Technology

Propellerheads ReCycle 2.0

In 2001, the Propellerheads software team released the virtual, modular rack synthesizer/sampler/sequencer/drum machine combo Reason 1.0, and a sweeping 1/01/2002 7:00 AM Eastern

In 2001, the Propellerheads software team released the virtual, modular rack synthesizer/sampler/sequencer/drum machine combo Reason 1.0, and a sweeping upgrade to a tried-and-true groove-editing application — the subject of this review — ReCycle 2.0. ReCycle isn't one of those “keep you up all night” creative toys, but rather an indispensable workhorse to those who use it, and an exciting new tool for those just catching word.

For years now, beat-junkies, club remixers and the loop-based music cognoscenti have been calling on ReCycle to tweak the beat at any tempo they choose. If you've never heard of a REX file, or fiddled with a loop in ReCycle (Version 1.x), now may be as good a time as any to dig in and learn what ReCycle and its useful REX format can do for you.

THE RECYCLE CONCEPT

Instead of accelerating or decelerating a sample when changing tempo, ReCycle lets you create a REX file and export each and every sound contained within the sample. It achieves this by allowing users to edit their sample into individual slices at each sonic attack point. For example, in a basic drum loop, each kick, snare and hi-hat sound becomes individual samples, as opposed to one big loop. These can be exported in a variety of formats and even sent via SMIDI to a hardware sampler. Some applications can import a REX file, which contains all of the above slice information, plus retaining the respective timing of the loop. This allows loops to be played at any tempo, quantized, played manually, re-combined to make new loops and a host of other creative possibilities we will touch on below. Also, extracting sounds from a sampled loop and editing loop start/end points is a breeze.

GETTING STARTED

Taking the ReCycle disc out of the jewel case and placing it into my CD-ROM took approximately 90 seconds longer than actually installing the software. The program stands at only around 6 MB fully loaded, and requires a straightforward one-time serial number entry in order to fire up clean for good. ReCycle requires a Power Mac or Pentium 66MHz PC with at least 16 MB of RAM, CD-ROM and a 16-bit sound card. ReCycle settings really involve no more than selecting your sound card and audio buffer; my Athlon 700 MHz with 128 MB of RAM worked fine at about a 40ms buffer.

ReCycle 2.0 can handle both mono and stereo .WAV or .AIFF format files, with bit depths of 8, 16 or 24 bits. Sample rates can be as low as 11 kHz and as high as 1.0 MHz. And, while you will typically use ReCycle to work with short loops, it can handle files all the way up to 5 minutes in length. After audio is selected, a wave editor-like interface lets you dissect, set loop points, silence unwanted sections of audio, and export the sample in a number of different file formats, including standard MIDI files (which can later be used to drive other samples), whole loop or individual one-shot .WAV or .AIFF files, as well as several software sampler formats like Mixman Studio (TRK files), SF2 (Sound Font 2 banks), AKP (Akai S5000/6000 program files) and INS (Digidesign's PCI-based SampleCell computer-based sampler).

ReCycle is a pro at detecting loop start/end points. You can move the left and right (start and end) indicators to anywhere within the sample and ReCycle will naturally search out the best microsecond for the splice. This can help eliminate obnoxious clicks or pops in your samples, and is an efficient way to make lots of loops. Also, in any given sample, ReCycle allows you to specify the time signature as well as the number of bars and beats contained in the loop, so your end results will jive with the music you are making.

Audio editing in ReCycle 2.0 has been duly improved: ReCycle now supports stereo loops, with real-time effects previewing and per-slice audio scrubbing. A new compressor, called Transient Shaper, and a 2-band parametric EQ with hi- and lo-cut knobs can also be found, as well as ReCycle's signature time and pitch functions in real-time edit knobs. Each of the three effects can be separated into three optionally viewed toolbars. My personal favorite is the Transient Shaper for its beat-scrunching compression and clean-up gating effects. I found you could really “gut” a groove or isolate specific events or samples. The EQ is well done, except that there is no visual aspect — guess we must rely on our ears. The envelope tool, which can alter pitch, shave attack, remove sustain and aid in shaping stretched samples, is a neat tool that can really change the sound of a loop. While most users use ReCycle for drum and percussion loops, the envelope tool can add some interesting effects to a pad or horn slice. I was, however, frustrated that you cannot save your own patch presets (six presets per effect are included). One other complaint I do have is that there is only one level of undo. Maybe I'm spoiled, but I like to make several adjustments before reverting back to the original sound. Better plan on saving your loops in several different stages.

EXPORT EXPERT

Keep in mind that ReCycle will allow you to export the entire sample or the group of slices to a hardware sampler via SCSI or even MIDI. You can save the file's MIDI file to your sequencer, and then drive your sampler with the cut-up sounds. For a list of supported samplers, please refer to the Propellerheads Website (www.propellerheads.se — click on ReCycle and then ReCycle support), which is packed with great ReCycle info. Another way to work with ReCycle is to import the REX file into another software application.

SOUND REASONABLE?

If you are among the growing populace of Reason 1.0 users, then you are in for a treat. ReCycle can save each of your loops in the REX2 file format (which replaces the ReCycle 1.7 REX file format) for immediate use in Dr. Rex (Reason 1.0's loop player). Not only can you then tweak the player's filtering, effects and performance aspects, but REX2 files will automatically follow the Reason project tempo (including tempo changes). In Cubase VST and Emagic's upcoming Logic Audio 5.0, REX2 files will be instantly mapped (one slice per track) and ready to be driven by their respective MIDI files. Imagine the creative potential of different MIDI files working the same REX2 loop, the same MIDI file triggering different REX2 loops, adding effects to some slices and not others, and on and on. The key is that once a loop has been mapped (sliced) by ReCycle, the possibilities are endless.

One technical note: If you plan on using REX2 files in Cubase 5.0r4 (Windows), Cubase 5.0r1 (Mac) or Reason 1.0, then you must have the most recent REX.DLL installed on your system. The file can be downloaded from the Propellerheads home page or found on the ReCycle 2.0 CD-ROM. Without this quick upgrade, you will get a “Newer File Format error,” meaning the REX2 file is unreadable by Reason and Cubase.

LOG OFF

ReCycle is not exactly a wave editor, yet you do have the ability to edit loops and apply changes to the waveform. You will not, however, be able to cut, copy, paste, reverse or any other slice-specific tasks with ReCycle. You will be able to normalize, normalize each slice with itself (an awesome compression-simulating effect — see sidebar), set loop start/end points and add ReCycle's new effects. And if the list of ReCycle 2.0 improvements appears short compared to Reason or Cubase, then remember that ReCycle 2.0 is a unique software application with a specific function. While REX and REX2 sample CD libraries continue to grow, you will need ReCycle to make your own musical REX files. Whether you are working with hardware samplers or computer-based studios, ReCycle can help add flexibility and professionalism to your samples. If you're already a fan of ReCycle 1.x, then 2.0 is a must have. If you're new to REX, don't be afraid; the magic has been programmed.

ReCycle lists for $199.95, and is distributed in the U.S. by Midiman; 45 E. St. Joseph St., Arcadia, CA 91006; 800/969-6434; fax 626/445-7564; www.propellerheads.se or www.midiman.net.


Former Seattle multitasker Dave Hill is composing, drumming and writing in New York City. He is a regular contributor to Digital City (AOL), Modern Drummer and Remix magazines. Visit www.bannervison.com/davehill for more information.

NORMALIZING BY SLICE

If you like compression, and most beat junkies do, then you are gonna love ReCycle's ability to normalize each slice of a loop independently. I will take a step back to explain how cool this really is.

Often, when you are working within a file, you may decide to optimize the signal by normalizing. When you select “normalize,” ReCycle (like most wave editing/recording software) analyzes the file to determine its loudest peaks. After doing so, it raises the signal of the whole loop to the maximum level possible without clipping. The normalize-by-slice function takes this process one step further by analyzing each slice and maximizing it within itself. The end result is a more natural (and simpler) form of compression that will straighten out volume inconsistencies without sounding compressed.
Dave Hill Jr.