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IK MULTIMEDIA

1/1/2001

GROOVEMAKER 2.0 (MAC/WIN/BEOS)And the beat goes on and on and on and on.Software that actively creates new music can be a great boon to composers, especially in the dance music scene where no two performances are ever expected to be the same. Even if your tastes run toward the mainstream, music-generating programs can provide valuable building blocks for digital recording and multimedia.

One of the more interesting entries in this arena is IK Multimedia's GrooveMaker 2.0, a loop-based, music-generation program that is available for Macintosh, Windows, and BeOS. GrooveMaker's user interface may look more like a video game than an audio package, but it provides a whole new approach to the music-writing process.

SLICK, SMOOTH, CIRCULARGrooveMaker songs consist of up to 512 stereo loops, each with an 8-bar maximum length. The loops share the same key and tempo and you can overlay and sequence them in various combinations. You can load any of the loops into GrooveMaker's eight stereo tracks while the program runs in real time, so you can experiment for hours without stopping the beat.

GrooveMaker's main user interface has a slick smooth skin and a circular design (see Fig. 1). The track list in the upper right lets you assign a category, such as Bass or Percussion, to each of the eight tracks and then select a loop from the assigned category. You can change the category and the loop on the fly; eight buttons along the interface's upper rim determine which tracks are played or muted. Icons emanating from the central hub select individual tracks. Buttons along the rim control volume, pan, and other functions.

In addition, the Randomix buttons let you generate seemingly limitless permutations of groove combinations. Each of the four buttons produces separate mixes and distinct styles. Clicking on the same button repeatedly creates related grooves. The track list's Lock button prevents selected tracks from being modified by the Randomix feature, letting you experiment with various elements without losing the current groove's feel. The Sync button determines whether changes made to the tracks take effect immediately or wait until the start of the next 8-bar phrase.

The new GrooveMaker version features an Arpeggiator that appears as an overlay on top of the main interface (see Fig. 2). The virtual keyboard lets you select notes to play in a pattern synchronized with the groove. Notes that will most likely produce harmonious results in the song's key are highlighted. Each song comes loaded with a palette of synth sounds, and you can load more from your hard drive, including custom WAV files. You can set the pattern type (up, down, up/down, and random), beat value (quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and thirty-second), and choose from 33 rhythmic variations. You can save up to 99 arpeggiator settings to disk for instant access.

GETTING LOOPYTo get you started, IK Multimedia ships GrooveMaker 2.0 with 750 dance loops organized into 12 genres. The GrooveMaker 2.0 DJ Box also includes the Tecknostorm and Contaminated collections, boosting the loop count to 1,250. You can purchase other loop collections from the company for $49.95 each. I tried House Party, Contaminated, Drumbasstic, Tecknostorm, and Axe, a Latin percussion set. Each was well produced with an individuality and character that lives up to its name.

You can copy loops between songs, but the loops must be in the same key and tempo to be musically useful. Because GrooveMaker doesn't provide pitch correction, the groove's key changes as you adjust the tempo up or down. Therefore, you must be design pitched loops to work together, although grooves with only percussion sounds are more forgiving.

GrooveMaker 2.0 allows you to import custom loops in AIFF, WAV, and MP3 formats or record directly to the program using the Loopmaker interface (see Fig. 3). You can adjust the imported audio's tempo setting and loop while the groove is playing, but as usual, the loop's pitch changes along with the tempo. Moreover, imported loops can only be 1 bar in length, although you can specify how often the loop appears within an 8-bar phrase. GrooveMaker appeared to let me save an 8-bar loop, but behaved erratically when I tried to apply it.

ROLLING YOUR OWN REMIXWhen you find a setting you like, click on the Mark button to place it in a Groove list along the left rim. You can store up to 99 numbered grooves. You can play the grooves by clicking on them, or you can drag the numbers into the adjoining Sequence list for automatic consecutive playback. Because each groove is an 8-bar phrase, you can program a sequence of up to 792 measures.

Once you sequence the grooves, you can save the mix or output the sequence in a variety of audio formats, including AIFF, WAV, Law, and Mac System 7 sound. You can get sample rates and bit depths for various multimedia applications, and a choice of compression schemes is available, including IMA 4:1 and QuickTime's QDesign Music 2 codec. Oddly, you cannot export an MP3 file, even though MP3 is supported as an import file type. You can save each of the eight tracks as an individual file, so you can drop a mix's discrete elements into a digital audio sequencer for further processing.

GrooveMaker also has a V-Mix mode that functions as a virtual DJ (see Fig. 4). When you click on the V-Mix button, the program generates four random groove sets, each specified as 32 to 768 bars in length. You can play the sets manually by selecting one of the numbered buttons on the left, or you can fire them off automatically in sequence and at random. The Radio function generates groove combinations indefinitely (or until the power goes out). You can send grooves produced in V-Mix mode to the main interface for further manipulation and storage.

AN INTRIGUING SYSTEMGrooveMaker is simultaneously intriguing and flawed. Despite its import and export capabilities, GrooveMaker is a somewhat closed system. You can import your own loops, but you must work within a preset song's framework. MIDI support is planned for a future version, but currently the product cannot be synched to external devices or other software. It is difficult to mix and match audio from other sources because the grooves' pitches change as you modify the tempos. The system also lacks effects.

On the upside, GrooveMaker is great fun, has a novel and entertaining interface, and can be useful for developing new musical ideas. The software is certainly powerful enough to be a key tool for live dance club work, though you might not want to rely on it exclusively. In the studio, GrooveMaker can generate loops to use with digital audio sequencers, and it's particularly well suited for cranking out the short loops that are all the rage on Web pages these days. The sound quality of the IK Multimedia libraries is excellent, and at $79.95, the price is hard to beat.

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