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20 December 2011

IZOTOPE T-PAIN BUNDLE | *£59.95/*$99

*Be mindful that iZotope's European distributor Time+Space is offering this £59.95 money-saving deal on The T-Pain Bundle until a time that is yet to come (as about as accurate as can be had for now), while iZotope's US website has it at $99, a saving of $59 on the US SRP.

REVIEW
When a singer has a bad throat and there’s still a job to do, he or she may reach for a potion enriched by dextromethorphan, eg Robitussin. Interestingly, if you take a butt-load you enter an anaesthetised, dissociative state called robo-tripping. But what if the singer can’t sing anyway? Not through malady or overdosing on meds, but because they're tone deaf. Well, for the young, good-looking, pneumatic type who’s sectionable enough to want to give up every last shred of credibility in the pursuit of X-list celebrity, there’s good news. And yes, I am addressing those attention-craving nut-jobs who aspire to be assembled in facilities like The X Factory.

Singers who can’t sing have long been able to bluff their way, in live performance or on TV, by miming. However, trouble arises in pressure situations, such as facing a microphone in a recording studio and having no control over the pitch of what’s coming out of one’s gob. It’s a bad idea to use a real singer, as Milli Vanilli discovered, but there is a work-around: Robo-singing. And no, it doesn't involve DXM, ketamine or PCP, although you may need such stuff when the tabloid press has finished with your private life. Prior to that, we've a technological solution called autotune, by which the voice is cranked forcibly into pitch.

One artist taking autotune to the extreme is vocal-tech-toting radical T-Pain, a man inclined to mix it up with urban, or RnB, or something - well, he talks a lot, so let's call it rap with frilly bits. And his take on the genre has lately been given an extra shove by that most rad of software developers, iZotope. So, leaving a polemic on autotune in modern pop production until later, let's take a butcher's at iZ's The T-Pain Bundle.

30 November 2011

FXPANSION GEIST 1.0.4.4* | £99**

REVIEW ROUND-UP
Zeitgeist, a German word that's firtled its way into the English language, translates as 'time' and 'spirit'. Sure, it’s taken to mean ‘spirit of the age’ but, taken literally, it encompasses two significant notions to those intent on fashioning spirited grooves in as little time as possible. Ironically, it seems to have taken an age for MuzoBlog to summon a post on FXpansion’s groovester Geist, but there is method in the timing.

Launched late last year, this sampling instrument was, and still is, billed as ‘a complete, integrated rhythm production sandbox for the studio, for the tour bus or the stage’, fusing sample-sculpting tools with peppy pattern step-sequencing, enabling you to rapidly browse, slice and assign loops to pads in a ‘slick unified environment’. Saving time when devising rhythm patterns was high on FXpansion’s agenda and the media coverage that appeared shortly after launch was, and is, very positive in the main, backing up the developer’s claims of speed and ease of use. Provided you’re au fait with step-sequencing techniques, that is. Well, time has lately become of the essence for those not already having a Geistly time of things, hence this timely article and the twin asterisks in the headline. To whit...

24 November 2011

A BLACK FRIDAY FOR RP-DELAY

Buy Papen's RP-Delay for £10 and...
...get RP-Distort for £[cue tumbleweed]
EDITORIAL - BARG ALERT!
MuzoBlog is not typically a port of call for catching up on retailers' or distributors' special offers. However, very occasionally, a bargain will come a-romping to the field, horns waving, flags blaring, making like a mountain troll at the gates of Minas Tirith - ie, a conspicuous no-brainer you'd be daft to resist. That's not to say Rob Papen's RP-Delay smells of squished orc. On the contrary, this AU/VST/RTAS plugin, along with its comrade in ambience RP-Verb, is well precious. I'll leave it to Papen to point out the pertinent, such as extensive modulation implementation, the means to reverse reflections as you like and even simulate the characteristics of tape delay. Let’s just say that from now until 30 November, the download from UK distributor Time+Space will cost you but £10.

That's right, T+S is offering RP-Delay for 10 measly quid (or €12 in foreign) and, on registering the product with the developer, you get a free copy of RP-Distort. So, two juicy plugs that would otherwise retail for €98 in total (or $138 in the currency of a certain British colony that celebrates Thanksgiving, or some such) can be yours for the price of a small-ish turkey. I happen to know that both effectors are particularly fruity because both are deployed in The Surgery, MuzoBlog's test facility, and are gaining much favour. The AU and VST incarnations are 64-bit (as well as backward compatible for 32-bit environments), hence multiple instances can be loaded on multi-core, well RAMmed computers with impunity ready to echo and distort programme material into whatever space or state of distress is appropriate. In lieu of a more comprehensive MuzoBlogpost on each, like wot I wrote for Papen's RP-Verb in September 2010, I'll point you to RP-Delay's and RP-Distort's product pages at the developer's site for a take on the headline features and audio examples a-go-go. So ready your plastic and prepare to poke T+S's shiny new servers.

17 October 2011

EASTWEST THE DARK SIDE | €355.81/$395

REVIEW
Upon a time, a man named Doug saw a huge, gaping hole. Peering into its murky depths, he neither saw nor heard a thing. Not a peep, ping or wobble-bass. Then and there, he avowed to fill this hole with sound. But not with the pristine timbres of real-world instruments - he wanted something more edgy and with a dollop of bedlam. So began his journey towards The Dark Side - a product addressing a hole in a market crying out for banged-up, distorted, ouchy-sounding sonics. Says our protagonist Doug Rogers, founder of specialist sample-production powerhouse EastWest: “The Dark Side idea came to me when I was mentoring a young alternative group about some demos they sent me. To my ears, the tracks didn’t sound tough enough for their intended market, so I told them they needed to toughen up their sound.” Trawling the sample library market, including EastWest’s considerable catalogue, he couldn’t find the “mass aural destruction” required to finesse the band’s ditties. So, partnering with Grammy-winning producer and famed doyen of distortion devotees everywhere Dave Fridmann, he set about trashing the timbres of traditional instruments in order to achieve full-on sonic mayhem in a neatly organised EastWest instrument.

11 October 2011

TOONTRACK EZMIX | £45.95

REVIEW
There are those who assert that the greatest invention in the history of humankind is the wheel. Then there are the more pragmatic who point out that even more significant was the invention of the second wheel. And it's this notion of reinventing the wheel that, while a boon for cyclists in a hurry, can cost valuable time when mixing a track in a hurry. Come mixdown, a common enough approach is to flatten the EQs, set all effects and other processing to neutral, zero the faders and start from scratch, effectively embarking on reinvention. Naturally, the experienced engineer or producer will have a few tricks up his or her sleeve and will rapidly deploy them as the programme material dictates. If it's a rock track, application of the ideal EQ, compression and ambience for the drums will be second-nature. A wafty ballad may demand a particular reverb on the vocal and, if the singer is an X Factor winner or other B-list celebrity, there'll be the immediate lunge for an auto-tune insert. Such experience, typically arrived at through trial and error, is hard-won, but pays dividends when rushing a production to market.

For the inexperienced, or the project-studio pilot wanting good results fast without having to absorb years of sound-engineering lore, wouldn't it be handy to have preset production techniques instantly to hand? Rather than doing battle with an incomprehensible 30-band graphic EQ, suffering compression depression or wracking one's brain in search of the right reverb setting, how about instant track processing that's just the ticket and within easy actuation via a few mouse-clicks? Enter Toontrack EZmix, a VST/AU/RTAS plugin for Windows and OS X developed in conjunction with renowned DSP developer Overloud and engorged with the collective experience of a small army of audio engineers.

10 October 2011

ABLETON LIVE 8.2.6 | FROM €349
PLUS PUREMAGNETIK RETRO SYNTHS | €FREE!*

REVIEW: UPDATE
If you’ve had your head in a bucket for the past 10 years, three things may have happened. You’ll be sick of the smell of KFC, you may have acquired the shredding skills of Buckethead himself and you will not have encountered mention of Ableton’s DJ-friendly, muzo-matey digital audio workstation (DAW) Live. You may also be unaware of the fact that Live has cranked itself up to v8.2.6 and, for a limited period, there’s a FREEBIE worth €79 going FREE, at NO COST and FOR NOWT. Fans of retro synthesizers - Moogs, ARPs, Korgs and more - steel thyselves for a bargain. Provided you’re a registered Live/Suite 8 user, that is. Meantime, for the bucket-bonce afflicted, let's rapidly recap this DAW's past decade. Live burst into life in October 2001 and was initially perceived as a tool enabling those who’d become bored playing other people’s records (ie, DJs) to realize aspirations of producing their own material. Live’s main selling point was the ease with which loops could be imported and warped to match the tempo and pitch of a project, then triggered at appropriate points for on-the-fly creation of new tunes (or ‘toonz’, even).

Real musicians were quick to latch onto Live’s potential for easy and intuitive jamming - something not so readily possible with regular DAWs, which require some degree of careful prep when composing new material. The simplicity of Live’s two uncluttered interfaces was, and is, a big draw. We’ve Session for triggering audio and MIDI clips, providing an excellent environment for musical experimentation and improvised live performance; and Arrange offering a more traditional sequencer-style layout when it’s time to stop wincing about and structure a coherent composition. If this is all new to you, and you've a spare minute, let's have developer Ableton’s CEO Gerhard Behles give a brief overview of what Live is about...

07 October 2011

MOOG MOOGERFOOGER MF-102 Review | £249
OR... HOW TO SOUND LIKE A DALEK

© BBC/Terry Nation 1963
Photograph © Radio Times
REVIEW
C’mon, you know you’ve always wanted to do it. Stuck in an interminable meeting with some idiot blurting rubbish. Or when sharply ordered to do something by the boss you loathe. Or answering the phone for the fifth time in a day to have a foreign-accented cold-caller asking about your energy supplier.

The red mist descends, apoplexy bubbles up and you just want to shout “EXTERMINATE!”. Then again, perhaps you’re just a very annoyed singer in an industrial band.

For all that the human voice is the ultimate musical instrument, sometimes vocalists, like guitarists, want to mess it up with effects. Double or triple-tracking has been with us for an age; phasing since the ‘60s (Ichycoo Park, anyone?); megaphone effects abound (step forward Muse with a verse from Feeling Good, among other examples); and all manner of echo and reverb treatments litter recording history.

These days, of course, it’s rare to find a pop vocal that hasn’t been brutally smashed into tune automatically with a nasal-sounding pitch-correction gizmo. Then there’s the hard-tune effect that’s been running rampant over dance-floor ditties since the turn of the Millennium, making people who really, really can’t sing sound like pitch-perfect, if glitchy, robots. Around The World, indeed. So how about around all of reality with a little Dalek vocal fun?

Nope, this site has not turned into Sci-Fi-NerdoBlog - we’re sticking with muzo kit and, for authentic Dalek, you’ll be needing a ring modulator of exactly the type pictured left.

The interweb is a-slop with Dr Who fanatics’ attempts to emulate the metallic grind of the Doc’s most enduring foe, some using sample editors and others using ringmod plugins. The real deal, however, is the thoroughly analog-hardware Moog moogerfooger MF-102 ring modulator, as actually used on the set of Dr Who to mangle the voice of actor/writer Nick Briggs.

Before we get all muzoid on the MF-102, here’s a brief technical backgrounder for those who’ve never had the pleasure of having their rings modulated before.

03 October 2011

SYNAPSE AUDIO SOFTWARE DUNE 1.35 | $139

REVIEW
What the world needs now is... Yet another analog, subtractive-type synth? Really? OK, let us gird loins, remember that FM and wavetable synthesis are also incorporated and indulge Synapse Audio’s 32/64-bit, VST/AU synth plugin Dune for Windows and OS X. Developer Synapse is the German outfit that brought us the Windows-only Orion Studio which, while a very capable DAW, lost out rather in the good-looks department. Loading Dune induces a similar amount of ‘ho hum’, what with its mildly bland interface. Functional, but not flash, which may well appeal to those who care to peek further than skin-deep (GUI cork-sniffers resist the urge to turn away now). While not exactly a beautiful visual render of a real-world subtractive synth, this Differential UNison Engine (hence the name) does have the significant virtue of having all the basics on one, albeit plain-looking, page. Flip through a few presets and things become rapidly more alluring, however.

19 August 2011

CAMEL AUDIO ALCHEMY 1.20.1 | £179

REVIEW
Alchemy can loosely be described as old-fashioned chemistry; more tightly, the pursuit of turning base metals into luvverly gold. So the obvious question is, does Camel Audio’s soft synth sound old hat, or can it make audio gold from base elements? In a sense, the latter is exactly what it’s all about. Alchemy is now native 64-bit, so no more grinding of teeth as you watch a wobbly 32-bit bridge (Apple!) collapse into the gushing torrent of your creative flow.

The plugin, as both VST and AU, and now as RTAS for Avid Pro Tools users, arrives with multi-gigs of samples (more than 5.5GB, fact fans) and a library of 675 presets devised by the in-house team, along with such luminaries as Ian Boddy, Junkie XL, John 'Skippy' Lehmkuhl and Dangerous Bear. The presets cover a bewildering variety of sounds ready for manipulation in weird and wonderful ways, more on which later. And yes, there's a slot for your own devisalments, much aided by a MuzoBlog favourite feature, a Random-ize button. A huge plus is that you can also import your own samples in a variety of formats (WAV, AIFF and SFZ) to further titillate creative nodes. Then we get to the synth itself, scratch our heads and head back to Camel’s website for a look at the well-produced instructional videos.

16 March 2011

NUCLEUS SOUNDLAB GUITARSCAPES | $59*

REVIEW
Sequencing a realistic-sounding guitar performance is not an exercise for the faint of heart. Programming piano, drum, glockenspiel or any other percussion instrument is a splash of urine compared with the scope of nuance that can be wrenched from a guitar. Listen to any one of numerous demo performances in which keyboard players attempt to emulate a rock guitarist and you’ll hear the giveaways. Bent notes appear synthetic; power chords antiseptic; twiddly runs a tad too neat. From Al Di Meola to Slipknot’s Jim, the raw sweat, grind and accidental grunty bits are what make guitar-sound possibly the most expressive howling short of the human voice.

So, in devising a Propellerhead Software Reason 5 and Record 1.5 barrage of guitar ReFills, what did Nucleus SoundLab do? In its typically atypical way, NS hung a wild left-turn at the traffic lights and appears to have thought: “Soddit. Let us make guitar-like scapes and to Hell with emulation.” GuitarScapes is the result and, speaking as a guitarist of many years, I’m rather glad that NS founder Jeremy Janzen exercised his ever-novel take on the world’s most popular instrument. What we have in this elegantly constructed duo of ReFills is the essence of guitar tone, but warped beyond reason. Mentioning which, if you don’t have Reason 5, then there’s no reason to read further. The $59 installation won’t work with Reason 4 or earlier, and has its limitations (like, 46 hobbled Combinators) if you don’t have Record 1.5, but do check out the note at the base of this post.

10 March 2011

GROOVE3 REASON 5 EXPLAINED | $39.99

REVIEW
There are some big, fat dirty lies which capture the zeitgeist: 1 The economy is turning round, no, really. 2 'Of course I'll love you in the morning'. And 3 Propellerhead Software’s Reason may be just for beginners because it's so easy to use. Wrong, wrong, wrong and rong. And no, I don't really know what kind of tranquilizer dart you need to take down a zeitgeist either; I just put it there as a big, liberal newspaper kind of a word to make me sound more erudite. Well you're not here because you want to talk politics or love, so we'll leave the first two BFD lies, but what of Reason? Even when version 1 came out it could get pretty complicated. It's got more knobs and cables than the San Fransisco bondage scene. So, faced with this, you need a man like Scott Griggs talkin' to you on Groove3's Reason 5 Explained videos.

14 February 2011

TOONTRACK SUPERIOR-METAL PERCUSSION COLLECTION


REVIEW FEATURE
Under the hammer...
  • Superior Drummer 2.2.3 | £199

  • The Metal Foundry SDX | £119

  • Metal Foundry Presets - Andy Sneap | £9.95


  • Acoustic drumkit manufacturers are peculiar among musical instrument fabricators in that, out of the box, their products are... How to put it kindly... Point is that, being bulky for their relative lightness in weight, drumkits are a pain to transport. And setting them up for studio session or gig is like putting together a wing-nut and Allen-key festooned Meccano kit. The pointy point, however, is that all too often an untreated acoustic kit sounds knob. In either live or studio scenario, the sound engineer must add a welter of microphone stands to the existing forest of cymbal and tom stands in order to support a small fortune’s worth of microphones, which leads to a spaghetti of mic cables that makes the wires hanging off the keyboard rig look almost minimalist. And what do those microphones hear? A godawful mess of ringing and gunnng-ing as each batter-headed kit bit, even if perfectly in tune, resonates unpleasantly, nay infuriatingly, during the soundcheck.

    While bassist, guitarists and kazoo ensemble are up and running within a handful of minutes, the drummer and sound engineer still face an age of damping a lively collection of percussion instruments into submission. For the kit manufacturer, all that time and money spent choosing optimum tonewoods for the drum shells, crafting them into tubes of fine tolerance, pressing, milling and plating the metal components that hold everything together, et al, is made a nonsense by mic-up prep. Out comes the gaffer tape, cardboard, expanded polystyrene and whatever else is necessary to kill extraneous ringing from the tom skins. Meanwhile, off comes the front of each kick drum and in go duvets to calm bottom-end boinnng. It’s bad enough with a standard rock kit, but for heavy, and especially prog, metal acts the sheer number of kit components complicates things, and denudes the gaffer supply, an inordinate amount. Who’d be Neil Peart’s drum roadie, eh?

    It’s no wonder that in the studio, where time and space are at a premium, the drummer often ends up swigging Jack Daniels on the control room sofa while the techno-spod band member gets busy with a synthetic percussion solution. For metal bands, which in live performance might devote more than half of the stage area to an outrageously OTT drumkit, artificial percussion engines are particularly time, space and cost effective when recording. Add in an engineer’s/producer’s demands for supreme controllability and flexibility of thumpy, crashy noises and you’ve a ready market for digital percussion. This is where Toontrack’s three-headed hydra of Superior Drummer, The Metal Foundry and Heavy Metal Presets slithers hither.

    09 February 2011

    GROOVE3 MIXING ROCK | $49.99

    REVIEW
    GAS. If you’re on this website, chances are you already have pathological Gear Acquisition Syndrome. You know how it is: “My mixes/songs/pulling power will be so much better if I get blahdy-blah reverb.” So you fork out for it, maybe use it in a couple of tracks, then another company brings out one at twice the price and you think... No. Go back 53 words and a numeral from here and repeat until you know what I’m burbling on about. But I'm guessing you already do. The sad fact is that I can look over my shoulder and see two shelves full of virtual instrument and effects boxes, a slim-ish book and a couple of magazines with four-page articles on the art of music production. Having all that gear plus print-tutorial material is like sitting in a Ferrari with a disfluent driving instructor. What you need is hand-holding and guidance from someone who knows how to motor. ‘Ello Ken! And a big ‘hi’ to your 37-tutorial Mixing Rock video package.

    03 January 2011

    ZERO-G CINEMATIC SAMPLE COLLECTION | £199*


    REVIEW FEATURE
    Starring, in order of appearance...
  • Dark Skies - Cinematic Ambiences | £89
  • Alien Skies - Cinematic Ambiences 2 | £89
  • Deep Impact - Cinematic Atmospheres & SFX | £89
  • From the date-stamp on this post, you’ll gather I’m looking at the raw ingredients of a new year with knife poised ready to chop, mix and and musically mash. Or mosh, but more on metal next time. Meantime, in movie land, cutting rooms have been working overtime preparing a feast of feisty film for 2011. We can look forward to such cine treats as The King’s Speech, a new Pirates Of The Caribbean, the final, final Harry Potter and the eagerly awaited fourth Mission Incomprehensible.

    While it’s generally recognised that many cinema-goers have eyes to see and mouths for popcorn, critics rarely pass comment on ears and what they care to sup. OK, there’s the occasional nod to a musical morsels well done, but what about the trimmings? The atmospheric pads and SFX that provide necessary seasoning to bring out the flavour of a movie’s meat and potatoes? Sound designers spend an age in the wild with field recorders, shoving foley artists aside as they snuffle for found-sound truffles; swiping synths off their owners’ plates in pursuit of electronic sonics; oft paring to the quick and buying in convenience packs of samples when time becomes more precious than film’s most important ingredient, money. It’s that latter urge that Zero-G’s trio of cinematic sound slices serves to slake.