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Review of Scaler 1.5 – chord detection and creative chord progression creator utility (VST/AU/AAX) by PluginBoutique — October 12, 2018

Review of Scaler 1.5 – chord detection and creative chord progression creator utility (VST/AU/AAX) by PluginBoutique

Introduction
PluginBoutique have updated Scaler to version 1.5. I’ve previously reviewed version 1.2 and have updated the review to reflect the changes.

Scaler is 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 and 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 2000 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. For example, in version 1.5 there are reported issues that Maschine 2 and Reason don’t support midi routing and it is suggested that Bluecat Audio Patchwork is used for this.

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. When you audition chords, it will use the selected VST sound. In practice, I find it’s easier to create a rack for Scaler with it’s own track and I export individual chords rather than the whole progression to the Scaler track so that I can copy these onto further tracks and edit as required.

Since I wrote the original review, Scaler has been updated to version 1.5 that 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. Version 1.5 also brings the option to switch between a keyboard and a guitar fretboard to visualise the scale / chord and also options to strum or play the chord as an arpeggio. The bind midi function allows you to play and record one-finger chords.

1_5_gui_top

Beneath this are options to turn on midi detect; the create button allows you to create chords on the keyboard or guitar fretboard and an excellent touch is that you are not limited to standard tuning, there are a number of open tunings available. You then drag the created chord to the progression at the bottom of the screen to save it. Next to these are the chord set selectors that allow you to choose between song type, artist or user set. When you choose a song or artist the chord progression is displayed underneath.

1_5_scale selection

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.

1_5_scale_options

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.

1_5_progression

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 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. Version 1.5 brings undo / redo options and a handy multi-select to drag and drop multiple chords (in any order) to the progression builder. There are also further options with a right-click – edit, substitute, explore scales or generate parallel harmony.

The final stage is to drag the progression 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 or 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.

I really like how the updates bring new functionality, improved usability and increase the potential use of scaler, for example the guitar fretboard visualisation option is a very welcome addition enhanced by arpeggio and strum options. New chord sets are always welcomed too.

Although Scaler has an excellent set of chord progressions, I’d say that you’ll get much more out of it by experimenting with variations and voicings as these will vastly expand the use of these progressions and add interest and variation.

If you’re looking for a tool that is quick and easy to use and provides inspiration for many modern music styles then Scaler is excellent. Having used Scaler quite a lot since the original review, I’ve found that with a bit of editing, changing octaves and layering you can create basslines and melodies fairly easily, it obviously depends on the style that you’re producing but Scaler can help create anything from a chord progression to a whole composition. It has kick started and been the inspiration for a large number of songs.

The ‘arbitrary lines’ album embedded at the top of the review was created using Scaler to create chord progressions that have been edited for bass notes, note lengths changed etc and then layered using the British Drama Toolkit by Spitfire Audio. I’ve also used a couple of instances of Polygon by Glitchmachines and a couple of recordings from a short-wave radio. Eventide effects were used extensively.

This is an ambient / neo-classical album, the chord progressions have been used in a very different style from that suggested by Scaler but it shows the versatility of Scaler and how a seemingly simple chord progression can be used as a basis for a whole composition with some further editing in your DAW.

Review of British Drama Toolkit by Spitfire Audio — October 11, 2018

Review of British Drama Toolkit by Spitfire Audio

smc0262_cinemascope_press

Introduction
Spitfire Audio is proud to announce availability of British Drama Toolkit created in close collaboration with award-winning British composer, musician, record producer, and songwriter Samuel Sim (famed for his quality, gritty, and deep television and film drama scores) as an inimitable instrument featuring an ensemble dedicated to capturing the emotionally potent sound he is lauded for, but also presenting a unique way of interacting with the players involved to allow users to compose, arrange, and complete a cue in one pass, thereby setting it apart from anything the high-quality virtual instruments- and sample libraries- creating company has produced to date

British Drama Toolkit can be purchased and digitally downloaded for £199.00 GBP (inc. VAT)/$199.00 USD/€199 EUR (inc. VAT) — from Spitfire Audio

British Drama Toolkit needs Native Instruments’ free KONTAKT PLAYER (5.6.8 or higher) — included in the purchase — to run as a fully NKS (NATIVE KONTROL STANDARD®) supporting plug-in instrument for Mac (OS X 10.10, 10.11, or macOS 10.12 — latest update) or Windows (7, 8, or 10 — latest Service Pack, 32/64-bit), while Spitfire Audio’s free Download Manager application allows anyone to buy now and download anytime.

For more in-depth information, including some superb-sounding audio demos, please visit the dedicated British Drama Toolkit website.

Watch Spitfire Audio Director Paul Thomson’s ‘traditional’ video walkthrough of British Drama Toolkit

Watch fellow Spitfire Audio Director Christian Henson’s helpful British Drama Toolkit contextual video

Watch Spitfire Audio’s touching trailer video for British Drama Toolkit

Background
Pursuing originality in music is one thing; trying to be constantly original in the pressured world of episodic television scoring is something else entirely. By brilliantly achieving both of those traits, talented composer Samuel Sim has won multiple awards as a writer of quality, gritty, and deep television and film drama scores. So, having previously worked with Spitfire Audio to realise his namesake SAMUEL SIM – CHRYSALIS library — launching a unique and inspirational sound set centred around a stunning, deep sampled studio harp, but bent into a collection of fresh sonic tools to critical acclaim in 2015, it is hardly surprising that he (re)turned to Spitfire Audio when wanting to create an instrument that put up no roadblocks between musical ideas and their realisation as ready-to-go cues.

Cue British Drama Toolkit — or British Drama Toolkit with Samuel Sim, to give it its full, highly-appropriate appellation… an instant scoring instrument in the true sense of the word, which provides the most instinctive, immediate, and intense connection to the heart of its user’s composition while helping them find their musical voice in the process. Playing styles that have not been sampled before, with bespoke bowing techniques and breathing patterns, converge to create textures full of dramatic movement. Meanwhile, those same notes, played at a different intensity, switch to characterful lead lines, passing from instrument to instrument in an ensemble that shifts dynamically as the user explores the radical results of this close collaboration.

Comprising a small string and woodwind section recorded in the purpose-built dry stage at Spitfire Audio’s London-based HQ, British Drama Toolkit clearly comes to life from the moment it is first played. Put it this way: when this library is at anyone’s fingertips then telepathy of sorts starts in earnest. Ensembles are mapped across the full length of the keyboard, and the playing styles are tied to velocity — from whispered textures through to bold solos. Saying that, British Drama Toolkit truly demonstrates an innate understanding of the fact that the difference between playing softly and loudly is not just simply down to volume, but also about character and emotion, enabling users to compose, arrange, and complete a cue in one pass. With an eye firmly fixed on the drama rather than the computer, and with one patch capable of such wide-ranging expression, users can respond instinctively to the story rather than getting sucked in to what Samuel Sim semi-seriously terms “…the vortex of the computer.”

Clearly no stranger to the musical joy of working with emotive ensembles as a working composer himself, who better to provide some serious closing commentary as to the virtues of working with British Drama Toolkit, then, than Spitfire Audio Director Paul Thomson: “This is one of the ways that you can convince your director, for example, to spend the money on real musicians, because what you’re hearing here are these incredibly talented musicians playing in a really unique, stylistic, and unusual way, and what better than to have the real live players sitting, performing, and reacting to your music in real time while they do this. But if your budget doesn’t stretch to a full band of musicians, and you can only afford a few musicians, then that’s still going to give you a great result, and you’re going to have these instruments to fill in the gaps, and while your ear is drawn to the live player, you have these beautiful textures floating in the background to help give your music much more depth.”

Director Christian Henson, fellow co-founder of Spitfire Audio, adds, “I’m incredibly excited about the British Drama Toolkit, which is designed by a drama media composer, Sam Sim, for us fellow media composers. It really is an amazing, inspiring, time-saving tool that can be used on a variety of different applications, but it has that kind of gritty, very emotional British drama feel to it. Basically, it’s a bunch of ensembles — some strings, some woodwinds — recorded here on our dry stage, but, instead of using controllers, it’s very much a two-handed thing, whereby different velocities give you different kind of degrees of intensity and movement.”

Musically speaking, the honesty and rawness of British dramatic scoring is ingrained in the British Drama Toolkit library. Lest we forget, though, this is not just a library that plays a composer’s music, but rather helps them compose it. Indeed, all it takes is ideas. Originality, of course, is optional, yet highly recommended… just ask its award-winning designer, Samuel Sim!

Download and installation

The download file is about 7Gb and you need to use Spitfire Audio’s download manager which has a small file size and is easy to install and use. It took a couple of hours to download and install the library. I downloaded to an external hard drive using USB2 which I’m sure slowed the process considerably. Registering the library in Kontakt Player was a quick and easy process.

Getting Started
Although recorded with a small string and woodwind section, the first thing you notice is that the toolkit has a really good selection of instruments.

instruments

Loading one of the instruments brings up the control panel. The GUI has a clean look and feel that we’ve seen previously from Spitfire Audio.

smc0262_gui2_full

The first display has the usual Kontakt settings as well as mic mix, reverb and expression settings with the arrangements below. The main instrument has a number of different arrangements to choose from – tutti long str loud; tutti long string acc; tutti long wds loud; tutti long soft; text str & loud wd; text str & soft wd; text wd & loud str; text wd loud str acc; text wd & soft str; text wd & soft str acc and str & wd soft (alt).

Other instruments have a similar number of different arrangements:

Ensembles – bass & cl long; bass & cl soft; bass & cl chatter; bass & cl chat txt; bass & cl chat loud; flute & pic long; flute & pic soft; flute & pic soft (alt); flute & pic long (alt); flute & pic chaff; string ens long; string ens long acc; string ens soft; woodwind ens long and woodwind ens soft.

Violin, viola and cello – long; long accented; long soft; long loud and long harmonics.

Double bass – long; long accented; long (alt); long accented (alt); long soft; long soft (alt) and long harmonics.

Bass clarinet and clarinet – long; long (soft); long loud and long chatter.

Flute and piccolo – long; long (alt); long (soft); long (soft alt); long loud and long (chiff).

The advanced folder contains accented instruments and individual techniques to further enhance the range of possible sounds.

The second display contains settings, there are options for round robins, loading individual arrangements (to save memory) and also the mic mix, reverb, expression settings and a few other options.

smc0262_gui3_full

The third display has a visual indicator of loud, soft and texture settings as you’re playing.

smc0262_gui1_full

Using British Drama Toolkit

I’ve been very impressed using British Drama Toolkit. The sound is stunning, a combination of the excellent and unusual arrangements / playing techniques and the velocity sensitivity gives a very detailed sound that can be used individually or layered giving highly expressive results.

I’ve said previously during the Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions review that I’m not classically trained and typically don’t compose my songs in the traditional sense. A lot of my work is experimental and although has a framework it is invariably recorded live with the triggering of samples, synths, changing and editing effects and so on.

In the same way for Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions, British Drama Toolkit encourages a different approach.

My submission for the NaviarHaiku 244 weekly challenged used a recording created live in Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3 based on an insect recording from the Boom Library Urban and Suburban sample pack. I used the original sample layered against two other insect samples and Palindrome (Glitchmachines) all processed with Ultratap, H949 Dual Harmoniser and Blackhole (Eventide) with effect settings altered during the recording. I then used Scalar (PluginBoutique) to create a chord arrangement and layered a number of different instruments and variety of arrangements from the British Drama Toolkit processed with a variety of Eventide effects.

The album ‘arbitrary lines’ embedded at the top of the post is based on the theme of how such arbitrary lines are used to separate, isolate and divide us. I’ve used various instruments and arrangements from the British Drama Toolkit with chord progressions created in Scalar also using Polygon (Glitchmachines) on two tracks, a news recording captured from radio on one track and a heavily processed radio recording on another. The songs have been mixed using a variety of Eventide effects and mastered using Magnetite (Black Rooster Audio), Stage (Fiedler Audio) and Elevate (Newfangled Audio).

I’ve also used it on a submission for the upcoming Cities and Memory Nature Sounds project which launches later in October 2018, in this entry I’ve used a recording of a storm in the Tanat Valley in Wales and layered different instruments and arrangements processed with a variety of effects.

Conclusions
The amount of effort and attention to detail in producing this toolkit are staggering and clearly evident in both the sound quality and flexibility of use.

The range of controls and automation / midi control options give a huge range of sounds and the velocity sensitivity gives flexibility to allow you to use it in many different ways.

It’s very easy to produce a high quality, expressive sound. It’s an excellent composition tool that can be used by itself or in combination with other instruments. It would be very well suited to use in tools such as RapidComposer or Orb Composer.

The main limitations are the same as previously found, namely appearing to be related to Kontakt and memory availability rather than CPU usage. My system spec is a dual core 2Ghz with 4Gb ram and it can run about 6 instances of Kontakt before it starts to crash so you need to ensure you have as much memory available as possible to prevent Kontakt from crashing when loading multiple instances or some of the more complex patches. The best option if you don’t have a top spec machine is to only load the arrangements that you’re using because this saves a lot of memory.

 

Review of Kiss Yr Frenemies album by Illuminati Hotties — October 8, 2018

Review of Kiss Yr Frenemies album by Illuminati Hotties

This is a superb album, the sound is hard to describe but it’s somewhere between indie, power pop and shoegaze.

There’s a great range of styles from slower, melodic ambient sounds to a more upfront power pop / indie sound often with excellent changes of feel in a song. The vocals are outstanding, they have a dreamy, floaty quality at times, at others more upfront and kick ass. They always convey a great depth of emotion, their vulnerability makes a superb connection with the listener.

Kiss Yr Frenemies
Jazzy guitar chords and soft vocals create a sultry, captivating song.

(You’re Better) Than Ever

Sound effects, feedback and energetic drumming create an uptempo groove that contrasts really well against the more laid back vocals.

Shape of My Hands
Feedback and plucked bassline contrast really well with strummed chords, drumming and bass give a great momentum. The song has an excellent guitar hook, also nice changes in feel and a great energy. Vocals have a laid back feel again, a kind of indie / power pop sound.

Cuff
Evolving synth drone, ethereal spoken vocals like an answerphone message or voice recording to open. There’s a laid back drumming pattern and feedback with laid back vocals giving a slow shoegaze kind of feel with an excellent contrast with distorted guitar and more upfront vocals.

For Cheez (My friend, not the food)
Strummed chords and chord riff create an atmospheric opening with floaty vocals that compliment the style really well. Bass and delayed riff give a great momentum. Edgy distortion / feedback gives a superb contrast returning to the more laid back sound to end.

Paying Off the Happiness
Uptempo drumming, percussion, bass and guitar riff give a solid groove. Excellent vocals again, kind of hope tinged with angst. Some excellent layered background sounds and nice changes in feel to a more upfront sound at times.

Patience
Atmospheric opening, strummed guitar and dreamy vocals develop the sound which is given momentum by kick drum. Excellent build and release of tension with distorted guitar riff.

The Rules
Sound effects to open and strummed chords create a longing or lonely feel, dreamy vocals give a great contrast. Strings add a great element.

Boi
Strummed guitar chords and processed vocals create a tension and great emotion.

Pressed 2 Death
Uptempo guitar riff and drumming create a high energy indie punk kind of sound with great changes in momentum. Love the irreverence of the vocals.

Declutter
Piano Chords to open, soft vocals create a heartfelt song full of emotion.

Illuminati Hotties have a number of upcoming shows:
Nov 1st Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, Canada
Nov 2nd Neumos, Seattle, WA
Nov 3rd Revolution Hall, Portland, OR
Nov 5th August Hall, San Francisco, CA
Nov 6th Echoplex, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 7th Velvet Jones, Santa Barbara, CA
Nov 8th House of Blues San Diego presented by Cricket Wireless, San Diego, CA
Nov 9th Troubadour (Doug Weston’s Troubador Tavern), Los Angeles, CA
Nov 10th The Rebel Lounge, Phoenix, AZ
Nov 12th Barracuda, Austin, TX
Nov 13th Dada Dallas, Dallas, TX
Nov 15th Soundbar, Orlando, FL
Nov 16th The Drunken Unicorn, Atlanta, GA
Nov 17th High Watt, Nashville, TN
Nov 17th Motorco Music Hall, Durham, NC