A virtual instrument that offers a shrewd combination of sequencers, arpeggiators, and a whole lot more
AS A bluegrass banjo player, I’ve always loved arpeggiators; the rolling, rhythmic patterns strike a responsive chord (no pun intended). Likewise, step sequencers open up a different creative window from real-time playing and sequencing, enabling musicians to spin out lines and chords that might be beyond their (or anyone’s) physical abilities. Such patterns and motifs can often serve as kick-starters for songs.
However, the functionality of these devices has gone beyond providing simple lines and chords. For example, MIDI Control Change messages (CC) are grist for the mill, providing various ways to create sweeping animation. With the merger of arpeggiators and step sequencers, sounds can take on melodic and rhythmic dimensions at the same time.
Anyone familiar with Sample Logic’s work will know its predilection for intricate rhythms merged with cinematic sound design. The company’s Arpology greatly expands the art and science of rhythmic pattern generation, and its unique toolset holds plenty of creative surprises.
As with other Sample Logic products, Arpology is hosted in Native Instruments Kontakt 5 (or the free Kontakt Player), but it differs in significant ways. It’s not trivial to consider that the accompanying library of sounds was built for the arpeggiator, not the other way around, as is often the case. As you go through Arpology’s patches, it’s clear that the sounds are carefully mated to the patterns and moods suggested by their titles. It stands to reason, then, that the patterns do not directly address your other plug-ins or external instruments.
With the release of Arpology Version 1.2, you can simply drag the last pattern you played into your host program’s MIDI track, and route it wherever you please (with the caveat that delays and other rhythmic components may be difficult to reproduce). More importantly, Arpology features have more programming depth and real-time functions than any other arpeggiator I’ve seen.
As with most Kontakt layouts, the top level of Arpology breaks down into Instruments (single patches) and Multis. Three instrument subfolders—Cinematic/Organic, Electronic, and Percussive-Impacts—collectively provide hundreds of presets. Hit the Multi tab for a folder of Instrument Stacks and One-Note Glory. The manual suggests auditioning the Multis folder first, but either way, you’ll be impressed, and the instruments may give you a clearer idea of the depth of Arpology’s capabilities.
Each patch can draw from four additional preset folders: Chordal-Gated, Glitch- Experimental, Melodic, and Non-Chordal. Each folder has 18 presets, multiplying the versatility of each instrument patch. The difference between Chordal and Non-Chordal folders is that the latter always breaks the notes held into an arpeggiation, whereas the former—sometimes in addition to arpeggiation—adds a chordal pattern based on the notes held. In general, the patches are a varied lot, and there is plenty of musical overlap between folders: Given the instrument’s depth of programmability, distinctions between folders are mostly nominal and easily transcended. For example, a patch in the Glitch-Experimental folder can easily be transmuted into a Melodic performance, and vice versa.
Fig. 1. In Arpology’s Step Animator window, the grey section on top provides momentary real-time controls that interact with the stepsequence editor in the lower area.Arpologia Arpology’s main screen presents two important areas, both aimed at real-time pattern transformation. The Step Animator section comprises two sections, with the step-editing section occupying the lower half of the window (see Figure 1). Based on the number of steps per pattern (you can use up to 64 steps), Arpology presents a horizontal row for each of the eight parameters.
From the Step Type row, select an overall template to fill a pattern, such as all notes, or introduce several types of gate patterns or stutters, or fill the pattern with rests. In addition, you can edit any individual step, choosing a single note, a rest, a glide for swooping pitches, different types of stutters, and free play mode for individual notes.
Use the slider to set the velocity for each step, select a preset map, or engage the randomizer with scalable percentages. The latter proved to be a great way to introduce unexpected syncopations. A switch toggles the pattern’s response to keyboard dynamics or its own velocity settings.
You can set the arpeggiator type to Up, Down, As Played, Random, or to one of several chords based on your MIDI input. Many of the patches punctuate arpeggios with chords, to great effect.
The heart of Arpology’s step sequencer is the Transpose row, which sets individual note pitches relative to MIDI input. In this way, melodic motifs can be transposed using MIDI notes, allowing you to create elements like ostinato bass lines.
You can also set the duration of each note. If your note lengths fall outside or under the chosen pattern length, Arpology tells you what you need to fill out the bars. This section is context-sensitive and displays edit values.
For steps in which you have enabled the stutter effect, the Stutter row repeats a note at a selected rate, from 1/16 to 1/192, creating an effect ranging from tremolo to a granular buzz.
Last but not least, Pan provides knobs that place a step within the stereo field. Pan, Duration, and Velocity each have a pencil tool, and clicking it displays a grid to draw in modulation. At the top, real-time buttons let you latch notes while keeping the pattern in play so you can add parts, freeing your hands up for other controls: Dial in some swing, or run out for a sandwich; momentarily add stuttering; or freeze and restrict playback to a portion of the pattern. The Random button will act on any of the parameters in the Step Animator whose R button is activated.
Several of the editable rows have a button that enables Mod Wheel control (CC1) over the parameter values, but this is generally hard to control. Scaling the mod wheel would be a valuable addition to Arpology’s feature set.
Fig. 2. The Effects section provides a second synthesizer, in addition to a mixer, programmable trigger effects, and LFOs.Do the Wave At this point, you would presume that Arpology is merely a very cool arpeggiator, but it’s significantly deeper. Click on the Effects tab to reveal a row of level controls for Filter, LoFi, Dist, Pitch, Wave, Delay, and Reverb, each with a button to toggle the effects on and off (see Figure 2). Click on the name of the effect to open up additional editing parameters. For example, under Reverb the parameters include the reverb type (digital or convolution), as well as Size, Color, Predelay, and Damping.
The biggest surprise of the lot is when you click on Wave. This reveals Arpology’s wavetable synthesizer, which can run independently of the sampled sounds. The editing for the Wave synth is skeletal, but it’s enough to create some basic timbre and envelope changes. The Wave follows the global arpeggiator patterns, but you can step sequence the volume parameter, for instance, and create additional textures and syncopations.
Samples and the master output can also use this secondary sequencer. The mixer section provides a slider for the sample levels and overall output. It is flanked by knobs for volume envelope, compression, EQ, and high-and lowcut filters.
Next to the mixer button is a section for setting up trigger effects at the bottom range of your controller keys. Here, choose from an assortment of presets for filters, delays, and so on. You can also engage the triggers by clicking onscreen pads.
Arpology lets you program as many as eight LFOs with hard-wired destinations, such as low and high frequencies, sample rate, drive, volume, and of course, pitch, volume, and pan. Thankfully, this section lets you scale modulation by percentage.
Fig. 3. Arpology’s Multis let you add control knobs, each of which has its own step sequencer.Arpology Accepted I’d be remiss if I did not mention the excellent single-instrument patches and multis. Virtually every one that I went through was a keeper and a potential song starter, and even those that might not have rung my chimes were often only a couple of tweaks away from inspiration. The Multi section harbors huge, supremely musical, cinematic-sounding monsters, with knobs for real-time control—and another sequencer for each knob. You can add more controls if your CPU can handle it (see Figure 3).
If you have an iPad, do yourself a favor and purchase the TouchOSC app, which, along with Sample Logic’s included Arpology patch, gives you remote touchscreen control over Arpology’s most important features.
Arpology is a marvelous instrument, traveling well beyond arpeggiation and sequencing and into sound design and musical inspiration. Any one of the hundreds of patches can easily seed new and surprising variations. I look forward to many musical hours with it. You should, too.
Bluegrass banjoist and former Electronic Musician editor Marty Cutler recently acquired a choice Mastertone five-string acoustic arpeggiator.
STRENGTHS: Immensely programmable and flexible. Plenty of real-rime control provides seemingly infinite pattern variations. Drag and drop patterns as MIDI data.
LIMITATIONS: Drag and drop of arpeggiator patterns do not always translate accurately to other instruments.