Computer processing speeds have now reached the point where it is becoming increasingly viable to run software simulations of synthesizers, samplers and drum-machines on personal computers within the popular MIDI Audio DAW’s such as Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Logic Pro and Cubase SX – providing an even more highly integrated environment for music recording and production. Just as the wide range of software signal processing plug-ins has been developed – bringing the outboard into the computer environment – now the programmers are bringing in the MIDI gear as well. These software simulations are also known as virtual instruments as they are constructed using computer code rather than real hardware.
Digidesign distributes the Access Virus Indigo and Waldorf Q synthesizers for TDM systems, along with the Prosoniq Orange Vocoder RTAS plug-in.
Access Virus Indigo TDM Synthesizer Plug-In
Using the same DSP algorithms as the original Access Virus synthesizer, the Virus Indigo plug-in sounds exactly like its hardware counterpart. The plug-in has even more parameters than the original Virus that you can tweak to build dense, layered textures with the distinctive Virus analogue-type sound. And if you want results fast, you can use the new ‘Easy’ page, which provides rapid access to the most-used parameters. Virus Indigo does not disappoint when it comes to presets either – there are more than 1000 of these ready to go right out of the box. And this plug-in is efficient when it comes to DSP usage – allowing you to work with up to eight multi-timbral synthesizers on a single DSP. Virus Indigo supports up to 96 kHz sampling rates Tip: Laptops (especially top-of-the-range PCs with 2.5 GHz or faster processors, such as the Sony Vaio) loaded with virtual instruments are increasingly being used on-stage and in the studio to run virtual instruments. They have the advantage of being much more compact than the racks of MIDI synthesizer and sampler hardware that they are beginning to replace and offers up to 20 voices per Pro Tools|HD DSP, with a maximum of 160 voices total at 48 kHz, or 80 voices at 96 kHz.
Offering near-zero latency, the Virus Indigo TDM plug-in doesn’t suffer from the CPU bottlenecks and reduced voice counts typical of many software synthesizers. The plug-in also provides many more visible controls and features than the Virus Indigo hardware synthesizer. And you can use a wide variety of control surfaces, such as the Control|24 or ProControl, or a hardware Virus unit or other controllers to manipulate the Virus Indigo’s parameters. You can even load patches directly from the Access Virus hardware – so anyone who brings a hardware Virus into your studio can transfer their favourite patches to your system. And you can use Virus Indigo as an effects device – the special ‘Input Mode’ lets you route complete mixes through the Virus filter section. All-in-all, this is one heck of a useful plug-in to have available on any Pro Tools system.
Waldorf Q TDM
The Waldorf Q TDM is a synthesizer plug-in for Pro Tools|HD systems based on the powerful synthesis architecture of the Waldorf Q synthesizer. Due to its various oscillator and filter models, its ultra-fast envelopes and LFOs and its extensive FM routings, it creates previously unheard sounds and faithfully reproduces classic analogue patches.
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Figure 10.1 Access Virus Indigo Easy page.
The Waldorf Q TDM plug-in works with Pro Tools|HD and Pro Tools|MIX systems on Mac OS9, Mac OSX, Windows 2000 and XP.
Not exactly a synthesizer, but something that you may want to use with a synthesizer is a ‘vocoder’. This allows the sonic characteristics of an input signal to be imprinted onto a synthesised signal – so you get a talking synthesizer effect, for example. Back in 1978, Herbie Hancock had a big hit with a song called I Thought It Was You – featuring Herbie ‘singing’ his synthesizer using a Sennheiser vocoder. Vocoder effects have waxed and waned in popularity over the last 30 years or so, and are currently enjoying something of a comeback.
Digidesign distributes the Prosoniq Orange Vocoder RTAS plug-in. This includes an eight-voice analogue synthesizer section, breakpoint-configurable EQ section, and a filterbank reverb section all in a single plug-in. The presets include Robot Voice, Rotating Robot, Jazz Vocoder, Synthetic Speech, Talking Voices, Ethereal Voices, F Maj Vocoder, Rubber Tongue and Weird Talk – you get the idea.
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Figure 10.2 Waldorf Q synthesizer.
Spectrasonics offer their Stylus, Atmosphere and Trilogy sample replay plug-ins with excellent and comprehensive libraries of sounds. Spectrasonics’ founder, Eric Persing, has been programming sounds for popular Roland synthesizers since time began and has been producing sample libraries on CD-ROM throughout the last decade featuring his innovative ‘groove control’ system.
Now Persing has combined the best of his innovations and his creative programming and production talents to produce a kind of hybrid software instrument that plugs in to Pro Tools via RTAS. Versions are also available for Digital Performer, Logic and Cubase.
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Figure 10.3 Orange Vocoder.
Note: TDM users must open Spectrasonics virtual instruments using audio tracks. Aux tracks cannot be used because RTAS is not available for these tracks. (However, this is possible for LE and Pro Tools Free users.)
Tip: Logic Platinum users working with TDM hardware can use the Spectrasonics VST plug-ins within Logic Platinum and output the audio from these into the TDM mixer using Emagic’s ESB software.
Stylus comes with a 3 Gb library of ‘groove-control’ elements, i.e. audio samples, recorded by Persing. Stylus is not a sampler and you can’t load in your Akai or AIFF samples – but if you want a sampler, there are plenty out there to choose from. Instead, Stylus combines really powerful control over its own library of sounds with a really simple interface.
The sounds load faster than just about anything out there – so you can load up basic beats with lots of variations and swap between these like lightning. The loops are marked with the BPM they were sampled at. There are 700 ‘grooves’ to suit the various dance music genres, including a whole section of ‘killer’ percussion loops. If the loop you pick is running at the wrong tempo, you just load up the ‘groove control’ version. This puts all the elements of the loop you have chosen onto your keyboard. Then you select the accompanying MIDI file and drag and drop this onto the sequencer track you want to use. Now you can speed the loop up or slow it down without hearing any artifacts. You can also raise or lower the pitch as well without affecting the tempo. Even better, each slice mapped to each key can have its own parameters – put a filter on one slice, pitch another up or down, and you have a new sound for your groove. You can automate the changes to these parameters using the plug-in and you can even apply random changes every time through the loop. It’s dead easy to swap snare sounds or whatever once you have found a groove you like. And there’s even a selection of scratched sounds like brass, guitars, or whatever – so you can do the DJ thing.
Atmosphere features an excellent selection of synthesizer pads, ambient sounds, belltones, Swells, Evolving sounds, Sweeps and so forth that will keep anyone working on ambient or film music absorbed for hours on end. Atmosphere’s interface and custom UVI engine features a dual-layer architecture that can create extremely powerful and dynamic sounds.
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Figure 10.4 Spectrasonics Stylus Vinyl Groove Module.
Atmosphere features a massive 3.7 Gb core library, which provides much more variety than any hardware instrument. Spectrasonics created this library using everything from processed vocal recordings, to prepared pianos and glass harmonicas, to vintage synthesizers – and even their experiments with hundreds of plug-ins and signal processors. Now you can take advantage of all this detailed preparation and use the sounds in the core library as starting points for your own synthesized sounds. And, for the busy composer, the presets will serve you well.
Trilogy completes the, er, trilogy of plug-ins – providing the ‘bottom end’ for your recordings with its tremendous selection of bass sounds. Overall, I rate the Total Bass Module extremely highly. Every patch in Trilogy has two layers that you can tweak individually – editing each independently. You can also mix and match any of the layers in the core library, to combine the sound of a real Minimoog with a Fretless bass, or a Virus with a TB-303, or even to add a Juno suboscillator to an Upright Bass!
The highly detailed, chromatically sampled, Acoustic Upright Bass is one of Trilogy’s highlights. An incredible variety of tones can be produced from this because the interface allows separate control of the Neumann U-47 Tube Microphone signal and the Direct Pickup signal, which was sampled through a vintage Neve 1083 Console. This acoustic bass, miked using the U47, is the most faithful reproduction of the sound of a double bass that I have heard anywhere – a sound ‘to die for!’
There is also a huge selection of Electric Basses including classic four, five and six string models, performed in Fingered, Picked, Muted, Rock and Roll, Slapping, Ballad, Fretless and R&B techniques through rare, custom-made tube pre-amps. Special variations include Harmonics, Glisses, Fuzz, Trills, FX and thousands of Slides. This selection provides plenty of scope when you need electric bass sounds.
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Figure 10.5 Spectrasonics Atmosphere Dream Synth Module.
Synth bass sounds include samples from legendary Analog Bass Synths like the Minimoog, Roland Juno 60, Roland TB-303, Roland SH-101, Oberheim SEM, Moog Taurus, OSCar, Virus, Yamaha CS-80, Arp Odyssey and 2600, Studio Electronics SE-1, Omega and ATC Tone Chameleon, Sequential Circuits Pro One, the mighty Moog Voyager and many others. As with the acoustic bass recordings, these sampled synthesizer sounds are extremely impressive and useful.