How to Create Custom Combinators in Reason 5

Reason 5 has a great collection of instruments and it's routing system is incredibly versatile. The only downside is that once you start get into a busy project things can get a little hectic. Even wi  

Reason 5 has a great collection of instruments and it's routing system is incredibly versatile. The only downside is that once you start get into a busy project things can get a little hectic. Even with the best intentions your rack can become a maze of cables and devices.

You may have used the Combinator to load presets but building your own custom instruments is not only a huge leap towards creating a tidy project but also to building your perfect super instrument!

01 - Loading up your first Combinator

If you haven't used Combinators before you'll have to know how to load them. They act in the same way as any other instrument in Reason's rack, the only real difference is that they don't actually produce any sound. Think of them as a container and you'll be on the right track.

Loading a Combinator however, is exactly the same as loading up any other instrument. Simply go to the Device list grab the Combinator and there it is in your rack. Now unless you have loaded a preset from the Reason factory library the Combinator will be empty and you'll need to load it up manually.

02 - Loading the Combinator with Devices

With our empty Combinator loaded we are ready to start filling it with devices. Unless you already have a collection of devices you plan to fill the Combinator with you will need to think about the sort of instrument (or effects processor) you want to build at this point.

For this example I'm going to build an intense layered synth string / pad combination. I'll use both instruments and effects for this combo, but of course what you use to build your perfect Combinator is completely up to you.

Start by dragging and dropping your first device into the blank area of the Combinator's interface. As soon as you do it will be contained and is ready to be hooked up to more devices. I added a Subtractor here but I also want to add some effects, these are simply dropped below any instruments in exactly the same way as they would be in the main rack.

Listen to our first synth in action:

03 - Routing the Combined Devices

So now we have some basic devices in our Combinator but currently it's not hugely different from using these devices in the main rack. The Combinator really comes into it's own when we start to use multiple instruments. These can then be triggered from the same MIDI channel and controller and essentially allows them to act as one 'super instrument'.

The only stumbling block is that each Combinator only has one stereo input and one stereo output. This Is great when you are routing a single instrument, with insert effects but add a second device and you will have nowhere to route it to. This is where the Mixer comes in.

By placing a Mixer within the Combinator above the other devices we can route all of them to the single stereo input. This means that no matter what is going on inside the Combinator it can be treated like a single instrument when it is completed.

Here's the front view:

... And the rear view:

This simple addition also allows us to add send and return effects to any of the included devices. Essentially you are creating a sub mix within the Combinator. You can see in this case I have layered a few more instruments and added insert and send / return effects to each of them.

Listen to the new synths in the mix:

04 - Customizing Macro Controllers

Once you have added all your instruments and you have created a useable sub mix there is the issue of how to control this mass of knobs and faders you've built up. Of course, you could go in and individually edit everything manually but this can be time consuming.

Also there is the issue of editing more than one parameter with a single mouse movement, imagine trying to edit the cutoff frequency of five synths at once, it's not just difficult, it's impossible. Well not exactly, and this is where macro controllers come in.

On the front panel of the Combinator you'll find a selection of switches, buttons and knobs. You will also find a programmer here that allows us to map any of the bundled instrument's parameters to these knobs.

By opening the programmer we can not only map one parameter to each of the Combinator's macros but a number of them at any one time. This is awesome for controlling complex set ups with similar controls throughout. Using a knob to alter the wet/dry mix of several delay units for example, is now possible.

Listen to how the pad is now automated with our new macro controller:

05 - Using your own Backdrops

There are some other, more fun ways we can personalize our Combinators. One of these is changing the image displayed across the faceplate of the devices. As far as I know Reason is the only application that allows you to do this and it can lead to some really bizarre creations.

To change the image displayed you can simply right-click and choose the 'Select backdrop' option. You can then display pretty much any picture you want. Getting the size right is about the hardest thing, but it's easy enough to find a blank template to get you started.

The customized Combinators I've seen have ranged from the practical to the bizarre. Some of the bizarre ones I've seen have actually been on my system, hmmm. Please don't ask me about the Shatnerizer pictured below, I really don't have any answers..!

06 - Saving your new Creations

With everything in place you should now have your first custom Combinator instrument. Whether it is a super layered synth, a special loop player or a complex filtered delay effect the likelihood is that you will want to use it again and this means you'll have to save it.

Saving Combinators is much like saving any other instrument patch in Reason. Use the disc icon area in the usual way. I would suggest saving your Combinator instruments in their own area though and making sure you name them pretty accurately. Patches this complex are difficult to explain with a single word!

Keen to learn more about Combinators in Reason? Click the image below!

Mo has been a professional in the music industry for around 15 years. He has released material with the world's leading record labels and also produces music for TV and Film. Mo is also a prolific writer and is a regular contributor to magazines such as Music Tech, Future Music and EQ magazine. There isn't a piece of music software tha... Read More


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