Fig. 1. Liquid Rhythm shown in standalone mode, with the Beat Builder on the right and the Molecule Tool MIDI effects along the bottom. When one small music software company obsesses over building and refining a single product for more than four years, you get something as simultaneously unique and familiar as Liquid Rhythm, a drum-programming plug-in/standalone workstation that can help you quickly build new beats you wouldn’t have otherwise programmed. It’s essentially a deluxe drum-programming tool with innovative MIDI pattern creators and effects (see Figure 1).
The software works as a standalone mini-DAW (Mac/Win) for MIDI drum track creation or as an AU/RTAS/AAX/VST plug-in with three plug-in modes: Stereo is the most basic; Multi-output sends up to eight stereo/16 mono channels for separate output processing; and the Interplug-in MIDI Routing mode makes Liquid Rhythm into a sequencer- within-a-sequencer that can control the MIDI notes of another VST instrument placed on the same DAW track.
Ableton Live 9 Suite users can enjoy the coolest setup of all, where Liquid Rhythm not only controls other software instruments, but also integrates Live’s Session clips within its own interface for a better workflow. That lets you activate Live clips in Liquid Rhythm, so you can dynamically edit them and switch between different clips all within Liquid Rhythm’s interface.
The program comes with more than 1 GB of drum sample content organized into 12 kits ranging from Acoustic and Rock to Dubstep and Techno. The included drums sound nice, but it’s crucial that Liquid Rhythm lets you integrate sample folders from your desktop to its Library for importing .wav, .aiff, and .mid samples into the software for building beats.
Liquid Rhythm takes on the appearance of a one-window, customizable DAW interface similar to Ableton Live and others. The Arranger sits in the middle, with up to 80 slots for drum tracks with full track headers, Overview Scroll with color-coded tracks, and transport/tempo controls across the top.
The rest of the layout harkens to Live as well, with most elements collapsible to manage space: the content Library to the left, MIDI effect modules in a bar across the bottom, an info box on the bottom and many of the special beat-creation tools to the right.
Those tools really comprise the crux of what makes Liquid Rhythm special. Its offloading of drum programming from a DAW to a plug-in or standalone program (with convenient audio and MIDI exporting) wouldn’t make much sense unless it was innovative in its methods for creating those beats. Liquid Rhythm does that by using a unique modular notecluster system for rhythm creation.
Fig. 2. The BeatForm (pictured) and BarForm Maps show all the patterns available, with suggestions highlighted. You can drag patterns into the Arranger, Beat Builder, or BeatWeaver. The system relies on BeatForms and BarForms (see Figure 2). Both are clusters of notes lasting either a full measure (BarForm) or a single eighth note (BeatForm). You’ll find a BeatForm for basically any note combination of a certain time signature possible within one beat, and then a BarForm for any combination of eight BeatForms possible. A Maps section shows you all the available combinations in groups, with suggested clusters for each type of drum highlighted. You can drag clusters straight from the Maps into an Arranger track to build rhythms.
Every method for beat creation is available, including live recording using a MIDI controller (MIDI learn mode available) or the Computer Keyboard mode, which turns 16 QWERTY keys into a drum pad. But many of Liquid Rhythm’s key features revolve around the placement and/or editing of BeatForm and BarForm note clusters.
For instance, the Beat Builder pops up in the right-hand column and includes the BarForm List and BeatForm Sequencer. When you select a drum track, the BarForm List comes up with a list of suggested bar clusters based on the type of drum. From there, you just need to select a bar in the Arranger and click a BarForm in the list to populate the Arranger track with it. List filters let you alter the list, for example, showing all the possible BarForms, or you can save BarForms to Favorites for quick recall. For now, there is only one Favorites list, but it would be nice to create multiple Favorites grouped by instrument, genre, project, etc.
BeatForm Sequencer is like a grid sequencer for BeatForms, with eight BeatForm slots for each bar. Here you can quickly alter the BarForms you dropped in the Arranger: Change BeatForm values by clicking different slots on or off and change the notes of the individual BeatForms.
Fig. 3. With each BeatForm added to it, the BeatWeaver creates a list of possible BarForm combinations, which you can dial in using knobs to find the patterns you want. The BeatWeaver Rhythm Synthesizer (Figure 3) is similar to the Beat Builder but offers a different method for arriving at BarForm combinations. If you select rhythms in the arranger, the Beat- Weaver creates a pool of all the available Beat- Forms and then creates a list of all the possible combinations that those BeatForms could “weave” into BarForms. The BeatWeaver also lets you import any BarForms you want from lists or from the Maps and includes an 8-step sequencer for choosing when note clusters should occur in the rhythm.
POURING ON THE MIDI
Molecule Tools (or MIDI effects lined up across the bottom of the window) let you quickly customize, randomize, and/or “humanize” the rhythms in the Arranger. The Randomizer lets you select any portion of the Arranger and randomly fill it with rhythms with a single click, with many different options for determining the parameters and limitations of the randomization. The GrooveMover rearranges the timing and accents of patterns based on the color blocks in each BarForm, and is a good way to create variations in repeating drum patterns.
The powerful Accent Mods tool can quickly alter the velocity and “groove” (timing) of as many notes as you select, with different settings for three BarForm color codings. Velocity and Groove sliders have selectable ranges, so you can further “humanize” the results with random variations, or quickly select a preset variation curve.
The most important questions are: Will Liquid Rhythm help me make beats faster, make beats I otherwise would not have created on my own, and make beats rhythmically more interesting? I say yes, on all counts.
If you want to ease into the program at a lower cost, check out Liquid Rhythm Intro ($49), which provides many of the groove-creation tools, minus a few MIDI features such as BeatWeaver, Groove- Mover, and Randomizer.
Innovative MIDI sequencing. 12 starter drum kits. Imports samples. Convenient bouncing to audio and MIDI. Suitable for live performance. Huge variety of beat-creation and editing methods. Intro version retains most of the key features for a low price.
Only one global set of BeatForm Favorites. Sample import limited to .wav, .aiff and .mid formats.
Wave DNA Liquid Rhythm 1.4.2:
Liquid Rhythm Intro:
Quick Tips: Melodic Rhythm
Liquid Rhythm was designed for drums, and its documentation warns that using it for other instruments may cause wacky results. However, that sounds like an excellent excuse for trying it for other instruments.
If you have Ableton Live 9 Suite (which includes Max for Live) or PreSonus Studio One 2, you can drop Liquid Rhythm onto a MIDI track and then also place a VST instrument (or Live internal instrument device) onto the same track, and then Liquid Rhythm’s sequencer will control that instrument. Liquid Rhythm uses the General MIDI standard for drum instruments, so it works great with drum VSTs. It also worked well for many (but not all) VST synths that I tried with it.
When using any other DAW, try dragging into the Arranger a scale’s worth of samples from any musical instrument that is usually monophonic, like a stringed instrument, piano, synth lead, etc.
Now, you can sequence the instruments as you normally would with a keyboard, but you could already do that with your DAW. Experimenting with dragging or painting in BeatForms can be interesting and productive, but that often results in a noisy mess. So try using the Randomizer with the Collaborate box checked. That ensures that there won’t be any note overlap from the tracks.
If sequencing a virtual instrument, you will have one track for each note, so it may take a little more work to only select tracks that will sound good for the key you’re in, or for notes of a particular chord. But if you’re just dragging in samples, you can pre-select the notes you want, and click away at the Randomizer until you come up with some winning patterns.