Version 1.5 of Storm is a major upgrade of Arturia's flagshipall-in-one studio software. It now comes in Mac and PC flavors,supports ASIO and VST on both platforms, and sports several newhigh-end sound modules. Arturia Storm is optimized for creatingone-measure, 16th-note loops and combining them into Songs with fullparameter automation. It makes the process extremely fast and comespacked with a huge supply of preset patterns. If it were my job to namethis product, I might call it Jiffy Loop.
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A Arturia Storm Studio consists of a software Rack ofinstruments and effects together with a multitrack Song Sequencer.Storm's 11 instruments fall into three categories: drum boxes(5), synthesizers (4), and sample loopers (2). Also, a sampler modulerecords and plays AIFF, WAV, and MP3 files of any length that availableRAM can accommodate. Arturia Storm's ten effects include theusual suspects as well as several creative alternatives. The StudioRack holds four instruments and three effects at a time, which limitseach song to that number of modules. However, songs can be recorded andbounced into the EZtrack sampler module for more complexcompositions.
Arturia Storm installs from a cross-platform CD-ROM andrequires run-time Java, which is supplied for the Mac and PC. (Allaudio processing is programmed in assembly language for optimalperformance.) MIDI is handled on the PC by DirectX and on the Mac byOpen Music System, the latest versions of which are also provided.Arturia Storm requires challenge-and-response authorization andautomatically takes care of that the first time you launch it if yourcomputer is online. Otherwise, Arturia Storm generates aprintout that you can mail, fax, or e-mail to Arturia for the responsecode. (Storm runs 20 times without authorization.) I had noproblems with automatic online authorization.
Software that attempts to run several synthesizer and samplermodules at once generally requires a fast CPU, and Arturia Stormis no exception. A full Storm Rack pushed my Mac G3/300 MHz (theminimum recommended configuration) beyond the 80 percent CPU limit onseveral occasions. However, on my Pentium III/700 MHz laptop,Storm's CPU meter stayed comfortably within the 25 to 35 percentrange. For VST operation, you also must consider the host's CPU load.Storm requires a VST host that supports multiple audio outputs.(currently only Steinberg's Cubase does so.) I testedStorm 1.5 for this review, but version 1.51, which containsseveral enhancements and bug fixes, should be out by press time.
BUILDING A STUDIO
The first job during any Storm session is to build a Studioby selecting the instruments and effects that you want in the Rack.(Alternately, you can load a Studio from disk.) Fig. 1 showsStorm's Studio Builder screen with a fully configured Studio. Toadd modules to the Rack, simply drag them from the Instruments andEffects menus at the sides of the Rack. To delete them, drag them backfrom the Rack to the menu. When you drag a module to the Rack, it isplaced in the slot to which it is dragged, moving other modules down asneeded.
Arturia Storm Studios don't require any cabling, becauseinstruments are assigned mixer channels according to their position inthe Rack, and each instrument has bus sends to each of the Studio'seffects. Each effect also has bus sends to the other effects.(Storm 1.51 will feature back-panel cabling for routinginstruments to separate audio channels on systems in which thesound-card drivers and host environment support that.) Once you'reacquainted with Storm's instruments and effects, you can build aStudio in a matter of nanoseconds.
After you configure your Studio, click on the Start button, whichtakes you to Storm's colorful Composer window (see Fig.2). Storm takes a few moments to compile the Studio and thenstarts playing your song. What song? Most instruments have a built-inPattern Sequencer filled with preset patterns. If you haven't yetrecorded anything in the Song Sequencer, Storm simply startslooping the first pattern for each instrument. I'll look more closelyat the Song Sequencer in a moment, but one of its main uses is to letyou program pattern changes for each of the instruments' PatternSequencers.
Arturia Storm's Pattern Sequencers operate slightlydifferently for different kinds of instruments, but with a fewexceptions, the patterns are always one measure of 16th notes. (Abuilt-in global Shuffle setting frees you from the constraint ofstraight 16th notes.) Each of Storm's five drum boxes has eightdrum sounds, and their Pattern Sequencers generate Velocity-sensitivetriggers for those sounds. For the synthesizers, the Pattern Sequencersgenerate MIDI notes and, in some cases, MIDI Control Change (CC) data.The H3O sample looper has four four-bar sample tracks, and a patternfor it is an arrangement of samples on those tracks. Scratch has noPattern Sequencer; it simply loops the samples assigned to each of itstwo turntables.
In addition to MIDI Notes, triggered drum sounds, and loopedsamples, a Storm Song consists of sound-parameter changes (suchas control-panel knob and slider changes), mix automation, and globalchord changes. Again, those are recorded in different ways fordifferent types of instruments. For the drum boxes, the sound-parameterchanges are recorded in real time as part of the Pattern Sequence. Allcontrol changes are therefore one-measure loops. The Pattern Sequencersare always in Record mode. Everything else (instrument and effectsparameters, mix automation, pattern selection, tempo, time signature,and key signature) is recorded in the Song Sequencer.
Arturia Storm's control-panel knobs and sliders can beassigned to MIDI CC messages. Right-clicking (Control-clicking on aMacintosh) on the control opens a window in which you can select theMIDI CC number and MIDI Channel with the mouse. Any MIDI CC messagereceived while the window is open makes the assignments automatically.The keyboards of Storm's synthesizers can be assigned toincoming MIDI Note messages in the same way. (MIDI triggering for thedrum boxes will be added in Storm 1.51.) Once assigned,automation can be recorded using MIDI or the mouse.
Arturia Storm's Song Sequencer has five tracks — onefor each of the four instruments in the Rack and a fifth Mix track forrecording everything else. The tracks are arranged in four-measureblocks across the top of the Composer window. The Song Sequencer hastwo recording modes: Real Time and Static. In Static mode, you select agroup of measures, and any change you make to any control (for therelevant track) becomes the setting for the whole selection. You candelete all the data in a selection of measures, but you cannot deletejust the data for an individual parameter, thereby regaining manualcontrol of that parameter. (That is a tremendous inconvenience that Ihope will be remedied in a future update.)
Once you've composed a Song, you naturally want to record it, andStorm's built-in audio recorder allows you to do just that.(When Storm is operated as a VST plug-in, the recorder is notnecessary.) Recording can be started and stopped manually or set upautomatically for a specific range of measures. Audio is recorded inStorm's compressed-audio Cassette format. Cassette files can beexported in AIFF, WAV, and MP3 formats. Even though Cassette recordingsare compressed, they can make Storm Studio files large and slowto load. Generally, it was more convenient to export them to my harddrive in one of the other formats and then delete the Cassette filesfrom the Studio. The three MP3 files accompanying this article on theEM Web site were exported directly from Storm with noneed for any other encoding software. (Very nice!)
THE SOUND OF THE STORM
As mentioned, Arturia Storm has three kinds ofsound-generating instruments: drum boxes, synthesizers, and sampleloopers. In addition, the EZtrack sampler is for recording and playingback samples of arbitrary length in AIFF, WAV, and MP3 formats. Forbouncing submixes, creating extended compositions, and extractingfragments of samples for use in the sample loopers, EZtrack is anessential ingredient of the Storm package. Unfortunately, it isthe one Storm module that did not perform up to standard. Iencountered multiple crashes as well as extremely unreliable playbackand eventually gave up trying to use it. (I transferred Stormmixes to my sequencing software as a work-around.) Arturia is aware ofthe problems and says that they have been fixed in version 1.51.
Drumming up a storm
Four of Arturia Storm's five drum boxes — Hork, Meteor,Psion, and Puma — are virtually identical drum-sample players.Each has eight sampled drum sounds with controls for pitch and decay.Hork's samples are from an acoustic kit. Samples in Meteor and Psionare from Roland TR-909, TR-808, and TR-606 drum machines. Puma containssamples of ethnic percussion instruments.
Most of Storm's Pattern Sequencer patterns work welltogether, and that goes for Studios with multiple drum boxes, too. Idropped the four drum boxes just mentioned into a Rack with delay,compression, and flanging effects. Then I programmed some patternchanges into the Song Sequencer and, in about five minutes, had aviable multidrum loop going. You can hear the results in the 4drums MP3file at www.emusician.com.
You're not limited to Storm's canned patterns, andprogramming the drum boxes' Pattern Sequencers is extremely easy.Fig. 3 shows Psion's Pattern Sequencer and control knobs. Thepatterns are represented by the eight rows of 16 LEDs. Clicking on anLED cycles a pattern step through four Velocity levels and then off.Moving any knob by sending it MIDI data or using the mouse while thepattern is playing causes the motion to be recorded in the pattern.(Clicking and holding a knob in the same position for one measureresults in a fixed value.)
Arturia Storm's fifth drum box, Tsunami, is a synthesizerrather than a sample player. Four of its sounds are based on noise, andthe other four use a sine-wave oscillator. Each noise sound hascontrols for level, pan, lowpass-filter cutoff and resonance, and anamplitude attack/decay envelope. Each oscillator sound has controls forlevel, pan, an attack/decay pitch envelope, and an amplitude-decayenvelope. Tsunami's Pattern Sequencer is the same as on the other drumboxes.
Storm has four synthesizers: Arsenic, Equinox, Bass-52, andOrpheus. The latter two are new to version 1.5. Arsenic and Equinox usethe same, basic synthesis engine with one oscillator (sawtooth orvariable pulse wave); a 2-pole resonant lowpass filter; andattack/decay envelopes for amplitude and filter cutoff. The differenceis that Arsenic has a single voice and is designed for synthy lead andbass parts, whereas Equinox has three voices and is designed to playchords from the dominant (mixolydian) or relative-minor (aeolian)scales.
Bass-52 is a physical-modeled bass synth and is probably the bestsounding of the lot. It features a lowpass filter with attack/releaseenvelope and vibrato. Its Pattern Sequencer has controller lanes forvibrato amount and Velocity. Bass-52 and Arsenic let adjacent notes belinked for a legato effect with portamento. (Portamento is always on,and the glide speed is linked to Storm's tempo.) Bass-52 can beplayed through MIDI but is programmable only with the mouse using itspiano-roll editor.
Orpheus is the most sophisticated of Storm's synths and takesup two Rack spaces. It has 16 voices, and its Pattern Sequencer holdspatterns as long as eight measures. Patterns can be programmed in realtime with incoming MIDI Note messages. The Pattern Sequencer hascontroller lanes for Velocity, filter cutoff, and balance between itstwo oscillators. Orpheus is the only Storm synth with presetmemory (64 factory and 64 user).
Orpheus's synth architecture features two wavetable oscillators withvector-waveform mixing. Each oscillator has 32 dual waveforms, and hardsync and FM are available. Orpheus has a multimode 4-pole filter withADSR envelope. The amplitude envelope is also ADSR, and there are twomultiwaveform LFOs. A MIDI-controllable x-y vector is providedfor simultaneously adjusting the mix level of each oscillator's twowaveforms, and the LFOs can be assigned to modulate the two dimensionsof the vector. (In short, you can get a lot of timbral motion out ofthis little puppy.) Orpheus is the only synth suitable for pads, but itwill also crank out good-sounding leads. Processing an Orpheus pad withStorm's SeqFilter effect can produce vocal results. TheOrpheusPad MP3 file at www.emusician.com illustrates that technique.
Get in the loop
Storm 1.5 has two loop-based sample players: H3O and Scratch.H3O is a 4-track, 4-measure sample player that plays samples in AIFF,WAV, and MP3 formats. Storm comes with a small selection ofacoustic-instrument-riff samples, but you will quickly want to get intousing your own. H3O's Pattern Sequencer remembers the samples and theirarrangement on H3O's tracks and, like the others, holds 64patterns.
One of H3O's most unusual and useful features (called Fragmentation)is the ability to overlap samples on the same track. Option-dragging(Control-dragging on the PC) copies of the same sample, each with itsown transpose and volume levels, to adjacent 8th- or 16th-notepositions on the same track produces interesting repetitive patterns.The piano part on the PianoScratch MP3 file at www.emusician.comis a Fragmentation of a single piano riff.
Scratch is a dual-turntable sample player. You can crossfade betweenthe two turntables, control their speeds independently, and scratch oneither. Scratching is done by clicking on the turntable —horizontal motion crossfades and vertical motion scratches. Scratching,crossfading, and speed can also be automated using MIDI CCmessages.
What key are we in?
Storm provides a four-measure Pattern Sequencer, calledKepler, for selecting key and mode (major or minor). It holds 64patterns, but in this case, each pattern step represents a keysignature that lasts two beats. All the synthesizers and the H3O samplelooper adjust their pitches to the root key of the current Kepler step.Equinox also adjusts the third and sixth degrees of its chords toKepler's mode, lowering those degrees when the mode is minor.
Just for effect
Storm has eight effects modules. Two noteworthy additions, avocoder and a limiter/compressor, are downloadable from Arturia's Website. Compressor sounds good and is an especially welcome addition forBass-52 and the drum synths. It features graphic adjustment of thecompression ratio, threshold, and output gain as well as knobs forattack and release times. The ten supplied presets cover most of thebases.
Vocoder has a built-in carrier synthesizer with two oscillators, anoise source, a lowpass filter, and an LFO. The carrier has ten presetsand a real-time programmable x-y control that can be applied tofour parameter pairs. The modulator source can come from any ofStorm's instruments. Most likely, that would be a vocal samplefrom one of the sample players, but the drum boxes also make goodmodulators. The carrier plays chords selected on an onscreen keyboard.Eight programmable chord presets are available, and preset changes canbe automated. You could not call it a high-end vocoder, but it can bequite effective, especially buried a bit in the mix.
Two rhythmic effects are worth mentioning: SeqFilter and Dual Delay.SeqFilter is a resonant lowpass filter with 16 sliders to control thefilter's cutoff frequency. The slider values are stepped through insync with the sequencer (each slider represents a 16th note).SeqFilter's main drawbacks are the absence of slider presets and ofautomation for the sliders. Dual Delay is a stereo delay line withdelay times set in 16th notes and knobs for direct and cross-channelfeedback.
The other effects — Chorus, Distortion, Flanger, LPFilter,Reverb, and Ring Mod — are just what you'd expect to find. Theyall sound decent; none are fantastic.
Storm is a terrific loop machine; I was addicted from minuteone. Its strong points are its excellent array of drum boxes, its easeof use, and its well-thought-out supply of factory patterns to get youstarted. Its synths are good sounding, and Bass-52 is excellent. H3Oand Scratch fill a niche in sample looping, and H3O makes combiningmultiple samples into creative new loops a breeze.
Aside from a few minor glitches, the Pattern and Song Sequencers arewell conceived and fast to program. For generating good-sounding loops,this is probably about as easy as it gets. Given its array of modules,Storm's price tag seems reasonable and is about in the middle ofthis expanding genre of all-in-one software studios.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: PPC G3/300; 64 MB RAM; OS 8.6
PC: Pentium II/300; 64 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP
Storm 1.5 (Mac/Win) software synthesizer workstation $199
|EASE OF USE||4.5|
|QUALITY OF SOUNDS||3.5|
|RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5|
PROS: Fully loaded Pattern Sequencers. Extensive MIDI andonscreen automation. Records directly to disk in AIFF, WAV, and MP3formats.
CONS: EZtrack sampler performance is erratic. Can't deleteindividual control automation. Onscreen controls sometimes respondslowly.
tel. (800) 369-6191 or (360) 594-4275