Control all of Ableton from iOS, Android, Windows: touchAble Pro

Ableton Live: lug along hardware, or … be forced to use a mouse or touchpad. No more: touchAble Pro continues to unlock more and more of Live’s functionality, and now it’s available across touch platforms – iOS, Android, Windows.

That last bit in itself is already news. iPad owners have had plenty of great stuff, but … what if you’ve got an Android phone instead of an iPhone? Or a Microsoft Surface? Or what if you want controls to jam on a big touchscreen display – in the studio, for instance?

It’s possible to target all three of those platforms; the fact many developers haven’t tells you they haven’t yet figured out the business case. But with Ableton Live a massive platform, numbering millions of active users, and use cases that focus on making things happen, uh, “live,” the touchAble devs could have a winner.

And whichever platform you choose, there’s simply no way to put this much control of Ableton Live at your fingertips, with this much visual feedback. We covered this release in full earlier:

touchAble Pro for Ableton Live: touch control on iOS, Android, Windows

But here’s a recap of why it’s cool, whether you’re a returning user or new to the platform:

Piano Roll editing (top), and custom Devices (bottom).

New:

  • Audio clip view with waveforms, including side-by-side waveforms
  • Piano roll view for pattern editing
  • Draw and edit automation
  • Track I/O
  • Custom layouts with Template Editor
  • Custom Device templates (even with third-party plug-ins and Max for Live, via an In-App Purchase coming soon)

And this matters. Now you can quickly whip up a custom template that shows you just what you need to see for a live performance – without squinting (it’s all scalable). Add in side-by-side waveforms to that, and you could twist Live into a DJ tool – or certainly a more flexible live performance tool, especially if you’ve got other instruments or vocals to focus on.

Plus a lot of other good stuff:

Transport, metronome, cues, and quantization
Clips and scenes and control looping
Arm, mute, and solo tracks
Adjust monitoring
Mix, pan, crossfade, and control sends and returns
Play instruments with grid or piano-style layouts, with scales, note repeat, aftertouch, and velocity (based on finger position)
Control device parameters, using faders or assignable X/Y pad modules
X/Y Pad: assign physics, make and morph snapshots or record full gestures,
Navigate Live’s Browser, and drag and drop Devices or Samples to the set

Enlarge stuff – like this clip overview – and make the custom layout you need.

Side by side waveforms, and a bunch of clip options. Oh yeah.

Touch on Windows isn’t just about devices like Surface – it’s also big touch-equipped displays, so ideal for studio work.

Three new videos are out now to walk you through how it’s all working.

More:
http://www.touch-able.com

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Reason 10.2: “Yes, finally” to some stuff users want

Reason 10.2 is out now as a free update to Reason 10. It’s a “workflow” update – but those additions will likely be welcomed by current users.

I’ll spare you the GIFs, but the enhancements are detailed in a blog post from earlier this month:

Reason 10.2 is coming – see what’s new [Propellerhead Blog]

Basically, you get multi-lane editing (so you can finally edit multiple MIDI tracks at once, just as recently added in Ableton Live 10, also a bit overdue).

And you can adjust multiple faders at once in the mixer.

And you can snap to an adaptive grid (the grid changes with zoom level, though existing fixed grids remain).

There’s also an “Add Device” button.

The update you may be waiting for is still forthcoming. Later this year, Propellerhead promises improvements to VST integration. (It seems after years of being a holdout against plug-ins, Propellerhead did demonstrate some of what they’d previously argued – that plug-ins are tough to support and can add performance wrinkles.)

But it’s good to hear they’re working on it. Here’s what they write:

Meanwhile, work on VST performance is ongoing. The result of this work will be released as a separate free update later this year. The reason it’s a separate release is because the performance work is an extensive rewrite of the inner workings of the program and requires an expert task force.

Update news:

https://www.propellerheads.se/blog/reason-102-here

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Powerful SURGE synth for Mac and Windows is now free

Vember Audio’s Surge synth could be an ideal choice for an older machine or a tight budget – with deep modulation and loads of wavetables, now free and open source.

And that really means open source: Surge gets a GPL v3 license, which could also make this the basis of other projects.

People are asking for this a lot – “just open source it.” But that can be a lot of work, often prohibitively so. So it’s impressive to see source code dumped on GitHub.

And Surge is a deep synth, even if last updated in 2008. You get an intensive modulation architecture, nearly 200 wavetables, and a bunch of effects (including vocoder and rotary speaker). Plus it’s already 64-bit, so even though it’s a decade old, it’ll play reasonably nicely on newer machines.

Inside the modulation engine.

Features:

General

Synthesis method: Subtractive hybrid
Each patch contain two ‘scenes’ which are separate instances of the entire synthesis engine (except effects) that can be used for layering or split patches.
Quick category-based patch-browser
Future proof, comes as both a 32 & 64-bit VST plugin (Windows PC)
Universal Binary for both VST and AU (Mac)

Factory sounds

1010 patches
183 wavetables

Oscillators

3 oscillators/voice
8 versatile oscillator algorithms: Classic, Sine, Wavetable, Window, FM2, FM3, S/H Noise and Audio-input
The classic oscillator is a morphable pulse/saw/dualsaw oscillator with a sub-oscillator and self-sync.
The FM2/FM3 oscillators consists of a 1 carrier with 2/3 modulators and various options.
Most algorithms (except FM2, FM3, Sine and Audio-input) offer up to 16-voice unison at the oscillator level.
Oscillator FM/ringmodulation
Most oscillator algorithms (except FM2/FM3) are strictly band-limited yet still cover the entire audible spectrum, delivering a clear punchy yet clean sound.
Noise generator with variable spectrum.

Filterblock

Two filter-units with arrangeable in 8 different configurations
Feedback loop (number of variations inside the parenthesis)
Available filter-algorithms: LP12 (3), LP24 (3), LP24L (1-4 poles), HP12 (3), HP24 (3), BP (4), Notch (2), Comb (4), S&H
Filters can self-oscillate (with excitation) and respond amazingly fast to cutoff frequency changes.
Waveshaper (5 shapes)

Modulation

12 LFO-units available to each voice (6 are running on each voice and 6 are shared for the scene)
DAHDSR envelope generators on every LFO-unit
7 deformable LFO-waveforms + 1 drawable/stepsequencer waveform
LFO1 allows envelope retriggering when used as stepsequencer
Extremely fast and flexible modulation routing. Almost every continuous parameter can be modulated.

Effects

8 effect units arranged as 2 inserts/scene, 2 sends and 2 master effects
10 top-quality algorithms: Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Phaser, EQ, Distortion, Conditioner (EQ, stereo-image control & limiter), Rotary speaker, Frequency shifter, Vocoder

http://vemberaudio.se/surge.php

Via Synthtopia.

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This tool lets you play all those popular vocal hooks like a keyboard

No, it’s not quite Millennial Whoop: the VST. But Output’s latest, Hooked, makes a whole trove of popular pop vocal elements playable like an instrument.

California sound boutique Output has already done one outing in vocals – Exhale. True to its name, that product made breath-y vocal ingredients playable, with an engine that let you freely warp and mangle materials and add effects. It was great, and I certainly overused it here and there thanks to the ability to squeeze whatever sound you wanted. (I got carried away enough to make this track.)

Just one catch – the edit process was a lot of mouse-ing around in the UI, adjusting faders, then playing on the keyboard.

And that’s where Arcade comes in. Now the “edit/mangle the sound” workflow and the “play around like an instrument” workflow are one and the same. So, even with a mouse, the process is much clearer. And once you really begin to use the keyboard-centric interface, you discover you can make big changes by playing.

So ‘Hooked’ isn’t just a set of stock clips you would use to replace a studio session vocalist. It’s something you might mess around with as an instrumentalist (or supplementing your own vocals, for a software/human hybrid).

Plus to avoid this getting dry (literally), they’ve added a bunch of processing – “pedal boards, pitch shifters, modular and analog gear.” And of course you can add more from there. (Arcade has an extensive, editable effects engine.)

The other big change: Output are now embracing a subscription model, so you subscribe once to Arcade and get this content included in your price, rather than having to commit separately to each new monolithic instrument they unveil.

As always, this tool seems both essential for anyone on tough deadlines for commercial work, while wanting to keep things fresh and original, but also potentially very powerful for creative abuse and unexpected applications. And yeah, I think mixing this with your own vocals could also be interesting. Let us know if you give it a try.

Singer/songwriter/producer Keeley Bumford aka Dresage seems to have contributed to the human side of the samples. Photo: Output.

More:

https://output.com/hooked

Arcade update

While we’re at it, there have been big changes on the Arcade side, too. Earlier this month, Output pushed a 1.1 update:

Download all kits in a Line with a single click
Global pitch transposition via lower keyboard octave
Sort by Recently Downloaded
Manual entry of parameters via double click + QWERTY
Improvements to scrolling within a Line
Auto-update notifications/in-app updates
Scalable GUI (bigger and smaller)
Drag multiple user loops to the keyboard instead of just one
Select multiple loop keys and apply a parameter setting to the selection
Copy/swap loop keys
Copy/swap FX modules

This is all quite relevant if you use Arcade with your own sound content, so you do get a big range of possibilities – including if you aren’t into what you’re hearing here.

https://output.com/arcade

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Max 8: Multichannel, mappable, faster patching is here

Max 8 is released today, as the latest version of the audiovisual development environment brings new tools, faster performance, multichannel patching, MIDI learn, and more.

Max is now 30 years old, with a direct lineage to the beginning of visual programming for musicians – creating your own custom tools by connecting virtual cables on-screen instead of typing in code. Since then, its developers have incorporated additional facilities for other code languages (like JavaScript), different data types, real-time visuals (3D and video), and integrated support inside Ableton Live (with Max for Live). Max 8 actually hits all of those different points with improvements. Here’s what’s new:

MC multichannel patching.

It’s always been possible to do multichannel patching – and therefore support multichannel audio (as with spatial sound) – in Max and Pure Data. But Max’s new MC approach makes this far easier and more powerful.

  • Any sound object can be made into multiples, just by typing mc. in front of the object name.
  • A single patch cord can incorporate any number of channels.
  • You can edit multiple objects all at once.

So, yes, this is about multichannel audio output and spatial audio. But it’s also about way more than that – and it addresses one of the most significant limitations of the Max/Pd patching paradigm.

Polyphony? MC.

Synthesis approaches with loads of oscillators (like granular synthesis or complex additive synthesis)? MC.

MPE assignments (from controllers like the Linnstrument and ROLI Seaboard)? MC.

MC means the ability to use a small number of objects and cords to do a lot – from spatial sound to mass polyphony to anything else that involves multiples.

It’s just a much easier way to work with a lot of stuff at once. That was present in open code environment SuperCollider, for instance, if you were willing to put in some time learning SC’s code language. But it was never terribly easy in Max. (Pure Data, your move!)

MIDI mapping

Mappings lets you MIDI learn from controllers, keyboards, and whatnot, just by selecting a control, and moving your controller.

Computer keyboard mappings work the same way.

The whole implementation looks very much borrowed from Ableton Live, down to the list of mappings for keyboard and MIDI. It’s slightly disappointing they didn’t cover OSC messages with the same interface, though, given this is Max.

It’s faster

Max 8 has various performance optimizations, says Cycling ’74. But in particular, look for 2x (Mac) – 20x (Windows) faster launch times, 4x faster patching loading, and performance enhancements in the UI, Jitter, physics, and objects like coll.

Also, Max 8’s Vizzie library of video modules is now OpenGL-accelerated, which additionally means you can mix and match with Jitter OpenGL patching. (No word yet on what that means for OpenGL deprecation by Apple.)

Node.JS

This is I suspect a pretty big deal for a lot of Max patchers who moonlight in some JavaScript coding. NodeJS support lets you run Node applications from inside a patch – for extending what Max can do, running servers, connecting to the outside world, and whatnot.

There’s full NPM support, which is to say all the ability to share code via that package manager is now available inside Max.

Patching works better, and other stuff that will make you say “finally”

Actually, this may be the bit that a lot of long-time Max users find most exciting, even despite the banner features.

Patching is now significantly enhanced. You can patch and unpatch objects just by dragging them in and out of patch cords, instead of doing this in multiple steps. Group dragging and whatnot finally works the way it should, without accidentally selecting other objects. And you get real “probing” of data flowing through patch cords by hovering over the cords.

There’s also finally an “Operate While Unlocked” option so you can use controls without constantly locking and unlocking patches.

There’s also a refreshed console, color themes, and a search sidebar for quickly bringing up help.

Plus there’s external editor support (coll, JavaScript, etc.). You can use “waypoints” to print stuff to the console.

And additionally, essential:

High definition and multitouch support on Windows
UI support for the latest Mac OS
Plug-in scanning

And of course a ton of new improvements for Max objects and Jitter.

What about Max for Live?

Okay, Ableton and Cycling ’74 did talk about “lockstep” releases of Max and Max for Live. But… what’s happening is not what lockstep usually means. Maybe it’s better to say that the releases of the two will be better coordinated.

Max 8 today is ahead of the Max for Live that ships with Ableton Live. But we know Max for Live incorporated elements of Max 8, even before its release.

For their part, Cycling ’74 today say that “in the coming months, Max 8 will become the basis of Max for Live.”

Based on past conversations, that means that as much functionality as possibly can be practically delivered in Max for Live will be there. And with all these Max 8 improvements, that’s good news. I’ll try to get more clarity on this as information becomes available.

Max 8 now…

Ther’s a 30-day free trial. Upgrades are US$149; full version is US$399, plus subscription and academic discount options.

Full details on the new release are neatly laid out on Cycling’s website today:

https://cycling74.com/products/max-features?utm_source=press&utm_campaign=max8-release

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Bitwig Studio 2.4 Now Available

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New Polyphonic Modular Sound Design Tool, ‘Alpha Forever’ (Sneak Preview)

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UA unveils a maxed-out Thunderbolt 3 Apollo – and it’ll monitor surround sound

Universal Audio’s Apollo flagship audio interface and DSP platform is getting a big generational refresh and Thunderbolt 3. There’s a lot here, but maybe the most significant development is that 5.1 and 7.1 surround monitoring support is coming later this year.

It’s the Apollo X line for Mac and Windows – the x6, x8, x8p, and x16, all with Thunderbolt 3 connections to the computer and loads of I/O.

“UA’s hardware are just dongles for their plug-ins” – yeah, I hear that a lot. But the Apollo line was from the beginning the hardware that changed that. It said to users, hey, what if that add-on was also one of the best audio interfaces you can buy, even before adding in the DSP benefits. And then, over time, we’ve seen UA bake in greater functionality using that DSP horsepower.

The new Apollo really speaks to the high end of the market. These are the people who do depend on the reliability of the DSP hardware – because native processing, while enormously powerful, lacks the same predictability. (That’s a nice way of saying your CPU will suddenly peg and make a horrible glitching noise out of your sound.) That’s good to have anywhere, but especially in production environments in studios, in TV and video and games, in live tracking. A “studio” isn’t what it once was, to be sure, but then that’s also been the advantage of UA’s mobile interfaces. This is still about those situations where time is money and quality is everything, even if that use case may or may not be a studio per se.

Nicely enough, UA has managed to price out these systems for that full range, from the entry-level model at two grand (in reach of at least some serious independent producers) up to a maxed-out $3499 model.

In the process, we also see UA’s move from its more iterative, provisional approach of the past to a top-to-bottom hardware upgrade and greater software integration we get now. Having been on the UA train for a while, their stuff is just way more useful and way more reliable and easier to configure than when it started.

So here’s what you get:

All new A/D and D/A conversion which UA claims now best the industry for dynamic range and low signal-to-noise.
More DSP. 6-core processing boosts DSP by 50% over the past generation.
Mic preamp emulations. So, here’s another reason to run dedicated DSP – you can track through integrated preamp emulations of Neve, API, Manley, Fender, and more, saving money and space and adding flexibility in the studio, and then letting you take that studio rig on the road in a way that was previously impossible.
Surround formats up to 7.1, with speaker calibration and fold-down.

The surround thing is coming quarter 4, and obviously makes this way more appealing to exactly the sort of production environments likely to be attracted to UA in the first place.

There’s also various nice little touches: a built-in talkback mic and cue support, +24/+20 switchable operation, and a nice software bundle which interestingly now includes Marshall and Ampeg models. (I’m guessing that’s part of this focus on producers.)

The various models:

Apollo | x16 — US$3,499
133 dB dynamic range, THD+N -129 dB, 18 x 20 interface.

Apollo | x8p — $2,999
8 Unison-ready mic preamps, 129 dB dynamic range, switchable +24 dBu headroom settings, 18 x 22

Apollo | x8 — $2,499
Like the above but 4 Unison mic pres, 18×24.

Apollo | x6 — $1,999
The “producer one” – 2 Unison mic pres and Hi-Z ins, still surround support up to 5.1 (the others do 7.1), and 16×22 I/O.

The full range looks like a winner to me; I think we will see a lot of these show up in the studios, mix rooms, post facilities, and a lot of producer rigs, as UA promises.

There just isn’t anyone else doing this kind of platform. (The closest, Softube’s Console 1, in fact works perfectly with the UAD so it’s less a rival than a part of the same ecosystem.) It’s not going to be for everyone, but it does continue to look better for the people it’s for.

https://www.uaudio.com/apollo-x

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New Massive, cheaper cost of entry, and all today’s NI news, explained

Native Instruments just dumped a whole bunch of product news today – almost too much to follow. Here’s all of it in a nutshell. Spoiler: a new Massive synth is coming, TRAKTOR 3 is here, and it’ll cost less to get into their DJ, Maschine, and keyboard ranges.

There are two things coming that are really, really cool. One is the Massive synth, the power plug-in that sort of accidentally helped launched EDM, is back. And maybe to make up for EDM, now there’s a bunch of new features everyone will love. (Please, please try not to make another giant American/European dance genre with them.)

And on the DJ side, as I wrote separately, you get a new version of TRAKTOR plus a controller with moving, “haptic” wheels that’s more fun to play.

Other than that, this is mostly just about refreshing the product range and adding some more cost-effective entry points. Let’s follow along:

The products

MASSIVE X: Roughly a decade later, we get an all new flagship NI synth. Massive X has a new sound engine that takes advantage of today’s CPUs, new subtractive filters, lots of new effects, and a big modular engine for routing everything together. We should get more of the grimy, analog-modeled sound Reaktor Blocks and Monark and their ilk have given us, but despite “Monark” appearing on the filters, NI’s engineers tell me they wrote new code. Massive X is interesting, though: it seems both simpler and more understandable on first glance, but deeper and more modular under the hood.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait to see more – Massive X is due in February, and the screenshots I’ve seen aren’t yet available to the public.

It’ll lead Komplete 12, though, across all editions. The existing Massive remains bundled with Maschine, and will continue to see updates – as it’s far lighter on CPU usage.

KONTAKT’s new Creator Tools promise to be a major boon to sound library developers and power users.

Same UI, but new effects in the new KONTAKT 6.

Wavetable module.

New KONTAKT. Kontakt 6 is another long-awaited update. For end users, there are new instruments: Analog Dreams (retro synths), Ethereal Earth (hybrid traditional/synthesized instruments), and Hybrid Keys (digital/keyboard combos).

But it’s really the behind-the scenes stuff that matters here. You can add three new reverbs, Replika delay, wah-wah, and a new wavetable engine to your instrument creations. There’s also a powerful Creator Tools app for people building sound libraries for their ecosystem, including instrument editing and debugging.

In other words, what you’ll really want to do with Kontakt 6 is play around with that wavetable module and make your own instruments.

KOMPLETE KONTROL A-Series – the cheaper ones. Like the NI keyboards and their easy navigation / mapping, but don’t like the higher price and don’t need (or want) those light-up colors? The A-Series is for you. The display is tiny, but the encoders are still usable and touch sensitivity means you can see which parameters are mapped to each encoder. NI have also developed their own semi-weighted keyboard action – and it feels pretty good. In return, prices are way lower – US$/EUR 149 (25-key), 199 (49-key), and 249 (61-key). Seems like it’ll be a huge hit.

KOMPLETE KONTROL S88 – the hammer one. The fully-weighted, hammer-action S88 gets an overdue MK2 refresh (it was one generation behind all the other sizes), so with the new displays and control features, plus wheels and not just touchpads. Also, while it’s a Fatar keybed, they’ve chosen a different one with a slightly faster action. I like this one better, for sure – it’s on par with some of the better liked hammer keys in recent years (feeling to me indistinguishable from the Kawaii keyboards, for instance). USD/EUR 999.

MASCHINE MIKRO The new MIKRO lets you access Maschine without hooking up a larger controller. That seems ideal for tight spaces and tight budgets. It doesn’t have exactly the same pads as the MK3, and losing those big displays is definitely a tradeoff. But I’ve got one in to test to see how the pads compare, and I personally relish the idea of keeping the MIKRO hooked up at all times in my shared studio rather than constantly swapping the larger controller with other machines.

The software bundle is where this gets really nice: Maschine Factory Selection (still a full 1.6G of sounds), Massive, Monark, and Reaktor Prism, and of course a MIDI mode for use with other software. Price for all of this is US$/EUR 249, with all that software no one else has.

TRAKTOR 3. The latest Traktor Pro 3 is a major rebuild, with a slick, flat new look, and a much easier, more powerful interface. Mixer FX are more direct one-knob effect and filter controls that are made ready for live jamming. Audio quality is improved, too, with the ability to route mixer audio entirely externally and a new time stretching algorithm. More on this soon.

TRAKTOR S4. Haptic wheels, an updated controller setup, dirt-resistant faders, and full inputs and outputs for $899 makes this the flagship controller to beat. Full preview:

TRAKTOR S2. The S2 looks and feels a lot like the S4. Sure, it lacks the S4’s fancy haptic wheels, but at least the build is similar. The S2 is still a capable entry-level controller, though it will have to go up against Pioneer offerings that work with their CDJ and Rekordbox ecosystems (aka “pack only USB sticks and go to the club” ecossytems). I’m also curious how it compares to Roland’s new controllers, which work with Serato and feature low-latency operation and some 808-inspired drum extras. But it looks like it brings a lot of what was great about the Z1, only with the ability to beat match on wheels.

Note that this promises future iOS compatibility, though. Time for an updated mobile TRAKTOR, no doubt. US$/EUR 299.

Online platforms. Sounds.com itself looks largely as we’ve seen it – so we’re still waiting on how this will integrate with NI’s products or what other features it will bring. But it is expanding internationally to more countries and adding new content. The Loop Loft soundware site and Metapop online collaboration/community hub meanwhile, each recent NI acquisitions, see their own updates. I hope to talk to Mate Gallic from NI about how this is all fitting together.

KOMPLETE 12. A lot of these products center around the new Komplete bundle. This year’s edition includes the all-new Kontakt 6 and electric sunburst Session Guitarist, Massive X (later on, when it’s done), and TRK-01, the Reaktor-powered kick/bass synth. (TRK-01 came out this summer and is stupidly cool, like dangerously so. More on that another time.)

When they’re available

NI don’t normally announce products this far ahead of shipping, so it’s worth just putting this on a timeline.

Now: Sounds.com, Loop Loft, Metapop updates (Web services)

Fall: Traktor Control S2 (vague on that date at the moment)

September 18: Maschine MIKRO

September 27: S88 keyboard

October 1: Kontakt 6, Komplete 12

October 18: Traktor Pro 3

October 23: Komplete Kontrol A-series keyboards

November 1: Traktor S4

February 2019: Massive X

And you get this video now, of course:

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Inside Cypher2, and what could be a more expressive future for synths

For all the great sounds they can make, software synths eventually fit a repetitive mold: lots of knobs onscreen, simplistic keyboard controls when you actually play. ROLI’s Cypher2 could change that. Lead developer Angus chats with us about why.

Angus Hewlett has been in the plug-in synth game a while, having founded his own FXpansion, maker of various wonderful software instruments and drums. That London company is now part of another London company, fast-paced ROLI, and thus has a unique charge to make instruments that can exploit the additional control potential of ROLI’s controllers. The old MIDI model – note on, note off, and wheels and aftertouch that impact all notes at once – gives way to something that maps more of the synth’s sounds to the gestures you make with your hands.

So let’s nerd out with Angus a bit about what they’ve done with Cypher2, the new instrument. Background:

A soft synth that’s made to be played with futuristic, expressive control

Peter: Okay, Cypher2 is sounding terrific! Who made the demos and so on?

Angus: Demos – Rafael Szaban, Heen-Wah Wai, Rory Dow. Sound Design – Rory Dow, Mayur Maha, Lawrence King & Rafael Szaban

Can you tell us a little bit about what architecture lies under the hood here?

Sure – think of it as a multi-oscillator subtractive synth. Three oscillators with audio-rate intermodulation (FM, S&H, waveshape modulation and ring mod), each switchable between Saw and Sin cores. Then you’ve got two waveshapers (each with a selection of analogue circuit models and tone controls, and a couple of digital wavefolders), and two filters, each with a choice of five different analogue filter circuit models – two variations on the diode ladder type, OTA ladder, state variable, Sallen-Key – and a digital comb filter. Finally, you’ve got a polyphonic, twin stereo output amp stage which gives you a lot of control over how the signal hits the effects chain – for example, you can send just the attack of every note to the “A” chain and the sustain/release phase to the “B” chain, all manner of possibilities there.

Controlling all of that, you’ve got our most powerful TransMod yet. 16 assignable modulation slots, each with over a hundred possible sources to choose from, everything from basics like Velocity and LFO through to function processors, step sequencers, paraphonic mod sources and other exotics. Then there’s eight fixed-function mod slots to support the five dimensions of MPE control and the three performance macros. So 24 TransMods in total, three times as many as v1.

Okay, so Cypher2 is built around MPE, or MIDI Polyphonic Expression. For those readers just joining us, this is a development of the existing MIDI specification that standardizes additional control around polyphonic inputs – that is, instead of adding expression to the whole sound all at once, you can get control under each finger, which makes way more sense and is more fun to play. What does it mean to build a synth around MPE control? How did you think about that in designing it?

It’s all about giving the sound designers maximum possibility to create expressive sound, and to manage how their sound behaves across the instrument’s range. When you’re patching for a conventional synth, you really only need to think about pitch and velocity: does the sound play nicely across the keyboard. With 5D MPE sounds, sound designers start having to think more like a software engineer or a game world designer – there’s so many possibilities for how the player might interact with the sound, and they’ve got to have the tools to make it sound musical and believable across the whole range.

What this translates to in the specific case of Cypher2 is adapting our TransMod system (which is, at its heart, a sophisticated modulation matrix) to make it easy for sound designers to map the various MPE control inputs, via dynamically controllable transfer function curves, on to any and every parameter on the synth.

How does this relate to your past line of instruments?

Clearly, Cypher2 is a successor to the original Cypher which was one of the DCAM Synth Squad synths; it inherits many of the same functional upgrades that Strobe 2 gained over its predecessor a couple of years ago – the extended TransMod system, the effects engine, the Retina-friendly, scalable, skinnable GUI – but goes further, and builds on a lot of user and sound-designer feedback we had from Strobe2. So the modulation system is friendlier, the effects engine is more powerful, and it’s got a brand new and much more powerful step-sequencer and arpeggiator. In terms of its relationship to the original Cypher – the overall layout is similar, but the oscillator section has been upgraded with the sine cores and additional FM paths; the shaper section gains wavefolders and tone controls; the filters have six circuits to chose from, up from two in the original, so there’s a much wider range of tones available there; the envelopes give you more choice of curve responses; the LFOs each have a sub oscillator and quadrature outputs; and obviously there’s MPE as described above.

Of course, ROLI hope that folks will use this with their hardware, naturally. But since part of the beauty is that this is open on MPE, any interesting applications working with some other MPE hardware; have you tried it out on non-ROLI stuff (or with testers, etc.)?

Yes, we’ve tried it (with Linnstrument, mainly), and yes, it very much works – although with one caveat. Namely, MPE, as with MIDI, is a protocol which specifies how devices should talk to one another – but it doesn’t specify, at a higher level, what the interaction between the musician and their sound should feel like.

That’s a problem that I actually first encountered during the development of BFD2 in the mid-2000s: “MIDI Velocity 0-127” is adequate to specify the interaction between a basic keyboard and a sound module, and some of the more sophisticated stage controller boards (Kurzweil, etc.) have had velocity curves at least since the 90s. But as you increase the realism and resolution of the sounds – and BFD2 was the first time we really did so in software to the extent that it became a problem – it becomes apparent that MIDI doesn’t specify how velocity should map on to dB, or foot-pounds-per-second force equivalent, or any real-world units.

That’s tolerable for a keyboard, where a discerning user can set one range for the whole instrument, but when you’re dealing with a V-Drums kit with, potentially, ten or twelve pads, of different types, to set up, and little in the way of a standard curve to aim for, the process becomes cumbersome and off-putting for the end-user. What does “Velocity 72” actually mean from Manufacturer A’s snare drum controller, at a sensitivity setting B, via drum brain C triggering sample D?

Essentially, you run into something of an Uncanny Valley effect (a term from the world of movies / games where, as computer generated graphics moved from obviously artificial 8-bit pixel art to today’s motion-captured, super-sampled cinematic epics, paradoxically audiences would in some cases be less satisfied with the result). So it’s certainly a necessary step to get expressive hardware and software talking to one another – and MPE accomplishes that very nicely indeed – but it’s not sufficient to guarantee that a patch will result in a satisfactory, believable playing experience OOTB.

Some sound-synth-controller-player combinations will be fine, others may not quite live up to expectations, but right now I think it’s natural to expect that it may be a bit hit-and-miss. Feedback on this is something I’d like to actively encourage, we have a great dialogue with the other hardware vendors and are keen for to achieve a high standard of interoperation, but it’s a learning process for all involved.

Thanks, Angus! I’ll be playing with Cypher2 and seeing what I can do with it – but fascinating to hear this take on synths and control mapping. More food for thought.

https://fxpansion.com/products/cypher2/

http://roli.com/

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