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Review: Propellerhead Reason 9 - EMusician

Review: Propellerhead Reason 9

Upgrade adds more tools for creative music production
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Reason 9 has arrived and, though it doesn’t contain any new instruments, it offers a slew of significant new features that augment the power of the program to help users become more creative and productive.

MEET THE PLAYERS

Fig. 1. The three Player modules shown in the Rack The marquee additions are three new MIDI effects: Dual Arpeggio, Note Echo, and Scales & Chords. Collectively referred to as Players, they can be dragged and dropped onto an instrument to open up additional creative possibilities (see Figure 1). Dual Arpeggio is like having two highly programmable arpeggiators in one. The dual processors work in parallel on your MIDI track or input, and, if you want, each can be assigned an independent key range.

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Each of the arpeggiator sections has controls for Rate (note value), Octave, and Direction (Up, Down, Up + Down, and Random). With the Pattern slider off, you get the functionality of a monophonic arpeggiator. When it’s turned on, you can use each arpeggiator’s 16-step grid to program different patterns, which respond to whatever notes you play. You can set the duration of each note in the pattern (1/3-step, 2/3-step, or a 1-step), the velocity for each step, the number of steps, transposition, and so forth. The Dual Arpeggiator comes with a bank of preset patterns that show off what the effect can do.

Note Echo is a programmable MIDI delay module that can be used like an audio delay processor, but it can also do things that would be impossible on such a device. The Step Length parameter is the equivalent of delay time and can be set in milliseconds (0 to 1,000 ms) with Tempo Sync off, or to a rhythmic value (1/128 to 1/2 note) if it’s on. Up to 16 steps (repeats) can be programmed. The Pitch Control lets you set a value up to ±12 steps, and anything other than 0 will raise or lower each successive echo by the specified interval. As a result, you can create some pretty wild effects. For example, with all 16 steps selected, a Pitch setting of -1 or +1, and a Step Length of 1/32, you’ll hear a glissando when you hold down a single MIDI note on your keyboard. With a lower Step Length and larger intervals you can get arpeggiated melodic lines from single notes.

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The third Player, Scales & Chords, constrains MIDI tracks or MIDI input to a specific scale and key. If the Chords option is turned on, it creates chords based on the scale and key. You can select from a range of scales and modes including major, minor, harmonic minor, pentatonic, dorian, phrygian, and more. You can also create your own scales using the Custom setting.

With the Chords function on and a scale and key chosen, you can adjust the number of notes in the chord (from 2 to 5) and select one of four different inversions. Playing other notes in the scale will give you chords based on the scale degree you’re playing. In the key of D major and threenote chords selected, playing a D note will yield a D triad, an E note an E major triad, a G note a G major chord, and so forth. The higher the chord note setting, the more complex the chords become. So, for example, if you chose a D Major scale and 4-note chords, you’ll get a Dmaj7 instead of a D triad when you play a D note.

You can also add a note an octave up, an octave down, or both to fatten up the chord. The Color button adds another note and makes the chord more complex, whereas the Alter button is a momentary switch that changes the chord to one that’s not in the selected key, such as changing a major IV chord to minor. For non-keyboard players, Scales & Chords offers the power to play a solo with no “wrong” notes, or to play virtually any chord with one finger.

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PITCHING STAFF

Fig. 2. The Pitch Editor is in the center of this session, which uses the optional Dark GUI Theme. Another notable addition in Reason 9 is the Pitch Edit mode, which is not only powerful but very easy to operate. If you’ve used other pitch editors, Pitch Edit mode will seem familiar (see Figure 2). It shows you the notes from a monophonic audio track in a piano-roll display, with a continuous black line going through them that graphically represents the modulation of pitch. You can select individual notes, or multiple contiguous notes for editing.

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The quickest way to correct a vocal track or section is to select all and apply the Pitch Correct effect, which will move the selected notes to the nearest pitch center. You can also drag a note up or down in pitch. When you do, the setting in the Transpose mode affects whether the note will move to the next note center, to a spot relative to its original pitch, or wherever else you place it.

When a note is selected, it becomes highlighted and sprouts two handles—the Drift Handle and the Transition Handle. Adjusting the Drift Handle lets you reduce the amount of vibrato or modulation in the note. This gives you more control over the editing, as does the ability to use the Razor Tool to cut a note in two, so you can edit them separately.

The Transition Handle smooths the transition times between notes, but it only works on notes you’ve already edited. You also have limited control over the length of notes and their start times, and you can quantize notes from Pitch Edit mode.

All of the editable parameters for the pitch editor, including some that can’t be adjusted from the piano roll, are displayed in editable numerical boxes on the tool bar. These include Position (start time), Note, Fine-Tune, Drift, Preserve (preserves some expression when the Drift is turned way down), Transition, Formant, and Level. Considering the ubiquity of vocal pitch editing in popular music, the Pitch Edit mode is an important addition in terms of Reason’s competitiveness with other DAWs.

And with the addition of Pitch Edit, there are now three edit modes in Reason—Slice Edit, Pitch Edit, and Comp Edit. Propellerhead has made it easier to switch between them by adding dedicated Edit mode buttons in the toolbar. When you select an audio clip in the timeline, you can easily choose the edit mode you want.

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CATCHING THE BOUNCE

Reason 9 also introduces audio-to-MIDI conversion, and its implementation of the feature is both accurate and user-friendly. Just put an audio track into Pitch Edit mode, then right-click (Win) or Control-click (Mac) on an audio Clip and choose Bounce Audio Clips to MIDI: Presto—a new version in the form of a MIDI track appears, with the Subtractor synth assigned initially as the instrument. Alternatively, you can just drag an audio clip onto an instrument in the Arrange view, and Reason will instantly convert it to MIDI.

Based on past experience in other programs, I was expecting the audio-to-MIDI process to do only a so-so job of capturing the rhythmic aspects of the source audio. But when I played the original track and the MIDI version simultaneously, I was impressed with how accurate the conversion was. It wasn’t perfect, but darn close.

As a guitarist who isn’t much of a keyboard player, I love that I can record a lead guitar part, convert it to MIDI, and turn it into a synth solo. It’s also a useful effect to use on vocals. The creative possibilities are vast, especially with Reason’s entire MIDI sound library at your disposal.

Reason 9’s new Bounce in Place feature lets you render any clip—MIDI or audio—with effects, which is great for saving CPU. Just select the clip or clips and hit Bounce in Place, and the rendered version appears below the original track.

Propellerhead has also beefed up Reason’s sound collection with more than 1,000 new sounds, many of which are Combinator patches. If you produce EDM or other electronic genres, you’ll be particularly pleased with the Reason 9 Sounds bank. It contains all the new sounds along with a choice selection from Reason 8. Included with the new sounds is the content from two previously optional Refills, Electromechanical Refill (EP, organ, and Clav sounds) and RDK Vintage Mono (vintage drum sounds). For those who still want access to the older Reason sounds, the Reason Factory Sounds bank is included, as well.

But it’s not just the sounds that have changed, the look of the program has too—that is, if you want it to. Reason 9 lets you switch between the standard color scheme and two other themes, Blue and Dark, which are more in line with the current DAW trend toward dark-colored GUIs. You must restart the program for a theme change to take effect.

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REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

The powerful new features in Reason 9 further enlarge what’s already a robust application: The Players offer powerful new ways to construct and manipulate your MIDI parts; Bounce Audio Clips to MIDI and Bounce in Place significantly enhance your options for moving tracks between formats; and the addition of Pitch Editing means you can now tune vocals inside Reason without having to export or ReWire to another DAW. On my wish list for Reason 10 would be video support, which would make the program even more alluring for those who work with picture.

If you’re a Reason user, Reason 9 is an upgrade worth getting. But if you haven’t tried Reason yet, there’s never been a better time.

STRENGTHS

MIDI Player modules. Pitch Editor. Bounce Audio Clips to MIDI. Bounce in Place. Several workflow additions including Edit Mode buttons. Beefed up Sound library. GUI themes.

LIMITATIONS

No new instruments. Must restart program to see Theme changes

$399 street Reason Essentials 9: $69 street propellerheads.se

Mike Levine is a composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from the New York area