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Best of Reaktor

December 20, 2004
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Fig. 1: The WaveWeaver control panel with suggested tabula rasa settings is shown above.

Reaktor is a powerful and flexible software-synthesis engine. It produces almost any type of electronic music imaginable: analog-synth emulation, sequencing, (re)sampling, granular synthesis, and effects processing, to name a few. But its power and flexibility come with a price—Reaktor is a complex and mysterious beast. Many of the best Ensembles are teeming with controls; they are daunting to look at and even more daunting to make music with.

The goal of this article is to help competent Reaktor users become power users who have the expertise to program existing Ensembles to create unusually beautiful sounds. To that end, I will feature five very different Ensembles—three from the Reaktor 4 factory library (WaveWeaver, SteamPipe, and Grainstates FX) and two from the Reaktor user library (Meanmachine and SeQuenza). You can download all the Ensembles, including the modifications discussed here, from the Native Instruments Web site at www.native-instruments.com/emdownload.info.

Programming an Ensemble

There is no one right way to program an Ensemble. (By programming, I mean manually setting the Ensemble''s controls, not building it from the ground up.) As with all art forms, Ensemble programming is highly personalized. In the interest of clarity, however, I''ll adhere to the following guidelines for creating and saving Ensemble Snapshots. (See the sidebar “Snapshot Creator''s Survival Guide” for tips on how to manage your Snapshots library.)

You can start programming an Ensemble in one of three ways. You can begin by setting all Ensemble controls (knobs, sliders, buttons, and so on) to neutral values to produce a state of sonic blankness that I call tabula rasa; you can start with an existing Snapshot and modify it as desired; or you can use Reaktor''s Randomize button (in the Snapshots dialog box) until you arrive at a compelling Snapshot, which you can then hone to meet your needs. (See the sidebar “Creating a Random Snapshot” for suggestions on randomizing Ensemble settings.)

Once you''ve selected a starting point, you have three approaches to choose from to program an Ensemble. You can proceed holistically, treating the Ensemble''s various components and controls as a whole and making changes here and there. You can work individually on one or more of the five classical synthesis elements: rhythm (micro, macro, beat, groove), pitch (interval, bend, unison, spread), dynamics (volume, compression, envelopes), timbre (effects, equalization, filtering), and space (panning, volume, reverb). Finally, you can follow the signal as it makes its way through the Ensemble''s signal path from sound source to final output. In practice, you''ll probably use all three approaches.

WaveWeaver
By Uwe G. Hoenig

WaveWeaver is a sequenced synth that uses a wavetable synthesizer, a sequencer, and a handful of effects to produce pitched grooves (see Web Clip 1). It is an ideal machine for live performance, in that it provides extensive real-time XY-style modulation controls, examples of which include Wave/Waveset, Cutoff/Resonance, and Time/Feedback (see Fig. 1). WaveWeaver contains 12 components, all with front-panel controls. They are Wavetable Oscillator, Aux Osc, Ringmod, Noise, Lowpass Filter, LFO, Wave & Filter Env, Volume Env, Sequencer, Mod Delay, Filter Delay, and Output.

Wavetable Oscillator contains a pair of Sampler Loop modules for looping short audio files. An XY control allows you to choose the wave set (the looping sample) and the wave (the starting point of the loop). Aux Osc is a sine-wave oscillator for filling out the sound. Ringmod ring modulates Aux Osc by Wavetable Oscillator, and Noise is noise generator with color and decay controls. Lowpass Filter contains 12- and 24-dB-per-octave lowpass filters whose cutoff-frequency can be modulated by Aux Osc. LFO is an additive LFO, whose waveform is a mix of sine, triangle, and square waveforms. It can be routed to modulate the Wavetable Oscillator''s pitch, Lowpass Filter''s cutoff frequency, and pan location. Wave & Filter Env is an ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release) envelope that can be applied to Wavetable Oscillator''s pitch and Lowpass Filter''s cutoff frequency. Volume Env is an ADSR envelope for the output volume.

Sequencer is a 3-track sequencer with tracks for note-length, pitch, and gate. It features extensive position modifiers, scale correction, and optional transposition by MIDI note input. Mod Delay is a short delay effect for flange, phase, and choruslike processing. Filter Delay is a stereo feedback delay line containing a lowpass filtering network. Output contains an output amp with panning controls.

Fig. 1 shows WaveWeaver in a tabula rasa state, which is well suited for creating Snapshots from scratch. I recommend setting the controls as shown and saving the Snapshot in the first slot of your Snapshots list (see the sidebar “Creating a Tabula Rasa Snapshot” for tips on that subject).

Now that you''re acquainted with WaveWeaver''s anatomy, it''s time to learn some programming secrets. Before you begin, however, you need to make three small fixes to the latest version of WaveWeaver from Native Instruments. (You can download the fixed version from the Native Instruments Web site.) The MIDI button should be off when the Ensemble is first loaded. Otherwise, the internal sequencer could be transposed down five octaves. Make sure that the Noise module (located inside the Noise Macro inside the Wavetable Synth Macro) isn''t in Mono mode. If you don''t, it won''t work when you increase WaveWeaver''s voice allocation. The Clk & Reset Macro (located inside the Clock Macro inside the Sequencer Macro) should be in Mono mode; the Position Mod modules won''t work if it isn''t. You can turn Mono mode on and off in an object''s Properties dialog box. After you select the correct settings, resave the Ensemble.

WaveWeaver can randomize nicely, but only if you turn on Mrph/Rnd Isolate for all the controls you don''t want to randomize. At a minimum, those should include Seq On/Off, MIDI, and Scene in Sequencer, as well as Pan and Master in Output.

Begin by playing around with the Sequencer modifiers: Bidir, Inv, Start, Range, Skip, and Position Mod 1 and 2. Bidir (bidirectional) runs the sequencer in a forward-backward loop; Inv (inverse) runs it backward; Start and Range set the starting step and number of steps. Skip specifies how many steps are skipped at each position change. Position Mod 1 and 2 use LFOs to modulate the position dynamically. The Position Mods are particularly good for skewing the step order in interesting ways. When you''re in an upbeat mood, make sure that 1/2 is turned off—it halves the tempo. Try changing Scenes, or better yet, try drawing your own Scenes. Keyboardists will want to turn MIDI on to transpose the sequencer pitch from their MIDI keyboard. Use Reset to jump all three sequencer layers back to their starting steps for interesting, out-of-the-grid rhythmic variations.

Once you have a good sequence going, tweak Lowpass Filter using the XY control and Env knob to get the right edge to your sound. FM will add a lovely growl to the mix, and LFO will make it change over time following the pattern set by the sin, the tri, and the sqr sliders, at a speed controlled by the Rate knob. Use the Filter Delay to change the groove by adding delayed beats to the mix, but watch the Feed control—too much feedback, and you''ll redline!

Finally, turn your attention to the Wavetable Oscillator. Use the XY control to simultaneously change the wave and wave set in real time, and listen to how that affects the timbre with and without glide engaged. W< Mod S> adds jitter to the wave and wave set selections, meaning slightly different values will be used each time a new note is triggered. Change the Octave Interval and Detune controls to vary the register and spread between the two oscillators. If you want a pure tone, keep Drive, LoFi, and FM to a minimum; if you''re looking for grunge, turn ''em up! LoFi and FM do a particularly nice job of adding grit.

The Native Instruments'' WSM1 map is loaded into both of Wavetable Oscillator''s Sample Loop modules by default, but you can change that. Try loading a different map in one or both Sample Loop modules, and make sure to change the Y Min and Max settings for the XY control to accommodate the MIDI trigger values of the samples in your map. Alternatively, try loading a single sample into a Sample Loop module.

Note that the XY control sets both Sampler Loop modules to the same values. For a more complex sound, you can add a second XY control to set them independently or, more simply, use event routers and a button to detach the existing XY module from the second Sample Loop module. You make both modifications in the Wavetable Oscillator Macro.

SteamPipe
By Martijn Zwartjes

SteamPipe is a synthesizer that uses physical modeling of virtual steam passing through a tunable pipe to create realistic-sounding bowed, blown, and plucked sounds. SteamPipe is capable of producing wonderfully evocative hybrid sounds (woodwind guitars, blown strings, plucked flutes, and so on), as well as bizarre sounds that could never be produced by acoustic instruments.

Fig. 2: Pictured above is the Pipe componenet of Marijn Zwartjes''s Steam Pipe Ensemble.

There are four main components to SteamPipe: Steam, Pipe, Reverb, and Output. An additional A440 module plays a 440 Hz sine wave that you can use to tune the virtual pipe.

Steam consists of two subcomponents: Gen and Env. Gen generates the impulse that excites the pipe to create SteamPipe notes. Env uses an ADSR envelope to shape the notes dynamically. Pipe makes use of a number of subcomponents (tuners, feedback, saturation, filtering, and so on) to set the tuning and timbre of the pipe. Reverb is an eminently tweakable stereo reverb, an effect for which Zwartjes is highly regarded in the Reaktor community. Output, which precedes Reverb in the audio chain, is a mono amp with built-in saturator.

SteamPipe does not lend itself to a tabula rasa state, because the controls are so sensitive and interdependent. For programming SteamPipe, I recommend starting with an existing bowed, blown, or plucked Snapshot, depending on the type of sound you''re trying to achieve. Randomizing can be touchy, but with patience you can randomize your way to some remarkable sounds (see Web Clips 2, 3, and 4). For best results use a low Rand Amount setting and isolate the Tune and Fine controls in the Del Tune and Allpass Tune sections of the Pipe by turning on their Mrph/Rnd Isolate options.

The expressive power of SteamPipe lies in its ability to create breathtakingly beautiful timbres. The key to creating those timbres is the Gen subcomponent of Steam and all subcomponents of Pipe. So choose your starting point and dive in. The first two controls you should play with are DC/Noise and Cut in the Gen subcomponent of Steam. The former varies the breathiness of the sound, the latter the buzziness. Try using the 1-pole button to switch between 1- and 2-pole lowpass filters. The results can be dramatic, and you can make dozens of compelling Snapshots using just those three controls.

The real fun begins when you move to the Pipe component (see Fig. 2), which is the most responsive and human component of any Reaktor instrument. It is also elegantly and simply programmed; take a look at its structure.

Begin by varying the Tune controls in the Del Tune and Allpass Tune subcomponents, and make sure that Allpass Power is on for the latter. Typically, values close to the center affect only the tuning, but as you move further out, evocative timbral changes also begin to occur. Use the Del Tune section''s Tune and Fine knobs to compensate for tuning changes. Also try tweaking the Allpass Dffs knob; again, the extremes yield the most interesting results.

Use Push-Pull with Saturation to modulate the timbre. Try the extremes in various combinations: Offset max and Push min, or Soft/Hard max and Symm min, for example. The Polarity button switches the polarity of the virtual pipe. Turn it on to add a resonant basso profundo to the sound—perfect for a low melodic line in your mix.

Finally, spend some time with the MW Filter controls. Depending on the Snapshot, the HP 0 highpass filter and the LP 0 lowpass filter can change the sound dramatically.

Grainstates FX
By Martin Brinkmann

Grainstates FX is a powerful (and CPU-hungry) effects box that you can use to create eerie, abstract atmospheres from any type of audio input (audio files, synths, mic feeds, and so on). Built around a pair of granular Cloud Delay modules, Grainstates FX provides slots for eight Scenes that you can select either manually or by using the built-in Scene Sequencer.

Fig. 3: This graphic shows the Scene component of Martin Brinkmann''s Grainstates FX Ensemble.

A companion Ensemble in the Samplers and Transformers Library called Grainstates SP uses a stereo Grain Cloud module in place of the pair of Cloud Delays used in Grainstates FX. The primary difference between the two Ensembles is that the Grain Cloud module incorporates a multisample player, which allows you to control sample-playback position as part of the Scene processing. Grainstates FX, on the other hand, processes an incoming audio stream. Most of what I cover here applies to both Ensembles.

Grainstates FX has eight components: Granular Delay, Scenes (1–8), Globals, Sequencer Control, MIDI, Move, Filter, and 2-Band Delay.

The Granular Delay component consists of a pair of Cloud Delay modules (one for each channel of incoming stereo audio) and a Freeze button that freezes the delay buffer. In each Scene, a grain position and size is selected within the Cloud Delay buffer. Each Scene also contains controls for pitch jitter and shift, transpose, feedback, level, step length (duration), glide, and smear.

The Globals component contains global attack, decay, and pan-jitter controls, whose settings apply each time a grain is triggered from any Scene. The Sequencer Control component enables you to set the length (number of Scenes) and speed (quarter-, eighth-, or sixteenth-note steps) for automatic Scene sequencing. Clicking the Man button allows you to select Scenes manually for purposes of Scene setup.

The MIDI component lets you set up control of Grainstates FX from a MIDI keyboard. You can use the keyboard to transpose, select Scenes, reset the Scene Sequencer, and freeze the Cloud Delay buffer. The Move component affects the size and motion (position) of the delay grains. The Filter component contains a pair of variable-bandwidth bandpass filters. The 2-Band Delay component is a tempo-synced, stereo, feedback delay line.

Grainstates FX can transform the simplest sound into a beautiful and mysterious ambient passage. As it is an effects box, you need to provide an audio input. To use Grainstates FX to process an audio file, open Reaktor''s Playerbox (View€Show Playerbox), load the desired file, and click on the Play button (looping playback is recommended but not required). To process live audio input, ensure that input from the desired ports on your audio interface is activated (System€Audio + MIDI Settings), and provide audio input. In either mode, you''ll need to activate Reaktor''s Master Clock by clicking the Play button next to the beats-per-minute display in the toolbar. Grainstates FX uses the Master Clock for its Scene Sequencer.

Any of the three programming starting points—tabula rasa, an existing Snapshot, or a randomized setting—work well with Grainstates FX. I recommend the latter two, because creating a good tabula rasa Snapshot for Grainstates FX is time-consuming.

Grainstates FX can sound great with any type of audio input; its smeary personality, however, does best with legato passages. I especially like what it does with simple melodic material. Solo vocals produce exquisite results when you go easy on the pitch-jitter, -shift, and -transpose controls so that the vocal hovers around its original pitch.

The Scenes are the key to Grainstates FX''s dynamic audio processing (see Fig. 3). Staying on just one Scene can produce good results, but the real magic occurs in the Scene-to-Scene movement. Take the time to acquaint yourself with the Scene controls (which are the same for each Scene) and to notice how they affect the parameters of pitch (jitter, shift, transpose, glide), timbre and dynamics (feedback, level, smear, grain start/length), and rhythm (step length). There are no pan controls for individual Scenes, but experienced Ensemble builders might want to get under the hood and add them.

If you hit a particularly luscious passage and want to linger, use the Freeze button to freeze the current contents of the delay buffer. That''s like listening to an animated still life of your audio input that you can control from your MIDI keyboard. Try turning on MIDI transpose (m TP), freeze (m-frz), and retriggering of the Scene Sequencer (m-tq), and then “play” Grainstates FX from your MIDI keyboard.

Try minimizing the 2-Band Delay component of the signal by turning its D/W (dry/wet) knob to the left. You''ll hear more clicks and artifacts, but you might like the crispness.

Grainstates FX has no way to control the output level nor to mix the incoming audio with Grainstates FX output. You can remedy both problems by adding a mixer to the Ensemble structure. To do that, open the Ensemble structure, right-click (Control-click on the Mac) in an empty area and select Insert Instrument€Mixers€Stereo 2 Channel from the drop-down menu. Cable the outputs of the Grainstates FX Instrument into one pair of mixer inputs, and cable the top two inputs from the Audio Input module to the other pair of mixer inputs. Then cable the mixer''s outputs to inputs 1 and 2 of the Audio Output module, replacing the cables from the Grainstates FX module. The mixer controls will automatically appear on the Ensemble control panel, allowing you to independently control the wet, dry, and master output levels as well as to mute or solo the wet or dry signal (see Web Clip 5).

Meanmachine
By programchild

Meanmachine is a nasty little synth that''s capable of producing powerful distorted leads and delicious sonic filth (see Web Clip 6). It consists of nine components: Square Osc One, Square Osc Two, Pitchbend/FM, PWM, Amp Envelope, Filter Envelope, Pain, Phaser/Flanger, and Tuned Ambience.

Fig. 4: This graphic shows the Pain component of programchild''s Meanmachine Ensemble.

Square Osc One and Two are simple pulse oscillators. Pitchbend/FM sets the pitchbend range of both oscillators and modulates the frequency of Osc Two. PWM uses a triangle LFO to modulate the pulse width of both pulse oscillators. Amp and Filter Envelope are AHDSR (Attack, Hold, Decay, Sustain, and Release) envelopes that control the output amplitude and filter cutoff frequency.

Pain has no label on the control panel, but its controls are in the second row (see Fig. 4). It consists of four subcomponents that boost and distort the audio output: cubic shapers, multimode filters, a dynamic choruslike delay, and an output amplifier. Phaser/Flanger contains a flexible phaser and flanger capable of both subtle and extreme processing. Tuned Ambience is a compact reverb unit.

You can begin programming Meanmachine from any of the three starting points: tabula rasa, existing Snapshot, or randomized settings. You''ll need to change some of the default control settings to arrive at a good tabula rasa, but it''s worth the effort. If you randomize, be sure to turn Mrph/Rnd Isolate on for controls you don''t want affected, such as the output level and delay feedback. Also watch your ears and speakers, because Meanmachine can randomize to earsplitting levels. In fact, I''d recommend delving into the Structure to place a limiter before the final L/R outputs.

You can have lots of fun with the Tuned Ambience controls. Set Tune to Man (manual) and use Tune and Drift to vary the timbre of the reverb. Try extreme settings—the results are unpredictable and sometimes stunning. Alternatively, set Tune to In to let Meanmachine vary the timbre automatically. The Feed, Early/Late, and Mix controls are also very responsive.

Phaser/Flanger can change the sound radically. Try turning Intens up and changing LFO wave. On the flanger end, set Strength to super and twiddle the Flange, Feed, and Wet controls.

Now it''s time to inflict some Pain. Begin with the cubic shaper. Its controls, particularly Boost and Shape, affect the degree and timbre of the distortion, changing it from a whisper to a hoarse wail. Next, play with the pre and post filters. Try changing the envelope routing to First, Second, or Both while varying the Envelope knob setting. Then select different filter types, cutoff frequencies, and resonance settings.

Finally, concentrate on the dynamic chorus (the third section from the left), which is a feedback delay with very short delay times (0 to 50 ms). Begin by turning Auto off and working the Delay and Feedb controls to get a choruslike thickening. Turn on the button to the left of Feedb to control the feedback from incoming MIDI velocity. Next turn on Auto, start Reaktor''s Master Clock, and play some sustained notes. The results are most interesting at high speeds (tempo settings below ten). To further increase the speed, adjust Reaktor''s tempo accordingly in the toolbar.

SeQuenza
By Rick Scott

SeQuenza is a sampler that''s driven by independent sequencers for pitch, volume, sample-playback position, and pan location. Its defining characteristic is its use of manual or automated randomization to change sequencer parameters in real time. In a tribute to the serialist composers of the 50s and 60s, each sequencer contains 12, rather than the more typical 16, steps.

Fig. 5: Pictured above are the pitch, volume, sample-playback position, and pan location sequencers of Rick Scott''s SeQuenza Ensemble.

SeQuenza contains nine components: Sampler, Clock, Boosters, Delay/Diffuser, Pitch, Volume, Position, Pan, and Maestro. At its heart is Clock, a Clock Osc module with internal and external sync, reset, tempo (bpm) with jitter, and shuffle controls. Clock drives the four sequencers, each of which has step-value, start-position, length, and skip controls. The step values act as offsets from middle (Mid) or minimum (Base) values. Those offsets are restricted to the range set by the Range knob. Manual and automated randomizers, with individual speed controls, are provided for the step-value settings, Mid or Base and Range settings, and the sequence start and length settings.

Sampler is a Sampler FM module whose amplitude is driven by an ADR (Attack, Decay, Release) envelope. Boosters is a 3-band parametric EQ. Delay/Diffuser is a stereo reflector whose unusually long delay times (up to 280 ms) and small diffusion values make it usable as either a multitap delay or a diffuser. Maestro, the last link in the chain, is a stereo output amp with a low-cut filter to prevent rumble, a limiter-expander to maximize volume (both without panel controls), and a global Randomize button.

To use SeQuenza, select the provided tabula rasa Snapshot, load a sample in the Sampler, and turn on the Run button in the Clock section of the control panel. Start by varying the Att, Decay, and Width controls to see how strongly they affect the dynamic shapes of the sampler events. The values of these controls can make or BREAK an audio passage; in general, you''ll want lower values for staccato samples (percussion) and higher ones for legato (melodic lines). Use the Boosters controls to shape the timbre. Note that they are skewed toward boosting the high end; you can change that by modifying their Min and Max range settings in their respective Properties dialog boxes.

Vary the Clock controls and listen to how they affect the overall rhythmic flow of sampler events. Beats-per-minute jitter and shuffle are useful for adding humanness. Once you have good Clock settings, explore the Delay/Diffuser. Set delay to low and diffusion and feedback to high for a poor man''s reflection-reverb effect. Set delay to high and diffusion and feedback to low for a multitap delay.

Now to the sequencers (see Fig. 5). Moving from left to right, you''ll find the 12 step-value knobs; a Skip control for skipping clock cycles to make the sequencer run at 1/1, 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4 of Reaktor''s tempo; rndParameter controls that randomize the sequencer step-value knobs manually or automatically; Mid, Base, and Range controls to set the minimum and maximum step values; rndMidBaseRange controls that randomize the Mid, Base, and Range values; Start and Len controls that specify the starting step and length of the sequence; and rndStartLen controls that randomize the start and len values.

You can use the Man and Auto controls to change the sequencer settings in real time (see Web Clips 7 and 8). If you turn a few well-chosen Autos on, you can sit back and let SeQuenza create an original composition that never repeats. Turn on Reaktor''s Recorderbox for a few minutes, and you have an instant masterpiece.

With 32 Ensembles in the Reaktor 4 factory library and, at last count, more than 1,700 downloadable from the Reaktor User Library, you''re unlikely to run out of material to tweak any time soon. Furthermore, there''s no better way to get your feet wet in Ensemble building than to start making your own modifications. Caveat emptor: building and modifying Reaktor Ensembles is highly addictive!


Rick Scott is a recovering atonalist and the creator of numerous Reaktor Ensembles. You can sample his Reaktor-centric compositions at www.reaktions.com and download his Ensembles from the Reaktor User Library.

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