Contrary to many initial opinions, Spectrasonics Stylus RMX is not simply a groove-construction or accompaniment machine. Much more, it's a real-time liquid groove instrument that you can improvise with and play live or experimentally tweak in the studio. RMX is the first product to offer the combination of Spectrasonics' own Groove Control and S.A.G.E. (Spectrasonics Advanced Groove Engine) technologies, and its capabilities stretch far beyond slicing and dicing grooves and well into groove melding, massaging, torquing, morphing, pseudo-granular-synthesis territory and much more. And with a cozy user interface that encourages hours at a time of adventurous noodling, it's a far less cerebral program than others — and one for which more happy accidents often occur than when following typically “linear” road maps.
That said, you don't want (or need) to think too hard when using RMX, or you'll miss the whole point of the instrument. Still, Stylus RMX is a pretty hefty program and does take some time to break in and fully appreciate. Its immediate assets are obvious: uncanny host auto-sync facilities, whereby you can quickly build solid grooves that lock to your tracks; a massive 7.4GB Core Library stocked with cutting-edge beats, slice elements and one-shot sounds; a groove palette that is expandable with S.A.G.E. Xpanders or by importing REX2 files; integrated FX Racks with 27 effects that can be assigned as inserts, auxes or masters across eight parts of multitimbral groove action; the Chaos Designer, which adds musical variations and improvisation to grooves; extensive filter, LFO and traditional synthesis functions; the ability to completely map to external MIDI controllers; and the list really does go on.
RMX, you see, was specifically designed for remixing songs and creating dance and club-oriented music with ease. The Core Library is evidence of that. Emanating beyond the studio walls, RMX is a perfect laptop or PowerBook companion for live performance and DJ gigs, too. Unlike any other program, RMX is a plug-in that feels like an instrument but behaves like an extension of your sequencer, no matter the host app. Yet the performance aspect of RMX hasn't even been explored fully by most users. The possibilities are bottomless.
REVERSE AND RING ELEMENTS IN A COMBO
This cool trick can be thought of as either one elaborate and crazy-sounding layered production trick, or it can be dissected into two parts and applied separately. Traditionally, one of the problems with reversing a drum loop is that the kick drum (or any element of the loop, for that matter) will also play backward — but not necessarily so in RMX, in which you can pick and choose what gets treated. To demonstrate, select an Element Combo, such as 130-Obey Combo, that has solo mixes of the kick, hi-hat and snare.
In Groove Menu mode, assign only the hi-hats or hats and snare to an Edit Group. To do this, make sure the Edit Group panel is open within the Edit window (bottom middle), find the note of the loop Element you wish to treat (for example, D# for hi-hats, F# for snare), click on Assign and select Create Edit Group from the long assignment pop-up menu. You'll have to repeat this for each Element. Then, use the Reverse button to make only those Elements play backward. Note how the kicks remain in forward mode while you jam.
Next, you'll make the hi-hats sing a bit. This involves using a common effect that makes a resonant filter act as a kind of oscillator. In the FX section, call up the Power Filter module and assure that the hi-hat Element is still the active Edit Group. Choose BP/HP in the Type window; move the Cutoff to 1 o'clock; and set the Res to near full, or until the filter starts to ring. You can then squash and tune the hats to any other pitched Element in your mix. Inside the FX page, you'll probably also want to insert a Vintage Compressor after the Power Filter to tame the resonant peaks.
CARVE YOUR OWN NICHE
The LFOs in the Edit page are really very powerful. Here's a way to use them to carve into a groove and give it even more life than it already has. For this example, you'll use Element 106-King Kong Big Ape as your guinea pig.
Set your sequencer or host tempo to 132 bpm. To make “holes” in the sound, go to the LFOs area and use a square-wave LFO to modulate the amplitude (Amp button). Set the Rate to half notes (as shown in the value box below the RMX transport buttons) and the Depth to 0.930 so that it doesn't cut off too abruptly. Turn both the Sync and Retrig buttons on. Now, the sound comes in and out in a rhythmic fashion.
Next, go to the Power Filter section right next to the LFOs, and turn on the highpass filter. Give the faders the following settings: Cutoff, 1,833 Hz; Res, 0.158; Width, 0.509; Drive, 0.404; Gain, 0.842. Feel free to play around with these settings until you find something that you like even more. At this point, you may want to throw in a Vintage Compressor as an insert effect so that the upcoming filter sweeps are clearly heard in the mix.
Go back to the LFOs area, and click on the Filter button. Using a sine wave, set the Rate to something slow, like 4x, and the Depth to about the halfway point, or 0.490. Turn both the Sync and Retrig buttons on. Finally, click on the Pan button in the same LFO area, and set the Rate to 1/1, or whole notes, and the Depth to 0.830. Now, you should have a pretty active texture!
To get even more into a musical context, call up a 4/4 beat on RMX's Part 2 track. The Sea Tide Kick Element from the Kicks 2 Suite in the Groove Elements directory is used for this example. You may want to add a little delay to Part 1 now by calling up BPM Delay on Aux 1 and, in the Mixer page, setting the Aux 1 Send to halfway, or 0.490, for Part 1 only.
Now, if that's not enough action for you, you can always copy Part 1 using the menu at the bottom right-hand corner (diskette icon) and paste it into Part 3. In the Edit page for Part 3, set the Coarse Pitch to +12, and play around with the various LFO-rate and filter settings for instant madness. For example, set the Amp LFO shape for Part 3 to a smooth square wave, and change the Power Filter to 24dB HPF with the Width at 0.719, the Drive at 0.596 and the maximum Gain at 1.000. Talk about a complex swarming, layered, syncopated house beat reminiscent of early Deep Dish.
Although mangling beats is good, addictive fun, Stylus RMX is perhaps one of the most potent sample-based sound-design engines you're ever going to come across. By simply dropping out of Groove Menu and into Slice Menu mode (preferably with Immediate Trigger Mode selected), you open up your creative possibilities to a whole world of single-note Elements that you can twist, hold, stretch, morph, spin around and otherwise throw at the wall to see if they stick. Want to create the most bizarre alien snorts, bent-vocal strikes or trash-can-rolling-down-staircase transitions (think “Frozen” by Madonna)? Read on.
Start by choosing a Sound Menu that has a good variety of tones and sounds, such as Elastic Dance 2. Switch to the Edit window, and press the LPF button to enable the Power Filter. Raise the Gain control to adjust loudness. Set your LPF resonance to 0.333 or thereabouts, and assign your LPF Power Filter cutoff to a knob or slider on your controller. This process of assigning is called MIDI Learn in RMX, and it is outlined in the video Tutorial DVD that comes with the program. Locate the Coarse Pitch knob, and assign that to your mod wheel. Notice that as you move the wheel, the pitch changes. (See step 2 on p. 58.)
Now, give these sounds some character. Again, you can use the BPM Delay to give the sound some movement, with the Valve Radio or Phaser as a secondary effect. Next, turn on the Chaos Designer, and slide up the Reverse slider a tad to get a random reversing effect as you tap the keys. Play some notes on your controller while moving the pitch wheel — you really have to interact with the three play parameters for this to work. Try the filter cutoff knob, as well, while you're tapping the keys, and you'll hear all sorts of wicked-cool percussive sounds, dripping textures and otherwise completely squirrely noises that you can create.
Stylus RMX is simply incredible as a live production tool. Whether you add it as a groove maker to a band, mix it in with a MIDI-based performance or use it to fill out a DJ set, you'll want to make sure you have a keyboard controller with lots of knobs, sliders, buttons or other MIDI-assignable controllers. The Korg Kontrol49 or any number of the M-Audio compact controllers are ideal for this. On this tip, courtesy of RMX designer Eric Persing, the following trick turns RMX into an ultramacro DJ-style crossfader.
Start by activating the MIDI Learn function for the Level fader for one Part, then “invert” the same parameter on another part by using the MIDI Learn Inverted function in the menu list. Because you do this simply by touching the physical control on your controller, it's superfast and easy to set up, even on the fly. And because you've chosen the mixer-level parameter, what you'll get is a typical DJ-mixer-style crossfade, but it starts to get much more interesting when you start crossfading filter and effects parameters.
Indeed, this same controller-inversion principle can also be applied to Edit groups, whereby you can crossfade the downbeats to the upbeats or, for instance, interplaying Elements. Try this: Load Suite 70-Dinosaur from the RMX Grooves directory, and assign Elements Bass Mix and Drum Mix to the Edit Group. Select the Bass Mix from the Edit Group; click on the Menu button; and via MIDI Learn, assign the Level fader to a knob or slider on your controller for this Element only. Then, select the Drum Mix from the Edit Group; click on the Menu button; and this time, select MIDI Learn Inverted before assigning the same knob or slider on your controller to the Level fader for this Element. Now, as you manipulate your controller up and down, you should see the Level fader move in opposite directions for each Element. Add some final flare by doing the exact same inversion process for the Generator and X-Ray A elements. Playing all four notes together, you can now control both the rhythmic and sound effects sounds, in and out of the mix, just as you would a quad-channel crossfader.
RMX QUICK TIPS
It goes without saying that Spectrasonics Stylus RMX designer Eric Persing has intimate knowledge of the program. And rather than hoard that knowledge, Persing offers the following helpful hints to make your RMX experience even better.
Four by four: Wish RMX had more four-on-the-floor material to work with for club tracks? You can simply turn any Groove Element into a pulsing quarter note by assigning a whole-note Edit Group, soloing it and then pressing the Double (time) button in the Browser to make it play in 4/4. And if you bring up the release time on the Edit page, you can get the full decay of each pulse.
The ReCycled remix: The first thing Persing does when remixing an existing track is dice up as many tracks as he can from the original song, make REX2 files from them and convert them to RMX via the S.A.G.E. Converter utility that comes with Stylus RMX. Once the tracks have been converted, you can do wild things like make an Edit Group for every word on the lyric in a phrase. Every Edit Group has its own entire effects rack, so you can do extremely outrageous vocal-effecting tricks this way.
Reverse cymbals must die: You can use any of the Sound Menu sounds as transitional reverse Elements for remixes. The Cinematic Sound Menus, in particular, are very cool to try this with, as they have long ambient decays. Simply hit the Reverse button, and add a delay if you like. Turn the Settings button in the Browser off, and you can browse any of the thousands of Sound Menu samples and audition them in reverse.
Instant refresh: Getting tired of hearing the same old Elements in your library? A great way to instantly refresh everything is to insert the BPM Delay set to full wet signal and an eighth-note delay with no feedback or tone. By turning the Settings button in the Browser off, you can now browse any groove in your library and hear it in real time against your mix. Change the delay time to a dotted eight or dotted quarter for even more variations. (Hint: There's a preset in the BPM Delay that's already set up and waiting for you to try this out!)
Pick Favorites: You can easily create a custom Groove Menu using the Favorites system to combine Core Library and S.A.G.E. Xpanders with your custom REX files for real-time jamming. This is one of the best aspects of RMX, in that all of these different Elements can come together for you to play live in Groove Menu mode, sort of like a massive drum set. Simply play the Elements on your controller and record the results.
Learn a lesson: Finally, as if it hasn't been said enough already, making good use of the MIDI Learn function is key to interacting with RMX outside the box. Here are a few more tricks to try on for size: To get that “infinite-loop” freeze-effect sound, try assigning a hardware MIDI button to the Audio Buffer Freezing functions found on Page 2 of either the Pro Verb or Retroplex effects units. Or to get that classic analog or tape-delay-style pitch-bending echo, assign the Delay and Feedback knobs in Retroplex to your hardware controller.