it. It is hard to describe, but when you start tweaking some parameters, you still may not be so sure of what are you doing. (Beats me, but I’m still just a musician and not a programmer.) However, it can go only two ways: You achieve some useful changes, or you can totally ruin everything. Tremor is much closer to the first solution. It also helps that you can find nice video tutorials on the FXpansion web pages that will lead you through every separate hit in a kit — starting with a kick, adding a snare, then hi-hats, and so on through the effects.

The Sound

Tremor FXLet’s face it. Every drum machine has its own sound. In future issues I will probably review a few other drum machines, and I’ve already reviewed some. They all sound excellent (otherwise I wouldn’t review them), but different. Every drum machine has its own sound. I love Tremor as it sounds somehow beefy, not so sharp, but more on the bassier side, crispy and somehow almost sinister, a sort of Trip-hop heavy. It definitely puts drive on a rhythm – listening to Tremor you can almost get the feeling that you are listening to some electro version of Sly Dunbar playing his dense, rolling, heavy patterns. (For all those technological freaks that rely for their opinions only on pure technical data – Tremor is built on DCAM circuit-modeling … whatever … technology.)

Also, there is a nice number of effected sounds which give a special feel and mood to the patterns, especially if you tweak them so that they change in real time. I found that those effects are pretty unmissable giving a very recognizable and unique character to Tremor.

I like the sound, I like the flexibility and programming ability, and I like the big patterns window with a really fantastic set of editing tools, including first-class tools for effecting the sound source and a nice effects section, but the FXpansion programming team always forgets to implement something really essential in every product. (I presume that they are related to my uncle who always repaired Televisions in the same way – leaving a fistful of various spare parts that he took out without knowing how where to put them back – and by some strange wonder – all Televisions lived happily ever after, even without all those capacitors and similar electro trashery.) So, thanks to the FXpansion programming team, Tremor is even a more perfect, almost human, having at least one big imperfection such as almost all big, perfect men have. In this case – it is MIDI export … so, my dear FXpansion team … soon, please!

Otherwise, pure joy. Sly Dunbar goes electro, that’s Tremor. I hadn’t used drum machines for a while, as it was painful to get some decent variations out of them, but now I’m back. With Tremor you can do it fast and easy: Copy, paste, a few paints here and there, copy, paste… etc…

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