Review: Twisted Tools Vortex & Scapes

If you need exceptional sound design tools for NI's Reaktor then the Twisted Tools collection may be your first port of call. Noah Pred explores Vortex & Scapes.  

Twisted Tools have established themselves as purveyors of cutting-edge sound design tools built for the full version of Reaktor.

With an array of affordable yet potent effect processors, samplers and sequencers, Twisted Tools have developed an arsenal of generative devices sure to get your creative juices flowing. With the recent release of their new Ultraloop device, we took a look at two of their legacy devices: Scapes and Vortex.

Dreamscapes

Using a bank of six independent granular delays—each with eight input source possibilities—plus a host of modulation options and a synth-styled gate sequencer with familiar synthesis controls, Scapes is a super-dynamic effects processor and sound generator based on modulated feedback algorithms.

The default mode of Scapes takes you to the Vision panel (Pic 1), where a stylish oscilloscope provides real-time visual feedback of your sonic explorations. Beneath this, we have access to the amounts and modulation sources on each of our parallel delay signals for Delay Time, Feedback Amount, Grains, Pitch, Filter and Volume.

Pic 1

Pic 1

These values can easily be adjusted by clicking in the drawbar area, beneath which you'll find a Randomize button to change the settings for all six signals with one handy click, and four letters to assign movement of these parameters to one of the four corresponding letter-designated modulation sources.

The Spread amount allows modulations to be skewed slightly differently for each of the six signals to ensure dynamic results across the board, while the Slide amount determines how smoothly parameters change over time—in the event of sudden modulation parameter jumps or input gain bursts. Above this is a simple Min/Max slider to determine the modulation range for each of the delay cell sliders.

The Settings tab takes us to where we can really construct our Scapes from the ground up: on the far left, we can choose a different Signal source for each of our six delays (Pic 2). While you can have more than one of your six assigned to the same input source, the full input options include: External, Impulse, Noise, Saw, Self-Oscillating, Sine, Square, and Triangle. 

Pic 2

Pic 2

If you want to use live audio as an input from your DAW, you'll have to go to the Beatlooper input menu below and select “Live (External Audio In)”; otherwise, the sample loaded into the included Beatlooper will be used as the External source. Just to the right, you have the option to solo or mute any one of these inputs. It can be configured to receive MIDI input, and to keep things musical regardless of input source, you can train the Oscillators, Delay Times and Grain Pitch all to a key and scale specified from the included drop-down menus.

The Oscillator Pitches can be modulated by any of the four modulation sources, with the ability to constrain minimum and maximum pitch values here. Finally, expansive Reverb and Delay effects round out the core audio elements of Scape, each with four easy to grasp controls. 

If you're after more rhythmic sounds, you'll want to switch to the Gate Sequencer tab (Pic 3), and set the global input—located to the left of the global amplitude envelope settings in the main control area up top—to Seq 1 (for a noise gate mode) or Seq 2 (for a simple trigger mode). By default set to a 1/16th note grid cycle, each delay cell can be set to its own timing cycle, from ultra-fast 1/48th notes down to entire whole notes.

Pic 3

Pic 3

You can can quickly and easily generate dynamic rhythm patterns to trigger each of our six delay signal sources by drawing steps in with the mouse, then selecting, copying and pasting within the pattern, or even by randomizing the entire pattern by clicking the Random button. 

Programmed steps can be played back in a random order or played back with a variable randomization by adjusting the Rstp and VAR parameters, respectively. There's also a handy shuffle amount, and you can always hit the Clear button to start over from scratch.

Next up, we have four different Modulation sources (Pic 4), each comprised of 32 steps. The value of each step can be adjusted with the mouse, randomized completely, or set to a Sine, Triangle, Ramp or Pulse wave shape—which can work as nice starting points for more intensive modulations.

Pic 4

Pic 4

Values can be inverted with the touch of a button, and the Sm button toggles value smoothing to avoid any sharp jumps from one step to the next—which can be enhanced further by each parameter's Slide amount below. By default each step is set to 1/16th notes, but can again be set to whole notes for longer luxurious sequences or stepped up as high as 1/48th notes for more rapid oscillations. Each Modulator can then be “Bent” positively or negatively by one or more of the other Modulation sources to make things even more dynamic. 

Finally, our global controls along the top of the interface allow us to toggle all four Modulators on or off simultaneously, randomize all of the settings throughout the device that have a randomization function in one fell swoop, and select input sources if needed, choosing from two MIDI input types and the two sequencer responses mentioned earlier. We then have a simple Attack-Sustain-Release envelope to shape the amplitude of our resulting impulses once an input source has been selected, and a mixer with simple compression (DYN), FX amount, volume, and dry/wet mix blend.

Shipping with over 190 presets grouped as Basics (fundamentals for the beginner), Scapes (self-oscillating drone atmospheres), FX best used with external inputs, Rhythmic patterns that make great use of the included sequencer, and One-shots for quick impulse effects, you should be able to get started with drastic, tuned, and expansive effects processing in no time.

Factor in the internal loop player input plus easy hardware or even iPad control, and you run the risk of never escaping the Scapes you'll create. Whether you're looking to generate expansive ambient drones, unique rhythmic textures, or otherworldly sound effects, Scapes should be a go-to device for fledgling and advanced sound designers alike.

Into the Vortex

Far more simple in implementation yet no less powerful in regards to results, Vortex is a six-layer granular sampling sequencer also built for Reaktor. Containing four independent sequencer pages comprising one of up to eight pattern Scenes—each of which can be up to eight bars in length—Vortex allows for the quick and easy creation and performance of rhythmic loops.

Coming with a somewhat odd set of default source samples, each of the six layers can be swapped for a sample of your own by double-clicking the waveform and choosing a new file from the navigation menu that appears. Once chosen, each sample can easily be written into a sequence with the mouse, clicking and dragging for volume in the Gate sequencer panel (Pic 5). 

Pic 5

Pic 5

The Roll sequencer allows you to program held repeats of each note when triggered, with the value of the step corresponding directly to the repetition rate (Pic 6).

Pic 6

Pic 6

Each sound has a set of rather gnarly parameters: Start, Length, Decay, Stretch, Grain, Pitch,  Pitch Envelope and Pitch Decay, Panning, and Volume, each of which can be assigned to Modulation sequencer A or B by dragging the parameter title to the corresponding Modulation title—in which case the now modulated parameter's title turns blue—and then adjusting the modulation amount, and writing your modulation steps into the corresponding sequencer (Pic 7). Each sound can be reversed, quantized, or fit into the host BPM in a number of ways.

Pic 7

Pic 7

Factor in a pair of cross-modulating LFOs (Pic 8) and you've got yourself a nasty little rhythm box, ready to churn out rough and tumble beats and crunchy rhythms sure to inject your tracks with a raw and edgy sense of grit.

 

Pic 8

Pic 8

Price: $49 each

Pros: Excellent, thorough and CPU-efficient design yielding highly unique sonic results.

Cons: Not particularly intuitive; may require some quality time with the manual before feeling like you're really in control.

Web: http://twistedtools.com


Noah Pred is a Canadian techno and house producer, DJ and Certified Ableton Trainer living in Berlin, Germany - where he runs his label, Thoughtless Music. His Juno-nominated full-length album Third Culture, is out now: http://www.thoughtlessmusic.com/releases/tlm086-noah-pred-third-culture/ - and you can check out his new project with... Read More

Discussion

mtthwcmpbll
Both Vortex and Scapes (and most or all of Twisted Tools ensembles) say they're not compatible with Reaktor Player under their system requirements. Has NI or TT changed how they handle this? I thought it was a basic limitation of the platform that Reaktor Player didn't support third-party ensembles, only NI's synths and tools like Razor and Monark.

Want to join the discussion?

Create an account or login to get started!