Friday, December 26, 2008

Numerology 2.0

Numerology, by Five12. It’s your typical modular Moog sequencer on steroids, capable of chugging away furiously in the background whilst you lay down those exquisite textures on top in sequenced heaven. Oh, did I mention it’s software?

There’s good things and bad things about that. The bad thing, of course, is that it requires a computer to make use of it, Mac OS X to be specific. You can’t just throw a MIDI hardware box in a backpack and then later hook it up with one wire. That’s about all of the bad stuff, however. The good stuff is that it’s incredibly flexible and extremely powerful, and that’s with me really only scratching the outer surface of it. The beauty of Numerology is that it’s modular. You can drag in a new module at any time to add further controls. It’s tough to do that with a hardware box.

You can also have presets. In the screenshot I have six different presets, ranging from 16 basic pulses all at C3 in preset number 1, going on to increasingly complex rhythms as you change to the higher numbered presets. (I think the name “preset” is the tiniest bit unfortunate as they’re really closer to drum machine patterns rather than synthesizer presets. I don’t want anyone to think the program comes with preset sequences that you’re stuck with.) Note that you’re not limited to 16-step sequences. You can have as many as 128 steps, and there are several sequencer modules to choose from, including a polyphonic sequencer, a drum sequencer, and a matrix-style (i.e., piano-roll style) sequencer and arpeggiator. Plus, you’re not limited to controlling only the pitch of notes. You can also control velocity, step length, accent and many other parameters, including three CV values. In the analog synth world, CV stands for control voltage, but since we’re in the software world CV stands here for control value. You can route any of these parameters to any other parameter via the port patching area. In all honesty this is not something I’ve done yet as I’ve only had version 2.0 for a couple of weeks, but the potential for powerful modulations of all sorts is there.

I find Numerology 2.0 to be a lot of fun to play with and incredibly musical. That’s 2.0, though. For me, version 1.0 was not quite so usable. I’m not sure what it was, but I never really “got” 1.0, whereas 2.0 just seems to be intuitive and to make sense to me. 1.0 seemed overly complicated and hard to patch up to get it to run, whereas 2.0 seems ready to go. It’s quite possibly me, although I have to say that there are several how-to videos on the Numerology web site that may have made all the difference. It’s a simple concept, really. Make a video to show people how to use your software. I can’t quite understand why software companies aren’t doing it more often. Kudos to Five12 for taking the time and putting in the effort to make these videos. As a user of their software, I can’t say enough how much of a difference that has made for me.

I’m including a sequence I made a week or so ago. It’s only the “raw” sequence, no textures or other flavorings just yet but they’re coming. I’ve only just now read the section in the manual on how to synchronize Numerology with Ableton Live, so this piece is so far a stand-alone sequence. I’ll be able to fully integrate it into Live in the near future. You also need to run a program to route the audio around your computer. I installed Soundflower, but there are others. Numerology is not a plug-in that runs in other software, rather it’s a stand alone sequencer. It’s not at all difficult to integrate it into your recording environment, but it is something you’ll have to think about a little bit rather than simply selecting it from a menu in Live

The sequence in six variations is running in Numerology and is playing an instance of Arturia’s Minimoog V. There’s also a carefully timed delay as well, which is what’s letting the pulses continue on and which makes it seem at times to be more than one sequence. Once I get all the MIDI and audio routings set up and tested, I’m going to replace the soft synth with a real synth. I’ll post again when I get that finished, hopefully sometime next week.

I didn’t intend for this to be a review of Numerology, nor did I intend for it to be this long. I was only going to post an example sequence along with a few words of explanation. I guess I once again got a little carried away with my enthusiasm. Now all I have to do is figure out how to do that Tangerine Dream-style ratcheting and I’ll be all set. (You can see right at the beginning that the sequencer is moving very slowly, but on every other step Froese makes it put out five notes. Another example is at 1:30. Before that moment, the sequencer is putting out sixteenth notes, but after 1:30 it's spitting out rapid-fire notes for each step. Classic Tangerine Dream.)

Numerology 2.0, from Five12. US$119, but for a short time you can get it for $99. No, this is not a commercial or endorsement. I just happen to really like the software and find that it allows me to make music I could previously only imagine.

Update: the TD-style ratcheting is dead-simple to do. Just pick a note and set the Divide control for the number of fractional repeats you want.

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