zenAud.io ALK2 Software Looper
By Chris Loeffler |
zenAud.io ALK2 Software Looper
Will this looper leave your mind open to everything?
by Chris Loeffler
zenAud.io ALK2 is a software looper that is compatible with Windows 8.1 (64 bit) macOS 10.10 Yosemite operating systems and makes a meager 46 MB of storage space for the initial install. There are three versions of ALK2, a free trial, a solo mode designed for a single performer with some track and MIDI limitations, and a complete verson, ranging in price from free to 149 euro.
What You Need to Know
Upon the initial install and boot up of zenAud.io ALK2 , the program scans your computer for compatible software and plugins and makes the connections. In my case, this resulted in a reminder to purge a few trial plug-ins and virtual instruments I had previously installed but not purchased. I did experience an expired plug-in needed to be purged before I could launch ALK2, but a look at the error log showed it was the plug-in, not ALK2, that was breaking the startup.
The zenAud.io ALK2 is best described as a cross between a sequencer and a looper, where tracks are performed and recorded live and then looped and layered with the ability to define, move, copy, cut, and paste in real-time. In practice, using ALK 2 feels like a combination of mixing and remixing with drag-and-drop parts.
The ALK2 offers five loop/performance types: Audio, Instrument, MIDI, Command Automation, and Control Automation. For a further exploration of each, the manual is the best place to start, but, effectively, you can use any type of preexisting or live audio file plus leverage MIDI to perform through virtual instruments.
An incredibly intuitive interface, at least if you’ve ever tinkered with mixing or recording on a computer, is aided even further by color-coded “families” that allow multiple tracks to be visually designated as belonging to a certain loop.
Which brings me to one of my favorite things about ALK2… tracks and loops aren’t the same thing, meaning you can treat loops as areas in which tracks play, as opposed to the tracks being the loop. With these loops, you can pencil in trigger points and drop pieces in that will quantize to fit the loop. This level of sophistication sounds complicated, and could result in pages of explanation and application scenarios, but in practice it is so intuitive and seamless that I found myself able to just do something quicker than I could articulate what it was I was doing.
Expanding on the, the most immediate benefit of the zenAud.io ALK2 is the way it completely removes the linear nature of looping, creating an open, 3D environment where virtually any part can be grabbed and exchanged for another, essentially turning you into your own DJ.
Loop performances, however, are predicated by building the core structure beforehand. This means setting up the loop lengths and containers beforehand. Yes, you can fill them with whatever you want, but there wasn’t a “just hit record and see what shape it takes” situation, although there are ways to capture that approach by incorporating a song-length loop container.
The integration of plug-ins and MIDI triggering takes the looping experience even further, and applying effects to just-recorded loops both created space for me to keep the sonic performance evolving as I prepared the next part and turned the manipulation of the loop into its own form of progression.
Even crazier, tracks from various session can be mashed up and swapped, meaning pulling in callbacks from earlier songs or even earlier performances.
Part of the performance art of looping is, of course, the chance of introducing an accident. It’s the NASCAR crash people say they don’t want but are always waiting for. ALK2 builds a pretty sturdy safety net (mixed metaphors) for this with its Panic button. The Panic function not only undoes the mistake, it inserts a safety track in place to keep the music going while you recalibrate. You need to create the safety track beforehand, but it is worthwhile.
While there are workarounds, the core workflow of zenAud.io ALK2 assumes that players loop with a predefined structure in mind. This limits the ability to change the direction of a performance based on in-the-moment inspiration.
The feature-set of the zenAud.io ALK2 has more in common with a full-featured DAW than a traditional hardware floor looper, and that is a good thing. Traditional live looping artists may be overwhelmed by how quickly the ALK2 goes beyond the typical multi-track, overdub looper, but anyone using a laptop in their live performance will quickly realize the benefits of throwing in MIDI, .WAV files, and dragging and dropping parts across multiple tracks as a creative path unto itself that goes far beyond crowd expectations. -HC-
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.