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Reaktion Time

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques
By Len Sasso

NI's Reaktor is the perfect partner for Live...

Using Native Instruments Reaktor in Live is not quite as straightforward as using other plug‑ins, but the extra effort is well justified by Reaktor's immense versatility. And if you happen to own any version of Native Instruments Komplete, Reaktor is just sitting in your plug‑ins folder waiting for you to take advantage of it. If you don't have Reaktor, you can get a taste by downloading the free Reaktor Player from Native Instruments' web site (www.native-instruments.com). In this month's column we'll go over what you need to know as well as what you need to watch out for when using Reaktor as an instrument, audio effect or MIDI effect device in Live. For a brush up on Reaktor terminology see the 'Reaktor Plug‑in Basics' box.

Back To School

The Newscool groove box is one of my favourite Reaktor Ensembles, and it's a great one for getting to grips with playing and automating Reaktor Ensembles in Live. The Ensemble contains two Instruments: a sequencer called 'Life' at the top and an eight‑voice synthesizer called 'NWSCL' at the bottom. The sequencer starts with a pattern drawn or loaded into the Board display on the left, which then evolves in a sequence of patterns in the Performer display on the right. Each lighted cell in the Performer display sends a note to the synthesizer voice matching the colour of the dot hidden underneath the cell. The eight voices have different sounds and effects processing.

1: In this screen I've enclosed the Ensemble in a Live Instrument rack with Macro knobs assigned to the most important sequencer controls. The rack's XY‑control sets the LFO rates for synth and effects modulation. MIDI Notes C2, D2 and E2 respectively trigger the sequencer's pattern Reset ('&>&>'), Next and Run buttons. Try using Live clips to control the sequencer with those notes.To explore Newscool, enter the sequencer settings shown in screen 1 and start Live playing. Try out different Snapshots for the synthesis engine at the bottom; most are percussive sounds with varying degrees of pitch. Next play with the sequencer section at the top. Start with the Warp, Offset and Sens(itivity) knobs at the bottom‑right. The Sens knob controls the density of sequenced notes, whereas the other three knobs control which sounds are played by changing the arrangement of the coloured dots in the background of the Performer display above the knobs.

2: The Spiral Ensemble is one of the more unusual Reaktor MIDI sequencers. As the rotating squares in the central display pass the pick‑up position indicated by the red line, MIDI notes are emitted. You control the rotation speed, grid and amount of quantising, pitch correction, pitch and velocity range, and settings called Tilt and Wrap for pitch, velocity and rotation. A Live track setup and Instrument rack for Spiral are shown at the bottom.To create your own sequences you draw patterns in the sequencer's Board display on the left and then transfer them to the Performer display on the right, either manually or automatically when the sequencer loops. Alternatively, you can load presets or random patterns from the menu and tabs just below the Board display. The pattern in the Performer display evolves according to rules based on John Conway's cellular automaton model 'Game Of Life.' A lighted cell stays lit at the next step if it has either two or three lighted neighbours; otherwise it goes dark. A dark cell lights up at the next step if it has exactly three lighted neighbours.

Like many plug‑ins, Reaktor sports its own MIDI Learn capability, but the easiest way to apply automation and MIDI mapping to Ensemble controls is to use Live's implementation. Click the plug‑in device's triangular Unfold button to reveal the device parameters. Next, click the Configure button and then click each of the Ensemble controls you want to manipulate in Live — they will show up as sliders in the plug‑in device panel. You can now automate the configured sliders directly in Live clips or assign them to MIDI events or Instrument rack Macro controls. (You will occasionally find that a control, such as Newscool's Step‑size control, can neither be configured in Live nor MIDI mapped in Reaktor.)

Steppin' Out

Newscool is cool, but you may find yourself wishing you could use Reaktor sequencers to play Live instruments. The Factory library contains some interesting sequencer Ensembles (see screen 2), and you can download many more from the Reaktor User library on the Native Instruments web site. (On a Mac you must use the Reaktor VST plug‑in for these because AU plug‑ins do not support MIDI out.)

Although Spiral and other Reaktor sequencers feature pitch‑correction, quantising and other typical MIDI functions, you may find it easier to use Live's version of those processes. For example, you could precede the target instrument with any combination of Live MIDI effects (Scale, Chord, Arpeggiator and so on), and that approach is often easier to manage and automate. Also consider recording the Reaktor Sequencer's output into Live clips and then editing the notes therein.

Just For Effect

Reaktor comes with a selection of effects processors, which you'll find in library folders named 'Effects.' You'll also find some effects processors in other library folders, where they typically have 'FX' in the Ensemble name. You need to use the FX version of the Reaktor plug‑in to use those Ensembles as effects. You can insert the Reaktor FX plug‑in on Live Return tracks or directly on audio and MIDI‑instrument tracks depending on how you like to work with effects. For automation and MIDI control, use the same techniques described for Newscool.

Reaktor comes with around 70 Ensembles, but that barely scratches the surface. There's an active User library on the Native Instruments web site with close to 4000 free Ensembles to download. Beyond that, here are some of the many active developers of Reaktor Ensembles online: Boscomac (boscomac.free.fr), DevineSound (devinesound.net), Musicrow (mcrow.net), NI Reaktor (nireaktor.com) and Twisted Tools (twistedtools.com).  

Reaktor Plug‑in Basics

Let's start with terminology. Rather than thinking of Reaktor as an instrument or effect plug‑in, think of it as a host. The devices it hosts are called 'Ensembles' (file extension '.ENS') and the presets for those devices are called 'Snapshots'. Ensembles comprise one or more Instruments and ancillary objects. Unless you want to build or modify Ensembles, you can mostly ignore these other types of objects in Reaktor libraries.

Once you load an Ensemble, the Reaktor browser switches automatically to the Snapshots tab, where you can select Snapshot banks and load individual Snapshots. But there are a few tricks to managing Snapshots. First, you must be in Edit mode to save them. (Edit mode is also where you build and edit Ensembles.) Once in Edit mode, three buttons — Append, Store and Insert — appear at the bottom of the Snapshot browser. Append saves a Snapshot (all Ensemble control settings and MIDI mappings) in the first empty slot, Store saves it in the selected slot and Insert creates a new slot after the selected slot and saves it there. In all three cases, you click the button once, enter or edit the name if desired, and then click the button a second time to finalise the action. If the Ensemble contains more than one Instrument — a sequencer along with a synthesizer, for example — use the drop‑down menu at the top of the browser to select which device's Snapshots are shown. For actions other than saving, such as deleting Snapshots, creating banks and so on, use the Edit menu at the top of the Snapshot browser.

As you can see in the screenshot, the major part of the Reaktor interface is devoted to the Ensemble control panel. Ancillary functions such as browsing, transport control, and MIDI mappings are accessed using controls along the top and left edges of the interface. You can load Ensemble and Instrument Snapshots using the browser or the drop‑down menus boxed in yellow. Click the disk icon circled in red to automatically save your Ensemble with your Live song. The numbered areas boxed in orange in the screenshot work as follows: 1. Use the left button to show and hide the browser panel. The middle button reveals several drop‑down menus. The right button toggles Edit mode, allowing you to edit the Ensemble structure as well as to save Snapshots. 2. The left two Browser buttons toggle between the File browser and the Snapshot browser (shown). 3. Use these menus and bank list to manage Snapshot banks as well as perform advanced Snapshot functions (delete, sort, compare and so on). 4. Here's where you can randomise and morph between Snapshots. 5. Browse Snapshots here. 6. Use the Append, Store and Insert buttons to save Snapshots (these buttons appear only in Edit mode).

Published September 2014