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Steinberg Cubase 5.01 Review (Bonus Material)

July 29, 2009
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<B>FIG A:</b> A VST Expression editing lane appears just below note events in the Key Editor. Clicking in the lane of a particular event inserts the proper MIDI data.

FIG A: A VST Expression editing lane appears just below note events in the Key Editor. Clicking in the lane of a particular event inserts the proper MIDI data.

MOLTO EXPRESSIVO

I''ve often lamented that playing some modern software samplers expressively requires the skills of a helicopter pilot due to the number of MIDI-control gestures required to bring the extra articulations to life. Cubase 5 takes some big steps to return musical context to a task that often feels more like muse-crushing data entry.

Cubase 5''s new VST Expression feature provides a discrete track to codify and edit expression-oriented controllers alongside musical data. That, for example, eliminates the need for recalling which notes are key switches or which control changes create a growl for a trumpet part. Instead, Cubase 5 uses an Expression Map, which displays such events as musical articulations rather than streams of MIDI data. In a sense, this is similar to a drum map, in which note data is pre-defined as hi-hat, snare, kick or other kit piece. If you make an instrument''s expression map visible in the Track Inspector, you get visual confirmation when, for example, an electric bass switches from a muted attack to harmonics. Your choice of articulations also appears in separate lanes of the piano-roll-style Key Editor, where you select and insert expression events from a pop-up menu (see Fig. A and Web Clip 3).

VST Expression Maps are initially set up for an additional set of instruments included with the built-in Halion One sampler, but you can edit and create Expression Maps for any instrument that supports an extended set of sampled articulations such as key or velocity switches. Although it doesn''t completely alleviate the memorization of key switches or the non-real-time aspect of inserting the proper articulations, it greatly facilitates editing and removes much of the tedium involved in the task. It''s particularly handy (and more relevant) for those constructing music in the Score window to insert an object labeled Legato beneath a note than it is to consult a legend to find the appropriate command.

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

Often the constraints of page and word counts limit the coverage a product receives. Here''s a random grab bag of Cubase 5 features, including things you may have missed in earlier versions.

I''m not sure when it made its Cubase debut, but the Retrospective Record feature can be a real lifesaver. Have you ever noodled on a track and thought that it was loads better than your last take? Cubase retains a memory buffer, and Retrospective Record will take whatever MIDI data you played and place it in a currently record-enabled track whether or not you were in Playback mode. You can even set the size of the buffer to a specific number of MIDI events.

The Halion instruments tailored for VST Expression are beautifully sampled and supremely expressive. Electric guitars sparkle, and their acoustic counterparts are woody and warm without sacrificing high-frequency detail. Drums are equally detailed with plenty of crispness and punch.

Auto-LFO is a textbook example of the synergy between sequencer and synthesizer I covered in Sequencing With Style. An extra modulation component is always welcome, and you can choose exactly what this LFO sends, select a waveform, set the density of the MIDI data and scale the modulation depth.

Embracer, a pad machine equally at home in stereo and surround systems, is one of the more notable of the no-frills synths that fulfill a musical application with a minimum of programming. You can modulate the width of the pad and the pad will bloom from a narrow monophonic output through stereo to surround. Grabbing one of the color-coded rings in the instrument''s Eye will move one of the two oscillators around the surround field: Trippy stuff, and although there are no sophisticated modulation matrices, you can choose waveforms and set attack rates, and a simple tone control for each oscillator will warm up or brighten the pad.

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