Die beiden Synthesizer Peak und Summit hatten bisher schon Wavetables, jedoch keine die man selbst erstellen konnte. Jetzt aber – mit dem kostenlosen Wavetable-Editor.
Viele Hersteller bauen feste Wavetables in ihre Synthesizer, jedoch liefert kaum jemand einen Editor. Nicht einmal bei Waldorf, DEM Hersteller der für Wavetables bekannt ist ist alles schon immer und in jedem Gerät editierbar. Das macht Novation jetzt anders mit einer neuen kleinen Software.
Eigene Wavetables herstellen zu können bedeutet nicht automatisch auch, dass man die einzelnen Waves, also Schwingungsformen selbst bauen kann. Hier im Editor sieht man aber klar einen Waveform Editor, der per additiver Mischung und resultierender Single-Cycle-Welle. das ist exakt das Ur-Prinzip zur Herstellung von Waves im Waldorf Wave und Microwave inkl. der PPG-Vorgänger. Alles kann offenbar mit Namen versehen werden und dann in die Synthesizer eingeladen werden. Nicht ganz sicher ist, ob es Grenzen gibt und wie groß die sind und ob und wie Wavetables und Waves mit den Patches verbunden sind – ob sie mit ihnen gespeichert sind oder eher extern verwaltet wie bei den alten Waldorfs.
Sicher ist aber, dass das eine sehr große Aufwertung für Sounddesigner ist und sie kostet nichts. Wie schon länger bemerkt, scheint Novation sich sehr um Produktpflege zu bemühen.
Das Update gibt es kostenlos bei Novation in Form einer Website. Es ist vielmehr innerhalb der Novation Website ein „Online Editor“ und keine spezielle Software, die man laden muss oder soll. Deshalb kann man über den Browser das Gerät wählen und gelangt dann zu dem Editor.
Korg has released a series of videos, embedded above, that take an in-depth look at their new Wavestate synthesizer. Korg Product Specialist Nick Kwas introduces Wave Sequencing 2.0; creating and editing wave sequences; using probability; multisamples, layers and vector synthesis; modulation assignment; performance options and more.
Der Polyend Tracker wird morgen offiziell vorgestellt. Den NerdSeq gibt es schon sehr lange fürs Eurorack. Neu ist bei ihm die Form als Desktop-Gerät.
Der NerdSeq hat die gleiche Codebasis wie der Eurorack-Bruder. Er liefert 8 Spuren mit MIDI, Sampling und es gibt die Expander-Breakout-Box (NSA) mit 16 CVs und Trigger-Ausgängen. Ein Tracker arbeitet mit Zahlen und Reihen, die man heutzutage im laufenden Betrieb ändern kann. Die einzelnen Spuren haben ihr eigenes Timing und können Patterns wie „Clips“ in Ableton per Launchpad gestartet und gestoppt werden. Das gilt natürlich auch für Mute/Solo-Schaltungen.
Der Sampler kann auch aufnehmen und arbeitet polyphon und in 16 Bit Auflösung mit 150 Sekunden Sample-Zeit. Es gibt zudem 64 Wavetables.
MIDI bedeutet auch die Unterstützung von NRPNs, Controllern, Aftertouch und Programmwechsel-Befehlen.
Der Sequencer selbst bietet Probability, LFOs, Divider, Automation von allem, Quantisierung und was man sich sonst noch wünscht. Es gibt auch verschiedene Synthesemethoden. Es können 254 Sequencerreihen ablaufen und diese können in 254 Patternspeicher verfrachtet werden. 254 Patches für Sounds werden von 8 Automationsslots bedient. Sampling bietet 32 Slots. Alles wird auf MicroSD gespeichert und MIDI Spuren sind vierstimmig.
Der Portable-Nerdseq kommt im Sommer 2020 auf den Markt. Je nach dem, wie heftig Corona die Lieferung erschwert, kann es sich um diese Zeit verlängern. Xor bietet an, darauf zu warten oder Geld zurück.
Der klassische Eurorack-Nerdseq ist in drei Farben erhältlich und kostet 486,78€ ohne MwSt. Aktuell wird der Expander gleich mitgeliefert für den gleichen Preis. Der NSA kostet aktuell 139€ (ohne Steuer) und der Preis des Portable ist noch nicht genau bekannt, denn die Bestellungsphase läuft erst in Kürze an. Vermutlich wurde das Projekt jetzt bekannt gegeben, um zu sagen „ich war aber vor euch da, Polyend„. Das stimmt auch. Es gibt sie schon länger.
Zum Eurorack gibt es bereits ein Tutorial, welches weitgehend auch auf den Desktop zutreffen wird:
Jena kann irgendwie alles, Oszillator, Zufallsrhythmen bauen, Waveshaper, Phasenmodulation und noch einiges, weil es ein „Transformer“ ist!
Welches Modul kann das schon von sich behaupten? Selbst in der Eurorack-Welt ist das aufteilen von 256 digitalen Funktionen noch immer wirklich viel. Außerdem arbeitet es mit zwei anderen Modulen aus der Leipniz-Reihe zusammen. Dabei geht es um Wandlung und Binäre Funktionen, was einige vielleicht vom Clavia G2 kennen. Diese Wandler nutzt man dort für mehrere Zwecke.
Es gibt neben dem Mathematiker Leipniz aber noch die Walsh–Funktionen, die der Grund waren, weshalb dieses Modul gefunden werden konnte. Damit lassen sich vereinfacht gesagt sogar Fourier Transformationen erreichen und für dieses und jenes missbrauchen. Sie sind auch die Basis für Random-Musik.
Wem das zu kompliziert ist, kann aber einfach den: WavetableOszillator nutzen, den digitalen Waveshaper (das geht faktisch mit sehr vielen dieser Funktionen), eine Phasenmodulation herstellen (ähnlich wie FM) und bietet Thru-Zero-Funktionalität. Damit ist man bei der Kontrolle weiter vorn und macht diese „FM“ steuerbarer. Wem ein Drumpattern nicht einfallen will, kann sich mit diesem Modul eins bauen lassen und es ist auch möglich mehrere Sounds zu generieren, die IDM spielen wie in diesem Beispiel. Die LED-Gruppe zeigt faktisch jeweils einen Sound an, der angesteuert wird.
Xaoc bietet Jena für 250€ an. Es ist auch bereits lieferbar.
Sehr klein und sehr günstig sowie sehr teuer und schwer. Das sind die beiden Segmente, die Modal bisher beliefert haben. Jetzt kommt ein richtiger Mid-Range-Synthesizer mit Wavetable-Kern und acht Stimmen mit dem Namen Modal Argon8 (Argonate) auf den Markt.
Das Gehäuse ist aus Metall und der Kern der Synthese besteht aus 120 Wavetables, wovon einige aus dem 002 stammen. Diese Wavetables können in sogenannten Wavetable-Processors bearbeitet werden. Das ist als eine Art von Verbiegung zu begreifen wie Waveshaping und so findet man neben Wave-Folder, De-Rez, Phase Shaping, Gleichrichter, die man eher aus dem Skulpt kennt. Allerdings sind es hier mehr an der Zahl.
Modal Argon8 – Wavetable-Synthesizer
Die Verdopplung der Oszillatoren ist auch schon ein Prinzip aus den kleinen Synths, sie lassen bis zu 64 und damit 4 pro Stimme zu. Der Sound ist generell ziemlich breit und typisch für die Modal-Synthesizer. Die Filter sind 12 dB/Okt.-Morph-Modelle. Sie lassen sich also stufenlos von Tief- über Band- bis Hochpass regeln. Auch das ist aus den kleinen Synths schon bekannt. Das Routing ist jedoch flexibler, denn es gibt statt 8 jetzt 12 Modulations-Slots mit 12x 52 Zielen.
Die sonstigen Daten entsprechen denen der bekannten Synths: 2 schnelle LFOs, drei Hüllkurven, aber auch ein 32-Step Arpeggiator und natürlich Effekte (Delay, Reverb sind natürlich auch darunter) findet man im Argon8. Die Tastatur ist eine Fatar TPS9 mit Dynamik und Aftertouch. Der Editor ist faktisch eine Sammlung aller Editoren innerhalb der Modal-App. Man bekommt also eine Software und editiert damit alles, was Modal bisher anbietet. Damit ist auch die Pflege der Editoren gesicherter als bei anderen Herstellern. Sie gibt es für Tablets und Phones, aber auch für Macs und PCs.
It’s an automatic glitching bass. It’s a transformative set of 128 Wavetable sounds. It’s a Max for Live chaining device. It’s all of that – it’s Leakage, the free/pay-what-you-will Ableton Live creation from Tom Cosm.
The idea is to give you ever-changing bassline sounds each time you hit a note, for colorful and glitchy results. To pull that off, you get a number of features:
128 custom Wavetable presets
Max for Live device that switches sounds
Preset switching, via chains – 128 chains, one for each sound
Set number of steps, up to 128, to determine rate of change
“Count MIDI” sets the step size to the number of notes in the active clip
Tom says this is the culmination of five years of work, but he’s been waiting for Ableton Live 10.1 and the processing bandwidth of current machines to unleash this. You’ll need of course Live 10.1 with Wavetable and a Max for Live license (probably, but not limited to, Suite).
This is pay what you want, starting at $0 to download. If you do put in some money, you’ll be added to an early access list for promised future editions, with bassline, lead, and effect features.
It’s really encouraging to hear Tom talk about how well that’s worked:
“To be honest, it blew my mind how many of you made a contribution. People chipped in 1, 2 or 5 bucks… but a lot of you did! It was so much it covered my rent and bills for a month, freeing up my time so I could work on this Leakage release. I was totally blown away by the generosity, so I am going to keep rolling with this system. Even if it’s just 2 dollars, it all adds up and means I can keep pumping out new and exciting tools, without having to restrict the availability to people who have money.”
The last time Native Instruments released a synth called Massive, they accidentally helped define genres (EDM, dubstep). But MASSIVE X returns to the original vision: make it easier to get deep with wavetables and modularity and go wild with sound. And now, the wait is over.
It’s been years in the making. But the original team behind Massive are back with a sequel to one of the most influential software synths ever made.
I was actually the very first press meeting for Massive, back in the day. But what that tells you is, initially they thought they were making something for nerds, not what would become EDM mainstages.
In 2019, MASSIVE X enters a world that’s not only been shaped by the first Massive, but is also far more comfortable with digital sounds and modularity, the staples of the original. Even inside NI, you’ve got REAKTOR and BLOCKS. There are plenty of other wavetable synths, plenty of semi-modular plug-ins. There are semi-modular synths – heck, Moog alone has three just in one line. There are Eurorack modulars in pricey hardware racks that require a screwdriver and modeled in software so you just need a laptop.
I mean, basically, those of us who love synths are all really spoiled. And like any spoiled child, little wonder there are bunches of those people whining and crying and rolling around on the floor like a toddler who ate too much candy. Well… if you read message forums, which I try not to.
So is there a place for MASSIVE X? You’ll hear plenty of talk from Native Instruments and reviewers alike, but let’s boil this story down.
MASSIVE X is a rarity – a kitchen sink digital synth plug-in that keeps its front panel easy to read.
Deep routing lets you path when you want to. But unlike a full-blown modular, that doesn’t stop you from creating sounds (and even modularity) straight away – and your sound design remains within a consistent interface and architecture.
Bigger on the inside than it is on the outside
Basically, the latest MASSIVE gives you this: it makes an argument for a semi-modular design by packing the oscillators with features, and then giving you ways of playing and modulating and inter-connecting all that depth easily. It walks that balance between complexity under the hood and legibility inside a coherent interface. So while other people might easily dismiss adding another semi-modular plug-in when you could just patch, there is a fundamentally different method to constructing sounds based on this architecture:
All about those oscillators. 170 wavetables, 10 oscillator modes, submodes for each of the oscillator modes – Massive focuses you on one architecture and one UI, but then gives you loads of choices once you’re there.
Get weird without even patching. It’s a true semi-modular, so you can make sounds without patching anything – and you can use its phase modulation oscillators to start that modulation just from the oscillator section. (Yeah, you’ll wind up doing some sound designs where you never get past those oscillators. And that’s fun, anyway.)
Route and patch in ways conventional modulars can’t. With a huge routing matrix and a unique approach to insert effects, you can swap all sorts of unique processors inside an individual sound – and recall all of those as presets. Any control output can be connected to any input; audio can go to and from anywhere you like. It’s enormously flexible.
There are plenty of synths out there with deep architectures, but MASSIVE X allows you to then take that depth and work with it:
Trackers give you sophisticated control over how MASSIVE X behaves as an instrument – by designing how it responds as you play.
Make uniquely playable instruments. NI have added a number of tools for tracking input from performance, as in velocity, and then scaling and mapping that where you like. This means you can make sounds like instruments, and ‘play’ a lot of that sonic depth live. (There are four Tracker modules to accomplish this.)
Add variety in performance and modulation. Tracker modules let you play live; Performer modulators let you draw in up to eight bars of modulation patterns and use those without playing. That can mean either unattended modulation in the sound, or can be triggered live with your controller.
You have 9 slots for LFOs, voice randomization, and then a bunch of potential sources and shapes for those variations.
The original MASSIVE isn’t going anywhere. And that’s important, because it’s light on the CPU in a way the new X – and other plug-ins – aren’t.
But MASSIVE X is simply a beast. As a flagship for Native Instruments, it enters some competitive waters – not the least being the fact that NI itself has, effectively, more than one flagship.
Performer envelopes give you the kind of extensive, visual modulation you expect from 2019 flagship software. The Remote Editor lets you trigger those envelopes live, making this a tool for improvisation or onstage.
Inside the Voice
Having said MASSIVE X is all about having a consistent architecture and UI – there is definitely a candy store inside. Just some rough ideas of specs, to give you an idea:
Unit FX: Dimension Expander, Flanger, Nonlinear Labs, Phaser, Standard EQ, Stereo Delay, Stereo Expander
The Voice page. You can also find some possibilities messing about with Noise Restart, Oscillator Restart, Spread and Engine Reset – think serious sound design with phasing. Combine that with the various oscillator types and modes and poly/mono/unison modes, and a really wild option called Unisono (for unique, analog-ish drifts and detunes), and you could probably devote a whole month in the studio just on this page and be perfectly satisfied.
Filling a Massive niche?
The thing is, MASSIVE X makes even more sense in 2019 than it did when it first arrived. And if MASSIVE demonstrated that a larger slice of the population was ready for edgy, hyper-modulated experimental sounds, MASSIVE X might demonstrate that more people are ready for experimental sound design..
This isn’t a straight modular workflow. It isn’t a Eurorack. It isn’t REAKTOR. And it shouldn’t be any of those things. Instead, MASSIVE X brings back what made the first MASSIVE compelling – drag and drop routing, easy visual “saturn ring” modulation – and adds more sonic depth, the kinds of organic quality now possible on today’s CPUs, and more visual feedback. We all spend too much time staring at screens, but MASSIVE X gives us a good reason to look back – and is far easier on the eyes (and brain) in the process.
So, sure, we are spoiled for choice, which I’m sure means MASSIVE X will get some significant hostility from the sorts of people who lurk in comment threads instead of make sounds. But I’m happy to have my cake and eat it, and my other five cakes, too.
From my own vantage point, having not been entirely swayed by would-be contenders to the plug-in throne, I think MASSIVE X will be ideal as a complement to open-ended modulars. Having a single oscillator section that does this much means you don’t get lost window-shopping modulars. And that matrix and the depth of Trackers and Performers means MASSIVE X is manageable when other modulars (hardware or software) turn into messes of spaghetti-routing, at least for sounds you want to pack to the brim with subtle shifting transformations over time.
More details of this as I spend more time with the now-finished build. (Sound design, too – just give me some time on that!)
[watch this space, we should have the overview video from NI shortly…]
USD / EUR 199
USD / EUR 149 upgrade from the previous version
Included in KOMPLETE 12 (and greater editions)
There’s indeed a lot of competition. Look to:
U-he‘s ZEBRA2, Hive 2. Also deep modulation, but with a single window mode – more like Massive 1 – to MASSIVE X’s various pages and options.
ARTURIA Pigments We’ll be looking more soon at the sound possibilities of this one. It’s perhaps more conservative than MASSIVE X, but its virtual analog/wavetable hybrid is a crowd pleaser, there’s a unique and easy-to-follow interface, and it has a clear high-contrast dark look to the all-gray/beige Massive approach.
Serum of course arguably stole the bass crown from Massive as NI bided their time on an update. It is focused on wavetables (and custom wavetables) compared to MASSIVE X’s fascinating sprawl.
Who else would you want to see up for comparison? Let us know.
To me, at least my initial impression is all this mayhem of choice makes MASSIVE X stand out, but we’ll be interested to dig deeper and get feedback from other sound designers.
By laying out faders, encoders, displays, and an 8×8 expressive grid, Polyend hopes you’ll play their Medusa’s synths sounds. So here’s some sound of what was going on in my studio.
Here’s a live jam, just getting a bit lost in the Medusa world:
It’s not really a demo so much as me enjoying what the instrument can do. Because they’re new, we rely on musical performance of instruments. But that’s not to say it’s obvious how to do so. We “demo” an instrument – even though we’d never expect to “demo” a violin (not any more, anyway).
A few features stand out to me as useful to play, which you’ll see getting some use:
Swapping and modulating wavetables: this was recently expanded with a bunch of additional wavetable sources; there’s a particular character to the Medusa offerings that I really enjoy
Grid Mode: this lets you sequence and even ‘play’ different parameters stored in each individual grid
Different internal scale modes (no custom scales/tunings or Scala support yet, though there’s a nice scale/mode assortment, and you can set custom tunings in Grid Mode by manually tuning them in)
Envelopes and modulation: obviously, this adds additional motion in the music; what sets the Medusa apart is on-the-fly assignment, which you can think of as a digital equivalent to patching cables
FM adjustment – well, just because this can sound wild, as frequency modulation does (both on the filter and oscillators)
Mixing oscillators: with three digital + three analog + noise source, you can add and subtract layers in the sound via the faders
I also went ahead and added some effects and an extended version of this live set:
The first recording is dry apart from some very very light plate reverb and compression. The SoundCloud upload includes my favorite Eventide effects – Ultratap [multitap delay], Omnipressor [compressor], Blackhole [reverb].
Here’s a more straightforward play with the different oscillators and basic voice structure:
It’s an analog-wavetable polysynth with an expressive grid – but that only begins to describe what makes the Polyend Medusa such a unique instrument. Here’s a deep dive into this hybrid synthesizer and what it means musically.
A year after its public debut, the Polyend-Dreadbox collaboration Medusa hybrid synth has gotten a flurry of updates expanding its capabilities. The Medusa caught my eye when it was previewed at last year’s Superbooth extravaganza in Berlin – and has since reappeared full of refined functionality at this year’s edition. The instrument combines Polyend’s expressive grid with a gnarly synthesizer made in collaboration with Dreadbox. So you get a hybrid analog-digital sound engine, which you can use in monophonic or one of two polyphonic modes, and a grid you can use for performance or sequencing.
That description seems obvious and straightforward, but it also doesn’t really fully describe what this thing is. It’s really about the combination of elements. The synth engine gets delightfully grimy – the Dreadbox filter can really scream, especially paired with frequency modulation. And the digital oscillators (from Polyend) stack to give you metallic edge and wavetable madness atop a thick 3-oscillator analog beast. The copious modulation and multiple envelopes provide loads of sound design possibilities, too – you can really go deep with this, since basically everything is assignable to LFOs or envelopes. (That’d be a lot of rack space to get this many oscillators and modulation sources in a Eurorack form.) Combining digital control and wavetables with Dreadbox-supplied analog grunge make this as much an all-in-one studio as a polysynth.
What really binds this together for me, though, is using the grid to make this more like an instrument. You can lock parameters and scales to steps in the sequencer, and then use elaborate scale mappings and expression options to put sounds beneath your fingertips. This isn’t about menus, but it’s also unlike conventional keyboard synths. The grid and one-press modulation and envelope assignment make the Medusa a portal to sound design, composition, and performance.
The workflow then fits spatially. On your right, you can sculpt sounds and (thanks to a recent update) make on-the-fly assignments of modulation and envelopes with just one press. On your left, the grid can be configured for sequencing and playing. Mix oscillators and shape envelopes and dial modulation live atop that. You can also use the sequencer as a kind of sketchpad for ideas, since sequences are saved with presets.
All of this comes in a long, metal case with MIDI I/O and external audio input. Even the form factor suggests this is an instrument you focus on directly. So whatever you do in sound design should naturally translate to sequencing and playing live.
Here’s the basic approach to sound design workflow – dialing in and layering different analog and digital oscillators, playing with wavetables, shaping envelopes and filter, adding FM (including on the filter), and assigning modulation. Improvised / no talking:
Let’s look at those components individually (now with some of the recent firmware updates in place):
On the synth side, the Medusa has a hybrid 3+3 structure – three analog oscillators, plus three digital oscillators, for a total of six. (There’s an additional noise source, as well, with adjustable color.) To that, you add a filter derived from the Dreadbox Erebus (highpass, 2-pole lowpass, and 4-pole lowpass). There are two fixed envelopes (filter and amplitude), plus three more assignable envelopes. You also get five (!) assignable LFOs. That’s just enough to be readily accessible, but also focused enough that it neatly structures your use of the onboard controls and assignable modulation and sequencing.
The idea is to mix analog + digital + noise in different combinations, which you can layer as monophonic lines or chords, or trigger in turn, with always-accessible mixer controls for each voice + noise.
Oscillator controls. The oscillator section does double duty as analog and digital, so you’ll need to understand how those relate. To save space, there’s a button in the oscillator section labeled DIGITAL.
With digital mode off (analog mode), you get control over the three analog oscillators, plus a pulse width control, and a frequency modulation control for FM between oscillators 1 and 2. You can select ramp, PWM, triangle, and sine waves for each oscillator. You can also hard sync oscillators – 1+2 (sync 2) and 2+3 (sync 3). Note that you will need to give the Medusa some warmup time for these analog oscillators to be in tune; there’s also automated calibration to tune up.
With the digital mode on, you control the three digital oscillators, and get a wavetable shape in addition to the four wave shapes, plus a wavetable control that modulates between different wavetables. (There’s no FM between oscillators 1 and 2, and you don’t get the pulse width control for the digital oscillators – which in the end doesn’t matter much given all the wavetable options.)
The other controls are doubled up to save space, as well. Instead of dedicated macro and fine tuning, there’s a FINETUNE switch. The FM knob has two functions, also via switches.
Modulation. There’s more modulation than you’ll likely ever need, between the sequencer steps, five envelopes, and five LFOs. Since there’s only one set of encoders and sliders, you choose which envelope or LFO you want to target. You can toggle that modulation on and off by double-pressing the controls for each.
The latest firmware adds on-the-fly parameter assignment, so you can simply hold down an envelope or LFO, then twist the parameter you want to target. That’s much more fun than scrolling through menus.
Sound design is a blast, but there’s some room for growth, too. LFO shapes morph between square, sine, ramp, and triangle, but there’s no random or sample & hold option, which seems an obvious future addition. Also, it could be nice, I think, to have different wavetables on different oscillators, or separate wavetable position controls. (At least for now, you can set LFOs to target all wavetables or just one wavetable when modulating position, so you can separately modulate the three digital oscillators if you wish.)
Now, you can assign both modulation and envelopes with just one tap, on the fly. With multiple envelopes and LFOs, combined with the sequencer, there’s plenty of choice for composition and sound design.
FM can be applied to the filter and between analog oscillators 1+2.
Musical ideas: synth
Use envelopes and modulation. Envelopes have free-flowing timing, but can each be (independently) looped, creating subtle or rhythmic modulation. And LFOs can be either free or clock-synced. With these two features in concert, you can create both shifting timbres and rhythmic patterns – while assigning them hands-on, rather than diving into menus. (That can be even faster than working with patch cords.)
Work with the different polyphonic modes. Mono play mode stacks all six oscillators onto a single voice, which is great for thick sounds. But the two polyphonic modes offer some unique features. P1 is three-voice polyphonic, with two oscillators per voice. P2 is six-voice polyphonic, and has one amp envelope for each of the six voices.
Change voice priority. In CONFIG > Voice Priority, you can set P1 and P2 from “First” to “Next,” and each trigger will rotate through each of the available oscillators. Remember with P2, that means you have separate envelopes. So you can retrigger the same pitch, or “strum” or roll a chord, or create rhythmic variations… it all makes for some lively variations.
Self-oscillate the filter with tracking. If you turn up resonance and crank TRACK on the filter, you’ll get self-oscillation that’s mapped to the pitch range. (You’ll probably want to turn down master volume here; I don’t yet have a trick for that, but you could also save lower oscillator mixer values with a preset.)
Go mad with FM. Frequency modulating the OSC 1+2 combination can create some wild ring mod-style effects as you play with different octave ranges and tunings.
I think one confusion about the Medusa is, because people see an 8×8 grid of pads, they assume the main function is sequencing. That’s really not how to think of the Medusa pad matrix – it’s better to imagine it as a performance and editing interface as much as a sequencer, and to see ambient/drone/non-metric possibilities along with the usual things you’d expect of an 8×8 layout.
Sequences themselves have a length from 1 and 64 steps. (Yes, with a 1-step sequence, you get basically a repeat function, and with a few steps, a sort of fixed phrase arpeggiator – more on how you’d play that live below.) Steps are fixed rhythm, with no sub-steps – I do wish there were a way to clock divide step length from the master tempo, or add subdivisions of a step, or even control step timing individually. For now, if you want that, you’ll need to do it externally, via MIDI.
You can set tempo from 10-300 bpm or use an external clock source. And you get control for swing, plus different sequence playback directions (forward, backward, ping pong, and random).
In NOTES mode, you enter pitch. With REC enabled but not PLAY, you can enter and edit steps one at a time. (Pressing a pad creates a pitch, rather than sets a step, so you’d use the big menu encoder to the right of the pads to dial through steps.) With PLAY enabled, you can live record, though everything is still quantized to the step.
The pitch and rhythm stuff is a bit basic, but it’s the GRID mode where the Medusa shines. There, you can set specific steps to contain parameter data. Again, this works in both step and live modes – in live modes, you’ll overwrite parameter data as you move a control. This is what some sequencers call “p-locks” / parameter locks, but here the workflow is different. You can stop the transport, and manually tweak parameters while holding a pad to modify parameters for that step. This means an individual step may contain a whole bunch of layered information.
At first, it may seem counter-intuitive to separate notes and parameter data on two different screens, but it opens up some new possibilities. You can step-sequence really elaborate sequences of timbral changes. Or – here’s the interesting one – you can trigger different presets as your sequence plays. That lets you ‘perform’ the presets – play with the timbres – the way you normally would with notes.
Not only do you have a powerful step sequencer page dedicated to parameter control, you can think of presets as something you can play live. I don’t know of another sequencer that works quite like this.
Musical ideas: sequencer
Trigger play modes, voice priority, sequence length live: With a sequence playing, it’s possible to toggle play modes (between unison and polyphony), and the Voice Priority setting (first or last, in either of the polyphonic modes), and sequence length, all live without impact sequenced playback. So you can have some fun messing about with these settings.
Use GRID for variation. The sequencer only triggers preset changes when the GRID mode is enabled. So you can start a sequence, then toggle your sequenced parameters on and off by switching GRID mode on and off. (You can combine this with live-triggered parameters – more on that below.)
Glide! Combining glide with the polyphonic modes (and adjusting the amplitude envelope, particularly Release as needed) will create some lovely, overlapping portamento effects.
Arpeggiate/transpose. You can now press HOLD + a pad to transpose a sequence live as it plays. With short sequences, this can be a bit like running an arpeggiator or phrase sequencer.
If you just use the pads as a sequencer, you’re really missing half the power of the instrument. The pads also work for playing live, with the option of up to three axis additional expression (z-axis pressure, and x- and y- position). The pads are also low-profile, so you can easily strum your fingers across pads.
Three-axis control can be a little confusing. Only the last pad adds modulation, and it takes a bit of muscle memory to get used to modulating with just the last finger press if you’re playing in a polyphonic context. But the pads are nicely sensitive; I hope there’s the possibility of polyphonic expression internally in future.
As an external controller, Medusa does support an MPE mode, so you can use this – like the Roger Linn Linnstrument – as an MPE controller with compatible devices.
The grid in general is expressive and inspiring. In particular, you might try one of the 40 included scales, which include various exotic options apart from the usual church modes. I especially like the Japanese and Engimatic options. You can also change not only the scale but the layout (the relationship of notes on the pads).
Musical ideas: pads
Drone mode. Use HOLD to trigger multiple up to six at a time and drone away (press HOLD, then toggle on and off individual notes). And again, this is also interesting with different polyphonic modes and glide. You can also use, for instance, the Z-axis pressure to add additional modulation as you drone. (One confusing thing about X/Y/Z and HOLD – since only the last trigger uses the X/Y/Z modulation, it can get a bit strange additionally toggling off that step as you hold. I’m working on whether there’s a better solution there.)
Use GRID for triggering: With GRID instead of notes, you can use individual pads to trigger different sounds, or even map an ensemble of sounds (setting up particular pads for percussion, and others for melody, for instance). This also opens up other features, like:
DIY scales. A new feature of the Medusa firmware adds the ability to store pitch in pads, and thus make custom scales. Turn GRID on, and REC, then with FINETUNE on, you can use the oscillator to tune a custom scale, including with microtuning. I’d love to see custom scale modes or Scala support, but this in the meantime has a beautiful analog feel to it.
Bend it: You can bend between notes by targeting Pitch with the x-axis. To keep that range manageable and slide between notes, I suggest a value of just 1 or 2 (instead of the full 100, which will slide over the whole pitch range as you wiggle your finger). You might also consider adding the same on the y-axis, since it is a grid.
Trigger expression. Not only can you trigger modulation live over a sequence in GRID mode, you can also use those triggers to modulate X, Y, and Z targets of your choice as a sequence plays. You can also try modulating expression in NOTES mode over a playing sequence.
Use external control. You can also map to external MIDI aftertouch, pitch, and mod, which opens up novel external or even DIY controllers. (You could connect a LEAP Motion or something if you want to get creative. Or combine a keyboard and the grid, for some wild possibilities)
Medusa takes a little time to get into, as you start to feel comfortable with the sound engine, and adapting to a new way of thinking about the pads – as performance controller plus separate note and parameter sequencer. Once you do, though, I think you begin to get into this as an instrument – one with rich and sometimes wild sound capabilities, always beneath your fingertips.
The result is something that’s really unique and creative. The combination of that edgy, deep digital+analog sound engine with the superb Dreadbox filter, plus all this modulation and sequencing and performance possibility makes the whole feel like a particular instrument – something you want to learn to play.
I really have fallen in love with it as a special instrument in that way. And I find I am really wanting to practice it, both as sound designer and instrumentalist.
At 999EUR, it also holds up against some other fine polysynth choices from Dave Smith, Novation, KORG, and most recently, Elektron. Most importantly, it’s unlike any of those tools, both with its unique and expressive controller and its copious controls and access to sound.
The presence of an instrument like this from a boutique maker, charting some new territory and in a desktop form factor and not only a set of modules, seems a promising sign for synth innovation.
Ableton Live 10.1 is here, a free update to Live 10.1 with some new devices, streamlined automation and editing, and new sound features. So what should dig into after the download? Here’s a place to start.
There’s no surprise reveal here since 10.1 has been in public beta and was announced in the winter. Here’s the full run-down of what’s in the release from February (still accurate):
I’ve been working with the beta for some time, to the point of not wanting to go back even to 10.0 (or even getting a bit confused when switching to a friend’s machine that didn’t have 10.1).
So let’s skip ahead to stuff you should check out right away when you download:
Refresh a track in Arrangement View
I will shortly do a separate story just on getting around Arrangement View quickly, but — there’s a lot of fun to be had. (Yes, fun, not just screaming at the screen as you painstakingly move envelopes around.)
Ableton have accordingly updated their Arrangement View tutorials:
(Video is actually a terrible medium for shortcuts, but more on those soon.)
Here are some quick things to try:
Resize the Arrangement Overview (that’s the bit at the top of Arrangement View)
Draw some shapes! Right click, pick some shapes, and you can draw in envelopes. Try this actually two ways: first, select some time and draw in shapes. Next, deselect time, and try drawing with different grid values – you’ll get different corresponding quantization.
Get at fades directly. Press the F key.
Clean up envelopes. Right click on a time selection and choose Simplify Envelope.
Stretch and scale! Select some time in automation, and you’ll see handles so you can move both horizontally (amount/scale) and vertically (in time).
Enter some specific values. Right click, choose Edit value, type in a number, and hit enter.
There’s a lot more. But all of this is an opportunity to duplicate one of your projects and give it a refresh by going nuts with some modulation because – why not.
You know, conventional wisdom says, don’t mess with your existing tracks too much. The hell with that. If I were a painter, I would definitely be the kind constantly scraping away and painting over canvases. You can always save a backup. Sometimes it’s fun to mess around and take something somewhere else entirely.
Go ahead and freeze whatever you want! Track has a sidechain? It’ll freeze. It’ll even still be a source for other sidechains. (There are actually a bunch of things that had to happen for this to work – check Arrangement Editing in release notes if you’re curious. But the beauty is you don’t really have to think about it.)
Here’s a new explanation of how it works:
Try your own wavetables
User wavetables make the Live 10 Wavetable synth far more interesting.
Like arrangement, this probably deserves it’s own story, but here’s a place to get started:
And for extra help exploiting that feature, there are some useful utilities that will assist you in creating wavetables:
While you’re in there, Ableton quietly added a very powerful randomization feature inside Wavetable for glitching out still more:
Added a new “Rand” modulation source to Wavetable’s MIDI tab, which generates a random value when a note starts.
Pinch and zoom
Trackpads and touchscreens (most of them, anyway) now support pinch gestures in Arrangement View, so try that out. It works for me both on a Razer and (of course) Apple laptop; lots of other hardware will work, too. It’s a little thing, but zooming is a big part of getting around an arrangement.
Try Channel EQ as a creative tool or live
There are already a lot of EQs out there. The Channel EQ however has some draw as a potential equivalent for live PA / experimental sets of what the EQ Three has been for DJ sets.
Stop futzing around with sends when you export stems
Okay, see if this is familiar:
You output stems – say for a remix artist or to mix in a different tool – and suddenly everything sounds completely differently than you expected because you used sends and returns and/or master effects.
That’s no longer an issue in 10.1, as there’s now a new export option that addresses this.
So, time to go make some stems, right?
Make some new sounds with Delay
Okay, Delay at first glance may seem like a step backward from the excitement of Space Echo-ish Echo in Live 10. Isn’t it just a combination of Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay into one Device?
Well, it is that, but it also has an LFO built in that can modulate both delay time and filter frequency.
These modes were there before, but you now surface Repitch, Fade, and Jump modes as buttons.
So put all of this together, and the combination of things that were there that you didn’t notice, with new things that are simple but very powerful, all together in one unit becomes very powerful indeed.
That is, if you’re modulating something like delay time, then changing between Repitch, Fade, and Jump actually gives you a lot of different sonic possibilities. And yes, this is the sort of thing people with modular rigs like to do with wires but… if you’re a Live 10 owner, it’ll cost you nothing to check out right now.
Specifically, maxforcats pointed us to some cool granular-ish sounds when you choose Fade mode and start modulating delay time.
And keep using Echo. The big challenge with an effect like Echo is balancing loudness. As it happens, there’s a little right-click option that solves this for you in Echo:
In the Echo device, the Dry/Wet knob now features a context menu to switch to “Equal-Loudness”. When enabled, a 50/50 mix will sound equally loud for most signals, instead of being attenuated. In the Delay device, the maximum delay time offset is now consistent with the Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay devices.
Discover Simpler, again
Simpler is weirdly a lot of the time a reason to use Ableton Live for its absurd combination of directness and power – in contrast to mostly overcomplicated software (and harwdare, for that matter).
Now you can mess around with volume envelopes (even synced ones) and loop time, previously only in Sampler – for both powerful sound design and beat-synced ideas:
Added a Loop Mode chooser, Loop Time slider and Beat Sync/Rate slider to the Volume Envelope in Simpler’s Classic Playback Mode. Previously, these controls were exclusively available in Sampler.
Oh, and go map some macros
You’d probably easily miss this, too – it means that now mapping macros works the way you’d expect, in fewer steps:
When mapping a parameter to an empty macro, the macro assumes the full range of the target parameter, and will be set to the current value of the target parameter.
— and while using mice for everything is no fun, macros are also a great intermediary between what you’re doing onscreen and twisting knobs on controller hardware (Push, certainly, but lots of other gear, too).
Speaking of which, that nice compact NI keyboard controller works thanks to this update, too, making it an ideal thing to throw in your bag with a laptop for a mobile Ableton Live work rig.