Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reason 5 Announcement... Updates

Have you been checking in with the Propellerhead website to see what else is coming for Reason?

I'm not a Reason apologist, nor am I a frothing fanboy. I see the warts in Propellerhead software just as well and as easily as other people, but given that I have a blog dedicated to posting new Reason patches, obviously I've found enough things in the software that appeal to me and make sense for my workflow. That isn't to say that I think Reason or Record are the end-all, be-all software solutions for making music. If I felt that way, I wouldn't spend so much time with Logic, Renoise, or the strange collection of hardware and noise-makers I've amassed. However, even after admitting that I see Reason's warts and that I do use other software, when I have some free time on my hands and a desire to make music, I usually reach for Reason.

Why? Well, Reason was my first software tool. I got Logic shortly after I wrapped my brain around Reason, but as intrigued as I was with Logic's possibilities, there was something about Reason that made sense to me. I liked getting my hands dirty, even if only virtually, by messing with routing and I liked the fact that for every limitation I found, there was usually a handful of creative solutions or workarounds if I just looked hard enough. That tinkering, experimental spirit has stayed with Reason from the first version I loaded onto my computer up through version 4, and I think what has me most excited about what we've seen about version 5, is that none of that has changed. Reason, to me, seems to reward creativity. Its software that dares you to be clever and then rewards you when you are.

I don't usually use loops, so Dr. OctoRex isn't very appealing. Blocks? The video on the Propellerhead website says that musicians think in terms of intro, chorus, and fill, but I don't. It's a neat way to arrange things, but again, doesn't look that appealing to me. Neptune? Now we're talking. I don't record vocals, rarely use more than a few spoken word samples, but like other very specific instruments or effects in Reason, such as the BV512 Digital Vocoder and the Redrum Drum Computer, I suspect there will be aspects about Neptune that make it something more than it first appears to be. Using that same spirit of creativity and experimentation, Neptune could be a game changing addition to Record.

So, what about today's announcement explaining that all of Reason's samplers are now... samplers? It seems pretty obvious. It's been talked about and suggested since Reason 1, if my memory serves me, so its a change that makes a lot of sense. Do I support this change? Absolutely. I'd say "it's about time," but the truth is, Propellerheads have always done things by their own timetable, and the users are usually rewarded for their patience.

There's still one more announcement to be made and so it looks like some of my predictions earlier in the week are looking less and less likely. I don't think we'll see a grid sequencer. If you've signed up for the beta, you saw that multi-core support is coming. Also, the brief shots of the screen seem to show a Record-ized sequencer, so those predictions, which weren't exactly going out on a limb, look like they're accurate. Tomorrow? I think tomorrow will be a new instrument, but we'll see... in less than 24 hours.

Given what we've already seen, I have to say my enthusiasm for Reason 5 is building. No individual addition has me drooling into my computer keyboard, but taken as a whole, I think 5 is going to be a nice upgrade. There's still time for that drool-inducing announcement. Tomorrow might be it. But, it looks like Propellerheads are going to continue to allow for and reward creativity. No matter how many new gadgets we get and features get rolled into the software, that core of experimentation remains. That's probably what has me the most excited.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reason 5 Is Coming!

It seems that I am forever behind the curve on these sorts of announcements, but if you haven't already seen the videos and pages, Propellerhead Software have finally announced Reason 5 and an upgrade to Record, announcing version 1.5. The announcement is coming in daily releases and started yesterday with a short video introducing the new Dr. Octo Rex loop player. No word if all of Reasons other new modules will be named after Spider-Man villains, but I am hopeful we'll see the Green Gobverb, Mysteremixer, and a Vulturemetrix EQ in the next few days.

Okay, okay, jokes aside, I think we'll see a handful of new devices, like the Dr. Octo Rex. I think the odds are good that we'll see a new synth, but it's just as likely we won't. It's hard to think of anything that Thor doesn't already cover, except for maybe a physical modeling synth, a la Logic's Sculpture.

If you're a fan of Record's arrangement and editing tools, which I certainly am, I suspect you'll see those tweaks and enhancements making their way over to Reason (which I predicted back in October). Some of those tweaks that Reason users should be excited about are the "Explode" option, the ability to easily move notes between clips, a virtual keyboard, and a number of other tiny tweaks that add up to a better, faster experience. I think multi-core support is almost a given, which for many of us, will make Reason easier to use. As I said, Record is our roadmap toward where Reason is going, and given the time I've spent with Record, I think we're in for some nice, tasty treats.

One aspect of Reason that usually gets overlooked is its hardware integration and stability for playing live. I think using Reason as a live instrument is pretty high on the programmer's priority list, so I suspect we'll see additional upgrades in using Reason in a live setting. Will we see new Reason-specific hardware, a la Live's Launchpad and APC40? I don't know. They may have worked something out, like they did with Line6 in Record, but given how hot grid controllers have been the last year or two, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw a new kind of Matrix device.

I don't know. I'm not much for reading tea leaves or gazing into crystal balls. I will say that Reason 4 didn't initially impress me and it took a few months of use before I grew to appreciate all of the little tweaks that made it such a powerful tool. I don't think I was alone in that experience, so I predict that Propellerheads have been busy creating additions that will really surprise us and make Reason seem as innovative and intriguing as it has always been. Only time will tell.

I'll probably post updates, but they'll be slow coming, so if you're dying for news about the latest version of Reason, you should probably check in with the Propellerheads website and get details from them directly.

Friday, May 14, 2010

.480 Using The Yamaha DD-5 As A MIDI Controller In Reason

This post will probably help exactly none of you, but if any of you are experimenting with incorporating older MIDI gear into your setups, the process might at least be interesting.

As you might remember, a week ago I posted samples from my "new" Yamaha Digital Drums DD-5, explaining that while its built-in sounds may have a fun, cheesy vibe to them, what truly makes the DD-5 intriguing is setting it up to be used as a MIDI controller in Reason/Record. What I didn't get into was that its default MIDI output data is, in a word, strange. Its four pads output to A1, E2, A2, and D#3, making it the very opposite of "plug and play."

There are a couple of things you can do to change this. The first, and most obvious, is to use Reason's "Remote Override Edit Mode" which is what I experimented with to get it working in Redrum. It doesn't take much time and the results are what you would expect, giving you the "hit-here-get-sound-there" effect that you're probably looking for. The problem is that once you have these maps set up, tying each drum pad on the DD-5 to its appropriate Redrum channel, you'll quickly learn that those remote overrides aren't saved as global settings in Reason, instead being settings just for that one song or project. You can work around that, of course, by setting up a Reason or Record song with these settings and saving it as a template file, which you would then load every time you want to use the DD-5 as an instrument controller in a song.

That is, unfortunately, not very practical. I rarely know what devices I'll be using when I start up a new song. Part of the fun in making music is working through that process, picking up gear and blowing the dust off, as you encounter the different needs and inspirations of your latest song. Needing to know which devices you will use, before you start, might not be practical.

The other issue is that your MIDI interface, which accepts the MIDI data from the DD-5 and makes it into something Reason can understand, might not be dedicated solely to your DD-5. As is the case with my own setup, the MIDI interface you use might be more "universal" and sees use with a variety of gear, so mapping the DD-5's drum pads to specific Note Numbers might make it useless for other MIDI gear that require default note assignments, if you unplug devices and plug in new ones, working through your song.

The second option to you is using the DD-5's controls to set its output Note Numbers to match what you need Reason to "hear." The process for this involves several button presses on the DD-5, sometimes done while turning the unit on, but how this is actually done is a mystery to me. The DD-5 Owner's Guide is surprisingly vague on the steps and since the unit doesn't have a screen to provide any kind of useful feedback, its literally a case of fumbling in the dark. Plus, any tweaks or changes you make are erased when the unit is powered off, requiring you to do this every time you use it. Again, not very practical.

So, what can you do? Well, the solution I finally decided upon, which might be useful to you in your own MIDI experiments, is using Reason's NN-XT to map samples to the specific notes being sent from the Yamaha DD-5 (or whatever piece of outdated gear you might be using).

If you open up the NN-XT's Remote Editor you'll see that the instrument contains four samples, each one mapped to either A1, E2, A2, or D#3, the MIDI Note Outputs of the DD-5. The specific samples and assignments match the four preset pad assignments that load into the DD-5 when you first power it on, but they can easily be replaced with whatever sounds you might want to trigger using the device's drum pads by selecting the appropriate sample and clicking "Load Sample" to assign a new sample. The mapping stays the same, but keep in mind that the Root resets to C3 whenever a new sample is loaded. You'll need to manually change this whenever you load a new sample if you want to keep its tone intact.

While this isn't quite "plug and play" its a bit faster than using the Remote Override Edit Mode, and if you take the time to set up a series of NN-XT patches with samples mapped to the appropriate pad assignments, you can achieve the kind of quick, flexible access you might need.

So, as I said at the beginning of this tutorial, this long-winded explanation of how I setup my DD-5 probably isn't useful for anyone out there. The odds that any one of you have a setup (or needs) identical to mine are fairly slim, but using Reason's NN-XT to accept specific MIDI notes, especially from old gear, might be a useful tool or technique for you.

A few random tidbits if you are one of the strange few using a DD-5 with Reason:

  1. The Yamaha DD-5 continues to make sound through its built-in speaker even while sending MIDI data. This can be hugely annoying, especially if you're using it to trigger sounds the DD-5 isn't making while you're playing it. Turning the volume on the DD-5 down doesn't work, because even at its lowest setting, the Yamaha machine continues to make noise. Just plug a 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch adapter into the DD-5's Audio Out and it'll stop making noise.
  2. As stated above, remember to adjust the Root note for each sample, if you load new sounds into the NN-XT patch provided. If you create a particular kit that you like, save it for quick access later.
  3. Also remember that you'll need to adjust the Amp Envelope's Release setting to account for samples that are longer in length than the NN-XT's default setting of only 60 ms. Forgetting to do this will create abbreviated sounds when you play them.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Challenge Remix: Ostbanhoff (Thielplatz Imbisstube Remix) and Breaching The Heliopause (Rutherform Appleton Remix)

1.44MB sent me his remixes yesterday to get them in on time, but unfortunately, I got too busy with family stuff to get them posted along with the rest of the remixes I received. As is usually the case, my inability to get them posted should in no way reflect on these remixes. They're awesome:

Ostbanhoff - colorcombination - 124bpm 1.44mbs Thielplatz Imbissstube Remix by 1.44mb

Breaching the Heliopause - 1.44mbs Rutherford Appleton Remix by 1.44mb

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Challenge Remix: Drones2 (80's Stallone Remix), by Hydlide

Not content with just providing two remixes to the second phase of the PAD Challenge, Chris Stallone also sent a remix of Hydlide's Drones2 track. This one is a lot of fun.

Drones2 (80's Stallone Remix), by Hydlide by Reason Patch A Day

Challenge Remix: 15728 Remixes, By Chris Stallone

I got these remix files from Chris Stallone last night. What Chris may be lacking in verbosity about his remixes, he's certainly not lacking in ambition. Here are two remixes of the track 15728 by Lewis.72:

15728 (Chris Stallone Remix), By Lewis.72 by Reason Patch A Day

15728 (Chris Stallone Stuttered Mix), By Lewis.72 by Reason Patch A Day

Thanks for participating, Chris!

Challenge Remix: BurnArea (Nociceptor Mix)

So, here's my remix of 1.44MB's track, BurnArea:

BurnArea (Nociceptor Mix) by Reason Patch A Day

I added quite a bit to 1.44MB's original track, hence my previous statement about making the song more mine than his, but if we set aside the issue of "ownership," I have to say I really enjoyed working on this song. It feels more like a collaboration at this point than a remix, but it was a lot of fun, either way.

In adding to BurnArea, I used the following patches from Reason Patch A Day:

Instrument Patches: Darker Dream 2, Dreams of Being A Harpsichord, Snapdragon, The Snickers of Shadows, Tachyon Eddies, Thaw

Effect Patches: A Little Darker, Airport Music, Borealis, Drone Chorus, Elusive, Latent Period, Simple Mastering

Challenge Remix: Heliopause (Mit Vergnügen Mix), by DJ Mad Wax

Here's the first completed remix, DJ Mad Wax's mix of my own song, Breaching The Heliopause. I admitted to Wax in email that I had a hard time recognizing my song in the drum and bass track he built around it, but its definitely in there, under a few additional layers of awesome. Wax had this to say about it:

I took all your remix parts as wavs and made REX files. Rebuilt your original song with the rex files, then began constructing a drum n bass version using breakbeat loops and my own breaks. As I built it, I added some new keyboards for the jazzy feel to complement the sounds I had from the remix, and added the deep bass line.

Heliopause (Mit Vergnügen Mix) by ostbahnoff

Nice work, Wax! Thanks! I really dig this!

Friday, May 7, 2010

.476 Yamaha Digital Drums DD-5

I haven't been very shy about my love for 1980s era Yamaha drum machines. They're not the greatest machines available from the era, but they have an uncommon sound to them, different from the Roland sounds that have become the de facto electronic music standard, and fortunately for me, they're available for next to nothing on eBay. I've been able to pick up several of them, all for under $50, and have found quite a bit of inspiration in them despite their programming quirks.

I've been on the hunt for a Yamaha RX21 to compliment my RX11, RX15 and RX17 machines, so I occasionally check out eBay auctions to see if I can find one for a reasonable price. While looking, I'll sometimes stumble across other machines that pique my interest, which is how I ended up with the exceedingly strange RX120. Recently, while once again looking for a cheap RX21 or RX21L, I found an inexpensive Yamaha Digital Drums DD-5, in its original box no less, and decided to make it mine.

The reviews I've found usually describe the DD-5 as little more than a toy, so while its actually a pretty common drum machine on eBay, I've been hesitant to invest much money in one. I'm glad I finally gave in.

The sounds? Well, like the RX machines I already own, the DD-5 has a pleasant lo-fi quality, but lacking in any low-end punch. Even the Bass Drum sample sounds a bit bright, but the Snare Drum and Hand Claps sounds are kind of fun. The RX machines seemed like they were designed to try to emulate a real drum kit, often being their most charming when they failed that goal, but the DD-5 is so prone to distortion and uses samples with such a short length that it lacks any of the analog warmth the RX machines seemed focused on achieving. Even its output jack is loud and filled with noise. Pile on even more distortion and you might have a halfway decent industrial kit.

What makes the DD-5 truly interesting, however, is not its sounds, but its capabilities. Unlike the RX120 which only had a puzzling MIDI-In, and the RX11, RX15 and RX17 machines that had both MIDI-In and MIDI-Out jacks, the DD-5 has a single MIDI-Out jack controlled by its four, velocity sensitive drum pads. You can probably see where I'm going with this. The velocity sensitivity is fairly weak, only 15 levels according to its users manual, but there is something surprisingly addictive about playing it within Reason and Record, bashing on its rubber pads with sticks and triggering whatever sounds you load into Redrum. I'll admit, I bought the DD-5 because it was a toy, something I planned to give to my son after I sampled its meager 12 sounds, but the more I played with it, the more its charms have started winning me over. With a little patience, you should be able to pick up a DD-5 for less than even a Korg NanoPad, half as much if you're careful, so if you're looking for an unconventional way to build rhythms in Reason, this Yamaha is an interesting option (assuming you already have a way to accept MIDI data into your computer setup).

Like all of the other Yamaha machines I own, thought I would share samples from it with all of you.

In the past, I've provided Combinator backdrops for my Yamaha machines, little jpegs built from photos I've taken, but I haven't had time to build a Yamaha DD-5 Combinator yet. When I get a little free time, I'm sure I'll whip something up, maybe with an instrument combinator to go with it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The PAD Challenge: Remix Reminder!

How are your PAD Challenge remixes coming? I just wanted to remind everyone that your Pad Challenge remixes are due to me by Saturday, May 8th, at noon.

I spent a huge chunk of today working on my remix of 1.44MB's song BurnArea and I should be done on time, but I'll admit, the task hasn't been an easy one. There are as many theories out there about remixes as there are remixers, but I've always felt that the best remixes highlight the artistic qualities of the original song, while providing just a different enough twist on it that the remix becomes its own, unique thing. I'm not sure if I've achieved that with what I've done to 1.44MB's song. At this point, it sounds more like something I might have done on my own, than what 1.44MB gave me to start with, but I have a few more days to tweak and fine tune.

A couple of points:

  • If everyone could send me their RNS file of their remix, once they're done, that would be great. This could be a very powerful learning experience for all of us, but we'll need to see how others have tweaked or manipulated our songs, if we can truly learn anything.
  • My basic Soundcloud account might be maxed out with the second part of the PAD Challenge, so if you have your own Soundcloud account, and don't mind hosting your remix, that would be a big help to me. Obviously, I'll host what I can, but I was hoping I wouldn't have to start removing songs so soon.