Welcome back to another article about a Rack Extension. In this article we'll be looking at Nostromo 2 from Lectric Panda. Nostromo 2 is a Spectral Synthesizer. The idea with this concept is that the user can define up to 9 different wave form slots and as a result this can become a complete waveform in a sequence. In theory this could be seen as a custom made wave table synthesizer where you set up wave table plays back. Every waveform in wavetable is defined by a wide range of spectra (hence the name of this synth). The playback takes place is defined by a wide range of LFOs (and there are a lot of them). This could be done by using a XFade setting which cross-fades between the different wavetables in the sequence or it could done by jumping from one wavefrom to another.
In theory if you think about this for a second the technique is similar from a technical point of view looking at the WaveTable oscillator from Thor. You have a wavetable and you can use an LFO to control the position knob. The major difference in this case is that these waveforms of Thor are 'fixed' wave forms. And this is where Nostromo kind of took that idea a new level.
You can find Nostromo in the Propellerhead Shop.
Nostromo 2 new features
While the initial release was somewhere a year ago the synthesizer it used to look like the following:
This is a screenshot of Nostromo version 1. The patch that is displayed is the default patch. In comparison to the latest version it currently looks like the following:
There are some noticeable difference while comparing the two devices:
- the size of the device has increased
- 4 different filters (instead of 2)
- 6 envelopes (instead of 4)
- 6 lfos (instead of 4)
- 32 lane mod matrix (vs the fixed 8)
- 1000 LFO waveforms (vs 198 of version 1)
- new compressor
- different routes for effects (FX Cfg). This was fixed in the previous version
- spread setting
- an on screen display.
- a procedural patch generator
Aaannnndd... that says a lot. I'll probably save best for last:
- a wide range of new filters (yah!)
There are some minor things that have been changed regarding its look and feel and workflow. I would guess at this point (since I am no expert on this, I am just a consumer ) is that some of the changes are related to some SDK changes that have been applied. Since some changes that have been applied have to do with the use of panels. While sample loading have been introduced since Reason 9.2 it is uncertain at this point if Nostromo is Reason 7.1 upwards compatible (the panels sdk update) or Reason 9.2 upwards compatible (the sample loading update, since it does not really say so on the Propellerhead Shop page). Since I am currently running Reason 9.5 at this point in time, I can't really comment on this subject matter.
You may, or not may have seen my rather negative points on the Mixfood Wavetable synthesizer. The scenario I was trying to create in that case is that it is more a "guessing" game due to the limitations of the IDT device and its SDK that comes with it. Where things go wrong with the Mixfood Wavetable things go proper with this synthesizer of Lectric Panda. I am adding this single segment as a paragraph (since some of the stuff that are presented on this site are sometimes opinion based. Get used to that). What makes Nostromo work as a synthesizer is the usage on the wavetables and how you can pick them one at a time. The wavetables in Nostromo are grouped based on character (basic, silence, granular, fm just to name a few). While Mixfood wavetable the waveforms are all defined by numbers. While at the same time they do something similar... Nostromo kind of shows the hardcore difference between synthesizing a wavetable versus playing just wavetables.
And in theory, it isn't even about the idea that Nostromo version 2 comes with the insane number of 1000 LFO and the 3800 Spectra (I'll call it spectra just because I am an old bastard and I am Dutch). The thing is, even without the 1000 LFO it could still work as a concept just because the Mod Matrix makes up for all that with this spectral synthesizer. From some point of view I understand totally that in this particular case is that the "moar = moar" is a good marketing phrase because you know what: it works! (it is there, I don't have to go through them all) while in comparison with the WT4 wavetable (it is there and I have to go through them all)... it didn't.
Right, I hope I have clarified myself on that part.
In depth, the new features
Key Syncing LFO is one of the features that have been added for the oscillator. While by default the LFO would play along with the transport. Meaning from start to finish the LFO would always sound exactly the same. With the new feature for key syncing it allows you to decide two different ways to play back the LFO cycle:
- while pressing a key the LFO will reset and thus every sound starts with the same exact LFO cycle
- while pressing a key the LFO will continue evolving its path
The first method would be ideal while playing the sound as a 'sequence'. This could be a lead or some texture that would need to be that pattern specific. It would be quite similar as putting an LFO on a filter in key sync mode (for instance with Thor). But in this case you can do this on the way the wavetable plays back
The second method would be more ideal when you are working with long stretched pads. And to be honest: everything I currently do with Nostromo 2 ends up becoming a pad sound for some reason. Because it is great for those type of sounds.
Just in comparison here are two Mp3 demos. The first one uses LFO Sync mode off while the second uses Sync Mode on.
New waveforms for Nostromo
With the new update the arsenal of new wave forms has been expanding. The only 'sad' news I can add though is that it was highly anticipated that nostromo would eventually open up the door for loading up wave forms (because of the Reason 9.2 SDK update). However even with out this option it is still awesome to play with the new sound given by lectric panda. Most of the new sounds can be found in Misc A, Misc B, Misc C and D. While these are 'random' sounds the Synced waveforms have been updated with 6 different banks. While each bank has their own unique character to play in a sequence, the waveform display on the right often gives away how much harmonics a sound will have.
Spectral vs Waveform
This kind of brings back the topic of 'why are there no waveform' or what is the major difference between a wavefrom display and a spectral display. A waveform display will usually display the changes in dB from one position to the next. While this is a 'traditional' way on presenting a waveform it usually missed the context on how much harmonics a waveform does have. This is where the spectral display comes in. Some rack extensions that have a spectral display (just to name a few) are Parsec, Zero Hybrid and Expanse. The spectral display will tell how much harmonic content gets added to a sound. While if you do the waveform morphing method (like Expanse), you change the harmonic content while going through the position knob of a specific wave form. This is a different context because you are seeing the waveform changes, not the harmonic changes.
If you look at the BA2 (basics waveform 2), this sound only displays one bar on the spectral analysis. This means there is no harmonic content in this sound at all. Meaning: this must be a sine wave (because a sine wave does not have any harmonic content).
The more bars you see up in the right side of a wave form it will usually say that it contains more harmonic content. By looking at the way the way the spectral moves it also tells something what the sound will sound like from a waveform point of view.
The Ba 1 will sound more like a Saw while the Ba 3 will sound more like a Square while Ba 4 sounds more like a triangle. Once you have adapted to the different looks on the spectral output of a waveform, it gets easier to work with this device in particular. But... with out that knowledge it is still do-able to make a good sound.
In short, spectral patterns is just a different way looking at a wave form (see for instance our Subtractor Waveform analysis table)
Playing waveforms like a wavetable synthesizer
While in theory you can play all the different waveforms to make them audible one by one. This is done by pressing holding the left mouse button while dragging the mouse. Which is an easy to 'scroll' through the wave forms. One thing you could easy do (like I have explained in my introduction video about Nostromo quite some time ago) is that you can select just one waveform inside the complete wavetable (it does not matter which slot you select) and play the wave form as a single waveform.
While this can be done, it becomes more like a 'multi purpose' device in that context. Since in theory you could play this beast as a single wave form player. Yet at the same time use a different instance to move around.
To empty the wave table slot press CTRL + click (left mouse button). This resets the waveform slot. Alternate route would be selecting the empty wave form at the right pane.
The LFO in Nostromo
Ow boy, where do we begin. I could just start by writing down every LFO one by one in a wall of text. But I think this would be quite counter productive as an article. To be honest the 198 waveforms in the first release of Nostromo kind of worked fine as they were. The routing options in the back (and its mod matrix) sure make up for the 'limitations' (if there are any) on the LFO department. But ok, there are now 1000 LFO wave forms. To be honest I haven't gone through all of them yet, but the new once sure sound promising to start with.
The LFO in nostromo has 2 major functions:
- the way you can sweep through the different waveforms
- the way you can modulate settings internally inside nostromo itself
On a personal note, I find the first option quite interesting to play with. Because every oscillator (wavetable in this case) has its own unique set of LFO parameters.
LFO in wavetables and their practical usage
Normally when you setup an LFO in a wavetable you will visually see that the arrow above the wave table starts to move around depending on the pattern of the LFO itself. While this is by default a 'linear' direction it gets quite interesting when using the following setup:
- fill up a few waveform slots in the wavetable
- set the voice count above 3
- set the offset of the lfo around 50%
What will happen in theory is that every voice will start with a different offset position determined by the LFO and the Offset amount. So while you would normally play back one waveform at a time, in this case you can play 8 waveforms at the same time. While moving the wavetable around on all 8 waveforms (when setting the voice count on 8 for instance).
Well, if you think about the option to bring in 2 additional tables doing the exact same thing... you get a sound that can become rather rich in content (also note: this also increases the cpu usage pretty wild at times. But good sound comes with a cpu cost i'll say ;)).
Just listen in to the following you'll know what I mean
Now, if you would compare something like this and doing this in Thor it would require 8 different Thor patches to get a similar idea going on for creating one oscillator. Just adding to the article that 'yes it can be done, and yes it will be time consuming to set it up' (I see another potential youtube video coming up).
Filters in Nostromo
While the original Nostromo version 1 has a wide range of the basic filter types you would normally need to reshape a sound. The new update has a nice variety of new filter types. The original versions are still there while they are now categorized in to Comb, Amplitude / Ring modulation and Transistor Filters. The new filters are the state variable filters. Where the original filter types do not have any self oscillation, these new state variable filters have it. These new filter will become handy while trying to make a synthetic type of sound just a little bit more analog like. Which is a real big plus. The resonance adds this nice warm fuzzy feeling to it.
The shelf filters sound pretty rich and have a nice analog touch them. And what is a real good bonus one is the new All Pass Filter. The all pass filter gets an awesome out come while applying a different filter next to it. While by default you may not get much out of an all pass filter. The all pass filter in this context is a very subtle take. While this type of filter can add some nice little artifacts on top of sound just to add those rather weird in harmonics as a subtle effect on the sound itself.
For instance in this case I am using the All pass filter in a parallel setup. Where one all pass has a different frequency versus the other. While normally you would hear a huge tonal difference (for instance with a band pass filter). The All pass filter does it rather gentle. So it is an ideal candidate just to add that little salt on the sound... Combine that with an LFO to Filter frequency and your all set.
While if you want to have a more rich type of Low Pass filter, I would more go for this route instead:
- use two low pass state variable filters on LS12.
- set the filter frequency a tiny bit different from one to another
- set the lfo rather slow, yet connect it to the KBD on both LFOs
- let the lfo modulate the filters
And your all set to go instant pad mode...
Filter chain of Nostromo
While there are currently 4 different filter slots there is linear way on how these are chained. And just for the completion of this article I would add this to the table. Since it is quite essential to know the chain of events when you want to start some serious sound design. The Chain is set as followed:
The oscillators go through either Filter 1 or Filter 2 depending on how the Osc filter select knob is set.
Filter 1 or 2 will by default go through filter 3. However you can also balance the Filter 3 / 4 slots by using the rotary on the Filter 1 or Filter 2.
So if you set all dials on Osc 1 till 3 on 12 o'clock. While doing the same for Filter 1 to Filter 3/4 and Filter 2 to Filter 3/4 you will end up with 2 by 2 filters in parallel. Which is... Freaking insane! The only thing it could use is a pan setting on the filter itself (that would make it total complete). However this is a nitpicking remark since at the same you can also use the pan setting on the Oscillator and use the 2 by 2 filters in that direction instead (so Oscillator 1 + Filter 1 + Filter 3 go left while Oscillator 2 + Filter 2 + Filter 4 will go over right).
And this could sound like the following
While this is just a demo based on a two by two parallel filter setup it kind of shows how deep this device can be regarding sound design (yeah I am plugging this line in here! Heh!).
While there are now 6 envelopes (which is taking it a bit too far where I personally sit at, but I do understand the reason why it is there) the most interesting update is the Slope character setting in the Envelope. While other rack extensions (such as expanse, or proton) kind of rely on a digital interface for setting up an envelope. Nostromo kept things straight forward by having sliders for settings like Attack, Hold, Decay, Sustain and Release. Which really gets a surplus from where I sit at since I am old school. I also embrace the digital displays though but they don't really work that well all the time. The major issue I kind of had is that the envelope slope itself did not feel right with certain sounds. With the new design we have an additional slope setting next to each envelope. This can be handy while making adjusting slopes in specific directions.
By default the Envelope 1 is used as an Amplitude Envelope. The second is used as a Filter Envelope while the third (and above) can basically be anything as an envelope. The envelopes can be set as a source inside the modulation bus matrix. So the destination can be anything that the destination contains (filter, lfos, oscillators you name it. Most of the stuff is there).
Effects in Nostromo
In the original version of this device we had Delay and Reverb. While the chain was linear (if I remember correct it was delay to reverb). In the upgrade of nostromo the chain can be custom (based on a drop down that contains all the possible routes). The compressor is a nice addition and very much welcome.
The existing effects haven't seen much change on the audible output (since in theory they were fine as they are). The direction from chaining them different awesome and is quick to setup. Most the the effects can be modulated using the Modulation bus matrix for custom changes using an LFO / Envelope as a source (as an example).
A nice additional visual has been added as a subtle 'pixelated' type of display. It is nice as effect to see what kind of 'form' your sound will shape like. While it is a fun gimic to play with a few times, however from a practical point of view you can turn it off in case you are working on a track (since it also eats up a few cpu cycles as far as I understand this from the manual)
What is quite interesting is the take on the randomizer and the way you can "procedural" adjust settings while you progress over time. There are 2 ways to randomize, first you have the basic Randomize patch button. Which randomly picks settings based on certain thresholds and settings.
The procedural settings are grouped in different segments. Based on these settings you can in theory define which settings can be used as a randomize destination. On a personal note this can be quite handy while in "experimentation" mode. Since you might get settings while randomizing the device and start to think to yourself "huh?! I never knew that this would trigger this effect".
From a sound designers perspective we sometimes may think in a linear way while setting things up. Tools like these may shed a whole new light on the subject. Can we now have a randomizer on Thor too please? hehe.
It is quite a clever touch.
While this may have been the longest article I have ever written about a Rack Extension (ever), and I still only have touched the surface on the new functions only (ehm... I might even forgotten a few even... me bad). It kind of shows how far the concept and idea of nostromo can take things. I am not saying it is something 'new'. If you start comparing Nostromo with other devices then sure... you could do certain things (with a bit more work if you are up for the challange) to get a similar thing going on. The benefit behind Nostromo is that things can be setup pretty quickly. Most of the stuff is on the first screen even. Without the panels (the additional LFOs or Envelopes) you can still create a pretty descent sound. If you are in to micromanagement then those additional panels will be rather helpful to tweak the sounds in a few different angles and direction.
While some say it can't do Frequency Modulation, I would say that it sure can. It is a bit 'limited' and unconventional if you compare it with other instruments. Nostromo comes with an LFO and it can be connected to the pitch. And the LFO can be 'played' like a keyboard using KBD (just set the LFO to 32Hz and you will be almost there). Is this ideal, no... not really. But in case you really need it: your welcome.
What is also interesting to note is that the upgrade for Nostromo is free. While currently this spectral synthesizer is in the shop for $99, I personally payed 129 euro for it last year (and it was worth it).
Written by hydlide