If you’re obsessive about snares, this free download is for you. If you totally haven’t been thinking about snares at all, and want to let someone else obsess about it for you, this download is also for you. Meet Snare Designer.
Sound and sample house Puremagnetik has been doing sound design right back to the early days of Ableton Live. Now you get a couple hundred megabytes of acoustic snares to mess around with, whether you’re in Live, Logic, or Kontakt. You’ll need Live 10 or the full version of Kontakt 5 or Logic 10.4 to use the tailored versions, though if you’re willing to put in a little more work, you can also work with the raw samples directly.
With the full versions, you get some clever features that make this more usable. In Live and Kontakt, you can select direct, overhead, room, and “trashcan” mics via a graphical UI. Logic uses Track Stacks for those different microphones.
And you get some nicely chosen drums: the 60s Ludwig Acrolite, Mapex Birch, and Pork Pie Squealer. I don’t know anything about drums and even I know those.
Welcome to an alternate universe. You knew the world where acquisitions killed products. In this one, products get better, faster – and go from costing hundreds of dollars to being totally free. Let’s catch up with what’s new in Cakewalk for Windows.
First, DAWs – music production software bundling lots of different features – do as much as they do because producing music is pretty demanding. Multitrack recording, editing, arrangement, working with patterns and sequences, working with audio, mixing, mastering, effects, instruments … a lot of tools go into this process. They’re therefore a big investment of time. Having to start out by also investing a bunch of money can stop people from moving forward at all.
So Cakewalk gives you what had been one of the leading tools on Windows, and makes it free for everyone. It’s not the friendliest to beginners by any stretch, but a lot of musicians and producers swear by it.
It’s free now following an acquisition by online music service platform developer BandLab (and a return to the name “Cakewalk” from the name “SONAR,” which never caught on):
But if you thought “free” meant you’d mostly just see small updates, you’d be wrong. Many of Cakewalk’s previous developers, and tech lead Noel Borthwick, jumped to the new company. They were boasting at the pro-focused AES (Audio Engineering Society) conference in New York that they’re making rapid progress under new ownership. They say that means bug fixes, greater stability, and a more usable program – plus new features.
They’ve integrated the standard élastique Pro time and pitch stretching engine, so you can work with sound more fluidly. That’s become something of an industry standard of late. They’ve also continued to improve their own AudioSnap engine.
There’s now more advanced editing and event filtering of MIDI, across multiple tracks and in the piano roll editor.
The UI has been updated with new themes, and there’s better pop-up help and notifications to keep you oriented.
VST compatibility is improved and optimized.
And they remain committed to pro users with, for instance, Dante driver improvements.
The BandLab Assistant that installs with Cakewalk – and which you may choose to just ignore – does have the update option in it. Look under apps.
I don’t think Cakewalk is for everyone, but then I can’t think of any DAW I’d recommend to everyone. What you get is an excellent update to a favorite DAW for existing users and lapsed users. It’s a terrific choice if you want a pro-level tool but don’t have a pro budget. And it’s an option for complementing tools like FL Studio, Reason, Ableton Live, and other tools with more conventional DAW workflows and functionality. (Film score? Mixdown? Yeah, I often jump from something like Live into a different DAW.) It also helps establish Windows as a solid platform for music – even Apple’s GarageBand can’t match this for out-of-the-box functionality for free.
I still think more could be done to make the UI friendly and refined, but this is a terrific start.
Full feature updates, including the release that dropped last week:
Features & Enhancements
Integrated zplane élastique Pro V3 audio stretching and pitch shifting
Default stretch methods can be specified in the Preferences dialog
Transpose, Length, and Fit to Time commands work on all clip types, including Groove clips, AudioSnap clips, Region FX clips, and slip stretched clips
Slip stretching can also be performed when the edit filter is set to show audio transients.
AudioSnap enabled clips display a clip icon in the top right corner
AudioSnap clips show Auto Stretch icon when Clip Follows Project Tempo is enabled
AudioSnap palette options now directly opens Preferences page for settings
Optimizations and enhancements to time/pitch stretching and AudioSnap workflow
Customize or remove Project Open notification affirmations
Toast notification informs you when a new Cakewalk update is available
Changing the Online Render mode for slip stretch can cause crash/glitches
Looping causes stretched clip to become partially silent
Slip Stretch cursor appears with Move tool
Crop tool appears when holding CTRL with the Move tool
Slip stretch is available without the key modifiers if cursor is placed in bottom corner of a clip
Waveform display in split clip appears to adjust crop when slip stretching
Cropping slip stretched clip shows 000% in header
AudioSnap average tempo can show negative value
AudioSnap properties do not appear when Enable Stretch is engaged in Clip Properties Inspector
Clip Follows Project Tempo menu item in AudioSnap context menu does not match actual state
Transient edits and merged markers from other tracks can be discarded when toggling AudioSnap Off/On
When slip editing, active AudioSnap changes appear in waveform even if AudioSnap is disabled
With slip edited clips, active AudioSnap changes are rendered even when AudioSnap is disabled
Clip Properties Time Format setting persists across multiple open projects
Transposing stereo audio file with Radius creates flat line
Process > Transpose can fail or render static when transposing clips at different bit depths
Potential crash on project load
Potential crash in Help Module with German/Japanese text
Potential crash when exiting if the app is not registered
Elastique Efficient and Elastique Pro are the new default online/offline stretch methods for audio clips.
Elastique is only available in Cakewalk release 2018.09 and higher. Because prior versions of Cakewalk (or SONAR) do not support this feature, projects utilizing Elastique as a stretch method will not render properly in prior versions. A warning message will be displayed when you open a new Cakewalk project in an older version of the software. If you need to share project files with a prior version of Cakewalk, select one of the older stretch methods before saving the project. Alternatively, you can reset the stretch method in the earlier version of Cakewalk.
Elastique stretching with AudioSnap or slip stretching enabled can require larger disk read ahead depending on marker stretches. To optimize playback and reduce the potential for dropouts or audio glitches, we recommend a Playback I/O Buffer Size value of about 512 (KB) if you are experiencing any performance problems. You can change the Playback I/O Buffer Size value in Edit > Preferences > Audio – Sync and Caching.
Features & Enhancements
Global options to enable/disable toast notifications and specify timeout duration
AudioSnap transient marker tooltip now shows sample position, updates dynamically, and shows the original and current position in both samples and Measure:Beat:Tick when dragging markers
Default/inherited AudioSnap render mode names are shown in Track/Clip Properties Inspector
Improved Aim Assist UI
Toggling AudioSnap Enable/Disable in the AudioSnap Palette does not update the Clip Properties Inspector
AudioSnap: Follow Project Tempo and Enable Stretch should be mutually exclusive
Rare crash after selecting an audio device in the Welcome onboarding dialog
Aim Assist snap line not visible while moving clip if clip boundary is offscreen
Rare crash when hovering mouse over Clips pane time ruler
Aim Assist delta is not shown for Bus pane automation nodes
Aim Assist delta is not shown when drag selecting in area below last track
Aim Assist not visible in Clips pane time ruler after creating a new project
Aim Assist text obscured when moving mouse to far left/right of Clips pane
Invalid Aim Assist text shown when drag selecting before measure 1
Project load notification shows successful load when project file is missing
Think of it as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop of the east: the Polish Radio Experimental Studio produced unparalleled electronic sounds and inventions for decades. Recognition of those accomplishments is growing – and now Ableton are collaborating to produce a free pack of sounds and tell the PRES story.
Vital stats on this project:
Who’s behind this: Poland’s national cultural institution Instytut Adama Mickiewicza (IAM) commissioned the library from Ableton and contributors.
Where do the sounds come from: Works made at the studio by composers Krzysztof Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora, and Ryszard Szeremeta, 1970s-80s, comprise the original sound material.
Who built the pack: Project coordinator Michal Mendyk worked with Ableton Certified Trainer Marcin Staniszewski.
What’s in there: 300 sounds, loops, and effects organized into Drum Racks, plus custom Effect Racks, all pre-mapped with macros (making them easy to use with Push or other controllers)
Check out the pack and a full article on the studio and its history at Ableton’s site (plus more on Marcin Staniszewski and his music):
Lots more links there, but the history to me is the most compelling. Paralleling the hot-and-cold relationships of experimental sound and music technology in East Germany and the Soviet Union in the same period, there was a precarious relationship of electronic sound to the government in Communist Poland. Michal Mendyk tells the story of studio founder Józef Patkowski to Ableton:
Paradoxically, a couple of years earlier, it was Sokorski who introduced social realism and radical political and aesthetical censorship in Polish art and culture. He was famous for having said about Witold Lutosławski, one of the leaders of Polish music vanguard that “he should be thrown under a tram”. So, in 1957 the same guy was responsible for creating the most experimental music centre in the whole Eastern Europe! He later said that Polish Radio Experimental Studio was his way to redeem his previous sins. This is one of many example of how paradoxical cultural and intellectual life in an authoritarian system can be.
Here’s a great documentary on the studio:
And for an imaginative take on the studio’s work, see our previous story:
Vember Audio’s Surge synth could be an ideal choice for an older machine or a tight budget – with deep modulation and loads of wavetables, now free and open source.
And that really means open source: Surge gets a GPL v3 license, which could also make this the basis of other projects.
People are asking for this a lot – “just open source it.” But that can be a lot of work, often prohibitively so. So it’s impressive to see source code dumped on GitHub.
And Surge is a deep synth, even if last updated in 2008. You get an intensive modulation architecture, nearly 200 wavetables, and a bunch of effects (including vocoder and rotary speaker). Plus it’s already 64-bit, so even though it’s a decade old, it’ll play reasonably nicely on newer machines.
Inside the modulation engine.
Synthesis method: Subtractive hybrid
Each patch contain two ‘scenes’ which are separate instances of the entire synthesis engine (except effects) that can be used for layering or split patches.
Quick category-based patch-browser
Future proof, comes as both a 32 & 64-bit VST plugin (Windows PC)
Universal Binary for both VST and AU (Mac)
8 versatile oscillator algorithms: Classic, Sine, Wavetable, Window, FM2, FM3, S/H Noise and Audio-input
The classic oscillator is a morphable pulse/saw/dualsaw oscillator with a sub-oscillator and self-sync.
The FM2/FM3 oscillators consists of a 1 carrier with 2/3 modulators and various options.
Most algorithms (except FM2, FM3, Sine and Audio-input) offer up to 16-voice unison at the oscillator level.
Most oscillator algorithms (except FM2/FM3) are strictly band-limited yet still cover the entire audible spectrum, delivering a clear punchy yet clean sound.
Noise generator with variable spectrum.
Two filter-units with arrangeable in 8 different configurations
Feedback loop (number of variations inside the parenthesis)
Available filter-algorithms: LP12 (3), LP24 (3), LP24L (1-4 poles), HP12 (3), HP24 (3), BP (4), Notch (2), Comb (4), S&H
Filters can self-oscillate (with excitation) and respond amazingly fast to cutoff frequency changes.
Waveshaper (5 shapes)
12 LFO-units available to each voice (6 are running on each voice and 6 are shared for the scene)
DAHDSR envelope generators on every LFO-unit
7 deformable LFO-waveforms + 1 drawable/stepsequencer waveform
LFO1 allows envelope retriggering when used as stepsequencer
Extremely fast and flexible modulation routing. Almost every continuous parameter can be modulated.
8 effect units arranged as 2 inserts/scene, 2 sends and 2 master effects
10 top-quality algorithms: Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Phaser, EQ, Distortion, Conditioner (EQ, stereo-image control & limiter), Rotary speaker, Frequency shifter, Vocoder
That headline isn’t a mistake. If you’ve ever wanted a plug-in to f*** up your mixes, sabotage you, insult you, or “get passive aggressive,” this free collection of Max for Live Devices is for you.
Not to completely spoil the results here, but as I write this, my screen is covered with virtual bees. I cannot make the bees go away. I thought the “bees” instrument was going to make some sounds, but instead it has brought bees onto my screen, both inside and outside Ableton Live.
That’s the sort of results you can expect from Really Useful Plugins.
ru.bomb will take your mix and completely f*** it up, as my headline promises.
ru.no is basically an onscreen version of the nagging doubts inside your head.
That is way too much f***ing reverb.
And that’s just the beginning.
Simon Kitmine and David Synth bring you 12 instruments, audio effects and midi effects for Ableton Live, featuring:
Ways to magically sound like everyone else!
The Chuckle Brothers!
So you want to start recording, mixing, arranging, and your budget is … you don’t have one. Tracktion runs on every OS, and the latest update adds still more powerful features.
Free production tools are invaluable – not only are they a refuge for the cash-strapped, but they can be a useful common denominator when you want to exchange projects, or if you need to get up and running quickly on something other than your main machine. Tracktion isn’t the only option out there. Notably GarageBand is available to macOS and iOS users. The excellent Cakewalk (formerly called Cakewalk SONAR) is an optimal choice on Windows, now available free from BandLab. For cross-platform tools, there’s the completely free and open source Ardour, though it can be a bit hacky to install and use. And while it’s not free, Reaper has an unlimited demo, meaning you can use the full version for free and send the developer some money after you sell that first TV score.
Where Tracktion stands out: it’s a modern, friendly, single-window DAW that runs on any OS (Mac, Windows, Linux). And of all of these, it may be the friendliest option – with some power features not available from other options.
T7, released this week, sweetens the pot with some unique new additions – including a couple that might even sway you from the DAW you’ve already paid for.
The UI has been refreshed, with a new scheme called “Blue Steel.” (Okay, enough Zoolander references already. Or at least they missed the opportunity to say the new color scheme will help you “Relax.”)
Browsing is also easier, with a visual browser for plug-ins (the likes of which we’ve seen in Reason, but more rarely elsewhere), plus a multi-browser for auditioning and placing multiple audio files.
The real magic, though, is in the ability to get some power over automation and routing:
Modular racks let you create custom signal processing chains.
Clip Layer Effects let you stack on effects and plug-in processing on specific clips, not just on tracks. That makes for a different workflow – no more making a new track every time you want to change audio routing. Tracktion says they’re applying for a patent here.
Clip Layer Effects: no more duplicating tracks just because one section needs a different effects routing than another bit.
Automation patterns are modulation and envelopes that you can apply to any parameter repeatedly. And there’s optional tempo sync support for them. That sounds especially handy for keeping favorite gestures at the ready, and for remixes and dance music (or to go the opposite direction, hyperactive microediting). Speaking of which, you also get….
Automation patterns can now be stored an applied anywhere – including with tempo sync.
LFO Modifiers can be applied to any parameter in the channel strip or in any third-party plug-in. We’ve seen powerful modifiers in Bitwig Studio – and in Ableton Live, though limited to somewhat simple Max for Live add-ons – but here, combined with those Clip Layers and Automation Patterns, they make Tracktion into a powerful DAW for editing.
LFO Modifiers now work with plug-ins.
Okay, so since this is free, how do the developers make any money? They hope you’ll upgrade to Waveform, their next-generation DAW. It’s got all these features, but adds more extensive instrument support, a multi-sampler, Melodyne pitch correction, a fully modular mix environment, more detailed MIDI editing and pattern generation, and other additions.
Also significant: master mix DSP, chord track, track loops, track presets, quick render, Rack ‘stack’ editor,’ plug-in faceplates, plug-in macros, and free online support. And only Waveform has ready-to-play Raspberry Pi support.
That still means Tracktion is a good way to give this approach a try.
If you don’t have a studio, four cellists, amps and recording equipment plus an engineer handy, try this — it’s free.
“Amplified Cello” is the latest instrument in the ongoing LABS series from our friends at Spitfire Audio, a boutique sample house in the UK. They promised some more “experimental” content, after the soft piano and strings and drums, and here you go.
Not only do these cellos get routed through amps for extra edge, but Spitfire founder Christian Henson and engineer Harry Wilson actually did that processing live during recording – cellos in one room, tracking through the amps in another.
But what really makes this interesting to play around with is, they’ve put a bunch of different articulations and gestures in the library. My graduate level musicology education here wants to use words like glissandi and tremolo, but actually, their words “evil,” “wobbly,” and “tension” are both more descriptive of the music and, let’s be honest, truer to our lives sometimes.
And there’s quite a selection:
Now, LABS are really easy and fun to play with, but here we do run up against a limitation: there are a bunch of different samples for various articulations here, and you can only get at them one at a time. Do try out the minimalist controls, as they have more of an impact on the result. It might also be worth setting up a multi-instrument to play with these. (Might get back to you on that!)
These minimal controls may confuse long-time sample users, but – don’t think too much; have a play.
To install, as before you head to the LABS page, login or register, and then click “GET” for each library you want. You can then choose where your plug-ins go, where to store the sample content (as on an external drive), and then download from the Spitfire app:
That app also has updates for Spitfire’s other LABS instruments.
Spitfire’s audio app has also improved. You can finally set a default path for VST2 (essential on Windows) and choose default install paths and plug-in paths, plus log in automatically.
I’m still surprised at readers’ resistance to these sorts of apps, but I’m guessing that means you’ve had a bad experience with some developers. (That part, I understand.) This app for me is reducing frustration, not adding to it, and I’ve tried on both Mac and Windows machines.
They’re called “NRPN”‘s. It sounds like some covert military code, or your cat walked on your keyboard. But they’re a key way to control certain instruments via MIDI – and now you have a powerful way to do just that in Ableton Live, for free.
NRPN stands for “Non-Registered Parameter Number” in MIDI, which is a fancy way of saying “we have a bunch of extra MIDI messages and no earthly clue how to identify them.” But what that means in practical terms is, many of your favorite synthesizers have powerful features you’d like to control and automate and … you can’t. Ableton Live doesn’t support these messages out of the box.
It’s likely a lot of people own synths that require NRPN messages, even if they’ve never heard of them. The Dave Smith Instruments Prophet series, DSI Tetra, Novation Peak, Roger Linn Linnstrument, and Korg EMX are just a few examples. (Check your manual and you’ll see.)
Now, you could dig into Max for Live and do this by hand. But better than that is to download a powerful free tool that does the hard work for you, via a friendly interface.
Uruguay-born, Brazil based superstar artist and ultra-hacker Gustavo Bravetti has come to our rescue. This is now the second generation version of his free Max for Live device – and it’s got some serious power inside. The original version was already the first programmable NRPN generator for Live; the new edition adds MIDI learn and bidirectional communication.
It’s built in Max 8 with Live 10, so for consistency you’ll likely want to use Live 10 or later. (Max for Live is required, which is also included in Suite.)
Up to 8 NRPN messages per device
Multiple devices can be stacked
Setup parameters in NRPN or MSB/LSB [that’s “most significant” and “least significant” byte – basically, a method of packing extra data resolution into MIDI by combining two values]
Bidirectional control and visual feedback
Record automation directly from your synthesizer
MIDI Learn function for easy parameter and data size setup
Adjustable data rate and redundancy filters
Configurable MIDI Thru Filter
Easy draw and edit automation with multiple Data Sizes
Out of a huge landscape of modules, Mutable Instruments stands alone with some of the best options. And those Mutable tools continue to make their appearance, for free, in VCV rack in software.
As we reported previously, VCV Rack are porting the open source, digital module line from hardware to software form once they’ve been shipping for a while.
The latest is another special addition: Marbles is a random voltage generator, reborn in the onscreen Rack software as Random Sampler. (That term also describes me, at a buffet.)
Well, basically, Marbles is both a source of randomness and a sampler that can reproduce patterns. On the randomness side, you can generate clock or control signals – or modify external inputs – and add variation, from subtle to chaotic, slight fuzziness to branching patterns. That keeps things from getting too repetitive.
And then, in case you actually want some repetition or a recognizable phrase, you also have a sampler that stores and recalls patterns of voltages, cleverly dubbed “deja vu.”
That’s to me is a beautiful model of how you might want to control chance and variation, giving ears new and recognizable sounds, compositionally. Of course, this being a Mutable module, that power is consolidated in a few knobs, which can also be a delight to play with.
To try these in VCV’s Rack application, first install Rack, then look to the Audible Instruments preview plug-in:
And a lot of us are now installing multiple modulars on our computers and choosing to use a particular one when the use arises. So if the constantly-under-construction, wild and woolly developer side of VCV Rack makes you long for a more stable solution, it’s worth mentioning that Softube’s excellent Modular and all the paid add-ons are now steeply discounted. That includes an implementation of Mutable’s superb Clouds:
Kudos to Mutable and creator Olivier Gillet. He’s proven that software can be open source but sustainable commercially, and that it can be successful across multiple platforms at once – hardware and software. For anyone bold enough to follow, that could be a compelling direction for musical tools to take.
Spitfire’s latest LABS plug-in release is out, with the theme “DRUMS.” Here’s how to get started with it – and why it may make you feel like you magically know how to actually play and properly record an acoustic drum kit.
Okay, apologies – I’m projecting a little. Some of you I know can do both those things. Me, that counts as “not at all,” and “yes, but only in theory, please hire an actual producer.”
But DRUMS packs an enormous amount of nuance into a deceptively simple, two-octave mapping. Ever had a chocolate sundae and said, you know, I’m really kind of about the cherry and this bit of peanuts covered in chocolate most? You get the feeling that that’s what’s in this pack.
Here’s a sample. This is literally just me mucking around on the keys. (I ran the sound through the Arturia TridA-Pre, from Arturia’s 3 Preamps You’ll Actually Use set, just to add some dynamics.)
Ready to get started? Here’s where to begin.
Get going with LABS – don’t fear the app!
If you missed our first story on LABS, we covered its launch, which came with a lovely soft piano and chamber string ensemble through vintage mic:
Your first step is to head to the LABS site, and choose the free sound you want. If you created a login before at Spitfire, that will work for “DRUMS” – just click ‘get’ and login. If you haven’t got a login yet, you can register with an email address and password.
I find two things scare people about free software, and I understand your frustration, so to allay those fears:
They’re not signing you up for a newsletter, unless you want one!
Some useful assistance, not annoying intrusion. The app is only there to aid in downloading. It doesn’t launch at startup or anything like that. Basically, it’s there because it’s better than your Web browser – it will actually put the files in the right place and let you choose where those hundreds of megs go, and it will finish a download if interrupted. (That’s especially useful on a slow connection.)
Specifically on Windows, you can make sure it finds your correct VST folder so you don’t load up your DAW and wonder where the heck it went.
Grabbing the app helps make sure you complete the download, and that it goes into the right place. The app downloads and installs the content in one step. It doesn’t load on startup or do anything else weird.
Another key feature of the Spitfire app – you can select where the sample content goes, so you can use an external drive if you’re short on space on your internal drive.
Give it a play!
Once LABS is installed, you have your drum kit, which Spitfire says is the creation of drummer Oliver Waton and engineer Stanley Gabriel.
That minimal interface shouldn’t worry you – have a fiddle with the controls and dial in whatever variation you like. Most of the nuance to the LABS kits is really in actually playing them, so the best idea here is to connect your favorite velocity-sensitive instrument and play, whether that’s a drum pad controller or keyboard or whatever else you have handy.
In my case, I wirelessly paired a ROLI Seaboard Block. It’s conveniently also two octaves, so you just need to set the octave range to match the DRUMS.
As opposed to sprawling sample libraries, LABS are simple and compact, so don’t worry – just go ahead and play.
Beginning some ideas with a familiar sound can also be the basis of doing something a bit radical, because a well-recorded acoustic source will give you a rich sonic range – and dares you to make it sound like something else. So, using another bit of free add-on we’ve covered lately, I loaded up the Creative Extensions Pack from Ableton, which works in Live Suite 10 or any copy of Live 10 with a Max for Live license.
To bend this into experimental/IDM territory, I stacked on various effects, including reversing and gating the sound and adding spectral ambience … generally mucking about. The idea was to keep the character of the drum source, but make it sound like spacetime had gone a bit amiss.
Pairing conventional sounds with out-there effects is one way to go. Ableton Live 10 users can grab another freebie (for Suite or Max for Live). Choose Creative Extensions from the browser and download.
And here is a not terribly-well-thought-out effects chain using those Creative Extensions. Could your cat do better? Possibly. I like cats, though. Give those felines some production opportunities, too.
This time I finished off the sound using Native Instruments’ VC 76 compressor and Enhanced EQ.
But I was just having a bit of fun. So I’d love to hear what you come up with using these sorts of sounds. One of the common complaints about production today is that everyone has easy access to sounds and very often the same tools. But let’s use that – let’s see what you all come up with.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to better record drums, I’m happy to ask Spitfire about how they recorded this set, too. Playing with it actually does make me want to grab some mics and a kit, too.
Feel free to post thoughts, questions, and sound links in comments.