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23 May 2005

Atmogen review — Electronic Musician

Filed under: Music software at 12:39 pm Comments Off on Atmogen review — Electronic Musician

Atmogen 1.02, the visual additive synthesizer from the intriguingly-named Sonorous Codes, has been reviewed by Electronic Musician magazine: “The program gives you enormous sound-design potential, allowing you to use tools that are more closely associated with image editing in order to generate and process sound files.” You’ll need a fast computer with a lot of hard disk space, but they said they had no stability problems at all during their testing.

They offer a recap of Atmogen’s sound design interface. The sound is represented as a bitmap image on the screen: “Atmogen uses the brightness of each pixel to control amplitude, color to control pan position (green is left, yellow is center, and red is right), and the vertical position of the pixel for frequency. The resolution of the sound rendering is completely user adjustable. For example, an image can be “quantized” to produce just a few sine waves, or it can control up to 1,024 complex waveforms simultaneously.”

A number of the tools in Atmogen are described — the graphical editing tools, and the Markers and Layers to help organize your sound/image — and there are also a number of effects available, as you might expect. They work well, but aren’t that easy to use: “Though the number and range of the Effects is impressive, most are not well documented, and no usage tips are given as a rule. But with a little trial and error, you can figure out their functions and how they might be useful.”

As with other similar programs, Atmogen looks like a tool for the more experimental musician or sound designer: “Atmogen is a deep program, with layers and layers of controls. It’s hugely adaptable to experimentation and can provide endless raw material for your sonic explorations.” However, perhaps because of its experimental nature, they feel the documentation is a bit lacking.

In the end, Atmogen gets a rating of 4.5 out of 5: “for anyone on the PC who is interested in exploring a wholly new approach to working with sound, atmogen is a great resource. There are a few other image-to-sound programs available (Rasmus Ekman’s Coagula comes to mind), but atmogen has far more power. The program is so ripe for interactive experimentation that you just might want to put away the manual and spend a few hours (make that, a few days!) uncovering atmogen’s many treasures.”

10 May 2005

Reason 3 review — Computer Music

Filed under: Music software at 10:38 pm (1 comment)

Computer Music’s review of Reason 3 runs through the features of this program, starting off by noting that Reason is a complex but closed solution, which can be a blessing and a curse — no third-party plug-ins can be used, and in this new version, no new generators (instruments) are included.

Having said that, the review enthusiastically goes through the things that are included. The new Compressor and EQ get top marks: “The MClass EQ is perfect for making tonal corrections with surgical precision and silky smoothness.” But what they really love is the vastly expanded support for MIDI control surfaces: “The improved support provides an incredible level if integration that has to be seen to be believed.”

The big new feature is, of course, the Combinator, which allows multiple instruments and effects to be combined into a single entity. They say “A high level of routing flexibility has always been a big and useful part of the Reason experience — with the addition of combinator, the whole concept has been taken a significant step further. It’s simply brilliant.”

What else? They love the improved responsiveness; they love the higher quality audio export (audio can be dithered from 32 bits to 24 or 16). The thing nobody loves about Reason is its sequencer, and this review is no exception. They say the Sequencer is “beginning to look quite primitive and dated these days, and as a result, many of our pet hates relating to it remain.”

The conclusion in a nutshell is that you shouldn’t expect to be blown away, but this is a very high quality product nonetheless: “this revision represents a significant and positive step forward, but it’s perhaps not quite as earth-shattering as some would have hoped. … [but] rest assured that it’ll take some considerable time for even the most dedicated and imaginative fan to discover what this new and improved version is really capable of.”

Atmogen visual synth

Filed under: Music software at 12:24 pm (1 comment)

The Atmogen visual additive synth by Sonorous Codes brings visual sound design to the PC. Mac users have had MetaSynth for years; now Windowsers will be able to join this strange and wonderful party. Atmogen uses up to 1024 oscillators, which are combined to form its sound output. The neat thing is that the oscillators are each displayed as a multicoloured line — the lines are stacked on top of each other to form a 2-dimensional picture that you can edit directly to create your sound. Like MetaSynth, you can edit the picture in any ordinary graphics program before bringing it back to Atmogen to hear it.

Sonourous Codes say it well on their website: “It is your very own decision whether you use atmogen sounds for the purpose of post production, video games, web applications or anything similar or simply feed your sampler with it to use it in your music. Basically, every imaginable sound can be produced with atmogen. The concept of atmogen is versatile to the extent that really everything is possible. atmogen can prove its quality best when the user demands a fresh and innovative sound.”

Here is a summary of some of the most important features.

Export audio files
Import audio files
Import and export image files
Graphical user interface — atmogen’s user interface provides anything you need to create and to modify images. Consequently, the user interface may remind you of an image processing software although the concept of atmogen does not intend to create cute graphics. The only goal is to achieve applicable sound results. Thus, you will work more efficiently with the native tools of atmogen than with any other software being designed only for a graphical purpose.
Up to 1024 oscillators
Flexible graphical envelope
Layer objects — You can use those little images like paper shreds on a layout pad. Thus, the use of layer objects is extremely intuitive. While creating such a layer object the contents area of the background will be moved into the object. Afterwards you can move, rotate freely, resize, duplicate and erase it again.
Effects — Various image effects change either the whole image or a single layer object abruptly. Beside those well known pedants such like a luxurious blur filter or a simple edge detection from various image processing software this section offers a variety of specialized actions. Those will animate you to experiment with and are developed only to produce valuable and sensible sound results. A real highlight among the effect filters is definitely the graphical EQ. With its 100 bands you can mesh with the frequency spectrum of a project extremely precisely.

6 May 2005

Steinberg WaveLab 5 review — Electronic Musician

Filed under: Music software at 3:08 pm Comments Off on Steinberg WaveLab 5 review — Electronic Musician

Electronic Musician review Steinberg WaveLab 5.01a and emphasise its multimedia capabilities: “Among the most important new features are tools for DVD-Audio (DVD-A) authoring and production, an integrated video track, and track-based effects and level controls. Combined with the large number of professional-quality VST mastering and effects plug-ins, WaveLab 5 is a powerful media production environment.”

They are pleased that WaveLab 5 finally allows control of individual track levels, and also track-based effects. They give a lot of space to the new DVD-A authoring capabilities, as well as the new surround-sound functions.

I have always thought that support is very important for any complex program, and the review says that Steinberg have this covered. “WaveLab’s support is excellent — the comprehensive printed manual is more than 700 pages. … There is online support through the Help menu option in addition to context-sensitive help for many of the program’s features. There is also an active users forum, which is moderated by WaveLab’s principal developer, Philippe Goutier.”

Their final numerical rating across their categories is 17.5 out of a possible 20. If you are current user wondering whether to upgrade, they say you’ll make your decision based on whether you need the new DVD-A and multimedia features. For everyone else, “if you’re looking to move into a multitrack audio editor that supports many of the hottest new-media technologies available today, has a friendly interface, and can help manage not only your audio assets but also all of the files on your system, WaveLab is an excellent choice.”

2 May 2005

HALion 3 — Grooves review

Filed under: Music software at 9:53 am Comments Off on HALion 3 — Grooves review

HALion 3, the latest version of Steinberg’s software sampler, was reviewed a little while back by the excellent Grooves magazine. They rate the included library highly: “Halion 3 includes several high-quality sound libraries that both demonstrate the power of the sampler and make the product a useful instrument in its own right.” Well, you’d hope it would be useful for the price!

They also give a nod to the Alternate function, which modulates the same MIDI note differently each time it is played. This prevents a common problem with samplers — every note sounds the same, whereas real instruments (even analog synths) sound slightly different each time.

Compared to the previous version, they like how HALion 3 organises the layout and use of samples, though the sample categories are not quite as flexible as they should be — categories cannot be added or renamed, and sample categorisation did not always work.

The main downside of HALion 3, they say, is that it is very resource-hungry. They say you need a heavy-duty workstation to use it to its potential, even with their fancy “RAM Save” function, which unloads samples from memory when they’re not required. This heavy resource usage may also explain the apparently random crashes they had. Save early, save often!

Overall they say HALion 3 is a very good product, though not as a pure sound-design tool: “HALion is better suited for emulating traditional instruments. If that is your goal, or if you need strong keyboards out of the box, few other soft samplers can compare with the usability and sound reproduction qualities of HALion 3.”