Since 2010 Fare Soldi are a household name for everyone who loves modern disco stuff. Their obsession about looking for the perfect groove let their remixes (for Duck Sauce, Beyoncé, Congorock, Toro Y Moi among others) rise to reach dancefloors all around the world, released on quality labels like Southern Fried, Ministry of Sound, Kitsuné. We caught up with the Italian duo to find out more about how they use Reason and ReCycle in their music making.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you use Reason and ReCycle when making your tracks? Usually we start with browsing samples in our library, then, using ReCycle, we find the peaks in the wav file, and chop it as we please: it might be a drum, or a bass, a voice, even some keys, anything. A little work on the right knobs, and the chops are ready to be played on Reason on a lovely blue Octo Rex.
Then starts the fun part: getting inspired by little samples and starting playing them on a keyboard can take you anywhere, so focusing on pitch, rhythm, and beat, can often bring up a new groove and of course the proper bpm of the track. So now the puzzle has started, and we just need to finish it with the proper pieces: a bass (whether a real one, a sample, or a Thor patch), drums, and all the magic up above like vocals, pads, amusement park sounds, whatever.
Your sound incorporates a lot of sampling, where do you hunt for samples? Most of the ideas comes from weird vinyls we have been collecting throughout the years, visiting flea markets all around the world; of course we know how to spot symptoms of good samples, certain labels, years, producers, world areas, but mostly, it is about mustaches, so the more on the cover, the better.
Sampling for us is not just taking “a sound” but is rather a matter of being inspired by the vibe in it, which comes from a sum of details like who’s playing, what is playing and last but not least some analog quality mixer, compressor and FX.
Do you have any production trick that you always use? Often we use 2 audio splitters on the kick signal, (taken from the Redrum separate exit in the back) to feed every compressor in the rack and fine tune some different levels of side chain for every audio element in the track. We use also a lot of layering in the samples, duplicating Octo Rex and playing different pitches at the same time, but with different balance, EQ, compression and side chain of course.
What do you do when writer's block strikes? To get the wheels back in motion we usually try to start with something very weird, or very far from our usual musical routes, and start playing with it without thinking about following steps like arrangement, mixing, automations etc. Oh and a lot of moka coffee, of course.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring producers and musicians? Listen to as much music as you can, all genres, all eras, everything can bring inspiration. Work on your own style and peculiarities, at the and of the day is all that matters.
When you come across a video where someone samples percussion and snoring (!) together with an older gentleman covered in tattoos, it's hard not to be curious. Therefore we had a quick chat with New York-based mad audio experimentalist Hot Sugar to find out more about his approach to music production.
Your music is full of unique sounds, could you tell us a bit about how you create them? I record a lot of sounds on portable recorders then import them to the NN-XT to make patches. I make everything from basses to keys or sustained organ type patches. I'll compose a melody and add instrumentation surrounding it. After that I import drum samples i've recorded into Redrum or Kong and make a beat to accompany the riffs I created. Between the drum machines and the samplers you can make a whole song.
My favorite patches are the ones I've made using recordings I couldn't hear at the time (usually because they were too quiet or even silent). Just because we don't hear something doesn't mean there isn't a sound, tone or texture to present. I love recording "silence" and cranking up the volume afterwards to hear the intricacies our ears cant. I've made number of patches from roomtones that at first seemed silent but once distorted and compressed sounded like eerie whistles or even basses. I usually throw them into the NN-XT too.
When I travel to a place I haven't been to before I turn on my recorder and capture it (whether a new place a couple blocks from my apartment or another country entirely). Sometimes I like to scroll through my folders of recordings and press play without reading the filename. Some are recognizable but most are confusing and disorienting. I try to picture the spot and by then my imagination gets the best of me. Once I'm lost in that world I can hear other melodies and things going on so the songs start writing themselves.
Any Words of Wisdom for aspiring producers and musicians? There are plenty of stock sounds offered by a program like Reason but there are an infinite number of other ones outside that are just waiting to be recorded and brought back to your computer. The sounds that come with the program are incredibly impressive but the real gift Reason offers is the ability to transform whatever you want on your own.
Yours truly is old enough to have been around when digital samplers first arrived. Admittedly I never touched a Fairlight or an Emulator back when they were fresh from the factory – those products were way out of a teenager's league – but I distinctly remember the first time I laid hands on an S612, Akai's first sampler. Its modest 128 kB RAM could hold a single 1-second sample at maximum quality (32 kHz) – but none the less it was pure magic to be able to record something with a mic and instantly trigger it from the keyboard. I spotted that particular Akai sampler hooked up in my local music store, and tried it out by sampling myself strumming a chord on a Spanish guitar. My first sample...!
As the years went by, I gradually became spoiled like everyone else; there were tons of high quality sample libraries available on floppies, and soon enough the market was swamped with dedicated sample playback instruments such as the S1000PB, the E-mu Proteus, the Korg M1 and the Roland U-series to name but a few. This trend carried over into software instruments; manufacturers and others kept sampling like crazy for us so it seemed more or less superfluous to do it yourself. Propellerhead was no exception – with no sampling facilities and no hard disk recording, Reason remained a playback device for canned samples for almost 10 years – but in Reason 5 and Record 1.5, they got around to adding a sampling feature. In typical Propellerhead fashion, don't do it unless it's done right. The trick to doing it right was to bring back the simplicity and instant gratification of those early samplers – just plug in a source, hit the sample button, perform a quick truncate-and-normalize in the editor, and start jamming away.
Setting Up for Sampling
The sampling feature is part of the Audio I/O panel on the hardware interface. On the front panel there's an input meter, a monitor level control, a button for toggling the monitoring on/off and an Auto toggle switch – activate this and monitoring will be turned on automatically while you're recording a sample (figure 1).
Figure 1: Reason's Hardware interface now sports a sampling input
On the back, there's a stereo input for sampling and this will be hooked up to audio inputs 1 and 2 by default. In case you're sampling a mono source such as a mic, and the source is audio input 1, make sure to remove the cable between audio input 2 and sampling input R - otherwise you'll get a stereo sample with only the left channel (figure 2).
Figure 2: The default routing is Audio Input 1/2 to Sampling Input L/R
Now, if you're sampling with a mic you may want some help with keeping the signal strong and nice without clipping, and perhaps a touch of EQ as well. In that case you can pass the mic signal through Reason devices such as the MClass suite and then sample the processed signal (figure 3).
Figure 3: You can process your audio input prior to sampling, for example with EQ
Sampling devices or the entire rack
You might wonder "hey, what's the point of sampling Reason itself when I can just export an audio loop?" Well, there are situations where that method just doesn't cut it. A few examples:
When you want to sample yourself playing an instrument, singing, rapping or scratching, you're running the audio through Reason's effect units and you want to capture with the sample.
When you want to edit something quickly without leaving Reason, for instance if you want to reverse a segment of your song or reverse single sounds such as a reverb 'tail'. Just wire it into the sampling input, hit the sample button on the Kong/NN-XT/NN19/Redrum, pull up the editor, reverse the sample, done.
When you want to sample the perfect 'snapshot' of instruments doing something that's non-repeatable, for example when a sample-and-hold LFO happens to do something you wish it would do throughout the entire song.
When you're doing live tweaking that can't be automated, such as certain Kong and NN-XT parameters.
It's a straightforward process where you simply take any Reason devices you want to sample and plug them into the Sampling Input. In this illustration, Reason has been set up to sample from a Dr. OctoRex (figure 4).
Figure 4: Routing Reason devices to the sampling input is this simple
When you sample straight from the Reason rack, you'll want to make sure to enable the monitoring, because unlike situations where you sample an external acoustic source, you'll hear absolutely nothing of what you're doing unless monitoring is enabled (figure 5).
Figure 5: Turn on monitoring so you can hear what you're doing
These utilities let you sample just about anything straight into Reason: iTunes, Windows Media Player, YouTube, Spotify, anything with audio (including other music and audio applications of course). Now let's have a look at using one of these utilities, SoundFlower — the setup procedure is similar for all these utilities, whether on PC or Mac (consult the included documentation for specifics).
After installing SoundFlower, start up Soundflowerbed (it's in the application folder). Now you should have a flower icon on the Menu bar. Pull down the menu and make sure that the built-in output is selected in the Soundflower 2CH section: (figure 6)
Figure 6: Make sure to select the built-in output
Next, open System Preferences and select "Soundflower (2ch)" as both input and output:
Figure 7: Open System Preferences to select the correct input
And finally, open Reason Preferences and select Soundflower (2ch) as the driver on the Audio tab:
Figure 8: Now set up the input in Reason's Preferences
Now you have set everything up so that Reason can tap the audio stream, and anything playing back over the built-in output can be sampled. Though in this particular example, do not enable monitoring on the Sampling Input panel since this will create a feedback loop!
The Sample Editor
The editor is very simple and straightforward to use — it lets you trim, reverse, normalize and loop samples – so we won't go through the basics here. Instead we'll explore the fact that you can edit not just your own samples, but even those contained in ReFills, and the edited samples can then be self-contained in song files so that you can share songs without the recipient owning the actual ReFill(s).
So, any sample you load into NN-XT, Kong, NN19 or Redrum can be edited manually. This means that you can also edit individual REX slices, since those can be loaded as patches into NN19 and NN-XT. While the new REX player DR. OctoRex lets you reverse individual slices, it doesn't always yield the desired results since there's often a very long 'tail' at the beginning of the slice so it has to be triggered way in advance. And sometimes there are 'bad' slices that aren't trimmed properly, end too abruptly, and issues like that. But by editing the slices manually you can shape them just the way you want, trim, reverse, fade in/fade out, normalize slices you find too quiet even at max volume, etc. Or you can create weird 'beat repeat' glitches by making very short loops on individual slices.
Here's how you do it: Create a Dr. OctoRex. Load up the REX file of your choice. Copy the notes to the Track. Then create an NN-XT and move or copy the OctoRex notes to the empty NN-XT track. Now, open the patch browser and load the same REX file into the NN-XT. The slices will show up in the NN-XT Editor window like this: (figure 9)
Figure 9: A Rex loop opened in the NN-XT
Now you have REX playback with the option to edit each slice. Simply select a sample on the NN-XT Editor display, and then right-click and select "Edit Sample" or hold [Alt/Option] while clicking on the Sample button. (figure 10)
Figure 10: Reason's built in sample editor
Here's one of those samples that are difficult to use when reversed, because it's about 10% percussive sound and the rest is just a hint of reverb. So what we'll do is reverse it and trim off most of the 'tail' by using the Crop function... (figure 11)
Figure 11: A long tail can be cropped
...and then, create a short fade-in on the trimmed tail by highlighting the beginning of the slice and clicking the Fade In button... (figure 12)
Figure 12: Fading in helps the sample start smoothly
...and now we have a more manageable reversed slice.
As mentioned earlier, another thing you can do with slices is to create very short loops to get that glitchy digital hiccup feel. It might look something like this: (figure 13)
Figure 13: A short sample with the loop mode set to back/forth
Here's an example of a factory soundbank REX loop where individual slices have been reversed and/or looped in the editor. Bars 1-2 and 5-6 play the original loop for comparison, bars 3-4 and 7-8 feature the tweaked loops played by the NN-XT.
As a quick demonstration of what you can do with just a mic and whatever potential sampling sources you have lying around, I went to the kitchen and spent half an hour recording random stuff with a Sennheiser e945 hooked up to an Apogee Duet. The song file below is based entirely on the following self-contained samples:
Bass drum: Large empty drawer closing Snare drum: Small drawer (full of utensils) closing Closed HH: Water tap, short burst Open HH: Water tap, long burst Additional percussion: Scissors, more drawers closing Bass 1: Microwave starting up Bass 2: Slapping the top of the microwave Bells: Butterknife against large beer glass Poly synth: Microwave "ready beep" FX drone: Dishwasher starting up
Sampling may seem a chore at first, with lots of trial and error, but it's actually quite easy, and ultimately it's rewarding to make music with your own unique sounds. When someone remarks "cool snare, where'd you get that?" you'll be able to say "oh, that's just me vacuuming up some Lego bricks". So grab a mic and go on a quest for hidden sonic treasures in your garage, your kitchen, your car... but go easy with the bathroom samples.
This time around the keyword is Productivity – we're going to learn how to work the NN-XT at warp speed, streamlining the workflow, boosting the power. If you've only scratched the surface before, here is an invitation to dig deeper.
The NN-XT is more than a big brother to NN19; it is by far the most advanced, capable, adaptive and deep Reason workhorse. When Propellerhead got around to creating Reason's flagship sampler, they got a chance to once and for all tackle their main gripe with hardware samplers – the lack of a fast and intuitive interface. With their invariably tiny LCD displays, awkward menu systems, keypad parameter editing and absence of a qwerty keyboard (meaning you had to painstakingly enter sample names like you enter high score initials on an arcade game), most hardware samplers suffered from a bottleneck syndrome in the user interface department – it took aeons to program them.
NN-XT became the opposite – with tons of rotary dials for swift parameter access, a generous display and super-fast macro functions like pitch detection and automapping, NN-XT lets you do in a coffee break what used to take a weekend. Now, let's have a slice of that pie...
As we know, a sequencer track in Reason can only control a single device. But if that device happens to be an NN-XT, the sky is the limit. While you can't load multiple patches into an NN-XT through the Patch browser, it is still possible to get any number of patches into it. The trick is to use an intermediary "scratch" NN-XT to load the patches, and then copy them one by one into the primary NN-XT. Through this process you can put build a combo instrument featuring dozens of patches. Here's how:
Create two NN-XTs.
Load a patch into the first NN-XT.
Right-click the Group column (labelled "G") on the far left of the display and select Copy Zones. If the Patch consists of multiple Groups, highlight them all and select Create Group.
Right-click the display on the second (empty) NN-XT and select Paste Zones.
Done. All parameters pertaining to Group (such as polyphony, portamento) and Zones (envelopes, filters, outputs etc) have been preserved, so essentially the patch has been cloned – with the exception of Global Controls and Main Volume.
Now repeat this process for each new patch you want to add to the "combo" patch. Each time you paste in a new one, it will automatically be created as a new Group. By clicking in the "G" column you can easily select all Zones within a Group, and when you change a parameter such as Output it will affect all selected Zones – a quick and efficient way to route each patch to a separate output pair. Typically, when you create a "combo" patch on a hardware synth you will lose the FX settings for individual Patches, but not so with the NN-XT because you can route each Group to a separate output and any number of FX units.
Note also that there is some measure of selective automation possible, because you can switch Filter on/off for each Zone – hence, the Global Controls for Filter will only affect Zones where the Filter is enabled. If you for example have a Piano+Strings combo, you can switch the Filter off for the Piano, so when you automate the global Freq knob it will only affect the Strings. You can also experiment with different Filter types for different Groups, e.g. HP on the first, BP on the second, LP on the third etc, and sweeping the Global Frequency will yield interesting results.
Here's a Reason Song file featuring an NN-XT with a combination of two bass patches and some additional samples: quadrabass.rns.
In case you didn't know it, here's a newsflash: NN-XT (as well as NN19) can load REX and REX2 files as Patches. Just like in Dr.REX, the slices are laid out over the keyboard range – one per key – but the possibilities are much greater thanks to all the additional parameters and functions NN-XT offers: per-slice filter, full ADSR envelope, individual outputs and much more. Editing slice parameters in the Dr.REX can be tedious if there are many slices, but in the NN-XT you can save a lot of time by dividing the slices in Groups. The NN-XT is a REX powerhouse.
Create an NN-XT. Click the browse patch button and load a REX drum loop.
Create a "partner" Dr. REX. Load up the same REX file you just loaded into the NN-XT.
Click the To Track button on the Dr. REX.
Drag the created part from the Dr. REX track to the NN-XT track (you can now delete the Dr. REX, or keep it around in case you need it later).
Now onto the fun. First we need to isolate bass drum and snare slices from "the rest". To do this, hold down the [Alt] key and click on each sample name in the left column to audition the slices. Whenever you encounter a bass drum slice, hold [Shift] or [Ctrl] and click on the sample name. Keep doing this as you scroll down the list, and once you're done you should have all bass drum slices highlighted.
Go to the edit menu and select Group Selected Zones. Now repeat the above steps for the snare drum slices. Voilá: Now you have three Groups – Bass drum, Snare drum and "other" – which will make the rest of the task a breeze.
To the left of the name list you have the Group column. This column now has three vertical bars and by clicking on either bar you highlight snare, bass drum or "other" for editing.
Click on the snare group. Now you can easily route all snare slices to a separate output – turn the Out dial to 5-6. Select the bass drum group. Turn the Out dial to 3-4. Now you have three separate stereo pairs that can be treated externally with individual levels, panning, effects, EQ, muting etc. You can also now macro edit Groups – changing pitch, level, envelope, filtering, modulation, LFO etc will affect all Zones in the Group.
Here's a couple of examples where the slices have been divided in three Groups with individual FX and other settings (A-B alternating between Dr. REX and NN-XT to showcase the difference):nnxt_rex1.rns | nnxt_rex2.rns
The NN-XT is a great starting point for getting a grip on your ReFills. As we know, ReFill is a read-only format. And once your sound library has grown to include half a dozen ReFills, some converted Akai ROMs, a bunch of SoundFont banks, a few home made REX files and patches and plenty of WAV samples – phew – it becomes a challenge to maintain a good overview of the library contents. "Where was that great drumkit again...?"
What many overlook is that while samples are locked inside the ReFill, patches are not, even if they use samples from ReFills. This opens up the possibility to build a completely new "personal favorites" patch library for NN-XT/ReDrum/NN19 outside of the ReFills, while the references to the actual sample sources will be kept track of by Reason's index. Malström, Subtractor, RV7000 and Scream 4 patches are not ReFill dependent at all, so these can be re-saved and reorganized completely.
Here's one way to do it:
Before starting Reason, create a new folder and call it something that makes sense to you, e.g. "Reason Library" or "Reason Patches".
Create any number of subfolders and organize these in any way you want. You might want to sort your sounds by genre, BPM, device, file type, instrument type – that's all up to you. If you can't make up your mind, don’t worry – you can make as many "favorite libraries" as you want.
At this point you might want to consider gathering all your ReFills, samples, REX files, SoundFonts and other raw materials in one place. The idea is that you shouldn't have to use their location as the primary access point to your sound library again.
Now start Reason and start working your way through all your ReFills and other library sources, device by device. Every time you stumble upon a "keeper", save the instrument Patch to the corresponding subdirectory in your patch library. If you can't be bothered with navigating right then, just save all patches to the desktop or some other scratch location – you can always organize the patches neatly later (they can be moved around, as long as you don't move the ReFills they point to).
This procedure may require a few late nights sessions, all depending on the scope of your library, but you will thank yourself later. Think about it – in order to check out a ReFill, you must load the sounds one by one anyway, right? So while you're at it, why not just pick up the habit to hit the Save Patch button each time? Soon enough you've built up an extensive library of favorite patches, organized just like you like it. Now make this one of your four main sound location in Reason Preferences, and you're done.
It should of course be noted that REX is the one format you won't be able to include here since Dr.REX does not have a Patch format as such. However, as pointed out earlier you can load REX/RX2 into NN19 or NN-XT, and then save them as .smp or .sxt files, so that's an option.
Tip: You may want to consider creating "audition" Patches for collections of miscellaneous samples that have no "home". For example, in Reason's Factory Sound Bank you'll find folders like "Other Samples" and "xclusive drums – sorted". These homeless samples are something you might miss out on if your habit is to browse Patches to find what you need. One way to get a grip on all these samples is to load the bulk of them into NN-XT (well, in managable numbers at a time of course), and save as new Patches featuring key maps with one sample per key. So whenever you need a bass drum, an effect sample etc, you just load up your custom NN-XT patch "bass drums" or "FX" and presto: you have all samples of a particular category at your fingertips and can instantly try them out one by one in the song you're currently working on. This is much more efficient that scrambling through samples in the browser window.
Click the NN-XT sample browser button and select all samples you want to include in the "audition" patch. In this illustration it's all the bass drum samples in the Factory Soundbank.
With all Zones selected, change the key span to a single key. Start placing out the Zones, one per key. You can have as many as 128 (if you can reach this entire range from your keyboard that is).Here you can make use of the "scratchpad" trick mentioned earlier, i.e. using one NN-XT for loading samples and trying them out, and another as the destination. Load your huge bass drum collection Patch, enable select Zone via MIDI. Play the samples one by one and see how they feel. When you get stuck on one that you like, its Zone is already highlighted automatically, so just select Copy Zone and Paste into the second NN-XT. Bass drum in place, great, now load the snare drum collection into the scratchpad NN-XT... and so on. An efficient, hands-on way to build a drumkit.
Note also that the Polyphony parameter is group independent, so if you need to emulate the "Channel 8&9 exclusive" function on the ReDrum, just put the hihat samples in a separate group and set the polyphony to 1.
If there is one Reason device you should learn to master, it's the NN-XT. Those who dig beneath the surface (like the creators of the new Proton ReFill which turns the NN-XT into a multi-oscillator analog synth) will wonder what the heck they were waiting for!