All right – it seems to me that when I make these at the end of the month they almost immediately appear to be out of date – so I’m going to do that weird magazine time travel thing where you’re always a month ahead of yourself. So this is the October edition talking about stuff from September – does that make sense? Anyway just a small handful of choice bits this month. We have the complete surprise of Reaktor 6, even more guitar amp complexity with Amplitube 4, a cool synth from FXPansion, UAD thinking of Windows users and maybe you can help out with the beta of Xotopad multitouch software.
Here’s the video version, for the text version simply skip below:
Love Native Instruments. We used to distribute them in the early days of Generator and it was mind boggling then because you had to build everything from scratch. When Reaktor came along it made it much easier to create noise, bangs and crackles in a more creative way. With Reaktor 6 NI have done something genius with the concept of Blocks. Looking every bit like an analogue system 500 rack from the world of “what, er, hang on” to the world of “wow, yeah, right then”. The complexity in Reaktor has always been its greatest asset and its greatest downfall – the ability to wire together all sorts of different synthesis modules and stuff is completely awesome but also mind numbing and often the more casual users are left with a bunch of often intelligible synths and beat making machines with no coherent guide to what anything does…. At least that’s been my experience. However, in version 5 a couple of cool self contained synths came out of it and now NI has taken that further to bring you a gorgeous looking DIY block based modular synth. You’ve got over 30 blocks – oscillators, filters, modulators, effects and sequencers which can all be patched together in as elaborately as you choose. Essentially this builds in an extra level of accessibility to those of us who like to play with synths but don’t want to have to get a qualification in synthesis just to use it. Underneath the blocks is all the intensity that Reaktor heads love. It looks flipping awesome and at £89 for the update it’s on my list – although I’m tempted to wait for the next version of Komplete as that’ll include it with a load of other stuff. So yeah, for sounds and bleeping noises there’s nothing better than Reaktor.
Another old school company, IK Multimedia, have released a new version of Amplitube. It’s taken about 5 years to get to version 4 from version 3 and you’d be forgiven in thinking that IK only cares about the iPad these days – well, they are, but someone managed to squeeze this one out and it’s looking pretty fabulous…. Although it also looks a lot like version 3 but with slightly prettier and more realistic looking virtual hardware. They are calling it Hyper Realisitic Tone which is of course streets ahead of Super or Mega Realistic Tone and I am the worst person to comment on whether it is or not. I love playing guitar but I’ve never found the time to become complete guitar head. I have tried various complex effects pedals, Line 6 amp modelling and amazing racks of stuff over the years but I’m always happiest with my Orange Rocker 30 and a delay pedal – anything else just starts to do my head in. So when IK talk about the 5 new british classic amp models I have no idea what they mean. When they start banging on about 3d mic placement and individual speaker selection my eyes glaze over and I start wondering whether I need to be a guitar tech to use this software. There’s tons of stuff in here for the knob tweaking tone master – preamps, amps, cabinets, mic placement, room dynamics, stomp and post effects are all fiddlable with to your hearts content – but I also hope that you can just sit down, flick a couple of presets and start playing like the original Amplitube did back in the day. I run into the same problems with Native Instruments Guitar Rig in that it can get overly complex and ultimately frustrating – just give me clean, crunch and delay. IK do do simpler, single amp style versions but then we run into their really annoying pricing structure. They do a marvellous official Orange version for the iPad for €6 – on the PC it’s €99.99 – how can that be? Anyway, at least version 4 has come down to a retail price of €149 rather than the €199 that Amp 3 used to be and it’s only €99 if you buy it now. So, even though I’ve given it my best slightly cynical spin Amplitube 4 is undoubtedly the most comprehensive guitar tone mangler out there and it’s really good to see that IK haven’t forgotten all about it.
To complete the triptic of old school software firms who were at the first Turnkey Computer Music show I organised back in 1999 we have FXPansion who at the time had a cool little drum machine called the DR008. Since then they are spent most of their time working on the BFD drum library but occasionally the poke about in the world of synthesis and have produced some decent beep making devices. Strobe 2 is a new polysynth based on analogue modelling with deep but intuitive synthesis. The blurb says that is retains the cult-classic original’s signature character – a ‘super-oscillator’ with stacking, detuning and sync, a warm saturating VCA, the acclaimed TransMod modulation system and a powerful multimode filter with 22 responses for massive tonal variety. Nice – I don’t know the first one so this is all new to me. I think the look of it isn’t that special, but I like that it’s a vector and so can be scaled depending on the resolution of your screen, but what I do know is that it’s going to sound great – because it’s Fxpansion. It’s £119 which isn’t cheap when you consider Reaktor is £169 but it’s probably worth it.
Apollo Twin USB
Onto some hardware now and UAD have pretty much ignored Windows with most of their releases, claiming that they are working on Windows Thunderbolt drivers that never seem to materialise. It looks like they’ve given up and decided instead to release a more PC friendly USB version of their fabulous looking Apollo Twin – yay! The Apollo Twin is one of those high resolution desktop knob interfaces, like the RME Babyface, MOTU Track 16, Focusrite Forte – that sort of thing. They call it a 2×6 interface which is weird because it has 2 mic/line inputs and a guitar input and 8 more inputs via ADAT optical. It then has line outs, monitor outs and headphone outs so it’s more of 11/6 really. Of course what sets the Apollo apart is the onboard DSP powered effects from the UAD Powered Plug-ins library. Essentially it’s the same box as the Thunderbolt Duo version but with a USB3 port and should come in at around £650. An excellent quality, simple to use box with the best DSP plug-ins around.
Here’s something a little bit different. Feelyoursound.com have been messing around with a multi-touch controller app called XotoPad and I mentioned it in my article on Multi-touch for Sound On Sound last year. Well they have a new version on the go, currently in beta and is looking for people to try it out and feedback about what they like and don’t like about it. At a basic level it’s a multi-touch drum pad and midi controller that you can route into your DAW via a virtual midi driver. You can make the pads control whatever midi parameter you like. They’ve expanded it to include a chord and scale generator and some fader and parameter controls as well as XY pads. It’s a bit of a work in progress but for something good and simple that runs rings around the annoying complexity of something like Emulator this is a great little bit of software. Link in the description.
Film of the Month
Because I just can’t seem to get to the cinema and there are some amazing films around at the moment I’ll have to recommend something recently released on DVD – Kingsman – The Secret Service. This is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long time. Went to see it at the cinema on the strength of the trailer – Colin Firth, tongue-in-cheek gentleman spy – what’s not to like? What I didn’t expect was the amazing set piece fight scenes – they were shot in a way I’d never seen before. It was weird – you’re not quite believing what you’re seeing because it’s so comically real – sort of gory and disgusting but somehow with a cartoony feel. It has one of the best scenes shot in a church since the Blues Brothers. The language is terrible, the violence is vivid, you wouldn’t take your mother to see it even if she’s a Firth fan but it’s all outrageously enjoyable. Sophie Cookson’s Roxy is sadly under used and Colin Firth and Samuel L Jackson steal the show from the competent Taron Egerton’s Eggsy” wideboy and we even get a cool cameo from Mark Hamill just before he had to shape up again for Star Wars. It’s fun, silly and full of gadgets – a bit like 70’s Bond mixed with Bourne – and the best use of Dizzee Rascal’s bonkers on film.
A big thank you to all those people who sent me messages of support and encouragement over the whole Surface Pro 3 blogging – turns out that quite a few people think I do a worthwhile job of it – or at least no one said “nah mate you’re rubbish”. So yeah, that’s really appreciated. The good news is that I’ve been invited to Microsoft’s big hardware launch on the 6th October in New York which might just give me the opportunity to see if I can get them to throw me a Surface Pro 4 so I can continue my mission of multi-touchy music making – you never know. So if anyone wants to buy me a drink while I’m out there then get in touch. Otherwise I’ll be live tweeting the event from @SurfaceProAudio so follow me on twitter and hang out from 10am New York time on Tuesday 6th October to catch my take on what will no doubt be a bit of a media frenzy.