Looping audio isn’t just for people making dance music or hip hop, as may once have been the case. Nowadays, loops are of such good quality and so easy to work with that you can incorporate them into any kind of project and it won’t necessarily be obvious that you have used loops. Modern tools give us the ability to manipulate loops and create variations, so you are no longer limited to simply having the same beat or riff play over and over again for the duration of your track. A lot of material comes pre-looped, but as we saw last time, it’s easy to loop up your own material in Cubase and get professional-sounding results – with a little practice.
When it comes to experimenting with loops and creating variations, manually cutting them up can be pretty tedious – not to mention risking putting things out-of-sync. You do have the option of using a third-party tool such as ReCycle to create REX loops, but this involves spending more money. In fact, Cubase is able to work with loops in a similar manner to the way that REX files behave once you import them.
There are two main methods for doing this using the plug-ins that come bundled with Cubase: with LoopMash and Groove Agent ONE. The former is a unique plug-in that analyses the rhythmic loops you drop into it then lets you re-sequence multiple loops in sync with a project, for studio or live performance. The latter is Cubase’s drum machine, but it has some tricks up its sleeve when it comes to re-sequencing loops that you may not know about. Let’s take LoopMash to begin with, though.
Mash It Up
LoopMash is a VST instrument, but it’s integrated into Cubase thanks to the fact that it has been designed by Steinberg (and so is able to hook into the program in ways that some other plug-ins cannot). You can load an instance of it from the VST Instrument window as you would any other plug-in. It’s quite a large plug-in, and if you right-click on its title bar you can choose to have it permanently float on top of other windows.
Before you begin to play with this instrument it’s important to remember that it isn’t designed to let you specify exactly what plays when, but rather to introduce an element of randomisation to the playback of several layered loops while keeping them in-sync. Think of it as a sort of remix tool, but also something that can be used to create original material as well, taking ordinary or familiar-sounding loops and mashing them into something completely new.
You can drag and drop loops into LoopMash in a number of ways – from your computer’s Desktop, from the Project window or from the MediaBay Browser. Drag a loop onto the first channel and it will be analysed and displayed as a series of blocks.
This will play back fine, but it’s not until you start to add more material that you see what LoopMash is for. Drag a second loop to the next channel and try playing back. The first track is currently set to be the master and displays with a red icon next to it, meaning that other loops will obey its timing and feel. You can, however, set any loop to be the master – it doesn’t have to be the first one.
Try changing the loop set to master in the middle of playback to see what happens. The slider to the left of each track represents the ‘importance’ of that loop to the sound that is generated. Move a slider to the right and more of that loop’s slices will be played back. Move it to the left and fewer will be used. To the far left is a small threshold marker; you can move this to the right to determine the level of similarity at which slices are considered for playback.
Move a track’s slider close to the threshold marker and fewer and fewer of its slices will play back. Move it below the threshold and none will be selected.
By playing with the sliders you will see that this is a good tool for mashing up loops of different lengths and styles. It helps, of course, if the loops aren’t too different, as throwing in a slice from one into a beat from a completely different one can sound jarring. Select your loops carefully, on the other hand, and this can sound great. If you’re making cut-up music you can probably even leave this to chance.
Remember: it’s not just beats that you can drop in – use everything from bass lines to synths or guitars; the only important thing is that they are rhythmic so they can be cut up accurately later. When you have a setting that’s working well, click on the Scene button at the bottom then select a pad; it lights up. You can then toggle between scenes in real time – perfect for playing live. Different scenes can also contain different loops.
You will also find that pressing keys on your MIDI keyboard triggers certain functions in LoopMash (including scene selection and playback start and end) so you can trigger it remotely during a live performance. Record these key presses as MIDI notes in a MIDI track in a project and you can trigger LoopMash to play back different scenes. Most parameters can also be automated by putting LoopMash into Write mode and moving the controls, then into Read mode to play back the changes. So, for example, you may want to automate things such as scene selection, the slice select sliders and which track has master focus.
By using these techniques you can program LoopMash in a project just like any other VST instrument. If you look in its Edit section you will find that you can set parameters such as dry/wet mix, slice timestretching, quantizing and randomisation to configure playback for the kind of effects you want.
Get The Groove
If LoopMash provides lots of randomisation and variation, Groove Agent ONE can be used to control much more precisely the way in which the slices of a loop are played back, without the need for using REX files. For this to work you need to have a loop located on an audio track in a project. Select it and choose Audio>Hitpoints>Calculate and then Create Audio Slices from Hitpoints.
The next step is to load up an instance of Groove Agent ONE (make sure before proceeding that it doesn’t have a patch already loaded). Now you have two choices. The first is to double-click on the audio loop to open it in the audio part editor and drag and drop individual slices onto pads in the drum machine to create a custom kit that’s playable from a standard MIDI keyboard. The advantage of this is that you can map slices precisely across the pads, leaving out any that you don’t want.
Remember that there are eight groups of 16 pads representing notes on a keyboard and that these are labelled, so you can match up pads with keys to create precisely tailored kits mapped across your keyboard.
Your second option is to pick up the whole sliced part from the Project View and drop it onto a pad while holding down the [Shift] key. Cubase will map the samples across as many pads as necessary (or warn you if there are more slices than there are pads available). The Group buttons will illuminate in red to indicate where the slices have been placed on pads. You will then be able to play the loop in any sequence you like by using your MIDI keyboard or a MIDI step sequencer. Parts that you sequence in this way can be used to complement or even replace the original loop from which they were taken.
Whether you choose to get experimental with LoopMash or stay more prescriptive using Groove Agent ONE, there’s lots you can do to cut up your loops in Cubase without requiring any extra tools. The key is to experiment as much as you can using just Cubase and your imagination.Cubase, Cubase, Loops, Music Mastering, Music Mixing, Plug-ins, Software Workshops, Tutorials