There's plenty to get to grips with in Reason 7, including external MIDI and Sliced Audio.
We've waited 13 years for the ability to control external MIDI gear from Reason, and that functionality is finally here, courtesy of Reason 7's External MIDI Instrument (EMI) rack device. In this month's column we're going to focus on that and also look at the other big new feature: Sliced Audio. For a full review of the new version see the June issue of SOS.
To control external MIDI hardware from Reason, you need to have first made the appropriate physical MIDI connections, either via a dedicated MIDI interface and five-pin DIN cables, or a direct USB connection from the synth to your computer (almost a standard feature these days, and very convenient). Then it's just a question of creating an EMI for each separate instrumental part you want to sequence, and choosing the appropriate MIDI output port and channel on each.
How do you actually hear your hardware gear, though? There are two ways you can go: either just monitor your hardware sources alongside Reason's output from the computer (perhaps using a hardware mixer, or the zero-latency monitoring features of an audio interface), or bring them into the heart of your Reason audio mix via audio interface inputs and monitor-enabled audio tracks. Which is better? That depends. The first way has the advantage of being latency-free, but only the second lets you use Reason's EQ and effects devices on your instrument while you develop your arrangement and mix. There are practical considerations, too. To give one example, getting four external stereo instruments into your Reason mix, fully independently, in real time, is going to need an audio interface with eight line inputs. Then there's the common situation where you have a hardware synth that's multitimbral, but only has a single stereo output. It's impossible to get all of its parts separated out on Reason audio tracks in real time anyway, so that type of instrument is very much a candidate for just monitoring, at least while you work up your arrangement.
Next question: how do you balance (ie. set the levels of) your external instrument parts? Again, it depends... If you're doing the monitor-enabled audio track thing, you'll have a level fader and pan knob in the Reason mixer — job done. If you're just monitoring your sources, it further depends on the sophistication of their MIDI implementation. On typical multitimbral keyboards and modules, it's convenient (and good practice) to set part volume by sending controller #7 (channel volume) messages, and pan with controller #10 (channel pan). The External MIDI Instrument device can easily generate both. Click the CC Assign ON button, and choose 7 by clicking and dragging in the number field or clicking the up/down buttons to the right. Now turn the EMI's single front-panel knob to actually generate those controller #7 values and set channel volume. Then set the number field to 10 and turn the knob to set CC#10 channel pan position. Take a look at the lower two EMIs in screen 1 to see how that appears in practice.
EMIs memorise the individual values for the entire range of MIDI controller messages the CC Assign knob can generate (#0 to #119), and will send them out in a burst any time you subsequently open your song. That potentially allows some 'recall' of external settings when you come back to a song after working on other things. There are modern synths out there with only rudimentary MIDI implementations, though, like Arturia's Minibrute or Korg's MS20 Mini, and they'll ignore most, if not all, controller messages sent to them. So to balance these synths in a monitor mix your best bet is a mixer, either real or virtual (within an audio interface) or, failing that, their front-panel volume controls.
Regardless of the exact method you choose for monitoring your external MIDI devices, you'll almost certainly want to record them into audio tracks in the very final stages of developing and mixing your song, and then mute the live MIDI tracks. Converting them to audio clips like this, or 'printing' them (as the terminology goes) is about the only really reliable way of accurately preserving your arrangement and mix in the long term, and for archival purposes. It also allows you to go 'mobile' and work in locations away from where all your hardware gear is. What's more it's a vital step before you using the File menu's Export Song as Audio File command, which doesn't operate in real time, and would have no dedicated way of including the audio from your external devices even if it did.
If you're sequencing several parts of a multitimbral hardware synth that has just one stereo output (as we've already considered), recording all of them onto separate audio tracks might be a time-consuming business, requiring multiple record passes in which just one of its parts plays. Boring, maybe, but almost always worth it.
Another new Reason 7 feature, Sliced Audio editing, automatically analyses imported or recorded audio for transients and then allows you to manipulate the resulting Slice Markers to adjust timing within an audio clip.
Usually, getting into it is as easy as double-clicking an audio clip. If you get the comp editor instead, hit Command-E (Mac) or Control-E (PC) to enter Edit Mode, double-click the clip once more, if necessary, and you should be good to go. If your clip actually is a comp edit, though, you'll first need to click the Bounce button in the comp editor to generate a single self-contained clip, or choose just one of the component takes by clicking its Single Take Mode button to the left of the comp lane. Then, with the distinctive slice markers visible, the sky's the limit.
Got one note that's in the wrong place? Just click and drag its marker (or the vertical white line below it) to the right place... Drags like these can be subject to grid snap behaviour, so be ready to enable or disable snap, or adjust the grid resolution, to get the result you want.
What about moving a group of slices within the clip, but keeping their timing the same? Click and drag over all the markers that span the group (including the one at the end of the last slice). Then drag the dark horizontal handle that appears at the bottom of the clip.
Audio quantise is easy too. First, select what you want to 'fix': entire clips can be selected when you're not in Edit Mode, or any number of slice markers within a clip when you are. (Remember, the current quantise setting is found in the second 'Sequencer Tools' pane of the Tools window.) Then, quantising slices works a little differently to quantising MIDI notes. Let's say you choose a quantise value of 1/4 (a quarter-note, or crotchet). When you actually apply the quantise, only those slices nearest each quarter-note division of the measure are moved. If you were quantising live drums, that would (or at least should) put the kick and snare of many typical rock patterns bang on the beat, but also preserve looseness and subtlety between the beats. To put it another way, you can often get good results using larger quantise values for audio than you would for MIDI. And if you're not sure what's best, start large and gradually go smaller, auditioning the results each time.
Here's a last thought about slice editing (for this month, at least): Sometimes Reason's slice recognition is a bit too keen, and you end up with more slice markers than are needed to accurately represent the transients and other events in the audio clip. That can make manual manipulation fiddly, or quantisation less effective. So to lose redundant markers, just select them and hit the backspace key — simple as that. Conversely, if Reason has missed an important event (such as a syllable in a vocal phrase), select the pencil tool and click at the appropriate place in the clip's waveform to write a new marker. As before, be ready to turn off the editing grid Snap feature to really accurately place markers between grid divisions.
U-he were one of the very first Rack Extension developers, and it looks as though the Uhbik range is now complete. Recent additions include Uhbik T, a tremolo/autopan that can go from utterly conventional to absolutely bonkers, and Uhbik G, a granular synthesis processor that can pull off all sorts of blips and splats, as well as smooth pitch, harmony and texture shifts. There's also a completely new, non-Uhbik device called Runciter, which is a filter with onboard modulation, drive and distortion — and massive attitude! All of them are priced at €32$39.
There's also now a way to buy various Uhbik devices at a discounted price, as part of various bundles. 'All Of Uhbik' gives you everything — the Uhbiks A (plate reverb), D (delay), F (flanger), P (phaser), Q (EQ), S (frequency shifter), as well as T, G and Runciter — for €159$199. Then there are three smaller bundles, each for €65$79. 'Uhbik Creative Effects' gives you G, S and Runciter. 'Uhbik Modulation Effects' contains F, P and T. Finally, 'Uhbik Studio Effects' offers A, D and Q. All are thoroughly recommended.