How to make a multitrack recording in VCV Rack modular, free

In the original modular synth era, your only way to capture ideas was to record to tape. But that same approach can be liberating even in the digital age – and it’s a perfect match for the open VCV Rack software modular platform.

Competing modular environments like Reaktor, Softube Modular, and Cherry Audio Voltage Modular all run well as plug-ins. That functionality is coming soon to a VCV Rack update, too – see my recent write-up on that. In the meanwhile, VCV Rack is already capable of routing audio into a DAW or multitrack recorder – via the existing (though soon-to-be-deprecated) VST Bridge, or via inter-app routing schemes on each OS, including JACK.

Those are all good solutions, so why would you bother with a module inside the rack?

Well, for one, there’s workflow. There’s something nice about being able to just keep this record module handy and grab a weird sound or nice groove at will, without having to shift to another tool.

Two, the big ongoing disadvantage of software modular is that it’s still pretty CPU intensive – sometimes unpredictably so. Running Rack standalone means you don’t have to worry about overhead from the host, or its audio driver settings, or anything like that.

A free recording solution inside VCV Rack

What you’ll need to make this work is the free NYSTHI modules for VCV Rack, available via Rack’s plug-in manager. They’re free, though – get ready, there’s a hell of a lot of them.

Big thanks to chaircrusher for this tip and some other ones that informed this article – do go check his music.

Type “recorder” into the search box for modules, and you’ll see different options options from NYSTHI – current at least as of this writing.

2 Channel MasterRecorder is a simple stereo recorder.
2 Channel MasterReocorder 2 adds various features: monitoring outs, autosave, a compressor, and “stereo massaging.”
Multitrack Recorder is an multitrack recorder with 4- or 8-channel modes.

The multitrack is the one I use the most. It allows you to create stems you can then mix in another host, or turn into samples (or, say, load onto a drum machine or the like), making this a great sound design tool and sound starter.

This is creatively liberating for the same reason it’s actually fun to have a multitrack tape recorder in the same studio as a modular, speaking of vintage gear. You can muck about with knobs, find something magical, and record it – and then not worry about going on to do something else later.

The AS mixer, routed into NYSTHI’s multitrack recorder.

Set up your mix. The free included Fundamental modules in Rack will cover the basics, but I would also go download Alfredo Santamaria’s excellent selection , the AS modules, also in the Plugin Manager, and also free. Alfredo has created friendly, easy-to-use 2-, 4-, and 8-channel mixers that pair perfectly with the NYSTHI recorders.

Add the mixer, route your various parts, set level (maybe with some temporary panning), and route the output of the mixer to the Audio device for monitoring. Then use the ‘O’ row to get a post-fader output with the level.

(Alternatively, if you need extra features like sends, there’s the mscHack mixer, though it’s more complex and less attractive.)

Prep that signal. You might also consider a DC Offset and Compressor between your raw sources and the recording. (Thanks to Jim Aikin for that tip.)

Configure the recorder. Right-click on the recorder for an option to set 24-bit audio if you want more headroom, or to pre-select a destination. Set 4- or 8-track mode with the switch. Set CHOOSE FILE if you want to manually select where to record.

There are trigger ins and outs, too, so apart from just pressing the START and STOP buttons, you can either trigger a sequencer or clock directly from the recorder, or visa versa.

Record away! And go to town… when you’re done, you’ll get a stereo WAV file, or a 4- or 8-track WAV file. Yes, that’s one file with all the tracks. So about that…

Splitting up the multitrack file

This module produces a single, multichannel WAV file. Some software will know what to do with that. Reaper, for instance, has excellent multichannel support throughout, so you can just drag and drop into it. Adobe’s Audition CS also opens these files, but it can’t quickly export all the stems.

Software like Ableton Live, meanwhile, will just throw up an error if you try to open the file. (Bad Ableton! No!)

It’s useful to have individual stems anyway. ffmpeg is an insanely powerful cross-platform tool capable of doing all kinds of things with media. It’s completely free and open source, it runs on every platform, and it’s fast and deep. (It converts! It streams! It records!)

Installing is easier than it used to be, thanks to a cleaned-up site and pre-built binaries for Mac and Windows (plus of course the usual easy Linux installs):

https://ffmpeg.org/

Unfortunately, it’s so deep and powerful, it can also be confusing to figure out how to do something. Case in point – this audio channel manipulation wiki page.

In this case, you can use the map channel “filter” to make this happen. So for eight channels, I do this:

ffmpeg -i input.wav -map_channel 0.0.0 0.wav -map_channel 0.0.1 1.wav -map_channel 0.0.2 2.wav -map_channel 0.0.3 3.wav -map_channel 0.0.4 4.wav -map_channel 0.0.5 5.wav -map_channel 0.0.6 6.wav -map_channel 0.0.7 7.wav

But because this is a command line tool, you could create some powerful automated workflows for your modular outputs now that you know this technique.

Sound Devices, the folks who make excellent multichannel recorders, also have a free Mac and Windows tool called Wave Agent which handles this task if you want a GUI instead of the command line.

https://www.sounddevices.com/products/accessories/software/wave-agent

That’s worth keeping around, too, since it can also mix and monitor your output. (No Linux version, though.)

Record away!

Bonus tutorial here – the other thing apart from recording you’ll obviously want with VCV Rack is some hands-on control. Here’s a nice tutorial this week on working with BeatStep Pro from Arturia (also a favorite in the hardware modular world):

I really like this way of working, in that it lets you focus on the modular environment instead of juggling tools. I actually hope we’ll see a Fundamental module for the task in the future. Rack’s modular ecosystem changes fast, so if you find other useful recorders, let us know.

https://vcvrack.com/

Previously:

Step one: How to start using VCV Rack, the free modular software

How to make the free VCV Rack modular work with Ableton Link

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This free Ableton Live device makes images into wavetables

It’s the season of the wavetable – again. With Ableton Live 10.1 on the horizon and its free Wavetable device, we’ve got yet another free Max for Live device for making sound materials – and this time, you can make your wavetables from images.

Let’s catch you up first.

Ableton Live 10.1 will bring Wavetable as a new instrument to Standard and Suite editions – arguably one of the bigger native synth editions to Live in its history, ranking with the likes of Operator. And sure, as when Operator came out, you already have plug-ins that do the same; Ableton’s pitch is as always their unique approach to UI (love it or hate it), and integration with the host, and … having it right in the box:

Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

Earlier this week, we saw one free device that makes wavetables for you, built as a Max for Live device. (Odds are anyone able to run this will have a copy of Live with Wavetable in it, since it targets 10.1, but it also exports to other tools). Wave Weld focuses on dialing in the sounds you need and spitting out precise, algorithmic results:

Generate wavetables for free, for Ableton Live 10.1 and other synths

One thing Wave Weld cannot do, however, is make a wavetable out of a picture of a cat.

For that, you want Image2Wavetable. The name says it all: it generates wavetable samples from image data.

This means if you’re handy with graphics software, or graphics code like Processing, you can also make visual patterns that generate interesting wavetables. It reminds me of my happy hours and hours spent using U+I Software’s ground-breaking MetaSynth, which employs some similar concepts to build an entire sound laboratory around graphic tools. (It’s still worth a spin today if you’ve got a Mac; among other things, it is evidently responsible for those sweeping digital sounds in the original Matrix film, I’m told.)

Image2Wavetable is new, the creation of Dillon Bastan and Carlo Cattano – and there are some rough edges, so be patient and it sounds like they’re ready to hear some feedback on how it works.

But the workflow is really simple: drag and drop image, drag and drop resulting wavetable into the Wavetable instrument.

Okay, I suspect I know what I’m doing for the rest of the night.

Image2Wavetable Device [maxforlive.com]

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Generate wavetables for free, for Ableton Live 10.1 and other synths

Wavetables are capable of a vast array of sounds. But just dumping arbitrary audio content into a wavetable is unlikely to get the results you want. And that’s why Wave Weld looks invaluable: it makes it easy to generate useful wavetables, in an add-on that’s free for Max for Live.

Ableton Live users are going to want their own wavetable maker very soon. Live 10.1 will add Wavetable, a new synth based on the technique. See our previous preview:

Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

Live 10.1 is in public beta now, and will be free to all Live 10 users soon.

So long as you have Max for Live to run it, Wave Weld will be useful to other synths, as well – including the developer’s own Wave Junction.

Because wavetables are periodic by their very nature, it’s more likely helpful to generate content algorithmically than just dump sample content of your own. (Nothing against the latter – it’s definitely fun – but you may soon find yourself limited by the results.)

Wave Wend handles generating those materials for you, as well as exporting them in the format you need.

1. Make the wavetable: use waveshaping controls to dial in the sound materials you want.

2. Build up a library: adapt existing content or collect your own custom creations.

3. Export in the format you need: adjusting the size les you support Live 10.1’s own device or other hardware and plug-ins.

The waveshaping features are really the cool part:

Unique waveshaping controls to generate custom wavetables
Sine waveshape phase shift and curve shape controls
Additive style synthesis via choice of twenty four sine waveshape harmonics for both positive and negative phase angles
Saw waveshape curve sharpen and partial controls
Pulse waveshape width, phase shift, curve smooth and curve sharpen controls
Triangle waveshape phase shift, curve smooth and curve sharpen controls
Random waveshape quantization, curve smooth and thinning controls

Wave Weld isn’t really intended as a synth, but one advantage of it being an M4L device is, you can easily preview sounds as you work.

More information on the developer’s site – http://metafunction.co.uk/wave-weld/

The download is free with a sign-up for their mailing list.

They’ve got a bunch of walkthrough videos to get you started, too:

Major kudos to Phelan Kane of Meta Function for this release. (Phelan is an Ableton Certified Trainer as well as a specialist in Reaktor and Maschine on the Native Instruments side, as well as London chairman for AES.)

I’m also interested in other ways to go about this – SuperCollider code, anyone?

Wavetable on!

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VCV Rack nears 1.0, new features, as software modular matures

VCV Rack, the open source platform for software modular, keeps blossoming. If what you were waiting for was more maturity and stability and integration, the current pipeline looks promising. Here’s a breakdown.

Even with other software modulars on the scene, Rack stands out. Its model is unique – build a free, open source platform, and then build the business on adding commercial modules, supporting both the platform maker (VCV) and third parties (the module makers). That has opened up some new possibilities: a mixed module ecosystem of free and paid stuff, support for ports of open source hardware to software (Music Thing Modular, Mutable Instruments), robust Linux support (which other Eurorack-emulation tools currently lack), and a particular community ethos.

Of course, the trade-off with Rack 0.xx is that the software has been fairly experimental. Versions 1.0 and 2.0 are now in the pipeline, though, and they promise a more refined interface, greater performance, a more stable roadmap, and more integration with conventional DAWs.

New for end users

VCV founder and lead developer Andrew Belt has been teasing out what’s coming in 1.0 (and 2.0) online.

Here’s an overview:

  • Polyphony, polyphonic cables, polyphonic MIDI support and MPE
  • Multithreading and hardware acceleration
  • Tooltips, manual data entry, and right-click menus to more information on modules
  • Virtual CV to MIDI and direct MIDI mapping
  • 2.0 version coming with fully-integrated DAW plug-in

More on that:

Polyphony and polyphonic cables. The big one – you can now use polyphonic modules and even polyphonic patching. Here’s an explanation:

https://community.vcvrack.com/t/how-polyphonic-cables-will-work-in-rack-v1/

New modules will help you manage this.

Polyphonic MIDI and MPE. Yep, native MPE support. We’ve seen this in some competing platforms, so great to see here.

Multithreading. Rack will now use multiple cores on your CPU more efficiently. There’s also a new DSP framework that adds CPU acceleration (which helps efficiency for polyphony, for example). (See the developer section below.)

Oversampling for better audio quality. Users can set higher settings in the engine to reduce aliasing.

Tooltips and manual value entry. Get more feedback from the UI and precise control. You can also right-click to open other stuff – links to developer’s website, manual (yes!), source code (for those that have it readily available), or factory presets.

Core CV-MIDI. Send virtual CV to outboard gear as MIDI CC, gate, note data. This also integrates with the new polyphonic features. But even better –

Map MIDI directly. The MIDI map module lets you map parameters without having to patch through another module. A lot of software has been pretty literal with the modular metaphor, so this is a welcome change.

And that’s just what’s been announced. 1.0 is imminent, in the coming months, but 2.0 is coming, as well…

Rack 2.0 and VCV for DAWs. After 1.0, 2.0 isn’t far behind. “Shortly after” 2.0 is released, a DAW plug-in will be launched as a paid add-on, with support for “multiple instances, DAW automation with parameter labels, offline rendering, MIDI input, DAW transport, and multi-channel audio.”

These plans aren’t totally set yet, but a price around a hundred bucks and multiple ins and outs are also planned. (Multiple I/O also means some interesting integrations will be possible with Eurorack or other analog systems, for software/hardware hybrids.)

VCV Bridge is already deprecated, and will be removed from Rack 2.0. Bridge was effectively a stopgap for allowing crude audio and MIDI integration with DAWs. The planned plug-in sounds more like what users want.

Rack 2.0 itself will still be free and open source software, under the same license. The good thing about the plug-in is, it’s another way to support VCV’s work and pay the bills for the developer.

New for developers

Rack v1 is under a BSD license – proper free and open source software. There’s even a mission statement that deals with this.

Rack v1 will bring a new, stabilized API – meaning you will need to do some work to port your modules. It’s not a difficult process, though – and I think part of Rack’s appeal is the friendly API and SDK from VCV.

https://vcvrack.com/manual/Migrate1.html

You’ll also be able to take advantage of an SSE wrapper (simd.hpp) to take advantage of accelerated code on desktop CPUs, without hard coding manual calls to hardware that could break your plug-ins in the future. This also theoretically opens up future support for other platforms – like NEON or AVX acceleration. (It does seem like ARM platforms are the future, after all.)

Plus check this port for adding polyphony to your stuff.

And in other Rack news…

Also worth mentioning:

While the Facebook group is still active and a place where a lot of people share work, there’s a new dedicated forum. That does things Facebook doesn’t allow, like efficient search, structured sections in chronological order so it’s easy to find answers, and generally not being part of a giant, evil, destructive platform.

https://community.vcvrack.com/

It’s powered by open source forum software Discourse.

For a bunch of newly free add-ons, check out the wonder XFX stuff (I paid for at least one of these, and would do again if they add more commercial stuff):

http://blamsoft.com/vcv-rack/

Vult is a favorite of mine, and there’s a great review this week, with 79 demo patches too:

There’s also a new version of Mutable Instruments Tides, Tidal Modular 2, available in the Audible Instruments Preview add-on – and 80% of your money goes to charity.

https://vcvrack.com/AudibleInstruments.html#preview

And oh yeah, remember that in the fall Rack already added support for hosting VST plugins, with VST Host. It will even work inside the forthcoming plugin, so you can host plugins inside a plugin.

https://vcvrack.com/Host.html

Here it is with the awesome d16 stuff, another of my addictions:

Great stuff. I’m looking forward to some quality patching time.

http://vcvrack.com/

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Bitwig Studio is about to deliver on a fully modular core in a DAW

Bitwig Studio may have started in the shadow of Ableton, but one of its initial promises was building a DAW that was modular from the ground up. Bitwig Studio 3 is poised to finally deliver on that promise, with “The Grid.”

Having a truly modular system inside a DAW offers some tantalizing possibilities. It means, in theory at least, you can construct whatever you want from basic building blocks. And in the very opposite of today’s age of presets, that could make your music tool feel more your own.

Oh yeah, and if there is such an engine inside your DAW, you can also count on other people building a bunch of stuff you can reuse.

Why modulaity? It doesn’t have to just be about tinkering (though that can be fun for a lot of people).

A modular setup is the very opposite of a preset mentality for music production. Experienced users of these environments (software especially, since it’s open-ended) do often find that patching exactly what they need can be more creative and inspirational. It can even save time versus the effort spent trying to whittle away at a big, monolithic tool just go get to the bit you actually want. But the traditional environments for modular development are fairly unfriendly to new users – that’s why very often people’s first encounters with Max/MSP, SuperCollider, Pd, Reaktor, and the like is in a college course. (And not everyone has access to those.) Here, you get a toolset that could prove more manageable. And then once you have a patch you like, you can still interconnect premade devices – and you can work with clips and linear arrangement to actually finish songs. With the other tools, that often means coding out the structure of your song or trying to link up to a different piece of software.

We’ve seen other DAWs go modular in different ways. There’s Apple Logic’s now mostly rarely-used Environment. There’s Reason with its rich, patchable rack and devices. There’s Sensomusic Usine, which is a fully modular DAW / audio environment, and DMX lighting and video tool – perhaps the most modular of these (even relative to Bitwig Studio and The Grid). And of course there’s Ableton Live with Max for Live, though that’s really a different animal – it’s a full patching development environment that runs inside Live via a runtime, and API and interface hooks that allow you to access its devices. The upside: Max for Live can do just about everything. The downside: it’s mostly foreign to Ableton Live (as it’s a different piece of software with its own history), and it could be too deep for someone just wanting to build an effect or instrument.

So, enter The Grid. This is really the first time a relatively conventional DAW has gotten its own, native modular environment that can build instruments and effects. And it looks like it could be accomplished in a way that feels comfortable to existing users. You get a toolset for patching your own stuff inside the DAW, and you can even mix and match signal to outboard hardware modular if that’s your thing.

And it really focuses on sound applications, too, with three devices. One is dedicated to monophonic synths, one to polyphonic synths, and one to effects.

From there, you get a fully modular setup with a modern-looking UI and 120+ modules to choose from.

They’ve done a whole lot to ease the learning curve normally associated with these environments – smoothing out some of the wrinkles that usually baffle beginners:

You can patch anything to anything, in to out. All signals are interchangeable – connect any out to any in. Most other software environments don’t work that way, which can mean a steeper learning curve. (We’ll have to see how this works in practice inside The Grid).

Any in can go to any out – reducing some of the complexity of other patching environments (software and hardware alike).

Everything’s stereo. Here’s another way of reducing complexity. Normally, you have to duplicate signals to get stereo, which can be confusing for beginners. Here, every audio cable and every control cable routes stereo.

Everything’s also in living stereo, reducing cable count and cognitive effort.

There are default patchings. Funny enough, this idea has actually been seen on hardware – there are default routings so modules automatically wire themselves if you want, via what Bitwig calls “pre-cords.” That means if you’re new to the environment, you can always plug stuff in.

They’ve also promised to make phase easier to understand, which should open up creative use of time and modulation to those who may have been intimidated by these concepts before.

“Pre-cords” mean you can easily add default patchings to get stuff working straight away.

What fun is a modular tool if you can’t explore phase? Bitwig say they’ve made this concept more accessible to modulation and easier to learn.

There’s also a big advantage to this being native to the environment – again, something you could only really say about Sensomusic Usine before now (at least as far as things that could double as DAWs).

This unlocks:

  • Nesting and layering devices alongside other Bitwig devices
  • Full support from the Open Controller API. (Wow, this is a pain the moment you put something like Reaktor into another host, too.)
  • Route modulation out of your stuff from The Grid into other Bitwig devices.
  • Complete hardware modular integration – yeah, you can mix your software with hardware as if they’re one environment. Bitwig says they’ve included “dedicated grid modules for sending any control, trigger, or pitch signal as CV Out and receiving any CV In.”

I’ve been waiting for this basically since the beginning. This is an unprecedented level of integration, where every device you see in Bitwig Studio is already based on this modular environment. Bitwig had even touted that early on, but I think they were far overzealous with letting people know about their plans. It unsurprisingly took a while to make that interface user friendly, which is why it’ll be a pleasure to try this now and see how they’ve done. But Bitwig tells us this is in fact the same engine – and that the interface “melds our twin focus on modularity and swift workflows.”

There’s also a significant dedication to signal fidelity. There’s 4X oversampling throughout. That should generally sound better, but it also has implications for control and modularity. And it’ll make modulation more powerful in synthesis, Bitwig tells CDM:

With phase, sync, and pitch inputs on most every oscillator, there are many opportunities here for complex setups. Providing this additional bandwidth keeps most any patch or experiment from audible aliasing. As an open system, this type of optimization works for the most cases without overtaxing processors.

It’s stereo only, which puts it behind some of the multichannel capabilities of Reaktor, Max, SuperCollider, and others – Max/MSP especially given its recent developments. But that could see some growth in a later release, Bitwig hints. For now, I think stereo will keep us plenty busy.

They’ve also been busy optimizing, Bitwig tells us:

This is something we worked a lot on in early development, particularly optimizing performance on the oversampled, stereo paths to align with the vector units of desktop processors. In addition, the modules are compiled at runtime for the best performance on the particular CPU in use.

That’s a big deal. I’m also excited about using this on Linux – where, by the way, you can really easily use JACK to integrate other environments like SuperCollider or live coding tools.

If you’re at NAMM, Bitwig will show The Grid as part of Bitwig Studio 3. They have a release coming in the second quarter, but we’ll sit down with them here in Berlin for a detailed closer look (minus NAMM noise in the background or jetlag)!

Oh yeah, and if you’ve got the Upgrade Plan, it’s free.

This is really about making a fully modular DAW – as opposed to the fixed multitrack tape/mixer models of the past. Bitwig have even written up an article about how they see modularity and how it’s evolved over various release versions:

BEHIND THE SCENES: MODULARITY IN BITWIG STUDIO

More on Bitwig Studio 3:

https://www.bitwig.com/en/19/bitwig-studio-3

Obligatory:

Oh yeah, also Tron: Legacy seems like a better movie with French subtitles…

That last line fits: “And the world was more beautiful than I ever dreamed – and also more dangerous … hop in bed now, come on.”

Yeah, personal life / sleep … in trouble.

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FamilyTool expands Moog, other semi-modulars with more patching

Moog’s DFAM and Mother-32 have attracted their own dedicated following. Now a Kickstarter project aims to expand patching flexibility on the Moog and other semi-modulars – so you won’t outgrow them.

There are two product ideas in the FamilyTool line. One is a unit for adding multis and splits, which extends patching on semi-modulars like the Mother-32. (There’s no multi, which would let you duplicate a signal.) A second product is a case with internal power for making a little “baby” modular – without having to make the leap into Eurorack. (The latter could get more expensive and means more to lug around. Arturia also recently showed small cases with this idea.)

The product looks really nice, and gets hand-assembled in Munich. One interesting twist: they say they’re only marketing this on Kickstarter, so there won’t be any units for sale after that.

Specs:

The MULT-OR-SWITCH is all about giving you more patching flexibility for more elaborate patches.

MULT-OR-SWITCH Module

6 A/B switches for up to six switchable routings
2 of which are OR-logic mixers
No external power source needed*
Passive MULT (1:4 or 2×1:2)
Patching fun with 24 I/Os

And the case is perfect for, say, a DFAM owner who wishes they also had just the awesome Mutable Instruments Clouds to play with (which, seriously, is possible):

powered UNCPROP Case

Fits eurorack modules up to 20hp and 35mm depth (e.g. Clouds and MATHS)
Perfectly fits DFAM/Mother-32 and
Is a great addition to any other semi-modular synth
For heavy users & beginners
internal PSU
works as a 20hp standalone eurorack case/effects unit
Handcrafted wooden panels (walnut)

Pricing starts at EUR199 depending on which round you’re in.

Maybe the coolest option: you can spring for a workshop and dinner with the makers in Munich.

Or you can get a scarf, which sounds appealing to me.

FamilyTool – a versatile modular synthesizer extension

Previously:

Arturia’s new easy, affordable modular cases also mount to MiniBrute 2

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More surprise in your sequences, with ESQ for Ableton Live

With interfaces that look lifted from a Romulan warbird and esoteric instruments, effects, and sequencers, K-Devices have been spawning surprising outcomes in Ableton Live for some time now. ESQ is the culmination of that: a cure for preset sounds and ideas in a single device.

You likely know the problem already: all of the tools in software like Ableton Live that make it easy to quickly generate sounds and patterns also tend to do so in a way that’s … always the same. So instead of being inspiring, you can quickly feel stuck in a rut.

ESQ is a probability-based sequencer with parameters, so you adjust a few controls to generate a wide variety of possibilities – velocity, chance, and relative delay for each step. You can create polyrhythms (multiple tracks of the same length, but different steps), or different-length tracks, you can copy and paste, and there are various random functions to keep things fresh. The results are still somehow yours – maybe even more so – it’s just that you use probability and generative rules to get you to what you want when you aren’t sure how to describe what you want. Or maybe before you knew you wanted it.

Because you can trigger up to 12 notes, you can use ESQ to turn bland presets into something unexpected (like working with preset Live patches). Or you can use it as a sequencer with all those fun modular toys we’ve been talking about lately (VCV Rack, Softube Modular, Cherry Audio Voltage Modular, and so on) – because 5- and 8-step sequencers are often just dull.

There’s no sound produced by ESQ – it’s just a sequencer – but it can have a big enough impact on devices that this “audio” demo is just one instance of ESQ and one Drum Rack. Even those vanilla kits start to get more interesting.

K-Devices has been working this way for a while, but ESQ feels like a breakthrough. The generative sequence tools are uniquely complete and especially powerful for producing rhythms. You can make this sound crazy and random and IDM-y, but you can also add complexity without heading into deep space – it’s really up to you.

And they’ve cleverly made two screens – one full parameter screen that gets deep and detailed, but a compact device screen that lets you shift everything with single gestures or adjust everything as macros – ideal for live performance or for making bigger changes.

It seems like a good wildcard to keep at your disposal … for any of those moments when you’re getting stuck and boring.

And yes, of course Richard Devine already has it:

But you can certainly make things unlike Devine, too, if you want.

Right now ESQ is on sale, 40% off through December 31 – €29 instead of 49. So it can be your last buy of 2018.

Have fun, send sequences!

https://k-devices.com/products/esq/

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Ethereal, enchanting Winter Solstice drone album, made in VCV Rack

It’s the shortest day of the year and first astronomical day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Don’t fight it. Embrace all that darkness – with this transcendent album full of drones, made in the free VCV Rack modular platform.

And really, what better way to celebrate modular than with expansive drones? Leave the on-the-grid “mad beats” and EDM wavetable presets to commercial tools. Enjoy as each modular patch achingly, slowly shifts, like a frost across a snowbank. Or something like that.

These aren’t just any drones. The compilation, for its part, is absolutely gorgeous, start to finish. It’s the work of ablaut, a Dutch-born, Suzhou-based artist living in China, with a winter wonderland worth of lush sonic shapes to send a chill up your spine. And everything came from the active VCV Rack community, where users of the open source modular platform have been avidly sharing patches and music alongside.

There’s terrific attention to detail. The group were inspired by the work of composers like La Monte Young, and … this is no lazy “pad through some reverb” work here. It’s utterly otherworldly:

We’ll hopefully take a look at some of these patches soon. If you’ve got ambient Rack creations of your own and missed out on the collaboration, we’d love to hear those, too.

The album is pay-what-you-will.

https://ablaut.bandcamp.com/album/winter-solstice-drone

https://vcvrack.com/

VCV Rack Official Facebook group

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Hands-on: Complex-1 puts West Coast-inspired modular in Reason

Propellerhead has unveiled a modular instrument add-on for Reason, Complex-1. It puts a patchable, West Coast-inspired synth inside the already patchable Reason environment – and it sounds fabulous.

Complex-1 is a monophonic modular synth delivered as a Rack Extension, available now. What you get is a selection of modules, with a combination of Buchla- and Moog-inspired synths, and some twists from Propellerhead. You can patch these right on the front panel – not the back panel as you normally would in Reason – and combine the results with your existing Reason rack. The ensemble is very West Coast-ish, as in Buchla-inspired, but also with some unique character of its own and modern twists and amenities you would expect now.

Propellerhead have also a lot of design decisions that allow you to easily patch anything to anything, which is great for happy mistakes and unusual sounds – for beginners or advanced users alike. The three oscillators each have ranges large enough to act as modulation sources, and to tune paraphonic setups if you so wish.

Prepare to get lost in this: the recent Quad Note Generator is a perfect pairing with Complex-1.

What’s inside:
Complex Osc This is the most directly Buchla-like module – subsonic to ultrasonic range, FM & AM, and lots of choices for shaping its dual oscillators.

Noise source, OSC 3 Noise sources including red, plus an additional oscillator (OSC 3) with a range large enough to double as a modulation source.

Comb delay If the Complex Osc didn’t get you, the comb delay should – you can use this for string models by tuning the delay with feedback, as well as all the usual comb delay business.

Filter Here’s the East Coast ingredient – a Moog-style ladder filter with drive, plus both high pass and low pass outputs you can use simultaneously.

Low Pass Gates Two LPGs (envelope + filter you can trigger) give you more West Coast-style options, including envelope follower functions.

Shaper Distortion, wavefolding, and whatnot.

More modules: LFO, ADSR envelope, output mixer, plus a really handy Mix unit, Lag, Scale & amp, Clock & LFO + Clock 2. There’s also a useful oscilloscope.

Sequencer plus Quant: You can easily use step sequencers from around Reason, but there’s also a step sequencer in Complex-1 itself, useful for storing integrated patches. Quant also lets you tune to a range of scales.

Function: A lot of the hidden power of Complex-1 is here – there’s a function module with various algorithms.

Yes, you can make complex patches with Complex-1.

The dual advantages of Complex-1: one, it’s an integrated instrument all its own, but two, it can live inside the existing Reason environment.

I’ve had my hands on Complex-1 since I visited Propellerhead HQ last week and walked through a late build last week. Full disclosure: I was not immediately convinced this was something I needed personally. The thing is, we’re spoiled for choice, and software lovers are budget-minded. So while a hundred bucks barely buys you one module in the hardware world, in software, it buys a heck of a lot. That’s the entry price for Softube Modular, for VCV Rack and a couple of nice add-ons, and for Cherry Audio’s Voltage Modular (at least at its current sale price, with a big bundle of extras).

Not to mention, Reason itself is a modular environment.

But there are a few things that make Complex-1 really special.

It’s a complete, integrated modular rig. This is important – VCV Rack, Softube Modular, Voltage Modular, and Reason itself are all fun because you can mix and match modules.

But it’s creatively inspiring to work with Complex-1 for the opposite reason. You have a fixed selection of modules, with some basic workflows already in mind. It immediately takes me back to the first vintage Buchla system I worked on for that reason. You still have expansive possibilities, but within something that feels like an instrument – modular patching, but not the added step of choosing which modules. The team at Propellerhead talked about their admiration for the Buchla Music Easel. This isn’t an emulation of that – Arturia have a nice Music Easel in software if that’s what you want – but rather takes that same feeling of focusing on a toolkit and provides a modern, Propellerhead-style take on the concept.

It sounds fantastic. This one’s hard to overstate, so it’s better to just go give the trial a spin. In terms of specs, Propellerhead points to their own DSP and 4X oversampling everywhere. In practice, it means even just a stupidly-simple patch with raw oscillators sounds gorgeous and lush. I love digital sounds and aliasing and so on, but… it’s nice to have this end of the spectrum, too. You get a weird, uncanny feeling of lying in bed with a laptop and some studio headphones and hearing your own music as if it’s a long-lost 1970s electronic classic. It’s almost too easy to sound good. Tell your friends you’ll see them in the spring because for now you want to spend some time along pretending you’re Laurie Spiegel.

It lives inside Reason. The other reality is, it’s really fun having this inside Reason, where you can combine your patches into Combinators and work with all the other pattern sequencers and effects and whatnot. You can also make elaborate polysynths by stacking instances of Complex-1.

There’s basic CV and audio interconnectivity with your rack. This may look meager at first, but I found this in addition to the Combinator opens a lot of possibilities, especially for playing live/improvising.

You get loads of presets, of course, which will appeal to those not wanting to get lost in patching. But I also welcome that Propellerhead included a set of basic templates as starting points for those who do want to explore.

Patching is also really easy, though I miss being able to re-patch from both sides of a cable as in a lot of software modulars. Better is the hide/unhide cables functionality, so you can make the patch cables disappear for easier control of the front panel. (Why don’t all software modulars have this feature, actually?)

You don’t get unlimited patchability between Complex-1 and the rest of Reason. For simplicity, you’re limited to note/MIDI input (from other devices as well as externally), basic CV input and output, and input to the sequencer. There’s also a very useful audio input. That may disappoint some people who wanted more options, though it still provides a lot of power.

Mostly I want to buy a really big touch display for Windows and use that. And with this kind of software out there, I may not be looking at hardware so much. I even expect to use this live.

Some sounds for you (while I work on sharing some of my own):

Complex-1 Rack Extension

Complex-1 in the shop

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TUNNELS imagines Eurorack if you could multiply and patch anywhere

Kids today. First, they want synth modules with the power of computers but the faceplate of vintage hardware – and get just that. Next, they take for granted the flexibility of patching that virtual systems in software have. Well, enter TUNNELS: “infinite multiple” for your Eurorack.

TUNNELS is a set of modules that doesn’t do anything on its own. It’s just a clever patch bay for your modular system. But with the IN and OUT modules, what you get is the ability to duplicate signals (so a signal from one patch cord can go multiple places), and then route signals anywhere you like.

“Infinite” is maybe a bit hyperbolic. (Well, I suppose what you might do with this is potentially, uh, infinite.) It’s really a bus for signals. And maybe not surprisingly, this freer, ‘virtual’ way of thinking about signal comes from people with some software background on one side, and the more flexible Buchla patching methodology on the other. TUNNELS is being launched by Olympia Modular, a collaboration between Patterning developer Ben Kamen and Buchla Development Engineer Charles Seeholzer.

There are two module types. TUNNEL IN just takes a signal and duplicates it to multiple outs. In signal to out signal, that’s 1:6, 2:3 (each signal gets three duplicates, for two signals), or 3:2 (each signal gets two duplicates, for three signals).

You might be fine with just IN, but you can also add one or more OUT modules. That connects via a signal link cable, but duplicates the outputs from the IN module. (Cool!) So as you add more OUT modules, this can get a lot fancier, if you so desire. It means some patches that were impossible before become possible, and other patches that were messy tangles of spaghetti become clean and efficient.

Actually, I’m comparing to software (think Reaktor, Pd, Max), but even some dataflow software could use some utility modules like this just to clean things up. (Most dataflow software does let you connect as many outputs from a patch point as you want. Code environments like SuperCollider also make it really easy to work with virtual ‘buses’ for signal… but then hardware has the advantage of making the results visible.)

Tunnels is on Kickstarter, with a module for as little as US$75 (limited supply). But, come on, spring for the t-shirt, right?

Specs:
TUNNEL IN: buffered multiple, duplicate input across multiple outputs
TUNNEL OUT: add additional outputs at another location – chain infinitely for massive multiple banks, or use as sends for signals like clock and 1v/oct

Add more OUTs, and you get a big bank of multiples.

I’d say it’s like send and receive objects in Max/Pd, but… that’ll only make sense to Max/Pd people, huh? But yeah, like that.

On Kickstarter:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/639167978/tunnels-infinite-multiple-for-eurorack-synthesizer

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