One of Isotonik's latest Max for Live offering promises inspiring generative rhythms. Combining three distinct sequencer modes in up to eight discretely sequenced layers, PolyPin merges dynamic cyclical programming with tight controller integration for a balance of dizzying variation with live control.
With each of PolyPin's eight sequencer layers dedicated to a single MIDI note, the device is ostensibly suited primarily for drum programming, as none of the sequencer layers have the ability to play melodies on their own.
At the far left of the device you can set global rate and swing amounts along with Snap and Mode settings; to the right of this are the eight sequencer activation toggles, where each sequencer can be selected for editing by clicking its number. Placing PolyPin before a Drum Rack or Impulse, it's easy to assign the MIDI note of each sequencer in the lower right section beneath the Accelerator area.
The Classic sequencer mode provides a 16- or 32-step sequence with editable velocity, along with a randomization feature and a number of presets—such as an easy four to the floor Kick Drum—to get you started. This is the mode you'll mainly want to use for elements that you want to repeat predictably.
The Euclidean sequencer mode also allows for predictable repetitions, but lends itself well to the more sprawling polyrhythms for which its perhaps best suited. Sporting three primary controls, the circular display of smaller blue circles smoothly adjusts to represent the total amount of Steps selected, while the Hits, or active steps, are lit up as yellow circles; the Rotate control lets you offset the start point of the Hits as needed.
The Euclidean algorithm attempts to distribute these Hits evenly throughout the number of Steps: 4 Hits within a 16 Step sequence would be evenly spaced on quarter notes, but once you choose odd numbers for either the Steps or Hits, the triggered rhythm gets a lot more dynamic and interesting. A Random button allows for easy experimentation, while Velocity and Random Velocity allow for more dynamic control as your rhythms unfold.
The other sequencer mode on offer is Probability. Featuring four separate chance-guided triggers with synchronized Rate and Velocity control, it can easily generate unpredictable patterns that stutter and roll along or percolate more subtly. In addition to the Rate and Velocity dials, the main feature of each trigger is the Probability dial which controls the likelihood of playback. Along with Velocity adjustment, Quantization toggle, and a Randomization feature, it's not difficult to elicit enticing rhythms from this unique programming mode.
At first blush, this unconventional sequencer may seem overly niche, but a quick test drive revealed huge potential, as dynamic rhythms spewed forth like magma. And while it may seem limited to drums, placing it on an instrument track and carefully assigning the notes led to a whole new approach to melodic sequencing that could prove inspiring for many.
Unfortunately, none of the controls are currently mappable to MIDI or Macros, though tight integration with Push and Launchpad Pro—which activates the performance Accelerator controls—promises to make up for this while providing a uniquely tactile interaction that goes well beyond the options presented in the GUI.
And at such a low price point, it's difficult to complain. If you're a Max for Live user looking for a new source of generative musical ideas in an intuitive package, PolyPin might just be your answer.
Pros: Easy to use with big results, provides a new perspective on sequencing.
Cons: No custom MIDI-mapping, poor Info text integration, some playback timing errors when switching sequencer modes on the fly.