Despite today's proliferation of music software, it still pays to be deft with old-fashioned hardware. Both are interchangeably used in studio environments, and nowhere is this combination better exemplified than in Propellerhead Reason. Built from the ground up like a software mirror image of old-school hardware, Reason provides many major components of a full analog studio — complete with a simulated rack, screws and cables. It's the single best place for any newbie to learn about both software and hardware. (A demo is available from www.propellerheads.se.)
GEAR LUST LAUNDRY LIST
Reason 3 consists of a MIDI/soundcard interface, two different mixers, two synthesizers, two samplers, two patch bays, a loop player, a drum machine, a matrix sequencer, various effects (reverb, delay and so on), dynamics processors (including compression and EQ) and more. Upon launching Reason, only the audio/MIDI interface is present. First add a mixing console by choosing Mixer 14:2 from the Create menu. Try punching any button or moving any knob or fader, and you'll see that you have complete control. One of the coolest things about Reason is its inclusion of all necessary interconnect cables between modules — just like with hardware. Press the Tab key on your keyboard to toggle between the front and rear views of the rack and the cables.
IN BACK OF THE RACK
Notice that Reason has automatically cabled the mixer to the soundcard interface. Try clicking-and-dragging the Master Out Left cable from its insert point on the mixer to an empty space (any noninsert point), and you'll notice that the two cables disappear. To reconnect, click-and-drag from the Master Out Left on the mixer to the Input 1 on the interface, and you'll see that Reason helps you once again by reconnecting the corresponding right channel. That automatic-pairing assistance works with only left channels; right-channel cables will always connect/disconnect themselves.
Without re-pressing Tab, right-click (or Control-click on a Mac) in the empty space below the mixer and select Redrum drum computer from the contextual menu, and then repeat to create a Subtractor synthesizer and a Matrix sequencer. In each instance, Reason automatically cables them for you. The Matrix is not actually an instrument; it's not connected to the mixer but instead connected to the Subtractor. Try reconnecting one of the cables from the Matrix to an empty input on the mixer — Reason won't allow it. That is because the jacks on the Matrix are CV — Control Voltage. Descendants of analog equipment, CV connections act like remote controllers. They can make instruments do things such as fire drum sounds, control volume, sweep panning from left to right and much more. In this case, the Matrix will “play” the synthesizer.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The last thing to add is a reverb unit. With both Reason and hardware, effects modules can be added in three ways: between the effected piece of gear and a mixer (“inline”), as an “insert” (a special connection that interrupts a signal path) or as a “send-return.” In this case, use the traditional, flexible, mixer send-return. Scroll up to the mixer, right-click on it and select RV7000 Advanced Reverb from the Create submenu. By selecting the mixer first, Reason automatically cables the reverb for you; the cables going to and from the RV7000 unit are connected to the mixer's Aux Send and Return jacks, respectively. For practice, disconnect and reconnect the RV7000. Right-click on RV7000's Audio Input L(eft) and choose Disconnect, then repeat that with the Audio Output L(eft.) Now click-and-drag from the RV7000's Audio Output L (you should see the cable dragging) and drop it on the mixer's Aux Return 1 Left. Do the same from RV7000's Audio Input L to the mixer's Aux Send Out 1 Left; you should have four total cables going to and from the RV7000.
MAKE SOME NOISE
Press the Tab key to flip back to the front of the rack. Fixed to the bottom of the screen are Reason's Transport controls (start, stop, record, etc.). Press the Start button, and you'll hear the Subtractor play a series of high monotones. Scroll to the bottom of the rack to bring the Subtractor and the Matrix into view. First, try manipulating the different knobs, faders and buttons on Subtractor to see how they affect the sound (for step-by-step directions, check out Reason's Help menu). Now click-and-drag each of the horizontally and vertically aligned red lights on the Matrix up or down to vary the tones produced and each tone's individual volume, respectively. Try clicking on the Shuffle button and manipulating the Resolution dial to see what happens.
Call up a Patch (set of drum sounds) for Redrum. (Choose Device Reference and then Contents in the Help menu for directions.) Audition each drum sound by pressing the arrow buttons on Redrum's 10 drum channels. By pressing the Select button on any channel and activating any of the 16 steps along the bottom of Redrum, you can build basic drum patterns. Press the Run button to start Redrum's sequencer, then turn different steps on and off for each drum sound until you craft a pattern you like. Now add reverb. Scroll up to the mixer, and notice that each channel has Aux 1-4 level knobs. Raise Aux 1 on the drums slowly and listen as the reverb fades in. Look to the right, and you'll see a master Return level for each Aux bus. Altering the masters brings effects levels up or down for all channels.
You're now on your way to producing a song in Reason and possessing a basic understanding of it and its hardware counterparts. Stay tuned for part two of this discussion next month.