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Slicing Audio In Reason

Propellerhead Reason Tips & Techniques
By Simon Sherbourne

Screen 1. Two sections of sampled audio: one clean drum loop, and part of a full mix. Screen 1. Two sections of sampled audio: one clean drum loop, and part of a full mix.

We look at different ways to slice audio in Reason.

One of the classic techniques in hip-hop production is to sample a loop or section from a record, chop it into sections, then re-trigger the sections in new ways. Propellerhead of course have a long history with this concept, being the developers of ReCycle: the tool for doing this in the hardware sampler era. Beat-chopping is also deeply ingrained in Akai’s MPC, where you can quickly record a sample and spread individual slices across the pads. Maschine and Push have since adopted very similar features, and it’s also easy to use this production trick in Reason...

Yes, There Are Two Paths You Can Go By

There are some slightly different ways to approach this technique in Reason, but all are variations of the same workflow: record some audio into an audio track, divide it into sections, then make these sections available to play individually on a Kong Drum Designer instrument. One thing to note is that Reason doesn’t have the option to slice across pads in real time as you can with the MPC, Maschine or Push, but it’s still pretty fast and simple. (In case any Propellerheads are reading: a Slice to Pads sampling feature in Kong would be killer.)

The first step is to record or import the audio you’re interested in into an audio track in the Sequencer. We’re not going to use the ‘In Device Sampling’ feature to capture audio here, but we may use it for editing later on. You can record into any track, but I’d suggest keeping a spare audio track dedicated to scratch recording or sampling. In fact I like to use an empty Block when sampling into a track, as this effectively hides and mutes everything else in the Sequencer timeline. As you can see in Screen 1 (above), I’ve renamed Sequencer Block 1 ‘Sampling’ and kept it clear. I’ve sampled two different passages: the first is a clean drum loop that I want to chop up to use all the individual hits, and maybe use the loop as well. The second is a chunk of a mixed record, from which I want to grab some specific sections as ‘feature’ samples.

Pick & Mix

Let’s start with the second sample as this is a fairly straightforward situation where you can simply cut up the recording by hand. To do this zoom in and use the Razor Tool (R key) to separate the audio clip at appropriate places until you have a clip for each sample section you want to trigger in Kong. You’ll need to disable Snap in the Sequencer Toolbar to be able to cut exactly where you want. Next select the clips you wish to use, choose Edit / Add Labels to Clips (also available from right-click) and type a suitable name. (This will keep your sample sets together if you’re working on several recordings). Finally, choose Edit / Bounce / Bounce Clips to New Samples (Screen 2).

Screen 2. The samples have been cut up and named, and can now be bounced to individual files.Screen 2. The samples have been cut up and named, and can now be bounced to individual files.

Reason will generate audio files for each of your clips, and embed them in your Reason Song file. The Browser will automatically navigate to the Song Samples folder where you’ll see your samples. Now create a Kong instrument, right-click it and choose Reset Device to clear any default pad assignments and groups. Select all your new samples in the Browser and drag them to Kong’s first pad (Screen 3). The samples will be automatically assigned across the pads in order, and you’re ready to start playing.

Screen 3. Dropping a set of samples onto Kong spreads them across the pads.Screen 3. Dropping a set of samples onto Kong spreads them across the pads.

Although we did the main editing and chopping in a Sequencer track, the pad samples can be tweaked further right inside Kong. If you select any pad and click the Show Drum and FX button at the bottom of Kong’s panel, you’ll see the expanded view with the NN-Nano module that plays back each sample. This has an Edit Sample button which opens up the Sample Editor window (Screen 4). Here you can adjust the start and end points of a sample, add fades, etc.

Screen 4. Adjustments can be made to samples in Kong using the sample editor.Screen 4. Adjustments can be made to samples in Kong using the sample editor.

Slice & Dice

If you have a lot of cutting to do, for example slicing up every hit of a drum loop, it’s often quicker to use Reason’s automatic transient detection to cut up your sample. In Screen 5 I’ve trimmed the first of my two recordings down to a single loop cycle, then double-clicked it to open Slice Edit mode. As you can see, Reason has automatically placed slice markers at transients it’s detected in the audio. With this nice clean loop I didn’t need to do any further work and it was immediately ready to slice and transfer to Kong. However, sometimes you’ll need make adjustments to get exactly the slices you want. Each of the slices will end up on an individual pad in Kong.

Screen 5. Transient Detection can greatly speed up sample chopping, and gives you the option to generate REX files.Screen 5. Transient Detection can greatly speed up sample chopping, and gives you the option to generate REX files.

If you want to add a slice marker, use the Pencil Tool. To remove markers either click them with the Eraser, or select them with the Selection Tool and hit Delete. If you want to adjust the position of an existing marker, you need to hold Alt while clicking and dragging it. (If you simply move a marker without Alt it actually warps the audio to either side.) To audition a slice click inside it with the Speaker Tool. This is actually another big advantage of using this method compared to cutting with the Razor Tool, because it’s fiddly to audition single clips in normal editing mode.

When you’re ready to move on, highlight all the markers by marquee selecting across them with the Selector, or simply type Command-A/Ctrl-A. Next right-click and choose Split at Slices. This will automatically cut the audio into separate clips. As before, you can now Bounce these to new samples and drag them into Kong from the Song Samples folder.

Nurse Practitioner

Reason veterans may have noticed that we had another option instead of choosing Split at Slices: we could have exported the whole clip as a REX file. You can see an example of this in the Song Samples list in Screen 3, and it’s a tidy way of keeping your samples grouped. If you do this you can unfold the main file to reveal the slices (as in the screen), select them, and drag them to Kong. Just as with the audio samples the slices will get spread across the pads using NN-Nano sampler modules.

If, instead, you were to drop the whole parent REX file to a pad, it would be loaded into a NurseREX module (Kong’s cut-down REX player), and by default the whole loop would be triggered by the pad. However, there’s a problem with doing this in this particular context because the loop would play back at it’s original tempo. For it to match the tempo of the song we’d have needed to have done some extra work, which isn’t necessary for simple chopping. Before we sign off let’s look at a quick way to do this...

Before exporting as a REX file you need the audio loop to match the tempo of the song. In this scenario the simplest way to make this happen is to time-stretch the loop, especially if it’s not drastically different to the song you’re working in. Once you’ve trimmed your audio to a clean loop, slide it to the start of your Sequence. Engage Snap, then hold Alt and trim the end to the nearest bar, so that the loop’s tempo and length align with the song grid. Now when you export as a REX, it will have the correct tempo embedded in it and will play back in time with your song if triggered in Kong.

There are lots of other cool ways you can work with loops in Kong which we’ll cover in detail next time.

Published April 2017