Devine Machine Software's Devine Machine is a loop-manipulation toolthat gives users unprecedented control over multiple loops in realtime. Because it doesn't fit neatly into any existing category, I can'trefer to it as a sequencer or a simple beat-munger. Its developers callit a “loop workstation,” which seems an appropriatedesignation.
Devine Machine 1.0 (Win)
|RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO5|
|PROS: Innovative. Powerfulloop manipulator for studio and live use. Works alone or as a VSTinstrument. Very stable.|
CONS:Unusual interface takes time to learn. Manual adequate but not great.Currently Windows only (Mac OS X version in development).
Devine Machine, which functions as both a standalone application anda VST instrument, does two main things. First, it allows you to playand manipulate up to eight mono or stereo, 16- or 32-bit drum/rhythmloops (WAV format only) in real time by letting you determine the orderof the loop slices on the fly. The individual transient“hits” of the loops are detected automatically when loaded,but you can easily fine-tune the slice points at the sample level. Eachof the loops can have its own independent pitch, distortion, filter,level, pan, and delay setting; changes to these settings update nearlyinstantaneously.
Next, Devine Machine's Live Loops mode lets you trigger loops thatare assigned to MIDI notes while up to eight synchronized loops run inthe background. However, this is not simply dumb sample triggering(though that is possible). You can choose to trigger loops live andhave them always start in the same position in the bar as the currentlyplaying loops, so that whatever loops you trigger are always“musically relevant” to what's going on.
As of this writing, Devine Machine is available only as a Webdownload, though that may change by the time you read this. The programrequires at least a Pentium II/500 MHz processor, but a Pentium 4/2 GHzis recommended. The download includes two separate versions of theprogram, one to support ASIO, the other, MME.
I tested Devine Machine on a Sony Vaio Pentium 4/2 GHz PC with 1 GBof RAM and plenty of disk space. I used the ASIO version of the programwith my Steinberg Nuendo (actually an RME Hammerfall) Digi 9652 cardrunning under Emagic's Logic 5, Steinberg's Cubase SX, and Image-LineSoftware's Fruityloops Pro 3.56.
IN LIVING COLOR
|FIG.1: Devine Machine's main window displays waveform views of up to fourof the currently loaded loops and toggles between Pattern and Songmodes. Additional controls, including Start and Stop buttons, appearalong the bottom of the window.|
Devine Machine's brightly colored main interface is a singlefixed-size window that provides access to a variety of different workareas. When the program first loads, you'll find basic controls forloop selection, start/stop, and relative volume for each of up to eightloops. Although the waveform displays of up to four of the currentlyloaded loops that appear around the top perimeter of the windowrepresent a rather novel design concept, they are not particularlycrucial to the program's operation (see Fig. 1).
In the standalone version of the program, the top of the programwindow offers standard menus: File, Edit, Track, Pattern, Song,Options, and Help. In the VSTi version, these are hidden, but you cancall them up by right-clicking anywhere in the lower half of thewindow.
At the center of the main window are two buttons labeled Pattern andSong. These are Devine Machine's two main modes, though the terms don'thave the meaning you might assume. Song mode, which loads by default,lets you control which loops (and variations thereof) play in realtime. Pressing the Tab key (or clicking on the Pattern button)“flips down” the editing screen and brings you into Patternmode, where detailed loop manipulation takes place. Devine Machinecontinues to play as you move among its various editing screens.
In Song mode, you have access to six work areas: Levels, Sample,Record, Live Loop, Options, and Bank Manager. Levels gives access to ananimated level meter for each of the eight tracks: click and drag on atrack's indicator to adjust its level. The Sample display is foradjusting the currently selected sample's loop point (only the end ofthe loop is adjustable).
The Record button brings up a sampling display where you can recordmono or stereo 32-bit WAV files directly into Devine Machine. I rarelyhad occasion to use this, as I was working with samples from myexisting library, but it's a handy inclusion. The Options screen givesaccess to a variety of setup parameters, such as the Live Loop MIDIchannel and the Remixer/Panner, and the Bank Manager is used for thefunction its name implies. (I'll cover Live Loops later.)
LET IT FLOW
Pattern mode offers six more work areas, some of which have theirown subwindows. The most important of these areas is the Incarn window,which has three working modes of its own: Flows, Drums, and Synth.Flows, which appears by default when you enter Pattern mode, is forrearranging and manipulating the individual segments of a loop eitherby drawing freehand or by drawing on a quantized grid (from quarternotes to 64th notes, depending on the current Snap quantization value).You can reverse or repeat individual segments and easily makescratching or scrubbing effects.
|FIG.2: The Flows screen, found in Pattern mode, displays individual loopsegments arranged on a two-dimensional grid. You can rearrange segmentsby drawing directly on the grid.|
Like the other windows, Flows displays time from left to right(x-axis) and the position in the current loop from bottom to top(y-axis; see Fig. 2). A diagonal line from the lower leftto the upper right of the window (which is drawn automatically) willplay the loop's segments in their original order. By clicking anywhereon the screen, you can make the segment that is found at the verticalposition you clicked sound at any point in time. Basic editing is assimple as that: drawing on the screen enables you to create just aboutany imaginable variation of a loop.
However, your options extend much further than that. Devine Machinealso allows you to independently alter pitch, lowpass- orhighpass-filter cutoff and resonance, distortion, delay (withregeneration), and volume, for each preset, using the same method. I'lldescribe some of those features in a moment.
Drums mode is Incarn's second main editing mode. Here, loop slicesare represented as colored blocks on a grid much like the piano-rolleditor in a sequencer (the color and length of each block is determinedin the Region Editor screen, described later). By moving blocks around,you can change the actual drum sound that plays at each point in theloop.
Working in Drums mode is easy. As in Flows mode, the slices in yourloop appear arranged diagonally across the screen when you first accessDrum mode. One way to begin is by clicking in any of the grid squaresto “paint in” new blocks. This allows you to create anentirely new pattern from the slices of the current loop.
|FIG.3: Devine Machine's Region Editor is where you specify what instrument(such as snare or bass drum) is playing in each segment of a loop(bottom). You can also manipulate slice points manually on the waveformdisplay (top).|
Another option is to start in the Region Editor, then return to theDrums screen and fine-tune or edit the results. The Region Editor ishome to the program's Drum Coloring feature, a very cool capabilitythat I haven't seen elsewhere. On the Region Editor page, directlybelow the horizontal Region Editor itself, there is a grid of six rowsspanning the length of the loop. These are labeled Main, BD, Sn, HH,Perc, and MSC (see Fig. 3). By clicking in the appropriate gridsquare under the slice you want to label, you can “tell”Devine Machine which instrument (bass drum, snare, hi-hat) is actuallysounding during each slice of the loop. (The developer reports that anupcoming version of Devine Machine will be able to detect the drumsound automatically.)
What's the point? Basically, once Devine Machine knows the specificinstrument sounds you're using in a loop, it can use that same set ofinstruments to “play” other loop patterns (you have to dothe coloring on both loops). In other words, you can“re-orchestrate” your loops by having the instruments ofone play the pattern of another.
Drum Coloring is tremendously useful and time saving. It makes itquite easy to make multiple loops play the same actual pattern withoutthe usual process of manually slicing (or Recycling) loops and thenimporting MIDI files into a sequencer and editing the sequences tomatch.
The Region Editor screen also lets you fine-tune the individualtransient slices of a loop so the program knows precisely where eachbeat is located in the sample. This feature, which is functionallysimilar to Steinberg's Recycle, is extremely fast — just click onthe small box under each slice, and the display takes you to theapproximate start of that slice in the waveform display. A yellowvertical line marking the precise start point appears, and if you dragthe yellow line left or right to the desired point and release themouse, the display automatically jumps to the beginning of the nextslice. (Auto-jump can be disabled if desired.) Conveniently, loop-sliceinformation (region, location, and color) is stored within a uniquedatabase file, so the program remembers this information even if youmove the original file to another drive or rename it.
When you're done in the Region Editor, press Ctrl+D, and you'rereturned to the Drums mode screen. Devine Machine automatically createsthe colored blocks on the grid that will play the slices of the currentloop in their original order. The block colors correspond to the onesyou chose (representing the kick, snare, and so on) in the RegionEditor. This is highly convenient as a starting point, and I quicklymade it part of my normal Devine Machine work flow.
After working with the Flows and Drums mode screens and getting yourloop reordered the way you want it, Devine Machine's effects are a goodplace to go. The windows for manipulating Distortion, Filtering, Delay,Panning, Pitch, and Level are all similar to the Incarn graph, but withone main difference: because you're changing effects parameters overtime, lines drawn higher in the window represent higher parametervalues, and lower ones represent lower values. It's very intuitive onceyou get used to the general process of working with the graphinterface.
Devine Machine's effects themselves are not parameter-heavy and seemintended primarily for broad strokes rather than fine detail. This isnot a criticism so much as an observation. In practice, the effects arequite serviceable and, used with one another and with theloop-reordering process, can be very effective.
Other nifty and unusual MIDI-controlled real-time effects are mappedto the MIDI key range an octave below the Live Loop keys. Thesefeatures, which affect the program's eight core loops, includemomentary repeat keys for “stuttering” effects and amod-wheel-controlled lowpass filter and ring modulator.
The repeat keys grab a piece of whatever patterns are currentlyplaying and repeat it as long as they are held down. The length of thepiece is determined by which key you're holding. When you release thekey, the program resumes playback immediately from the place in the barthat it has advanced to while you held the key down (the clock runs inthe background even during the repeating process). So in effect, younever stop playback no matter how many momentary repeats youcreate.
The Low Pass Filter effect (activated by holding down the B1 key)maps the mod wheel to cutoff frequency, and though resonance is fixed,the filter can still be useful (it happens to sound quite good). TheRing Mod (accessed using MIDI key A1) is similarly limited — theonly control is mod-wheel mapped to modulator frequency — butuseful nonetheless.
Finally, there's the rather confusingly named RealtimeRemixer/Panner effect, which uses the mod wheel to control panning andto grab a random slice of whatever's currently playing (it's differentevery time). This effect uses the grabbed data to create momentaryunpredictable rhythmic effects. The Realtime Remixer/Panner effect ismore of a happy-accident generator than anything else — you neverknow exactly what you're going to get, but it's often somethinginteresting.
|FIG.4: Live Loop mode is used for triggering up to 24 loops in real time.Loops are assigned to individual MIDI keys and can either be mixed withany other sounds currently playing or replace thosesounds.|
Devine Machine's eight simultaneous loops and their associatedediting capabilities are only half of the story. The other main featureis the Live Loop screen, which lets you assign up to 24 additionalloops to a two-octave MIDI key range for use as a live-performance tool(see Fig. 4). These loops can be triggered at any time and, ifthe Devine Machine transport is running, will always trigger in syncwith the current bar position. (You can override that feature if youwant them to trigger freely as they would in a conventionalsampler.)
For each Live Loop key, you have control over the quantization ofthe trigger sync (that is, whether it will align the triggered loop tothe nearest playing quarter, eighth, or 16th note, or not at all) andwhether or not the loop will be added to the mix or replace all othersound momentarily. There are also individual Level and Pan controls foreach loop. In addition, a handy two-stage (AR) envelope is availablefor each Live Loop key, so you can determine whether a triggered loopwill start and end instantly or fade in or out.
|Minimum SystemRequirements |
Pentium II (or AMD equivalent)/500 MHz; 256 MB RAM; Windows98/2000/XP
The program allows you to group two sets (called Decks) of foursimultaneous loops that can be faded from one to the other using aDJ-mixer-style horizontal crossfade control. Each Deck has fivepattern-variation memories for each of its four loops (A-D or E-H), andeach loop can be loaded with a different loop-manipulation preset. Thisgives you many possible four-loop combinations for each Deck. Presetsare stored in banks and contain information about the order of loopslices as well as controls for the effects, but not the actual sounddata.
Devine Machine also allows you to store “snapshots” ofthe currently selected patterns, which can be recalled using keys onthe PC keyboard. That makes it easy to move from one combination ofloops to another to try out arrangements ideas.
Devine Machine supports up to 14 stereo outputs (1 through 8 arehard-wired for loops A through H), as well as an additional output pairfor Live Loops. This is key, as it allows you to process differentloops independently in real time, using the capabilities of your VSThost (or other tools, if your system can route the audio to externaldestinations). In my experience with Devine Machine, this proved to beone of the most useful and powerful configurations in which to use theprogram, owing to the flexibility it provided. Setting up differentVST-effects chains in Cubase SX for each stereo loop output quicklyyielded some amazing results.
The Devine Machine standalone version will lock to MIDI Clock, whilethe VSTi version syncs to host tempo (and thus whatever sync methodsthe host can use). In practice, Devine Machine's sync is impressivelyfast and solid. I tried it running standalone locked to Pro Tools onanother computer and as a VSTi inside Logic for Windows. In both casesit worked extremely well.
My favorite way to use the program turned out to be as a VSTi insideFruityloops. That setup let me combine Fruity's fast sequencer/sampleplayback and drum-machine-style programming with Devine Machine'sloop-manipulation capabilities — a very inspiringcombination.
Devine Machine's manual is a PDF document with plenty ofscreenshots. Links to Flash tutorial movies on the developer's Web siteare included, as is a simple “first steps” tutorialapplication. These materials made all the difference, particularly inthe early stages of learning the program. There's also a contextualhelp function which, when enabled, displays help text about whateverarea of the program window the cursor is in.
Apparently, Devine Machine does all its internal processing with32-bit precision. That may explain why its output has such noticeablyhigh clarity. Even when all eight loops are playing and mixed down to asingle stereo pair, their individual details come through extremelyclearly, something that is not always a given with digital mixers inthis context. I was quite pleased with the sound of every aspect of theprogram, including the effects; everything is quite up front andpresent.
Devine Machine is a truly innovative program, with far too manyfeatures to cover in the space of this review. The important thing isthat it lets you do things with loops in real or near-real time thatwould be difficult or impossible to do by other means. This is true toa degree that can't fully be communicated in print — you have tosee, hear, and work with the program for yourself (downloadable demoversions are available at the developer's Web site).
My experience working with Devine Machine could be broken down intothree stages: the “What the hell?” stage, the “Ithink I get it” stage, and the “Oh my god!” stage.Initially, you may be confused by this program. You'll soon begin toget a handle on it, and finally, the creative possibilities will dawnon you, and you'll be completely amazed. I should also note that theprogram didn't crash once during the review period, which is remarkablegiven the complexity of its moment-to-moment operations.
On the minus side, the interface is not immediately obvious andrequires a definite adjustment period. But once you're comfortable withthe program, you will find yourself wondering how you ever got alongwithout it. Devine Machine offers immense power as a studio loop tooland a live-performance instrument, and that is a potentcombination.
Peter Freeman is a bassist, composer, and producer basedin L.A. He has worked with Seal, John Cale, Jon Hassell, Sussan Deyhim,Shawn Colvin, Nile Rodgers, and others.