Tools like Ableton Live's Racks, Logic's Smart Controls and Reason's Combinators let you connect plugins and utilities together into mammoth singular instruments and effects devices, also known as 'racks'. It's a cinch to build your own creative tools, and so Computer Music issue 217's epic Rack Builder cover feature is all about creating DIY devices inside your DAW.
In addition to the 40+ plugins included with every issue, CM217 readers get CM Live Racks: a huge selection of 70 awesome Ableton Instrument and Effect Racks from gadget-building geniuses Puremagnetik - a selection crammed full of analogue-style synths, sound design tools, modular synth loops, eccentric Effect Racks and more. Owners of the print edition will find the pack on the CM DVD, while digital owners can download the pack immediately from vault.computermusic.co.uk.
We spoke to processing aficionado and Puremagnetik top man Micah Frank about what's in our special pack o' Racks, and how best to use them in your projects.
Computer Music: What's the back-story behind your work with Ableton?
Micah Frank: "I met Ableton when it was a very small company in 2003. I was engineering at an ad scoring house in Manhattan, and Ableton's only US employee came in to do a session. A few months later, I was doing sound design for the release of Operator. I've worked on all of the Live versions since then. I made Ableton's Drum Machines, all types of factory sounds and Retro Synths. From 2013 until 2015, I was Ableton's Sound Packs Manager in Berlin."
cm: How do you create the broad range of sound sources used in your instruments?
MF: "Many sound sources are simply sampled synthesisers; others are just multisampled acoustic instruments; but I really enjoy making the more experimental stuff. I made an entire library just running impulses through vintage Eventide and Lexicon reverbs, and I love generating spectrally processed sounds from my Kyma system, as well. Right now, I'm working on something more algorithmic in Csound - letting the system farm thousands of random synth lines and then editing it down to the good stuff."
cm: The Transwave folder you've supplied for CM Live Racks contains several inspiring Instrument Racks. Can you give us a little insight under the hood of these Racks?
MF: "The Transwave folder is a selection of sounds from Puremagnetik's Waveframe library. It's meant to emulate the Transwave Synthesis of the Ensoniq Fizmo. Opening up the rack reveals a complex structure: each voice is comprised of two wavetable banks. On the lowest level (in the nested rack) are multisampled wavetables wrapped up in a Simpler instrument. The trick is that the 'Frame Morph' macro is mapped to navigate these multisamples through Live's 'Sample Select' parameter. So there are four 'Voices', each with two morphable wavetables. I tried to get as close to the original Fizmo as possible. The full version of Waveframe has over 1700 waveform samples."
cm: The Vintage Chips instruments are incredibly characterful. How do you achieve the timbres heard in patches such as 'T18910 - Frenulum' and 'SID - Sucka Punch'?
MF: "A lot of this character comes from programming the source instrument. The racks themselves don't have much modulation or tone sculpting. Anyone who's worked with vintage 8-bit sound chips will tell you that they're hard to edit and can be very unstable. Naturally, you get some very odd, abrasive and lo-fi stuff when programming them - much of it pretty unmusical. For every patch I ended up using, there were probably eight that got B-rolled. But it's totally fun stuff and makes the Puremagnetik very unique."
cm: How can readers use the devices in the pack to learn the inner workings of Racks?
MF: "Just dive in and open them up! One trick to unlock the 'multisample mode' Simpler racks is to just right-click on the title bar, choose Simpler -> Sampler. I might check out Harpomatik (from Ultrakord, our Suzuki Omnichord emulator) - It's a good example of how to program basic articulations with Live's MIDI devices. The Glitch Racks category in the included Audio Effects has many racks that exemplify channel branching and manipulation."
cm: Any tips for using the Racks in a project?
MF: "The Modular Loops section alone provides a great starting point to get some ideas in place. You can mix and match the Kick and Bass loops until something's working well. From there I might explore the Audio Effect Racks, specifically the Alien Filters or Glitch Racks to modify things even more. For producers or sound designers working in picture or games, I would go straight for the Film Score category. It includes some great menus for background tensions or transition cues."
cm: Are there any limitations within Live's Rack system? How do you overcome them?
MF: "The biggest hurdle I have with programming for Live is the eight-macro limit. In my perfect sound design world, I'd be able to build a custom UI without having to employ Max for Live. This would include a widget library of buttons, switches, knobs, LEDs, and faders. There are some other issues with how Racks get nested and effects are allotted to them. Ideally, I should be able add a reverb to the end of the rack and have it still attached to the rack once saved. Right now, the only workaround is to group a rack into another parent rack, which seems bulky and unnecessary."
Want more Ableton Live Racks? Head to Puremagnetik's site, where you can buy full packs individually or subscribe for just $8 per month.