Chaos Designer in Spectrasonics Stylus RMX 1.5 is a great tool for remixing loops and generating new ideas, but as with any random process, some results are better than others. Setting up Chaos Designer intelligently and capturing multiple passes from which to choose will improve your results immeasurably. Here are some tips and tricks for doing both.
FIG. 1: Stylus RMX Chaos Designer modulates various playback parameters in real time.
I've used Ableton Live 6 to host Stylus for my examples because Live is particularly well suited to recording and manipulating clips from multitrack virtual instrument plug-ins. But you can use most of the tips given here with any full-featured digital audio sequencer.
Chaos Designer is intended primarily for manipulating sliced audio files in Spectrasonics Advanced Groove Engine (SAGE) format. With the aid of the included SAGE converter, however, you can also import Propellerhead's REX2 files and Akai and Roland Groove Control files for use in Stylus. The Stylus factory library is excellent and large, but it's weighted heavily toward percussion, so keep the imported formats in mind as a path to nonpercussive chaos (see Web Clips 1 and 2).
Chaos Designer independently manipulates seven slice-playback parameters: Pattern, Repeat, Reverse, Timing, Pitch, Dynamics, and Buzz (see Fig. 1). Those manipulations are probabilistic; a slider sets the likelihood of each action. The last four effects have additional controls for parameters such as amount and direction.
Pattern shuffles the slices. Repeat repeats individual slices. Reverse plays slices backwards. Timing introduces timing variations, which you can tilt toward leading or lagging the beat. Pitch applies a random pitch-shift. Dynamics changes the playback level. Buzz retriggers a slice at very short intervals, with controls for the rate of retriggering and the amount the retriggering rate slows down or speeds up over the duration of a note.
Stylus can play eight audio clips simultaneously (each clip has its own Chaos Designer), and you can route the clips to separate stereo outputs. Host permitting, you can capture multiple Stylus outputs in one pass, but if your host makes that difficult or impossible, you can always record one output at a time. If you're using only the Pattern, Repeat, and Dynamics effects, you can drag a MIDI file from Stylus into a host track and use it to trigger the slices remotely. The other Chaos Designer effects use DSP and can be captured only as audio.
You can get a great deal more out of Chaos Designer by using Stylus Edit Groups. They allow you to group slices by a variety of criteria. Each Edit Group has its own Chaos Designer, so you could, for example, reverse slices on upbeats, pitch-shift offbeat slices, and repeat a manually selected group of slices.
Once you've designed your chaos, you'll want to capture a number of passes of each loop. In Live, Stylus will be hosted on a MIDI track, so route that track's audio output to the input of an audio track; that's how you capture Stylus output A. Next create a separate audio track for each of the other active Stylus outputs. On the MIDI track hosting Stylus, create a MIDI clip with a Clip Envelope to trigger the Stylus AllPlay button. That's necessary to do because Stylus does not sync to the host's transport.
To find the length of each Stylus loop, drag the loop's MIDI trigger sequence from the Stylus file browser to the Stylus MIDI track in Live. You can then look at it in Live's Clip editor to determine the span of the slices in bars and beats.
Start by disabling all the Chaos Designers, setting the Live audio tracks receiving Stylus input to Record, and recording for the length of the longest loop. That gives you unprocessed loops of the same length for all tracks. Next turn on the Chaos Designers and record multiple passes of each loop. For example, if the longest loop is 2 bars, you might record 32 bars, giving you 16 Chaos Designer alterations of each loop. Finally, use Live's Clip editor's Loop settings to single out each alteration, copying clips as necessary. You can now audition individual loops, toss the bad ones, and arrange the others to your liking in Live's Arrangement view.
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Use Clip Envelopes to automate Stylus RMX's AllPlay button, placing the On event just before bar 2.
Assign each used Stylus track to a separate output and set levels and pans to their defaults.
With all Chaos Designers turned off, record one full pass of each loop. You can also drag in the slice-triggering MIDI files from Stylus RMX if desired.
With all Chaos Designers turned on, record multiple passes of each loop, thereby getting several different Chaos Designer patterns to work with. Duplicate the recorded clips and set each copy's loop to a different pass.
Audition each pass and delete the undesirable ones. Create an arrangement by dragging or recording clips and scenes to the Arrangement view.
Here, Follow Actions were used to create fills at the end of each chorus. The third chorus was then overdubbed with different Follow Action settings to create an alternate take.