Friday, September 25, 2009

Reason Patch A Day Is One Year Old!

The Reason Patch A Day blog started one year ago today, and while there have been a few missed days here and there, not to mention the occasional gaps due to holidays and work, over 400 patches have been posted in the last year.

It's been an interesting year for me. I've learned a lot about how to coax sounds from Reason's instruments, learned a little about blogging, and generally had a great time interacting with all of you in the comments sections and via email. So, thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to make Reason Patch A Day one of your daily (or frequent) internet destinations.

To celebrate this anniversary, I'll be taking a short break from the blog to work through some tutorials and try to gain back some of my energy regarding patch and sound design. I'll probably spend some time sampling some strange noises, as well, so there's no telling what I'll come back with when I resume posting next week.

Do you have any tracks you've put together using one of the patches here? It's always been my intention to share the musical creations people have made, using these tools, but so far no one has stepped up with anything to share. So, let's start the second year of Reason Patch A Day right. Send me your tracks (MP3s or RNS files) at patchaday (at) earthlink (dot) net and I'll get them posted here. If you send a MP3, please be sure to let me know what patches you used. I'll probably set up a Soundcloud account to host everyone's tracks.

Again, thanks for dropping by and spending your time here at Reason Patch A Day. I'll see you next week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Korg nanoKey Review

As you might have seen in my "nanoRack" posts, I recently picked up a Korg nanoKey, and after a couple of weeks of using it, I thought I'd pass along some thoughts regarding its use.

The nanoPad, which I reviewed several months ago, had 12 pads which was more than enough to cover Redrum's 10 channels. Given that the nanoKey is just a portable two octave keyboard, there are no Reason-specific advantages or limitations to using the nanoKey. It "fits" all of Reason's instruments just fine, so its effectiveness really comes down to how it works as a keyboard, so this review will concern itself primarily with that, rather than any specific issues with regards to using it with Reason.

While the nanoSeries saw a lot of positive buzz when it was first announced, the nanoKey was largely seen as a disappointment when it was released. The keys are responsive and pressure-sensitive, but as you probably already know, have more in common with laptop keys than any musical keyboard, making them a little awkward. If you're used to hammering out a few notes using a "virtual keyboard" like the one in Logic (and now Record, Propellerhead Software's newest app), the nanoKey will probably feel comfortable, even spacious, but if you're more used to a traditional keyboard, or possibly even a mini-keyboard like an Oxygen 8, you'll find the nanoKey a bit lacking.

The the left of the keyboard are six buttons which control Pitch Bend (up and down), Mod Wheel, CC Mode, and two buttons to toggle up and down in Octave. These keys feel like the keyboard keys, so again you have that laptop keyboard feel, but don't appear to be pressure or velocity sensitive. The Mod Wheel button, for example, is either on or off, with no variations between, making its use rather limited. The same thing is true of Pitch Up and Pitch Down, so while its nice to have those options, they're not very practical in "real world" use. Using Korg's Kontrol Editor you could certainly shorten the range of these keys, so that your Mod Wheel goes from 0% to only 40%, instead of 0% to 100%, for example, but because you seem to be limited to either on or off, your "performance range" will be limited to whatever presets you design for your gear.

Of course, having said all of that, even with access to a few other keyboards at home, I tend to use the nanoKey quite a bit, as its simply more convenient. I think I've mentioned it before, but my "studio" is also my home office, so there's usually a bit of setup time involved with getting out gear for music making, especially if I've moved away from the office to the kitchen table or patio. The nanoKey effectively removes that barrier for me, as its small enough to just pull out and use, without hunting for the wall warts and USB cables needed to get my Oxygen 8 or Yamaha keyboard setup and ready to go. No, it's not as nice as even my first generation Oxygen 8, especially if I'm hoping to add a little more human performance to my playing via the mod or pitch bend wheels, but its immediate, which tends to suit my needs when getting down an idea quickly.

One point of interest is that the nanoKey is by far the thinnest piece in the nano series of controllers, about half of the thickness of the nanoKontrol, and slightly thinner than the nanoPad. The differences don't seem like much when you look at them, but even as slight as they are, the nanoKey feels like the most portable of the three units. I packed my nanoKey in my bag today, along with my laptop and my usual work stuff, while out running errands and it took up very little room, so little, in fact, that it might find a permanent place in my bag during my long commutes.

So, do I recommend the nanoKey? I do, but with some caveats. If you want something portable and fast to set up, the nanoKey can't be beat. Korg is marketing the entire nanoSeries for use on the train or bus, in-between classes, or wherever else their cartoon spokesman needs to make music, and it suits that grab-and-go mentality very well. Its the very definition of "quick and dirty." What you get in exchange for that portability and size is unnatural key action and almost useless pitch and mod capabilities. If that's a deal-breaker for you, and I would guess that for a great number of you it is, you should look elsewhere.

Note: The nanoKey uses the same USB driver as the nanoPad and nanoKontrol, so if you already own one of the nanoSeries devices, your drivers will already be installed and you should only be required to add it as a new device in Reason.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reason Resource: Download Stompp's New FreeFill

In the last poll, many of you expressed an interest in seeing more links and resources from around the web. I guess I just assume that all of you are reading the same blogs I am, so anything I stumble across on, say Synthtopia, you've already seen. I'll try to change that and post links to resources I found interesting, even if they are just stolen from other blogs (with credit, of course).

If you don't read the Propellerhead Users Forum, you may have missed Stompp's announcement for his September '09 FreeFill. I highly recommend you take a look at Stompp's latest creation, so download it by clicking here.

I recently went through a refill purging on my computer, but Stompp's refills always make the cut. His sound designs are nearly always clever, lush, and best of all, useful. I can't say enough good things about what he can do from within Reason. I also noticed some of his patches were in the recent Record+Reason FX refill, so take a look at those, as well.

Check out the announcement thread on the Propellerhead Users Forum for more information or to let Stompp know what you think of his latest free release.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book Review: Homemade Electronic Music

For Father's Day (a commercial-driven psuedo-holiday in June, for those of you outside of the US) my wife, who is patient, kind, and keenly in-tune with the nerdy man she married, got me the book "Homemade Electronic Music," written by Nicolas Collins. I've always been intrigued by kits and simple circuits and have been breathing in the occasional solder fumes since I was ten years old, so the book is a great fit for me, and I've really enjoyed looking through it, reading the occasional project, and building mental parts lists.

If you took my advice and picked up the Get LoFi Fuzz Kit, this book is the next obvious step. It is aimed at beginners, with a fair number of pages dedicated to building your soldering skills, but quickly ramps up to simple, but intriguing circuits, built either on breadboard or generic circuit boards. Unlike a project-driven manual, "Homemade Electronic Music" encourages experimentation and seems to be written with the expectation that you will take what you've learned and keep adapting it, modifying your projects to make them your own, and coming up with sounds and ideas that are unique to your own needs and workflow.

I know, my praise for this book is being laid on a little thick, but it really is a great little book, written with a relaxed, conversational tone, and as a gateway into circuit-bending and design, I don't think you're going to be able to find a better book. I haven't set up an Amazon affiliate account, so it doesn't do me any good to provide links to them, but if you want to get your own copy you can find it here.

I've had the book for a few months, but aside from some electromagnetic eavesdropping with a telephone coil, as described in one of the early chapters, I haven't had a chance to really tackle any of its projects. Once I finally get a parts list together, I hope to start spending more time with it, so you might be seeing some new samples here on Patch A Day.