As we hurtle into 2008; composers and musicians who use computers have a dizzying wealth of options to develop, organize and create their works. With a little judicious research and the willingness to experiment you can kit out an entire software synthesis studio for little or no money.
For instance, if you have or can get hold of a reasonably modern computer (at least Pentium 3 class) you can run Linux on it or an old copy of Windows 2000 from somewhere. Then go to www.kvraudio.com or www.hitsquad.com/smm and start researching free synths, trackers, sequencers, audio editors and plug in programs. That’s where Csound and ChucK come in, for instance.
I’m not quite that ambitious, however, so I am running Windows XP on a pretty modern system (Intel Q6600) and using commercial software because nothing free can quite do what I want yet. So before you read further I have to regretfully tell Linux and OSX users that the following program that I’m going to rave about is only on Windows 32 bit systems so far.
After reading a glowing review in Sound on Sound magazine (June 2007), I got very interested in Cockos Reaper multitrack audio recording and editing application. This is quite a remarkable piece of software for its relative youth (it’s at version 2.032 as of this writing. (Update July 10, 2008: now at version 2.4. This is a substantial upgrade over the version that existed when I wrote the original post. I still am as high on Reaper as previously. It’s still better at audio than MIDI manipulation, but that probably makes sense for the majority of users.)
First of all, it’s a solid, extremely fast and capable multitrack MIDI and audio sequencer. That alone would make it worth the USD50.00 they’re asking for the full license.
But on top of that, it ships with several dozen excellent and interesting effects and audio plug ins. So with this program and some free synths, like Synth1, Crystal or Triangle II you can make tracks to your heart’s content. Here are some of the features that make it awesome.
Direct X plug in compatibilty
The first thing that attracted me was its DirectX plug in compatibility. This is cool since I’ve used Sonar through version 5 (although with Reaper I’m questioning whether I need to upgrade further). The thing about Sonar is that it comes with some cool DirectX plug ins; like ReValver guitar amp sim, the Cyclone percussion sampler and the DreamStation ultra efficient subtractive synth. You can’t use DX plug ins in many programs (like Ableton Live) and I’ve tried some DX to VST wrappers without happy results. But Reaper can host any DX or VST plug in and as far as I can tell without any problems.
This is the most awesome thing. This allows you to basically ReWire your Reaper session into any other program that understands ASIO audio drivers. You enable it by installing Reaper with the ReaRoute option selected. Then start the program, insert any plug ins required, etc. Then you open your other program (Live in my case) and you can select ReaRoute channels to route audio in and out of Reaper.
For instance, I like the “lite” ReValver DX plug in that came with Sonar 5. I set up Reaper to process my guitar input through it and route the track out of Reaper using ReaRoute. Then in Live I create a track whose input comes from those same ReaRoute channels.
Chuck and Reaper
A limitation in my desire to use ChucK was that the output could only go to the sound card or a file. With ReaRoute installed, ChucK reports it as an audio output option. So again, I can create a track in a Reaper session that gets its input from the ChucK audio engine. You can imagine the possibilities that creates.
Finally, I’m going to try to attach a screenshot of Reaper that shows up on its site showing how the GUI can be customized: this is called “Reaperton” which you’ll smile at if you’re an Ableton Live fan.
Jesusonic programming system
This is even more amazing. Included with Reaper is the Jesusonic (JS ) scripting language. JS is compiled on the fly and allows you to modify and/or generate audio and MIDI, as well as draw custom vector based UI and analysis displays. See this link for more information http://reaper.fm/sdk/js/index.php. It’s not Csound but obviously it doesn’t need to be.
Incidentally, I still haven’t managed to successfully make Csound be a VST plugin in Live, Sonar, Project 5, Cantabile or any other host I’ve tried. I expect it’s possible but I just haven’t figured it out yet.
Well, these are just the first few things that come to mind. We truly live in an Age of Wonder.
(Updated 18 Jun 2011)
Sorry, amazingly enough after three years, this post still holds true. Reaper has continued its amazing development/acceptance cycle. Its user base is still as fanatic / cooperative and helpful as it’s always been.
There’s something to be learned here about projects like this. The other user community that is as passionate as the Reaper one is that based around the software synths created by genius Urs Heckmann (http://www.u-he.com/cms/about)
The common thing here is a single brilliant engineer creating a phenomenal product, then making a strong connection with his users. It had to have been a huge amount of work for both of these guys but it appears to be paying off.