Sound Design Workshop: In Step With Maschine

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FIG. 1: Maschine Groups are set up to step-sequence Reason Kong, Redrum, and Dr.OctoRex modules via Advanced MIDI routing in Reason''s Hardware Interface.

When I first got my hands on Native Instruments Maschine, I headed straight for the step sequencer. I''ve always been a fan of MPC-style drum sequencing, and Maschine didn''t disappoint. Once I learned my way around step-sequencing the sounds in Maschine''s extensive library, I wanted to get outside the box and use Maschine with other virtual instruments. That turned out to be incredibly easy.

I''ll start with the setup for working with Propellerhead Reason 5 and the standalone version of Maschine. The process is similar for standalone virtual instruments, DAW plug-ins, and external MIDI hardware.

Launch both Reason and Maschine and then open Reason''s Preferences. Go to the Advanced Control tab and assign one of the buses to Maschine Virtual Output. Now use Reason''s Hardware Interface module to route Maschine to devices in Reason''s rack (see Fig. 1). That allows you to step-sequence 16 Reason devices—one device per MIDI channel.

You can sync Reason''s tempo and clock (but not song position) to Maschine using MIDI Clock, but that''s not necessary for step-sequencing Reason instruments. If you do want to sync them, enable Send MIDI Clock from Maschine''s File menu, point MIDI Clock Sync in Reason''s Advanced Control preferences to Maschine Virtual Output, and set Sync to MIDI Clock from Reason''s Options menu.

Any Reason instrument is eligible for step sequencing, but the resemblance of the new Kong Drum Designer to a classic drum machine makes it an obvious first choice. The easiest setup is to devote a Maschine Group to Kong. Set each of the Group''s 16 sounds as a MIDI Out source on the MIDI channel selected for Kong in Reason''s Hardware Interface module, and set the 16 pads'' Base Keys to C1 through D#2 to match Kong''s default pad assignments. Press Maschine''s Step button to enter step-sequencer mode and start Maschine. Select a sound using Maschine''s Pad Mode button (audible) or Select button (silent), and then use the pads to activate notes at different time positions. Renaming the Group''s sounds to match Kong''s makes selecting sounds easier.

In Step mode, each Maschine pad represents a position on the time grid. Use the Grid button to change the grid size and when the pads don''t span the whole pattern, use buttons B7 and B8 above the LCDs to shift the grid. Temporarily enlarge the grid when you want to enter a longer note.

The Solo and Mute buttons let you solo and mute individual sounds and groups (using the Group buttons). When adding a note, if you continue pressing the pad and twist the Swing knob, the note will be offset from the grid, which is a great way to humanize the feel.

Other natural targets for step sequencing are Redrum and Dr.OctoRex. The same Base Keys work for both, and they offer processing designed specifically for samples and REX files. For REX files with more than 16 slices, use several Groups or modify the sounds'' Base Keys to focus on your preferred 16 slices.

When you''ve generated some patterns you like, drag and drop to export them as standard MIDI files. You can drag them directly to MIDI tracks in most DAWs, but with Reason you need to drag them to your hard drive and then import them using Reason''s File menu.

Len Sasso is a freelance writer and frequent EM contributor.