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Master Class: Any Way You Slice It (Bonus Material)

October 26, 2009

ReCyling Tips for Stylus RMX

Fig. A: You can create Suites manually from REX files on your hard drive by clicking the Import REX Files button and then choosing what files to import.

Fig. A: You can create Suites manually from REX files on your hard drive by clicking the Import REX Files button and then choosing what files to import.

One of the beauties of Stylus RMX is its ability to convert any file in Propellerhead''s REX file format (.rx2, .rex or .rcy extension) into proprietary RMX files. Consequently, any AIFF, WAV or SDII file you can load into Propellerhead Recycle is fair game. Considering that you can convert just about any other audio file into one of those formats, your choices have multiplied tremendously. Although there are useful tutorials (especially at the Propellerhead Website) for creating REX files with ReCycle, this article deals specifically with creating them for Stylus RMX.

Kyle Z. of Nine Volt Audio is an expert at designing RMX-ready tracks, and a large portion of his stock-in-trade comprises sounds and instruments that might be more difficult for the average sound designer to work with (guitars, bass, synthesizers and so on). He outlines some criteria and a few suggestions for creating good RMX loops:

“I think having an idea of what kind of audio material translates well to a sliced REX file is the first thing to keep in mind," he says. "Drum and percussion loops are the most obvious and easy to slice because they generally have well-defined transients, which is what ReCycle looks for when adding slice markers. For example, a conga loop will slice into a REX file easily and quickly. An open string-guitar loop will not work very well because the transients are much softer and less defined. "

Once Kyle sets up the target instruments for looping, he records loops at slower speeds to ensure a wide tempo range when they are converted to RMX files. “We also record everything at very slow tempos (usually in the 60 to 70 bpm range) and then name the loop with its target tempo—the tempo that the loop sounds best at. This means that users can slow loops way down without the loop BREAKing apart.” Kyle rarely uses Recycle''s Stretch function (which extends a slice''s tail for smoother transitions) because he feels “it''s unnecessary (and not reliable) when recording at such slow tempos.”

Once you have one or more REX files, it''s a simple matter to convert them into Suites in the RMX user library. Make sure you have the latest version of the SAGE Converter application that comes with RMX (currently 1.5.1d). Launch it and drag a folder containing REX files or containing subfolders containing REX files to the Import REX Files button. If the folder layout is compatible with RMX, the library will be imported and named automatically.

If the folder layout is not compatible, you''ll get an enigmatic error message. In that case, click the Import REX Files button. Select as many as 61 REX files to import as a Suite and provide a Suite name (see Fig. A). The next time you instantiate RMX, you''ll find the new Suite in User Libraries >> Converted REX Files. You can reorganize and rename the Suites in the SAGE Libraries >> User Libraries directory on your hard drive.

The Expanding Universe

You may not have the time to create your own sounds in Stylus RMX, but fortunately there''s an ever-growing cadre of sound designers that are happy to broaden your musical horizons with expander libraries. New titles are pouring in every day, and many libraries that made their debut before RMX are being repurposed as REX files with Reason''s Dr. Rex and RMX in mind. Here is a sampling of a few companies and their libraries.

Needless to say, Spectrasonics was the first out of the gate with expander libraries, and at present the company is offering Stylus RMX bundled with all four original titles for $399. My favorites of the lot are the more impressionistic titles, Liquid Grooves and Metamorphosis. For more details on the Spectrasonics Expanders, see my review of Stylus RMX. Subsequently, Spectrasonics produced New Orleans Strut, a 100MB collection of relentlessly funky grooves played by a host of first-call drummers ($25, download only). All proceeds benefit ongoing Habitat for Humanity efforts in New Orleans and Mississippi. If you haven''t heard second-line drumming with a bit of Time Designer in 5/4 and a touch of Chaos Designer, you haven''t lived (see Web Clip 1).

Ilio has worked closely with Spectrasonics on many projects and was among the first to release titles specifically for RMX. Ethno Techno features the work of percussion polymath Bashiri Johnson in an exotic variety of uncommon, construction-kit groove suites and large-ensemble multis built from ethnic instruments, voice and all sorts of found objects from pipes to trash cans. In many ways, it''s an ideal companion to Liquid Grooves (see Web Clips 2 and 3).

I''ve been a fan of John “Skippy” Lehmkuhl''s work for a long time, and his three titles for Ilio—Stark Raving Beats, Skippy''s Big Bad Beats and Skippy''s Noizbox—don''t disappoint. Because parts in Stark Raving Beats isolate individual kit-piece loops, you can build grooves compiled from different suites. His multis make great use of effects and take on a very different personality (see Web Clip 4). Big Bad Beats is heavier on processed drums and targets hip-hop and funk, but these are grooves deserving wider recognition and would be fine for trippy arrangements, modern rock and pop ,and aggressive underscoring for film (see Web Clip 5). Skippy''s Noizbox pulls out all the stops. It includes multis with unvarnished acoustic and processed instruments, drum machine sounds, found percussion, remixed multitracks and whatever else makes for brash, propulsive and swinging grooves (see Web Clip 6). It''s worth mentioning that Ilio titles include a very nice bonus set of loops taken from some of the company's other sample collections. Ilio has recently bundled the entire collection of RMX expanders for $149.

Plugin Guru
On his own Website, Skippy offers a couple of interesting new RMX titles in addition to patches for Native Instrument and other soft synths. Powerpack ($30) features a diverse collection of multis ranging from moody, downtempo feels to screaming, distorted big-beat grooves. What is unique about this set is that it uses the Stylus RMX Core library as a starting point, but you would never know it to listen to the grooves. Using a combination of edit groups, effects, original Time Designer templates and Chaos designer settings, the original loops take on a new life (see Web Clip 7). Because of the intricate programming involved, you will need Version 1.8 or later of RMX to use these. Due to the use of the RMX factory sounds, the patches are stored in parts rather than in the Core Library.

Beatropolis 1 and 2 ($30 each) are compilations of all-new, original loops from Skippy arranged to take advantage of Groove Menu mode–type construction kits. There are no multis, but many of the loops include full mixes and remixes, in addition to component loops. As with Noizbox, sound sources include crunchy, distorted rhythms of unknown origins alongside familiar acoustic, electronic and found percussion (see Web Clip 8). Skippy''s Website offers tutorials on Stylus RMX, and you can download fully working demo presets for Powerpack and Beatropolis. If you want to hear what a supreme sense of groove and intense musicality combined with brilliant sound design can do, these are great choices.

Big Fish Audio
The Big Fish Audio collection of RMX expanders is mind-blowing in scope and number. From globe-spanning traditional instrument loops to jazz and R&B, if you need it, chances are they''ll have it. I especially enjoy its ethnic percussion expanders. Earth Tone offers intimate, close-miked recordings of loops from traditional ethnic instruments, including all sorts of shakers, ocean drum, udu, dumbek, reko reko and more, arranged in construction-kit form (see Web Clip 9). All the Big Fish titles are construction kits and the unadorned, uniform recording of the instruments makes it easier to combine loops from different suites.

I''m a sucker for musical worlds in collision. Hip-Hop Exotica 2 and Bollywood Beats (see Web Clips 10 and 11) are excellent examples of the confluence of musical cultures and music technology. They combine drum machines and synths pulsing along with tablas, shamisen, oud and dumbek.

Nine Volt Audio
You''ll find plenty of drum and percussion loops at the Nine Volt Audio Website. Be sure to check out the guitar, bass and synth-oriented titles ($99.99 each); they are beautifully looped and add lush, evocative harmonic textures to the usual rhythmic fare of RMX loops. Among the standout collections, Melodic Rex offers thematically related synthesizer motifs and arpeggiator patterns, often in several different keys and progressions (see Web Clip 12). Textured Guitars proffers delay-enhanced arpeggios, processed guitars in a rich variety of timbres and settings from pristine to distorted. You''ll find tons of song starters here (see Web Clip 13), along with downloadable demo files for many of the titles and some useful tutorials.

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