Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Product: Consequence Chord Synquencer
Manufacturer: Sugar Bytes
Type: Plug-in Chord Sequencer with Built-in Sampled Sounds
Support: Via email: http://www.sugar-bytes.com/content/contact/index.php?lang=en or online support forum: http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=108
Platforms: VST for Windows XP or later, VST & AU for OSX 10.4 or later.
Demo: Available at - http://www.sugar-bytes.com/content/download/demo/index.php?lang=en (Demo video available as well at: http://www.sugar-bytes.com/content/download/demo/index.php?lang=en)
Although Sugar Bytes are a relatively new face on the scene in the plug-in world, anyone active in the Reaktor community is probably familiar with the moniker ‘Programchild’ as the creator of some of the more interesting user-built ensembles. Turns out, Programchild is none other than Rico Baade, who along with Robert Fehse are the founders of Sugar Bytes, whose highly-acclaimed Effectrix plug-in you may have read about. Today, I’ll be looking at their latest offering, Consequence, which is billed as a ‘Chord Synquencer’. As the name suggests, this plug-in combines a sequencer with a built-in sample-based synthesizer providing for a unique way to create melodic loops, rhythms, or even live performances.
After downloading Consequence and its associated sound library from the Sugar Bytes website, I ran the installer and everything was pretty much as you would expect. Just be sure to have your serial number handy, as you will be asked to enter it right after the installer finishes up. After that, you’re ready to go. I know I don’t mention this much, but seriously, I give a BIG round of applause to any company NOT using dongles for copy protection these days!
Let’s get this out of the way. Consequence is not necessarily the kind of plug-in you can just fire up and hit the ground running without cracking the manual. Once you have the interface sorted and have messed around a bit, it’s a very easy instrument to figure out. However, it is an unconventional one, and getting the lay of the land will be much easier if you take the time to peek at the manual. The manual explains things fairly well, although a tutorial to get people started would be a nice addition for sure. That said, it will get you oriented with the instrument, and from there, you’ll be able to figure it out on your own pretty easily.
The interface for Consequence is very good. Sugar Bytes have fit a lot of information and control on a single page (aside from a toggle to reach the EFFECTS section) in a way that makes sense and is easy to use. At the very top, you’ll find a menu bar for choosing between the SYNTH or EFFECTS settings, as well as the preset management system where users can load sound sets by themselves, sequences by themselves, or a ‘global’ preset which contains both. No matter how you save your presets, sequences and sounds can be switched out independently to give you other options to expand your presets further. Like the rhythm of one preset, but the sound set from another? No problem!
Below that are the three instrument slots. Consequence contains three very basic sample-based synthesizers for the sequencer to trigger. Sounds are loaded in from a menu within each slot. There’s not much you can do to edit the sounds – there’s an amplitude envelope and basic filter which can be modulated by a sequencer as well as a bit crush and ‘age’ effect (which is supposed to recreate the tonal inconsistencies you see on vintage synths), but that’s about it for sound sculpting.
If one selects the EFFECTS toggle at the top of the screen, this same area holds the settings for the built-in effects which include a reverser, a chorus, a phaser, a delay, and a reverb. The effects sound quite nice, but for the most part, I found myself preferring to do processing with external plug-ins unless I was automating the built-in ones as part of the sound design. To the right of the instrument slots is a sound recorder that will allow you to make your sequences into WAV files for easy use within Ableton Live, or other loop-based DAWs. This section also contains some global settings for tuning, as well as a 4 on the floor kick drum that you can use for reference when you’re programming sequences (a nice touch).
Below this you’ll find the sequencer section. There are actually many different sequencers within a Consequence preset for controlling different aspects of the groove you’re creating. A modulation sequencer allows step-programmed modulation of the filter, the built-in FX levels, envelope parameters and a handful of other options.
Next up, we find the Performance Sequences which allow you to enter values indicating the octave, glide, tie, triggering mode (for controlling whether a step plays the chord as a chord or as an arpeggiation), and multi-trigger settings (for having a gate fire off more than once in a step, good for rolls, glitches, etc.).
A gate sequencer is next for programming the rhythm and velocity levels of the chords, and below that is the chord sequencer which selects which of the up to 16 defined chords for a particular preset is to sound at a given point in the sequence. So instead of using the bar height in the sequencer determining the pitch, as you might expect, it’s basically choosing from a palette of 16 chord ‘snapshots’ you define in the CHORD MEMORY section at the bottom. These can also be triggered via MIDI which will come in handy for live performance.
In use, the sequencers are a lot of fun. Everything is laid out in from of you in one place making it easy to tweak and twist your sequences as they play. One feature I particularly liked was the shift arrows which will shift the pattern of a sequence back and forth a step at a time allowing you to drastically alter the feel of your loop or just to tweak it to perfection. One thing I think the sequencers are sorely missing, however, is a randomize option. The ability to instantly randomize sequences would be a lot of fun, and would open up possibilities to users they might not have discovered on their own.
I also really wish each sound module could have its own gate and chord sequencers. As it is, all three instruments share the same gate (rhythm) and chord (pitch) sequencers. It becomes possible to create more complex sequences by having some instruments triggered as chords and others as arps, but even just having separate gate sequencers per instrument would really expand what you could do rhythmically with your sequences.
One final wish for the sequencers would be the ability for each sequencer to have its own separate length, so you could run a gate sequence of 8 steps against a modulation sequence of 5 steps, for example, and the relation between the two would constantly be shifting as it played on.
So what about the sounds? After all, this is a ‘Synquencer’, so the sequencer is only half of the equation. I have to say over all, that the built-in samples are probably the weak point of this instrument. Although I am not 100% sure of this, it appears that every instrument is made up of a single sample stretched across the entire range of the instrument. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, but it does give some of the sounds (particularly the acoustic sounds) a cheap, General-MIDI/ ‘early 90’s computer game music’ feel which seems inappropriate for a modern instrument such as this. This wouldn't be a huge issue if you could load in your own samples, but as of right now, you can not. I’m not a programmer, but it seems like that would be a fairly easy feature to implement in a future version that would expand the possibilities of this instrument significantly.
If you are using the VST version of the plug-in, it is apparently possible to use the MIDI out from Consequence to trigger hardware or software synths, which would also open a lot of possibilities, but alas, I am using Logic and the AU format of the plug-in which doesn’t allow for this due to a restriction of the AU format itself. But for VST users, this increases the appeal of the plug-in greatly.
Not all the sounds are cheesy. There are a lot of really nice mallet and percussion sounds, some passable bass sounds, and other options that sound great, but for the most part, I feel the sound library as it exists now is really selling this instrument short. The preset sequences are also pretty underwhelming for the most part. Digging in and doing your own programming really reveals this to be a much more capable instrument than the presets generally demonstrate. That's the case with most instruments, but I worry that people might just judge this based on the presets without learning what it's truly capable of.
So who is going to find Consequence the most useful? I’d say it would be very useful for minimal, tech, and some electro house, IDM, Berlin-school synth stuff, and creating melodic loops for hip-hop oriented material. People who are used to creating songs out of loops in general will have a lot of fun with this one. I also found it a lot of fun to play with if I was stuck for an idea with a song I was working on. Sometimes programming music in a way that is different than what you’re accustomed to can give you a fresh perspective and some great new ideas.
Overall, I am left with the feeling that this is an instrument that is going to really come into its own with the next version. It’s plenty capable and fun as it exists, but with a better sound library, the ability to load user samples, and separate gate sequencers per instrument slot, Consequence would increase its usefulness by about 10 times.
Here are four quick loops I created myself to give you an idea of what Consequence sounds like. For more extensive audio demos visit the Sugar Bytes website.