Lurking beneath the deceptively elegant GUI of mad genius Tim Exile's latest Reaktor instrument is a powerful array of sound generators designed to transform raw rhythmic material into lush, expansive, multi-layered, harmonic musical content. The design lends itself to an emphasis on playability and—as with his other anatomically oriented Reaktor devices, the Finger and the Mouth—improvisation.
Under The Skin
Initially built to solve unique issues arising from Tim's exceptionally tactile “flow machine” live rig, Flesh should by no means be relegated to performance use only, as it's just the sort of creative sound design tool that can quickly spark ideas in the studio. While it's all too easy to coax captivating material from the included presets, to really put Flesh to work for your own aims, you'll want to start with an empty snapshot. At its core, Flesh is comprised of three main MIDI-key controlled areas: Harmony, Samples, and Sound. Each of these has 12 slots, triggered by a corresponding MIDI note, with each zone occupying a discrete octave. As a result, any given snapshot can contain up to 1728 fundamental variations—before accounting for real-time parameter manipulation.
To get started, you'll want to choose one or more audio files and drag them to one of the corresponding circles in the Sample view. The Samples are used as the source that provides the trigger data which feeds the sound generators. While Flesh is optimized for rhythmic audio, other atonal sound sources tend to be no less rewarding, so feel free to experiment.
Each sample is divided into transient-based rhythmic segments, with a sensitivity adjustment controlled by the Threshold value. The Bars and Steps controls somewhat counterintuitively squeeze or time-stretch the duration of the sample, providing elastic timing variations for quick alterations to the entire feel of your loop. Offset works a little more predictably, shifting the start point of the playback in 16th note steps, while a Gain control helps boost or attenuate signal as needed. You can fill up all 12 slots with entirely different samples, or with different versions of the same sample.
The Harmony page is, most importantly, where you can enter up to a four-note chord for each of the 12 Harmony slots. A basic piano roll lets you select the notes, with nudge buttons sneaking the entire chord structure up or down in semitone increments, and eight default chord modes selectable from the row of circles above it.
A sequence section lets you record and play back harmonic sequences in real time, while the three sound generators are represented above with quick access to their Harmony-related controls: the trigger source for the Sub oscillator, and Mode, Root, Melody, and Pitch Bend for both the Mono and Poly oscillators. The ability to program different chords and voicings triggered via single MIDI keys makes for some powerfully expressive possibilities here.
The Sound section is where Flesh really comes alive. Five large colored circles correspond to each of the four sound sources, from left to right: Sub, Mono Synth, Sample, Poly Synth—with the Effects module at far right. Each source can be toggled off or on by clicking the corresponding circle's center, while clicking and dragging up or down within the circle controls the part's volume. At lower right of the Mono, Sample, and Poly sources is smaller circle which similarly controls the effect send amount. Along the bottom, you'll find four large macro dials that simultaneously control elements of all five sections: Spectrum, Character, Length, and Modulation.
Clicking the blue submarine icon expands the Sub section, where you can determine whether it's triggered by the Mono or Poly synth, and alter three core parameters: Spectrum, which determines tonality, with higher values allowing more high-frequency content and vice versa; Character, which adds some bite to an otherwise smooth subsonic response; and Length, which adjusts the decay time. All three of these have a smaller dial beneath which determines whether the parameter's relationship to the corresponding Macro is positive, negative, or neutral—and you'll find these in the other sound sections as well.
The Sampler, Mono, and Poly Synth sections come in 16 flavors apiece, each with a catchy name, selectable via the row of circles above the four main controls. Re-synthesis styles vary from crisp and sizzling to smooth and viscous, each with its own unique character and distinctly modern sound.
The Sampler section has a Mix value which determines the degree to which it's applied to higher or lower input frequency signals.
Mono and Poly Synth have some additional features: self-explanatory Root note and Octave values, a glide function, and a melody dial that adds more higher or lower notes to the root pattern depending on the value's polarity. At far left, a Bass and Treble clef toggle whether the respective synth part is triggered by high or low input bands, or both simultaneously; I'm not sure how the crossover is determined, but it seems to work well, with drastically noticeable changes in response. To the right of the standard four controls are a selection of smaller patch-specific controls; e.g., the Mono Synth's Mononom patch provides Chorus, Resonance, and Wave Mod Amount controls.
The delay-based FX section also comes with 16 modes and input-band selection along with the four main controls, resulting in a range of Comb-filtering, dub echo, and glitchy rhythmic effects.
Sound mode also provides access to Modulation settings via a menu at the lower-right of the GUI, whereby each of the five parts' Volume, FX send, and each of the four global macro dials can be assigned in bipolar fashion to either a host-synced LFO that comes in Triangle, Saw Up, and Saw Down, a slider-controlled ADSR envelope, or an external mod wheel. A global Macro mode quickly calls up all the Macro-assignable parameters of all five sections in a single view, which is handy for developing relationships between the different generator sections. The Remote assign area allows you to disable certain parameters from being altered by the MIDI key triggers that switch between the 12 Sound slots. Finally, the Perform toggle lets you make drastic changes to a Sound slot without storing those changes, so the original Sound settings can always be recalled by striking its corresponding MIDI key.
Breathing new life into basic percussion loops, executing instantaneous yet intricate sound design, quickly building full-fledged, expressive musical structures with multiple iterations: all this and more are made possible by the marvel that is Tim Exile's Flesh. A truly forward-thinking device, it's hard not to employ it without wondering how Tim conceived and constructed it. In the end, I'm just glad he did—and if future-forward textures and real-time performance are your thing, I think you will be too.
Price: $99 USD
Pros: Super fun, great sound, inspiring, and affordably priced.
Cons: No global Key/Scale quantization; numeric values can't be entered via QWERTY keyboard or reset via double-click.