Let's rip a vocal track and see what else is possible. Sure, I can correct the pitch and all that jazz, but let's move onto things that other software can't do. Infinity has two main menus: Effects and RipScripts. The Effects are in fact RipScripts but these particular ones are a little bit special because they are applied at the playback/rendering stage so they can be turned on and off, whereas RipScripts are applied directly to the stored notes and would have to be undone.
That's a good point to make at this juncture: Infinity is very destructive. It automatically saves and overwrites itself, so any messing about you've done is written over the Rip, and there's no way back unless you keep clicking Undo until you've got back to where you want to be (if you can remember what that was). When I pointed this out to Martin he created a 'Save copy as...' option, which helps, but with all the subtle changes possible, it can be very difficult to work out if you've undone everything. A Cancel button or the ability to not save your changes would be beneficial.
Under the Effects menu we have 10 mostly pitch-related processes that can be applied to the currently selected notes. These are Harmony, Quantize, Correct, Flatten and Slide Pitch, Vibrato, Shift Formant, Volume, Panning and Reverb. Working with my vocal track, the Harmony effect throws in a very convincing pitch-shifted second part. As these are generated at playback, the extra part is not shown on screen; nor does it have a control panel, GUI or options, so you can't alter the volume or any other aspect of it other than shifting it up and down an octave. It's the same deal with all the Effects: they all do what they say on the tin but there's no control over how much, other than the odd up and down button to add more or less volume, reverb, vibrato and so on.
For harmony-related editing, it's much better to select what you're trying to harmonise, duplicate it using copy and paste, and move the newly created notes up and down in the main screen. You have far more control, you can apply volume and panning changes, offset it slightly and make use of the remarkable Draw Pitch tool to add slight variations to the pitch so the harmony sounds different to the original. This works so well that you wonder why the option exists under the Effects menu.
There's an even deeper rabbit hole we've yet to venture down, which concerns harmonic content, instruments, the Audioshop and Note Editor. All the pitch-shifting, harmony and effects are just so much messing about on the surface: the real depth lies in editing the harmonic content of individual notes and sounds.
This is done through something called the Instrument Palette, which borrows ideas from image-editing software such as Photoshop. Using a combination of tools, you can paint notes into your Rip project, or paint the harmonic content of one sound upon another. This can be a total replacement or a blending of timbre, all the way down to individual amplitude control of individual harmonics.
The Instrument Palette contains a number of pre-ripped sampled instruments, and the Audioshop is a selection of tools that define how the instruments in the palette are used. So, for instance, by selecting Flute in the Instrument Palette and using the brush tool, you can paint notes on the main Infinity screen and compose flute music. It initially feels very MIDI-like but as you start adding other instruments into the same space, it starts to take on a life all of its own. Creating music with multiple instruments in the same window can be slightly odd because we're so used to the multitrack paradigm, but in practice it feels very natural and organic, perhaps offering a glimpse at the compositional thinking behind the software interface. But, on the other hand, most DAWs now offer multiple track MIDI editing in the piano roll, and you'd have far more control over the sound using virtual instruments or samplers. There's very little tempo structure to the main Infinity page; you can quite cleverly adjust the bar lines, and doing so pushes and pulls the tempo in a very free-flowing way, but there's no snap or metronome to help you. My request for tempo information was fulfilled, but if you change the tempo it time-compresses or stretches any already placed notes so they no longer sound right. I'm sure a rewrite of the script would sort that out.
But we haven't even got to the interesting bit yet. The next tool is the Clone tool, which enables you to copy the pitch, formant, timbre, volume or panning of one note and apply it to another. Ctrl-click on a flute note, clone the timbre and then click on a piano note, and you apply that harmonic content to the piano sound. This opens up a load of sound design and hybrid instrument possibilities, provided you can get your head around the interface — and I confess I found this a struggle. When you're trying to understand what you're hearing and what's going on, there are very few clues that can be gleaned from the process or represented visually on the notes. It's not that Infinity doesn't do what it says; it's just that I can't always work out how to do anything with any accuracy or intention. I did succeed in cloning the vibrato of the flute onto the bass guitar. I could hear the difference and I could see the wobble on the screen. But as for timbre or formant you are left to experiment with different ways of clicking, different level settings and random parameter changes because there's little documentation on how any of it works.
The Remove Timbre tool probably does what it says, but in practice sounds like it just makes the note quieter. The Blend tool is similar to the Clone tool but it takes the pitch, timbre, formant, volume or panning from a sound in the Instrument Palette rather than the main editor. Applying the timbre and formant from a trumpet onto piano notes sort of works. No, it really does work — it's just that the annoying level of experimentation required, the constant undoing and reapplying, the difficulty of placing things accurately and the whole method by which you can audition the note without accidentally applying the tool again starts to bring me out in hives.
There are, at least, a couple of tools that are wonderfully simple and effective. The Pattern tool lets you apply a sine- or square-wave modulation to formant, pitch, volume or panning. You can set the strength and rate and add some nice tremolo or vibrato to a note, which you can see displayed on the note. You can't see any change when you apply formant modulation, but you can hear it well enough.
The last tool on our Audioshop workbench is the Note Editor. With this tool we get a complete spectral readout of the selected note, which lets us manually edit all of the harmonic slices within that note. If trying to do similar things with the other tools feels inaccurate and frustrating, this is the place to sort it out and really get your hands dirty. You have several edit modes that do things like replace a harmonic slice with the same one from the instrument in the Instrument Palette, delete slices, adjust the level, remove noise spikes or flatten the harmonics, and some other processes I don't really understand. But where this works at my level is that I can take the sound of a saxophone and sketch it over the sound of piano, blending the breath of the sax onto the thump of the hammer. Or I can make weird sounds by killing all the odd harmonics or scribbling changes about the place. This is perhaps where I should have started, because it does what the Clone and Blend tools do better than they do, and makes you wonder again why those tools exist.
A limitation of the Note Editor is that, as the name suggests, it only deals with a single note rather than an entire instrument or a selection of notes. However, once you've edited the one note, you can suck it into the Instrument Palette and then paint a new tune with your newly harmonically compromised instrument. That throws up a whole other bag of possibilities in creating paintable instruments within Infinity from your own sampled material. It starts to become a sort of sampler but with harmonic and additive synthesis qualities, though this aspect of it is not yet fully developed.
Infinity is hugely clever, but the technology sometimes feels as though it's searching for the right application. It probably needs more time for a bunch of enthusiastic early adopters to work with Martin to shape and hone this undoubtedly remarkable software into something a bit more coherent. The graphics on the screen are friendly and inviting, but the processes involved in achieving anything can sometimes feel clumsy and unforgiving. Perhaps once you've learned the keyboard shortcuts the workflow will start to reveal itself, or maybe it's because it's so far away from the standard DAW approach that my preconditioned brain can't quite make the leap.
Martin is certainly a very active developer, and incremental releases of Infinity are constantly adding new features. One that will particularly appeal to pro-audio users is that Infinity can now be invoked from an AudioSuite plug-in in Pro Tools.
You can do amazing things within Infinity to craft sounds and alter harmonics, blending the sound of one instrument into another and creating new instruments while all the time painting with sound and with music in ways I've not encountered before. In the right hands, it could offer a very different approach to mixing sounds and blending ideas from unexpected places. It can be launched from within your DAW as an audio editor, opening up potential for doing weird stuff as an experimental tonal editor to add to the toolbox of sound designers and timbre manglers. Or if you feel frustrated with the boundaries and structure of your average DAW then you may find Infinity offers an alternative free-flowing compositional adventure. Infinity could be great!
RipScripts are scripts or processes that are applied directly to the note and musical information stored in the rip. The Chord Creator is a good example that's easy to grasp, both visually and aurally. Select a note and hit Chord Creator, and Infinity automatically generates a chord around the chosen note. For this process you do get a little panel where you can select major or minor key. You can also specify an arpeggio time, which staggers the notes. It's easy to forget that you're dealing with sinusoidal resynthesis of spectrally and musically analysed audio rather than MIDI.
However, it was also at this point that my unfamiliarity with the Infinity workflow started to turn to frustration. With the Chord Creator panel open, any note I click instantly gets a chord. If I change a setting in the panel it then gets another chord over the top. As I still can't quite work out how to reliably start playback from exactly where I want to, I find myself accidentally generating chords as I try to select something else, before spending a lot of time leaning on Ctrl+Z to undo my way back to something sensible, then getting in a knot as to what is playing back and which chord I'm generating. Martin has said that he wrote this software to enable his own creativity, but sometimes it's hard to know how he's thinking about the way things work. Pressing Escape seems to be vital in turning RipScripts on and off, a fact that is worth remembering.
The other supplied RipScripts include tools for cleaning frequencies and phase artifacts, mapping a volume change across a number of notes and various effects. One is called Infinity Scale, and applies the Shepard Tone auditory illusion to the selected notes; whether this is for dramatic or comedic effect, I'm not quite sure. Another such tool is Inharmonicity, which adjusts how far the harmonics depart from whole-number multiples of the fundamental. It sounds really interesting, but is hampered by an interface that lets you enter a single number where apparently something between "0.0 and 0.1 is most useful". Not having any reference for what the number means, you are left experimenting with one hand on the Undo button.
In fact, Infinity often made me feel like I was missing something fundamental. A thorough understanding of harmonics is something we all naturally possess, so the outcomes of these processes, tools and functions should be obvious, or at least discoverable through experimentation. Yet, although there's nothing wrong in expecting a certain level of intelligence from a user, I was often left scratching my head and wishing that the documentation contained more clues.
On the other hand, this is exactly what RipScripts are all about. They are infinitely variable, developable, and improvable. For instance when I first tried Infinity the effects couldn't be turned off once enabled. If you didn't want the effect you had to remember how many times you'd applied it in order to press Undo the right amount of times. After a discussion with Martin, he edited the script and a Cancel button arrived that undid the effect you were using. I moaned about the lack of tempo information and he conjured up a script to display the tempo. Any problems you have with the usability, feature set, or way of working can probably be solved through writing or improving the scripts. This could be an immensely powerful feature, and Hit'n'Mix hope that a community of users will rise up to write and share their own scripts.
- Has the ability to isolate and edit instruments in mixed music.
- Lets you 'paint' with instrument sounds.
- Can transplant harmonic content from one instrument to another.
- Detailed editing of the harmonic structure of sounds.
- Open-ended, with programmable RipScripts that could do anything.
- Non-intuitive workflow with a challenging learning curve.
- Poor documentation.
- Individual sounds extracted from a full mix don't always sound great.
- It can take a lot of effort to get good results.
Infinity takes audio apart and resynthesizes it, allowing you to edit it at a fundamental level. It's an intriguing approach to sound that's mysterious, deep and complex, but not always easy to work with.