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Review of Delta-V Audio’s Spacecraft Granular Synth in AU/VST formats by Tracktion Corporation (part of the Tracktion Presents series) — November 16, 2019

Review of Delta-V Audio’s Spacecraft Granular Synth in AU/VST formats by Tracktion Corporation (part of the Tracktion Presents series)

Introduction

Tracktion Corporation is delighted to announce the latest addition to their ‘Tracktion Present’ program, Mark Watt’s (Delta-V Audio) SpaceCraft Granular Synth.

The SpaceCraft granular synth has been a huge success on iOS since its launch a year ago. Now, in collaboration with Tracktion, the latest version is available as a plugin in for Mac and Windows with new desktop-only capabilities.

The ‘Tracktion Presents’ initiative has been designed to assist talented independent developers to introduce their products to a wider market. Tracktion is able to take care of much of the background infrastructure and offer invaluable support from their engineering team, giving designers plenty of time to develop innovative and creative products.

Spacecraft is available from the Tracktion website typically priced at $99.  A 30 day trial is also available.

Background

SpaceCraft is well known for providing instant gratification and inspiring creative flow. Two parallel granular engines provide grain frequency/length control, sample position LFO, stereo reverb/filter and pitch/ring-modulation. The innovative grain pitch sequencer, MIDI / MPE and live sampling capability open up further depths of performance and expression.
 
The focused GUI encourages a creative, interactive experience. With carefully chosen components presented in a single page layout, the user can quickly dive into sound design and exploration without the need for time-consuming configuration of parameters and mappings, it’s all there in front of you.
 
The desktop version of SpaceCraft offers new (desktop-only) capabilities including: –

  • Drag & Drop sample directly into GUI
  • Enhanced, higher fidelity granular engine DSP
  • Up to x8 the number of grains (CPU dependent)
  • Up to 16 minutes sample duration (RAM dependent) 

Mark has continued to develop the iOS version constantly since its launch last year with significant free updates, and the desktop plugin will be no different.

In-Depth Review

I really like the interface, it is clearly laid out with all the performance controls on screen with settings accessed using the cog in the top left corner. The visual and touch control aspects of Spacecraft port across very well to VST/AU versions, it’s easy to load a preset and start experimenting.

The screen is divided into two halves vertically with identical controls for the top and bottom sections that are colour coded.

There are global controls for the number of grains, sample duration, grain engine sample interpolation, grain envelope shape plus other settings. On my aging laptop, I stuck to the default number of grains (16) because it struggled to cope with increasing this setting.

Loading your own samples is easy, you simply import them then load them into the slot with the corresponding colour coded load button.

The top waveform display lets you choose the sample range.

Other controls have an XY grid for controlling certain parameters. The wave display on the right lets you explore the sample and control playback volume with fine / coarse tuning and stereo phase adjustment.

On the left hand side you have the grain control with the ability to adjust frequency and grain length. This can be free or sync and you can also adjust the grain attack.

The LFO gives you control over the speed and movement and there a number of different waveforms.

The filter reverb gives you control over the amount of reverb and a low to high pass filter. You can also adjust the size and damping.

The sequencer has controls for envelope, scale, multi/single and MPC pitch or grain.

The pitch / ring mod can be free or scale and has controls to adjust fine pitch, coarse pitch and ring mod.

Conclusions

I really like how Spacecraft just encourages you to load samples, have a play and see what happens.

It can handle any sounds that you throw at it, creating anything from evolving ambient soundscapes, melodies and harmonies to glitchy, harsh noise. It’s especially suited to live performance or using automation resulting in unique sounds with superb movement, especially when you explore the sample in real-time.

I’ve used it extensively on the album embedded at the top of the post, specifically tracks 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7. I’ve used it to create the background for excerpts from a William S Burroughs lecture on the cut up method. I’ve adjusted parameters live to give subtle and sometimes more unpredictable changes to the sound.

Review of ‘You are the Sky’ album by Weeed on Halfshell Records — November 8, 2019

Review of ‘You are the Sky’ album by Weeed on Halfshell Records

This is a superb album, it’s steeped in prog rock traditions of the 70s with elements of Kraut, experimental and a hint of surf guitar for good measure.

It’s a superb tight knit sound with excellent lead and solos backed by solid drumming, bass, superb vocals and the occasional synth and background sounds for good measure. Superb changes of feel with some unusual time signatures and changes thrown in for good measure.

Opening
A slow evolving atmospheric opening from deep, shaking bass sounds, synth and ethereal vocal type sound. The guitar lead is given momentum by solid drumming and bassline. Superb laid back jam quality to the song with nice change to a more uptempo feel with a final release.

I See You
A solid uptempo prog rock groove from riff, drumming and bass. The vocals sit quite low in the mix and have an ethereal quality to them.

Where Did You Go?
An urgency to the opening from drumming, bass and strummed chords building to a superb prog rock groove with vocals. Really nice changes in feel between uptempo and more laid back parts of the song with a percussive break and guitar effects building a final crescendo to end.

Open Door
Synth riff and vocoder vocals to open are given momentum by a bassline. Sporadic guitar lead and background sounds create a woozy, trippy atmosphere.

Caramelized
Evolving opening with drone and slow guitar lead building to a more defined rhythm propelled by bass and drumming. Vocals are excellent, creating a kind of call and response feel. It’s an excellent vibe with a great jam quality, excellent solos and great changes in feel. Harmonica is an excellent element.

You are the Sky
Vocals weave around a guitar lead with drumming building and strummed chords giving a more defined momentum. It’s another solid groove with superb changes of feel and a kind of surf guitar feel at times before a change to a more uptempo groove with slow down effect to a half time groove with solo building the tempo again to a final release.

FabFilter announces Engineering Emmy® Award win for FabFilter Pro-Q 3 equalizer plug-in — October 16, 2019

FabFilter announces Engineering Emmy® Award win for FabFilter Pro-Q 3 equalizer plug-in

FabFilter is proud to announce that FabFilter Pro-Q 3 — released last year to widespread critical acclaim as a major update to its long-established equalizer plug-in — has won an Engineering Emmy® Award from The Television Academy, an award that honours individuals, companies, or organisations for engineering developments that considerably improve existing methods or innovations that materially affect the transmission, recording, or reception of television. You can read my review here.

It’s an honour

The Amsterdam-based company itself is honoured to be a recipient of such an award; after all, this perfectly fits FabFilter’s philosophy for creating powerful audio plug-ins with superb sound quality and innovative interfaces. Indeed, Pro-Q 3 improves on its predecessor in every area, introducing integrated dynamic EQ, surround support, new filter types, improved spectrum analyzer and Spectrum Grab, and much more, while maintaining the pristine sound quality and exceptional ease of use for which Pro-Q has always been known.

According to The Television Academy, “On a professional mixing stage, the FabFilter Pro-Q 3 processes the broad range of frequencies lumped together in the home stereo tuner’s treble and bass controls into 24 bands of dynamic frequency EQ to create an audio problem-solving tool with surgical precision and sonic clarity. Additionally, the Pro-Q 3 provides brick wall filters, per-band mid/side processing, and support for immersive formats to handle any equalization task with ease and speed. The Pro-Q 3 has become the preferred equalizer for mixing professionals around the world.”

Worldwide, Pro-Q 3 has been on the receiving end of an array of positive press plaudits, as well as finding favour with well respected GRAMMY Award winners, such as engineer Jeff Ellis; mixer and engineer Damian Lewis; and mix engineer Dave Pensado, who sings its praises thus: “FabFilter Pro-Q has one of the best GUIs of any EQ out there and sonically compares to the best.”

The Television Academy agrees with such sentiment, clearly, choosing to honour FabFilter with an Engineering Emmy® Award, which will be presented at the prestigious 71st Engineering Emmy® Awards to be held at the JW Marriott Hotel, Los Angeles, California on October 23, 2019.

FabFilter Pro-Q 3 is available for EUR 149, USD 179 or GBP 134, supporting both Windows and macOS in VST and VST 3, Audio Units, AAX, and AudioSuite plug-in formats. Bundles with FabFilter Pro-Q 3 and other FabFilter plug-ins are also available at: www.fabfilter.com/shop

Existing FabFilter customers can purchase or upgrade to FabFilter Pro-Q 3 with very attractive discounts by logging into their online user account at: www.fabfilter.com/myaccount

System requirements are either Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, or XP, and a VST 2/3 host or Pro Tools, or Mac OS X 10.8 or higher with Intel processor, and an Audio Units host, VST 2/3 host, or Pro Tools. Both 64-bit and 32-bit hosts are supported. 

Waldorf music announces availability of 128-voice, FPGA processing-powered Kyra VA Synthesizer sensation — October 15, 2019

Waldorf music announces availability of 128-voice, FPGA processing-powered Kyra VA Synthesizer sensation

REMAGEN, GERMANY: having teased the musical masses last year, then turned heads and opened ears when unveiling a preproduction prototype at The 2019 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California earlier this year, with repeat showings Stateside (at Synthplex 2019 in Burbank, California) and closer to home (at SUPERBOOTH19 in Berlin), high-quality synthesizer developer Waldorf Music is proud to announce availability of Kyra — its eagerly-awaited 128-voice, FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) processing-powered VA (virtual analogue) synthesizer sensation.

Accompanying documentation proudly proclaims that Kyra “…is one of the most powerful music synthesizers ever built.” But this is not hardware hyperbole on Waldorf Music’s part. Put it this way: with 32x oversampled hardware sound generation and 96kHz floating point sound processing providing guaranteed contention-free 128 voice channels, Kyra is guaranteed to make its musical mark as a sensational synthesizer that is as easy to use and easy on the eye as it is powerful and flexible.

From first glance it is patently obvious that Kyra is a beautifully-designed desktop VA Synthesizer — as the wording elegantly emblazoned on its eye-catching front fascia subtly states. As a truly multitimbral instrument it features eight independent ‘parts’ with up to 32 notes per PART, each effectively being a complete synthesizer with sound sources (OSC GROUP 1OSC GROUP 2SUB 1, and SUB 2); FILTERS; modulators (EGsLFOs, and MOD MATRIX); multi-effects unit (EFFECTS); and a USB 2.0 connection — can exchange MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) information, as well as send the audio from each stereo PART to a computer as eight stereo 24-bit streams at 96kHz (with 48kHz downsample mode available) and one stereo audio return from the computer supporting a single 24-bit stereo audio stream from the host DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). With that being said, the only other resource they share are the four balanced, stereo output pairs — OUT A (Right and Left), OUT B (Right and Left), OUT C (Right and Left), and OUT B (Right and Left) — using 32-bit DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Conversion) running at 96kHz sampling rate connected to four internal stereo busses and that powerful pool of 128 hardware voices.

Versatility further abounds as each PART has a dedicated multi-effects unit comprising nine stereo effects modules — namely, three-band EQFormant filter, input LimiterDistortion module, Delay module, six-state PhaserChorus flanger, Stereo reverb, and output Limiter — with dedicated audio stream via USB (Universal Serial Bus).
Better still, each PART hosts a Patch from the pool available to the system.

Speaking of which, Kyra has a generous Patch storage capacity of 26 banks — through to Z, each containing 128 patches. That’s a total of 3,328! The first seven banks are ‘user’ patches stored in RAM (Random Access Memory), meaning users can change them quickly and individually using the Store sequence. The remaining 19 banks are ROM (Read-Only Memory) patches that users can recall and use just like RAM patches but cannot be replaced using the Store sequence. It is, however, perfectly possible to freely copy whole banks between RAM and ROM, so all are user- programmable. And any Patch can be recalled via MIDI program changes and Bank select commands. Whatever way anyone views it, Kyra far from short-changes from a live performance perspective or when working with it in a studio setup as an alternative.

As a sensational synthesizer with a spectacular specification, Kyra doesn’t disappoint from the all-important sound standpoint, starting with two primary virtual alias-free oscillator groups (OSC GROUP 1 and OSC GROUP 2) per voice, each with Saw (sawtooth); Wave (waveform) — with no fewer than 4,096 18-bit linear PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) single-cycle 32x oversampled wavetables covering a huge range of synthetic and emulated sound sources with two wavetable sources per voice; Pulse; and noise simultaneously available. Also OSC GROUP 1 and OSC GROUP 2 each has an independent detune-able oscillator — SUB 1 and SUB 2 — with four selectable shapes and two selectable (Octave) pitches. Real Hard Sync, ring modulation, and FM (Frequency Modulation) are available between those oscillator groups.

Get this, though: switching from Wave mode — meaning Kyra adopts a virtual analogue synthesis model which has the advantage that it is easy to construct sounds using intuitive subtractive synthesis — to Hypersaw mode configures the voice to use a special algorithm comprising six real oscillators to quickly create lush-sounding soundscapes.

Digging deeper, Hypersaw mode replaces Wave mode’s two oscillator groups with a single source whose tonal content is constructed with just two adjustable controls — Hypersaw Intensity and Hypersaw Spread (geometric detuning). Built entirely out of multiple, harmonically-rich sawtooth waves or ‘partials’ each adjusted to that special algorithm, the Hypersaw provides characteristic soundscapes ideal for a wide range of uses — from high-impact lead sounds through to lush, animated pads. Placed in Dual Mode, the Hypersaw has 12 real oscillator sources with an additional adjustable stereo spread.

Successfully synthesizing sound is inextricably linked with flexible filtering. Fortunately for discerning users, Kyra’s FILTERS front panel perfectly positions powerful control, creatively implementing accurate emulations of classic analogue ladder filters with 2-pole (12dB/octave) low pass (12dB LP), band pass (12dB BP), and high pass (12dB HP), plus 4-pole (24dB/octave) low pass (24dB LP), band pass (24dB BP), and high pass (24dB HP) configurations. Creatively, 128 filters are configurable for single or dual parallel (Dual Filter) true stereo operation.

Onwards and upwards, three fast-response ADSR (AttackDecaySustainRelease) envelope generators with EG Slope setting are also at hand. Helpfully, one is assigned to the VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier), another to the filter, while the third can be freely assigned. All are available in the MOD MATRIX (modulation matrix), itself being a six-channel affair with up to three destinations per channel giving a maximum of 18 routings. It is also worth noting that the three LFOs (Low Frequency Oscillators) — with 128 wavetable shapes, monophonic, polyphonic, random, anti-phase, and quadrature stereo phase settings — are also available in the MOD MATRIX and additionally as a MIDI clock sync source.

Creativity continues courtesy of an arpeggiator (ARP) on each PART with 128 preset patterns; UpDownRandom, and Chords modes; and an ability to synchronise to MIDI clock. Arpeggiators are aimed at live performance, primarily, but can clearly complement composition. Kyra’s ARP is an integral part of a Patch, so settings are always stored.

Far from forgetting its helpful high-resolution 256×64 pixel graphic OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display alongside the traditional array of MIDI InOut, and Thru connections — complimenting USB 2.0 — on five-pin DIN, as well as full key microtuning capability with MIDI Tuning Standard (MTS support), it is fair to say that Kyra is, indeed, one of the most powerful music synthesizers ever built… a sensational synthesizer with a spectacular specification, set to take performances and compositions to higher states of musicality and sound design! 

The Kyra VA Synthesizer is available through Waldorf Music’s growing global network of distributors at an SRP (Suggested Reseller Price) of €1,843.00 EUR (excluding tax).


For more in-depth information, please visit the dedicated Kyra VA Synthesizer webpage

About Waldorf Music (www.waldorfmusic.com

The well-known Waldorf name has been synonymous with high-quality synthesizers for 30 years; indeed, its innovative position in the electronic musical instruments marketplace dates back to 1989 with the release of the wavetable synthesis-based Microwave.This extraordinary reincarnation of the legendary PPGWave series — arguably amongst the most coveted high-end synthesizers of the early Eighties — was instrumental in bringing the dominance of Japanese and American synthesizers to an end.Waldorf continued this unique technology tradition with successive synthesizer releases ranging from the mighty Wave — perhaps the most impressive, expressive, and user-friendly sound synthesis tool ever built — to raising the bar for VA (Virtual Analogue) synthesizers with the introduction of the popular Q series from 1999 onwards.The new millennium saw the trailblazing company making a timely move into the brave new world of music software with the release of its first VST Instrument, PPG Wave 2.V, a tradition it continues to this day with more recent software releases including its Nave advanced wavetable synthesizerSubsequent successes in the high- quality hardware arena include the Blofeld synthesizer — forging sound and design into an unbeatable price/performance ratio in both desktop and keyboard versions — and Zarenbourg, a contemporary electric piano par excellence, as well as the cost-conscious Rocket (synthesizer), 2-Pole (analogue filter), and Streichfett (string synthesizer) desktop modules. Meanwhile, Waldorf broadened its appeal further still by introducing Nave to transform any iPad into an advanced wavetable synthesizer. 2019 (and beyond) sees a slew of new high-quality synthesizers set to take the Waldorf name to the hands-on musical masses, whether working with its recently-released Quantum high-class hybrid synthesizer keyboard flagship, FPGA processing-powered Kyra VA Synthesizer desktop or other hardware (including a welcomed move into the popular Eurorack modular synth system format) or software (including iOS). 

© 2019 Waldorf Music GmbH. 

Review of Boojum album by Ditto on Cudighi Records — October 13, 2019

Review of Boojum album by Ditto on Cudighi Records

It’s experimental, avant-garde and a bit bonkers at times but there’s a strong jazz vibe and superb arrangements that give a great coherency and musical quality to this album. 

I really like the unusual sounds, they’re often familiar yet hard to describe but excellently processed and used.

There’s a very strong rhythmic / percussive element that forms the backbone of many of the songs. Again these sounds are often unusual but excellently used and the arrangements are often sparse but perfectly done to allow each sound its own space. 

Suite: immunity – The Big Squeeze, Arabesque, The Damn Bop, Tickled Pink

It’s an experimental feel with a strong jazz vibe, excellent percussive sounds and superbly arranged with layered synths, bass and orchestration. 

Ghanjama

Percussive rhythm is the backbone of the song, there’s some excellent sounding impacts and hit sounds.  Vibraphone riffs, distorted lead and background sounds add contrast and an edge of tension at times. 

‘Air’ from Porch Music for Earth

Riff and sparse percussion to open, lead and background sounds provide a kind of counterpoint. It’s really well layered, some hard to define sounds. 

Passing Phase

This is like a groove set to a typewriter with the typing forming the percussive rhythm accompanied by strings, synths and a vibraphone type sound. It’s an excellent evolution, slowly building tension to a final release. 

Quarker

Sparse percussive sounds and a kind of brass sound contrast with a subtle evolving pad. Excellent use of background sounds and layering. 

PMfE pt. 1

Bell / chime sounds to open, the synth leads creates a great tension. There’s a kind of call and response feel between the two interspersed with an Eastern sounding lead from a bagpipe / harmonium type sound. The mandolin creates a celtic kind of vibe and the song weaves somewhere in between these two before releasing to a percussive groove with chime type sound. Nice change of feel to violins and plucked strings.

PMfE pt. 2

Harmonium type sound to open creates an unusual stilted kind of rhythm that contrasts against layered riffs and bell / chime sounds. Great contrast between flowing sounds and the more stilted sounds. 

War Pump

An upfront edgy slightly distorted rhythm that contrasts with the evolving pad. Excellent percussive sounds and rhythms again, there’s a great tension to the song. 

Houston, Over

Atmospheric pad and strings to open, sax adds an excellent element. There’s a kind of haunting beauty and superb ambience, an excellent soundscape. 

Review of Beyond Kidding by Linda Clark published by Fairlight Books (pub. date 31 Oct 2019) — October 12, 2019

Review of Beyond Kidding by Linda Clark published by Fairlight Books (pub. date 31 Oct 2019)

Introducing Brodie, the impossible boy.

An ARC copy was provided by Netgalley and Fairlight Publishing in exchange for an honest review.  I’ve written the review as spoiler free as possible.

This is one of those books that hooks you in at the start and doesn’t let go. It’s very well written, easy to read and keeps you guessing. 

It starts near the middle of the story and uses a series of clever flashbacks to tell the story of how we got to that point and then develops the story further. 

The lead character, Rob Buckland has, in many ways, a repugnant personality yet provides plenty of laugh out loud moments, usually at completely inappropriate times. What starts as one lie gets completely out of hand yet he manages to maintain the facade getting deeper and deeper and more repugnant – and more funny – in the process. 

There are times you question the reliability of his accounts, wondering if there is some fantasy or prank going on but you do see him maturing and changing through the story. 

Having a friend called Bummer who owns a sex shop called the Empornium where Rob used to work provides many hilarious moments and the story develops the theme of friendship and the interactions between characters says a lot about our behaviours and relationships. 

I really like how the story is serious yet retains a lot of humour, warmth and sci fi / fantasy themes without becoming implausable or ridiculous. I also didn’t see the plot twist coming. 

Review of Great Distances album by Leaving Richmond — October 10, 2019

Review of Great Distances album by Leaving Richmond

An atmospheric album that’s superbly crafted, it has great synth sounds, intricately crafted drum patterns often backed up by percussive rhythms and guitar riffs that compliment the sound really well. 

There’s a great balance between momentum and ambience often providing just an edge of tension at times. 

Glow Lines

Atmospheric delayed synth to open propelled by a kind of breakbeat / IDM drumbeat. Excellent background sounds and really good change of feel when the guitar enters. 

What About Now ft A. Sandborne

Delayed vocals and pad to open propelled by a solid kick drum lead into a guitar riff. Great layering of percussive elements that contrast really well with more ambient elements. 

Waves of You

Bass and driving kick to open, the synth line adds a contrast. The delayed trem chords are an excellent element.  The song has a great mementum and an uptempo, urgency building to a final release. 

The Curvature of the Earth

Atmospheric opening from bass drone, delayed percussion and pad given momentum by a kick drum, building drum / percussive rhythm and slow lead line. Great contrast between the uptempo and more ambient elements. 

A Human Element

Delayed percussive rhythm and background sounds create an atmospheric opening given a momentum by more defined drums / percussion and synth lead.  Nice changes in feel. 

Several Soma

Pulsing drone with delayed percussion create a kind of mystery that changes to a more upbeat feel with the momentum of the drum pattern / percussive elements and synth leads. 

Temporality

Strings to open, a pulsing effect with great background sounds. There’s a great balance between an urgency and more ambient vibe. Vocals add an edge of tension. 

Review of MuLab 8 DAW by MuTools — October 9, 2019

Review of MuLab 8 DAW by MuTools

 

Introduction

It’s hard to believe it’s been about four years since I reviewed MuLab 6 and over two years since I reviewed MuLab 7.  Version 8 was released earlier this year in April, the latest version at the time of writing is 8.1.5.  It is available for Windows (32 & 64 bit) and Mac (64 bit).

System requirements are not too demanding – Windows Vista and above, MacOS 10.6.8 and above; a decent soundcard / driver. A minimum resolution of 1024 x 768 and powerful multi-core are recommended but not necessary although it is an important point when considering how you will use MuLab. As you’d expect it will run more efficiently and with a lower CPU load with a higher spec machine but many modern synths and effects have complex architecture using a lot of maths and calculations and so require multi-core processors and their performance will be limited by your system rather than MuLab.

There have been a myriad of updates and improvements since the review of version 7.  The final version 7.7.4 saw a huge range of bug fixes, improvements, new oscillators, a resonator module, Chebyshev II audio filter, audio dispatcher module, frequency spectrum analyser module and rescalable GUI.

Version 8 brought about an even larger number of changes – improved editors, improved samplers, improved workflow and audio sequences featuring creative time stretching.  These act like a combination of midi note and sampler that can play any loop section of any sample in your project and time stretch it.

These are all listed on the change log page should you require any further information, I don’t feel like I’ve done them justice here.

MuLab is available for purchase direct from the MuTools website.  There are a number of different purchase options, a new MuLab licence costs 69 Euros which includes an integrated MUX modular system. You can purchase the MUX modular system separately as a plugin for 59 Euros and this allows you to use MuLab in other DAWs. You can also purchase both together for 99 Euros. Essentially you would only need to purchase a separate MUX licence if you are likely to run MuLab in other DAWs. Upgrades are also available at a discounted price. One point to note is that when you purchase the full version, you will be granted an initial user key so that you can use MuLab straight away. The permanent key is then emailed once the order has been manually processed which is normally within 1 – 2 working days.

The good news is that a free version is also available and it is recommended that you try this first to ensure that MuLab meets your needs. The free version is limited to 4 tracks and 8 VSTs.

Conclusions

I’m a massive fan of MuLab.  I use 2 DAWs for all of my music – Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 is the DAW that I use for live and experimental songs, I use MuLab for more traditional composing, mixing and mastering.

Choice of DAW is a very personal matter.  What I love about MuLab is that it is intuitive and very easy to use.  There’s a superb balance of a very straight straightforward workflow with potential to set up complex signal routing and modular environments with ease.  It sounds great, is very reasonably priced and featured packed.  It’s very well supported and gets regular updates.

MuLab is also very slick.  My laptop is showing its age but it still runs seamlessly.  Impressively, I’ve only had a handful of crashes in the four years or so that I’ve been using it and that is mostly down to overloading the CPU with far too many instances of Kontakt.

MuLab is also bloat-free.  It is not packed with a million things that you don’t need or will never use but has more than enough for demanding users.  This means that another excellent feature is that the installation size is quite small, about 200Mb or so and it’s portable so that you can install it on a flash drive and take it with you.

Given the sound quality, features, continuous development and value for money I’d say that MuLab is now a serious contender amongst more well known DAWs.

Detailed Review

Version 8 is a further evolution rather than revolution.  It builds on core functionality so users of version 6 and 7 will still feel at home. The GUI is familiar but the updated fonts and design give a more modern look and feel and the huge number of improvements behind the scenes improve its use and functionality. It is still intuitive to use and setting up the audio and scanning VSTs is the same straightforward process. If you have a lot of VSTs like me it can take some time to scan them all but then any subsequent additions can be done very easily by scanning a single file or folder.

A useful feature when you upgrade between version 7 and 8 is that you can copy your user folder to retain your user settings and files.  Another useful feature is after the initial install, you can usually upgrade between version 8 updates with a patch rather than a full install. 

The factory content has always been very impressive and is even more so in version 8. There are a number of devices, these are the instruments – MuDrum, MuSynth, MuPad, MuSampla and MultiSampla as well as the effects MuEcho and MuVerb which are very good effects.

There are a number of factory instruments that cover a very wide range including bass, leads, pads, sequences, organs, soundscapes. Similarly a wide range of effects including chorus, distortion, filters, delay, reverb, flangers and experimental units. There are also a number of audio generators, audio processors, event generators and event processors.

demo_gui

This is what the GUI looks like using one of the demo songs as an example. The ‘Mulab’ and ‘project’ buttons in the top left provide the main menu / settings options. Next to these are the ‘compose’, ‘edit’ and ‘modular’ buttons which give you different views. Next to this is the transport panel and completing the top row is a focussed module keyboard.

To the right of the screen is the file manager where you can browse and load samples, midi files, instruments etc. The main part of the screen is determined by the selected view button. ‘Compose’ shows the whole of your composition, ‘Edit’ allows you to edit an individual sample or pattern and ‘Modular’ allows you to add different effects and modules and route the signal between them accordingly.

The left hand side shows the tracks within your composition and the bottom of the screen shows the racks. The racks hold modules, VSTs, effects, event processors etc and are very flexible. They can be linked to specific tracks, used as part of an elaborate effects chain or used for event processing to control external hardware for instance.

The devices are worth a further look because they offer lots of creative potential.

MuSynth

MuSynth is a versatile and flexible synth. It has 2 oscillators, multi-sample player and noise generator. These 4 sources can be processed by a ring mod and up to 3 filters which have very flexible routing options and there are also 4 plugin slots to insert global effects.

MuDrum

MuDrum is one of my favourite drum modules. It allows you to create virtual analog sounds, use samples or a hybrid of the two. As well as volume, panning, tuning and envelope controls you can also layer 2 samples which is a really useful sound shaping tool in itself. There are 4 racks so you can apply specific effects to individual drum sounds and well as 3 plugin slots to insert global effects. There are 12 pads which correspond to each note of an octave so you can trigger the sounds by pads or a midi sequence and save created drum kits as presets for future use. It has four stereo outs so if you want to get really creative you also have access to a complete MUX which offers virtually unlimited modular options with envelopes, filters, LFOs etc.  In version 8 it has also been updated with time stretching.

MuSampla

MuSampla on the one hand is a ‘basic’ sample player but this is not the best description because it is very capable and flexible with parameters for amplitude envelope, pitch with envelope and LFO, filter with envelope and LFO which can be switched on and off as required. There are also 4 plugin slots to insert global effects.

Grain Player

The grain player is excellent, you can get some very interesting effects by changing the start and end points of a sample and then adjusting the start, length and attack settings for the grains and then altering the global pitch settings.

step-seq

The step sequencer is very well featured.  It has multiple steps, per note velocity, octave, transpose, length, offset and modulation settings offering 5 different modulation groups.

Audio recording is very simple. You create an audio track, select the input whether this is direct such as a microphone or from a rack. Decide how to monitor i.e. always or just whilst recording and then click record to record the desired vocals or vst output etc.

Snap markers are used for precisely aligning timings, for example aligning vocals with a drum beat. They are easy to use, simply put a marker at the desired point on the vocals and set as a snap marker so that the file snaps to the marker rather than the start of the recording.

The MUX modular deserves a special mention. This is essentially the engine behind MuLab and is a modular synth and effect. It allows you to create pretty much anything you like from synths to sample players to unusual effects. You can combine the three different types of signals – audio, event and modulation in the modular area and create a front panel to control the different parameters. There are a number of modules and presets that you can use to get started.

Extensive online documentation is available here.

Examples of MuLab In Use

An example of an album created in MuLab is embedded at the top of this post.

As I’ve previously stated, I find MuLab easy and intuitive to use. The workflow has a logical feel with tracks on the left, racks at the bottom and the composition components such as midi files, audio files etc in the main window which are arranged linearly. It’s easy to create racks by adding VSTs, devices, effects or processing modules as required and select the appropriate routing for the audio signal. Completed racks can be saved as presets and you can also colour code them and arrange them in an order as you see fit. You can drag a rack to create a track or alternatively you can add a track and then assign it to a rack.  There are often different ways to achieve the same thing and you’ll find and use the ways that work best for you. 

Once you’ve created a track, it’s easy to add an audio file or sample loop, load a midi file, create a new sequence and record with a midi controller. You can then copy and paste sections, edit to give variations, record automation of VST parameters or volume, adjust fade in / fade out, set sequence loop points for poly-rhythms and so on.

grains_gui

This is a screenshot of the project for Grains from the recent album of the same name.  This has two instances of a phone recording with volume automation and different effects, audio recorded from the Cumulus VST and drone chords from eDNA Earth. 

Ocean_gui

This is a screenshot from the project for Ocean, a song to be released on an upcoming compilation by The Climatronica Collective.  This features a chord sequence created in Scaler.  It’s straightforward and simple to copy these chords with drag and drop, I’ve edited them and they are played with various Spitfire Audio collections and layered against phone recordings.  I’ve used volume automation and a range of effects.

My last four albums have been created in MuLab 8, as well as assemblage embedded at the top of the post there are:

 

 

 

Although I use MuLab a lot, there’s still a huge amount of potential that I haven’t explored yet. For me that’s the hallmark of a great DAW. It does everything that I need it to do, it’s intuitive, slick and seamless yet I know there’s still a huge amount of new things to discover.

Review of 414 – 4 Track Studies album by Jeffrey Larson on Linear Obsessional — October 3, 2019

Review of 414 – 4 Track Studies album by Jeffrey Larson on Linear Obsessional

An excellent study in minimalism, it’s an absorbing album with subtle and intricate changes in rhythm and feel. 

I really like how a few sounds are used to maximum effect, the 4 track provides the looping and polyrhythmic layers and effects such as delay and reverb are used sparsely but give a great sense of space. 

I

A plucked string, layered, has a kind or rolling or rattling feel. There’s subtle rhythmic shifts created by looping. 

II

An urgency to the rhythm, subtle delay gives a real sense of space and subtle movement. 

III

Evolving opening with reversed sounds, it’s a building melody with rhythmic elements. The sound is somewhere between an accordion and bagpipes with just an edge of tension. 

IV

A drone and looped / layered picked string riff creates an intricate rhythm that ebbs and flows with an urgency / tension created by the polyrhythms.

V

Guitar and synth are layered to create a subtly changing rhythm. the slide adds an excellent element of movement. 

Review of Ambient Guitars by Leo Abrahams – a virtual instrument for Kontakt (full version or player) by Spitfire Audio — September 30, 2019

Review of Ambient Guitars by Leo Abrahams – a virtual instrument for Kontakt (full version or player) by Spitfire Audio

Introduction

Spitfire Audio is proud to announce availability of AMBIENT GUITARS — creatively combining 2013’s LEO ABRAHAMS – ENIGMA collection of dark, cinematic soundscapes exclusively created and performed by its innovative virtuosic guitarist namesake, and expertly sampled by Spitfire Audio, and its equally popular, previously-released ENIGMA 2 – THE RAPTURE followup forming a more extensive tribute to distortion, now presented in the sound-specialising British music technology company’s exceptional eDNA engine-powered UI (user interface) as an intuitive, instantly-playable collection of inspiring and modern cinematic sounds, textures, and loops ranging from ambient to apocalyptic, including 10GB of brand- new recordings and 160 additional artist presets.

AMBIENT GUITARS can be purchased and digitally downloaded with an RRP of £249.00 GBP (inc. VAT)/$299.00 USD/€299.00 EUR (inc. VAT) — from Spitfire Audio 

For more in-depth information, including superb-sounding audio demos, please visit the dedicated AMBIENT GUITARS webpage 

Background

Available for Native Instruments’ free KONTAKT PLAYER platform with full NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) support, Spitfire Audio’s aptly-named AMBIENT GUITARS sample library is an instantly-playable, intuitive toolkit designed for any discerning media composer or producer looking for fresh sounds and atmospheric textures with an experimental edge. The road to arriving at AMBIENT GUITARS was a long and winding one, spanning several years. Yet it is one that was well worth waiting for, definitely destined to join its popular predecessors as a firm favourite amongst discerning directors and composers alike.

Time to step back, briefly, in time to 2013. This was the year that saw Spitfire Audio decamping to The Pool, a cool and vibe-ridden recording studio launched as a joint venture between songwriting producer Ben Hillier and the Miloco Studios group in the South London district of Bermondsey. Having hosted luminaries like Arctic Monkeys, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Noel Gallagher, and many more, there the British music technology company’s sampling specialists set about capturing world- renowned producer and virtuosic guitar innovator Leo Abrahams’ cutting-edge techniques. “There’s such a wide variety of emotions and textures available from different pedals and guitars,” he notes. “I find I hear far too many guitar tones in soundtracks that sound generic and cheesy. I wanted to put the result of my compulsive years of eBay scouring at people’s fingertips.”

Fortunately for all, that wish was realised with the resulting release of LEO ABRAHAMS – ENIGMA, a sample library like no other. Created largely from a Trussart guitar — alongside a 1960s-vintage Gibson 335 and a Danelectro Hornet — plugged into Leo Abrahams’ rare and unparalleled collection of pedals and amps, discerning directors and composers collectively delighted in the discovery of over 400 presets comprising weird- and wonderful-sounding guitars; reverberant pads; dark, distorted plucks; warped pedal effects; and synths. Thereafter, the ENIGMA 2 – THE RAPTURE collaborative followup formed a more extensive tribute to distortion.

Today, though, the Distorted collection of sounds formerly known as ENIGMA 2 – THE RAPTURE join those original 400-plus presets in AMBIENT GUITARS as 18 tight and punchy distorted electric guitar instruments with a wide range of sounds and characters, recorded through three amps and a variety of pedals. Perfect for adding layers of distortion and feedback, or creating walls of sound or devastatingly-haunting, dark, distorted beauty, it sounds clean, but with a vibe-ridden room sound.

Such was the success of LEO ABRAHAMS – ENIGMA and ENIGMA 2 – THE RAPTURE — rapidly becoming go-to collections for creating cinematic soundscapes, inspiring music-makers the world over — that Spitfire Audio allowed itself to record a new collection of sounds with Leo Abrahams. Inspired by its immediately-playable LABS Peel Guitar — gloriously distorted, yet chime-like and full of character (originally sampled by Spitfire Audio co-founder Christian Henson back before the company existed in 2006) — recently released for free, this time the trailblazing guitarist was welcomed into Spitfire Audio’s own London-based studios in 2019 to create a whole new textures collection called Amped Guitar Pads. Professionally crafted by Spitfire Audio founders and award-winning composers Christian Henson and Paul Thomson, this resulted in an additional 160 artist presets being included in AMBIENT GUITARS“If I’m ever asked to make something sound cool, the samples we’ve created with Leo Abrahams are the ‘get out of jail’ card I can always turn to.” So says Christian Henson himself. He should surely know!

Needless to say, these versatile, contemporary-sounding soundscapes are sometimes unrecognisable as guitars — glistening passages to guitars warped beyond recognition, plus ultra-realistic, fast-action picking to add movement and percussive elements are all there for the taking.

Taking AMBIENT GUITARS to a whole new level of inspirational guitar-generated sounds, the Evolutions collection is presented in Spitfire Audio’s advanced 16 x 16 Evo Grid — inspired in no small part by the British-built EMS VCS3, which made musical history upon its introduction in 1969 by being the first commercially portable synthesiser available anywhere in the world, thanks to its innovative modular matrix-based patchboard dispensing with the telephone exchange-like cabling of other (much larger) modular systems in favour of making space-saving connections with (removable) coloured pegs — putting four different amps and patchable signal paths into its user’s hands to add an element of the unexpected to compositions.

Clearly, the organic origins of AMBIENT GUITARS bring honest emotion to any composition that uses it, while the analogue distortion involved imbues an authentic layer of grit and depth that is not achievable with digital distortion. Each and every sound therein will layer into the mix perfectly, adding a timeless experimental edge to a wide range of settings — from inner city scenes to desolate, sweeping vistas — for film and game composers or enlightened electronic and pop producers alike.

As a trailblazing composer, musician, and producer par excellence, Leo Abrahams has recorded and toured with the like of Imogen Heap, Grace Jones, Pulp, and Roxy Music, written for and produced Editors and Florence & The Machine amongst other artists, as well as making his own records, including The Unrest Cure (featuring Brian Eno, Ed Harcourt, and KT Tunstall). He has also composed scores for movies such as The Lovely Bones (with Brian Eno) and Hunger (with David Holmes). It is little wonder, therefore, that he worked so well with Spitfire Audio and that the resulting AMBIENT GUITARS works so well!

“When I’m writing, I often build a sound first and let the composition evolve,” explains the innovative virtuosic guitarist who has happily lent his name and talent to Spitfire Audio’s latest library release. Who better, then, to bring the heavily processed proceedings to an appropriate close than Leo Abrahams“I hope that some of the guitar sounds on offer here will inspire other people to do the same, and that some of the ambient sounds are helpful when what’s needed is neither a synth pad nor an actual ‘part’, but just a bit of atmosphere. I hoped we could capture a sense of danger and abandon.” AMBIENT GUITARS does that admirably… and a whole lot more! 

Conclusions

Ambient Guitars uses Spitfire Audio’s rich heritage and continued innovation to create a stunning range of guitar based sounds. You’d expect a range of mic’d up clean and distorted guitar sounds with a variety of muted and plucked sounds and these are certainly in there but it’s so much more, there’s a whole range of pads, ambiences, ethereal soundscapes, rhythmic sounds and effects. These are complex, detailed and difficult to describe, blurring the boundaries between processed guitar and synthesised sounds. They sound stunning and provide instant inspiration.

If you’re familiar with other Spitfire audio products you’ll feel at home with the interfaces including the Evo grid and eDNA engine. The presets are excellent yet still offer lots of scope to customise and tweak them through effects, microphone placement, dynamics and expression. Construction kits are also included which are an excellent collection of starter patches.

I’ve used it exclusively on the album embedded at the top of this review. The songs were scoped out using Rapid Composer and sounds are processed with a range of Eventide effects and Reels by AudioThing.

Using Ambient Guitars

There are 10 folders plus an advanced folder that contains construction kits, factory sounds and individual signals. The interfaces will be familiar if you’ve used some other Spitfire Audio libraries.

Inspiration sounds are exactly that, a collection of pads and ambiences. These are presented using the eDNA interface giving you a huge amount of control to tweak and fine tune the sounds.

Distorted sounds contains a wealth of distorted guitar sounds. There are 18 guitar setups including a Gibson SG and Danelectro Hornet processed with a range of pedals and amps. This provides a huge variety of plucks. strums, power chords, slides and harmonics with great control over the dynamics. The interface looks simple but contains a huge range of controls to shape your sound including mic placement and amp settings. You have a room sound (R), a clean Showman amp (C1), Selmer amp (A1), Bassman amp (A2), Swart amp (A3), post pedal DI and you can blend between these as required.

Inspiration distorted sounds are similar to the inspiration sounds but processed with the heavily distorted sounds outlined above. As you’d expect these are an excellent collection of ambiences and pads.

Enigmatic pads contain beautifully expansive sounds, they’re atmospheric and great inspiration.

The feedback evo grid is built from a variety of techniques for producing feedback with each line of pegs relates to one specific sound recorded across the keyboard. Each line of pegs has a totally different type of feedback. The pegs are colour coded and clicking on the dice at the top shows the different feedback types – soft distortion, heavier distortion and chaos and allows extensive randomisation. This is a great starting point for new patches. The evo grid also gives you the three amps plus the room setting and a range of effects to further define and shape your sound.

Arps and chords have a very natural sound. They were recorded as multinote sounds with a clean sound and fully amped sound and you can mix between them.

One of my favourite folders is Odd Loopers, these were recorded with a guitar looper and have some excellent effects and rhythmic sounds. There’s some subtle tape stop and stretching effects.

Atonal sounds has a collection of deep and crunchy sounds and a great range of effects.

The artist presets folder is also another gem, it contains a range of sounds created by Paul and Christian at Spitfire Audio and contains a range of brilliant sounds.