Mac OS X Con: Reason Turbo Start

Saturday, November 6, 2004

[Here are the details for this panel, fully titled “Reason Turbo Start — Mastering the #1 Software Studio.”]

[A few minutes before the talk is scheduled to begin, our host has some goofy synthesizer version of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” playing in Reason.]

Mark Vail: I teach this to seventh and eighth graders. And they’ve released a much less expensive educational pack. It’s a simplified version of Reason. Called “Reason Adapted.” Recently all of our G3s have been replaced by Windows XP boxes.

[Grumbles from the few people in the crowd.]

[Showing more photos of his students and talking about them.]

Mark: My class could not function without the Korg GEC3 system. It allows you to communicate with the entire class and it lets you listen to any student you wish without them knowing it. One student wondered if this was constitutional or not. It’s got a touch screen with all the students’ names. And each student has a box with a button they can push to get my attention. Because all of the students use headphones, this is a necescity to running a class. Girls even sometimes take my classes. I had five or six girls once. My class is an elective. I pu the best of their music on Harker’s website: My students are currently working on Halloween music.

[Opens Reason.]

Mark: We start with an empty rack and create a mixer. Then we’ll create a Dr. REX loop player. It give you access to all sorts of loops. With Rhodes and synths and other instrument loops. You can go into the sequencer and actually look at the events and slices.

[This is a very intro-to-Reason sort of talk (obviously, I guess) — so I may not transcribe absolutely everything.]

Mark: Now we’ll add an r’n’b drum loop using another Dr. REX module. I also require my students to do some programming because so many other people have access to these same loops. I require that they customize their loops. I use Oxygen8s in class. They’ve very reliable. And you can use them to play the individual slices of the loops.

[He’s manipulating the samples the way one might with Intakt — by modulating the pitch and other parameters for each slice of the drum sample.]

Mark: I tell my students not to let any loop play for more than four bars without evolving it somehow. You can also use a scroll to shuffle the order of the slices. Do this enough and you can really change the way the song plays.

[This is actually kind of cool… And the music he’s making doesn’t sound sucky! Sounds good, actually.]

Mark: You can’t change the tempo throughout a Reason piece. But you can use the editting function called “scale tempo” to slow down or speed up a section.

[This appears to give you the ability to half- or double-time a sample loop, not really change the actual tempo at all. And he’s playing around and getting some pretty decent drum’n’bass-ish sounds.]

Mark: You have access to several different sorts of synths in Reason, as well.

[Plays examples.]

Mark: Some of my students really like the Matrix module (and some really don’t). It lets you enter notes in a kind of player piano scroll. Sometimes my students just use the randomize pattern function. Which is okay with me.

Mark: Another module that’s been added is the Malstrˆm graintable synth. It’s got an arpeggiator. If things get too loud, you can create a mixer track and automate the mixer. We’re now about one month into my class with 7th and 8th graders.

[Still playing with the automated mixer. Now panning stuff around.]

Mark: Malstr&oulm;m has some very powerful parameters for you to change. Which I can also automate.

[Does so.]

Mark: If a student’s having a problem, I can actually just grab their file on my machine and project it on the screen and help fix the problem. I teach an hour-long class five times a week. I used to have to teach in an English classroom.

[Playing around with Malström.]

Mark: I make my students reprogram the patches instead of using the presets. I try to make them make their patches as different as possible from the originals.

[He uses the work “program” in a different way than I do. I don’t consider moving virtual knobs around “programming.” But I get the point.]

Mark: So right now we’re working on Halloween music.

[Adds an NN-XT module.]

Mark: The NN-XT module was added in version 5. You can load up samples and patches and sound banks. Alot of people use it to do orchestra sounds with the orchestra bank.

[He just loaded up a rooster sound and is playing with it. Oddly, a rooster sound sounds almost identical when played backwards. Weird. Now he’s playing a “Wizard of Oz” sample: “I’ll get you, my pretty — and your little dog, too!” He’s isolating “my pretty.”]

Mark: There’s also the NN-19 digital sampler module. Reason doesn’t have the ability to directly record sounds, unfortunately. But we have some sample players (like this).

Question: Do you ever have a problem with copyright or clearing samples?

Mark: No, not really. Sometimes students will copy other people’s Reason work and I try hard to avoid that. One student tried to turn in a Reason demo as their own, for example. But I don’t worry about clearing samples since we aren’t really releasing these tracks for money. But this is an issue that I should probably consider talking about.

Some UT Film Guy: All of our sample collections that we use have been fully licenced or are royalty-free. So our in-house tools are covered. And you still have all of the necessary tools to create a releasable soundtrack for a film. Some students want to licence other music, so we actually use that as part of the course: contacting the licence holder and working something out. We have to show that everything’s been cleared when applying for film festivals.

Mark: I’m going to play a song that’s not a freebie and not something I hand out to students. It has a sample I wouldn’t play for students.

[He’s playing it and it just sounds like cut-up, sped-up, otherwise indistinguishable language. Don’t know what the problem would be, but who am I…]

Mark: Oh, I skipped over a few things on the Matrix module. It’s not just a note device.

[Oh, now he’s playing the non-appropriate sample. Sounds like “motherfucking [something],” cut-up and sped-up.]

Mark: New to Reason 2.5 is Spider CV and Spider Audio. These let you send sources to multiple outputs or combine multiple sources down to one.]

Mark: Now for effects. Reverb, delay, etc. You can’t use VST plug-ins with Reason unless you use Reason within another host like Logic or Live.

[Showing various effects. I’m not going to write all of this down.]

Question from UT Film Guy: Do you ever demonstrate using real hardware units?

Mark: No, I don’t. I’ve thought about bringing my MiniMoog in. The problem with a real synth is that one student plays with the headphones on and everyone else is bored. The exception is the theremin — which everyone has a blast with. Another one that works well in an individual case is the Korg Kaoss pad.

Mark: There’s drum machine in Reason called Redrum, also.

[Play with it.]

Mark: And there’s a vocoder.

[Show it off.]

Mark: This really attacks the CPU. Okay. Now I’m through all of the modules. That’s about as far as I get in an entire semester with my students.

Question: Do you just do single-semester classes?

Mark: Until this year I only had one class. Now I have two classes. I might get to teach a 6th grade class — but not teaching Reason. Two more classes could be taught in Reason to really get into it, but I’m not sure I could handle it. This is only my third year teaching. With two classes I can’t maintain the high level of commenting I used to have. So the music isn’t quite as good and isn’t quite as customized.

Question: How do you keep the kids who pick it up right away from getting bored?

Mark: Well, I used to demo this for 6th graders to get them to sign up for the course. And I wouldn’t show them that we’d be using Reason because I didn’t want them to get ahead. Then I spoke with someone who said that you should never hold back a student. So some students download the demos and learn all sorts of tricks really quickly. Sometimes I also have slow students. One student lost a file. So we have computer-challenged students who can’t keep up. About 20% of my students have not studied music and it’s a neat feeling when those students do make music.

[Now two audience members are having a back and forth that I’m not paying attention to. Two other audience members also teach: one at UT RTF, one who knows where.]