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Review of Palindrome – a granular morph plotting sampler (VST/AU) by Glitchmachines — April 30, 2018

Review of Palindrome – a granular morph plotting sampler (VST/AU) by Glitchmachines

Introduction
Glitchmachines have introduced Palindrome, a unique and inspirational plugin with four granular samplers, a coordinate plotting grid and complex modulation sources in order to facilitate the creation of morphing sound effects and unusual instrument patches.

It is available in VST and AU formats as 32 & 64 bit versions from Glitchmachine’s website. It is typically priced at $69.

System Requirements
It’s worth noting the system requirements:

  • Broadband connection for download
    VST/AU host: Ableton Live, Logic Pro, etc.
    Mac OS X 10.7+ (PPC not supported)
    Approximately 1.5 GB of hard drive space
    Windows Vista or higher
    Minimum 2 GB RAM
    CPU with SSE2 support
    Minimum CPU: Core 2 Duo, 2GHz
    Minimum screen resolution 1000 X 800

I’ve highlighted the last one because it’s quite a high standard. My laptop has a max resolution of 1366 x 768. However, whilst I can resize the window in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3, I don’t have this option in MuLab.

However, I’ve subsequently been advised by Glitchmachines that there is a relatively easy solution to manually scale the UI, even if you can’t see the footer on first load, via the prefs file. If you edit the Palindrome.prefs file in a text editor, at the very bottom of the file are the two lines you need to edit “<VALUE name =”ui_width” val = “xxx”/ >” and “<VALUE name =”ui_height” val =”xxx”>” where you can input your manual width and height settings in place of the “xxx”. If you need any further help please email Glitchmachines directly – support@glitchmachines.com

Download and Installation
This is a straightforward process, the file is quite large at 1.2Gb and the installation takes up about 1.5Gb of space. This is because the download includes a very generous 1.4Gb sample library. Installation is quick with the installer, you just need to manually copy the PALINDROME_SAMPLES folder to an appropriate location on your computer and when you launch Palindrome a pop-up will prompt you for the folder location. There is no registration process.

Basic Overview
Palindrome has 4 granular samplers, each of which is represented by a quadrant on the display. You create a custom path that determines the trajectory of a playhead over time. This playhead travels across the defined path that corresponds with the outputs of the samplers which are smoothly morphed together.

You can apply up to two effects per sample and Palindrome also features 8 user-definable multi-breakpoint envelopes that can be used to modulate sampler and/or effect parameters.

The global section allows you to define the global envelope, pitch and output parameters and there’s a global reverb effect too.

Using Palindrome

I’m delighted to say that I was part of the beta testing team and have designed some of the factory presets.

Palindrome is one of those tools that is easy to start using and you can get some great sounds straight away but it also allows you to learn new techniques and discover new possibilities over time.

The GUI has a very modern look and feel and is easy to navigate. The top section contains the load sample option and waveform display. sampler controls on the left and effect controls on the right. These are the same for all four samplers selectable by the relevant tab.

Because Palindrome is geared towards experimental sound design, the samplers behave differently to other Glitchmachine plugins and have been completely recoded for this plugin. Rather than playing the whole of a sample, they loop a small portion of it. Each sampler has 3 windowing options – rectangular (no edge softening) gives a more raw and aggressive sound where triangular and hann windows applied to the grain soften the edges.

The principle operation of the samplers is to specify the start position (as a percentage of the length of the sample) and size of grain (up to 1000ms) and there are controls for pitch, fine tune, pan and amp. There are also options to reverse the sample and mute the output of the sampler.

To the right of the sample load box are the insert effects. These are processed from left to right, each has two controls which are dynamically applied to the knobs when the effect is selected and there’s also a mix control. There are low pass, high pass and band pass filters; distortion; wave folder; ring mod and delay effects.

top_gui

Any parameters that can be modulated have a small dot and range control, essentially the sampler, effect controls and playback rate.

modulatable

The central part of the display is the grid section where you plot the trajectory of the playhead. The grid is split into 4 zones that corresponds to the output of each sampler – top left = sampler 1; top right = sampler 2; bottom left = sampler 3 and bottom right = sampler 4.

The default starting grid contains one point in the top left corresponding to the maximum output of sampler one. You add points to create a path (shift + click) and you can add up to 16 points that can be repositioned afterwards.

You can specify the speed of the playhead with the rate control (free or sync’d to DAW tempo) and there are 5 modes of playback behaviour – one shot; forward, backward, pendulum and random. There are 8 presets, some of which are complex shapes and a view option that turns off the connecting lines between dots to minimise visual clutter.

path1
path_con

Modulation is when things get creative and start to get very interesting, adding movement unleashes the real potential of Palindrome.

Using envelopes for modulation gives much more flexibility and control than LFOs. There are 8 definable envelopes which can contain up to 16 breakpoints. To view the envelope editor, click the modulation button in the middle that changes colour to green and the selected envelope you are editing will also be highlighted green. You can loop the envelope and sync to DAW tempo or manually set the speed from 20ms to 20,000ms.

To create a modulation assignment you drag and drop the required numbered dot to the desired target parameter’s modulation slot.

The global section contains controls that affect the consolidated output. There are attack and release controls, amplitude and pitch plus size, mix and damp controls for the reverb.

GUI_bottom

The footer section features the preset browser, global menu and randomiser. This is a very cool feature that has been really well thought out, allowing you to isolate single sections or groups of parameters.

random

Conclusions
This is another awesome plugin from the forward thinking Glitchmachines, it’s a unique tool that offers huge scope for sound design and sound creation.

I’ve previously reviewed their other sample based instruments Cataract and Polygon. Cataract is a segment multiplexer that can create complex patterns from percussive articulations to particle sound effects. Polygon is a four slot sampler (normal or granular) but with a completely different architecture feeding into two filters (series or parallel) with Ring Mod, Stutter and Metalliser effects and extensive modulation options with LFOs and envelopes.

Palindrome offers something new and what I love is that there’s so much potential to explore. The included sound library has an excellent quality and range of sounds and offers huge potential and you can of course load your own samples to extend the potential further.

The factory presets give a great example of the sort of sounds that can be produced. I have created a few of these from dark ambient textures of ‘Benign Intentions’ and ‘What Lies Beneath’; unusual glitchy effects of ‘ChatterGlitchBot’ and ‘RoboticBirds’ to sound effects of ‘MetallicRattle’, ‘BrokenEngineTrain’ and ‘PulseShifter’. You can change the character of these sounds simply by turning the sync on, altering the rate setting or changing the playback mode.

The randomiser is also a good place to start to explore some of the possibilities although it’s worth checking parameters – especially if you’ve randomised everything – to adjust any awkward or unwanted settings to fine tune the sound.

Of course you don’t need to use all 4 samplers, you can get some cool sounds using only two, with contrasting samples or the same sample with different filter settings and a complex path you can create anything from one-shot sounds to evolving textures and use some modulation to add interesting movement. The more you use Palindrome, the more you discover such different ways of using it.

I’ve created the album ‘tattarrattat’ embedded above using Palindrome as the only sound source and it is somewhere between dark ambient, noise and drone to highlight some of the possibilities.

All tracks arranged and recorded in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3. Tracks 2, 5 and 6 used five instances of Palindrome processed with SpecOps (Unfiltered Audio), Ultratap, H949 Dual Harmoniser, Blackhole and Octavox (Eventide); Tracks 1, 3 and 4 used three instancs of Palindrome processed with Octavox, Blackhole and H3000 Factory (Eventide) and Blackhole.

I’ve also created the album ‘varosha’ embedded below. This is a dystopian soundtrack inspired by abandoned and / or creepy places. It’s electronic, somewhere between IDM, minimal DnB, dark ambient and soundscape.

It features drum patterns from Breaktweaker (iZotope) processed with Ultrachannel (Eventide); Palindrome (Glitchmachines) processed with H3000 Factory, Blackhole and Ultrachannel (Eventide) and Glitchmachines samples processed with SpecOps (Unfiltered Audio).

Both albums mastered in MuLab 7 using Magnetite (Black Rooster Audio), Elevate (Newfangled Audio), Stage (Fiedler Audio), EQ65 (Eventide) and VHL-3C (Black Rooster Audio).

Review of ‘Projection of Reality’ album by Earlyguard — April 25, 2018

Review of ‘Projection of Reality’ album by Earlyguard

I’ve been rather slow getting this review published, the album was released in July 2017 and there are a further four releases since this one on Earlyguard’s bandcamp page and I’d recommend checking those out too.

This is a superb album, it has a great ambience with an edge of tension and distortion at times. The sounds are superbly crafted and layered from deep basses, rich strings, vocal types sounds to harsher, metallic sounds. It’s a great soundscape, cinematic at times.

Mimus Vitae
An evolving atmospheric soundscape, there’s a great flow to the song. It has excellent layering with an edge of tension from percussive elements.

Perpetual Motion
An edge of distortion to the opening, piano, synths and vocal sounds add an excellent ambience. It’s got really reflective qualities.

Elektronen Im Querfeld
An edgy sound, a building tension from percussive elements, harsher drones and metallic type sounds. The bass has an ominous presence.

Ecriture Automatique
A similarly edgy opening leading into a more ambient string sound. It’s superbly layered, an evolving tension to a final release.

Illusionen
Deep bass sounds contrasted by a higher pitch drone, there’s great movement in the sound. Percussive elements are subtle, tension builds through layered drones.

Alte Seele
There’s a great contrast between the floaty vocal type sounds and swirling background more edgy sounding bass and drones.

Hypnosis Rex
Piano, strings and drone creating a haunting feel to the opening, the strings soften this somewhat whilst retaining an edge of tension.

Aether
The song sounds like a radio being tuned in with snippets of talking and static against evolving and swirling synth pads.

Review of Scaler – chord detection and creative chord progression creator utility (VST/AU/AAX) by PluginBoutique —

Review of Scaler – chord detection and creative chord progression creator utility (VST/AU/AAX) by PluginBoutique

Introduction
PluginBoutique have introduced Scaler, a unique and inspirational MIDI effect that makes finding chords and progressions intuitive and fun. With note detection, scale selection and chord suggestions, Scaler is a comprehensive but easy-to-use toolbox that will help anyone make better music.

It is available in AAX, VST and AU formats as 32 & 64 bit versions from PluginBoutique’s website. It is typically priced at £39.95

Background
A first of its kind, Scaler can determine what key and scale you’re in and suggest chords that match your music, or it can inspire a tune from scratch by providing a set of initial chords in an unexplored key. With the onboard bank of 1,728 scales and modes including genre and artist presets, there’s more than enough to keep the juices flowing.

Once you’ve determined a scale, Scaler lays out basic diatonic chords for you to audition, and lets you take things further with dozens of chord variations and voicings to try out. Theory buffs can also get an insight into each chord’s harmonic function.

Ready to put together a progression? Simply drag and drop chords into Scaler’s sequencer, change up octaves and inversions, and record or drag the progression into your DAW.

Download and Installation
This is a straightforward process, the file is quite small so download and installation is quick. Registration is similarly straightforward. When you have purchased Scaler it is available to download from the ‘My Products’ section of your account where you will find a keyfile to download. When you lauch Scaler, you register the keyfile and enter your registered email address and you’re good to go.

It’s worth noting that there are two versions, Scaler and ScalerControl. They are essentially the same except ScalerControl is designed for DAWs that use AU plugins that don’t allow you to route midi to other tracks.

It’s also worth checking the website because there are some compatibility issues although these are being fixed as Scaler is updated. In version 1.2 the reported issues are that Maschine 2 and Reason don’t support midi routing.

Using Scaler
Scaler effectively has 3 modes. It can detect chords and identify what key / scale you are playing, you can explore a range of keys and scales and you can create your own chord progressions.

Scaler loads as a midi effect. In Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3 you simply need to load Scaler as a patch into a rack and load the VST synth you want to control underneath. You can load the pianoroll between the two to drag and drop the chords / progressions onto.

In MuLab 7 it’s a very similar process, load Scaler into a rack and load the VST synth you want to control underneath. You then drag and drop the progression / chords onto the track for the Scaler rack.

Since I wrote the original review, there have been two updates and the current version is 1.2.1. This brings a number of improvements and bug fixes.

The GUI is clean and well laid out. The top section has the control bar with a display for the input note / chord, help, volume and sound selection, tooltips and embedded guide and global settings. The keyboard underneath acts as an input device and display for notes in a selected scale.

121_top

Beneath this is the option to turn on midi detect and the chord set selector that you can choose between song type, artist or user set. When you choose a song or artist the chords are displayed underneath.

121_chords

The next section shows detected scales including details of the number of matching notes and chords and mood of the particular scale. This can be expanded to include more details.

121_detection

Beneath this is the chord selection and progression builder. When you select a song by style or artist, the chord progression is displayed in the top section of the GUI. The detected scales section shows the most appropriate scale and the chords in that particular scale are displayed at the bottom. The diatonic chords are the ‘basic’ chords and chord variations offers a range of different sounds and the voicings options allows you to play the notes in a different order which gives further variation. The display to the right shows the note, it’s relative position in the chosen scale and a couple of chord substitutions.

121_chordsequence

Often chords will fit more than one scale so if you highlight a different detected scale, the chords that fit are highlighted in blue on the progression shown in the top part of the display and as you scroll down the list and select these different scales you will see that fewer and fewer chords fit into that particular scale.

You can drag chords from the top section into the progression builder as suggested in the chord progression but you can also audition and select alternatives and different voicings from the selection options to fine tune the progression and create interest and variation. You can choose the octave and inversion and then play the progression.

The final stage is to drag the progresssion or individual chords into your DAW.

Conclusions
I think this is a very useful tool for musicians that don’t know music theory but also for those that do. For those with a limited knowledge, it could be useful to identify what chords you are using and help you sound more musical by choosing chords within a particular key or scale. If you know music theory, it could help you identify substitute chords, create new progressions from styles you might not normally use.

Either way it is a tool to provide inspiration and help you find new ways to be creative. There is a focus on modern music styles with a number of artists and progressions that are difficult to find generally so it’s an excellent tool to help you create new styles of music that you may struggle to do on your own.

It’s great that the developers have implemented a number of improvements and have established a user community. A lot of comments that I was going to make have already been addressed in recent updates.

The included scale set has been increased from major, minor, all the modes plus altered, harmonic major / minor and pentatonic major / minor to include 11 new scales – Lydian augmented scale; Acoustic scale; Major locrian scale; Ukrainian dorian scale; Hungarian gipsy scale; Melodic minor scale (asc); Half-diminished scale; Phrygian dominant scale; Persian scale; Neapolitan major scale; Neapolitan minor scale; Other. These contain some more unusual / exotic scales and are a great inclusion to providing a very wide scope for creativity.

There are a couple of other updates that make Scaler more usuable. There is an option to randomise velocities giving chords a more natural sound, the chord progression builder has been increased from 8 to 16 chords and you can now specify the chord length when you export as midi. The length is the same for all chords so if you using a number of different chord lengths it may be easier to export individual chords and edit them rather than the whole progression.

Although Scaler has an excellent set of chord progressions, I’d say that you need to think about how to change these to keep interest and add variation over time, you also need to think about basslines and melodies to create a whole song for example. That’s more of a challenge if you don’t know music theory. A suggestion for future updates would be tools to create such melodies and basslines, especially for some of the modern EDM styles. Maybe this is going above and beyond towards software like RapidComposer which I’ve previously reviewed. This allows you to create an entire song including chords, basslines, melodies, piano lines, strings and you can export these as midi files. There is a much steeper learning curve and it doesn’t have the same depth of modern chord progressions, however.

If you’re looking for a tool that you can pretty much use straightaway, is quick and easy and provides inspiration for many modern music styles then Scaler is a very good option. If you’re looking for more of a compositional tool then Scaler isn’t really suited to this but it can give you a great start.

I’ve used the original version of Scaler several times on ‘oblique coherence’ embedded above.

‘so called progress leaves me cold’ was created using Scaler to create the chord progression, 5 instances of SampleScience Player processed using SphereDelay, Blackhole (Eventide), mini filter V (Arturia), Cryogen (Glitchmachines) and SphereDelay. I’ve also used a sample from Urban and Suburban sample pack from Boom Library.

‘oblique coherence’, ‘bricks’ and ‘posters’ were recorded live in Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3. The chord progressions were created in Scaler and I’ve used SampleScience Player with SphereDelay and SpecOps (Unfiltered Audio); Synthmaster 2 (KV331 Audio) with SphereDelay and Blackhole. I’ve recorded quotes from YokoOnoBot on twitter processed in the joggle sampler with SphereDelay and also processed in the Grain MicroLoop sampler (using automation of speed and gain parameters) with SphereDelay. I’ve also used Type A (AudioThing) and Litote (Inear Display) with automation on the master channel.

‘disengage’ was created using 3 instances of SampleScience player processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole. Samples from the biomorph pack by Glitchmanchines were processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole.

‘fractured memories haunt my dreams’ was created using RapidComposer and four instances of SampleScience Player processed with SphereDelay, Blackhole and Octavox. The chord track was duplicated and processed with SpecOps.

‘drawn to the stars’ was created using RapidComposer and five instances of SampleScience Player processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole.

‘old houses’ was created using RapidComposer and six instances of SampleScience Player processed with Blackhole, SphereDelay and Octavox.

‘affirmation’ was created using Scaler for the chord progression, Synthmaster One processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole, three instances of SubBoomBass2, one processed with SphereDelay. A background sample from the Urban and Suburban sample pack by Boom Library.

All songs mastered using Ultrachannel (Eventide), Magnetite (Black Rooster Audio), Elevate (Newfangled Audio) and Stage (Fiedler Audio).

Review of SampleScience Player – a 200 instrument rompler (VST / AU) — April 20, 2018

Review of SampleScience Player – a 200 instrument rompler (VST / AU)

Introduction
SampleScience have introduced SampleScience Player, a 200 instrument rompler from SampleScience available for Windows (VST) and macOS (AU)in 32 and 64 bit versions. It is available from the SampleScience website.

Background
SampleScience Player is a big rompler. It used to be free but due to the high bandwidth required for distribution it is now priced at $20.  The sample library has been compressed in FLAC format to limit the size of the plugin which occupies about 4gb of hard drive space.

There are 200 sounds in a number of categories including basic, bass, brass, chips, drums, keys, orchestra, percussion, sound design, strings, synth, vocals, wind and world. There are also bonus mastrcode pads.

All of the included sounds are either public domain, CC 3.0 with attribution or made strictly for music production.

Download and Installation
The download link is embedded on the page above.

One point I noticed, the minimum specs are stated as 8Gb of RAM and an i5 or better. My spec is a dual core pentium with 4Gb of RAM and it has run perfectly well so far.

Overview
As well as the 200 sounds, the SampleScience player also has a linear ADSR, Multi-LFO, low/high pass filters, velocity amp range controls and glide in mono voice which give further additional sound shaping options.

The interface is easy to navigate, the top section has the low / high amp ranges and main pan and volume settings. There’s also a central control panel detailing the LFO wave, source and destination, filter type, velocity curve and voice mode. There are also details of the author and licence details.

gui_top

The next section is a picture representing the sound and additional controls for some sounds i.e. drums and chips which is shown below.

gui_chips

The lower section has the ADSR, LFO, Filter Reverb and glide controls and a keyboard.

gui_bottom

Included Sounds
There are a huge number of very usuable sounds available. These sounds are very usable in their own right but the additional controls let you shape them further and you can of course use additional effects to shape and define the sound further.

There are some sounds that I especially like –

‘chips’ – a selection of 8-bit sound effects and lead / bass sounds;

‘basic’ – contains rectangular, saw, sine and square waves from a Doepfer A-110 modular and saw, square and triangular waves from a Yamaha CS-15. These are deep and a bit edgy at times;

‘keys’ – a varied selection of acoustic piano, electric piano and organ sounds with great character;

‘mastrcode pads’ – These are a bonus and are described as ‘a collection of pads sampled as chords for that old school early jungle/techno feel’. I really like these, an excellent range of very atmospheric sounding pads suitable for many different styles of music;

‘sound design’ – This is an excellent inclusion because you’re getting sounds from some superb SampleScience plugins such as Cinematika, Nostromos, Pastoral Tones and Vortex;

‘synths’ – a varied selection including EA-1, Mopho and DX-21 type sounds.

The drums section is also an excellent inclusion, there are acoustic and electronic kits including samples from some unusual or rarer machines than you don’t typically see. These especially lend themselves to further processing / shaping.

Conclusions

Although no longer available for free, this is still a very good value plugin.  There’s a huge range of very usable sounds across a number of different sound categories. One point to bear in mind is that some of the sounds have been designed by SampleScience to be used only in music production while other sounds are CC 3.0 with attribution so all sounds are good for music production but you need to check that only the public domain sounds are used for any sound design projects (commercial or not).

The sound quality is generally very good considering a lot of the samples are public domain. It’s a very usable plug-in but clearly is not going to compete with more commercial romplers – some of which are very expensive it has to be said. It’s difficult to say anything negative but there are a couple of points to note. There are reportedly some tuning issues with some of the samples and the release control has a bug that specifically affects MacOS where there is long tail with a very short release setting instead of the expected short release. That said, these are planned to be addressed in a future update.

I’ve used SampleScience Player extensively on ‘oblique coherence’ embedded above.

‘so called progress leaves me cold’ was created using Scaler to create the chord progression, 5 instances of SampleScience Player processed using SphereDelay, Blackhole (Eventide), mini filter V (Arturia), Cryogen (Glitchmachines) and SphereDelay. I’ve also used a sample from Urban and Suburban sample pack from Boom Library.

‘oblique coherence’, ‘bricks’ and ‘posters’ were recorded live in Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3. The chord progressions were created in Scaler and I’ve used SampleScience Player with SphereDelay and SpecOps (Unfiltered Audio); Synthmaster 2 (KV331 Audio) with SphereDelay and Blackhole. I’ve recorded quotes from YokoOnoBot on twitter processed in the joggle sampler with SphereDelay and also processed in the Grain MicroLoop sampler (using automation of speed and gain parameters) with SphereDelay. I’ve also used Type A (AudioThing) and Litote (Inear Display) with automation on the master channel.

‘disengage’ was created using 3 instances of SampleScience player processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole. Samples from the biomorph pack by Glitchmanchines were processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole.

‘fractured memories haunt my dreams’ was created using RapidComposer and four instances of SampleScience Player processed with SphereDelay, Blackhole and Octavox. The chord track was duplicated and processed with SpecOps.

‘drawn to the stars’ was created using RapidComposer and five instances of SampleScience Player processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole.

‘old houses’ was created using RapidComposer and six instances of SampleScience Player processed with Blackhole, SphereDelay and Octavox.

‘affirmation’ was created using Scaler for the chord progression, Synthmaster One processed with SphereDelay and Blackhole, three instances of SubBoomBass2, one processed with SphereDelay. A background sample from the Urban and Suburban sample pack by Boom Library.

All songs mastered using Ultrachannel (Eventide), Magnetite (Black Rooster Audio), Elevate (Newfangled Audio) and Stage (Fiedler Audio).