The latest utility from Redmatica is targeted at Logic users wanting to get the most from the program’s built–in soft sampler.
When Emagic introduced the EXS24 soft sampler at the turn of the millennium, it was a revelation to those of us used to hardware samplers with their cumbersome floppy disks, small hard drives and limited memory. Its ability to save and load programs along with a Song and perform extensive on–screen manipulation of samples, while processing them with software filters and envelopes, meant that EXS24 was a hit amongst Logic users. Sample library developers were not slow to provide compatibility with the EXS24 and it has become the nearest thing Mac users have to a ‘standard’ sample format. A version 2 upgrade followed in 2003, but since then, EXS24 has remained at version 2 while other soft samplers have appeared which out–perform Apple’s offering in important ways. EXS24 is still fine if you only work with pre–recorded sample libraries, but if you want to do your own sampling its facilities and interface leave a lot to be desired. It also lacks some of the more modern tools of its rivals, such as automatic sample positioning, looping, layering and pitch manipulation.
Redmatica have been in the EXS24 support market for a while now, with their Autosampler and EXS Manager software, and the new Keymap EXS24 editor is designed to be an addition to these programs, allowing the user to easily create EXS24 Instruments using some very sophisticated software tools.
Redmatica offer you the choice of purchasing each of the three pieces of software separately or as a bundle (the Compendium) by download or in a rather impressive box which comes complete with printed manuals. These, incidentally, have the most confusing index I have ever seen, but luckily a searchable PDF is also available from within the Help menu of the software.
Installation was initially rather confusing, as the enclosed CDs contain only the authorisation software. This is used to send your serial number details to Redmatica, who then reply with an authorisation email containing a download link for the actual software. Installation went smoothly on my dual–processor G5 and the program ran flawlessly during the review period. Keymap is a stand–alone program, but it’s perfectly possible to have Logic running concurrently with it and to swap between the two programs to enable you to audition Keymap–created Instruments in the context of a Song.
EXS24’s program files are called Instruments, and contain all the key maps for the samples, filter and envelope settings, layers, output assignments and all the other parameters that go to make up the sound you hear when you play the plug–in. The Instrument file also contains pointers to the actual samples that make up the sound. Keymap doesn’t mess about with this setup — the program contains more sophisticated editing tools than EXS24, but it outputs the results as a standard EXS24 Instrument. Any processing done in Keymap that is not available in Logic’s EXS24 editor is rendered into the Instrument’s samples, which is how EXS24 compatibility is maintained. As far as EXS24 is concerned, Instruments created using Keymap appear as if they were created by Logic’s own sampler, which means that, as long as Apple don’t change the EXS Instrument format, Keymap will remain compatible with EXS24 MkI and MkII and the EXSP24 plug–ins.
Keymap doesn’t edit any of your samples directly; it uses what Redmatica call ‘virtual samples’, which allow for entirely non–destructive editing. It’s only when you save as an EXS24 Instrument that the actual samples used in that Instrument are created. These samples are always rendered as either WAVs or AIFFs, and Keymap can load both of these formats, along with MP3 and AAC, as samples in the creation of Instruments. Keymap actually doesn’t use the filters or modulation matrix of the EXS24 virtual instrument, but of course you can always further edit your Keymap–created Instrument using these parameters once it has been loaded into Logic. While the Instrument Keymap outputs follows the EXS24 conventions regarding Zones, Groups and Samples, Redmatica have taken the opportunity to streamline and improve on this structure within a Keymap project. In Keymap itself, multiple Instruments can be grouped into a Setup where you can load and map separate Instruments to easily and quickly build layered or stacked sounds.
On loading the software, you’re first presented with a single window, at the centre of which is a graphical representation of where you will place your samples; the ‘X’ axis represents the keys where you’ll want to place your samples, and the ‘Y’ axis their velocity. Under this is a small sample and loop–point editor, and the rest of the window is filled with parameters you’ll need to create your Instrument. It may look complex at first, but having everything to hand like this makes the software much easier to use, and the mouse right–click helps enormously in getting around the program. In addition, tool-tips are also available for most parameters. There are several extra windows used for creating Setups, Resources, the Surround editor and the full sample editor — though the latter is not usually needed, as the small ‘Auxiliary sample editor’ in the main window is often sufficient for editing.
Samples are dragged either in folders or individually onto the graph, and the program highlights the root note where you want them to be placed for easy dropping. Once loaded, the samples can be automatically arranged via the Automap function, which can either use the file-naming convention you’ve used with your samples or a nifty automatic function that places your samples on the correct keys. If, for example, you’ve just recorded a triangle played at several different velocity levels and your samples are all in a single file, Keymap can automatically split this into individual hits and map the correct velocity layers.
Once you’ve got your samples mapped you’ll probably want to loop them, and Keymap has several auto–looping functions that can work either with individual or multiple samples — and they work very well indeed, creating seamless loops almost every time, even on harmonically and dynamically complex material. The software enables you to perform finer editing of individual loop points if necessary, and this can be done visually using the mouse. In general, the program applies intelligent defaults to things like the start and end of samples and zero crossing points, but if you’re not happy with these, everything is editable using the mouse. Dynamic crossfading between groups of samples is also easily performed graphically, and you choose the controller you want to use to perform the crossfade from a pull–down menu. There’s a Group chain feature where you can assign samples to play in rotation, which is very useful if you’re trying to avoid the ‘machine–gun effect’ of repeatedly playing the same sample over and over. Many of Keymap’s functions can be performed on multiple samples, which can really speed up the Instrument-creation process, as does the fact that almost everything is done graphically. User–definable key commands are also available, as is an Undo feature.
So far, there’s not much in Keymap that couldn’t be done in Logic’s own ESX24 editor, although the automated functions make everything easier and quicker to achieve. However, the software has a few of its own tricks up its sleeve. Harmonic resynthesis analyses the pitch, amplitude, time and formant of a sample, displays the results in the sample editor and then allows you to modify these parameters in various ways. You can use the mouse to directly draw pitch or amplitude envelopes, or use various parameters to bring samples back to concert pitch or modify their vibrato, timing, amplitude envelope, or formant. It’s a particularly powerful tool and the visual interface makes it very easy to use.
The Quadrasmooth feature allows you to quickly match the volume of samples without editing each individually. Usually a sample becomes shorter as you play it higher up the keyboard, but ‘Polyphonication’ can create new samples from a single source, so all pitches are the same duration as the original sample. It works extremely well with synthetic sounds — although the lack of multisampling is still a problem with most acoustic samples. You can easily adjust the velocity levels of complex, multi–zone Instruments in one go using the Dynamic envelope remapping feature, which works a little like a compressor on velocity layers. This encourages you to experiment, which in turn makes it easy to create dynamic and playable Instruments.
Keymap doesn’t skimp on the way you can output your newly created Instrument, either. The Surround and spatialisation editor allows you to place samples across stereo or surround space, and its intuitive visual editing window makes it a doddle to drag the sample around the soundfield. Additionally, the apparent elevation of the sound can be adjusted, and a synthetic reverb can be applied, creating the impression of height and distance respectively. This works really well alongside the distance attenuation parameter and the stereo bus width control. While playing with this feature I really wished it was available within Logic as an AU plug–in, to be used on any virtual Instrument or audio track.
A large part of the raison d’être of Keymap appears to be to help make the tedious parts of sampling as easy as possible, so it’s not surprising that the program offes some assistance for common repetitive tasks. The quaintly named ‘Magic pads’ may sound like a frying-pan scourer advertised on some late–night cable TV channel, but they are actually drag–and–drop destinations for samples which initiate pre–defined tasks when a sample is dropped on them. I was quite surprised that the actions performed by the Magic pads weren’t user–definable, but I guess that may come in a later revision. Currently, there are five Magic pads, which cover auto–looping, multi–velocity Instrument creation, automatic trimming, splitting and mapping of samples, pitch detection and mapping with or without auto–looping and/or crossfading. These work really well, but you need to make sure the samples you’re going to use are formatted, named and structured in a logical fashion the program understands.
While working on an Instrument, you’d normally save in the native Keymap format. However, once you’ve finished your ESX24 masterpiece, you need to export in EXS24 format, so it can be imported into Logic.
A short review cannot cover every feature of a complex program such as Keymap. While its interface is pretty intuitive, its sheer wealth of features meant I had to keep the manual by my side during this review. This is not a criticism of the program, just an indication of its depth — and it’s definitely a darn sight easier to use than Logic’s EXS24 editor. A demo version should be available by now, and as the manual can already be downloaded I’d recommend you read it, to familiarise yourself with the program, if you’re considering a purchase.
If you use Logic and are serious about sampling, I think Keymap is a must–have. It can’t overcome some of the inherent restrictions of the EXS24 format, such as the lack of a scripting language as found in Native Instruments’s Kontakt, but it does make up for limitations in other areas with ease and panache. It’s so easy to use that I even dug out a batch of ‘WAV file sample’ discs that I’d not had the patience to load into ESX24 and quickly created several usable Instruments from them — look out for the upcoming bagpipe and hurdy–gurdy album. Remixers should find the Looping and Harmonic Resynthesis features invaluable, the former working particularly well on full mixes. If you’re keen to sample your old MIDI hardware, the combination of Autosampler and Keymap makes the process quite painless, as the Roland JV Mellotron Instruments now residing on my Mac demonstrate. The software ran smoothly on my now–antiquated Mac and a brief test on my Macbook Pro demonstrated that it can take advantage of the faster Intel processors. Part of me wants Apple to incorporate Redmatica’s Compendium suite into Logic immediately, but most of me wants it to stay a separate program so that the creativity of the programmers won’t be stifled by the corporate machine. Not only is Keymap easy to use, it’s also a lot of fun. In short, if you use Logic and don’t want to get involved with a third–party soft sampler, there’s currently no competition for Keymap.
The two other elements of the Redmatica Compendium package are EXS Manager and Autosampler, both of which have been reviewed in Sound On Sound (www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb05/articles/autosampler.htm and www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun04/articles/redmatica.htm).
EXS Manager is a stand–alone utility that organises your EXS24 samples and Instruments and fixes any broken links between them. As well as being a useful tool for optimising your sample library, it can also help with EXS24–related Logic booting problems. Autosampler is another stand–alone program that quickly and automatically generates samples from MIDI–controlled external synthesizers or virtual instruments. These samples can then be easily remapped and processed using Keymap and its extensive suite of EXS24 Instrument-creation facilities.
- Graphical interface and editing a great improvement on what’s available in EXS24.
- Because results are rendered to an audio file, there should be no future compatibility issues.
- Looping, harmonic synthesis and other processing tools sound great and are easy to use.
- The Surround and spatialisation editor can’t be used as an AU plug–in.
- Still lacks a few features of some of the better specified samplers because of inherent limitations of EXS24 itself.
EXS24 users usually have an extensive list of features and improvements that they’d like to see incorporated into the sampler. Redmatica have covered most of the requests I’ve come across, and they have also added a little of their own stardust in the process. That they have managed to do so in a stand–alone program is nothing short of miraculous. If you do any sampling at all with EXS24, the Redmatica bundle is definitely worth a look.