Sample Logic Arpology

August 29, 2014
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No longer a humble up/down device for stepping through the notes of a chord, the arpeggiator has emerged as a slick and sophisticated tool for modern music production. Arpeggiators have swapped DNA with the step sequencer, producing a species of hybrid designs in which a single step can be transposed, play a whole chord, and much more. Grabbing an arpeggiated preset is a quick way to add rhythmic inspiration to a mix. But in most software instruments the arpeggiator just one module in a larger design. Some manufacturers include many features, some only a few. Wouldn’t it be great to have a software instrument that was all arpeggiator presets, all the time, and that boasted the deepest, most inspiring arpeggiator ever?


 


Overview

 

That’s the idea behind Sample Logic Arpology. Like other Sample Logic products, Arpology is a sample library for Native Instruments Kontakt (or the free Kontakt Player), but calling it a 5GB sample library doesn’t explain anything. The arpeggiator patterns aren’t sampled, they’re fully editable and playable in real time. Also included in the package is a preset for TouchOSC, a controller app for iPad and iPhone. (TouchOSC is a separate $5 purchase.)

At the top level, Arpology contains hundreds of instrument presets in three categories: “Cinematic—Organic,” “Electronic,” and “Percussive—Impacts.” Just drag one in from the Kontakt browser, lay down a few keys, and enjoy . . . or drag in two or three and assign them to the same MIDI input channel for massive layers. Also on offer are two folders of multi presets: “Instrument Stacks” and “One Note Glory,” totaling close to a hundred deeply layered items. The hardest part of using Arpology will probably be keeping track of your favorites.

Each preset combines a multisample with an arpeggio pattern that works well with it. Generalizing about so much great material is perilous. It’s safe to say that most of the presets are well suited to high-energy dance, pop, and soundtrack styles, but some are more relaxed. If you’re going for mellow, don’t load “Angry Horse,” load “A Gentle Journey” or “Mushroom Infection.”

If you like the sound but not the arpeggiation, you can open the preset menu in the main panel and choose any of the other arpeggiations without switching to a new sound. Naturally, you can also save and load your own.

Less obvious, but quite useful, are the multi preset presets. After loading a multi preset, you can use its internal Preset menu to load configurations that will play one-finger chords, remap single MIDI keys to other values, and so on. These are in the form of Kontakt scripts, a programming language. The details of scripts are esoteric, but tutorials are available online. You can add knobs to a multi preset, assign them to whatever sound parameters you like, and then record the knob moves.

The editing of the sound of a preset is adequate, but not stellar. You can adjust the filter, the amplitude envelope attack and release times, a four-band EQ, and a handful of effects. A synth tone with its own ADSR envelope, transposition, and key range can be mixed with the main multisample tone. The assumption seems to be that users will be more interested in rhythm design than in shaping the tone. Given the sheer size of the library, this may be a reasonable assumption.

The version 1.1 update adds two high-powered features. First, you can drag and drop any arpeggio pattern from Arpology into a MIDI track in your DAW, so that any software instrument can drive it. The drag-and-drop function is intelligent: Arpology remembers the notes in the chord you played most recently, and exports the pattern you were hearing, not just a monophonic line. Stutters are exported, but not glides (nor the additional transposition information coming from the Pitch page). The second 1.1 addition is an arpeggiator on/off button. Click this and you can play the Arpology sound library like any other Kontakt library.

The PDF manual is terse and not too helpful. Try clicking on everything you see, including things that are not obviously clickable, and experiment with the results.


The Arpeggiator

The arpeggiator has eight rows of controls, and a pattern can have up to 128 steps. There are also global controls for swing amount, speed (1/2x, 1x, or 2x), number of octaves, forward/reverse direction, latching (so the arpeggio will continue after your fingers leave the keys), and a few other things.

For each step, the step type can be set to off, note, stutter, stutter alternating, glide, or free-play. Free-play is for inserting manually played notes (presumably fills) into a latched pattern. I didn’t find this too useful, because the notes played on the keyboard will also change the arpeggio when it moves on to the next step. Stutter alternating is sort of an arpeggiator within an arpeggiator. Glide resembles the ever-popular Roland TB-303 glide effect. There’s no glide rate control.

The velocity row has sliders rather than knobs. It also has eight handy control widgets at the left end, some of which are also found by the other rows, so let’s take a closer look. The R button enables and disables randomization for the row. Randomization can be applied either as a one-shot command (by clicking the Random button in the upper area) or on every repetition of the sequence (by choosing Random as the play mode). If you prefer a constantly changing pattern, Arpology will be happy to deliver.

When the Out/In switch is in the Out position, the velocity data from your keyboard is ignored, so the sliders control note velocity directly. When it’s in the In position, the key velocity of the notes you played is multiplied by the slider value. A random variation in velocity can also be applied from a drop-down menu, for more variety in the sound. Normally, the velocity data is applied to the filter cutoff, but as you turn the To Vol knob, it will be applied to note amplitude as well.

The pencil button opens a narrow graphic editor, which is a nice editing shortcut, especially with long patterns, as you can drag the pencil across multiple columns to draw a curve. The MW button enables direct control of note velocity from the mod wheel. The chain link icon (barely visible at the left edge) links all of the steps so that when you edit any of them, the others change too. Eleven different velocity row presets are available from a drop-down menu.

Step length can be set to more than a dozen values, from a half-note down to a 96th-note, with some triplet and dotted values included. There’s also a selection for input from the mod wheel. Getting a precise rhythm value from the mod wheel is bound to be a bit finicky, but real-time interaction is always welcome. When this row is randomized, the results are somewhat constrained; sometimes you’ll get the same (randomly chosen) value for all of the steps in the arpeggio, which makes musical sense, and sometimes you’ll get a jumble.

The “arp type” can be set for each step. The options are up, down, random, as played, and two chord types. Transposition can be set for each step, up or down by up to 36 semitones. Panning per step is also provided. Gate duration can be set for each step or controlled from the mod wheel, but care is required when using the mod wheel, as a duration of zero will cause notes not to sound.

The stutter rate is only active when stutter is selected as the step type. The allowed values for each step are 16th, 32nd, 48th, 64th, 96th, and 182nd. One of the interactive features is a stutter button that adds stuttering to all of the steps for as long as it’s held down.


Sound Parameters

Sound editing is tucked away in the Effects tab, at the very bottom of the user interface. Across the top of the Effects panel are easy control knobs for eight fixed effects: filter, lo-fi, distortion, pitch alteration, wave (a secondary synth tone), delay, and reverb. Technically, the filter isn’t an effect, as it’s a polyphonic voice filter, not a monophonic output filter. Likewise, the pitch and wave “effects” are something rather different.

The filter has both low-cut and high-cut knobs, a resonance knob, and a velocity-to-high-cut (that is, lowpass) amount knob. Above and to the left of some of the knobs is a tiny button. Click this, and a step sequencer panel opens up, as shown at left. The step sequencers are independent: Each can have up to 64 steps and its own clock rate, which need not be the same as the arpeggiator length or clock rate. Also, each step sequencer has its own set of eight presets, which you can freely edit. It has no rhythm values, however: All of the steps are the same length.

The pitch “effect” has only one knob. If its sequencer is not active, it’s simply a transpose knob that shifts the MIDI notes up or down. When the pitch sequencer is active, though, you have a second set of transpositions that’s added to the transpose row in the arpeggiator. Quite complex harmonic and melodic patterns are easy to set up using the two transpositions at the same time.

The reverb has a drop-down menu with 14 different selections (bedroom, church, parking garage, and so on). Each is available in both conventional DSP and convolution versions. Both versions have size and pre-delay knobs, as well as other parameters. The convolution reverb has a reverse switch, which can produce some exotic sounds.

The wave “effect” is a simple synthesizer with standard analog waveforms (sine, square, saw, and some mixtures). It has no dedicated filter, but it does have a muscular three-band EQ for tone control. It has transpose and detune knobs, its own volume knob, and also its own volume envelope. The volume knob can be assigned to a step sequencer—perfect for adding a sub-octave or a sparkling harmonic to selected notes in the arpeggio.

Arpology has eight LFOs, one each for low-cut, high-cut, resonance, sample rate (in the lo-fi effect), pitch, volume, panning, and drive (in the distortion effect). The usual waveforms are provided.


Performance Control

Arpology comes with a template for TouchOSC, the control surface app for the iPad and iPhone. If you have an iPad already, you won’t want to miss this, as TouchOSC itself is only a $5 purchase. The tricky bit is, your DAW probably doesn’t receive OSC messages, and neither does Kontakt. TouchOSC can send MIDI, but you need to configure your computer so that it sees the incoming stream of messages from TouchOSC as a MIDI input port. The methods for doing this are different on the Mac than on Windows, and Sample Logic’s documentation doesn’t provide much guidance for Windows users, but after running around in circles for a couple of hours I was able to get it working in Windows 7.

The TouchOSC template sends a variety of MIDI CC messages, which you can use for realtime control or record into a MIDI track. The template has three pages of controls. The first page has a slider for the mod wheel, four X/Y surfaces (for filter, distortion, delay/low-cut, and lo-fi), and some switches. With the switches, you can add glide or stutter, randomize selected rows of the arpeggio, or step through to an entirely different arpeggio preset. The second page is a two-octave keyboard, and the third has six knobs and six buttons for controlling multi presets.


Conclusions

If you need some rhythmic inspiration, either to start a new project or to add spice to one that’s already under way, it’s hard to see how you could go wrong with Arpology. It’s amazing, versatile, state-of-the-art, and one-of-a-kind. Oh, and it sounds wonderful, too. The price is a bit steep, but even so, Arpology is clearly a Key Buy.

 


PROS: Insanely powerful pattern generator. Tons of great sounding presets. Interactive features for realtime playing. Smart drag-and-drop pattern export.

CONS: Inadequate manual. Sound programming is limited.

Bottom Line: If your music relies on grooves, you won’t want to miss this.

$399.99 | samplelogic.com

 


 

 

 

 

 

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