Reason's Spider merger/splitters must be the least processor-heavy devices in the software's rack, but although recent Reason developments may have overshadowed their potential, used creatively they can help you redefine what's possible with the other devices.
Both varieties of half-rack device are uncomplicated in design, with Spider Audio being probably the most simple Reason device of all. It provides two basic circuits: a 4:1 mono or stereo merger designed to merge four signals into one, and a 1:4 stereo splitter designed to split a single signal into four so that it can be sent to four different destinations. Front-panel 'LEDs' indicate the presence of audio activity, and that's it for external features (see pictures above). There aren't even any level controls for the inputs in the merge circuit. As for automatic routing issues, there aren't any of those either, since the user makes all the connection choices.
Spider CV has a little more to it. Again, it offers a single 4:1 merge circuit, for gates and/or CVs, and each input is equipped with a sensitivity knob so that input signals can be balanced. Two four-way splitter circuits are also offered. This is quite logical and allows the Gate and CV outputs of the Matrix sequencer to be split to multiple devices from one Spider, with each device playing the same Matrix sequence.
Spider devices, both audio and CV variants, can be infinitely chained with no processing delays, CPU compromises or other artifacts. To create a big merge, just link the merged output of one Spider to a merge input of another, alongside any other audio or gates/CVs that are being merged. Similarly, big splits are created by routing a split output to another splitter-circuit input.
Spider CV does have some automatic routing logic. For example, one output from each of the two splitting circuits will connect to the first available pair of Gate and CV ins in the rack, and a Spider CV created while a Matrix is highlighted creates an automatic link between the Matrix's Gate and CV outs and the inputs to the two Spider splitter circuits. This might not always be convenient, of course. The solution is to hold down the Shift key while creating a Spider CV; doing so disables automatic connections. (Actually, as most of you are probably aware, this operation disables automatic connection with any device.)
While there are no really esoteric uses for the Spider Audio, the facilities it offers quickly become indispensable when you're linking large numbers of effects. The simple mixing offered by the merge circuit is also a tidy little problem-solver.
The classic Spider Audio merging application is to mix audio from several related devices. For example, a number of Dr:Rex devices loaded with REX loops of the different sections of a sampled song would ordinarily require a Remix mixer input each. Using Spider Audio, up to four can be mixed, with a single stereo out requiring just one Remix channel; all EQ and effects processing on the channel would thus be the same for all the related REX files, which is generally what you'd want (see top screen, opposite).
The operation is simple. First, create a Dr:Rex for each related REX loop (two sections of a long verse, a chorus and a break, say). Then create a Spider Audio. Disconnect the Dr:Rex devices from the Remix mixer and reconnect them to the Spider's merge circuit. Name the Spider something like 'Dr:Rex submix' and route the merge circuit's output to a Remix input. The naming step is a good habit to get into, since the name is reflected in the Remix input-channel scribble strip and will help you keep track of the elements of a really busy rack.
As an aside, remember that grouping this bunch of related Dr:Rex devices into a Combinator patch will make for easy recall later in a different song. Highlight the Dr:Rexes and the Spider Audio, then select the 'Combine' command from the Edit (or contextual) menu, and finally save the result as a Combi patch. Again, if you choose this step, give the Combinator a meaningful name so that you can track what's happening from its Remix input channel.
Speaking of the Combinator, the Spider Audio could have a similar use within a complex Combi. Let's say you've created a Combi that consists of several Subtractors or Malströms that are set to different velocity and/or key ranges, for a dynamic velocity-split effect. They'll need to be mixed in some way. You can use a Remix mixer or a Micromix line-mixer in the Combi if you need their facilities (such as panning and effect sends), but if simply summing the layered synths for common processing (as described in the Dr:Rex example above) will suffice, use one or more Spider Audios. Of course, it's perfectly OK to merge several different devices, if all you need is processor-efficient submixing and are happy to set levels on the devices themselves. The merged result could even then be processed in the same way as a stereo submix on a real-world mixing desk — add compression, EQ, or even a chain of MClass mastering processors to the group. Merged audio is also good BV512 Vocoder input fodder — either as modulator or carrier.
Peter Tools, they of the unexpected Reason add-ons, are now marketing the full release version of their Hammer Rewire-based audio-input tool. It's PC-only and allows audio input via the Rebirth Input Machine device. In addition, the Live Set collection of real-time MIDI performance modification tools has just had an upgrade, to v1.5.
Check out the Peter Tools web site (www.petertools.com) for details of a neat bundle of both packages for 109 euros (or US$138). In addition, registered Live Set users can buy Hammer for 10 euros (US$12). Or you can just buy Hammer by itself for 30 euros (US$38).
The Spider Audio's splitter circuit has yet more uses. Routing a Remix aux send output to the splitter input lets you create a four-way parallel effects chain (just take each split of the signal to an effect of your choice). Using effects in parallel produces a different sound to chained effects, allowing each processor to cleanly add its own treatment to the mix, unaffected by the others. The effect outputs will probably need to be mixed somewhere, so why not use the merging circuit on the same Spider Audio, if nothing fancy is required? Just take the last stereo output from each of the four chains and patch them to the inputs of the merge circuit. The merged output can then be routed to the original Remix send's aux return (see screen, right).
The parallel processing idea can also be used when creating complex insert effects — where sound-making devices in the rack are patched directly to effects devices. Again, use the splitter circuit and merge the results all within one Spider Audio device.
The Spider CV device provides real creative potential. Again, there are simple uses, the most obvious being to let a single Matrix sequencer play several devices in parallel.
This technique exploits the Spider's two splitter circuits. Create a Matrix and a Spider CV and simply connect the Matrix's gate and CV outs to a splitter input each (you'll only be able to use three of the inputs, as the fourth is fixed to 'inverted' — more on this below). Now route the three pairs of split outs to three devices to be played in parallel: you could create three Subtractors, each loaded with a different patch. Ensure that the split CV and Gate signals are routed to the relevant inputs on the target synths. Instant layered parts are easy, and you can keep your result tidy, as always, by loading the linked devices into a Combi (and perhaps merging their audio outs with a Spider Audio!).
As mentioned above, one of the Spider CV's outputs is inverted, and this can be useful for special effects. For example, interesting rhythmic patterns can be produced: route a straight Matrix gate to, say, Subtractor's normal Gate input and the inverted version to its FM CV input (adjust the sensitivity control and make sure that both oscillators are active, so that FM can take place). Although the part will play normally, the FM effect will hit on the off-beat. Normally, the inverted output would be used with a modulation CV that's being split to, say, the delay CV inputs of a pair of CF101 flanger effect devices; the normal and inverted modulation CVs would move in opposite directions, creating a more complex flange or phase that can be enhanced by panning the outputs of the two devices to opposite sides of the stereo field.
Of course, splitting isn't restricted to playing layered devices. Any gate or CV on a Reason device's rear panel can be split and sent to multiple destinations. Doing so is ideal if you'd like to route, say, one of a Malström's complex modulator waveforms to a Subtractor or NN19 while still having it routed to one of the Malström's own parameters. Not only would the target parameters — filter frequency, oscillator phase or whatever — be modulated at the same tempo, they'd be treated with the same modulation pattern, which adds a nice homogenous feel to a mix. The actual parts being played don't necessarily have to be related — the targets could be bass lines, pads and leads — but the rhythmic fluctuations can work on an almost subliminal level to add a feeling of unity to the mix.
Merging gates and CVs enters a slightly esoteric area, but if you have Reason running
as you read, and you try some of the examples, you'll hear what I'm driving at.
One basic use of the merging option is to create complex modulation waveforms from other devices' LFOs (or Malström's already complex modulators). In these circumstances, you might even create devices just to independently access their modulators. The merge circuit allows each contributing modulation source to be freely mixed, with sensitivity knobs allowing excellent fine-tuning of the result. An example is easy enough to describe.
Create a Subtractor and a Malström, plus a Spider CV.
Flip to the back of the rack (hit the Tab key), and route the Subtractor's own LFO1 modulation output to a Spider CV merge-circuit input.
Then route Malström's Mod A modulation output to another input of the same circuit.
Connect the merged output to any target. The illustrated example (see top screen overleaf) routes the merged CV to the Subtractor's FM Amount modulation input.
Play a note or pattern on the synth and tweak the merging input sensitivity knobs to hear the result. I tend to start with the mod input sensitivity controls fully left and tweak each one slowly to hear what they're adding to the overall sound. Remember that the LFO or modulator has its own suite of parameters to play with on the front panel.
Of course, this merged modulator could be routed to several CV inputs. Just route the merged output to the input of the CV-splitting circuit of the Spider CV and connect the outputs to the desired destinations.
Gates can also be merged, to unexpected effect. For example, merging the gate outputs of up to four Redrum voices can create a user-definable trigger source that offers lots of new rhythmic possibilities — as long as the relevant voices have been programmed to play as part of a Redrum pattern! (However, the voice doesn't need a sample loaded into it in order for its channel to be programmed — the gate will be transmitted in any case.) One of the merged gates could also be the main trigger being generated by the Matrix.
In the next example, we'll create a Subtractor with attached Matrix sequencer, a Redrum and a Spider CV.
Create the devices as listed above.
Program a drum pattern — the one in the illustration (see bottom screen overleaf) uses just a kick, snare and hi-hat — and create a synth part with the Matrix (say a bass line), to play on the Subtractor.
Now take a patch lead from each of those three Redrum-voice gate outputs on the back panel and connect them to the Spider merge circuit.
Grab the gate patch-lead from the Matrix and link it to the remaining empty merge input jack. Connect the merged output to the Subtractor gate input.
Start playback with the merge input-sensitivity knobs at zero and gradually turn them to the right. The result of changing the 'level' of each merged gate input is to create playback patterns that are very different from the basic Matrix pattern.
You'll find, with patches that have a longer release setting on the amplitude EG, that some notes will be re-triggered, adding even more rhythmic interest and creating parts that you may never otherwise have thought of. The pattern will be closely related to the Redrum pattern but careful use of the sensitivity controls will stop the result from sounding obvious. Keeping the sensitivities low creates a subtle effect that's more texture than trigger. The other side of the coin is that any merged gate input with its sensitivity whacked fully to the right produces a hard, velocity-like hit each time it fires. I find this particular merging technique works great on octave bass-lines with chuggy patches that have moderate amplitude EG release values.
The only problem is that the sensitivity controls at the rear of Reason devices can't be automated! If you like several of the different variations of patterns that are produced, you could try to recreate them within the Matrix, or bounce them to disk as short audio files for importing into a Reason sample playing device. You could also create a Combinator patch of the Redrum/Matrix/Subtractor (or whatever) set, and add multiple Combinators to the rack. Load the new Combi into each, set the Spider CV merge-sensitivity knobs in each Combinator and automate Remix mutes to enable and disable the variations you want.
Your adventures in merging can become even more esoteric when you mix Gates and CVs in one Spider CV merge circuit. The output could be routed to gate or CV inputs of target devices. You may not have though of doing so before, but it's worth knowing that LFO and modulator CVs can, in many cases, actually trigger other devices, although pitch information still needs to come from a Matrix or linear sequencer track. The result can be hit and miss, but the hits are worth working for.