Linplug's innovative plug-in has one aim in mind: to create fresh sounds from pedestrian drum loops.
Linplug's Relectro is advertised as a perfect way to turn boring drum loops into something completely different, but, like many new technologies, it seems to have suffered from some misunderstanding. I'm hoping this review will introduce Relectro to a much wider audience, since having worked with it for some time, I love its radically new approach (akin to a tracking guitar synth redesigned for drums). With practice, it can generate wonderful new sounds from existing audio files.
Relectro is available in VST format for Windows, and in VST, AU and RTAS formats for Mac OS X; there's currently no Windows RTAS version. At its heart is what developer Peter Linsener terms a 'per wave' processor that splits incoming audio into individual cycles, presumably using some sort of zero-crossing detector. Each of these cycles can then be treated independently, or replaced with completely different waveforms.
Relectro starts its signal chain with a band splitter. This lets you roll off some high frequencies so the synth engine can track more smoothly, but with a Leak control that passes those rolled-off frequencies directly to the output, where they can be mixed in with the final signal. This is a great way to preserve transient detail. Next is a tempo-sync'ed stereo delay unit with separate control over each channel, which is great for adding complexity to boring beats.
However, the Main section is where the real fun begins, starting with a compressor/expander operated by a single slider. Using this, you can squash the dynamics by up to a massive 60dB, to make tiny details as loud as the loudest peaks, or pull up the strongest beats and ignore everything else, depending on the desired result.
Next up is a Cut filter with high-pass and low-pass sliders that offer infinite slope, so you can really isolate the parts of your loop that you want to trigger the synth engine with, just as you would use side-chain controls on a compressor to home in on kick drums, snares, hi-hats and so on. Just as most guitar synths track more smoothly when you play with your fingers rather than a plectrum, rolling off most of the top end may also let you achieve smoother cycle tracking (if that's what you're after).
Now comes the really interesting stuff, when the individual frequency cycles that emerge into the synth engine are morphed. They can be pitch-shifted up or down by up to an octave, forced to the frequency of any of the 128 MIDI notes, using the Note slider, by an amount determined by the 'Fix' slider, while the Track and Speed up/down sliders let the frequency glide about rather like the portamento on a synth.
If that's all you do, the individual beats of many drum loops end up as short bursts of scratchy noise, which you could probably emulate using a bit-crusher. What turns Relectro into something rather special is the ability to switch from normal 'Gap' mode to 'Fill' or 'Blend' modes, which continue playing the detected cycle until another one is detected, for a more continuous tonal output. The average loop is now transformed into a series of rhythmic bleeps, and we're starting to enter a fascinating world of glitch and experimental audio!
To regain some melodic order, the Wave section lets you repeat playback of the existing cycle for a certain time until another, stronger one arrives. Now you can turn short beats into longer tones, generating bass lines from kick drums or Morse code from hi-hats. You can also use the Wave-Replace selector and its associated slider to replace your detected cycles with any one of 48 completely different waveforms; this gives you loads of control over the final timbre, from smooth dub basses, through buzzy electronica, to metal mayhem. The synth engine finishes with a low/high shelving EQ with infinite slope that, again, operates on a 'per wave' basis, so you can further refine the output, producing anything from a mellow drone to an ethereal whisper.
Finally, the synth signal and any 'leaked' input are mixed together and passed through a more conventional output section containing low and high-pass resonant filters, a chorus effect to provide extra movement, a wet/dry mix control to balance your original and treated sounds, and an Amount control. This is in charge of the individual settings of numerous Relectro parameters that let you gradually morph from the original input signal, through a series of intermediate sounds, to your full-on effect.
If your head's not already reeling with the possibilities, Linplug's familiar free-form modulation matrix is also available, letting you modulate any of the aforementioned engine controls using your choice of two LFOs and two variable-length step modulators, for slowly evolving changes or pattern-based effects. Pitch and volume are also available as modulation sources, to help tie the synth output to your input signal, as are various MIDI controllers (with MIDI Learn for easy mapping to your devices) for added expression and real-time performance nuances.
And so to the important question: what does it sound like? Linplug provide nearly 100 presets of their own, covering beat thickening, strange rhythmic patterns, glitch, grunge, industrial treatments and circuit-bending. You could come away from these thinking that Relectro is intended mainly for experimental music, but after a little time getting used to the various controls, I managed to coax a wide variety of more melodic transformations from it, turning individual kick-drum beats into sustained electronica and dubstep bass lines, adding a very passable Donna Summer 'I Feel Love' arpeggiated bass line to a drum loop using the step sequencers, morphing acoustic drums into techno and glitch loops, and transforming boring rhythms into circuit-bent esoterica or entire tracks into robot speech. Relectro really can transform tired drum loops into something totally new, but you're not restricted to drums: I also obtained great results by adding subtle treatments to complete tracks, turning rock into disco and even a jazz-quartet riff into dubstep! It's a shame that there's no way of randomising the parameters, as this could be a useful source of inspiration.
For me, the beauty of Relectro is that having the delays, LFOs and step sequencers tempo-sync'ed means that you can strengthen the underlying beats of the original loops, as well as turning them into something totally different. Its output doesn't have to be atonal, either, as whacking up the Fix parameter and then tweaking the Note control to a different MIDI value can quickly pull Relectro's tonal results into the same key as your track. You can even add slow sine-wave modulation to various parameters, to create results that drift in and out of sync, with an 'analogue' feel.
With so many 'me-too' plug-ins slavishly copying retro hardware, it's refreshing to find an effect that draws on the particular strengths available to software, such as the one-knob compressor/expander with a 60dB range, the infinite-slope filters and the wave replacement options. Relectro won't be for everyone, and does take some time to master, but for those who like to push the boundaries while retaining some of the 'feel' of an existing audio groove, it's a tour de force.
You can chop up your drum loops and replay the chunks in different orders using 'beat slicers' such as Propellerheads' ReCycle (the one that started it all) and Izotope's Phatmatik Pro, while Illformed's Glitch and Izotope's Stutter Edit take the idea in different directions. NI's Reaktor library also contains sample-mangling ensembles capable of turning loops into strange new forms. However, I can think of no other plug-in that offers the synth-like transformations at which Relectro excels.
- Will track well on any percussive material, and even on complete tracks with care.
- Capable of producing many genuinely new sounds, from subtle to utterly mangled.
- Results can be very melodic, if desired, or totally off the wall.
- You'll need some practice before you can start producing more predictable results.
- Would really benefit from a 'randomise' button.
Relectro's unique treatments can be an inspiration for sound designers and the more adventurous musician, but its controls do take some mastering.
- Linplug Relectro 1.0.
- PC with Intel Conroe E6600 2.4GHz dual-core processor, Intel DP965LT motherboard with Intel P965 chip set and 2GB RAM, running Windows XP SP3.