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Anderton

SONOMA WIRE WORKS RIFFWORKS (guitar-centric sequencer/writing tool)

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RIFFWORKS: PROLOGUE

 

One of the great things about doing a Pro Review is I really don’t have to have a clue going in about what I’m reviewing. As the whole point is about a real-time discovery process that covers the pros and cons of a product, the only way to simulate a real user’s experience is to have…a real user’s experience.

 

So I went to the web site to find out what Riffworks is all about at www.sonomawireworks.com. Normally I wouldn’t quote verbatim, but I couldn’t resist passing this along as it’s going to set the standard by which we evaluate this program:

 

“RiffWorks is an inspiration platform...not an editing platform. There are no wave editors and sequencers in RiffWorks, instead the interface inspires people to write songs using a familiar "real-world" interface - it looks like gear! The focus is on playing, not engineering.

 

“With RiffWorks, recording musicians can keep their hands on their instrument and minds on their song, rather than on a computer. RiffWorks requires minimal set-up time with no need to continually refer to a manual. Also RiffWorks is the only program available with a feature that lets you set the tempo simply by strumming your guitar.”

 

But there are other components as well: “InstantDrummer” sessions that provide backing tracks, although you can also import drum parts through a ReWire-based program. There’s also an online jamming/collaboration/podcasting aspect. Frankly, this all sounds pretty interesting to me. For years, various manufacturers have looked for the “holy grail” for guitar players that would get them involved in computers. Is this the one?

 

Let’s find out.

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If the concept seems familiar, it’s because in 2004, RiffWorks was released as a Windows-only product for the Line 6 GuitarPort and PODxt. The program is now up to V2, and that’s what we’ll be reviewing. The Line 6 version is also up to V2, but there are some differences: It’s designed to work with the Line 6 GuitarPort, PodXT, PodXT Live, PodXT Pro, TonePort UX1, and UX2. The standard version works with ASIO and CoreAudio devices, as well as the Line 6 devices as well.

 

So my first choice was which computer do I use? I don’t have my Windows music computer hooked up to the net, which I thought might put a crimp in the online collaboration aspects (you also need an online connection to register the program for use; there are no instructions on how to do this offline with another computer).

 

So, how about my Windows laptop? Okay, so I downloaded the Windows version. But I still wanted to be able to use RiffWorks on a desktop machine, and with my dual G5 still being resistant to online nasties, I downloaded the Mac OS X version as well.

 

These are big down downloads – the Mac one is 150MB. But you’re entitled to eight free InstantDrummer sessions, so figure on downloading another 240MB or so for those. Finally, you’ll probably want to download AmpliTube LE (another 10MB) so you have an instant guitar processor for your computer, along with the processors included with Riffworks.

 

As I write this, the Mac version is about 75% downloaded. As soon as it’s done, I’ll start the installation process and describe how it goes.

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I encountered a problem during installation: When you first run Riffworks, you're required to validate the program with your user name and password. Okay, I used the same password I did when I downloaded the drum sessions, but got an "Out of registration" warning. Huh? I entered a different password, and got an "incorrect password" error message, which is what I should have gotten. In any event, I couldn't validate the program, so I submitted a request for a new password.

 

But it didn't show up, so I contacted Sonoma Wire Works. Their tech people were very attentive; to make a long story short, it turned out that through one of those one-in-a-million kind of deals, I had selected a password that was identical to someone else's, but had done so quite a while before actually activating the program. So when I went to activate it, it thought I was someone else, but my user name didn't match.

 

So they reset the password, and everything was smooth sailing from there. I was assured this had not happened before, but leave it to me to find a problem :) On the other hand, it was encouraging that their tech people solved the problem quickly and easily.

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Click on the attachment to see the main screen. Well, it does look pretty cool, and not too intimidating. When you open it up, a companion help file opens up that gets you up and running pretty fast.

 

I clicked on the Audio Setup button, and set up the Mackie Onyx Satellite as the interface. The initial sample buffer was 1024, but I got some mysterious little pops and crackles. Could there really be latency with that large a setting? I tried a smaller setting, but that didn’t help. So I figured it was a sample rate problem, and simply reset the sample rate in the Onyx. The clicks and pops disappeared. I set the buffer setting for 256 samples…no problem, so I kicked it down to 128 samples…still no problems, so I figured I’d let it sit there.

 

Riffworks defaults to hardware (zero-latency) monitoring, but I felt with 128 samples I could monitor through effects (Riffworks includes a bunch of effects; more on this shortly). I disabled hardware monitoring on Riffworks, set the Onyx Satellite to monitor from the DAW, and was surprised at how little latency there was. Playing guitar felt very natural, with no significant delay…impressive.

 

Also impressive: The audio setup provides info on the input and output buffer, and gives you an honest “round-trip” latency figure. So I thought I’d play latency limbo (“how low can you go?”).

 

With 64 samples, the sound was still fine. It finally caved in at 32 samples. But this was without anything else going on, so I set it back to 128 samples to be on the safe side -- and got ready to dig in to the program.

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Well, this one is probably due to the fact that I spend less time working on Mac than Windows, so I'm not aware of the Mac's various little foibles. I had downloaded the backup drum sounds a while ago, forgot that I did, and downloaded them again after installing the app. Well, the browser renamed the new ones with a [1] in the title to indicate they were a second version, and those were the ones I installed.

 

But the program wouldn't recognize them, so I called tech support again. It turns out the program didn't recognize the altered names, so I removed the little [1] from each name, and they worked perfectly.

 

While I was on the phone, they also mentioned that with Windows, some browsers recognize that the drum files, which have a .SWD prefix, are actually .ZIP files. So the browser goes ahead and renames the files with a ZIP suffix upon downloading, and of course, Riffworks doesn't recognize those. So, bottom line is with some Windows browsers, you need to rename the files back to their original .SWD suffix.

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Greg anderson!

hola!

used to be simple to learn a riff; just slam some vinyl on and put the needle where you wanted it and just keep putting it back till you got the lick down. .

these new fangled ways seem a bit much to learn some licks.

I like the olde fangled ways .

I'm olde.

and tired. Yawn.. :bor:

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The QuickStart guide does indeed get you recording fast, but doesn't really give an overview...but hey, that's why I'm here!

 

Riffworks takes the drum machine pattern programming paradigm and makes it guitar-friendly. It's not about linear recording per se, although you can do that if you want, but more about recording riffs and phrases that you can rearrange and shuffle around. When I first started recording, the default number of measures in a riff was set to a fairly small number, and I thought "hey, my song is going to be longer than that," so I increased it to 160 measures or so. Riffworks didn't complain, but I later found out that's not what this is all about.

 

The backup drum parts encourage this type of riff-oriented recording mentality. They're solid parts (more on this later), and sure beat a metronome (although you can use one if you want). So a typical way of working might be to start a drum goove, come up with a tasty chord progression or melodic line, beef up that riff a bit with some accompaniment, then move on to creating the next part of the song. After creating a number of riffs, you could combine them as desired, then record a more linear track over them.

 

What's also cool is that you can play your guitar or the backing tracks through effects, and these are pretty cool effects. So, let's take a look at how that works.

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As mentioned earlier, you can do hardware monitoring, or monitor through the Riffworks effects. With hardware monitoring, you'd get your sound before going into the audio interface, using your processor of choice (e.g, POD or whatever). With hardware monitoring, you can't enable the build-in guitar effects.

 

But disable hardware monitoring, and a really cool set of software options present themselves. Click on the attachment to see the "effects rack."

 

The Amp button lets you load VST or AU effects installed on your computer. It comes before the build-in effects, presumably because if you're using something like an amp plug-in, that will give the sound you want and the built-in effects will provide the icing on the cake.

 

The Select button chooses various factory presets, which are both for individual effects modules and for chains of effects. You can of course save and load your own presets, but even better, you can load and recall two "snapshots" (the Store/Load A/B buttons). This makes it easy to compare changes to your patches.

 

Frankly, the effects are so cool I'd really like to see this section of Riffworks made available to other programs as a VST/AU plug-in -- either individually or as a chain, whatever is possible...but that's another story, for another time. These are not "E-Z cheezy" effects thrown in for extra value, as we'll soon see.

 

Anyway, for the record, the effects categories you can call up are Filter, Shaper, EQ, Compressor, Modulator, Delay, and Reverb. Oh, and in case you're thinking (as I did) "Gee, it's kinda lame to put the compressor after distortion," just wait.

 

Now let's look at each effect. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sonoma Wire Works people are reading this and thinking "HEY!! When is this guy going to start talking about recording, and putting together a song, and the backing tracks, and..." Patience! I just really happen to like the effects, and don't want them overlooked.

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these new fangled ways seem a bit much to learn some licks.>>

 

I'm really glad you brought this up so I can correct a misunderstanding right off the bat: This isn't about LEARNING licks, but CREATING them, then putting them into a song. Think of it as a recording lab for guitarists that's very guitar-centric in its orientation and selection of modules.

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Before proceeding with the effects thang, I should mention that the effects I've been referring to are monitoring effects. You can also apply the same roster of effects (minus VST/AU plug-ins) to individual riffs, the backing tracks, or to all riffs (a "master effects" kinda thing).

 

However, one limitation I've found is that you can't automate knob changes. For example, if you want to do a wa-wa thing, you can't feed it MIDI signals or whatever. Possibly you can do this after-the-fact by manipulating a control in real time while bouncing down; maybe someone from Sonoma Wire Works can weigh in on the subject of automation to make sure I'm not missing something.

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Hi Craig,

 

On the zip problem:

I mentioned that as an anecdote, we fixed that one. Only the browser naming things with extra [1] still persists. On windows, the extra [1] doesn't stop the InstantDrummer sessions from playing, but it will make collaboration a problem, when RiffWorks can't find the same name because a user has a [1] in it. We're working on a fix for this, but in the mean time just make sure those downloads don't get renamed!

 

About our effects:

Thanks for the compliments! We spent a lot of time listening to my pedal collection (I'm a bit of a junky) while designing those. Dave, the dsp guy, did an amazing job interpreting my comments about this being too squishy, or too squanky into the right numbers to make them sound really great.

 

About a plugin version:

We did have a VST plugin (windows only) of the effects called "Sonoma 7". When we released our new store and the cross-platform version of RiffWorks, we took the plug-in down until we can update it for MacOS AudioUnits.

 

On automation:

You're right, there is no automation of effects parameters in RiffWorks. Clicking the info button on a layer does reveal gain automation. Adding controller support so you can wang the wah and other knobs is definitely on our list of things to do.

 

dug

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>

 

Glad to hear that, they are indeed cool effects.

 

You're right, there is no automation of effects parameters in RiffWorks. Clicking the info button on a layer does reveal gain automation. Adding controller support so you can wang the wah and other knobs is definitely on our list of things to do.>>

 

Glad to hear that too! I don't think it's a serious limitation given all that the current program does, but then again I'm sure you're not planning on stopping development with version 2 :)

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BTW thanks for checking in. Don't be shy about contributing tips or correcting me, readers really like the manufacturer participation aspect of Pro Reviews. It helps make the reviews more accurate, too (e.g., your comment about the .ZIP issue being fixed).

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Dear sir; my name is unimportant. what is important to me is hearink a piece/arrangement/song that you've been able to do so's I can get an idea of what the possibilities are.

I am sort of retarded about names and renameing and looking for files and whatnot but I can hear when something is coming together so's i would like to know iffen you greg anderson my goode and close personal frien', could toss something together and allow me and whoever else is interested to lissen up to what that baby can do.

The idea seems interestink and innovative but maybe it's inherent bugginess about names and nameing and renaming is making the retardation muscle in my brainal cavity throb like rob.

my new machine could handle that program but my mental abilities could be in serious trouble because of my brainal limitations. if it ain't got a strang I can change or a knob of some sort I can turn, then uh I'm lost.

I have problems with my CAKEWALK PROGRAM (mind-boggleing)so i only use the tuner ahahaha! (I can "do" that).

I mostly use cubasis and also N-track in particular for the many similar functions you greg are describing in your review and Ntrack is very friendly to a guy like me. It seems "easy" to work.

i need "easy". real easy.

Easy i say.

 

http://www.sonomawireworks.com/products.php

 

p.s. I went ,I saw I am intrigued by what i went and sawed., uh see'd um you know what i mean..

intrigued I say.

 

P.S.S riffcaster is neat only i is on DIAL-UP and and i might need a lofi link. ahem. takes wayy too long to try to download even less than three MBs so i was unable to check out RIFFCASTER at this terminal. although I am DROOLING for the DEMO. slurp.

I am going to go for that NEWSLATTER yah.

the end thanks for lettin me share.

 

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All right, let's take a look at the effects in detail, starting with the filter. Logically enough, you click on the effect name in the chain to see its screen, and check its check box to enable it. Remember, the order of effects can't be changed.

 

The Attaq filter has three modes, selected by a three-way switch: Manual, Envelope, and Sequence. The controls are Bandwidth, Filter Mode (highpass, bandpass, lowpass), Range (frequency range covered by the filter), and Sensitivity for envelope mode.

 

The step sequencer has its own control set: Speed (with tempo sync from quarter notes to 64th notes), number of steps (4, 6, and 8), and 8 level controls that determine the filter frequency.

 

As you might suspect from an AdrenaLinn fan, I'm thrilled to see a step sequencer included here -- it's also a fun effect to add to a drum backing track, as is the envelope follower. I also found that for drums, the highpass mode is often more desirable than the lowpass mode, which creates a typically murky sound.Click on the attachment to see the filter set up to do envelope following on a drum part.

 

Note that manual mode is basically just a tone control. As you can't alter the frequency via MIDI, there's no footpedal wa-wa action.

 

The envelope-controlled filter works pretty much as expected, but it's quite musical; it seems to me that got the decay constant right, so it doesn't "burble."

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And for your listening pleasure...I figured out how to save a riff as a WAV file (you just hit the Mix button), so I captured part of one of the included backing drum loops (the Demo loop by Matt Sorum) going through the envelope follower in HP mode. I then imported the mixed WAV file into Sound Forge, so I could then export it as an MP3. I did have to convert the file to mono, though, so it wouldn't be too big for what the BBS can handle.

 

Note that Riffworks can export as Ogg Vorbis as well, but I figured the MP3 option was more universal for those visiting the forum.

 

Click on the attachment to listen to the envelope followed drum riff.

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Here's another example of the step sequenced filter, this time using guitar. Click on the attachment to hear this. However, the more I played with the sequenced filter, the more I realized that it doesn't stay in sync over time -- it drifts.

 

After recording several layers, the guitar track and backing drums would usually start off in sync, but eventually drift out (and eventually, drift back in again). It became really obvious when I played several layers at the same time along with drums; there were definite sync issues. This is something that needs to be fixed for the step sequenced filter to be useable.

 

I thought that perhaps this was a function of monitoring through the effect, and that applying the effect to the riff layer itself, as post-processing, would fix the sync issues...but it didn't. This was on the Mac; when I get a chance, I'll try things with Windows and see if there's the same problem.

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Okay, this is more like it! The Shaper is a triple-band distortion, but with a lot of extras...and I mean alot. It's getting late, so I'll post the screen shot and description tomorrow. But I just finished recording a couple of audio examples, and I figured I'd post them now :)

 

Click on the attachment to hear a fairly standard distortion sound, but using three bands of distortion.

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In this example, the Lower band has been set to divide by an octave. This gives that cool "guitar + bass" sound, and it's really quite something.

 

Click on the attachment to hear the guitar + bass shaper effect. In this particular case, I decided to mix two layers along with the drums. Hey, why not? After all, one of the advantages of Riffworks is the ability to do drum machine-style layering...

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I noticed a few problems when working with Riffworks:

 

* Sometimes there was a graphic issue where parts of the effects screen, but not all of it, would disappear under the layer section. I'll try to take a screen shot and maybe the Riffworks people can figure out what's wrong.

 

* When creating a song from a riff, it seems like a little bit of the beginning would be cut off. I wonder if this relates to the timing issue with the filter; many sequencers I've worked with take a while to "get up to speed."

 

* After recording about 10 layers or so and hitting stop, I had to do a force quit because the program stopped responding.

 

Overall, bugs have been infrequent, but I get the sense that there's something wrong with the timing either at the beginning of end of a loop -- like something's cut off that shouldn't be, or added to, or some kind of inconsistency. Everything in between seems fine.

 

I'll try to quantify this further as I work more with Riffworks.

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This effect (called “Tripwire”) is really quite wonderful, and would make a great VST plug-in (hint, hint). It splits the input signal into three bands, Low, Mid, and Hi; two controls set the crossover frequency between the Lo/Mid and Mid/Hi bands. Each band has an on/off switch with Compression, Level, and Drive controls. Note that having compression controls for each band justifies putting the actual Compressor effect after the distortion, as you can still compress the signal before it hits the distortion (something I like). Click on the attachment to see the effect’s set of controls.

 

Drive does what you’d expect, in that it makes the sound more overdriven and distorted. But the “secret weapon” here is that you can shape and harmonize the signal in different ways. Each stage can be set to “Fuzz” (normal distortion effects), but there are also parallel harmony synthesis options:

 

Down: Down one octave

DD: Down two octaves

Up: Up one octave

3rd: Up one third

4th: Up one fourth

5th: Up one fifth

 

The previous two examples gave some standard distortion sound, the next example will demo some parallel harmonies.

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Okay, here’s the shaper with the Mid set to a 5th above, and the Low and Hi sections set to Fuzz. By the way, all these examples use drum patterns that come with Riffworks. Click on the attachment to hear the audio example.

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Hi Craig,

We will definitely take a look at the graphics glitch.

 

About the cut-off sound...

Not all Core Audio (or ASIO) devices report their latency correctly. You can see we've measured the error in the reporting in several devices if you take a look at our Recommended Hardware List:

http://www.sonomawireworks.com/guide/index.php/Recommended_Hardware

 

We haven't measured the Mackie Onyx Satellite. I'll have to take a look at that one.

 

For example, the built-in audio on my intel mac with 1024 buffersize reports:

1054 intput

1024 output

The latency on input and output should always be larger than the buffersize. 1024 samples of actual latency on the output is impossible, and 1054 (only 30 more than 1024) is highly unlikely. So there is definitely some error here.

 

This error can result in the beginning of what you're playing being cut-off in the recordings.

 

dug

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Originally posted by Anderton

And for your listening pleasure...I figured out how to save a riff as a WAV file (you just hit the Mix button), did have to convert the file to mono, though, so it wouldn't be too big for what the BBS can handle.


Note I figured the MP3 option was more universal for those visiting the forum.


i]

 

I clonked'ed, I hoid, I got freaked out .

Thanks cool daddy'o.

That was a real hep snap.

Now that's what I call PROGRESS..

This is an active learning curve..

I really can't GROK* all the technical stoff you know um because of my brainal afflictions an' all, but the ears are tellin' me a thang er two. The quickly loadeink file-ski was crissp and clean and tight as a texas tick, yeehaw!

 

Cooties or, or something like that to my goode and close personal frien' Greg Anderson for usink his brainal musckles to astound and enlighten the less fortunate and the connectivity challenged and speakink for me sef' (arr') It's really fun to me mon' to hear some of the supreme and glorius leaders' impromptu jams. the distortion segment was especially enlightenink. yah gooten!

well done oh wise and mysteriously slim leader.

well done i say.

(fading footstep sounds to silence ) and cut. and print .

thats a wrap babies..

that's a wrap

the end

ovre

and

oot

RL

S

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