Review: Sample Logic Arpology, Cinematic Dimensions

Sequence four inspirational instrument layers from one library of epic sounds
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Arpeggiators may be one of the most ubiquitous musical toys in the electronic musician’s gig bag. There’s a high probability your DAW and your synthesizer have one or more built into the software or available as a MIDI plugin. If you’re wondering why Sample Logic built an instrument that centers around a musical device that is so readily available — no less, a completely new version, I suggest you check out our October 2014 review of the original instrument, which concluded: “Arpology is a marvelous instrument, traveling well beyond arpeggiation and sequencing and into sound design and musical inspiration.” That’s a tough act to follow, but roughly four years and several releases later, Sample Logic has introduced Arpology Cinematic Dimensions (ARPCD, for brevity) a radical redesign of the instrument, featuring a considerably more powerful engine which includes (for starters) twice the number of “cores”, which are patches unto themselves.

DOWN TO THE CORE

Coming in at roughly 23GB, ARPCD is a hefty download that gathers the sampled sources from the original Arpology, as well as fresh samples recorded for the new instrument, culminating in 1200 presets. The hierarchy of an ARPCD instrument starts with a Multi, which comprises as many as four cores, each of which consists of a preset with its own sample source. Each core enjoys its own signal path, which starts appropriately enough on the Core page, then feeds the Step, Mix, and Master pages.

The Core page is remarkably uncluttered for all that it contains; from that page, you can select a different core preset, access Step parameters for a single core, audition different sources without changing step parameters or, of course — change the whole Multi-enchilada if you want to simply audition more multis.

At the center of the core page is the XY Mixer: a small squared area in which you can shuttle between the relative volumes of the four cores for animated timbral transitions; if you’ve ever played a Prophet VS, a Korg Wavestation, or any vector synth that lets you move between sounds with a joystick, you’ll know how it works. You can assign MIDI Control-Change messages (CC) for real-time modulation, record your own moves along the axes, or choose from a sizeable library of animated presets. Think of it as a sort of LFO or looping envelope with a user-definable shape. As you move the sphere, you’ll find an X/Y readout at the upper left of the header displays its position numerically, relative to the four core editors flanking the XY Mixer. The readout is contextual; depending on the parameter you edit, its current value is reflected there. The ability to compress or expand the range of motion would be a great time saver, and is on my wish list for future development. According to the manual, you can vary the speed of the playback, but this parameter was not visible in the GUI.

Two significant controls sit in the header: a latch-toggle switch, and a randomization button. Consequently, you can loop ARPCD – or any component cores – while performing your edits. It’s a tremendously efficient and musical way to sculpt your sound. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to randomize the entire preset to find what chaos will bring you; ARPCD will oblige you with a push of a button, and the results are generally musical, or only a few tweaks away from something intriguing. Other times, it pays to use chaos a little more precisely, and choose areas you’d like to alter; to that end, ticking off any of the four core buttons will filter the cores you would like to change. For instance, if you’d like to toss the dice to change just the Core 2 step-editor pattern, knock yourself out.

Overall, you get four main categories to work with: Global, Core, Random Play, and Step Animator; from these, you get a selection of parameter groups to randomize (See Fig 1). I wish that the randomizer allowed a more detailed level of parameter selection. For instance, I can randomize the mix parameters, but not the envelope or just filter parameters specifically. In fairness, those are parameters that might warrant more proactive edits, and the ability to randomize at that level of granularity might be a rabbit hole too deep.

Fig 1: A pull-down menu offers a selection of parameters for randomization

Fig 1: A pull-down menu offers a selection of parameters for randomization

STEP IT UP

The main attraction for ARPCD is its sophisticated Step section, whose rhythmic and expressive capabilities go well beyond those of just about any arpeggiator-and step sequencer I can think of (See Fig 2). As mentioned earlier, you can home in on the core you’d like to edit, and the display can reflect your choice of cores. Conversely, you can display all cores at once for editing, albeit, with access to a more limited set of parameters.

Fig 2: A single core’s Step window grants access to the Step Animator (top row) and the Dynamic FX Animator. The blue and gray rectangles indicate an on or off status for the effect. Note that the row for the phaser is modulated by its own step sequencer, as indicated by the small black vertical lines

Fig 2: A single core’s Step window grants access to the Step Animator (top row) and the Dynamic FX Animator. The blue and gray rectangles indicate an on or off status for the effect. Note that the row for the phaser is modulated by its own step sequencer, as indicated by the small black vertical lines

Each core has two step functions. The Step Animator provides notes, chords, and rhythmic motion, and the Dynamic FX Animator performs step-based automation for ARPCD’s effects section. Any event in the Step Animator can be an arpeggio note, a block of time to play non-arpeggiated notes, chords, stutters, glides, or even the dreaded rest. You define the number of steps (up to 128), set the direction, octave, transposition, durations and more at the bottom of each event. You can choose from a number of patterns or create your own, by clicking, then dragging up or down to alter velocity. Because each core has an independent time signature, polyrhythms are a breeze.

The FX Animator is a piece of work. For each of up to a half-dozen effects, you define its occurrence on a rhythmic grid. Dragging a step up or down alters its intensity. As with the Step Animator, you can choose from a number of preset steps or paint them in on your own. At the bottom right of each core’s Step window is a MIDI drag-and-drop icon, which can greatly extend ARPCD’s reach to other synths by simply dragging the part to another track.

MIXED MOTIONS

You’ll find basic subtractive synthesis parameters for each core in the Mixer section (See Fig 3), as well as knobs for Attack/Release envelopes; resonant “Hi-Cut” filters whose response can be modulated by velocity; a selection of EQ presets with a knob to adjust the amount, and a knob to adjust Energy, a parameter which gathers compression, distortion, and saturation. Increasing this parameter adds warmth, punch, and some gritty bite to the core’s overall sound.

Fig 3: The Mix page provides basic synthesis and other sound-shaping tools, as well as the X/Y Mixer

Fig 3: The Mix page provides basic synthesis and other sound-shaping tools, as well as the X/Y Mixer

The reappearance of the X/Y Mixer in this window might seem like a redundancy, but in fact, it’s a boon to those seeking to balance their edits in context with the timbral motion the mixer provides. This proved invaluable when overzealous filter cutoff made the transition between axis points sound awkward.

VOWEL MOVEMENT

The Master page gathers up to six final effects that you apply to the output of all four cores (See Fig 4). You can arrange any of the 22 effects in any order from a pull-down menu that ranges from garden-variety effects such as reverb, chorus, phase shifting, and delay to vowel and formant-type filters; these last two were terrific for superimposing talk box-style performances as the arpeggiators percolated. Rotator simulates a Leslie-type speaker. Twang and cabinet are amp, and cabinet simulators, respectively, and cabinet lets you choose from several models. In most cases, parameters on the Master page are kept simple; for example, Formant only offers Talk, Sharp, and Size; the documentation doesn’t define these parameters specifically; you’ll just have to experiment. Unlike Cabinet, Reverb has no menu of reverb types, although you can shape these pretty well through size, color, damp, pre-delay, and stereo (width). Although the individual master effects have no presets, there’s a menu featuring a baker’s dozen of useful presets that can provide a springboard for your own master-effect creations. Be sure to audition these with any of the multis – they can radically affect the character of a patch in unexpected and often exciting ways.

Fig 4: You can place up to six effects on the Master FX page. Notice that I have selected the compressor icon, whose parameters appear above the row of effects

Fig 4: You can place up to six effects on the Master FX page. Notice that I have selected the compressor icon, whose parameters appear above the row of effects

CAHIERS DU CINÉMA

It’s a hard fact that synthesizers live or die by the quality of their presets, rather than their potential. ARPCD succeeds gloriously on both counts. In my review process, there proved to be no such thing as a quick scan of the presets; most every patch invited extensive exploration and a deep dive into musical and programming possibilities. For instance, as impressive as the multis might be, most every one offered intriguing musical ideas at the individual core level; I found myself creating and saving keepers as I went through the review process. Sometimes writing or making music became a tough choice.

It’s worth mentioning the versatile ARPCD browser, which offers a helpful choice of contextual filters. Select Multis, Cores, Sources, Animator Presets, and choose from tags defining overall character‑all from a single, expertly organized window (See Fig 5). ARPCD requires the full version of Kontakt 5.8 or later.

Fig 5: ARPCD’s browser offers numerous filters and tags to refine your search. The bottom right Source Preview illustrates the tags applied to your current patch selection

Fig 5: ARPCD’s browser offers numerous filters and tags to refine your search. The bottom right Source Preview illustrates the tags applied to your current patch selection

Over time, I’ve come to be wary of the use of the word Cinematic when applied to sound libraries. In truth, the adjective may be accurate, if even somewhat limiting when applied to ARPCD. Musicians of all stripes will find that Sample Logic Arpology Cinematic Dimensions is an inspirational and versatile piece of music software. I recommend you find that out for yourself; meanwhile, I’ll have someone slide my dinner under the door.

STRENGTHS
A versatile collection of animated sounds with seemingly infinite variations. Individual Cores stand on their own. Excellent randomization and browser filters.

LIMITATIONS
Minor glitches and omissions in documentation. Individual master effects have no presets

$399.99
samplelogic.com

Former EM staff editor Marty Cutler is the author of The New Electronic Guitarist, Published by Hal Leonard