By Stephan Bazzocchi
The dog days of summer are upon us as we trudge along to the time of year when the leaves change colour – then fall off the trees due to September frosts of course.
Soon, the icy grip of winter will be banging on the door, demanding us to don our 20 layers of winter wear just to walk to the corner store. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
There are still piles of festivals, concerts, patios, and patio beverages to consume before then. Folklorama has us stuffed with awesome food from around the world, with bevies and entertainment to match. The Fringe and Jazz Festivals are dreamy memories.
And then there’s MEME (the Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition). You wander down to the sunny grounds of the Cube in the Exchange, sipping your Half Pints St. James Ale, feeling the bass and getting lost in the vibe.
The list of performers is a roster of the creme de la creme of Winnipeg’s DJs and producers. You notice a couple of the guys are playing music that they themselves composed on a laptop. “Boy that’s neat,” you think to yourself. “I wonder if I could do that.” The answer is a resounding “yes.” All it takes is a little software, some sense of musical composition (or experimentation), and a whole lot of dedication and time.
Now the flavour of choice nowadays would be Ableton. It’s impressive. The things you can do with it are downright mind-blowing at times. Ask the local JNL of Get Famous! If this interests you (provided it’s not too late), it may be even better to sign up for the workshop being put on by Winnipeg’s own Precursor Productions.
So today, I hope it’s becoming clear, I am not 1) talking about games 2) going to explain Ableton to you, because there is another piece of composition software that is near and dear to my heart.
I have been using it since day one of its long history; it has served me well in allowing me to write over 100 different tracks, and perform at least a dozen gigs at places like The Pyramid Cabaret, the legendary Wellingtons Nightclub, the infamous Horseshoe Cabaret, and even the historical Royal Albert Arms Hotel.
The software is called Reason. It’s currently in Version 8, and it will allow you to write everything from classical symphonies, to the latest crazes like trap and dubstep. But why limit yourself?
Reason is a true virtual analogue synthesizer environment. The modules look like real hardware equipment and synthesizers. Hit the tab key on your keyboard, and the whole rack flips around, allowing you access to the cabling. Rewire whatever way you like. Set your effects chain in whatever order you like; have it feed back into the oscillator of the original synth to cause some real crazy modulation.
You are only limited by your own imagination and sadly, the processing power of your computer’s processor. Some food for thought: I am running an older AMD 64+ am2 chip. It’s a couple of generations old.
With Reason, I can fire off a synthesizer built from about 30 oscillators (the things that make the actual tone of sound) with a 64-voice polyphony (64 notes at once, made up of 30 tones for each note). I won’t even begin to describe the noise that results from that.
Reason has a standard editing area where you program/compose/write your song, the notes, the automation of each individual knob on each individual module, the tempo, mixer volumes, and everything you see on your screen in the rack view. That’s not even the best part.
The sequencing window can detach. If you run dual monitors, it is so much more efficient to have the rack on one screen, and your sequencer on the other.
Don’t want to write but just muck around with things live? Reason supports midi and all those fancy controllers you see people using during live sets. Like everything, you will get out what you put in.
Well, of course the initial cost of the software is $399 for the full version. But trust me: it’s worth it. Who knows, maybe one day, dear reader, you will be on that lineup for MEME, playing alongside some of the greatest Winnipeg has to add to the genre.