Monday, October 31, 2011
BeSound have announced a new sample library for Kontakt called "Deep Electro Vol. 1", which will be free until the end of November. All you need to do is fill out a short form and the download link will be sent to you via email. The library consists of analog synths sampled chromatically through pre-amps for extra warmth.
Earlier this year, legendary film maker David Lynch released an electronic-tinged double single much to the surprise of the music world. That single is to be followed up by the November 8th release of "Crazy Clown Time", the debut full-length album from Lynch. Want to check it out? You can stream it online for a limited time thanks to NPR.
What better way to celebrate Halloween than to listen to some creepy music?
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Product: Nuklear Pulsar Train Synthesizer
Developer: Hamburg Audio
Format: AU, VST2, and VST3 for Mac and Windows
Price: €169 (academic discounts available)
Demo: Downloadable demo interrupted periodically by noise
Today I'll be taking a look at the first release from the new developer Hamburg Audio: a software synth called Nuklear.
WHAT IS IT?
Nuklear is a four oscillator software synthesizer that creates its sound via what Hamburg Audio refer to as "Pulsar Train Synthesis". And just what is "Pulsar Train Synthesis"? It's basically a form of Granular Synthesis where the duty cycle of the waveform can be modulated in a way somewhat similar to Pulse Width Modulation. A wide variety of modulators from LFOs and envelopes to step sequencers are available for sound mangling. In case all of that is a bit too much for you to process at first, it can also be used as a standard virtual analog using subtractive synthesis if you'd like to. So let's fire this puppy up and see what it has to offer.
After downloading the demo version of the software, make your purchase online. When you fire up Nuklear for the first time, the authorization window will pop up with what your personal ID number is (based on your system ID). Submit this via Hamburg Audio's website and you will be issued your authorization number which you then enter into the authorization window.
I should mention that I was unable to get the product to register in Logic Audio 9. When I tried to enter the serial number, Logic's internal key command handling took control and changed my screensets in Logic with each keystroke, and none of the numbers entered into the box. Cutting and pasting didn't work either. I brought this up to Hamburg Audio and they said they hadn't encountered this behavior among any of their Mac testers, so it's entirely possible there was something unique to my system that was causing troubles, but it's something to keep in mind. I simply downloaded a demo version of Ableton Live and used that to authorize the plug-in on my system.
Nuklear's documentation comes in the form of a downloadable PDF (which you can download from the product page). The docs are fairly well-written and organized, but some users, myself included, may wish they were a little bit easier for the layman to understand. This is, after all, a type of synthesis that is rarely seen, so describing it in less technical terms for people new to it, might be a good idea. Beyond just a clearer explanation of the synthesis itself, perhaps a few basic tutorials are in order here as well to show the practical applications for Pulsar Train Synthesis and why we would want to use it over another type of synthesis.
Nulkear has a very pretty interface indeed with colors that are easy on the eyes, and a clean, 3D-looking appearance. My one initial criticism is that it seems a bit small. Not unusably so, I just feel like if it was 10% bigger (or even resizable by the user), it might be a bit easier on the eyes. The pulse train set-up and step sequencers would be a lot easier to program as well Your mileage may vary, though. Other than that, the layout and look of the interface is really beautiful.
At the top of the interface, you'll find the preset manager. This window displays the name of the currently-selected preset, the soundset (bank) it's from, the patch category of the patch, user-assignable ratings, and selections to alter the basic settings of the synth can be found here. If you click the "Browse" button, a larger patch browser opens allowing you to see all your patches listed on one page. To the right of this, is another window which is used for setting up modulations as well as controlling MIDI learn capabilities.
Below those windows is the bulk of the interface, the left half of which is made up of Nuklear's 4 oscillators (or "Pulsars"). By shaping different preset Waveforms with special preset Envelopes, you define what is called the "Pulsaret". You can then alter the duty cycle of the Pulsaret via the Frequency control. You can add variations in stereo width and phase to further manipulate your raw oscillator sound. Both semitone and cent tuning knobs are available, as well as a cryptic looking little box full of interlocking triangles. This is the Micro Sequencer. It basically allows you to define which individual pulsarets sound (the bottom row of triangles) and how often the sequence should loop (the top row). Finally, there is the mysterious knob marked "Pulsar". This allows you to switch between Pulsar mode (all the way to the right) or Classic mode (all the way to the left), which turns the oscillators into your standard virtual analog oscillator. Of course, you can even use a mixture of the two types by putting the knob somewhere in the middle.
Next door to the oscillators, you'll find the filters and the mixer. The mixers is fairly straightforward. It allows you to set the volume and pan level of each Pulsar, as well as routing each Pulsar's Filter Destination (allowing you to send to either or both of Nuklear's filters).
The Filter section gives users access to two multi-mode filters (offering lowpass, highpass, and bandpass filters in both 12db and 24db variations). Filters can be run in serial or parallel, and can even cross modulate one another for ring modulation effects.
Finally, at the very right hand side of the interface, you'll find the Envelope and LFO section, as well as the effects and step sequencer sections. Nuklear offers an extremely generous 8 envelopes and 8 LFOs apiece! This is a good example of where I find the interface to be a bit too small. You select the envelopes and LFOs by clicking on tiny circles. Getting your selection right the first time can be a bit difficult if you're a klutz like me. Each envelope offers controls for Attack, Decay, Sustain, Hold, and Release with adjustable slope shape for the Attack, Decay, and Release. Nice!
The LFOs are about what you'd expect with controls for Frequency, Attack, Offset, Phase, and Waveform, as well as buttons to sync the LFOs to your host tempo (via various note values) and set whether the LFOs retrigger or not.
This brings me to modulation. The set-up is actually quite nice. When you click on a knob, it is highlighted in blue. This also automatically brings up the modulation settings for that parameter in the modulation window. You can assign two modulation sources to each paramater and even modulate the amount with another modulator. Very easy and intuitive.
Finally, we have the Effects and Step Sequencer section. Nuklear offers two basic effects, a delay with adjustable time (syncable, of course), feedback, width, and mix, and both cut and damping controls for both high and low frequencies. The Distortion effect offers 3 different types of distortion, drive, gain, mix, and high and low damping controls.
The Step Sequencer is surprisingly nicely-featured, so it's a shame the window is so small. The sequencer can have up to 8 different modulation destinations and 8 different patterns. In the sequencer's Mono mode, it acts like a simple note sequencer. In the Poly mode, it acts as a modulation sequencer allowing you to modulate multiple parameters precisely and rhythmically. Holds, slides, and returns are programmable as well. Patterns can also be assigned to trigger via MIDI.
So, it's fairly obvious that Nuklear is an extremely well-designed and full-featured synth, but how does it sound? Unfortunately, this is where things kind of fall apart for Nuklear. The simple fact of the matter is that Nuklear is not a very good-sounding synth in this version. There is a distinct lack of bass in most of the patches, and when there is low end present, it's muddy and indistinct. Many of the sounds seem like their bandlimited or EQed strangely. Sometimes an almost comb-filtered quality is present. I'll admit, I am not familiar with Pulsar Train Synthesis, so for all I know, that's just the way this particular kind of synthesis sounds. But even when you put together sounds with the Classic virtual analog mode, Nuklear just sounds cold, sterile, and lifeless. The oscillators sound very digital and "brittle" and the filters, while being decent enough, aren't enough to make the sound of the synth come alive. Perhaps some sort of "Analog" knob that could impart some irregularity would be useful here, although there is just something I fundamentally didn't like about the quality of the oscillators.
All this isn't to say that Nuklear is incapable of some decent sounds. It's very mid-rangey quality would be perfect for Goa and psytrance style leads. The sequencer is very nicely appointed and some of the included patches that make use of this are pretty cool. The extensive modulation capabilities make it very adept at weird "special FX" type sounds. The quality of the oscillators, while not great for traditional synthesis in my opinion, almost sound a bit like video game console sounds. That could make it appealing to the ChipSet boffins. But these interesting sounds tend to be in the minority. Many of the sounds are thin, unpleasant sounding, or just rather non-descript. Basses with little low-end, thin pads with too much high end, and just an overall sort of "cheap digital" sound (which may, in fact, be exactly what you're looking for).
I want to be clear about something here, though. At the end of the day, what most people are going to be concerned with is if a synth sounds good. That's a totally subjective thing and one man's noise might be another man's Nirvana. But I think it is important for me to re-emphasize how on the mark almost every other aspect of this synth is. The generous features are there. The clean, easy-to-figure out design is there. The "offering something different" factor is there. With some serious re-engineering of the sound of this plug-in, it could be something truly great. I hope Hamburg Audio will pursue that, as it's always great to see another new developer on the scene. As it is, though, I can only recommend this if you've got money to burn and are desperate to mess around with a different type of synthesis. [5/10]
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Almost everyone I know has a childhood memory of some wonderful toy they asked Santa for and dreamed of having, but never got. The Remco SoundFX Machine was my own personal white whale. I begged my parents for one (even at age 8 I was showing a budding interest in synthesis, I guess), and I now realize that they were completely right not to get it for me, as I probably would've driven them to madness within minutes of turning the thing on. Still, as I've grown up (allegedly) and developed not only a full-fledged interest in electronic music, but a career as well, I've always wanted to play around with one. Never ran into one, unfortunately, although they show up for ludicrous prices occasionally on eBay.
But now there's a next best option. In trying to look up info on the toy, I came across Ghostfact's SoundFX Machine, which runs on OSX as either an AU plug-in, or a standalone application. Ghostfact are upfront about the fact that they've never played the genuine article and base the design on technical research, but I have to say after playing with it a bit, it sounds quite a bit like the YouTube clips of the real deal I've come across.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a whale to go kill...
"Since we're entirely focused on developing our own unique software, we've decided to give away our entire sample collection. It includes several hundred completely original sounds created using some of the most amazing hardware and software tools such as Roland Fantom-G and V-Synth, Native Instruments MASSIVE, iZotope Spectron, Spectrasonics Omnisphere plus rare analogs like Polivoks and Krok 2401. Feel free to use these materials to compose music for commercial purposes, and if you like them, don't forget to check out our plugins, they're really awesome!"
The 200MB of samples are divided into 4 categories: "Ambisphere", featuring 90 seamlessly-looping ambient and atmospheric sounds, "Beats" featuring 100 beat and rhythmic effect loops, "Motions" featuring 100 synth and bass loops and "Vocoder": 79 vocoder loops and single sounds.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
We reported a little while back that Propellerheads were looking for beta testers for an update to the venerable Recycle, so we knew this was in the pipeline, but now it's available to the general public.
Here's the details:
- The program is now fully compatible with 64 bit operating systems.
- ReCycle 2.2 is also a true Cocoa program under Mac OS and works great with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.
- The main window has been redesigned, with new zooming and scrolling. Scrolling is smoother and you can now zoom in further. Some redundant controls have been removed and others added.
- When exporting AIFF and Wave files, Record/Reason-style tempo information is now included in the file. Also, when importing audio files created in Record or Reason, the tempo information in those files is used for setting tempo and length in ReCycle.
- The Waveform now indicates graphically what sound will be played back, by dimming silent sections.
- You can now use the Q, W, E and R keys to select tools, just like in Reason.
- The Preference dialog has been streamlined and updated.
- Open Recent (documents) is now a sub-menu on Mac OS.
- The status bar has been removed.
- We have removed support for the Sound Designer II, Mixman, SampleCell and Akai (.aka) formats since these are all outdated.
- The authorization system and copy protection has been changed.
- Installation under Mac OS is now drag and drop (no installer).
Ever wanted to have a crack at remixing synth-pop legends Erasure? Beatport is now offering that opportunity (for a price) and is offering prizes from Native Instruments, Novation, Elektron, iZotope, and more. You can download the stems for $3.99 and remix them to your heart's content. Submissions are accepted from October 25th to November 7th, and the public will then vote for their favorite remixes between November 8th and 22nd.
How do you all feel about paying to download stems to remix? I have kind of mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, back in the 80's and 90's, I probably would've paid many times the asking price for access to the isolated tracks from my favorite bands, but in the present climate the music industry is in, it seems a bit odd to me for some reason.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Just got back from Portishead's amazing performance in Seattle. Anyone else catch the shows on the U.S. tour? Worth it for the stripped down "Wandering Star/Glorybox" mash-up alone. I'll admit to getting some tears in my eyes when Beth Gibbons did her amazing Theremin impression during that one.
The band did a near flawless job of recreating their studio sound on stage and that obviously meant bringing a lot of gear. Does anyone know what the synth with the home-made "Silycon" tag on the back was? Looked kind of like a Pro One from the back panel layout, but I wasn't close enough to see. At any rate, here is an excellent article from 2009 on the gear they use for those who get geeked out about such things.
[photo by Jennifer Wyatt]