Sound Design Workshop: It's About Time

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Time Designer, new in Spectrasonics' Stylus RMX Xpanded 1.7, is the perfect tool for forcing disparate sliced loops into a congenial stew. With it you can prune, time shift, create variations, match grooves and even change time signatures. Furthermore, you can browse your entire RMX library with these settings dialed in. Time Designer can at first seem daunting, but the best way to get a handle on it is to dive right in. I'll start with eight loops in a complete train wreck and show how to use Time Designer to make them play well together quickly.


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FIG. 1: The Time Designer lets you simplify, re-groove and vary slice loops individually or globally.

Start by loading up RMX's eight channels with loops in 4/4. (Time-signature changes, which I'll cover in a moment, affect only 4/4 loops.) Devote a couple of RMX channels to beats with different styles. For example, select a straight groove from the Core library's Electronic section and a looser groove from the Swing section. Load the remaining channels with effects and instrumental clips. If you have some sampled construction kits in REX format, you might want to import some of these because the RMX library is heavily rhythm-oriented. Browse for each channel with the others turned off and just grab interesting parts without worrying whether they work together. When you're done, play the whole mix. It should sound terrible; if it doesn't, start over (see Web Clip 1).

Click the Time tab at the bottom of the RMX interface to reveal the Time Designer control panel, turn on the Global button at the top-right, and then turn on the Power button at the top-left (see Fig. 1). With Global on, changes made to one channel are applied to all channels, and that includes turning Time Designer on. Leave Global on for now.

With all channels playing, turn up the Simplify knob. You'll hear the mix get less busy and see the changes reflected in the Pattern Display area. The light bars in the bottom row indicate the slices that are playing and their positions relative to the Groove Lock Grid on top. The Groove Lock Grid shows the original slicing until an alternative groove is chosen from the menu. Simplifying will get rid of a lot of confusion in the mix (see Web Clip 2).

Next select the groove of one of your beat's channels from the Groove Lock menu. (You need to be viewing a different channel from the one you select.) Depending on how mismatched the feel of your various clips is, the effect will range from barely noticeable to tightening things up considerably (see Web Clip 3). You may want to use the Strength slider to adjust individual channels (Global off); the center position eliminates Groove Lock entirely.

Time and Variation

Changing a part's time signature has a radical impact. For one thing, it rearranges the slices in unpredictable ways — the Variation control lets you select among different rearrangements. Changing the time signature also affects the length of the loop. Therefore, if you do it for some parts and not for others, their relative alignment will change as they play, which can produce interesting longer forms. In your example, change the time signature globally to 6/8 and then audition each of the variations.

One way to get a handle on how variations differ is to drag their MIDI clips to tracks of your plug-in host and examine them visually. Playing them from the host is an easy way to mix and match variations, but be sure to turn RMX's Host Sync off first (see Web Clip 4). Be aware that depending on how your host handles clips, you may need to trim the clip or adjust its time signature in the host to get it to loop correctly. (It will always loop correctly when played from within RMX.)

Once you've settled on a variation, you'll probably want to tweak the individual parts with Global turned off. Begin with two or three channels, and add channels as you go. Adjusting the Simplify amount, the Variation, and the Coarse and Fine Time-Shift settings are good places to start. For example, if the harmony is not changing, you might use the Coarse control to shift the bass by a few quarter-notes to create a more interesting relationship with the piano or guitar. On the other hand, you'd use the Fine control to tighten up the sync between the bass and the kick drum (see Web Clip 5).

Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful, visit his Website,