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electronic MUSICIAN

Review: Yellow Tools Independence Pro (Mac/Win)

By Len Sasso | November 3, 2008

The Independence Pro bundle consists of Yellow Tools'' flagship software sampler, Independence 2.1; the performance-oriented virtual instrument Independence Live; and the mastering and postproduction effects plug-in Independence FX. It also provides 70 GB of factory content covering pop, orchestral, and electronic instruments.

Independence 2.1 comes in standalone and plug-in versions, Independence Live is standalone only, and Independence FX is plug-in only. Plug-ins include VST format on both platforms as well as AU format on the Mac. All products require a special Yellow Tools hardware authorization key ($59). Installation is straightforward, and you can put the 70 GB (nine DVDs) of content on an external drive if desired. I installed the software on my dual 2 GHz Power Mac G5 and placed the content on an external FireWire 800 drive. The performance was excellent, even with direct-from-disk streaming.

FIG. 1: The Modules tab (right) is where you set basic playback parameters and insert effects and modulators.

FIG. 1: The Modules tab (right) is where you set basic playback parameters and insert effects and modulators.

TRUE INDEPENDENCE

Although Independence 2.1 bears a lot of similarity to other software samplers, there are also significant differences (see Fig. 1). Most of these differences facilitate advanced performance-oriented features and are well worth the extra effort to learn. But the documentation, though voluminous, spends more time extolling the special features than explaining how to use them, so be prepared for some head-scratching and frustration.

Independence Projects start with zones arranged in a typical two-dimensional mapping editor. The editor has some useful automapping options and supports drag-and-drop from the special root folder where all Independence data must reside (aliases are sufficient). But automapping is by no means full featured. For example, although the mapping editor will read sample root keys if the key names (C3, F#4, and so on) are placed at the end of the file names, it does not recognize MIDI Note Numbers (60, 78, and so on), and it does not automatically stretch the zones to cover the gaps between sampled notes. If you prefer to create your multisample maps in another sampler or in a dedicated application like Redmatica Keymap, you''ll need to use Chicken Systems Translator to import them into Independence. A special Independence version of Translator is available from SamplerZone (samplerzone.com) for $49.95.

In a nice touch, zones can hold MIDI or audio files, and you can slice audio loops directly in Independence to generate both slice zones and a MIDI file to play them. (Unfortunately, REX, Acid, and Apple Loops files are not supported.) You can use MIDI files of your own creation to sequence entire parts within Independence rather than from your DAW. That''s especially useful with Independence Live in a performance setup.

You can organize zones into Sections (usually called groups in other samplers), and you can further organize Sections into Alternates, which is a handy performance-oriented feature. Zones, Sections, and Alternates, along with modulation, effects, and mixing options, make up a Layer; Layers correspond to instruments in other samplers. Each Layer has its own settings for read mode (direct-from-disk or from RAM), output format (mono, stereo, or surround), and tuning. The tuning options are particularly robust; you can tune each note manually or select from a large library of tuning presets.

FIG. 2: Independence Live holds multiple Independence Projects for instant access during performance.

FIG. 2: Independence Live holds multiple Independence Projects for instant access during performance.

For convenience, you can organize Layers across 16 Layer Sets. For instance, a Layer Set might contain all Layers of a similar type, such as keyboards, basses, percussion, and so on. You can load and save on the Section, Layer, and Project level. Independence holds a single Project, but Independence Live can hold multiple Projects and switch instantly between them (see Fig. 2).

HANDS ON

Independence has a 1-window graphical user interface. The main section occupies the right two-thirds of the GUI, and the tabs above it control its content. The Quick Edit tab displays basic mixing and effects controls along with eight user-assignable knobs and buttons. These controls are performance oriented and are replicated across the top of Independence Live. Assigning these controls to any Independence parameter is a simple matter of right-clicking on the target control and selecting the Quick Edit knob or button from a contextual menu. You use the same process to assign MIDI or DAW-host automation to any parameter, including the Quick Edit knobs and buttons.

The Modules tab is where you set up Layer, Section, and Alternate parameters (playback, modulation, effects, and so on), and it is both elegant and powerful. The top section gives quick access to tuning and mixing parameters; keyswitching and play direction; sample-start offset; filter type, cutoff, and resonance; and volume AHDSR envelope. You add and manage modulators and insert effects in the bottom section. All action in the Modules tab applies to the selected element, so you can set individual parameters for a single Section, an Alternate containing several Sections, or the whole Layer. For example, if you have a keyboard layered with a pad, you could insert a flanger on the pad, an enveloped filter on the keyboard, and a reverb on the whole Layer.

Independence sports a variety of built-in effects, ranging from standard fare (filtering, distortion, modulation, delay, and reverb) to powerful special effects such as amp, cabinet, and mic modelers and the real-time convolution effect Origami. Beyond the built-in effects, you can use any of your VST 2.4 effects plug-ins as long as you have copied or aliased them to the root folder. You can also create Layers from VST instrument plug-ins. It is unusual for a standalone sampler to host VST plug-ins, and Independence is the only one I''ve seen that hosts them even when running as a plug-in itself. I tried an assortment of effects and instruments, and, with a few exceptions that probably didn''t conform completely to the VST 2.4 specification, they all ran perfectly.

Modifiers (MIDI messages, envelopes, LFOs, arpeggiators, step sequencers, and so on) are managed on the Modules tab. Although you can apply these modifiers to a broad range of Section parameters, you cannot apply them to the effects parameters to, for instance, make MIDI Velocity affect the depth of a flanger effect.

The Arranger is the most unusual of the modifiers. It is a MIDI file player based on chord recognition. You assign different MIDI files to specific chords, and then when those chords are played, the corresponding MIDI file gets transposed as necessary and played (see Web Clip 1). In Easy mode, you need only choose a MIDI file for major and minor chords. In Medium mode, each chord gets its own MIDI file, but you can leave chords unassigned. In Single mode, you can assign a different MIDI file to each note. An ample collection of classical-flavored factory Layers illustrates the Arranger.

KEY DECISIONS

FIG. 3: The Performance tab lets you set up alternative triggering and legato options.

FIG. 3: The Performance tab lets you set up alternative triggering and legato options.

The Performance tab lets you specify alternative triggering schemes for up to 32 Sections (see Fig. 3). This is where and why you group Sections into Alternates.

Each Alternate can have up to 16 Basic and 16 Alternative steps. Independence cycles through all assigned Basic steps, but only if the new note arrives after a specified minimum time—notes closer together are interpreted as chords. You can introduce a degree of randomness in the step order when there are three or more assigned steps. Each of the 16 Basic steps has a corresponding Alternative step. Alternative steps (if assigned) play only if the new note arrives within a time interval that you set.

You can use Basic steps as an antidote to the unnatural-sounding machine-gun effect, whereby rapidly repeating the same note retriggers the same sample. Create two or more Sections for the same sound (different but similar snare hits, for example), then assign them to consecutive Basic steps. Alternative steps are useful for up- and down-bowing with string instruments and for two-finger plucking techniques for bass and guitar, for instance.

The Performance tab also houses Legato mode settings. In the simplest implementation, you select a Layer, Alternate, or Section, and playback is limited to one voice with the option to suppress envelope retriggering when incoming MIDI notes overlap. Advanced mode lets you specify Sections for special sounds, such as fret noise, and lets you determine how and when they occur.

MIXING AND BROWSING

FIG. 4: You can save DAW tracks and routing by mixing directly in Independence.

FIG. 4: You can save DAW tracks and routing by mixing directly in Independence.

Independence offers full-featured mixing, including surround support for configurations up to 8.1 (see Fig. 4). The Mixer starts out with a channel for each Layer in the Project, two Custom channels, two buses, and the number of stereo and mono outputs you specify in the preferences. You can add or delete bus and Custom channels at will, and you can insert any number of effects in any type of channel. You can route Layer channels to any output or to any Custom channel, and you can route Custom channels to each other as well as to any output. That lets you set up mixing and effects chains of unlimited complexity.

Channel grouping lets you link the solo, mute, and level controls (level changes are relative) of any combination of channels. You can assign a channel to multiple groups to create overlapping mute groups. A drop-down menu lets you easily add and remove individual channels from a group as well as create, rename, and delete groups.

The same effects are available for Mixer channels as for Layers. That includes more than 50 built-in effects as well as VST effects plug-ins. When using Independence as a plug-in, its VST hosting and mixer can save you a bunch of DAW tracks and associated setup.

ON THE BUS

Independence FX is an effects plug-in as well as an effects plug-in host. It includes the same Yellow Tools effects as Independence and hosts VST 2.4 plug-in effects. That''s a real bonus on the Mac because it enables VST plug-ins for Apple Logic. Independence FX accesses the same effects presets and effects banks as Independence, so any setups you create in either are immediately available to the other.

FIG. 5: Independence FX brings more than 50 Independence effects and VST hosting to your DAW.

FIG. 5: Independence FX brings more than 50 Independence effects and VST hosting to your DAW.

Independence FX has three separate, serial effects chains. Only one is active at a time, but having three is very handy both for comparing effects settings and for instantly switching between effects, which you can do manually or using host automation (see Fig. 5 and Web Clip 2). Although Yellow Tools claims Independence FX provides MIDI remote control, I was not able to route MIDI to it in either Ableton Live 7 or Logic 8 on the Mac. That''s a serious drawback that hopefully will be remedied.

All the factory effects sound great, and they''re full featured and easy to use. You get some unusual effects, such as X Filter, a morphing multimode filter; Filter Follower, X Filter with a threshold-triggered AD envelope; and Time Clipper, a threshold-triggered tempo-synced gating LFO.

The collection sports basic and advanced digital reverb simulations as well as the convolution processor Origami. Origami lets you load your own impulse response (IR) files, and its Positioner feature gives you complete control of the position of the audio source within the IR space.

SOUNDS ABOUND

One truly exceptional part of Independence is the huge factory library of sounds. The offerings are spread over 25 categories with a broad range of solo, grouped, and percussion instruments along with a smattering of arpeggiator, step sequence, and groove examples. The library is not documented, but the instrument names give a pretty good indication of what''s going on. And Independence loads Layers quickly, so auditioning to find what you want is not burdensome.

Independence Pro breaks new ground in both flexibility and performance. The inclusion of Independence Live for onstage use and Independence FX to make its effects available in your DAW are nice bonuses. Furthermore, the library is probably worth the price by itself. Future versions will undoubtedly see needed improvements in ease of use and documentation, but the package is a top-notch contender as it is.


Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful, visit his Web site at swiftkick.com.

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