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30 November 2011


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...

**To woo more groovemakers before the year is out, FXpansion is offering Geist at £99 (or US$149, or even €119 provided the Eurozone hasn’t imploded between me typing this and uploading it) instead of the usual £165.

The deal is good until 31 December 2011, as are half-price deals on Geist expansion packs until the year’s end. But before we get hectic with the plastic, let’s take time to ponder a thing or several. Unlike painting or sculpture, music is an art form that exists over time and then, unless a Wagnerian experiment in the interminable, is gone. More critical to the raring rhythmist, however, is the time it takes to generate an engaging groove. You doubtless know the personality type - prone to springing bolt upright from sleep at an insane hour of the morning (preferably not 3am because that's eternal) absolutely gagging to lay down that pokey pattern just dreamt. If you're acquainted with such a groovemeister, and are sure he or she has true spirit and not merely ADHD, then Geist is certainly the ticket. Capturing the Zeitgeist, albeit a fleeting age extending to, say, four bars at 135bpm (7.111 seconds at a guess), does call for a steppy mindset, however.

Geist derives from 2005's award-winning loop-manipulating drum machine Guru, but is not an upgrade - more a product inspired by its predecessor. Built from the ground up with the aim of supplying more flexibility and slicker workflow, Geist has an interface that bears study. The software operates standalone or as a VST/AU/RTAS plugin, is Intel Mac/Windows friendly and on booting, can appear a tad bamboozling. Yes, there are aspects of the interface that'll be instantly familiar to those savvy with step sequencing, but a peek under the hood reveals startling depths. Cunning time-stretching and pitch-shifting deployment, real-time and retro record, 30 effect types and full MIDI/audio export are all featured, so let's give FXpansion 141 seconds of our time (or 79.3 bars of 135bpm thigh-slapping) to explain what the blazes is going on...

And there we have it: Geist in tooth and claw. Did you grasp the tiger by the tail? Actually, that’s a hopeless segue into mention of the fact that OS X Tiger does not support this product and neither does the PPC. It's Leopard 10.5.8+ on an Intellichipped Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz Mac with 2GB DDR 2 RAM at minimum, or bust. Or Windows XP SP2+, or Vista (which seemed kinda bust when it was released), or the much yummier Windows 7. As mentioned, on launch many reviews ensued and to save you time hunting them down, and me the pointless task of regurgitating their broadly agreeable findings, here’s a few handy links. Read the articles and bear in mind that they were all, with the possible exception of Loopmasters' (no date stamp or author's name given), posted before 11 April 2011:

Carl Löfgren, Plughugger - “Although I have way too many plugins, and these days I'm pretty hard  with what stays on my hard drive, Geist is one of those plugins you simply cannot ignore.”
Loopmasters Blog - “...if you’re looking for a creative standalone option to your DAW that offers its own unique workflow and can be easily integrated into your DAW projects at any time, it’s definitely worth dowloading and checking out the demo.”
Martin Delaney, Resident Advisor - “The basic concepts are probably going to be easier for beginners to grasp than those of Logic's Ultrabeat or Live's drum racks, for instance, but at the other extreme Geist comes close to being an all-in-one production tool, with its recording, editing and timeline arrangement functions.”
Computer Music, MusicRadar - “A lot of musicians are going to fall madly in love with Geist, especially those producing dance, hip-hop, R&B or pretty much anything that requires a tight creative flow and a killer groove.”
Saintjoe... Possibly? Sounds and Gear - “For me, at this point, I can just bypass the sequencer and use it as a very powerful drum layering sampler. Being able to quickly mix my drums and layer with chops and samples is definitely a good look in my opinion.”

While absorbing the sage words of multiple music-tech commentators, bits of your brain may have become somewhat concerned by the strain that Geist could put on the computer’s processor. You may also be wondering what’s with the mention of last 11 April. Well, both matters have much to do with the single asterisk in this post’s heading, an asterisk intended to draw attention to the day on which Geist reached v1.0.3.7! Pretty exciting stuff, eh?

OK, and all subsequent versions (I’ve been looking at v1.0.4.4, but v1.0.5.5 is currently downloadable as a public beta) fully support a 64-bit environment, taking advantage of the benefits that multi-core processors and 4GB-plus RAM bring. MuzoBlog tests bear out that, for example, Apple Logic Pro 9’s CPU meter does not creep rightwards overmuch when an instance of Geist is run on a dual-core Mac. In fact, it took running five instances, each heavily loaded with presets from the likes of Armin Van Buuren, D Ramirez and more, to redline the meter. Quibbles over system resources seem to have been addressed for those with up-to-date computers and OSs. And for those on older kit, it’ll still run at 32-bit. Righty-ho, time for a listen...

Puppet Master



I Love Geist

LTJ Geistem

If you like that lot, there's another 17 MP3s to audition at Geist’s product page, as well as as links to more video, the manual and Win/Mac demos so you can give this beatmaker a bash. If you’re more the type to dwell in a piano-roll track editor, it could take some getting used to. And if you’re the kind of perv who prefers a list editor, or a traditionalist insistent on manipulating score, again there’ll be some head scratching. But hardcore steppers will take to it like a duck to pancakes, especially with the presence of sample-shredding tools toting auto-detection and slicing. Should Geist’s latest incarnation appear appetising, then this December is the age in which to drop heavy pre-Xmas hints to friends and relatives about the app and its six (to date) expansion packs. Let’s just call it summoning the Geist of Christmas present.

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