Razor Oscillators

Review: Native Instruments Razor

Price: €69

Available: Now

Compatibility: Mac/PC, within Reaktor 5 or Reaktor 5 Player

Of all your synthesisers, the majority are likely to be subtractive. Subtractive synths work by taking a raw sound wave and using filters to remove harmonics and change the sound wave as it passes through them. Conversely, additive synthesis, which is the technique of choice for Native Instrument’s latest synth Razor, works almost backwards. If you consider that at a basic level all sound waves are created by the sum of individual sine waves, it’s possible to model those individual waves, or partials, to combineand create any sound. That’s what Razor does, and so right off the bat it has not only a different range of easily accessible sounds to many synths in your arsenal, but also a slightly different interface and very different way of creating those sounds.

“Everything you see on Razor’s interface is really just a simulation”

Everything you see on Razor’s interface is really just a simulation. Whilst you may see two oscillators and two filters, there’s really just a single big oscillator that generates up to 320 partials, or harmonics of a sound – the partials are manipulated by the controls to behave as a final result, rather than an actual sound that goes through various stages.

The oscillators range from classics, pulse, saw, and noise, to more inventive and avant-garde sounds, such as the Prime oscillator that only creates partials on prime number frequencies and the pitch bend oscillators that create the audio effect of a pitch bend without actually altering the oscillator’s pitch.

“Razor is deep, but also relatively complex to a newcomer to additive synthesis and even intermediate sound design fans”

There’s also a formant generator, which contains a variety of different wave shapes and creates phoneme type sounds. As an added modulation option, when used on oscillator one the formant oscillator alters the phase of the partials on the entire sound – Razor is deep, but also relatively complex to a newcomer to additive synthesis and even intermediate sound design fans.

Because most of the filters and effects are created by manipulating the partials of the sound, it’s possible to do things that can’t happen by simply using an effects stage. Reverb tails and delay echos, for example, can be ‘played’; rather than being created after the generator stage they are an intrinsic part of the generator. Aside from the way that they’re generated and the unique opportunities that provides, the effects are fairly standard stereo effects: auto pan, stereo spread, chorus, reverb, synced reverb, unison noise and simple pan. There’s also a dedicated echo section.

“There are two filter sections, each with different filter types”

There are two filter sections, each with different filter types. Filter one has a few different low pass designs – ramping, broad, phaser, and dirty – as well as a band pass and an interesting EQ decay filter which allows you to program a five band EQ to surge or decay. There’s also formant, a formant decay filter, and an even more explicitly phoneme based vowel filter, as well as a vocoder setting, which allows you to send an audio input to the plugin, use the oscillator section as the modulator and the filter as a carrier for some mad results. Filter two contains more standard filter types such as low, high, and band pass, comb, and there’s also a phaser which has a less linear sounding alternative called waterbed, pseudo pitch bend, noise, and gate.

“The dissonance effects mess with the harmonic spacing of the partials”

The dissonance effects mess with the harmonic spacing of the partials, which can create interesting and unnatural sounds. When using the dissonance effects, the loss of low frequencies are often a side effect. To counteract this, Razor features a Safe Bass section that acts like a crossover and prevents bass frequency partials from being modulated. There’s also the danger of out of control harmonics becoming overloud, and so the Spectral Clip section transparently clips partials (it can also be used more aggressively to simulate a low pass filter).

The only effects that are more standard are the final dynamics stage, with the saturator, compressor, limiter and clipper which help to even out some of the drastic modulations in amplitude and tone that can occur with the modulation of the parameters – there’s an amp envelope and two freely assignable ones, two LFOs, everything you’d expect to be able to tie to a parameter from velocity to aftertouch, and the ability to tie a parameter to the steps of the echo effect.

The frankly beautiful display in Razor shows the amplitude of the partials in the sound at various stages, and can also be set to an oscilloscope view. Aside from looking great, it’s makes it a lot easier to grasp how both the additive synthesis engine and harmonics work; it’s almost a science lesson in your sequencer!

“The system toll in Razor definitely depends on the complexity level of the patch you’re working with”

The system toll in Razor definitely depends on the complexity level of the patch you’re working with. With both oscillators, filters, and the dissonance, stereo, and shaping stages active you’re going to be looking at a pretty hefty whack – the Oh Drat 2.93gHz i7 iMac started to splutter at around six instances of some of the biggest polyphonic presets each playing three or four note chords at 96000Hz and my preferred buffer size of 64 samples. Thankfully there’s a processor economy switch in Razor, which help you to go a little further with the patches. Another point of interest is that the synth gets more power hungry as it’s required to generate more partials. Chords are an obvious way of creating more, but also lower frequency sounds take more to render.

A point of interest is that Razor’s not actually a standalone synth, but a Reaktor instrument; it doesn’t necessarily mean much in terms of power requirements but an annoying thing about the package is that whilst Razor works just fine without the full version of Reaktor, you won’t be able to save your own presets within the free Reaktor Player. Whilst this isn’t a total deal breaker, it’s a feature that for the price of the synth should be standard.

So, having looked at its unique qualities, what’s Razor really good for? For a start, and probably the main thing that it’ll get used for by many, is its ripping bass sounds. It does a tremendous job of generating harmonic laden, crisp sounds with nasty bottom end – and thanks to the Safe Bass dial and the dynamics section, modulating the sounds to get talky, morphing growls and barks without losing bottom end thickness is possibl

It does a tremendous job of generating harmonic laden, crisp sounds with nasty bottom end

Long, pad like atmospheres and sound beds are also a strong point of the additive synthesis engine, with realistic and dynamic changes to harmonics as the partials interact. It’s definitely not a go to synth for every day sounds, and it’s not really ideal for synthesising realistic instruments or ‘sweet’ tones.

THE WRAP UP

Razor sounds great at what it’s designed for, and that’s creating tearing bass sounds and huge, morphing soundscapes. It’s definitely a synth that you’ll enjoy bringing out when you have a specific sound in mind rather than being a good all rounder, and if you don’t have the full version of Reaktor then you’ll likely be annoyed that you can’t save presets. The additive synthesis engine is really deep and creates very varied sounds, but the included presets are a powerful library of current popular electronic music sounds that you’ll enjoy without learning how every last dial works.

 

A video review of Razor’s sounds and capabilities will be available soon!

AyGeeTee - EarlyColors

AyGeeTee – EarlyColors

Is there such a thing as organised chaos? EarlyColors from AyGeeTee is right on the brink of full on insanity, with drifting acid synth lines and ethereal arpeggiated effects over the top of a hectic drum rhythm.

EarlyColors is a great example of the use of tension and release in composition

Just as it starts to become to much to bear, the drums subside and an overwhelming sense of calm and relief descends; the track is a great example of the use of tension and release in composition…

 

Pro Tools MP 9

Avid Announce Pro Tools MP 9 Bundles

Avid have announced Pro Tools MP 9, the version of Pro Tools designed to work with M-Audio hardware.

the MP version of Pro Tools 9 takes the core functionality of the full version and delivers it at a lower price

Picking up where Pro Tools M-Powered left off, the MP version of Pro Tools 9 takes the core functionality of the full version, along with many of its bells and whistles including 70 software instruments and effects, and delivers it at a lower price for users of select M-Audio products. It will be especially attractive to those of you who are looking at purchasing an audio interface, as the bundles represent huge savings on individual purchases…

  • Pro Tools MP 9 + MobilePre, £249 and €299
  • Pro Tools MP 9 + Fast Track Pro, £299 and €359
  • $549.95 for Pro Tools + Fast Track Ultra, £406 and €485

Here are the released features in full:

  • 48 simultaneous 24-bit mono or stereo tracks and up to 96 kHz fidelity
  • Over 70 virtual instruments and effects plug-ins
  • Automatic Delay Compensation
  • MP3 export
  • Session compatibility with professional Pro Tools studios

It’s not completely clear which of the other Pro Tools 9 features will make it into MP yet, or whether the Complete Production bundle will be a compatible add on for it, but all the information and a review are on the way soon… Until then you can also look at Avid’s site.

Mute Speaker - Smart Bomb

Mute Speaker – Smart Bomb

Smart Bomb is the debut self released LP from Brighton, England based Mute Speaker on his own imprint Liquid Noise Records.

Smart Bomb never stays in a single place long enough to be predictable

It never stays in a single place long enough to be predictable, with the predominant sound set morphing between synths and samples, the energy levels from near ambient tracks to pieces with incredibly heavy drums, and an album wide shift in tone; it starts with a definite eastern flavour, with samples and smatterings of Asian instruments and voices interwoven into arpeggiated, space age electronica, and gradually transforms into a more western sound. Electric pianos, guest emcees in the shape of Invokal and Highfly, and the finale, the guitar led Fractured featuring Amdine… it’s definitely worth your time, and also provides an eloquent answer to a question recently posed at Oh Drat – when would instrumental music benefit from collaborations with vocalists? Smart Bomb’s two vocal tracks both use the collaboration to elevate what would otherwise be two much less interesting pieces.

Groundislava - Animal ft Jake Weary

Groundislava – Animal ft Jake Weary

Jasper Patterson is the Californian producer behind the Groundislava moniker, and he combines chip-tune synth lines with the wonky rhythmical style of the LA beat scene and a sprinkling of electronic psych funk.

If you’re an instrumental artist, is it through choice or a lack of collaboration opportunities?

In Animal, taken from his new self titled LP, he works with vocalist Jake Weary – who lends a new level to the too often instrumental sounds that peers to the scene provide – and the track gains a new depth of meaning with the fantastic, surreal video.

If you’re an instrumental artist, is it through choice or a lack of collaboration opportunities?

Mike-L

Interview: Mike-L

Mike L is a talented UK based producer and DMC finalist turntablist whose recent album On a Columbo Tip was released to universal praise, and his background in live performance has enabled him to take a live version of his album to stage. Oh Drat caught up with the man himself to talk about his set up, how he makes the switch from studio to stage, and tips he has for aspiring artists…

Oh Drat: What are you up to at the moment?

Mike L: Today I’ve been setting up my equipment again, I was working quite heavily on one particular track for a video and now I’m rearranging things to get more done.

OD: So, is your live set all tracks from your recent album?

ML: So far it is, yeah…

My live stuff isn’t like a routine where I try and show how quick I can do stuff or whatever

OD: Okay, and what’s your process for taking things from studio to stage?

ML: Erm… good question! My live stuff isn’t like a routine where I try and show how quick I can do stuff or whatever, so the songs are kinda made bit by bit, layer by layer and I just have to try and work out how I’m going to do that in a live format. The first thing I do is reimport all the sampled elements back into the MPC – as I’m putting a track together I’ll start off with hundreds of sounds in the MPC and as I go on some of the sounds will get discarded so I prune all that stuff out and make sure that everything’s EQ’d and compressed nicely so that the song sounds ‘together’…

OD: So you mention that you think about things slightly differently to when you’re doing your turntablism routines, is there any crossover?

ML: I suppose there’s a crossover in the sense that… well I think with a lot of live MPC stuff you sort of get the impression that it’s about the skills and not the song, and what I’m keen to do is keep the integrity of the songs there, not just using some of the sounds and then going crazy for the sake of it. I have to spend a lot of time scratching my head figuring out how to make four or five things happen at the same time as opposed to layering.

OD: Do you have a defacto preset for where you place the sounds on your pads?

ML: There’s definitely common features in most of my programs when it comes to playing live, when I’m making the track the sounds can be anywhere, just where ever the next free pad is! When it comes to playing live I’ll usually have kicks and snares on the right side of the middle, hats on the left, and other sounds get sort of pieced around them.

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Sleepover - The Sun Remixes

Sleepover – The Sun Remixes

Sleepover are a favourite over at Oh Drat, and you may remember coverage of the remix competition they held for The Sun. The resultant EP has now been released, and both the quality and variety of the offerings is high.

working with a single idea demonstrates the ways different producers approach their music

It’s always interesting to hear a group of remixes, working with a single idea demonstrates the ways different producers approach their music. There’s real contrast, as Peripheral and Nigel One’s remix literally cuts, pastes and melds the entirety of the original into a new composition whilst Jacque Polynice’s version takes a much more subtle hint and builds a new track around it.

Cherri Prince - Misery

Cherri Prince – Misery

Of all the independent offerings I hear across genres, blues and soul may just be the style with the with the strongest overall quality. Is it because of the requisite musicianship – a point which may be why conversely there are so many disposable ‘beat tape’ projects around?

Of all the independent offerings I hear across genres, blues and soul may just be the style with the with the strongest overall quality

I think it’s as good a guess as any, and perhaps it’s a wakeup call not necessarily for sample chopping artists to delve into music theory, but for artists of all disciplines to peer over the fence and see what they can learn to improve the quality of their art, from the feel for rhythm and texture that a sampling artist hones so well to the sense of composition and narrative melody that a jazz musician masters.

Illustrating my point, certainly about quality blues, is this delicate, somewhat dark yet seductive number from Cherri Prince. Misery’s peculiar allure is illustrated perfectly in the song’s noir tone and its vampy video… Cherri’s forthcoming full length project certainly looks like it will certainly be worth keeping an ear out for.

Drums & Ammo Vol 1

Drums & Ammo Vol 1

There are two inherent dangers to creating a ‘beat tape’; the format of the collection itself changes the context of the music into something that feels a lot more disposable and less ‘finished’, and what would otherwise be individual sounding tracks run the risk of exhausting the listener to the producer’s hallmarks.

each track plays out with a brevity that ensures your fingers will be more more closely aligned with the rewind button than fast forward

In Drums & Ammo Vol 1, at least one of the problems is avoided by the fact that the project is not a single entity but a team; Ammbush, 6Fingers, REL and Al Jieh have an equal stake in the 30 track LP, each of whose tracks have a different style, and each track playing out with a brevity that ensures your fingers will be more more closely aligned with the rewind button than the fast forward one. Collaborations with Keak Da Sneak, Del the Funky Homosapien, Exile and more hint at the calibre of the talent on offer, and for a free download it’s a no brainer of a download for instrumental hip hop fans.

Cyrus Malachi - Ancient Future

Cyrus Malachi – Ancient Future

Malachi’s relentless flow style is evident on this 20 track saga, combining retelling and prophesy over a British take on the darker side to east coast US boom bap  from Chemo, Endemic, Beat Butcha and more.

Malachi’s relentless flow style is evident on a 20 track saga

A huge list of guests – M9, Letia Larok, Bronze Nazareth, Kevlaar 7, June Megalodon, Ruste Juxx, Darkim Be Allah, Killa Sha, Kyza Smirnoff, Iron Braydz and Cipher Jewels – feature on this unashamedly bleak offering, which at the same time has glints of light and softness. At times it feels as though the same subject matter is dwelled on more times than it can cope with; the LP would probably benefit from some trimming.

For fans of the grittier side of hip hop, though, this is a solid offering. Multiple listens are rewarded with hearing new ideas and points, an increasingly rare virtue of emcees nowadays.

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