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Polyend Tracker reboots retro form factor of software past with forward-looking functionality as world’s first hardware tracker — March 26, 2020

Polyend Tracker reboots retro form factor of software past with forward-looking functionality as world’s first hardware tracker

Famed for bringing new technologies to creative musicians by building innovative and unique musical instruments, Polyend is proud to announce availability of Tracker — effectively extracting the best bits of yesteryear’s tricky tracker software classics and rebooting them with forward-looking functionality as the world’s first hardware tracker, deftly designed as an easy-to-use compact standalone workstation with immediacy and simplicity at its creative core, and aiding artists with forging unique avenues of sonic construction to boot.


For the benefit of the uninitiated, a music tracker — tracker, for short — is a type of sequencing software. Speaking historically, the tracker term itself is derived from the first tracker software, Ultimate Soundtracker, starting life as a game sound development tool released for the Commodore Amiga personal computer back in 1987. The first trackers supported four pitch and volume modulated channels of 8-bit PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) samples, a limitation imposed by the Amiga’s audio chipset. Classic trackers represented music as discrete notes positioned in individual channels at discrete positions on a vertical timeline with a number-based user interface. Indeed, notes, parameter changes, effects, and other commands were entered via computer keyboard into a grid of fixed time slots as codes comprising letters, numbers, and hexadecimal digits — the latter being a positional system representing numbers using 16 distinct symbols. Saying that, those in the know appreciated the immediacy and simplicity of classic tracker software, if not necessarily those hexadecimal digits! One thing’s for sure, though: tracker software has exerted its influence on modern electronic music with influential IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) artists like (Aphex Twin alias) AFX, (Polish-American) Bogdan Raczyński, Brothomstates (a.k.a. Lassi Nikk, Finnish composer), Machinedrum (a.k.a. Travis Stewart, American electronic music producer), and Venetian Snares (a.k.a. Aaron Funk, Canadian electronic musician), to namecheck but several so-called ‘demo scene’ movers and shakers skilfully orbiting around those tricky trackers. That said, some might say that trackers need not be so tricky in this day and age. And it is this thinking that led to Polyend’s trailblazing Tracker.

The timely arrival of the aptly-named Tracker puts Polyend in pole position for blazing a new trail, tooled to take the tracker concept to a new level of innovative, inspirational, and immediate music-making by effectively extracting the best bits of yesteryear’s tricky tracker software classics and rebooting them with forward-looking functionality as the world’s first hardware tracker. Thankfully, Tracker waves goodbye to hexadecimal hysterics — not only did those entering the brave new world of classic trackers not necessarily know what those values actually represented, they could not see what was affected by them. Thinking inside its beautifully-engineered box, Tracker instead implements a simplified system of readable decimals that also shows the effects parameters when those decimals are entered in a frenzied fast track to creativity.

Tracker takes the quintessential characteristics of a classic tracker — the vertical timeline, powerful sequencer, and mechanical keyboard — and cleverly combines them with a newly-designed input interface, divided into several sections: a (high resolution, crisp, and bright) big screen and associated screen keys — mechanical controls that always correspond to what is displayed on the screen directly above them; the grid — featuring 48 backlit multifunctional silicon pads for quick note and pattern value entry and visual feedback (while also acting as a highly-customisable keyboard controller with editable scales); function keys — for fast and responsive control over all functions and options; plus navigation keys and associated (metal-manufactured) jog-wheel (with haptic feedback for fast scrolling or precise adjustments) — for facilitating transport control alongside arrow keys for navigation control, as well as dedicated InsertCopy/PasteDelete/Backspace, and Shift keys. All are at hand, helping to streamline making and performing music in a new and innovative way — without having to leave the world’s first hardware tracker, deftly designed as an easy-to-use compact standalone workstation with immediacy and simplicity at its creative core, and aiding artists with forging unique avenues of sonic construction to boot.

Better still, the classic tracker look of that dominating (default) screen — showing (up to) 48 instruments and 256 patterns with a maximum of 128 steps per pattern per project — belies an infinite source of inspiration. Indeed, Tracker comes complete with a wide variety of onboard sound design tools to enhance creativity still further for those wishing to take it to the limit. Let loose with Instrument — a chain of tools (VolumeTuningPanningFiltersReverb Send, and ADSRs) to make an instrument from any sample; Sampler — choose from different (1-shotForwardBackward, and Ping-Pong) play modes; Slicer — slice samples manually, or let Tracker take care of it ‘automagically’ at any time; Wavetable — full-blown wavetable synthesis with variable table length to make it compatible with the most popular (Ableton Wave and Serum) standards; Granular — single grain yet very powerful granular synthesis to create crazy and futuristic sounds from old and boring samples; Sample Editor — built-in precise offline rendering sample editor with multiple effects; and Sample Recorder — records up to two minutes of 16-bit/44.1kHz samples using built-in RadioPattern selection, Mic or Line In inputs, all of which can be saved to the included (16GB) MicroSD card for later use or loaded directly into a project. Put it this way: with Tracker, users can quickly and easily use existing sample libraries, record new ones, or use the built-in FM (Frequency Modulation) radio. Record samples, play them, slice them, mash them, or even make a synth out of them!

Tracker also plays nicely with other instruments. Thanks to its bidirectional MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) implementation, it can be used to sequence and control external gear or be controlled as a sound module by any external MIDI software or hardware devices. Whatever way anyone chooses to use it, armed as it is with an impressive arsenal of sonic weaponry — including automatic filling, randomiser, probability, selection rendering, effects per step, live recording, batch parameter editing, micro-tuning, micro-timing, rolls, and much more besides — it has what it takes to be a surefire hit, harbouring endless creativity. Compatibility with MOD files — a computer file format primarily used to represent music, made up of a set of instruments (in the form of samples), a number of patterns (indicating how and when the samples are to be played), and a list of what patterns to play in what order — allows users to import and finish tracks from way back when or export and finish their Tracker creations in modern-day software trackers.
The world’s first hardware tracker is slick, light, and portable. It is also energy efficient, so will work with any USB (Universal Serial Bus) power source. Sturdy and compact, the retro form factor of software past with forward-looking functionality makes for a great music creation companion — in the studio, on the run, or on stage. Simply put, Polyend’s Tracker puts everything right on track as a ‘back to the roots’ experience like no other! 

Tracker comes complete with a USB-A power adapter, 2m USB-C cable, 3.5mm to 2x 6.3mm adapter, Minijack to MIDI DIN adapter, 16GB MicroSD card, and MicroSD to USB-A adapter, and is available to purchase through Polyend’s growing global network of authorised dealers (https://polyend.com/where-to-buy/) at an MSRP of €499 EUR/$599 USD. Or order online directly from Polyend itself via the dedicated Tracker webpage (https://polyend.com/tracker/), which also includes more in-depth information.

Review of LION synth (VST/AU/AAX) by Unfiltered Audio — March 19, 2020

Review of LION synth (VST/AU/AAX) by Unfiltered Audio

bandcamp link here

Introduction

Unfiltered Audio advanced audio processing plugins by developing some of the most innovative and forward-thinking tools in the world. With the cutting- edge Californian company’s groundbreaking first foray into the wonderful world of software synthesizers similarly scaling new heights, it is set to become the King of the synthesis jungle! Jesting apart, LION is an extremely versatile synthesizer with a very simple signal path, putting two oscillators through a mixer and running them through a filter — much like a traditional subtractive synthesizer. Saying that, LION is far from traditional in its exotic execution, however, effectively encouraging endless experimentation in typical Unfiltered Audio innovative and forward-thinking fashion.

For below LION’s hood hides a dual-oscillator architecture with each oscillator featuring 26 modes, ranging from familiar classics to unique oscillators found nowhere else — pick and choose from FM (Frequency Modulation) synthesis, subtractive or additive waveforms, ‘super’ oscillator stacks, microsound, noise, or variations on each! All algorithms have been specifically designed for deep modulation. Moreover, each oscillator engine features an optional Stereo mode, whereby WIDE images are available at the synthesis level. LION lets users thereafter take advantage of its deep Unison manipulation of every parameter and (optional) tuning DRIFT for creating rich, full, and lush sounds using the oscillators alone — and all before starting to reach for any external effects!

LION is also rather unique in the way that it turns oscillator mixing into another opportunity for creative synthesis since the Mix(er) offers distinct modes for combining the two oscillators (OSC 1 and OSC 2) in ways not seen in any other synthesizer! The default algorithm (ALGO) acts as a standard crossfader while more experimental modes all create non-standard relationships between the two oscillators themselves. These include: Bitter (bitwise operations are applied to the oscillators); Ash (various sample-and-hold algorithms are applied to the oscillators); Ring Mod (the two oscillators are ring modulated together); Min-Max (amplitudes of the two oscillators are analysed and the minimum and maximum values are found between the two with the mixer then crossfading between them); Terrain (a series of wave terrains are created that are then navigated by the two oscillators); and Compare (comparisons are found between the two oscillators). Obviously all lead to truly stunning sounds!

Still better, Unfiltered Audio’s acclaimed modulation system is integrated into LION, but better than ever! It includes a massive MIDI Input modulator that translates playing into numerous opportunities for deep expression — users can control the filter CUTOFF knob with the last MIDI note value or modulate the oscillators’ timbre through (velocity) control, for instance. Indeed, full MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) support permits using ROLI Seaboard or Sensel Morph next-generation MIDI controllers for phenomenal per-voice articulation!

LION lends itself to creatively crafting powerful sounds that feel as though they were produced by a colossal chain of plugins, tabs, and automation — and all from within its innovative single-screen GUI (Graphical User Interface) with clear, intuitive controls. Clearly, time is better spent focusing from the outset on the musical job at hand by harnessing LION’s king-sized sonic complexity and versatility, rather than resorting to watching time-consuming tutorials to learn the intricacies and hidden features of a badly-executed synth — software based or otherwise.

Other soft synths may well only provide a small library of forgettable effects almost as an afterthought, yet LION lets users ditch the need for external effect plugins, should they wish, with Unfiltered Audio’s already-legendary BYOME effect row also integrated as a flexible library of over 40 modulatable effects. LION’s synthesis engines and BYOME processing engine all have access to the same modulation sources, so users can create complete presets with detailed effect chains that react to their playing.

Possibilities are truly endless — enter LION’s fruitful factory library of nearly 600 presets spanning many musical genres and styles to hear how powerful the King of the synthesis jungle is in action! Ask award-winning composer, musician, technologist, and creator BT. After all, he has become well versed in LION, having already attended a successful ‘synth tasting’ event hosted by Plugin Alliance at Sphere Studios in North Hollywood earlier this year, where a prerelease was showcased to industry insiders and fellow electronica luminaries like Paul Haslinger (ex-Tangerine Dream) and Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) to critical acclaim. All three talented musicians happen to be also award-winning modern music-to-picture scoring specialists, so surely know somewhat more than a thing or two about standout synthesized sound between the three of them! 

Unfiltered Audio’s LION is available for purchase — as an AAX Native-, AU-, VST2-, and VST3-supporting Virtual Instrument plugin for MacOS (10.9 through 10.14) and Windows (7 through 10) — exclusively from distribution partner Plugin Alliance typically priced at $199.00 USD from here: https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/unfiltered_audio_lion.html

A fully-functional, 14-day trial is available to anyone registering for a free Plugin Alliance account here: http://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/registration.html

Unfiltered Audio LION is included in Plugin Alliance’s new MEGA Bundle (https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/pa-mega-bundle-monthly.html) and UnfilteredAudio Bundle (https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/unfiltered_audio-bundle-monthly.html) monthly — and annual — subscriptions at no extra cost!

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 Plugin Alliance’s dedicated LION webpage here: https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/unfiltered_audio_lion.html

Watch an informative, in-depth video overview of Unfiltered Audio’s LION by professional sound designer and programmer John ‘Skippy’ Lehmkuhl (PlugInGuru) here: https://youtu.be/KJqA8W2TuPc

Watch Plugin Alliance’s play-through video for Unfiltered Audio’s awe-inspiring LION here: https://youtu.be/Eg17YlD2ALQ

Watch Plugin Alliance’s teaser video for Unfiltered Audio’s awe-inspiring LION here: https://youtu.be/8hyYsLVrA70

Summary

Considering the power and versatility of LION, it’s easy to use and similarly easy get to grips with. The interface has a streamlined look and feel that makes LION a joy to use and I can see that it will get a lot of use in future projects.

The presets give an idea of the sort of sounds that it can produce, everything from lush pads, growly basses, classic leads, atmospheres, sound effects to arps and sequences, all of which have excellent sound quality. The immediate impression is of a soft synth ideal for modern electronic music – upfront, aggressive sounds but it is capable of so much more than these and can produce softer, more delicate sounds too.

But the real fun is when you start experimenting yourself. There is huge versatility in the 2 oscillators that have 26 oscillator modes and 8 mixing algorithms. Combine this with 40 modulatable effects and you start to get an idea of the possibilities.

It’s so much fun to set up a basic patch and then experiment with effects and modulation. Aptly named, this LION can go from a pussy cat to a beast in an instant.

I’ve used it extensively on the album embedded at the top of this post. I rediscovered the XSL sample pack by Thalamus Labs and used a couple of field recordings on tracks 1 and 4. I used Loopcloud to source drum, percussion and vocal loops and LION was used for everything else. The album gives an idea of just some of the styles it can be used for, from ambient / drone to minimal and techno.

In Use

Considering the power under the hood, the UI has a very clean and easy to use interface. Everything is contained on one screen with a ‘wide’ option and menu scroll bar to access effects and modulation parameters.

The menu bar is located at the top of the display

Oscillator one is below this, the controls change depending on which oscillator type you choose.

Next to this is the mixer and next to this is a visualisation of the waveform. I haven’t included this, couldn’t get a decent screenshot.

Underneath is the second oscillator (note the different controls to oscillator 1 above) and next to this the filter and output controls.

The next row has the effects, a superb collection of delays, distortion, dynamics, filters, granular, mixing, modulators and reverbs.

It’s worth pointing out that all available effects are included in LION, these really are superb with modern, cutting edge effects such as reverse delays, stutter, glitch shifter, a cool range of reverbs and granular effects.

The bottom row has the modulators – analysers, controllers, envelopes, LFOs, modifiers, random and step sequencers.

One modulator can modulate many different parameters, pretty much all parameters can be modulated. It’s a simple case of drag a wire from the modulator to the parameter you want to modulate and this can include other modulation sources. When you drag, the wire has a slightly thicker part like a virtual ‘plug’ that you can click and drag to remove the wire.

Sometimes it’s quite difficult to learn how a synth works and start using it. Not LION, it’s very easy to quickly create complex sounding patches. The temptation is to go slightly crazy with modulation to create extreme and unusual sounds although of course you can just as easily create pads or bass sounds, so as well as being very easy to use it is incredibly versatile too.

Review of Rogelia album by Danny Playamaqui — March 4, 2020

Review of Rogelia album by Danny Playamaqui

A superb album that is electronic and avant-garde at heart but also has acid, IDM and breakbeat vibes at times. The unusual time signatures create a great urgency and tension, contrasting elements work really well and grab your attention. 

There’s an excellent coherency given the experimental, avant-garde feel, it’s confusing and hectic at times but always compelling and superbly arranged and produced. 

Winter Light

Uptempo drumming to the opening gives an urgency, there’s an avant-garde feel to the track with arps, leads and synths creating a subtle tension. 

Citron II

Chords create great movement with just a hint of dissonance, propelled by uptempo drumming pattern with contrasting tension from the alarm type sound. Vocals add a great element and I like the changes of feel too. 

Faro

Delayed arp to open gives an urgency with some excellent acid type sounds. Drumming and bass give a great momentum and there’s a subtle edge of tension. I really like the changes in feel, it’s got an excellent avant-garde vibe at times and a building tension to a final fading release. 

Slug

A bass arp and synth lead arp weave around each other creating interesting and complex polyrhythms given momentum by drumming patterns. The acid sounds work really well, combined with the urgency and avant-garde feel of different sounds, rhythms and riffs it messes with your perception demanding attention. 

A Magician

Arp, synth, acid sounds and breakbeat drum pattern gives a sound with an edge of tension and a superb jazzy / avant-garde vibe. Excellent changes in feel. 

Ingmar

Bass, synth and percussion give a great edge of tension lifted slightly by drumming and synth lead. Excellent avant-garde feel again with a change to an almost drum and bass sound at times. 

Little Foxes

An idm feel to this track which has a subtle ambience and edge of tension at times. 

Harriet

If there’s such a thing as acid charleston, this is it. An excellent vibe with a breakbeat feel, great energy and building tension to a final release. 

Pills

An ambience with drifting dissonant qualities, the breakbeat feel to the synth lead adds a great tension. There’s superb changes in feel, unusual time signatures and an avant-garde feel combining diverse elements such as acid, prog-rock and synthwave. 

Bibi and Liv

Excellent layering of multiple chords, arps and bassline create a superb layered sound with great changes of feel to a more ambient vibe. An excellent momentum and subtle edge of tension at times. 

Zorba

Synth lead to open creates an ambience contrasting against the more upfront breakbeat drumming pattern. There’s a subtle tension and excellent avant-garde vibe. 

Guissona Age

Synth lead to open evolves with chords and another synth lead to create an atmospheric track with a chilled vibe. 

Clementine X

Uptempo vibe with acid and ambient elements, synths add a kind of call and response feel. Excellent momentum from drumming and bass, the track has a subtle tension. 

Nattvardsgasterna

An uptempo groove with a breakbeat vibe, there’s a superb change in feel to a more laid back groove with subtle building tension to a final release.