Hours spent trying to build unique electronic kits could be a thing of the past thanks to NI’s Polyplex. Andy Jones finds out if it’s really true…
Distributor Native Instruments
Contact Via website
Minimum System Requirements OS X 10.8 or higher Windows 7 or higher 4GB RAM
NI’s Battery has been its go-to drum sampler for quite some time, and of course the company also makes Maschine, though both are geared primarily towards the sequencing of relatively conventional kinds of beats. The many drummer series hosted inside Kontakt are also mostly recreations of real drum kits.
Polyplex is something quite different: an “experimental drum designer” with an emphasis on randomization of many parameters to create new and unique kits. Designed by the team at Twisted Tools, it runs in Reaktor 5 or Reaktor 5 Player and weighs in at a modest 200MB. The idea is to make a smaller amount of content go much further.
There are eight sound slots in Polyplex and each one can hold four separate samples. Each sample forms one layer of a drum sound and for each sound slot you can specify a layer type and a subtype, choosing between kicks, snares, hi-hats and so on. The slots are colour coded for easier recognition across the interface and they also tie in with the new Light Guide features of NI’s Komplete Kontrol keyboard.
There are then a range of controls for each one, helpfully arranged in layers across the edit section so you can trace the layer across and see each of its settings easily. Layers can be modified individually or linked together. The edit section starts with Samples and lets you control which sample to play back for each layer, defined as a MIDI value between 0 and 127.
If you choose User here you can add your own samples, though this means accessing Reaktor’s Sample Map Editor, which requires a bit of research if you’re new to the software. Then there are pitch, start position and pan controls each with min / max parameter range sliders, and finally a volume section so you can balance the layers’ levels.
There are 18 effects onboard and up to four can be used at once, ranging from reverb, compression, glitch and autopanning to stutter, stretch, frequency and pitch effects. Each has its own controls and can be switched on or off for each slot, and you can set up MIDI modulation of effects as well as using LFO, envelope and velocity to control the parameters mentioned previously such as pitch, pan, volume and so on. This also applies to the two further sub-pages, Envelope and EQ, that are used to shape the sound.
All of this is great, but it’s not the main focus of Polyplex: that comes when you start to randomize parameters. Sound tweaking is nothing new but the ability to endlessly come up with new variations and, crucially, really usable variations is somewhat more unique.
By clicking on the Master Randomizer button at the top (these buttons all have dice icons) you can instantly randomize the way the layers behave, completely changing their sound but within boundaries that keep them usable. What we mean by this is that it’s not going to randomize things so much that you end up with a bunch of bleeps and white noise that don’t play nicely together.
In addition you can choose to randomize each individual sound slot in different ways. Click the button for a slot and its parameters are randomized but the other slots are not. Go into the parameter section and you can randomize just one thing at once, such as pitch, but leave everything else the same.
You can even lock a layer to make sure it’s not changed and also deselect any randomizable section so that it is not included while everything around it is. There are seven kit slots and you can copy and paste settings between them to create up to seven variations on your kit and flip between them easily.Polyplex sounds incredibly cool, as a listen to the audio demos will reveal.
The sounds it can make are cutting edge and amazingly useful for all kinds of electronic music. This is thanks to the amount of organic stuff that’s going on with modulation of parameters and effects meaning that sounds twist, echo and morph in very desirable ways.
Although you can manually tweak everything, the randomizers do their job of coming up with endless variations supremely well and the results are stunning. That the onboard effects are so much better than the usual delay / reverb / compression toolkit is a factor as well. You will need to add few, if any, external effects to the sound because the processing inside the instrument is first class. As a quick solution to drum sound design, Polyplex is a winner.