Bitshift Audio brings beat slicing into your digital audio work environment with Phatmatik Pro ($99), available in VSTi format for Windows and Mac OS 9 and Audio Unit 2.0 for Mac OS X. What differentiates Phatmatik Pro from other beat slicers, most notably Propellerhead's ReCycle, is that, in addition to slicing up audio files, it plays the resulting slices. A full-featured demo version is available for download from Bitshift Audio's Web site. If you're looking for a REX-file player, pick up a copy of the free Phatmatik VSTi plug-in while you're there.
Having a slicer and player that integrates as a plug-in in your digital audio sequencer eliminates the need for launching and transferring audio files between different applications. A single instance of Phatmatik Pro is capable of slicing and playing back files on each of 16 MIDI channels, so if your CPU permits, you can accomplish a lot of loop processing and synchronizing at one go. For an example, listen to the file kicks.mp3. It was recorded in one pass using a single four-on-the-floor kick-drum loop processed in five Phatmatik Pro channels.
The What and Why
Beat slicing is the process of dividing an audio file into short segments, called slices, for the purpose of gaining independent control of tempo and pitch. Most often the audio file is a beat loop, and the slices correspond to individual beats. Playback typically involves sequencing the slices at a different tempo than the original beat loop, thereby changing the tempo of the loop without mangling the sound by changing its pitch and formant structure. Of course, the opposite is also possible — you can change the pitch and apply other DSP effects to the individual slices and resequence them at the original tempo.
Phatmatik Pro does everything you'd expect of beat-slicing software and quite a bit more. Let's start with slicing. There are two ways to approach slicing an audio file: you can make the slices at metric divisions without regard to the audio content, or you can try to detect individual audio events — drum beats, for example — and use those for the slices. Phatmatik Pro offers both options and, in the latter case, allows you to set the sensitivity with which it interprets audio transients (that is, spikes) as slice points. However you choose to initially create the slice points, you can add, delete, and move them at will. Fig. 1 shows Phatmatik Pro's control panel with a bass loop sliced into individual notes.
Phatmatik Pro automatically assigns consecutive MIDI notes to individual slices starting with C2 (MIDI Note Number 48) for the leftmost slice. You can play the slices back from your MIDI keyboard for auditioning and setup purposes, but in practice, you will undoubtedly want to trigger the slices from a MIDI sequence. Phatmatik Pro will generate a MIDI sequence with timing to match the slice spacing; you can either drag the sequence directly into your host application or save it on your hard drive for use elsewhere. A nice touch, Phatmatik Pro gives you the option to vary the Velocity of the MIDI notes according to the amplitude of the individual slices. That lets you capture the accents as well as the timing of the beat loop in the MIDI file — an essential feature for groove extraction that, as far as I know, is unique to Phatmatik Pro.
The bottom half of the Phatmatik Pro control panel is devoted to effects processing. The left section, labeled Slice, applies separate processing to each slice, whereas the processing in the right section, which is labeled Master, applies globally. Slice processes include choice of audio output channel (four are available if supported by your host software); slice playback direction and looping; amplitude, pan, and pitch settings; resonant high- or lowpass filtering; and ADSR envelopes for amplitude, pitch, and filter cutoff. The Master section includes global transpose, tempo-synchronized feedback delay, distortion, comb filtering, and multimode resonant filtering. Additional ADSR envelopes are provided for filter cutoff and pitch, and you'll also find two multiwaveform LFOs with sample-accurate tempo synchronization. A four-by-four modulation matrix allows you to route the LFOs, Mod Wheel, and Velocity to filter cutoff, pitch, amplitude, and filter-envelope amount.
Phatmatik Pro is designed for playing as well as slicing and will save audio files to your hard drive complete with all Phatmatik Pro settings. You can also save or drag individual slices to your host application or hard drive. That makes fast work of converting audio files containing multiple hits to sample maps for your favorite sampler.
I started out thinking of Phatmatik Pro as handy tool for integrating beat slicing into my sequencing environment. I wound up viewing it as a kind of Swiss army knife for audio-file deconstruction. The one drawback is the small size of the sample editor, which is critical for setting and moving markers, and which must inevitably be compromised to fit the plug-in format. Still, I found slice positioning quite doable. Whether or not your music involves beat loops, Phatmatik Pro is definitely worth a look. It is well thought out and has a lot of creative potential.