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Looking for advice on a software platform
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Music Software  
Author Looking for advice on a software platform
nateflanigan
Helloooooooos,

I currently make experimental electronic music with a partner, we talk over broad concepts we want to explore, work on sounds, patches, sequences etc on our own then get together and jam and that's about it. He plays an MPC feeding a handful of effects pedals, I've used a no-input style mixer setup with pedals and have been working in some hardware synths and a digitakt. For a variety of reasons I'm moving away from hardware but I haven't yet found a software platform that I feel is 'the one' and would love some advice. I keep downloading demos and tinkering around but not settling down. I'd like to end up with a really flexible synth/sampler with an open patcher/modular style workflow that I can synch to my buddy's MPC (or that he can sych to me). Being able to dig deep on sound design and build rhythmic sound fields through modulation are the goals.

Here are some key interests/features that I'm looking for...

- Performative more so than compositional. I'm not looking a full featured DAW that represents a conventional multitrack studio. I'm interested in something that is more of an instrument.

- Modular style. For me the big aha moment with hardware modular gear was the open architecture, the sort of anything can be routed to anything approach. I'm more into something like building a generative patch and the performance is me tweaking around in that patch for as long as seems fit, as opposed to composing a linear song that can be repeated exactly.

- Flexible. I'd like something where I can use other softsynths, samplers, and effects easily within the main environment.

- lean on cpu use. Lean-ish anyways, I should probably get a better laptop. But thats another topic.

Things I've tried and my problems with them...
*note: I'm not complaining about the software mentioned below, all this stuff is incredible*

Audiomulch & Music SDP: So cool, I love these on paper but in practice they're a little clunky. The small community of users makes for a more difficult support network, with both of these I've had pretty basic issues that I ended up corresponding directly with the developers to attempt to solve, which might seem cool, but they've got better things to do and solving simple issues can take days. 3rd party VSTs are iffy.

Max/MSP & Pure Data: Too much of a learning curve. I'm not personally interested in coding the basic tools for making music. I like the idea of getting under the hood eventually but it's not where I want to start.

I really like the non-commercial vibe and patcher style environments of the above mentioned platforms.

VCV Rack: Also awesome, an incredible learning tool but I'm not really looking for a straight virtual modular synth necessarily and at least on my current macbook air it peaks at five modules or so.

Reaktor & Reason: Reason just rubbed me the wrong way, I just wasn't into it. Reaktor is pretty cool, it can obviously do a ton. I sort of feel like I didn't get it. There's both a rack of instruments similar to Reason and also a more open patcher style environment? Seems pretty CPU intensive. If I'm not mistaken in order to use it with other VSTs you'd have to use Reaktor itself as a VST inside of a host environment, which seems like a lot of extra cpu.

Ableton: I don't get it.

Maybe I'm being a stupid snob but I don't like the commercial feel of Reason, Reaktor, or Ableton. Their default stance is not a kind of music I want to make, and of course I know you don't have to make techno with any of them, but it's their, and I like the feel of the more cerebral applications better.

So, are there any platforms I'm overlooking? Given my intentions is there something you think will work for me if I stick it out? Advice on finding a path forward?

Thanks!
rjungemann
Numerology has a bunch of different sequencers which can be patched modularly in creative ways, is light on CPU, can host plugins, and additionally has a timeline and clever mutation tools. It can also be rewired or MIDI synced and plays nice with hardware.

Audulus has a gentler learning curve than many other modular environments, and is a bit more abstract than VCV. Might be worth looking into.

Although dismissing software because it's used mostly for techno... Some of the software you mentioned play well together and can play to each others' strengths. But I'm general I would see if you might be surprised if you dig deeper.
peripatitis
you could take a look at this:
https://www.sensomusic.org

You can kind of make your own daw and it is probably the first daw that worked with multitouch environments which can be useful for live performance.
nateflanigan
All three of those suggestions look very interesting at first glance, thank you.

Quote:
Although dismissing software because it's used mostly for techno... Some of the software you mentioned play well together and can play to each others' strengths. But I'm general I would see if you might be surprised if you dig deeper.


Totally agree, and I am aware that my dismissiveness is for superficial reasons.
zeit
Numerology is for Mac only, not sure what OS you run. I'm on a PC, the only reason I haven't tried it. looks interesting tho. so does HH3. w00t

I have max8 and it seemed overwhelming the first few weeks but after you go over about half of those Max tutorials it get easier. The Max tuts are a little boring when they go into the drawing stuff but get through most of that and start the MSP tutorials and you'll start having fun. It pretty much checks all the boxes for you (including lean CPU use) so I'd give it another look and go through some of the max *and* MSP tutorials. I've owned it for about 8 weeks and You can use your vst's and m4l devices within max as well. That's nice until you can get good enough to build your own. You definitely do not need a DAW with Max and it excels with generative stuff. There's no coding t like in Supercollider
dubonaire
I think you will need to accept some compromises. You seem to be focussing on the disadvantages of the software rather than the advantages.

Here are some of my counter observations:

Audio mulch - super easy to patch and get things done and the metasurface is excellent for performance.

Max/MSP - definitely a steep learning curve to master, but there is an amazing community with many patches available for most things you need in the tutorials or from the community. But I mainly used Max/MSP when I was manipulating video and audio together. Unless you really want to deep dive Autechre style it's probably overkill.

Reaktor - not sure why you need VSTs because there is so much native functionality, but loading a VST host is not that big a resource rain.

Ableton - in my opinion it is an incredibly flexible and powerful live performance tool and provides an extremely efficient way to run Max patches with all the I/O and sync issues etc solved. But even without Max4Live, it is very easy to do experimental sound design stuff just with its own instruments, you can run VSTs in it, including Reaktor, and it has very flexible and intuitive routing.

I've used all of these for experimental sound design, and I'd be happy to use any of them again, but seriously there is not much you can't do in Ableton and Max4Live and many well known performing sound artists use it. That was actually the basis of its genesis.
fac
Have you tried PureData with Automatonism? It's a bit quirky but it adds a nice high-level abstraction layer so that you don't have to code your own stuff. I find it to be quite powerful and not so bad on the CPU. Plus it's completely free.

In any case, all of these platforms take time to master. You need to choose one and stick with it for a while (months, years, who knows?) just like you would with any new instrument. All of them are capable of amazing stuff.
dsu
I've played with both Audulus and Max4Live. Both have excellent support communities online. Max has been around for ages so there are books and courses in some colleges. Audulus is really affordable so if you don't like it you're not out very much money.
nateflanigan
Thanks for the replies everyone. Audulus is on sale for $25 now plus it's really pretty, so I just grabbed that. Seems really cool.

Quote:
Have you tried PureData with Automatonism? It's a bit quirky but it adds a nice high-level abstraction layer so that you don't have to code your own stuff. I find it to be quite powerful and not so bad on the CPU. Plus it's completely free.

In any case, all of these platforms take time to master. You need to choose one and stick with it for a while (months, years, who knows?) just like you would with any new instrument. All of them are capable of amazing stuff.


No, I haven't heard of Automatonism, thanks I'll check it out. I love the ethos of pure data.

Quote:
I think you will need to accept some compromises. You seem to be focussing on the disadvantages of the software rather than the advantages.


I completely agree, and, as far as focusing on the negative well that was sort of the point of my original post. If I've failed to make it clear, I'm not pissing and moaning, I think all of these programs are totally amazing and fantastic deals to boot and agree with all your observations. I'm sure with some time any of them would work great for what I'm trying to do. I just wanted to talk over what seemed like obstacles to me personally, see if anyone had any advice about A) other programs to try or B) What of the listed programs might be best to circle back and stick with given my goals and interests.

Quote:
I have max8 and it seemed overwhelming the first few weeks but after you go over about half of those Max tutorials it get easier. The Max tuts are a little boring when they go into the drawing stuff but get through most of that and start the MSP tutorials and you'll start having fun. It pretty much checks all the boxes for you (including lean CPU use) so I'd give it another look and go through some of the max *and* MSP tutorials. I've owned it for about 8 weeks and You can use your vst's and m4l devices within max as well. That's nice until you can get good enough to build your own. You definitely do not need a DAW with Max and it excels with generative stuff. There's no coding t like in Supercollider


That's encouraging, thanks. When I've cracked it open and it just seems like page after page of tutorials explaining sample rates and what a sine wave is I just tune out.

HH3 Looks cool too, so futuristic. I'm confused as to whether or not theres a demo mode. I downloaded it as well but it just Unexpectedly Quits immediately upon launch.
dubonaire
I think you need to define exactly what you want to achieve and look for the simplest solution.
Blingley
I don't really know what exactly you're looking for, but have you tried tracker interfaces? Renoise seems like it could be your jam, though there is obviously some learning curve as well.
nateflanigan
Quote:
I don't really know what exactly you're looking for, but have you tried tracker interfaces? Renoise seems like it could be your jam, though there is obviously some learning curve as well.


I have, it's really cool, but it doesn't have the sort of generative modular feel of patching this into that that I'm looking for. One of the things that drove me to put together a post and seek advice is I've tried to use the Redux VST inside of a few patcher style environments thinking that would really cover everything I'm looking for. Redux has been pretty unstable in both audiomulch and music sdp. Maybe coming at it from the other direction could work though, like using audulus inside of renoise.


Quote:
I think you need to define exactly what you want to achieve and look for the simplest solution.


Indeed, I think that is the entire point of this conversation. I'm not expecting anyone to be able to answer this for me, It's been helpful to talk over what I'm going for and people have hipped me to some really cool software.
rjungemann
On the topic of trackers—

If you're on Windows, Jeskola Buzz is a tracker with a modular interface.

Sunvox is a tracker that runs on everything under the sun, and it has a similar modular approach, but more high-level and maybe a bit less depth.
bhinton
Look at Plogue Bidule. Like a higher level Max in many ways though not as comprehensive. Super easy to learn. I use many tools and platforms but Bidule is the core for me. I use it for everything from midi-mangling to running entire compositional structures.
It includes an AU and VST version - combining it with something like Usine Hollyhock or Reaper in that way is super powerful and flexible. (Also hosts AU and VST).
nateflanigan
I'll check out sunvox, thanks!

I did look at bidule, it looked like it hadn't been updated in some time (am I wrong?) one of my concerns is taking the time to learn a dying platform and then needing to start over again in a few years. It's good to hear it was easy for you to pickup quickly, that's encouraging.

I've been working on both Audulus and HH3. HH3 is pretty incredible, and so far might be the best solution for me. I really like that audulus is some where between VCV and MAX but it's pretty much a self contained environment, meaning it can't sync to a midi clock nor send out midi. With both applications I like that there's a lot of ready to go modules/patches and that it's very easy to open them up and dig deeper. What a time to be alive!
jimfowler
Skip bidule. Cool idea, little follow-through. Buggy as hell before I gave up and went with a well-supported platform (ableton).
bhinton
Bidule is constantly updated. I think the last update was just a couple of months ago in fact. The UI hasn't been updated in many years, though apparently that's coming. I love it and find it to be the fastest route for productive experimentation. One thing to keep in mind: it's best approached as an ENGINE, unlike Hollyhock, Audiomulch etc. There are almost no meaningful control interfaces - but midi and OSC mapping work beautifully, so a few controllers and maybe TouchOSC or Lemur on a tablet and you are good to go.
It's also completely stable on my mac systems - the only crashes I've had occurred when adding someone else's "group" they've created to a project while recording or performing (meaning with the clock running, not when it's stopped). Maybe I've just been lucky.
Bidule users have made some wonderful modules that you can download via Bidule's package manager.
It also works beautifully as a VST or AU inside other platforms or DAWs.
bhinton
Quick add - not meaning to slight Ableton at all - I don't see the two as having much in common though. Bidule is more suited to purely experimental music/sound art work, unless you are just using it for midi mangling and routing. And it doesn't have any DAW features at all.
dubonaire
bhinton wrote:
Quick add - not meaning to slight Ableton at all - I don't see the two as having much in common though. Bidule is more suited to purely experimental music/sound art work, unless you are just using it for midi mangling and routing. And it doesn't have any DAW features at all.


Bidule looks interesting, somewhere between Audiomulch and Max.

The thing about Ableton is it can be a very stable functional I/O wrapper for Max, but also you can do a surprising amount of experimental stuff just with it's native devices and is also an excellent plugin host. You get access to a bunch of Max device packs. You can run Reaktor in it. As I mentioned routing is very simple and controllable in Ableton.
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