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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.