Get to grips with Logic’s powerful new synth: Alchemy.
Originally developed by Camel Audio, Alchemy is the most exciting new virtual instrument to be bundled with Logic for a long time. It is one of the most feature–packed synthesizers on the market, and includes many different synthesis types such as virtual analogue, sampling, additive, spectral, granular and resynthesis. In short, it’s an absolute beast. Over the coming months we will be looking at each of its synthesis engines, but to begin with, let’s look at the browser and performance sections. Before we start, though, make sure you’ve downloaded all the Alchemy Sound Libraries.
To start, create a Software Instrument track, add an instance of Alchemy to it and open its plug–in GUI. Alchemy has three different view settings, which can be selected in the top left–hand corner. It first opens in the browser view; from here, you can browse presets and also use the performance section at the bottom. Switching the view to Simple gives you just the performance controls, while the Advanced view gives you access to all of the parameters you need for in–depth sound design. Starting in the browser view, choose Guitars from the Categories list, then from the Preset column choose ‘12 String Split’. Now glance up at the top of the plug–in to the Name Bar: this displays the category Guitars and the name of the current preset, ‘12 String Split’, in that order.
Alchemy can use a lot of your CPU resources, so let’s load a demanding preset to see how to manage the overhead. From the browser, go to the Strings category and then click on the ‘Morphing Ensemble’ preset to load it. Alternatively, beneath the browser on the right, you’ll find a Search box. Type ‘Morphing Ensemble’ into it to navigate to the preset quickly. Play a four-note chord on your keyboard and observe the CPU load in Logic using its CPU graph. On my MacBook Pro 2.5 GHz i7, this preset uses just over half of one core, and gets even more demanding if I start to tweak the performance controls. On the right–hand side of the Name bar is the Quality box; the default setting is Great, but this can be switched to Draft to use less CPU.
In Alchemy you can add custom tags to presets to create your own easily searchable categories. From the browser, load the preset ‘Epic Cloud Formation’, then click the Edit button beneath the browser to bring up the Preset Edit Mode window. From here you can manage the attributes and user tags of your presets. First of all let’s add a tag. Click the User Tags button, choose New Tag, and add an appropriate tag name. For example, I’ve used the phrase ‘Geo Pads’ to tag all my pad sounds. Once you have added your tag, make sure it is highlighted in light blue so that the ‘Epic Cloud Formation’ preset has your custom tag associated with it. You may wish to also add or edit the text in the comment box that accompanies a preset. I find this field really useful for reminding myself of any controllers that have real-time modulation assigned to them. Now close the Preset Edit Mode window to return back to the browser. The columns in Alchemy’s browser can be customised to display what you want. Go to the top of the Timbre column, click the drop–down arrow and choose the User Tags option. You should now see the tag you added in the User Tags column. Note that tags only appear once you have tagged one or more presets with them.
Beneath the browser is the performance section. On the left-hand side you can switch the view to display the performance controls, arpeggiator and effects sections. Let’s carefully examine the performance controls. On the left–hand side of the performance section is the Transform Pad: this is an XY pad that allows you to morph between eight different snapshot settings in order to transform the sound of a patch with gestures. Call up the ‘Epic Cloud Formation’ preset and move the framing box around inside the Transform Pad to access different snapshots of the performance area. The results are truly impressive, offering a vast amount of sonic variation from a single control. For me, this feature really demonstrates the sheer amount of work that has gone into the creation of each of Alchemy’s presets.
A snapshot in Alchemy is a snapshot of all of the performance control settings in the bottom panel. To create your own snapshot, first move the framing box over a snapshot that you don’t mind overwriting. Next, tweak the eight performance control knobs, the two XY pads and the performance envelope controls to taste. Once you are happy with your settings, Ctrl–click on the Transform Pad and choose Store Current Snapshot from the pop–up menu. Your settings are now written to that snapshot’s memory, meaning you can now move the framing box to a different snapshot and back, and your settings will be preserved. You can rename a snapshot by right–clicking on the Transform Pad and choosing the Rename option.
Alchemy has a massively powerful arpeggiator engine that can be applied to a whole preset or to one or more of the four layers that a preset is built from. This feature gives you huge flexibility to create everything from simple, arpeggiated patterns to the complex, layered presets that seemingly play a track themselves when you hold down one note. Load the ‘Fast Vox’ preset and from the performance area, click the ARP tab. From the arpeggiator parameter area, go to the Mode dial and set it to Up. Now the ‘Fast Vox’ preset arpeggiates in the time-honoured way. You can use the controls to the right to tweak the arpeggiator pattern. Try setting the Length to 25 percent to shorten the duration of each note and set the Octave parameter to 2, so the arpeggiated pattern spans a larger range. By default, the arpeggiator edit mode is set to All, so your parameter changes affect all four layers (A, B, C and D). However, the arpeggiator is way more flexible than that and can be applied to just a single layer. Starting with the same patch, click layer B in the arpeggiator area so that this has a blue highlight. You can now set up an arpeggiator just for layer B, leaving the other layers unprocessed (see Screen 2).
One of my favourite things to do with Alchemy’s arpeggiator is to set the Mode to Chord and then move across to the Step Area and draw in a rhythmic pattern. You can change the number of steps in a Step Area by dragging the grey panel (marked < >) left or right. In the example I have set the number of steps to 32 (see Screen 2).
You can add further interest to the pattern by changing the Modulation parameter of the step sequencer drop-down menu from Velocity to Pan and drawing in a different pattern for this parameter. Alternatively, clicking on the Multi button allows you to view more than one step-sequencer parameter at the same time. In the example in Screen 3, you can see that I have added movement to the arpeggiator by setting the different steps to different Pan values.
The last tab in the performance area is the Effects tab. Once again Alchemy doesn’t disappoint, allowing you to assign a huge range of insert effects across either the four individual synthesis layers or across the mix bus that all of the layers are summed through. Clicking the Main button shows the effects on the mix bus, whereas clicking A, B, C or D displays the effects on the corresponding individual layer. Effects chains can be loaded using the File button in the left–hand area, whereas presets for individual effects can be loaded from the File button on each individual effects GUI panel (see Screen 4). There aren’t that many effects chain presets, so it’s worth building up some of your own favourites and saving them using the File / Save option.
That concludes our initial excursion into the wonderful world of Alchemy. Good luck with your own experiments!