byAnderton08-29-201303:50 AM - edited 08-25-201312:16 AM
Reason’s Combinator is a great way to create a “building block” that consists of multiple modules and controls
By Craig Anderton
Reason’s Combinator device (Combi for short), introduced in Reason 3, provides a way to build workstation-style combi programs with splits, velocity-switched layers, integral processing, and more—then save the combination for later recall. However, note that Combis aren’t limited to creating keyboard instruments (one Combi factory patch combines Reason’s “MClass” mastering processors into a mastering suite). Basically, anything you create in Reason can be “combinated.”
Furthermore, four knobs and four buttons on the Combi front panel are assignable to multiple parameters. For example, if you have a stack with five synthesizers, one of the knobs could be a “master filter cutoff” control for all the synths. The knobs and buttons can be recorded as automation in the sequencer, or tied to an external controller.
CREATING A COMBINATOR PATCH
Let’s look at a real-world application that uses Reason’s Vocoder 512. A Vocoder has two inputs: Modulator and Carrier. Both go through filter banks; the modulator filters generate control signals that control the amplitude of the equivalent filter bands that process the carrier. Thus, The modulator impresses its frequency spectrum onto the carrier. The more filters (bands) in the filter banks, the greater the resolution. Typically, vocoders have a mic plugged into the modulator, so speaking into it impresses speech-like characteristics onto the carrier, and thus creates “talking instrument” sounds.
However, no law says you have to use a mic, and my fave vocoder setup uses a big, sustained synth sound as the carrier, and a drum machine (rather than voice) as the modulator. The Combi is ideal for creating this setup. Rather than include the synth within the Combi, we’ll design the “DrumCoder Combi” as a signal processor that accepts any Reason sound generator.
The Combi includes a Vocoder, ReDrum drum machine, and Spider Audio Merger (Fig. 1). Remember to load the ReDrum with a drum kit, and create some Patterns for modulating the vocoder. To hear only the patterns, set the Vocoder Dry/Wet control to dry.
Fig. 1: “DrumCoder” Combi patching. ReDrum has a stereo out but the vocoder’s input is mono, so a Spider merger combines the drum outs. The Combi out goes to the hardware interface, while the input is available for plugging in a sound source.
Let’s program the Combi knobs. Open the Combinator’s programmer section, then click on the Vocoder label in the Combi Programmer. Using Rotary 1’s drop-down menu, assign it to Vocoder Decay. Assign Rotary 2 to Vocoder Shift, and Rotary 3 to HF Emphasis. Rotary 4 works well for Wet/Dry, but if you want to use it to select ReDrum patterns instead, click on ReDrum in the programmer and assign Knob 4 to Pattern Select. I’ve programmed the buttons to mute particular ReDrum drums.
Now let’s create a big synth stack Combi (Fig. 2) to provide a signal to the DrumCoder. Layer two SubTractors, then a third transposed down an octave. Assign the Combi knobs to control the synth parameters of your choice; Amp Env Decay for all three is useful.
Fig. 2: Two SubTractors each feed a CF-101 Chorus. The “Bass” SubTractor feeds a UN-16 Unison. All three effect outs feed a 6:2 line mixer, which patches to the “Big SubTractor” Combi out.
Patch the Super SubTractor Combi out to the Vocoder Combi in, and the Vocoder Combi out to the appropriate audio interface output. Start the sequencer to get ReDrum going, then play your keyboard (which should be feeding MIDI data to the Big SubTractor Combi). You’ll hear the keyboard modulated by the drum beat – cool! Now diddle with some of the Vocoder Combi front panel controls, and you’ll find out why Combis rule.
These files are useful for checking out the Combinator examples described in this article.
DrumCoder.rns is a Reason song file that contains both Combis and sends the output to Reason’s mixed output. If you don’t have a keyboard handy, you can audition this patch by going to the sequencer and unmuting the Big SubTractor track, which plays a single note into the Big SubTractor instrument.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.