From Public Enemy to the Big Picture
Hank, when and how did you discover Reason?
Well, a friend of me was talking about it for eons. And it didn't sound like he was talking about a piece of software. Most software got those typical software names. Reason sounded so much like something else. That was about 5 years ago. I was mainly using Logic at the time when I went over to another producer friend of mine who worked solely in Reason. He showed me Dr.Rex – and he got me. And that was the time when I definitely didn't want to learn to operate a new software package. It is ridiculous – Dr.Rex. That for me is the only instrument that no other software has, even as everybody else has come out with a sampler these days.
Dr.Rex works very similar to the old Akai S900, a standard sampling application, no big deal. The magic of Dr.Rex starts when you change the rhythm and the tempo. That's the big thing to me. Nothing else does this in the way Dr. Rex does it.
When I started out I used the Akai samplers. But after a while they became more and more complicated. And what simple things they used to bring to the table they started to neglect or to bury under a new complexity. And when you are working you want to get to your things quickly. That's getting the loops and beats down quickly. That's what made samplers so popular. And Dr.Rex does exactly this in the most direct and comfortable manner.
It's like - If you buy a 59 dollar drum machine, you do not get the most exciting sounds and features of the world, but you get your things down very quickly with it. And that's what Reason is to me. I don't mean that it's cheap – but it gives you the direct simplistic essence of what you need, to get your things down quickly. And after that you also get access to the most complex sounds and all the sequencing tools you want. That's the beauty of it.
How are you using reason in your work? You work with audio as well, like vocals and stuff so you probably use it ReWired to another application?
Yeah, that's another thing. It can either be an entire workstation or it can act like a plugin. You can either create an entire track with it or ReWire it to Pro Tools and just do the vocals or add other audio tracks to it, or you use it as an expansion rack and use single instruments of Reason that are different from anything else that's out there on the market. That's really the icing on the cake - that you're no longer limited when you use it. If I find that, for example, the drums aren't really working in my Pro Tools session, I just fire up Reason and just rock it and bring it in and use the Dr. Rex and samplers and sequencers and filters to make it really work. That makes life so much easier! And it is always open for changes. You do not have to render a track and import it back in and stuff that always cuts into the creative flow. That's distracting. With Reason ReWired you just keep the flow going and do whatever you have to to make the track work. And you never loose the context.
What kind of sounds are you using? Do you use the internal sound banks a lot or do you bring in a lot of your own samples?
I bring in a lot of my own samples and then I dive into the sound banks. You know Subtractor is most probably the next thing that I use a lot. I love the bass sounds that it has, I love the analogue character that it has. That's a whole other thing that Reason brings to the table. The sound of it is different from any other piece of software that I've heard. That's what sets it apart, it has its own distinctive sound. What does that mean? It has a sound that is much closer to what I am used to, the old samplers, the SP 1200 and stuff. It's very analogue in its sound characteristics. For guys like me who are used to MPC 2000 and workstations like the Trinity or similar? When you want to go to software and want to hear that sound? Reason is usually the tool you want to start out with. I mean the sound is not identical but in its characteristic are similar. You're not walking into unfamiliar territory soundwise. And as a producer, sound quality is important because that's where you get your ideas from. If Reason sounded very digital it's not going to translate well for a producer who is used to the sound of hardware synths and samplers through analogue mixing gear. So to me Reason is the best transition, especially when you are doing HipHop and RnB.
Are there any productions of yours where Reason has played an important part?
Well I just did the Yoko Ono remix and I strictly used Reason for all my drums and samples. I am doing a piece right now for American Gangster, the movie. Also I am building my own album which is a dubstep record where I am using Reason for the drum parts. I use Redrum a lot. And that's another subject we haven't touched, and that's the feel. Software has three things and they are 1. Ease of use, 2. Sound quality, 3. its feel! What does it feel like? What is the rhythm of it? With some things people say, the quantize is off. But with every piece of gear, the people who make it have to decide how to make the quantization system work, where and how to put things in order, which are supposed to happen at the same time. The timing has to follow a kind of miracle value. That gives a device its groove character and it's feel.
If you listen to the MPC 2000 it sounds different from the SP 1200. If you play the same beat on a different machine it feels different. If you play the same beat in Logic or in Reason it also feels different. If you then program something into a 16th grid you feel it is rigid or it has a swing to it. And to me Reason is quite similar to the MPC which has that swing that it naturally has. If you program a drum kit and rock it with a 16th quantize on it, or just 50% of it, the swing of it is going to be right in the pocket. Reason works the same way, you know, it feels like an MPC! Or you can quantize it really hard to make it as rigid as the SP 1200. That to me together with the cool loop/sample cut-off features makes Reason really valuable. And now you can hear more and more cats from the hip hop world move over from working with synths and samplers to software only productions. Because since Reason 3.0, the feel and the sound are definitely equal to what we have done before – combined with more flexibility, comfort and portability not to mention total recall, wherever you are, whenever. You can go with your laptop and your little keyboard, rock your beats and then come back to your big studio and the translation process is seamless.
Published: November 2007
Hank Shocklee, legendary producer, DJ and founding member Public Enemy, created his early work on 2" tape machines and turntables. Producing loads of records over the years gradually turned him into a gear nut and today he he has gone completely digital and beyond music, into film and movies and even further.
Today, Shocklee spends a lot of time teaching, networking and inspiring musicians, lecturing, attending meetings and panel discussions as well as through www.shocklee.com, an online media network, meant to support, help and inform people working in the art and entertainment community.
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