Digidesign's Transfuser plug–in is a sequencer within a sequencer — not to mention a sampler, loop–slicer, synth, drum machine and effects unit! We offer some expert tips to help you get to grips with it.
Transfuser is a new RTAS virtual instrument plug–in that lets you slice, dice, shuffle, trigger and re–sequence loops and phrases for performance and writing music. It is a powerful groove generator and will work on any Pro Tools HD, LE or M–Powered system running v7.4. As well as loops and phrases, Transfuser can work with live inputs such as mics and turntables, or from content on tracks already in your Session. The unique one–month free rental Digidesign are offering SOS readers (see box) should enable you to get a feel for what Transfuser can do, but as it's a pretty complex and powerful plug–in, we're devoting this month's Pro Tools workshop to uncovering some of its hidden depths.
When you open Transfuser for the first time it will look like the screen, right, with the Master section in the middle and the Browser section in the top part of the left–hand column. Below the Browser is an Info panel, which explains what is going on as you move round Transfuser's window, hopefully reducing the need to refer to the manual! Above the Master section is the Track pane, where you can drag your content and build up a sequence just as you would in a normal Pro Tools Session, while the Editor section provides a detailed view of whatever you are manipulating at the time.
With so much to display, this plug–in needs serious screen real estate! I have two 19–inch screens, each with a resolution of 1280 x 1024, and the Transfuser window nearly fills one of them. It is possible to resize it vertically by getting hold of the bottom edge of the window and dragging it up or down, and although it isn't possible to change its width in the same way, you can hide the Browser and Info sections by clicking on a little icon just to the left of 'transfuser' below the Master section. You can also hide the Editor section by clicking on a small icon at the other end of the bar below the Master section. (The spanner icon next to this displays the Preferences setting in the Editor section.)
From the Browser you can audition factory and user–created tracks, and any audio files on your computer. You navigate in a conventional way: the top item always represents the 'next level up', so you can backtrack out of a series of folders at any point. To browse your own content, click on the Audio tab at the top of the Browser and then one of the numbers 1 to 3. These can be assigned to three different locations on your system so that you don't have to lose your place when you go and search for another sample in a different location. When you have found a loop you want to work with, all you need to do is drag it into the Track section and hit Play.
There are three basic track types in Transfuser: Drum, Slice and Phrase. Let's see what can be done with Drum tracks. In the screen below I have dragged 'House 01' from the Drum Tracks folder of the factory content: Transfuser already knows it is a drum track and configures the track automatically, selecting the appropriate Sequencer (Seq) and Synth (Syn) modules. Click on the Drum–Seq section of this track and you will see that the Editor section becomes the Drum–Sequencer editor. The sequencer has 12 programmable patterns, which can be triggered from the mini–keyboard in the Editor section or using C1 to B1 on a MIDI keyboard. The factory loops come with preset patterns already set up, but you can modify them and then save the new loop patterns.
When you click on the Syn section, the Editor section changes to a set of virtual pads and a waveform editor. Notice that the volume of the drum sample increases the closer to the top of the pad you 'hit' with the mouse, with a corresponding degree of colour change. The pads can be assigned to specific MIDI notes, as shown in the bottom left–hand corner of each pad. To get these notes to trigger the pads, go into the Drum–Seq editor window and change the Note Range from Trigger Pattern to Play Pads.
Slicer tracks are used to chop up loops into their individual beats or other elements. For instance, if you drag 'Dance 02B' onto the Track section from the Dance Drum Loops folder of the factory content, you will see that the Sequencer module is a Slice Sequencer and the Synth module is a Slicer. The Slice–Seq editor will look like a staircase, with each event in the loop presenting a slice. Click on the Slicer module and the editor will display the loop waveform cut up with all the slices. As with drum tracks, it is possible to assign MIDI notes so you can 'play' each slice, which is great for creating something new from an existing loop. You do this from the Note Range drop–down menu in the Slice–Seq, selecting Play Slices.
In a multitrack Transfuser setup, you can end up with multiple Synths and Slicers, each needing independent MIDI control. There are two ways of doing this: you can assign different MIDI channels to each track within Transfuser, or use Note Ranging to assign each track a different octave on the MIDI keyboard. In the screen, right, I have configured the top Drum track so that each pad is allocated a note in the C2 to B2 range, while the Slicer track uses from C3 up to G4.
As well as reordering loops, you can also assign new sounds to the individual slices within them, simply by dragging and dropping. For instance, you could get a new snare sound from the factory content, or one of your own samples, or from another Transfuser track. In the top screen overleaf, you can see a Slicer editor window; by selecting the Slice play tool from the toolbar just above the waveform display, you can audition individual slices to find the right one. By switching to the Grabber tool in the same toolbar I can pick up the slice I want, drag it up to a Drum track where the snare needs to be replaced, wait for the Editor section to change to the drum pads and then drop it on the snare pad. I could also have selected a new snare by right–clicking on the sample name bar under the pad, or by dragging from the Browser, which also allows you to audition samples before selecting them. You can even drag samples straight from a Mac Finder or Windows Explorer window onto Transfuser pads.
The final track type in Transfuser is a Phrase track. Try taking a phrase from a vocal track and drag and drop it into a blank area within Transfuser's Track section. Transfuser will ask what you want to do with it. In this case, select Time Stretched and Trigger Sequence, and Transfuser will create a Phrase track with appropriate Phrase–Seq module. Transfuser will allocate the phrase a MIDI note: if you want to play the sample at different pitches, you will need to re-allocate this MIDI note to make sure that the notes above and below it are also available to this module.
Swap to the Phrase module and you will see the vocal clip's waveform in the Editor section. Notice that both modules have 'Unknown' in the name section. To name it something useful, click on the yellow arrow, select Save from the drop–down menu and enter a suitable name. Most of the fun to be had with the Phrase module comes from trying out its different modes. Vocodize forces the pitch of the phrase to conform to MIDI notes routed to that track. Flick over to the Phrase–Seq and experiment with the Note Range settings, which will allow you to transpose the complete phrase or play individual notes. Now see what the Speed and Sync buttons achieve. Then try Solo/Vocals, adjust the Formant and Pitch, and produce a range of different voices from just the one phrase.
The Beatcutter effect is another useful way to mangle phrase samples (and other tracks too!). From the effects module on the Phrase track, select Beatcutter from the drop–down list. Set Transfuser going and see what happens to the phrase. There are five effects built into Beatcutter — Repeat, Reorder, Gate, Scratch and Freeze — each applied by the controls in the bottom half of the Beatcutter editor window. The Force button is useful when using Transfuser in performance, applying the effect as long as you hold down its button.
Another way of programming in variations is the MARIO control. MARIO stands for Musical Advanced Random Intelligent Operations, and is a 'humanisation' algorithm that lets you create semi–random variations of your sequencer patterns automatically. Customised algorithms for each of the sequencers are tailored to deliver musically intelligent results. First, determine what parameters you want MARIO to randomise by clicking the Target button under the MARIO control. Then select the element you want MARIO to work on. In the bottom screen overleaf I have highlighted the Closed Hi–Hat track, and MARIO is varying the Level and Rhythm of the closed hi–hat. The arrow buttons to the left and right of MARIO provide multiple levels of undo and redo, so you can try out a raft of randomising options and Transfuser will keep track of them as you work.
The Groove module allows you to apply a groove or swing quantisation globally across all Transfuser tracks, but an individual tracks can be given its own independent groove, if necessary, using the drop–down menu below the Groove control in its sequencer module. Lowering the value of the Groove control makes a track less influenced by the selected groove reference.
The last button in the Master section brings up a sample recorder module, which enables you to resample one, two or four–bar samples of whatever Transfuser is playing. Think of this like a miniature Bounce to Disk feature that will record new loops, which you can bring back into Transfuser by dragging the Recorder sample onto the Track section, or into Pro Tools itself by dragging onto an audio track.
Above the virtual keyboard are six Smart Knobs that can be assigned to any of the controls anywhere within Transfuser. Select the control you want to assign to a smart knob, right–click on it, select Assign to Smart Knob from the contextual menu and choose which one of the six you want to use. You can also control the range of the smart knobs. Set the host control to your preferred minimum, right–click on it, select Min from the contextual menu, reset the control to your preferred maximum and this time select Max from the menu. Now when you use the smart knob, the host control will swing between the maximum and minimum values that you have set. You can assign multiple host controls to one smart knob, and you can reverse the minimum and maximum values on any or all of them, so that the host knob goes in reverse (so you can, for instance, set a single smart knob to increase resonance and decrease cutoff values on a filter). Smart knobs really come into their own when you have a MIDI keyboard with rotary MIDI controls or sliders. My MIDI keyboard doesn't, but I discovered that there is limited support for the Command 8 control surface: you have access to the six smart knobs, master volume, pitch, the X–Fader, and that's it.
Talking of which, the X–Fader allows you to crossfade between tracks routed to buses 1 and 2 within Transfuser and is mapped to the Modulation wheel on your MIDI keyboard. Just as with the smart knobs, the range of the X–Fader can be restricted. For example, by setting it to the mid position and right–clicking, the centre position can be set as the maximum. Now route a vocal phrase track to bus 2 and leave everything else on bus 1, and in performance mode the vocal phrase can be mixed in and out using the modulation wheel.
Just above the X–Fader are eight trigger pads that can be assigned to MIDI Notes; open up the Preferences and you will find settings for both MIDI channel and note range for these eight pads. You can configure these to let you use an external set of pads to trigger various Transfuser events, and an especially neat trick is to use them to overcome the limitations of the Pattern keys. If you've read the manual, you'll know that there are 12 Pattern keys, each of which triggers the same–numbered pattern on every track; for instance, if you hit Pattern 6 or F1 on your keyboard, pattern 6 on every track will play. This makes a useful arranging tool, especially for live performance, allowing you to switch between different song sections at a key–press, but what you can't do this way is to play pattern 8 from one track and pattern 6 from another track, and mix them up for even more variation.
This is where the trigger pads come in, because you can configure each pad to play a particular pattern from a particular track. When you right–click on a pad, the drop–down menu gives you all the content from all the tracks in Transfuser, so you can assign any trigger pad to any pattern on any track. If the latch button on that track is switched off, the pattern will play only as long as you keep your finger on the trigger pad; alternatively, you could have it latch on, and configure another trigger pad to stop it (and maybe start another instead). You can assign trigger pads to play single events like vocal phrases, single or multiple slices from a Slicer track, even different events across several tracks. With the trigger pads your arrangement options become way more extensive than what the 12 Pattern keys could ever offer.
Transfuser is designed for real–time manipulation, and when you come up with something good, you'll want to harness and capture the performances produced with it and record them into Pro Tools. This is actually pretty simple, because a lot of Transfuser's parameters are assigned to MIDI notes and controllers. By recording those MIDI events to the Instrument track on which Transfuser is inserted, we can get Transfuser to play back very complex arrangements repeatably. Try programming up a series of patterns and events on the trigger pads and, together with the 12 Pattern keys and the various performance keys you will be able to 'play' Transfuser and record your performance as MIDI data.
- Blank sequences:
If you like the sounds from a drum track but want to start from scratch with the sequencer, drag 'Def Drums' from the bottom of the factory tracks content in the browser and drop it onto the drum track's sequencer module. This will clear all 12 patterns and give you a blank sheet to work from. Now, with the Click turned on in the Master section, you can put the Drum–Seq editor into record and build up a basic sequence to use as pattern 1 by playing the pads, which will by default be assigned to C1 on the MIDI keyboard. To fill the other 11 patterns you could do the same, or use the copy, paste and clear buttons under the Pattern keys in the Drum–Seq editor window. Remember to go into the drum sequencer module and save your sequences.Loop to drum machine:
Transfuser can take a drum loop, analyse it, separate the different elements, assign them to pads and replicate the loop's pattern in the Pattern editor. For example, select the Audio section of the browser and go into the '03 Dance Drum Loops' folder. Drag a loop out of the browser and drop it onto the black background in the tracks section of Transfuser. As this is an audio file rather than a track, Transfuser will ask you what you want to do with it. In this case, select the third option — 'Drum Kit and Drum Sequence' — and Transfuser will analyse the loop, slice it up, assign the appropriate elements to pads, give the pads sensible names where it can and, finally, create a MIDI sequence that represents the original sequencing of the loop. From here on, you can treat what was a single audio file as a collection of drum hits assigned to pads
- Import settings:
You can copy complete track settings from one track to another. For example, if you want to apply the EFX section from one track to another, grab it by the light–grey surround so that it is highlighted in light blue, then drag it to another track. You will see the EFX module on that track highlighted, and when you let go, Transfuser will ask you if you really want to do this, as it is undoable. Hit Yes, and all the effects from the source track will be applied to the destination track. This technique works with Synth and Sequencer modules too. You can also drag a track from the browser and drop it on the Synth module of an existing track, in which case it will replace only the Synth module settings, not the whole track.
- Create your own groove:
In the Master section, you can create your own grooves as well as importing groove templates from Pro Tools. To create your own groove, simply drag the bars that represent how far behind or ahead each beat is from the strict tempo (ahead is below the line, laid–back is above the line). The resulting grooves can be saved and re-used as you wish.
- Use Transfuser as an effect in PT:
To do this, route the audio you want Transfuser to process to the input of the Instrument track that Transfuser is on. Then, in Transfuser, create a track with an Audio Input Module. The easiest way to do this is to drag in a default Audio Input track from the browser onto the tracks section of Transfuser. Now add the effect of your choice and away you go. Beatcutter is particularly effective on existing Pro Tools tracks.
You can read Jem Godfrey's verdict on Transfuser in our review on page 114, and for those who want to know more, we've teamed up with Digidesign to offer a special free trial of the full version. If you'd like to give Transfuser a blast in your own system, simply visit the special page on the Digidesign site at www. digidesign.com/transfusertrial. The first 1000 readers to sign up will get a free one–month rental licence for the plug–in.
As well as saving complete Transfuser setups, you can save individual elements such as sequencer patterns and synth sounds from within the relevant track modules. You can also save complete track configurations by dragging the yellow bar on the left–hand side of a track and dropping it on the browser. Transfuser will open the User section and offer you a dialogue box where you can name your new track. It will appear in the browser for use here or in any other project.