Friday, February 27, 2009

Meowsqueak's New "Off White Noise" Blog

Meowsqueak, who recently submitted the Wealthy Pad Combinator to Reason Patch A Day, has started a blog of his own called Off White Noise. The blog is quite a bit more technical than what you might find here, but if you give the tutorials a little time, I think you'll find a lot of value in them. Be sure to check out Designing a Noise Gate in Reason 4. Not only is it a useful effect to add to your Reason toolbag, but it's also a great step-by-step walkthrough that outlines what Meowsqueak did to get the effect he wanted. Really excellent stuff!

Note: Have you noticed that all of my "editorial" style posts have the tag "Boring?" It's not meant as any disrespect toward Meowsqueak. His blog is anything but "boring."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Korg nanoPad Review... Sort of

I'm not shy about admitting that I am, when it all comes down to it, a mouse-slinger. The notes I "play" are usually just the notes I've painted on to the piano roll view and while I do know a few chords and could likely play them if someone held a gun to my head, I just don't feel comfortable sitting in front of a keyboard. As much as I'd like to say otherwise, I'm just not a musician.

When I first got Reason, all those years ago, I immediately bought a Oxygen 8, which was the hot midi-controller at the time, but I never really used it much. I did most of my composition "on the road," sitting in a coffee shop before work, so nearly everything I did happened in Edit Mode with a mouse or trackpad.

New controllers came out since Reason 1, of course, and I've looked at them with varying degrees of interest, but ultimately knew they'd be joining my Oxygen 8 in the closet, rather than becoming a daily composition tool. Getting another controller would just be a waste of money, once the initial thrill of having a new toy wore off, so there wasn't much reason to get a new controller or keyboard.

Then, I saw the announcement for the Korg nano line, three USB controllers designed to be paired with laptops, small and portable enough that they were perfect for on the go work. The nanoPad immediately jumped out at me, as I had been looking at getting a drum pad style controller for a while now, so I kept a look-out for them during my occasional trips to Guitar Center. I wasn't doing much composition in coffee shops anymore, but these controllers looked to fill a need for me.

You've probably seen the announcements and reviews yourself, so I'll skip the basic descriptions of the nanoPad and get right to how the nanoPad works with Propellerheads Software's Reason 4. In a word: great. I did have some minor issues with it out of the box, which I'll explain, but it's a great little piece of hardware and I cannot recommend it enough.

Check out Sonic State's review, Stray411's review and AudioMidi's review if you're in the dark about this device and want a good introduction.

The nanoPad is essentially plug-and-play in Mac OS X, so you can immediately start using it just by plugging its included USB cable into your computer. However, if you want to use the Korg Kontrol Editor to modify its controls (and you likely will as I'll explain below), you'll need to load its drivers, a painless process, but not immediately obvious considering that it seems to work perfectly without them until you try to communicate with it via the Kontrol Editor. The Kontrol Editor and the nanoPad drivers are all found on Korg's website and are not included in the box.

Why was it necessary to modify the plug-and-play settings? The Korg has four Scene settings that you can toggle through by pressing the Scene key. At its most basic level, the various Scenes serve as octaves, letting you move higher up the octave range with each press. I bought the nanoPad specifically for use with Reason's Redrum, so it was the first instrument I tried, and found the nanoPad sent strange midi messages into Reason. Pad 7 would trigger the first channel in Redrum, Pad 8 would trigger the second channel, and Pad 9 would mute channel 3. Pads 1 and 2 didn't seem to do anything and while these settings might have made sense to someone already experienced with using pad controllers with their Software, I found it confusing. It seemed to work fine with Logic, which was even more odd, but wasn't keyed up the way I wanted in Reason.

Using the Korg Kontrol Editor software, I went back and reprogrammed it so that Pad 1 would trigger Redrum's Channel 1 sample (C2), Pad 2 would trigger Channel 2 (C#2), and so on. I also modified the nanoPad's Scenes 2-4 to build on the new settings on Scene 1, as its Chromatic scale in its factory settings started at C4 in Scene 2, rather than C3, skipping an entire octave.

The rest of the nanoPad's controls, such as its X/Y pad and Hold, Flam, and Roll buttons, all work perfectly in Reason without needing any further tweaking. The X/Y pad, for example, will give you some expression in the Bend and Mod wheels of synthesizers, and is used to help control the Hold, Flam and Roll buttons when using it with Redrum or a sample device like NN19 or NN-XT.

Download my basic nanoPad setup here.

Of course, what's really exciting is that you have quite a bit of flexibility with the nanoPad's control settings. While I have mine set up to be used as a basic midi controller, someone a bit more clever could find a number of interesting possibilities in configuring its "Pad Behavior" settings and modify its Off/On values. For example, by changing the nanoPad's "Assign Type" to "Control Change" you could change the nanoPad into a real-time remixing tool, allowing you to mute and solo tracks on the fly by sending midi messages to Remix or triggering passages in NN-XT.

Interestingly, I find myself "playing" the nanoPad using Reason's synthesizers quite a bit. There is something very pleasant about its rubber pads and I find them really comfortable for triggering long, droning synths, like the Saturn's Rings patches I've been posting. The nanoPad is polyphonic, of course, so you can easily play chords over its twelve pads, assuming you're playing out simple key combinations.

When I picked up the nanoPad, I was trying to decide between it and the M-Audio Trigger Finger controller. I had used the Trigger Finger a few times in stores and really liked it, but I think I made the right decision in getting the nanoPad. First, Reason's Redrum only has 10 channels, which is still two below nanoPad's 12 pad controllers, making the Trigger Finger's 16 pads a bit overkill with Reason. And, the Trigger Finger has a number of sliders and pots I just didn't need for hammering out quick beats and notes. The smaller size of the nanoPad fits my needs a bit better and I actually like the feel of the nanoPad's pads better than the Trigger Finger's harder plastic. At more than one-third the price, it's a great little device.

My experience with the nanoPad has been so good that I'm already looking at picking up the nanoKontrol and the nanoKey units. The nanoKey has a bit of a reputation as being kind of cheesy, but it might be fun, especially on the go.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Polar Elements Refill From New Atlantis Audio

I rarely purchase refills. Its either due to stubbornness or pride, but I often feel that with a little creativity and time, I can come up with my own sounds, rather than surf through someone else's presets. Sure, you can learn a few things by studying a patch that someone else has put together, but with only a few exceptions, I tend to shy away from commercial refills.

However, having said that, the price for New Atlantis Audio's Polar Elements refill makes it hard to beat. At just $5 there are some nice sounds to be found in its 50 combinators. I especially liked Cold Sunrise, Dall's Horn, Dense Descent, Gakkel's Secret, Inupiaq Bells, Sagging Moraine, and Uria Flutter. The combinators for Orca Straight and Welcome To The Top are just beautiful.

Check it out if you're looking for something cheap and fun.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tutorials: Rolling Your Own Drum Sounds

Tom, at the excellent blog Waveformless, has been running an ongoing series of tutorials aimed at creating your own, custom drum sounds using various synthesis techniques. If drums are a big part of your tracks, and I don't think very many of us go without them, I highly recommend you check out Tom's tutorials and try your hand and building some unique sounds.

Tom's tutorials are really great. They're well-written and easy to follow, and while they're never Reason-specific, he explains things so well that you should be able to follow along with the instruments and effects contained inside of Reason. I plan on spending some time with these tutorials myself and building my own custom kit.

One of the first posts on Reason Patch A Day was a recreation of Tom's Tape Flutter Logic effect, which was inspired by the Boards of Canada sound.