Designed for live performance and loop creation ‘in the moment’, we take radiaL for a spin…
Manufacturer: Cycling 74
$139 See End of Review!
Web: Cycling 74
In the murky world of computer composition software, long-time Mac musicians may remember David Zicarelli. He created M, an algorithmic music composition program (originally published by Intelligent Software and later by Dr. T in the ’80s), and he was the brain behind Opcode’s Max, a graphical music programming language.
With the demise of the publishers, Zicarelli retrieved his rights and set up Cycling 74 to continue support and develop new software. Both M and Max are still available and one of Cycling 74’s first new products was Pluggo, a collection of 74 plug-ins created with Max which originally sold for an amazing $74 (although it now contains over 100 instruments and costs $199).
Master of Max
radiaL – as funky David spells it – as anyone familiar with Max may have guessed, was designed and programmed with Max. This is quite an achievement, although one suspects that a little advanced programming has taken place under the hood and it’s doubtful that the average Max user could create anything quite as sophisticated.
To the Max
Max is an object-oriented music programming environment – a graphical programming language in other words. Its origins go back to 1986 when it was used to control the X4 synthesiser at IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coördination Acoustique/Musique) but it was later implemented as a graphical environment for MIDI on the Mac.
It was developed for Opcode by David Zicarelli in 1989 and he has since enhanced the program to support audio events with the addition of MSP Audio Extensions. The Max/MSP combination made it (relatively) easy for people low on programming expertise but high on enthusiasm to create their own MIDI and audio software applications and plug-ins. One of the ‘give aways’ with Max applications is the chunky graphics although there is provision to use bitmaps.
Max was originally a Mac-only product but Max/MSP is now availble for both Mac OS X and Windows XP.
Installation is easy and straightforward and radiaL is compatible with Mac OS 8.6 ot later and OX X. The program will run for 15 days and then needs to be registered and authorised using the slow and draconian Challenge and Response system.
radiaL’s filters have many sophisticated functions. From left to right: you can click and drag filter curves into the display; you can drag a high-pass filter across the filter display area; and a low-pass filter; and you can adjust the bandwidth of each curve.
radiaL was designed as a performance instrument and to encourage loop creation in real time. The main part of the program is the Channels window which initially shows four loop displays which look like CDs. Each channel holds a single loop which can be controlled from the various sections of the window.
Although four loop displays appear on start-up, you can open up to 99 of them, or at least as many as your computer can handle. If you load several loops, radiaL automatically synchronises them on playback.
There are three rings in each loop display. Although the loop plays continuously, clicking the black area in the middle causes it to retrigger. As the loop plays, a red spoke travels around the larger outer disc and clicking here changes the start and end points of the loop (useful when playing alongside other loops). There are tick marks on the inner ring that divide the loop into eighths and by clicking on these and dragging the mouse around the circle you can change the segments of the loop that are played.
The L-shaped marker on the left is actually a volume slider and the half-moon beneath it controls pan. Clicking in the top right segment of the display mutes the loop, while the other three corner segments control the audio sent to the effects.
Expand the Channels window and Filter and Pitch/Time windows appear below each loop. The filter is really neat. You can click nodes into it, drag them left right and up and down, and adjust their bandwidth. You can also drag high- and low-pass filters onto the display from the left and right.
Many functions such as loop selection, reverse, restart, mute and so on can be controlled with Hot Key presses and from external MIDI Controllers.
There are several preset templates although mainly for equipment not so well-known in the UK, but you can create your own templates, too, with a smattering of information about MIDI.
Below the Filter window is the Pitch and Time window which works on a grid principle. When the dot is in the middle, the loop plays normally. Drag the dot up and down to change the pitch and left and right to change the timing. However, the time setting doesn’t simply make the loop play faster or slower as you might expect. Instead some segments may play back more than once. The manual tells you to listen and try to work out what’s happening rather than telling you. Oh dear!
We’ve only looked at one window so far, albeit the central one. So much control in such small a space. If you’re using a high resolution monitor (say 1152 x 870 or higher) some of the controls are going to be tiny – the pan half-moon, for example looks ridiculously small. You wonder if the program was designed around what could be done with Max rather than what would be more functional.
Another window, the Channel Inspector, provides a waveform view of the loop, and a play line shows which segments are playing. This helps you understand what is happening when you mess with the Pitch and Time settings.
There are a wealth of controls here. You can change the loop’s pitch, adjust the start and end points, change the number of segments it’s divided into, and randomise playback of the segments.
Other controls change the way the segments are played such as repeating them and reversing them. Nudge controls help align a loop if it’s not quite ‘lined up’ with other loops.
But we not finished yet! There’s an effects window into which you can load VST effects. Over a dozen come with the program, mainly from Pluggo. Two effects slots appear on start-up but, like the loop displays, you can have up to 99 although even the fastest Mac will probably complain before you manage to populate them all.
The Feedback effect from Pluggo and supplied with radiaL routes output from five feedback units to each other in random fashion. It illustrates the chunky nature of the programs created with Max.The interface for most effects is little more than sliders although one or two have Max’s familiar chunky graphics.
There are some useful effects such as reverb and delay alongside the more, er, experimental such as a modulated comb filter, ring modulation, amplitude and phase inverter, and a 256-band EQ – and that’s just the ones that can be described in a few words! Many of these work extremely well on loops, often totally transforming them.
Welcome to the Matrix
To control the way effects are applied to the loops, radiaL uses a Matrix. This essentially lists the loop displays along the top with the effects down the side, and the intersection points control the amount of signal being sent to the outputs. Levels are controlled by clicking on horizontal sliders that looks like toggle switches and dragging up and down. It’s certainly different.
As for the outputs, radiaL is extremely flexible in this department with the ubiquitous 99 possible outputs which also appear in the Matrix offering further possibilities – or complexity depending on how many outputs you want to use. The outputs also have their own window complete with flicking VU metres where you can control the output level. There are saturation and limit controls here to warm-up the sound and help prevent the volume trashing your gear.
Other controls include a panel that displays the tempo – changeable, of course – along with the current CPU and memory usage. Keep an eye on these.
A Files window offers quick access to files such as loops, settings, recordings and plug-ins. A Clue window displays a brief description of the item the mouse pointer rests on but it’s very general and doesn’t ‘give you a clue’ about what the different sections of the main loop display window do.
Once you get into radiaL, you’ll likely find it quite addictive. A simple exercise would be to load the same loop into two loop displays and use the controls and effects to change them vis a vis each other. Consider working with four, six or more different loops and you’ll get some idea of the complexity and variety of sounds the program can produce.
What a performance
You can save your work by recording the audio output to hard disk in real time. However, for a performance instrument, radiaL has one major omission – there’s no facility to record or edit the sequence of events you use to create a piece. You may have worked out what settings you’re going to tweak during the performance but one false move and you have to start again.
The manual is generally well done although it could be more helpful in places and some instructions aren’t correct – it gets hopelessly confused the pitch and time section, for example.
As the saying goes – if you like loops, you’ll love this. There’s nothing else on the market that lets you get so far down and dirty with loops, and all without a cut and paste function in sight. But although radiaL is easy to use at a basic level, some of its functions are quite complex and it will take time and dedication to become accomplished with the program.
Innovative loop manipulation
Hands-on control via MIDI hardware
Compatible with all popular drivers
including ASIO, ReWire,
DirectConnect, Sound Manager
and Core Audio
Fiddly microscopic controls
No ‘performance record’ facility
Draconian authorisation system
radiaL is a clever, innovative and powerful looping tool although its quirkiness and non-intuitive interface will require time to master.
Minimum system requirements
Mac: PowerMac 300MHz G3, 20Mb free RAM, 10Mb free HD space + up to 500Mb for the loops, System 8.6/OS X
Sample-accurate synchronised playback of loops
Loop independent pitch and time manipulation
Variable filters for each loop
Supports AIFF, Wave and MP3 files
Apply VST plug-in effects
14 effects supplied
Flexible effects routing and chaining
Control via external MIDI controller
Flexible audio routing
Record output to disk
* Stop Press *
radiaL has been discontinued but the files are available for download from the cycling 74 website along with other discontinued products. Don’t know if they’re fully functional or not but you could do worse that take a look! Here’s a link: Cycling 74 Discontinued