Andrulian's blog

Creating sounds | Making music | supporting fellow musicians | reflections in time

Review of Erlanger Programme album by Rainer Straschill — November 14, 2017

Review of Erlanger Programme album by Rainer Straschill

This is an excellently arranged and produced album, there’s an ambience with a subtle tension and cinematic qualities at times. The instruments are often processed in innovative ways to create a very interesting sound which is layered really well with complementing and sometimes contrasting sounds.

A short song comprised of an atmospheric electric piano riff against a background drone.

Lovely ambience from a strings type sound and electric piano. The percussion adds an excellent element and there’s a great change of feel to a more urgent sound. It has a cinematic quality, great variety of instruments and changes in feel.

Percussive impact sounds give a kind of haunting quality to the opening. I really like the layering of the string and percussive sounds. There’s a great tension to the song.

Great interplay between the bass and synth bass sounds, the drums give an excellent momentum. There’s a kind of urgency to the sound and a tension from the dissonance.

A freeform jazz feel to the opening with fast looping piano riff, bass and drumming which fades to leave the looping piano riff.

A field recording to open with a background drone, there’s a sinister feel from the layered effects and reversed organ sounds. Great development of the sounds with the introduction of different elements. It’s a cinematic soundscape, excellent build and release of tension.

Very atmospheric opening from drone, wind and dripping water type sound. The brass type sound adds a melody which really holds your interest. The strings at the end add an excellent element.

Laid back jazz infused groove to open from bass, percussion and clarinet type of sound. It has a jam quality. Great use of different instruments including organ and piano. The accordion type sound is accompanied by an excellent change in feel with a great release to end the song.

The accordion sound and organ create a sparse melody and a great way to finish the album.

Review of Familiar Haunts album by Jason Simon on Cardinal Fuzz — November 13, 2017

Review of Familiar Haunts album by Jason Simon on Cardinal Fuzz

Jason Simon is best known for his work as the guitarist and singer for the seminal heavy psych band Dead Meadow. Familiar Haunts is a solo release on Cardinal Fuzz as a black vinyl and streaming via the Bandcamp app. At the time of writing, there are two copies left according to their Bandcamp page.

For customers in the USA, a vinyl and cassette release is available from Jason Simon’s Bandcamp page which also includes a digital only (streaming + download) version available to all.

There’s a strong acoustic guitar theme underpinning this album. It’s a wonderful melting pot of influences such as alt-country, singer-songwriter and country blues underpinned with a laid back psych vibe, great vocals and an excellent jam feel at times too.

The arrangements and production are excellent, the album has a superb, natural sound.

The People Dance, The People Sing
A blues infused vibe from the opening riff with natural sounding percussion, the vocals are laid back and there’s an excellent psych feel with subtle background effects and a building tension to a heavier, more distorted sound.

Without Reason or Right
A laid back reggae type vibe from the riff and muted strummed chords, excellent use of delay on the vocals and the organ adds an excellent element.

Now I’m Telling You
An Eastern feel to the opening which has a more distorted riff to open, the percussion builds gradually and there’s an excellent jam feel to the song with bass and improvised riffs. The vocals have a laid back feel.

Pretty Polly
A shimmery feel to the opening is propelled by picked riff, vocals and drumming. It’s a great sound, difficult to pin down but there are alt-country and rock influences. The blues harp adds an excellent element.

Seven Sisters of Sleep
Excellent tremelo riff and strummed chords to open, the vocals have a great laid back psych feel. The song has an excellent slow groove.

Hills of Mexico
There’s a great momentum to the opening of this song and an edge of tension too, especially from the vocals. The bass and drums enter to give a more defined groove. The song has an excellent jam quality.

Wheels will Spin
Another excellent opening groove from bass and trem guitar, there’s a great change between a chord vamp and more open sound. Some great solos too with a slow building tension to a release followed by a very slow groove to end. Excellent vocals again too.

I Found The Thread
Some excellent sound effects and reversed guitar to open, this song has a different feel to the rest. It’s another great vibe, some really trippy sounds at times.

A brief essay on history of music in China — November 12, 2017

A brief essay on history of music in China

I first published this on my long-defunct website back in 2006. I’ve been looking for the original for some time with no luck, however, I finally found a backup copy that enabled me to reproduce the essay here.

Writings on music in China can be traced back to the 4th Century BC. To the Chinese, as with other ancient civilizations, music had the power to influence people emotionally and physically. This power was a free energy that could be used or abused dependant upon man’s free will.

The traditional Chinese philosophy of music was Confucian. Confucius condemned several styles of music that he thought were morally dangerous – “The music of Cheng is lewd and corrupting; The music of Sung is soft and makes one effeminate; The music of Wei is repetitious and annoying; The music of Ch’i is harsh and makes one haughty.” Conversely, Confucius said “The noble-minded man’s music is mild and delicate, keeps a uniform mood, enlivens and moves. Such a man does not harbour pain or mourn in his heart; violent and daring movements are foreign to him”

According to Confucius “If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer”

The following two paragraphs from Yueh-Chi also illustrate the Chinese philosophy to music –

“It is the tao of Heaven and Earth that if cold and heat do not come at the right time there will be epidemics; if wind and rain do not come in due proportion there will be famine. [When the ruler] teaches [what is required by means of ritual mimes], that is the people’s cold and heat. If his teaching does not come at the right time he may blast a whole generation. [When the ruler] acts, that is the people’s wind and rain. If his actions do not observe due proportion they will be without effect. That is why the former Kings organised [the ritual mimes accompanied by] music, and so governed by force of example [i.e. by sympathetic magic]. If these were good, the activity [of the people] mirrored his moral power.”

“Therefore the ancient Kings did not initiate rituals and music for the mere purpose of satisfying the desires of our senses [“the mouth, the stomach, the ear and the eye”], but rather for teaching the people the right taste and the return to normality”

Cosmology became integrated with Confucianism towards the end of the first century BC. The Chinese believed that all audible sound was a manifestation of the Primal Sound – known to Hindus as OM. Primal Sound was present everywhere as an inaudible Divine Vibration. Audible sound on Earth was considered a manifestation of the Cosmic Tones – an “undertone” that conveyed supernatural powers. Music was often performed at the same time as mystical ceremony to align man with the rhythm and harmonies of the universe. According to Li Chi “Music is the harmony of heaven and earth while rites are the measurement of heaven and earth. Through harmony all things are made known; through measure all things are properly classified. Music comes from heaven; rites are shaped by earthly designs.”

There are twelve Cosmic Tones or lu that emanate from the Primal Sound and according to legend, imitate the cries of the phoenix. Each Cosmic Tone was associated with one of the twelve zodiacal regions of the heavens. Furthermore, six of these Cosmic Tones are yang (male, positive) in nature and the other six yin (female, negative). The five notes Kung, Shang, Chueh, Chih and Yu that first appeared in Kuan-Tzu (4th century BC) are generally considered to be the earliest Chinese pentatonic scale. The number 5 had cosmogenic significance, and the five notes were often associated with planets, animals, colours etc. Some of these associations are shown below.


The concept of yang and yin is an integral part of Chinese philosophy and consequently was also an integral part of the Ancient Chinese philosophy towards music. The Chinese believed that everything in the universe consisted of different combinations of these two fundamental opposite forces. These different combinations are symbolised in sets of three lines called Kua, where an unbroken line represents yang and a broken line represents yin. There are eight different combinations representing all matter in the universe. Musical instruments would therefore invoke the spirit of a particular season or element by association as shown below.


Early classics such as Yueh-Chi supply rich sources of music theory.  The emphasis on a world view of music had a lasting influence on later theorists.  In the Six Dynasties period (220-581) and the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) when China was under the cultural influence of central Asia, a great number of foreign musical practices were received and assimilated.  By the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), these foreign elements had been incorporated into Chinese music theory and, together with the doctrine of neo-Confucianism, became part of the orthodox teachings for many centuries.

The earliest complete account of the intervallic relationships of the 12 lu first appeared in Lu-shih ch’un-ch’iu (3rd century BC).  The method of their calculation is the simple application of the Pythagorean (cycle of fifths) method. The names of the 12 lu first appeared in Kuo-yu (4th century BC), but discoveries of accurately tuned stone-chimes suggest that the system could have been known as early as the 2nd millennium BC.  The method for calculating the twelve lu is as follows; after the length of the vibrating string, which produces the fundamental note (known as huang-chung, “yellow bell”) has been determined, the next note is obtained by multiplying the length of this string by a factor of 2:3.

This process is called san-fen-sun-i (“divide into three, take away one”).  The resultant note is a perfect 5th higher in frequency than the huang-chung and is called lin-chung (“forest bell”). This process is repeated to form the series of 12 notes.  Similarly, a factor of 4:3 could be used to calculate lu using the cycle of fourths.  If C is taken as huang chung, then the twelve lu are huang-chung (C), ta-lu (C#), t’ai-ts’u (D), chia-chung (D#), ku-hsien (E), chung-lu (F) jui-pin (F#) lin-chung (G),i-tse (G#), nan-lu (A), wu-i (A#) and ying-chung (B).

Since the earliest times Chinese theorists have placed great emphasis on absolute pitch, as it was related to official standards of measurement for length, capacity and weight. The pitch of huang chung, which generates all the other notes, was naturally the most important and was always represented by the measurement of a string or pipe.  Time and again attempts were made to “rediscover” the true measurement of huang-chung; a survey by Yang shows that there were at least 35 pitch reforms between the late Chou period (c. 3rd century BC) and the Chi’ing Dynasty (1644-1911) during which time the pitches used for huang chung varied between C and A.

The Pythagorean system of the 12 lu produces an untempered scale which means that pairs of adjacent pitches do not all have the same interval.  A further problem with this method results when the process of derivation is carried from the twelfth note, as the resulting 13th note is slightly higher than a perfect octave above huang chung.  To continue the calculation results in an endless spiral.

The first attempt at creating an equal tempered scale was made by Ho Ch’eng-t’ien (5th century BC) who lowered the frequency of each of the notes of the Pythagorean series by a simple factor so that the 13th note was exactly twice the frequency of huang-chung. By this method he not only completed the cycle but also reduced the differences in intervals between adjacent notes.  Chu Tsai-yu (16th century) finally created an equal-tempered scale of 12 notes by successively dividing the fundamental number (i.e. that of huang-chung) by the 12th root of 2.  Kuttner’s study shows that Chu discovered the calculation of a tempered scale not through a theoretical understanding and calculation of the role of the 12th root of 2, but by a numerological manipulation which gives an identical solution.

There is little evidence that tempered or other theoretical scales were really put into practice. The just intonation was apparently applied by ch’in performers as early as the 6th century.  Studs marking the stopping positions placed at simple divisions of the strings show that harmonics were used widely; but ch’in manuals from the 16th century have also indicated certain adjustments that seem to bring the intonation closer to equal temperament.

The five notes making up the Chinese pentatonic scale that first appeared in Kuan-tzu are also the first five of the Pythagorean series.  When arranged in an ascending order they are equivalent in terms of relative pitch to C D F G A.  However, the series F G A C D which is discussed in the much later work Shih-chi, seems to have been the more common pentatonic scale.  The concept of a scale may well have been recognized at that time because the names of the five notes, kung, shang, cheuh, chih, yu were listed according to ascending pitch although the ordering according to the Pythagorean series should have been kung, chih, shang, yu, cheuh.

The heptatonic scale of F G A B C D E referred to widely in later theoretical treatises is formed by the first seven notes of the Pythagorean series. It was first discussed explicitly in writings of the 2nd century, although an earlier work, kuo-yu, mentions it vaguely.  Furthermore, the concept of transposition could have been formed early as li-chi (c. 1st century BC) mentions the successive use of each of the 12 lu as kung, the starting note of the scale.

The term tiao is used widely by musicians for different purposes, probably the most important being the classification of melodies.  Names of tiao appearing as headings to musical pieces serve as a reminder of the melody to be adopted for new texts.  However, many theorists’ definitions and presentations of tiao can be equated with the Western term “mode”.  Earlier writings vaguely allude to a modal concept, while Shen Kua (1031-95) and the authors of Tz’u-yuan and Shih-lin Kuang-chi Chang Yen (1248-c1315) and Ch’en Yuan-ch’ing (c1270) respectively) described modes in exact terms.  According to the two latter works the heptatonic F mode can be constructed by using any of the twelve pitches within the octave as the tonic, and each of the seven notes of the scale can act as the final note of a melody.  A mode is thus defined by the pitch chosen for the tonic F and by the choice of the final note.  Theoretical definitions and descriptions of modes must be a drastic simplification of what happened in practice, where recognition of melodic identity undoubtedly involved much more than a mere mechanical use of beginning and ending notes. For example, analysis of ancient music manuscripts and of dramatic and instrumental music still performed shows that pieces belonging to the same mode tend to have similar melodic fragments.

The complete list of 84 modes derived from the heptatonic scale on the 12 pitches is of course only a theoretical one.  Although presented fully in the 13th century works mentioned above, not all of the names appeared in connection with actual musical pieces.  Shen Kua, who did report from factual observations, listed only 28 modes; his list even shows slight variation in the range, and omits certain notes in the scale.  Ts’ai Yuan-ting (1135-98) allowed only F G A C D to act as final notes; his set therefore consists of only 60 modes for the heptatonic scale.  He also initiated the use of the first as well as the final note of a melody as a criterion in determining its mode.  Codification and listing of modes continued to interest later theorists, but the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) can be considered the highpoint of development of modal theory in Chinese musical history.

The question of fitting music with vocals has been of special interest to theorists partly because the Chinese language has many elements analogous to music and also because words were of special interest to the literati.  Many theoretical works on singing and songwriting are really studies of Chinese phonology.

The outstanding characteristic of Chinese language is that it is tonal, with some tones moving up or down, others remain on a fairly even level. From ancient times Chinese syllables (each represented by a character which is usually a lexical unit) were grouped into four classes “even”, “rising”, “going” and “entering”, the last consisting of syllables ending abruptly in a voiceless stop consonant.  In some dialects, each of these classes is subdivided into higher and lower pitch categories.

Actual examples of Chinese vocal music show that the degree of correlation between word tones and melodic contours differs according to region, style and genre.  For example, many folksongs have low correlation, as is evident in songs which use the same melody for various stanzas of text which differ considerably in tonal patterns.  In operas and popular and narrative songs using the cantonese dialect, however, melodies closely imitate the word tones; furthermore, tonal imitation is used constantly.  In contrast, the Peking opera usually employs close imitation of actual speech tones only at selected moments for dramatic accentuation.  Most of these musical practices are virtually subconscious and are handed down among performers through oral tradition.  Theorists who have written on vocal music have usually concentrated their attention on the more sophisticated genres such as k’un-ch’u opera; their works are always prescriptive and do not describe the performance itself.

Despite all the philosophy behind ancient Chines music,it appears that theory was only put into practice on a few occasions. Because musical theory was written down, it was vulnerable to censorship and often represented the opinions of the authorities at the time, rather than the consensus of contemporary musicians and scholars.  For instance, theory says that music should educate people, regulate society, strengthen the government and above all, exist in harmony with nature.  Music that does not do this i.e. stimulates sensual pleasure was “immoral” and therefore undesirable.  However, this “immoral” music would have been enjoyed at all levels of society, although discussion would have been limited to “proper” music such as ceremonial and court music.

Source: Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians (most of the text)

Other References: The Secret Power of Music by David Tame (tables and some text)

Keith McMillen Instruments introduces BopPad – a smart sensor electronic drum pad controller — November 9, 2017

Keith McMillen Instruments introduces BopPad – a smart sensor electronic drum pad controller


“For years we’ve been asked to make a drum pad with our patented Smart Fabric Sensor technology — a control surface that would integrate seamlessly into a standard drum kit or work perfectly on its own, so we made BopPad, the smart sensor electronic drum pad controller… time to give the drummer some!”

– Keith McMillen Instruments Founder & CEO Keith McMillen, 2017

BERKELEY, CA, USA: having successfully smashed its Kickstarter campaign goal several times over to help bring the thrilling project to life, innovative hardware and software developer Keith McMillen Instruments is proud to announce availability of the production version of BopPad — broadening the company’s considerable product appeal as a smart sensor electronic drum pad controller like no other with an appealing price point to match — as of September 26, 2017.

BopPad is a USB (Universal Serial Bus) powered expressive electronic pad controller for drummers, percussionists, and producers alike. As such, it advances accurate hit detection via velocity, continuous radius, and pressure sensitivity with a fast playing surface to die for. Faster than you can shake a stick at? Absolutely — as attested to by its incredible latency of under 3ms! BopPad’s advanced architecture allows for an innovative instrument that ‘sees’ every gesture, hit, or tap to truly respond to the nuances of any percussive performance, perfectly measuring strike velocity from the softest hand-drumming actions to the most brutal percussive assault.

At its core is a robust tuned elastomer surface covering a 10-inch circle of Keith McMillen Instruments’ patented Smart Fabric Sensor technology. Independently programmable Quadrants — helpfully highlighted by clearly visible guide lines on the production version — output MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) notes, velocity, pitch bend, pressure, and location CCs (Control Changes). Creatively, this serves to provide performers with a traditional feel and adds a dimension of expressivity, enabled further by BopPad Editor. Available as a desktop download and a web-based editor that uses new Web MIDI API technology to create and save presets from the browser, this allows each of those simultaneously-playable Quadrants to be assigned to play up to six simultaneous notes with six expressive timbre maps, meaning that BopPad can not only be played like a traditional drum by triggering a single sound from its entire surface but building out a drum kit by assigning a different sound to each of those Quadrants so that a single BopPad can comfortably handle several simultaneous percussive goals. Get this, though: smoothly varying radial sensing from centre to edge along with continuous pressure response can be mapped to any parameter, allowing for both traditional and experimental playing styles like no other! Once a preset has been saved to the BopPad there is no need to run the BopPad Editor software while using it.

It is easy to get started; simply plug and play via USB with any mobile device, laptop, or desktop computer. Critically, as a class- compliant MIDI device, BopPad works with all music software. Speaking of which, with the production version of BopPad, Keith McMillen Instruments has integrated full MIDI five-pin DIN hardware compatibility courtesy of its own MIDI Expander, enabling BopPad to be used in a standalone capacity with external drum machines, hardware synths, or rack effects by providing power and connectivity. No computer (necessarily) needed!

Whatever way users choose to work with BopPad, percussive performance is where its innovative heart is. It can comfortably operate as a conventional practice pad with realistic feel and a portable, lightweight design — robustness that has been made even more so, thanks to improvements in its production version such as an anodised aluminium USB guard with a finish that is as tough as the guard itself, so there is no chance of paint abrasion due to impact, never mind accidentally hitting the USB cable itself! In every sense, then, BopPad is rugged, ready to go anywhere and be played however hard the user sees fit.

For Keith McMillen Instruments, bringing BopPad to life in its final form is a proud moment — making something this sensitive, this rugged, and at such an appealing price point is very demanding. So who better to have his final say on what could conceivably be the last word in expressive electronic drum pad controller design than company Founder & CEO Keith McMillen, himself an acclaimed audio and music technology innovator of some 30 years standing: “For years we’ve been asked to make a drum pad with our patented Smart Fabric Sensor technology — a control surface that would integrate seamlessly into a standard drum kit or work perfectly on its own, so we made BopPad, the smart sensor electronic drum pad controller… time to give the drummer some!”

BopPad carries an MSRP of $199.00 USD and is available to purchase from any authorised Keith McMillen Instruments dealer or directly from Keith McMillen Instruments here.

For more in-depth information, please visit the dedicated BopPad product webpage here.

Watch Keith McMillen Instruments’ intriguing BopPad overview video here.

I haven’t tried this out but the demonstration videos look excellent. Although designed as a drum pad controller, I think with a bit of creativity you could also use it in many different ways. Looking at the editor, it’s easy to assign up to 6 notes and midi channel to a particular quadrant so there’s no reason you couldn’t use it to trigger other samples, loops, synths or effects.


You can create as many presets as you want in the editor, the BopPad can store 4 presets at a time. Your preset includes a ‘user table’ which is effectively a response curve to pressure and velocity, there are linear, logarithmic, exponential, light, medium, hard and dynamic. The beauty of these is they can be fine tuned to suit your needs or edited to more specialised data shapes such as stair-stepped or quantised.

user table

It’s not just these though, the editor allows you control over a whole host of parameters giving huge customisation options.


Recording of inflexions #003 live set in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 — November 8, 2017

Recording of inflexions #003 live set in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3

The recent review of Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 outlined some of the patches and effects that I used during the making of ‘the prismatic effect of beaches on memory’ album.

Hollyhock 3 is equally at home being used for live performance and this is how I recorded inflexions #003 as a live set.

I’ve deliberately kept the number of elements small in order to produce a minimal type of sound and focus on editing a limited number of parameters which is easier to do during a live performance. One thing I need to look at for future performances is using a midi controller rather than the mouse. I really need a control interface with a lot more dials than trigger pads, a mixer seems a better option as keyboard controllers rarely have anywhere near enough dials. I could also set up an interface using touch-osc and control the key parameters using a tablet, this doesn’t have the same satisfaction as a physical controller but would provide a cost free alternative.

I started using fugue 2.0 with the Arreight Synth and Mogger Super Delay. This is a slightly unusual use for the fugue machine which is a midi based pianoroll sequencer and fugue 2.0 is an updated version of the original. You can use it to create some Bach sounding movements but I’ve used it here to produce more of a background drone type sound. The different parameters of an Arreight preset were randomised during the performance. You can hear an almost tape delay effect due to the timing of randomising the delay time setting.


I’ve used the U Drone synth with Mogger Reverb and Mogger Super Delay to provide subtle background sounds. I’ve triggered, looped and removed sounds a lot during the performance and tried to layer bass drones with swirls and higher pitched sounds to varying degrees.


Groove mangle provides a subtle rhythm and parameters were adjusted during the performance. I primarily changed the sample width, grain size and triggering pattern which had a big influence on the resulting sound.

groove mangle

I used the drum machine for the main rhythm starting with a randomised setting. I made some minor adjustments to the pattern before reducing it towards the end which is shown on the graphic. I made use of the freez, random and break settings during the performance.

drum rack

The gird I used was relatively simple, I used fade-in and fade-out settings for each of the elements and used timings to spread out and gradually layer the sounds but didn’t use any other automation as all the changes were done live during the performance.


The only VSTs I used were the usual ‘pre-master’ of Ferric TDS and Density MkIII, the mix was mastered in MuLab 7 using Elevate by Eventide / Newfangled Audio. This was a trial run for a forthcoming review, initial impressions are very good, it’s feature packed, easy to use and produces a great sound.

Review of ‘Scatter’ – ambient glitch loops sample pack by Mode Audio —

Review of ‘Scatter’ – ambient glitch loops sample pack by Mode Audio

Mode Audio has introduced Scatter, a 590Mb collection of royalty free ambient textures and glimmering Downtempo rhythms that will sit joyously within productions ranging from House and Techno to film soundtracks and more. It is available in Wav, Rex2, Reason and Ableton Live pack formats from Mode Audio (£18 regular price).

This review is for the Ableton Live sample pack which features a total of more than 350 samples arranged in different folders. The ‘projects’ folder contains 15 live project files (.als); The ‘samples’ folder contains 3 sub folders comprising ‘Drum Hits’, ‘Scatter loops’ and ‘Scatter Tail samples’ folders; The ‘MIDI Loops’ folder contains the sub-folders ‘arps’, ‘basses’, ‘chords and pads’, ‘drums’ and ‘perc’.

The Scatter Loops folder contains 30 arp synth loops, 15 bass loops, 30 chord and pad loops, 31 drum loops, 14 noise loops and 32 percussion loops which are labelled by name, key and tempo.

The arps folder contains 2 arps for each named sound, ranging from 66bpm to 122bpm. I really like the difference in sound between the two arps, they give a really good variety of sound. The loops have been processed with a subtle saturation and a great warmth resulting in an ambient sound with a nice hint of glitch at times.

The bass loops folder contains a range of deep, rolling, subby, gnarly and dubstep type sounds which have a glitchy edge to them and a warm, solid presence.

The chords and pads folder contains an excellent range of chords and pads which have a warm, saturated sound with a glitchy edge. Some of these have soundscape / cinematic qualities whilst others have more of an upfront sound and complement or contrast with the arps very well. There’s often a subtle movement in these sounds which makes them more interesting.

The drum loops folder contains a range of downtempo loops which have a warm and punchy sound with a edge of saturation and glitch. There a great variety of different sounding loops and I really like how they are split into drum loops and hat loops which allows you to create a more stripped back feel as well as a fuller loop and apply separate processing if required.

The noise loops folder contains a range of vinyl, crackle and hum type sounds, some of which have rhythmic properties. These can be used to add a different element to your sound and are ideal for further processing in themselves.

The percussion loops folder contains a range of glitchy, percussive and impact sound loops which can add a third dimension to the drum loops or can be used with further processing along with the noise loops to create some excellent ambient, glitchy sounds.

The Scatter Tail samples folder contains ‘tail samples’ which are an addition we’ve seen in other Mode Audio packs. On the face of it they allow you to apply a natural reverb tail to sample loops which is really useful in itself. However, they are also excellent sound sources in their own right that can be manipulated and mangled to add interesting elements to your tracks or could even be used as a starting point for new tracks.

The Midi loops folder is a very welcome addition to the sample pack and contains contains 127 fully featured midi loops. Typically 4 bar loops, these can be used with your own sounds or edited to create subtle or stark contrast and variations.

The drum hits sub-folder contains 16 kick samples, 16 snare samples, 20 high-hat samples (open and closed) and 12 percussion samples. These have a great warmth, an edge of saturation and a very natural sounding reverb.


This is an excellent value sample pack which contains a variety of sample loops and drum hits with a warm, saturated sound often with an edge of glitch. They provide inspiration for a wide range of styles especially ambient and glitchy type tracks and many others too. As with other Mode Audio packs there is potential to mix and match samples to create tracks but you can use also use these loops as a starting point to create something new and original. The sounds layer really well together and give options for a stripped back sound or a fuller sound and everything in between. The tail samples are an excellent addition and the inclusion of midi loops are also very welcomed to give even greater flexibility and potential. I really enjoyed using these loops and experimented with further processing to produce an EP titled ‘dissonant perceptions’ which was created using only sounds from the pack processed with various samplers, glitch and delay effects using Mulab 7 and is embedded above.

Review of Noise Against Racism Compilation on Blackened Death Records and HNM Records — November 6, 2017

Review of Noise Against Racism Compilation on Blackened Death Records and HNM Records

It’s fair to say this is a monster of a compilation featuring 74 tracks and 9 hours of music with the clear intent that “The noise community will not harbour racism or fascism in our ranks”. I’m delighted to have contributed to this compilation.

There’s a whole range of sounds from dark ambient soundscapes, distorted guitar riffs, glitchy guitar beats and feedback to harsh noise. The album opens with Kill Pill Volume 2 – 100 Dead Nazis which has a film quote leading into a kind of lo-fi beat with distorted bass and white noise drone.

Mutter – Blood on The Leaves
A noise / drone with police radio transmission in the background processed with delay. A great tension and subtle movement.

The Haters – BLMATP
Recording of a protest meeting leads into feedback / distortion to end.

These Gaping Jaws – Under the Skin
Atmospheric opening, dark ambient soundscape with haunting voices in the background. An excellent building tension with feedback.

Shrug Twenty – Seventeen
An edgy opening from feedback / distortion like a siren, great movement. There’s speaking in the background leading into a heavy, distorted riff with feedback effects. The vocals are growly and there’s a great simmering tension.

Black Leather Jesus – It is Happening Here
A wall of noise to open, it’s a soundscape of feedback, distortion and subtle background movement.

Odorbaby – Stupid Racist American Princess
Recording of a particularly unpleasant attitude with distorted / feedback effects over the top.

Distorted opening leading into a glitchy beat. It’s a very glitchy sound, intense drumbeat is also glitched and creates a rhythmic distortion and choppy rhythms.

God Pussy – WARNING, No More Chances, Kill facist!
Another wall of distortion and feedback with an edgy sound.

T Mikawa – Online Right Wingers Bathe in Boiling Water
Another noise fest, it’s a soundscape with distortion, feedback and kind of glitchy, beep sounds at times.

Mean Flow – Noise Annoyance
A rhythmic soundscape with subtle movement in sounds.

Gimp Gash – Ebony Line
Layered police radio recordings leading into a noise soundscape with looping / delayed elements and a train in the background.

Fsychic Pheats – Mantra III (raw)
Looping feedback creates a rhythm against the drone with a great movement.

Soundscape with distorted drone, disembodied voice type sound which swirls and evolves backed by a slow drumming pattern.

Milky Lighthouse – While They Cry For Peace, Who’s Crying For Justice?

Distorted soundscape with bitcrushed, metallic sounds interspersed with white noise crackles. A great release / build of tension to glitchy rhythms.

Transgresia – Dead Hess
A noise / soundscape, subtle movement in sound.

PBK – Stirring the Hornet’s Nest
Soundscape of noise, distortion and hum type sounds, there’s a great evolution ending with a distorted riff and rhythmic percussion sound.

Dead Shall Not Have Died in Vain – Racist in Chief
Soundscape with layered noise elements and nice use of delay, it’s an atmospheric sound, the spoken parts in the background give an eerie presence.

Gaitoh – Vajra
Extreme noise soundscape from distorted drumming, there’s a glimpse towards the end of the unprocessed sound.

I Was Killer’s or Killers – Young Republican
Brooding opening from distorted drone and riffing. Screams in the background add a great tension.

Plastiglomerate feat. Omsk Social Club – Fluoride Quicksilver
Rhythmic pattern from impact type sounds, slow evolving drone and background sounds create a great soundscape. Spoken parts give an eerie feel, a great tension.

Mig Inc – Black Block
Distorted drone to open with subtle movement and great use of delay. An evolving soundscape.

Anak Bukit – Anti-Racist Noise Machine
Repeating crescendo feedback loop to open, great movement in sound from layered effects.

Heselton – S’Paradigm
Riff with reversed sounds creates an excellent opening atmosphere, great contrast against the drone. Delayed guitar adds a great element.

Jesus is Dead – Mortality
There’s an opening quote from a radio and distorted drone type noise and distorted guitar riff. An evolving soundscape, great glitchy elements like a radio being retuned.

Andrulian – refute naive realism
This is my submission, am delighted to be a part of this compilation.

Hari Hardman – I and I is I and I
A very distorted sound with feedback.

Brekekekekexkoaxkoax – No Pipeline For Standing Rock
An evolving drone to open, excellent soundscape with nice evolution of sound.

Troublan – Coloured Mind
A great noisescape with sound effects that evolves into a harder edged sound with a build / release of tension.

Cirnu – Cut Away The Bad
Percussive type sounds to open, great layering of drone and distorted elements. An excellent evolution with build / release of tension.

act/cut/withdraw – Zambra
A swirling, delayed opening. A great atmosphere with percussive and piano type sounds.

Wormhead – Patriotism Stinks
A distorted noisescape.

Qoheleth – Advance of Inhumanity
Great layered noise to open propelled by drumming and very processed vocals.

The Dead Yesterdays – No Safe Haven
A noisescape with distorted, rhythmic sound leading to an even harsher noisescape.

{AN}Eel – ( Black Noise / Brown Noise / Red Noise / Pink Noise / White Noise ) NOISE = COLORBLIND
An experimental noisescape, spoken parts are interspersed with noise and distorted effects.

FAILSAFE! – A Rising Tide to Choke the Mouths of Those Who Would See Us Divided
An evolving soundscape with layered drones, distorted effects and great use of delay.

Crippling Self Doubt – Part of the Problem
A quote from a news report layered with the sound of gunfire, noise drone and layered elements.

Slay Your Boyfriend – Bahag Hari
A quote to open, very distorted / bitcrushed sound. An evolving noisescape.

Writhe – Prejudice
A swirling, distorted opening, an excellent evolving noisescape.

Cum Gutter – Solitary / Solidarity (For Kalief Browder)
An emerging distorted drone, some harsh noise elements and a great tension with a nice release.

Stan K – Pangaea Posture
Very distorted opening, some great sound effects and evolution of sound.

Jon Pillay – Black Lives Matter
Emerging drone and quote, a great evolution of different noise elements.

Otomo Hava – Stonewall Electronics
A wall of noise layered against a protest speech. A really edgy sound.

deelovesamy – Black and Hopeless
A synth lead, background sound effects and quote to open. Drumming pattern gives a great momentum.

T Bjorkland Quartet feat. The Pope – Janus Excerpt ( Alexa – Nikki – Naomi – Dana – Sasha)
Processed vocals to start, an edgy harsh noise sound with distorted drone and great evolution of the noisescape.

Error Grinder – Framat
Distorted opening, a glitchy feel with guitar riffs and pick effects weaving around the distorted drone.

Anal Ricochet – Racial Prejudice is So Boring
Really harsh noise, some glitchy artefacts which add a great element. There’s an evolution of the sound which breaks down at times and builds tension again.

Noise Against Facism – Direkt Aktion
Another harsh noise song, some interesting effects with a breakdown of the sound and nice variation in sounds and distortion.

Escravo Que Mata O Senhor – O Escravo Que Mata O Senhor, Saja Em Que Circunstancia For, Mata Sempre Em Legitima Defesa
Vocals to start are layered with distorted glitchy sounds like a radio being returned over a piano. It’s an edgy sound, great contrast between the piano and distorted elements. Song evolves into a total wall of noise.

Grintabachan – Pure Delusion
Harsh noise to open with rhythmic qualities, nice evolution to feedback and some robotic / glitchy effects.

Noir de Lampe – The Colour Purple
Glitchy opening from layered distorted and bass drone. Subtle movement in sound.

Federation of Sorrow – The Whirlwinds of Revolt
A harsh noise soundscape.

Ghost Skull – Same Cuts, Same Blood
Nicely layered distorted sounds and effects.

Psychiceyeclix – Live @Mudlark Theatre, New Orleans.
Distorted riff and effects, it’s a great noisescape.

Sayara – In Exile
A great noisescape with a subtle movement in the sound.

KRYPTEK – T Town Takedown
A recording to open with evolving drones, there’s a great build and release of tension through sound effects and interspersed news recordings. The beat and bassline add a great momentum.

Mankeulv – The Death of Beauty
A rhythmic opening with crackly sound effects, distortion / feedback builds gradually. Great evolution of sound leading into a guitar riff which adds a great element.

Ludwig Dementgenstein – Nazi Punks Fuck Off (Anti-acapella version)
Sounds like a bass guitar, the song has a very distorted riff and there’s a brooding quality to this song.

Valvan – The Golden Rule
A very distorted sound to open, has a kind of filtered effect, subtle movement in sound.

Kowareta – Geef Rechts Geen Kaans
Very distorted riff to open, there’s some pick scrape effects and great use of wah / flanger effects. The song evolves into a wall of distortion with great use of delay and feedback.

Slave Diet – Tobacco Baron
An evolving noisescape, there’s a high pitch drone and sound effects,a really edgy sound.

Neurogami – Brain Damage
A solid groove from the drumming pattern and bass with a distorted riff which adds a great edge of tension at times.

Ben Control – Adziil
Natural percussion with chanting to open, a tribal feel interspersed with layered noise elements.

Puta Malaria – Forged of Decay
Very edgy sound from distorted percussion, processed vocals sit low in the mix with an emerging riff.

Spacement – Appalling Silence
A vinyl crackling hum type sound, subtle movement in sound creates a great noisescape.

The Bim Prongs – Foil Piss
An atmospheric opening with an emerging drone and background sounds, the song has a great ambience.

Mince Splatters – Frightened
A rhythmic opening with percussive and a whip type sound against a drone.

I, Eternal – Droits de l’homme
Spoken French language with background noise / effects.

Ocho Escolopendras – Vienwals
Evolving opening pad type sound, there’s a kind of glitchy seaside organ, the song has a great development with build and release.

Kontroljet – Oh Suzz Oh Anna Oh
Glitchy rhythmic opening with Distorted background conversation a bit like a tv changing channels. The bell melody and pad drone have a disconcerting feel.

Armed Jouissance – March 2013 IV
An evolving opening, subtle moment in sound and a great tension. The spoken part sits low in the mix and has an ethereal feel.

school of drums – Ring All Public Parks with Glitter Guts
An excellent opening with a synth riff which has superb sustain and layered background noise / glitchy sounds. A great rhythmic element at times too.

Erotic Infant – Fuck the Fash
A very harsh noisescape with subtle movement and a bass drone that weaves in and out.

Harsh Noise Movement – Noise Against Racism
Trump quote to open with toilet sounds for want of a better description leading into a harsh wall of noise with feedback and subtle movement.

Review of Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock III DAW — November 5, 2017

Review of Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock III DAW


Sensomusic have released Usine Hollyhock 3, a fully modular DAW for OsX and Windows (32 / 64 bit versions). There are two different licence types, the Pro licence (for people who make money with Usine) is priced at 249 Euros and comes with 3 years of updates. The Edu or non-professional licence (for people who don’t make money with Usine) is priced at 99 Euros with 1 year of updates. The latest version of Hollyhock 3 at the time of writing is 3.0.146 available direct from the Sensomusic website.


Anyone who has heard my music or read some of my blog posts about how I’ve created some of my albums will know that I am a massive fan of Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock II.

Which is why the news of Hollyhock 3 (HH3) came with a great sense anticipation. It’s a very impressive update. HH3 is an evolution, building on the previous formula bringing a whole host of updates and improvements.

HH3 does what most other DAWs do – and some unique things they don’t – but differently. It’s no understatement to say it has revolutionised how I create music. It’s a very organic process, songs have often been created from a few sounds using in-built samplers processed with various effects and then thinking through how different sounds fit with them. In fact I’ve scoped out whole albums from a single starting point like this. It’s this non-linearity that really suits my way of thinking about approaching music.

At first glance, the version 3 GUI doesn’t appear that different. However, the workflow feels smoother, the grid is easier to use. It’s like a whole host of fine tuning that adds up to big improvements. There are also a large number of new patches and the existing ones have had a makeover that makes them easier to use.

I absolutely love HH3, it is different to typical DAWs but that is what makes it unique and so inspiring. It is an excellent tool for experimenting with sound design and creating some unique sounds; capturing spontaneity through live performance or recording and offering new ways to create music. Being a fully modular system it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, there’s always scope to develop and learn new approaches.

A lot of my recent albums have been created in HH3 using a range of VSTs and effects. I’ve created ‘the prismatic effect of beaches in memory’ solely using the synths, effects and samplers within HH3. I’ve used some existing samples for the various samplers and have mastered these tracks – lightly, the only time I’ve used VSTs – in MuLab7. The album is embedded above along with discussion of some of the modules used in the ‘Examples of HH3 in use’ section below.

The process was to load some sounds in various samplers, load the in-built synths and effects and go from there. I’ve explored different sounds, styles and techniques and allowed my creativity to have free reign. I hope it highlights some of the potential of HH3.


Installation and set up is fairly straightforward, it’s a case of assigning audio inputs and outputs, midi inputs and outputs, specifying folders where your samples are located and scanning your VST plugins. There’s a handy option to rescan all or just rescan changes when you install new VSTs.

There’s also a very well featured online manual and excellent series of video tutorials to get you started.

It’s useful to start with a clarification of the terminology used. A workspace is the whole project. This contains racks which are like tracks or channel strips with inputs, patches and outputs. Patches are composed of modules which are the individual elements such as audio in, audio out, filter effect, delay effect etc. There are vast number of ready made built-in patches from audio effects to synths and samplers. A patch is also used to load audio files or samples and HH3 handles these differently to other DAWs – you get the option of a normal player, grain player, joggle player, x-fade loop player or grain cloud player – and patches are also used to load VST synths and effects.

HH3 allows you to use racks in pretty much any way you want to. You can use them to host VSTs and effects but you can also use them more creatively for insert effects, auxiliary effects for one or several other racks, create audio or midi busses.

It’s also worth spending time understanding how patches work. A patch is essentially a series of modules wired together. HH3 is a completely modular system so you can create your own patches from a multitude of modules by connecting them together in any way you want. This can be as simple as a delay with a filter sweep; customising a sampler with random start positions or a complex multi-effect.

Patches contain design elements such as sliders and dials; audio components and midi tools and you can also use mathematical operators, steps, switches and random modules.

Designing racks is now much easier, you can resize the whole rack and simply resize and drag / drop the patches where you want them to. Storing presets is now also easier using the drop down list of presets and adding a new one and renaming it. You can also rename and colour code patches and racks as desired.

When you drag and drop a VST into a rack, HH3 automatically creates the patch and you are ready to go. You can also edit the patch which allows you to create dials for specific controls so that you can change them when the plugin display is hidden rather than having the gui taking up a large amount of screen space but you can also get much more creative and use LFOs or randomisers for certain parameters and have control over synchro, min and max settings.

What makes HH3 different is that you can play sounds you’ve created in the racks straight away, it acts like an instrument. This means that you can load samples or VSTs and as they are playing layer other samples, drum patterns, basslines, effects etc. and see how they sound. This is partly what makes HH3 unique and why I find it so inspiring.

Midi learn is as easy as clicking the midi learn button which highlights all controls that can controlled. Click the desired element and then touch the controlling element on your hardware. The remote works properly as soon as the audio engine is switched on.

Recording audio is also different in HH3 and another unique feature. Audio is recorded direct to disk i.e. live rather than rendered which might not suit everyone but allows for spontaneous and live recording although it is possible to set up a high degree of automation so you don’t necessarily need to live edit your recording. You can record individual specific racks or several racks together as stems for remixing later or record the total stereo out. I tend to set up a very basic ‘pre-mastering’ rack that everything is routed through and this way I can capture the spontaneity of live recording and give it a bit of a polish. You can of course post process by recording the individual stems although I tend to do a basic mastering with EQ and compression on the stereo out file. This is partly because of the way I set up signal routing and partly because I’m only just getting to grips with mastering.


The Grid is another other different aspect of HH3. You use the grid to arrange the racks into your composition, it doesn’t necessarily have to be linear. You create your song using different sections. The length can be set in seconds, minutes or bars and their behaviour can be set to loop, next section or pause. The racks will only play when they are arranged on the grid and you have a huge amount of control over how they play. You can set fade in / fade out settings; Use the sync to sampler setting to play the sampler every time the section restarts. Using section sync changes the section length to fit the sample. You can also use the curves tab to set various properties such as volume or an excellent new feature is to drop presets onto the rack and you can use a fade to smooth the transition between them. You can change time signature and tempo between sections and play them in any order you like.

The physics engine is another unique part of HH3. It allows you to create shapes such as squares or circles which bounce around a box and control certain parameters of an effect or VST synth. There are controls for physics speed – the overall moving speed of the objects; gravity – determines how quickly the objects fall or float; friction – determines the smoothness of the surface; elasticity – determines the shape property from hard metal to rubber.

You can expand possibilities to switch effects on and off when shapes collide with the walls or each other for example. There are some ready built examples such as groove physics.

HH3 allows you to control lights using DMX to create chasers or certain lights to be triggered by specific notes.

You can play videos in HH3 but it will also accept video camera inputs, IP cameras and video streams.

Open-Sound-Control is another really useful feature. You can use an app like TouchOSC which turns a phone or tablet into a control device. I’ve used this with Hollyhock II and it was easy to set up and worked straight away with no issues. The beauty of OSC compared to midi is that you can design an interface to suit your exact needs. You can use buttons, sliders or faders and have a complex interface that you might not be able to replicate with a midi controller and the chances are that you’ve already got a phone or tablet so the cost of buying an app is much less than a fully fledged midi controller as long as you’re happy with a virtual interface compared to a physical one.

Examples of HH3 in use

The idea for the album was to create an album using only modules and effects within HH3 and then give some examples of what I have done.

HH3 comes with a whole host of audio effects. These are really good quality effects and cover everything from delays, distortion, compressors, filters, reverb, ring modulation to more unusual spectral effects and sequencer type effects. The ‘Mogger Fooger’ folder contains an excellent delay and reverb for example and in fact these effects are emulations of the Mooger Fooger pedals by Moog..

mogger super delay.jpgmogger reverb.jpg

You can of course use your own favourite VST effects but there are certainly more than enough available in HH3 to get to grips with.




I’ve used some external samples with the in-built samplers and this is a good place to start explaining how HH3 is different from other DAWs. If I’m using MuLab, for instance, I drag and drop a sample onto the timeline. I can set a loop section and repeat the sample, apply effects, layer different sounds. As I build the song I can copy and paste these samples but it is a linear process and does tend to make you think in terms of bar lengths, repeating sections and so on.

HH3 is different. You have a number of different options when loading a sample. The normal sample player allows you to play a sample forwards or backwards and it is easy enough to create a list and play through them manually or automatically, trigger effects every other sample restart, trigger effects when the sample has played a specified amount such as 70%.

The joggle sampler allows you to play a sample with a looping option but it also has a speed control. I added a freez effect and the Mogger Super Delay. You can start to hear how this will sound by starting the audio engine. You can get some very interesting sounds by altering the speed and direction then using the freez to record audio which can be looped against different speed and direction settings. This is done in real time and you can layer other sounds and scope out a song before arranging the different elements on the grid.

experimental freeze_freeze.jpg

Another useful sample player is the grain cloud player. This is an excellent grain sampler with a whole host of controls that can be edited live or automated if you need more precision.

grain cloud player.jpg

When you load a sample HH3 will automatically name the module with the name of the sample you loaded, When you load additional samples their names are displayed on the sampler window but, if like me, you don’t rename the module it will keep the original name. I really should be more organised with updating names.

One of my favourite samplers is ‘U-Drone’ which has also received new functionality in HH3 with the addition of an attack control and it is much easier switching between different samples. Essentially U-Drone contains a matrix where each square represents a note starting at C on the left hand side through each note in the octave to B on the right hand side. The bottom row is octave 0 going up to octave 6 at the top. You can create some excellent drone effects as well as create chords, layered sounds and generate interesting rhythms. The attack control is a very welcomed addition, it makes U-Drone much more expressive.

The photos below also illustrate how changing colours can make a big difference to the display. The first photo uses default settings and for the second I’ve added borders, altered background colours etc. For a lot of the screenshots I’ve used default colours which doesn’t really do HH3 full justice – especially as these images are low-res and I’m not sure why.

udrone.jpgUdrone (2)

HH3 has a number of ‘groove tools’. These are an excellent way to get some inspiration with basslines, melodies and percussive rhythms,

Groove bass has a whole host of controls and features a 16 step sequencer with randomisers for the notes and also step pattern. There are 6 built in bass sounds but you can load your own samples using the audio-sampler-midi to create your own presets. You can add other effects such as the filter I’ve used below.

groove bass.jpg

Groove Mangle is new to HH3 and it creates rhythmic sequences using 2 grain samplers. You can control the area of the samples used, grain size, gain and pitch and link the two if required. The matrix creates the sequence with squares towards the bottom triggering the left of the area and squares towards the top triggering the right of the area. You’d have a pretty cool live instrument if you set this up with a midi controller.

groove mangle.jpg

Groove slicer is also new, it’s a real time audio slicer. It can slice a file automatically using beat detection and offers a number of tools to create variations in real time, ‘Num slice’ determines the sequence playback and there are controls for pitch, pan and reverse all of which have a handy randomise feature. The live controls offer a number of manipulation options.

groove slicer

I’d say the one feature missing from Hollyhock 2 was an easy way to create and use drum patterns. This has been rectified in HH3 with the inclusion of a drum sequencer. It’s well featured with a number of live breaks options. drum kit.jpg

It only outputs midi although HH3 has some of the excellent BPB kits and you can also create your own banks with an audio-sampler-midi which is a simple case of drag and drop the samples onto the midi keyboard and you can specify range and velocity as required. This is the same way you’d create your own banks for groove bass. You can also use this with a VST.

audio midi sampler.jpg

There are also a number of excellent synths which are worth exploring and can create some interesting sounds, especially if you’re brave enough to use the randomisation settings.

meta synth.jpg




This is an example grid setup and I’ve altered a lot of the colours to try and make it more visually appealing. It’s a fairly simple arrangement, I tend to find that too many tracks makes the sound cluttered and doesn’t give each element enough room. I’ve used fade in and fade out times but haven’t used any other automation. Often I’ll make use of more sections if I’m introducing different elements but I tend to record live and edit settings during the recording so simple grids work better for me. Automation would give much more control and reproducibility but I like the spontaneity that live recording offers.


These are some of the patches I’ve used making the album;

experimental freeze_freeze.jpg

The Arreight synth with delay;

experimental freeze_arreight.jpg

The MatryX synth;

experimental freeze_matryx.jpg

For the ‘visions of enzili’ tracks I used the U Drone sampler and the Poly Mini Moog as the sound sources.

poly mini moog.jpg

I triggered this using a midi pianoroll, this is well featured and easy to use, each patch can have up to 8 patterns and you easily set the required length by dragging the purple bar at the top of the pianoroll window.


Both of these were routed using the aux out patch which allows up to 4 send effects. For the four effects I used a combination of reverb, delays, spectral effects, freez and grain effects which were switched on and off and their settings edited live during the recordings.





I’ve also recorded a further seven albums in HH3 which are embedded below:

(For this one I created some sounds and loops in HH3)

Review of Wave Box waveshaping effect by AudioThing — October 15, 2017

Review of Wave Box waveshaping effect by AudioThing


AudioThing have introduced Wave Box, a dynamic dual waveshaping plugin in VST / AU / AAX formats in both 32 and 64 bit versions typically priced at 49 Euros although at the time of writing is currently on sale at 35 Euros. A demo version is also available.

I’m a big fan of AudioThing, they produce a range of different and interesting effects with a great sound quality and they are very reasonably priced too. I’ve previously reviewed Fog Convolver (Convolution Reverb); Outer Space (Vintage Tape Echo); Space Strip (Multi-Effect plugin); The Orb (Formant filter effect) and Frostbite (Ring mod / feedback / freeze effect).

Wave Box continues this line of development as a dynamic waveshaper plugin that can be used for symmetrical and asymmetrical distortion. In essence you have two separate waveshapers that can be mixed together whilst being modulated by 2 LFOs and an envelope follower.


It’s very easy to use, it sounds great and produces a much wider range of effects than expected. It can produce a wide range of distortion sounds from subtle tube style overdrive to really harsh digital distortion. It can also produce other effects such as tremolo, vinyl crackles and compression type effects. The automation elements really enhance the usability of the effect. These can be used to create a range of movement from subtle to extreme and the LFOs at low rate settings can also be used to produce a very slow ‘step change’ or random type of effect. There’s also a very handy randomise option which can provide some inspiration for some unusual effects.

I’ve had great fun using Wave Box, I’ve created a 3 track EP embedded above using a series of loops from Function Loops / Sharp Label each of which are processed with Wave Box and some also use RP Verb 2 (Rob Papen). It also includes a remix was created using stems from burz II processed with SpecOps (Unfiltered Audio), Ultratap (Eventide), RP Verb 2 and RP Delay (Rob Papen).

In-Depth Review

As with other AudioThing plugins, the GUI is well designed and clearly laid out.


The shaping section is the heart of the effect. By default the plugin starts in symmetrical mode and you can switch to asymmetrical mode by clicking the ‘+-’ button in the top left corner.


There are 6 different shaping options for each of the waveshaping functions – tanh, sinh, sin, linear, floor and round. The adjacent control determines the amount of curve for the selected waveshaping function.

The ceiling controls the dynamic range of functions and the effect of the bias control is determined by what mode you are using. Symmetrical mode applies the waveshaping equally to positive and negative parts of the signal and the bias controls the mix between the two functions.

Asymmetrical mode applies the first waveshaping function to the positive part of the signal whilst the second waveshaping function is applied to the negative part of the signal and the bias control adds an offset between the positive and negative parts of the signal.

Next to the shaping controls is a very handy oscilloscope which allows you to visualise the resulting waveshape.


At the bottom of the display are the LFOs and envelope follower. These add automation to the waveshaping which can produce subtle or extreme movement in the sound.

The two LFOs each have a sync control, rate and amount settings. There are four destinations – bias, curve 1, curve 2 and ceiling. There are six different waveform options – sine, triangle, square, ramp up, ramp down, random and you can adjust the phase by clicking on the wave display and dragging to the right to increase and to the left to decrease phase setting.


The envelope follower has attack, release and amount settings and also has the four destinations of bias, curve 1, curve 2 and ceiling.


The master section in the top right has input, dry/wet mix and output controls. There is also a switch to enable a hard clip limiter and the option to choose one of four oversampling settings which avoids aliasing but increases CPU usage.


Review of SpecOps spectral effects plugin by Unfiltered Audio — October 6, 2017

Review of SpecOps spectral effects plugin by Unfiltered Audio

Unfiltered Audio have announced the release of SpecOps, a complex, powerful, easy-and-fun-to-use plugin possessing 36 diverse and flexible spectral effects, ranging from subtle to extreme, so sound designers and electronic music producers can easily access a multiverse playground of special effects and sweeteners that can deconstruct sounds at the spectral level and reconstruct them in new and exciting ways.

SpecOps is available for purchase — as AAX AudioSuite-, AAX Native-, AU-, VST2-, and VST3-supporting plugin formats for Mac OS X (10.8 through 10.12), Windows (7 through 10), and Pro Tools 10.3.10 (or higher) — exclusively from Plugin Alliance at an introductory promo price of $89.00 USD until October 20, 2017, rising to an MSRP of $129.00 USD thereafter.

Fully-functional, 14-day trials are available to anyone registering for a free Plugin Alliance account here

Note that the proprietary Plugin Alliance Installation Manager means users can select, download, and install only the products and formats needed for their system.

For more in-depth information, including several superb-sounding audio demos, please visit the dedicated SpecOps webpage here

Watch Plugin Alliance’s tantalizing trailer for SpecOps here

Watch Urban Sound Studio’s Todd Urban’s SpecOpstutorial here


This is an awesome and very cool effect. It’s one of those that is quite difficult to explain how it works but in some ways that doesn’t matter because it’s so much fun experimenting to see what happens. It comes with a lot of presets which are ready to use and highlight the enormous potential of SpecOps or if you take the fully experimental approach and start from scratch it won’t be long before you see results because it’s very easy to start using. You can spend countless hours playing around with SpecOps, it’s incredibly flexible and versatile and can be used as an insert effect, for mixing, mastering or sound design. It can do subtle things like add warmth to thin guitar tracks, fatten up weak frequencies in the bottom end or add subtle movement to pad or synth sounds. It’s equally at home destroying basslines with a bitcrusher / distortion type of effect, adding glitchy polyrhythms to drum tracks or mangling them completely. You can also use the ‘freeze’ function to create a spectral synthesizer and it also has very powerful modulation options.

I’ve created an album using SpecOps which is embedded above. I’ve used Polygon (Glitchmachines); Predator 2, Punch, RP Verb 2, RP Delay (Rob Papen); Synthmaster 2.8 (KV331 Audio) and have used SpecOps as an insert effect on every track. The album was recorded live in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 and some of the live edits did produce a few unexpected glitches for instance when I used the freeze function of the drums the timing wasn’t always spot on when unfreezing but I’m really pleased with the overall result. I subsequently mastered the tracks in MuLab 7 using bx_console E (Brainworx) or Neutron (iZotope) and Stage (Fiedler Audio)

In-depth review

The GUI has a very modern, clean and minimal look to it. There is the option of a black or white background and a number of different zoom settings. It’s important to remember that this is a frequency based effect rather than a time based effect and the best way to explain this is to use the signal flow which is shown below:

signal flow.jpg

The effect is rather complex but essentially uses FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) which basically uses maths to split a complex signal into its component frequencies which in SpecOps are called ‘bins’. These bins can then have their speed adjusted and ‘geometry’ edited which allows for pitch shifting, stretch and slide. You can select 3 effects from 36 in total which are processed in series. These are followed by the spectral compressor / expander which is the heart of the plugin. Following processing you can adjust the output gain, use a low pass filter to attenuate harsh frequencies and set the amount of wet / dry mix.


The analysis section is the starting point. The FFT size determines how many bins the signal is split into. Low FFT settings such as 128 give a grainy, lo-fi sound whereas high FFT settings such as 32,768 give a higher fidelity sound but introduce latency. Note that high FFT settings are also likely to result in CPU spikes because the interval between applying effects at a higher setting is longer but more effects are applied. At lower settings there is less of an interval between applying effects but SpecOps is using less processor power so CPU usage is more constant. Overall the average usage is about the same but the range will vary considerably based on the FFT size.

The window setting determines how the sound is analysed. There are 7 settings each of which provide different results.

This section also has the input gain control.


The speed control acts differently to how you might expect, it creates feedback between analysis frames decreasing the rate at which new frames are acquired.

Freeze locks the current frame and prevents further analysis. It’s the same as turning the speed control to zero which effectively creates an oscillator using the last group of samples. You can then adjust the pitch shift control to create a spectral synthesizer.


The geometry section has a big impact on the sound. The controls in this section comprise of pitch shift that is quantized from -12 to +12 semitones; slide which is an inharmonic frequency shift and stretch which applies compression or expansion to the bins. It’s like pitch shift but isn’t quantized or phase aware.


The effects section comprises of 3 selectable effects from a total of 36 processed in series from top to bottom. ‘Start’ is the starting frequency the effect is applied at, width controls how many frequency bins are affected and there’s an amount setting for each effect.

The 36 effects comprise a number of filters (low pass, high pass, noise filters); mixing (affect the amplitude); geometry (similar to geometry section but can be applied to specific frequencies); Freezers (similar to the freeze control in the speed section with a number of variants); Effects (contains reverser, glitchers, clippers, smearing); Glitchers (a number of glitchy effects)

spectral compander.jpg

The spectral compander applies to every single bin so with an FFT size of 1,024 there are 1,024 separate companders running simultaneously and at the maximum FFT setting of 32,768 there are 32,768 separate companders running simultaneously. The threshold sets the decibel level at which each compander becomes active; Ratio sets whether bins are expanded or compressed when the bin’s amplitude exceeds the threshold; Knee changes the gain curve transitions from linear to non-linear; Attack determines how quickly the compander reaches its target gain level; Decay determines how quickly the compander returns to a neutral gain level; Mask sets the amount of bleed which can introduce artifacts or produce a less severe sound.


The out section has a gain, low pass filter to remove some of the harsh spectral content in the upper frequencies and a mix control.


The modulation options are flexible and powerful. It’s a modular system and the connectors are arranged so that outputs are at the top of the modulators and everything else is an input, shown by a white circle which have scaling settings. You simply drag from an output to an input and the cable will snap into place. It’s so flexible that the modulators can be used to modulate their own parameters which can create some interesting and unusual results. At present a maximum of 6 modulators can be used at once.

There are six different types of modulators – LFOs (sine/saw/tri/square); input follower; macro control; sample and hold; step sequencer and ROLI lightpad.

The modulation system provides 16 automation slots that can be assigned to one or more modulators and every knob and button on a modulator can be assigned to a slot.