Loop-based performance programs garner most of the attention for using software live. But if you look under Propellerhead Reason's hood and think outside the loop, you'll see that it's an amazing live-performance tool with capabilities that are often impossible to duplicate in a loop-based program. Reason 3's Combinator device, enhanced remote-control features and ability to route every output to just about anywhere allow it to be configured for a variety of performance applications, from straight-ahead keyboard jamming to remixing loops on the fly.
The Combinator can combine any Reason 3 device to form ear-catching, multilayered patches, but it also has a practical side as a keyboard-split mapping device. A keyboard range can be set for any synthesizer or sampler within the Combinator. For example, an NN-XT sampler might be assigned a keyboard range of C2 to B4, while a Subtractor in that same Combinator has a range of C5 to G8. If you have a 49-key (or larger) MIDI keyboard, you can squeeze in two to three keyboard splits — for three to four distinct sounds — all at your fingertips simultaneously from a single Combinator device.
Every synthesizer or sampler in the Combinator can have its own Velocity zone. That lets you add a vertical dimension to your patch mapping. For example, you might have a solo horn patch assigned to the Velocity range of 1 to 84 and have a full-blown horn section set to the Velocity range of 85 to 127. If you play with a light touch, you'll trigger the solo horn; if you strike the keyboard hard, you'll trigger the complete horn section. Between the keyboard-split and the Velocity zones, you could easily have six totally different sounds on your controller at the same time — set up and ready to play — without touching your computer.
Almost every parameter of every Reason 3 device can be mapped to a MIDI controller. A knob can sweep the oscillator waveform of a Subtractor patch, or the Velocity message sent from a keyboard note can modulate the Sample Start time of an NN-19 sample. For live performance, however, controlling a global effect can be a lot of fun. Rather than trying to remotely control each device's filter individually, route all of the devices that you want to filter through a submixer. Then, insert an ECF-42 Envelope Controlled Filter between the submixer and Reason's Hardware Interface input. Set the ECF-42's resonance to about 64, and map the cutoff frequency to a controller knob. With Reason playing a sequence or while you're playing the keyboard, turn the controller knob for the classic filter sweep effect. Use that same process to insert effects such as reverb, delay and distortion between a mixer and the Hardware Interface, and then control the effects' wet-to-dry mix ratio.
To change seamlessly between patterns playing on a pattern sequencer (such as Redrum or Matrix), try controlling the pattern and bank changes from a MIDI controller knob. To move quickly between tracks in the sequencer (in which the track that is record-armed dictates the device that you're controlling), assign a key on your keyboard to step up the track list and another key to step down the track list. A couple of unused keyboard keys will also work well for stepping through a device's patches. (Remote control for Target Previous/Next Track and Select Previous/Next Patch are assigned from the Additional Remote Overrides window.) Handling many parameters in Reason directly from your MIDI controller and keyboard lets you focus on the performance rather than the computer.
PATCH AUDIO ANYWHERE
A key feature of DJing software is the ability to route signals to another stereo output — besides the master output — for headphone cueing. During a performance, the option to audition a patch or sequence before adding it to the main mix is a big plus. Though headphone cue is not preconfigured in Reason, it's possible to set it up with the addition of a multi-output soundcard (such as MOTU Traveler) and a DJ mixer. By routing the stereo outputs of a Reason device to a stereo pair of inputs on the Hardware Interface (such as inputs 5 and 6) and then taking the corresponding outputs from the soundcard (such as outputs 5 and 6) and connecting them to a stereo input on the DJ mixer, you gain discrete level and cue control over a device (or group of devices, if using Combinator or a mixer). Anything in Reason's rack can be headphone cued, provided you have enough individual outputs on your soundcard and plenty of DJ mixer channels.
There is another way to route the audio for headphone cueing. The audio from Reason's browser always runs through a device's stereo outputs, unless the patch you're auditioning has individual output assignments (which is rare). Consequently, you'll need to split a device's stereo output into two stereo feeds, using the Spider Audio Merger & Splitter. Send one stereo feed to a mixer device (such as the Mixer 14:2 or the Line Mixer 6:2) labeled Cue, and send the other stereo feed to a mixer labeled Mix. Take the outputs of the Cue mixer and route them to inputs 1 and 2 on the Hardware Interface. Take the outputs of the Mix mixer and route them to inputs 3 and 4 on the Hardware Interface. Connect the corresponding outputs of your soundcard to the appropriate inputs on your DJ mixer. Use channel 1 on the DJ mixer exclusively for cueing patches and channel 2 for outputting the main mix. To quickly mute and unmute channels on the Mix mixer (thereby adding or removing a device's signal from the main mix), map the mixer's channel mute buttons to keys on a MIDI controller.
In Reason 3, it's possible to assemble almost any type of live-performance rack you can imagine, complete with custom audio routing and MIDI control. After a significant investment of time, you'll have a unique virtual performance rack perfectly tailored to your particular needs. Loop-based performance programs are amazing, but there's nothing like hitting the stage with a customized rack of MIDI gear, even if it's inside your laptop.