Digidesign Transfuser 1.0.1 Review

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Transfuser is an RTAS workstation for creating and manipulating loops, phrases, and grooves in Pro Tools. Compatible with Pro Tools LE, M-Powered, and HD, it shares many features of stand-alone groove products from the worlds of software (Propellerhead Reason and Ableton Live) and hardware (synths, turntables, and groove boxes), and mixes them together into a beat-production powerhouse.

Transfuser comes with a 2GB library of looped material. That may not sound like a lot, but the material is of very high quality and usable right out of the box. You can also import any audio loop into Transfuser using the integrated file browser, or simply drag-and-drop audio into Transfuser for instant manipulation.

Transfuser works well for both studio and live performance situations, and it shines when slicing, dicing, and synching beats. It has two impressively intelligent randomization functions—M.A.R.I.O. and Beatcutter—for creating variations on a groove. Transfuser has 20 built-in effects and supports WAV, AIFF, Acid, REX 1 and 2, and Apple Loops audio files. You''ll need an iLok key and account to authorize Transfuser and a DVD drive to install the program and the included content.

Look Here Now

The Transfuser window is divided into the Browser, Info, Tracks, Editor, Controller, and Master sections. Though the look and feel of the interface is at once futuristic and retro, the all-caps text in most areas could be easier to read. The Browser pane displays a list of files and folders, showing the factory loops and phrases by default; however, the Browser can grant access to any audio file on your computer. Below the Browser pane, the Info pane lets you find context-sensitive help for any part of Transfuser, as well as metadata (such as bit depth, sample rate, and duration) for any file selected in the Browser.

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FIG 1: Transfuser is powerful loop- and phrase-manipulation tool that comes with an excellent 2GB library of looped material.

Drag and drop any audio loop or phrase into the Tracks pane to create a new track. There are three types of tracks: Sliced Audio and Slice Sequence, Time-Stretched Audio and Trigger Sequence, and Drum Kit and Drum Sequence, relating to the three ways that Transfuser processes a track. Each track has five modules: Track, Sequencer, Synth, Effects, and Mix. If you click on one of the first four modules, detailed editing options will appear in the Editor pane at the bottom of the window. (Kudos to Digidesign for this clever and useful GUI design.) When the Slice-Seq module is selected on a drum loop track, for example, the Slice-Seq Editor displays a waveform editor in the Editor pane (see Fig. 1).

In the middle are the Controller and Master sections. With six Smart knobs, eight trigger pads, a four-octave keyboard, and a fader to crossfade between Transfuser Output Buses 1 and 2, the Controller section furnishes all of the plug-in''s performance controls. You can easily map every control to a physical MIDI controller. The MIDI input channel for the currently selected track appears here, too. The Master section gives you control over the Master Groove, Effects Sends 1 and 2, Master Inserts, and the Recorder, as well as the Master Transport controls, Click, Pitch, and Volume.

Transfuser supports MIDI Learn, and you can assign multiple controls from various tracks to the Smart knobs. In addition, you can use Pro Tools'' plug-in automation to control the Smart knobs.

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FIG 2: Using Transfuser to create new beats and edit existing beats is easy and intuitive in the Drum-Seq Editor pane.

Building a Beat

Being a drummer, I like building my own patterns (beats or sequences) and editing pre-made patterns. Both are easy to do in Transfuser. The grid interface for creating and editing a pattern in the Drum-Seq Editor pane is simple to understand and quick to use (see Fig. 2). In the Velo view, you can draw notes on the grid using the Pencil tool and create velocity values at the same time simply by clicking and dragging. This is much easier than creating a beat on a MIDI or instrument track in Pro Tools, and it offers much more control over velocity than Redrum in Reason.

Transfuser''s rhythmic templates speed up the beat-making process immensely, especially if you''re not a drummer. If you click on an instrument name in the Drum-Seq window (kick, for example) and click on the Edit button, you can create a rhythmic template on that track by choosing one from the menu.

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FIG 3: M.A.R.I.O. offers numerous beat-mangling parameters and implements them all randomly with just one click of the Apply button.

Beat Depth

This instrument is deep. After spending time with the 180-page manual, I was most excited by Transfuser''s intelligent beat-manipulation tools, M.A.R.I.O. and the Beatcutter effect (hey, that sounds like a band name!).

M.A.R.I.O. (Musical Advanced Random Intelligent Operations) creates variations of your sequencer patterns with just the click of a button. It has a sizable set of parameters you can alter to create just about any kind of musical feel you want by changing the note range, speed, sync type, groove, and quantization or simplicity of a sequence. Select from the reorder, level, pitch, filter, decay, pan, and reverse parameters in the Target menu to further mangle your sequence (see Fig. 3). You can even save as many as 12 of your favorite random patterns for every sequence that M.A.R.I.O. creates. Although M.A.R.I.O. is a powerful feature, Beatcutter was even more musical when I applied it to various beats.

Beatcutter is an effect you can apply to any track. Simply call it up in the Effects module, and you''ll see it in the Editor pane. Using the repeat, reorder, gate, scratch, and freeze parameters, you can subtly or dramatically alter a sequence or beat in real time. Twist any of the knobs (such as gate, auto-pan, and sweep) for more tweaks. You can also adjust the probability and speed that Beatcutter will apply its effects on any given note in the pattern. Beatcutter reminds me of the Chaos effect in Spectrasonics' Stylus RMX, but I prefer Transfuser''s musicality (for examples, see Web Clips 1, 2, and 3).

Instrument of the Beat Gods

You can play Transfuser in many ways, whether completely on the fly using external MIDI controllers, as a completely scripted and sequenced playback device, or anything in between. You can set up the Controller section''s keyboard to access any option in the drum and phrase sequencers; for example, you could simply trigger patterns or phrases in their current key, transpose them to other keys, and play them like you might play a patch on a synthesizer.

Transfuser can also act like an advanced DJ mixer in which each track has its own output routed to one of eight stereo buses. It even supplies a Cue Mix to audition what''s happening (you can route it to an aux track in Pro Tools and then to your headphone mix), as well as a crossfade control to crossfade between tracks assigned to Bus 1 and Bus 2. (This is automatically and conveniently assigned to MIDI CC1—Mod Wheel—by default.) All these options are incredible for live performance purposes but might be overkill if you''re just using Transfuser to compose in the studio.

While writing this review, I used Transfuser on several projects in my studio, all to the delight and amazement of my clients. If that isn''t the true test of whether this instrument is good, I don''t know what is. Put simply, Transfuser totally rocks.

David Franz is a songwriter, musician, producer/engineer, author, and instructor in Boston. Visit his studio Website at www.undergroundsun.com.

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