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The Making of Pulveriser

posted by Mattias Häggström Gerdt 2012-04-30 at 14:18

With Rack Extensions around the corner – and the open Reason rack that comes with this – we thought we’d give you an inside look at how designing and creating a rack device can actually work. This will give you a unique behind the scenes look at how we work and if you’re an aspiring Rack Extension developer, maybe it can also help you in designing your own devices!

In Reason 6 we introduced Pulveriser, The Echo and Alligator—three creative effect devices we’re very proud of. These were actually an early form of Rack Extensions so it feels very fitting to talk about these too- So, with a little help from product manager Mats Karlöf, let’s take a look!

Pulveriser

Many devices begin their life as an idea or a sound in someone’s head. In our case, that someone is Mats Karlöf. Not only a product manager but a gear collector and geek extraordinaire, Mats knows a thing or two about both music technology and fun.

Pulveriser was first designed as a set of “requirements” and features. The requirements are basically characteristics that the device needed to have to be a good product. These can many times be the same between projects and in Pulveriser’s case, were defined like this:

• Easy to understand

• Possibility to experiment (geek factor)

• Terrific sound quality

• Quick results

• Not too time consuming to create

Mats also listed some key features to get a good overview of the device, not only for himself but so the rest of the team can get a bird’s-eye view.

• A heavy-hitting sound mangler, add personality to clinically clean sound

• Hard compression and amazing distortion with a filter to shape it all

• Envelope follower and LFO to control the filter frequency

• Few, but great patches

- The problem with today’s music making to me is that everything sounds TOO good, explains Mats.

- Amazing audio interfaces, brilliant algorithms, it’s all too clinically clean. We lost the dirt, which I think is the reason people still sample old records. Pulveriser was to be the solution to this problem. It brings back the dirt.

Together with this feature list a device mockup is made, basically a visual representation of the rack device complete with all controls and connections. These are most often made in OmniGraffle and actually use a pre-made set of device "parts" so it’s easy to get the idea across.

– It’s like a sort of prototype where you can easily “fake” how something will work and even imagine how it sounds, says Mats when asked why you would make it as an image first.

– It also makes it easier to run the design by my colleagues, for example Mattias or Stoffe. In one way it’s also a kind of checklist, you can see if there’s something missing when you see it as a device. You gain insight into the relationship between various functions and features.

We’ve actually uploaded the mockup so you can take a look at it:

While most devices go through tons of iterations to get the feature-set right (“Do we really need this?” “What about adding this?”), the Pulveriser ended up almost exactly the same in its final form as in the mockup!

– The only real additions after my first design was the LFO to master level, the envelope to LFO and the LFO stereo "spread". We also decided to add some cool CV stuff, something that’s often added last, says Mats.

Once this was all set, the mockup was delivered to Pelle so he can make the actual DSP code. At this stage there’s always a lot of discussion about how things should actually sound too.

- I actually took a trip to a stomp box shop called “These go to 11” and sat down for 2-3 days and tried their entire catalogue of distortion pedals, explains Mats with a laugh.

- Everything from the Tube Screamer to one-of-a-kind boutique pedals. I tried pretty much every single one of them on both a guitar, a Roland SH-101 and a Roland TR-808 to find something that sounds cool on many different things. There was one I thought really shined and I ended up buying that and giving it to Pelle for inspiration for the distortion.

At the same time, work started on the GUI. Since the rotaries and buttons are decided and the layout is there, Andreas Karperyd can start working on the design.

- Andreas and I sat down to discuss the graphical design, as we always do. We talk more in terms of feelings and “mood boards” actually, what feelings does this device stir up? After talking about it, I asked Andreas to make it look really old, like an old radio field unit from the 1940s.

Mats continues:

- An old, worn out device with a soul – that’s the character it had to me. The change in the name from “Pulverizer” to “Pulveriser” was because when the graphic design fell into place it become apparent that it was of course British! 

Finally when everything’s in place, the final acceptance testing of the device begins. This starts internally but eventually branches out to include alpha testers and eventually the public beta.

- This is where I discovered that we needed a lag processor because of the clicks caused by changing the LFO rate when it was locked to tempo, explains Mats.

- So it’s a result of actually trying the device and hearing it in action. This is also where we had to experiment with the internal levels to make sure the envelope follower reacted properly. Speaking of the envelope follower, one change also came from our Test Pilots! Our beloved alpha testers said that it's too bad we didn't have a CV output for the envelope follower. I agreed and decided to add it last minute! It really made the device better, a second pair of eyes can really help.

- Another thing is that initially we were supposed to have a switch for the compressor release time. To get two good values we could use Pelle added a rotary so I could find them myself. This rotary worked so well that we actually kept it!

So there you have it! A bit of information about how everyone’s favorite sound mangler was actually created. We still have The Echo and Alligator to cover so watch this space for the next behind the scenes look and make sure you leave a comment if you have any questions—we'll answer what we can!

Oh and if you haven't upgraded to Reason 6 and used the Pulveriser yet, there's no better time than now. Reason 6 owners get a free upgrade to Reason 6.5 so there's no need to wait!

.plan comments

Comments (12)

Comment posted by: Koshdukai - 2012-04-30 15:32

Love these "Making of" and all the behind the scenes stuff :)

Keep them coming ;)


Comment posted by: nobeahmon - 2012-04-30 16:18

This is awesome. Cant wait for the making of The Echo.


Comment posted by: Ander - 2012-04-30 16:21

I love this stuff too.I'm Glad that Ph is opening the door of their lab a little bit :)


Comment posted by: KCarlile - 2012-04-30 17:12

Great article! Thank you! Can you give us some examples of how the code API works? That is, can you provide some pseudo code examples of calls to the API so we can see the types of methods provided by the API? Thank you.


Comment posted by: mtbh - 2012-04-30 17:17

how do you go from "this stompbox sounds great!" to "we need these 1 and 0 ' s in code to make it" ?


Comment posted by: MattiasHG - 2012-04-30 17:23

KCarille: We can't go in to that much detail I'm afraid! If you have a company you can apply for the SDK though: http://www.propellerheads.se/news/rackextensions/


mtbh: That's a science in itself, and also why Pelle's such a great programmer, but you can read more about DSP here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_signal_processing

Basically Pelle knows so much about this that he can go from "This is the sound" to writing the code! ;)


Comment posted by: xqtion - 2012-04-30 17:42

Cool stuff thanks Mattias!!

Question: Was the compressor section loosely modeled after any classic compressor ?
Also what kind of distortion pedal was the dirt modeled after ? Was it a tube type ?


Comment posted by: MattiasHG - 2012-04-30 18:16

xqtion: As far as I know the compressor was made to match Mats description and audio examples he had collected of how he wanted it to sound. May be wrong though!

The distortion pedal is not a tube type itself but it's simulating tube type distortion, like many, many pedals. ;)


Comment posted by: xqtion - 2012-04-30 19:00

Cool thanks!!


Comment posted by: DrummahBoy - 2012-04-30 21:13

It would be nice if you did a video for these things. :D


Comment posted by: Bretstradamus - 2012-04-30 22:25

My favorite article so far, I'd love to see articles for as many devices as possible. Thanks!


Comment posted by: squint0r - 2012-05-01 04:51

Echo is really the only one I use out of these new Rack Extension devices. But I do use that one quite a bit, actually.

I hope more for some device that lets me quantize my external synths, such as my Moog Voyager and Nord Lead 2. The Moog especially has "something" that my Reason synths will never have. Guess it's that analog goodness :)


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