Vortex VSTi – Multitimbral Groove Machine
The above audio demos were played in real time using some of the presets and recorded directly within Vortex via it’s on-board WAV Recorder.
Vortex is a VSTi Multitimbral Sequencer, equally adept as performance player or studio composer. It contains dedicated synths for each of its 12 sequencers … or, if you prefer, you can output any sequencer’s generated midi to your software or hardware instrument of choice … all internal synths, all midi output to your synth or any combination of the two on a sequencer by sequencer basis … it’s up to you!
It is a performance instrument with an emphasis on quick and easy music creation and is ideal for creating a dance/RnB/electronic foundation, although it can be used to make almost any style of music. One of it’s most fun and useful features is the series of real-time triggers which allow manipulating the sequences with effects such as Stutter (and programmable stutter), Restart, Half tempo, double step, note ties and mute amongst others. An octave of your keyboard is reserved for the triggers allowing easy sequence transformations. When sync mode is enabled, once all triggers are released the sequence will revert to it’s former playing state.
A great feature is a series of global knobs for subtracting or adding to the internal synth parameters, amongst them Filter Cutoff, Resonance, Filter Decay, VCA (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release), Filter (Attack, Decay, Sustain), Noise Level, FM, Oscillator Mix, and LFO (Speed, Amount, Sustain). These knobs affect all synths simultaneously and so the entire output of Vortex becomes a single morphing and dynamic instrument capable of epic journeys into the unknown. All of these knobs have CCs and it’s strongly advised to set them up on your controller to get the most out of Vortex.
There is yet another octave of pitch triggers which can transpose the pitch and apply scales to the entire output on the fly, you can enable which sequences will respond to this in the same way as all other triggers. The pitch triggers are completely independent and can transpose to any value, the C4 octave on your keyboard controller is used to trigger them, although they can also be moved to C5 or C6. If you are using the Scale Re-mappers, there is also a great feature called Scale Shift which will shift notes up the selected scale. If a knob is assigned to Scale Shift it becomes a fantastic live performance tool.
Vortex began as a midi application and so the internal sound module is designed to behave as an external midi device. The idea is that you simply dial up presets rather than being faced with actual sound editing, although up to 10 CCs can be overridden in a session to give some sound editing possibilities.
Other features include a Multi-Sequencer which allows assigning multiple sequences to a single key, internal FX using the the TerraNova FX engine, a 16 channel midi mixer and 8 rows of assignable CC Knobs.
- 12 Step Sequencers triggered by midi Notes with a huge range of options.
- Two assignable CC Sequencers per Sequencer which can be used in various modes including Step and Envelope modes.
- Can be used with external midi or the internal sound engine, or a mix of the two.
- 12 real time performance triggers including stutter, programmable stutter, Retrigger, half tempo, Double Step, Tie all Notes.
- Each sequence can be set to respond to any combination of triggers.
- Squash to Scale for each sequencer, allowing notes to be squashed into a desired chord/scale.
- Internal Sound Engine based on 12 adapted Ammonites. Capable of synth sounds as well as over 1200 drum kits.
- TerraNova FX Engine which includes SoundScaper, Delay and three Modulators (capable of modulation effects such as flangers, phasers, filters and pitch shifters).
- A series of performance -+ knobs for the internal synth designed for assigning to knobs on your controller so that the overall Cutoff, Resonance, Release, Filter Release can be altered in real-time.
- Multi-Sequencer which can group combinations of the sequences to a single key which can also be transposed.
- 16 Channel Midi Mixer, each strip controls Volume, Pan, 2 assignable CCs, and Program Change Information.
- CC Mixer which allows selecting up to 8 CC numbers to knobs for real-time manipulation.
- Internal WAV Recorder for recording directly to WAV file straight from the plugin.
12 Independent Sequencers, one for each note in the octave. In Step Sequencer Mode, playing an octave higher will increase the pitch by an octave. When in Step Sequence mode, pressing a midi note will automatically display the sequence so that editing is intuitive and quick. It is very easy to edit notes, double clicking adds/removes them, and clicking a not e and dragging allows it to be moved about freely on the sequencer display.
Adding/Removing Notes is simple, just double click. Clicking on a note and dragging up and down will change it's position. Clicking a note and dragging across the grid will create new notes (use SHIFT to only create on already active steps).
There are default/random buttons for each part of the sequence so that notes can be randomized easily for instance, Muters is which notes are active.
Squash to Scale is a great feature for making music making easy, when enabled it allows you to select a scale which the sequence will then be forced to fit using the Scale rule in the master section. So for example if you enabled the same scale across all sequencers you could randomize the sequences and be sure that all sequences will work with each other! Making music doesn't ever get much easier than that. It's also worth mentioning here that when starting to make a preset, you can set up a sequence the way you want, select the scale and enable it etc... then click on the set to all button. This will make all sequences identical as a starting point which saves a lot of time once you get into the habit of working that way.
Each sequencer has the following Options:
- Step Size - up to 32 Steps per sequence.
- Independent Tempo - From 1 Bar to 32.
- Octave Mode - Allows selected steps on the Octave Row to follow rules such as +1 octave or to use one of the cycle modes.
- Direction - How the sequencer plays back, which can be forwards, backwards, alternate, random or single shot.
- Transpose - A sequence can be independently transposed by +- two octaves.
- Ties mode - Determines how enabled steps on the Tie row will behave. For example Tie will release the previous note before playing the next, Legato will Release the playing note after the new note is played which is great for mono instruments for the classic mono lead sound. There are also All modes where all notes are tied and the Tie Row is ignored, and finally modes where Tie will only affect a single step.
- Velocity - How the sequence velocity is mapped, Midi will use the played velocity of the incoming midi note, Sequenced uses the velocity bars on the sequencer, and Fixed will use whatever setting the Fixed Velocity knob is set to. Note that selected notes on the Boost Row always overrides the Velocity in favour of the Vol Knob setting.
- Retrigger - Determines if the Sequence will retrigger when a new note is pressed. This can be set to no retrigger, or Hard Synced to the first played sequence. However, all sequences will always retrigger when the first sequence is played regardless of this setting.
- CC Sequencers x 2 - Each Sequencer has two dedicated CC Sequencers which can be used to control any CC Parameters that your midi gear responds to such as Filter Cutoff and Resonance. Each CC Sequencer has a choice of modes available:
- Step - Will only send values if a step is enabled.
- Step All - Will send all Step values regardless of whether a note is playing.
- Envelope Modes - Creates a smooth envelope by joining the values to form an envelope either linear or Cos. There are step modes which use only active notes, or step all which uses all steps to create the envelope. There is also single mode which will perform the same as Step except that the transition will happen in the space of a single step.
- Slope Modes - Slopes perform the transition at a much faster rate than Envelopes, Leg mode uses the next CC value to form the end slope value, and Z Mode will always use Zero as the destination value.
- You can edit the CC Sequencer by clicking on the CC1 or CC2 button on the main Sequence display.
Octave C2 of your controller keyboard is used for the triggers. Trigger Sync in the master section (enabled by default) means that when using triggers, once they are all released the sequences will bounce back to their previous play positions. This makes it possible to mess up the rhythm as much as you like, and once you let go the existing sequences will be playing as they should be. Switching Sync off should not be dismissed though, in this mode there are more possibilities for mangling the sequences, however you should manually retrigger the sequencers at the beginning of a bar to bring everything back in sync.
- Reverse – This one will reverse the sequence whilst it is held, if the sequence direction is Reverse already, then it will make it run forwards.
- Forward – This will instantly advance the sequence by the amount set for Forward in the master section.
- Retrigger – Retrigger all sequences on the next quantized beat. Holding will constantly retrigger at the quantized tempo until released.
- Back – This will instantly send the sequence back by the number of steps selected in the back amount option in the master section.
- Programmable Stutter – Like Stutter this will freeze the sequence, however it will use the Stutter Row on each sequencer to decide whether to play a step or not so that a rhythmic pattern can be achieved. Each sequence has it's own Stutter pattern and so when combined it results in a sequence within a sequence and will be different depending on which step is stuttered. This stutter does not have it's own enable but, but uses the main Stutter button to determine whether a sequence will respond.
- Stutter – Probably the most fun Trigger – It will prevent the sequence advancing and so create a stutter effect from the current step.
- Mute – This one just prevents steps from playing, and any tied sounds will hang which can be very interesting especially if it is an evolving pad. It is also great for just letting some notes through by playing it in a rhythmic way.
- Half Tempo – This halves the tempo so that all sequences with it enabled are half the speed.
- Pause – Pauses the sequence, tied notes hang and when released the sequence will continue.
- Double Tempo – Doubles the tempo. This is one of the more useful triggers for creating great rhythms, by triggering it briefly at points in the bar, and the hitting retrigger at the start of the next bar for example.
- Quantize Tempo – This will force sequences to use the current quantize tempo set in the Master section.
The Keyboard has an Octave of assignable Pitch Triggers which is on the C4 Octave by default, each one is capable of a programmable pitch offset ranging from -24 to + 24 semitones. This gives plenty of scope for re-pitching the sequences. Each Sequence will only respond to the pitch change of it has Repitch Enabled.
Each trigger also has a rescale which allows a user definable Scale to be created either by clicking on the note buttons, or by choosing a preset from the Load Button. The Scales follow whichever global rule is set in determining how to remap the pitch, for instance 'Up' would get the next highest note when a pitch doesn't fit.
If the Rescale is switched on, there is also an additional parameter called Scale Shift, which can be set vi a menu, or more interestingly CC 55 can be used to assign a knob for real-time use. Scale Shift has the effect of shifting notes up the Scale so if a chord was selected it would have the effect of creating Chord Inversions.
Internal Sound Module
The internal sound module is made up of 12 synths using the Ammonite engine which for all intents and purposes behaves as an external Rompler, so it is in keeping with using an external multitimbral Sound Module. There are currently 3 banks of sounds to choose from, over 1000 drum kits with a large collection of drum sounds, including instrument stabs. The mixer has convenience labels on the popup menus listing the internal sound banks.
The synth screen allows setting the fine tune, output routing and Mono/Poly mode, and allows setting the velocity curve/sensitivity, Aftertouch Amount, pitch bend, spread, drift and portamento globally for the sound module. Spread is a method of adding a random value to the pan each time a sound is triggered which is good for adding stereo filed interest to the mix. Drift is similar but will affect the instrument pitch.
For selecting sounds, MSB will select either Instruments (MSB 0) or Drums (MSB 1), then the LSB is used to select a bank:
- 0 - General Bank of sounds with many lead, bass and fx type patches.
- 1 - Sample Based Patches - This bank mostly uses the included samples.
- 2 - Blips and Arps - This bank contains presets which have a short decay which make them great for sequencing.
- 0-4 - These presets contain standard kits, 0 - 63 has all drum based sounds, whereas 64-127 can have instrument samples or effects in the second Octave.
- 5-8 - These banks can have any sounds anywhere made up from the sounds within the huge drum/hit sample collection.
- 9-11 - 3 Banks of percussion kits.
Once a bank has been selected you can then choose a program from 0-127, a tip is clicking on the right of the program list whilst holding the SHIFT key will load a random program from the bank. This is great for quickly changing sounds whilst a sequence is running to quickly get something you like.
Whilst the sound programs themselves aren't directly editable, using the assignable CCs on the Mixer or the 8 assignable CC rows on the CC Mixer it is possible to override up to 10 of the current preset parameters.
- Internal - Switches on the internal synth for that channel. The strip will then be used for the internal synth and not any external device.
- Enable - This button will enable the Knobs to send values.
- Mute - Allows temporarily muting the selected channel.
- Solo - Allows temporarily Soloing a channel, muting all others.
- Volume - Uses CC10 to control midi channel volume.
- Pan - Uses CC7 to control midi channel Pan.
- CC3/CC4 - These knobs can be assigned to any CC Parameter via the CC3/CC4 lists below.
- Pitch Bend/Mod Wheel/Aftertouch - Determines if these controller values should be passed through to the midi channel.
- Marker - For reference use only, allows marking if a channel is Instrument, drums or FX.
- Program Change - When enabled, this section allows setting the program number as well as LSB and MSB if your device supports more than one bank. Note that as long as it is enabled this section does not require the top enable to be on, they are considered separately useful functions.
- All mixer settings are sent to the device upon a patch change so that your external Midi gear is initialized ready for the preset.
The CC Mixer allows selecting up to 8 Control Change Messages and provides knobs for the first 12 channels for editing amounts. The can be used for both the internal Sound Module or external midi Hardware. For external midi devices you need to consult the device manual to see which CCs it will respond to, there is no set standard.
When used with the internal Module, the CCs are labelled for easy selection but be aware that these labels only describe the internal Module CCs, they probably won't relate to external hardware/software.
Multi-Sequencer Mode allows assigning combinations of sequences to a single midi key, up to a maximum of 24 keys. This could be used to create a series of patterns for live triggering, although it is much more flexible that because more than one key can be used simultaneously and Vortex intelligently only restarts the non-playing sequences. This allows the ability to create syncopations and is a create tool in itself. Additionally each multi-sequence has the ability to re-pitch the output of all sequences which have the MTUNE buttons enabled. There are 2 Re-tuners, and so you can set different sequences to tune differently on each multi-sequence. Finally each multi-sequence also has a scale re-mapper which allows changing the scale of playing sequences in real time.
The Note Mapping in MS mode uses the same Octave on your keyboard as the Step sequence mode for the triggers. The 2 Octaves above that are for the 24 Multi-Sequencers, and the notes above that can be used to transpose the entire output for all Sequences which have the REPITCH button enabled.
Finally the pitch can also be rescaled so that you can change the scale which sequences are using per Multi-Sequence, so for instance one key could squash the sequences to minor, and another could squash the sequences to Major Seventh. It is only effective on Sequences that have the REPITCH button enabled.
TerraNova FX Engine
Vortex also includes the TerraNova FX engine which includes a SoundScaper, Tempo delay and 3 Modulators capable of many diverse effects such as Flangers & Phasers etc.. The FX can also accept an audio input from the host so that external sound can be routed directly through the FX. The synth Section has a routing system which allows selecting either the FX or 3 other stereo outputs which sends the raw sound directly to the host for alternative processing.
The FX can be used in Parallel or Serial Mode, in the latter mode you simply drag the fx in the effcts order box to a new location to achieve any combination.