Max 8 – and by extension the latest Max for Live – offers some serious powers to build your own sonic and visual stuff. So let’s tune in some videos to learn more.
The major revolution in Max 8 – and a reason to look again at Max even if you’ve lapsed for some years – is really MC. It’s “multichannel,” so it has significance in things like multichannel speaker arrays and spatial audio. But even that doesn’t do it justice. By transforming the architecture of how Max treats multiple, well, things, you get a freedom in sketching new sonic and instrumental ideas that’s unprecedented in almost any environment. (SuperCollider’s bus and instance system is capable of some feats, for example, but it isn’t as broad or intuitive as this.)
The best way to have a look at that is via a video from Ableton Loop, where the creators of the tech talk through how it works and why it’s significant.
In this presentation, Cycling ’74’s CEO and founder David Zicarelli and Content Specialist Tom Hall introduce us to MC – a new multi-channel audio programming system in Max 8.
MC unlocks immense sonic complexity with simple patching. David and Tom demonstrate techniques for generating rich and interesting soundscapes that they discovered during MC’s development. The video presentation touches on the psychoacoustics behind our recognition of multiple sources in an audio stream, and demonstrates how to use these insights in both musical and sound design work.
The patches aren’t all ready for download (hmm, some cleanup work being done?), but watch this space.
If that’s got you in the learning mood, there are now a number of great video tutorials up for Max 8 to get you started. (That said, I also recommend the newly expanded documentation in Max 8 for more at-your-own-pace learning, though this is nice for some feature highlights.)
dude837 has an aptly-titled “delicious” tutorial series covering both musical and visual techniques – and the dude abides, skipping directly to the coolest sound stuff and best eye candy.
Yes to all of these:
There’s a more step-by-step set of tutorials by dearjohnreed (including the basics of installation, so really hand-holding from step one):
Suffice to say that also could mean some interesting creations running inside Ableton Live.
It’s not a tutorial, but on the visual side, Vizzie is also a major breakthrough in the software:
That’s a lot of looking at screens, so let’s close out with some musical inspiration – and a reminder of why doing this learning can pay off later. Here’s Second Woman, favorite of mine, at LA’s excellent Bl__K Noise series:
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.
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):
That’s worth keeping around, too, since it can also mix and monitor your output. (No Linux version, though.)
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.
It’s not about which gear you own any more – it’s about understanding techniques. That’s especially true when a complete modular rig in software runs you roughly the cost of a single hardware module. All that remains is learning – so let’s get going, with Softube Modular as an example.
David Abravanel joins us to walk us through technique here using Softube’s Modular platform, all with built-in modules. If you missed the last sale, by the way, Modular is on sale now for US$65, as are a number of the add-on modules that might draw you into their platform in the first place. But if you have other hardware or software, of course, this same approach applies. -Ed.
Classic Style Polyphony with Softube Modular
If you’ve ever played an original Korg Mono/Poly synthesizer, then you know why it’s so prized for its polyphonic character. Compared to fully polyphonic offerings (such as Korg’s own Polysix synthesizer), the Mono/Poly features four analog oscillators which can either be played stacked (monophonic), or triggered in order for “polyphony” (though still with just the one filter).
The original KORG classic Mono/Poly synth, introduced in 1981.
The resulting sound is richly imperfect – each time a chord is played, the minute difference in timing between individual fingers affect a difference in sound.
The cool thing is – we can easily re-create this in the Softube Modular environment, using the unique “Quad MIDI to CV” interface module. Follow along:
Our chord progression.
To start with, I need a reason for having four voices. In this case, it’s the simple chord sequence above. In order to play those notes simultaneously using Modular, I’ll need a dedicated oscillator for each. Each virtual voice will consist of one oscillator, ADSR envelope, and VCA amplifier. Here’s the basic setup – the VCO / ADSR / VCA modules will be repeated three more times to give us four voices:
Wiring up the first oscillator.
For the first oscillator, I’ve selected a pulse wave – go with whichever sounds you’d like to hear (things sound especially nice with multiple waveforms stacked on top of one another). With all four voices, the patch should look like this:
Note that each voice has its own dedicated note and gate channels from the Quad MIDI to CV. Now, we need to combine the voices – for this, we’ll use the Audio Mix module. I’m also adding a VCF filter, with its own ADSR. Because the filter needs to be triggered every time any note is input, I’m going to add a single MIDI to CV module to gate the filter envelope. It all looks like this:
Now, let’s hear what we’ve got:
That’s not bad, but we can spice it up a little bit. I went with two pulse waves, a saw wave, and a tri wave for my four oscillators – I’ll add a couple LFOs to modulate the pulsewidths of the two pulse waves and add some thickness. For extra dubby space, I’m also adding the Doepfer BBD module, a recent addition to Softube Modular which includes a toggle option for the clock noise bleed-through of the analog original. I’m also adding one more LFO, for a bit of modulation on the filter.
Adding in some additional modules for flavor. The Doepfer BBD (an add-on for the Softube Modular) adds unique retro delays and other effects, including bitcrushing, distortion, and lots of other chorusing, flanging, ambience, and general swirly crunchy stuff.
Honestly, the characterful BBD module deserves its own article – and may get one! Stay tuned.
Here’s our progression, really moving and spacey now:
And there we have it! A polyphonic patch with serious analog character. You can also try playing monophonic melodies through it – in Quad MIDI to CV’s “rotate” mode, each incoming note will go to a different oscillator.
Want to try this out for yourself? Download the preset and run it in Modular (requires Modular and the BBD add-on, both of which you can demo from Softube).
We’re just scratching the surface with Modular here – there’s an enormous well of potential, and they’ve really nailed the sound of many of these modules. Modular is a CPU-hungry beast – don’t try to run more than one or two instances of a rich patch like this one without freezing some tracks – but sound-wise it’s really proved its worth.
Stay tuned for future features, as we dive into some of Modulars other possibilities, including the vast potential found in the first ever model of Buchla’s legendary Twisted Waveform oscillator!
You wouldn’t make music with just simple oscillators, so why only use basic, repetitive modulation? In the latest video in Bastl’s how-to series hosted by Patchení’s Nikol, waveshaping gets applied to control signals.
But when most people hear waveshapers, they think of them just as a fancy oscillator – as a sound source. But in the modular world, you can also imagine it as a way of adding harmonics (read: complexity) to simple control signals, which is what Nikol demonstrates here.
That is, instead of Waveshaper -> out, you’ll route [modulation/control signal/LFO] -> Waveshaper in, and mess with that signal. WahWahWahWah can turn into WahwrrEEEEkittyglrblMrcbb… ok, okay, video:
Keep watching, because this eventually gets into adding variation to a sequenced signal.
You can try this in any software or hardware environment, but you do need your waveshaper to work with your control input. What’s relatively special about Timber in the hardware domain at least is its ability to process slow circuits.
I know a lot of the folks at Novation on a personal level well enough to say – they’re synth lovers, day job and after hours. What’s great about their latest video series is, some of that comes out.
Of course, yesterday we saw at least one user really hacking a Novation product, the Launchpad Pro, by modding the hardware using a firmware release from the company. And as one frustrated developer shouted at us in comments, that requires a bit of effort. (Not so much for you – you can download a file and use this easily – but modifying real-time firmware of hardware takes some practice!)
This isn’t quite that. These “hacks” have more to do with creatively abusing some features to push the hardware synths to the limit – Circuit, Circuit Mono Station, and Peak. The Circuit in particular has a user community that proved surprisingly advanced, squeezing everything they can out of this budget-priced hardware. But lately the more recent Mono Station and Peak are finding an equally devoted following.
Here’s the whole playlist, which covers sound design techniques (like oscillator sync – okay, that’s more a conventional technique than a ‘hack’), approaches to performance (patch change), working with clock and CV, and other features.
This raises a question, though – these are recent Novation products, so it’s pretty easy to get the manufacturer to do some hot tips.
But which instruments would you like to see covered – new or old – and in what way? What’s missing in tutorials? Let us know in comments. (I realize I just self-selected the answers to that with people who own these Novation synths, so I’ll keep asking this … but also curious what other stuff you Novation lovers own, too!)
Czech builder Bastl Instruments are working simultaneously in modular and desktop instruments. But it’s not about choosing one or the other – it’s getting inspired to play musically, either way.
So Patchení s Nikol is back, with Nikol to show you some serious patching techniques. And yes, of course, this is a nice showcase of Bastl’s own skiff of modules. But it’s also a nice example of what you can do with modulated envelopes – adding modulation to an amplitude envelope to give it a more complicated shape than just attack and release and so on. You could certainly apply this to other modular environments.
Actually, one of my favorite modules Bastl have put out lately is this one: Hendrikson is designed just to make it easier to add stomp box and external effects to your modular rig. It gives you easy-access jacks for patching in your pedal or pedal chain, some handy knobs, and all-important wet/dry mix. Plus, you can patch control into that wet/dry to automate wet dry controls with your modular if you like.
Speaking of economizing, how about that Zoom MultiStomp you see in the middle of the video? It’s got a whole massive list of different effects, all of which you control, and a street price of around $100 right now.
Vaclav I believe turned me on to that Zoom. And now switching to the desktop hardware they make, here’s a personal testimonial about how much he’s appreciating their THYME looper – seen here played live and with some destructive looping.
Vaclav tells us: “I have been playing the THYME for quite a while and has a certain instrumental quality that is quite hard to master – as with any other instrument… it really became one of the most essential pieces of musical gear that I use all the time. I am really proud of it being a real instrument now and not just a dream that I had more than 3 years ago!”
I’m here in Moscow now for Synthposium where we’ll see Bastl at the Expo and in a talk on music gear business in the online age. Stay tuned.
Modular isn’t just about building synth sounds; it’s also about routing signal and mixing in a new way. So we welcome the return of Czech superstar Nikol Štrobach, who continues her mission to make modular accessible to beginners.
Nikol is juggling mom duties with modular – we’ve even seen her kid Lumír. And our patching professor, after a year and a half of video production, did have to take a parenting sabbatical. But she’s returned with a new set of advanced tips and tricks, say our friends at Bastl Instruments. And she’s even added English-language narration (though we rather enjoyed the Czech).
Next up, panning (ooh, stereo!):
And ducking (using amplifiers to have one signal control another):
Bastl tells us this is just the start – two episodes are finished and scheduled for the next couple of weeks, with more in production.
Remember when we were sold on everything being clean and digital? Now it’s just about grime and filth. But if you were wondering where to start with Novation’s cute, dirty Circuit Mono Station, they’ve got a series of hands-on videos to get you going.
Some back story: the Mono Station is the follow up to the first Circuit. Like the original, it’s a square-ish looking box with a colored grid as its center. But whereas the original Circuit concealed a digital polysynth and drum machine (with the ability to load your own samples), the Mono Station is all about analog synthesis. That means it also has additional controls, and unlike the mysterious macro encoders on the first Circuit, the Mono Station’s knobs and faders and bits actually have labels. So you can read a label with words on it, and you know, maybe have a better idea what you’re doing. Or you can just ignore that and give it a try anyway.
The “How to filth” series runs through a set of fairly practical ideas to get you going.
It’s really rather a nice way to get a manual. There’s no lengthy explanation, no theory – and no sitting through a really long tutorial. Just watch a few steps, and then see if you can copy more or less what they’ve done. That should help you dive straight in. And if you’re on the fence about the Circuit Mono Station, this gives you some stuff to go try if you’re borrowing a friend’s hardware or going to the shops.
Here’s the full series:
This is a great one for summer, too, as Circuit and Circuit Mono Station are nicely portable.
What do you think? Is this sort of thing useful to you? Would you want to see more / something different? Let us know; it’s great to get feedback from readers on what’s making you musically productive. And if you make some tunes with us, send us those, too!
Here’s our story on the instrument, at launch. Some time later, it’s still holding up at that price point – and it’s not a clone or throwback, either, but a totally new instrument, designed by some nice people in England. (I know – I’ve met them! And they’re musicians, as well, of course!)
SuperCollider? Lua? Huh? The latest creation from the makers of monome, norns, looks great. Here’s where to start learning the powerful sound engine underneath – which you can use on your PC or Mac right now, for free.
The growing power of gaming architectures for visuals has a side benefit: it can produce elaborate visuals without touching the CPU, which is busy on musicians’ machines dealing with sound.
But how do you go about exploring some of that power? The code language spoken natively by the GPU is a little frightening at first. Fortunately, you can actually have a play in a few minutes. It’s easy enough that I prepared this lightning tutorial:
I shared this with the #RazerMusic program as it’s in fact a good artistic application for laptops with gaming architectures – and it’s terrific having that NVIDIA GTX 1060 with 6 GB of memory. (This example can’t even begin to show that off, in fact.) These steps will work on the Mac, too, though.
I’m stealing a demo here. Isadora creator Mark Coniglio showed off his team’s GLSL support more or less like this when they unveiled the feature at the Isadora Werkstatt a couple of summers ago. But Isadora, while known among a handful of live visualists and people working with dance and theater tech, itself I think is underrated. And sure enough, this support makes the powers of GLSL friendly to non-programmers. You can grab some shader code and then modify parameters or combine with other effects, modular style, without delving into the code itself. Or if you are learning (or experienced, even) with GLSL, Isadora provides an uncommonly convenient environment to work with graphics-accelerated generative visuals and effects.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to the tool, Isadora has a full-functioning demo version so you can get this far – and look around and decide if buying a license is right for you. What I do like about it is, apart from some easy-to-use patching powers, Isadora’s scene-based architecture works well in live music, theater, dance, and other performance arts. (I still happily use it alongside stuff like Processing, Open Frameworks, and Touch Designer.)
There is a lot of possibility here. And if you dig around, you’ll see pretty radically different aesthetics are possible, too.
Here’s an experiment also using mods to the GLSL facility in Isadora, by Czech artist Gabriela Prochazka (as I jam on one of my tunes live).