Quadra: Muted and Harmonics. Marty Cutler reviews a sample library that doesn’t paint you into a repetitive corner.
Too many sample libraries invite repetiveness, with their construction kits, song-starters, “cinematic” collections, and the like! Not UVI’s Quadra: Muted Harmonics.
This is a custom library of muted string instruments and harmonics for the free UVI Workstation player and Falcon. They’re integrated into in a 4-part sequencer, and its ear-catching presets unfold in a variety of ways.
Some presets are full-on musical themes, others are rhythmic and melodic motifs, or playable instruments, and others are hybrids of instrument and sequencer. Playback responds to your input in subtle and different ways, depending on the patch.
The results are invariably musical and appropriate to the input, so for example a chord may produce a different pitch as a variation, but (thanks to a programmable scale-quantizing feature) it doesn’t clash with the tonality.
Overall, the sequences have a human, flowing touch, with none of the stiffness that step sequencing has a tendency to produce.
Part of that is due to your being able to control each step’s details, such as velocity and gate time. I did find that the lack swing capability hinders Quadra’s otherwise excellent elasticity and versatility, however. That shouldn’t be that hard to implement, and hopefully UVI will consider adding it in a future update.
The workaround is to render your performance as a MIDI file within Quadra by hitting its Record button and then dragging the results to a track in your DAW to apply its swing feel. This is relatively simple, albeit laborious because you can only record one of the four parts at a time. Likewise, it would be great to use your own sounds and samples, but here again, dragging the MIDI data to a track can do the trick.
Within Quadra there’s clearly plenty of DSP at play. In addition to the plucks and pings you’d expect to hear from string mutes, Quadra’s arrangements include rich pads, fat bass sounds, hints of tremolo-infused Wurlitzer-piano like tones, drones, and simulated back-masked tape loops.
Quadra presents a tab to access the specifics of each of the four parts, subdivided into Sound and Arp.
The Sound button opens a decent toolbox of subtractive synthesis features, including adjustable attack and decay slopes for both amplitude and filter (high, low, and band-pass) sections. You’ll also find a handful of useful effects, including chorus, phaser, waveshaper, frequency shifter, and equalizer, as well as sends to reverb and delay in the master effects section
The Arp section name is a bit of an undersell for the feature’s capabilities. For starters, you can select between Arp and Phraser modes – two distinct playback types. Arp is a classic arpeggiator with Up, Down, or Up and Down motion. You are not limited to simple arpeggiated playback of your chord input – any step can be a chord, either interpreted directly as played or harmonized.
Phraser takes advantage of Quadra’s chord recognition capabilities. Whereas Arp will unfold chords in a linear fashion, Phraser will detect the root note of your chord and play the phrase you have selected, regardless of the key or inversion you’re playing. Selecting an octave range constrains the detected root to the desired register – so for example you could have the bass line play in the range you prefer.
While we’re on the subject, some explanations in the manual are inadequate (does it help to explain a sidechaining function by saying that it sidechains?). I found little explanation of the difference between the Arp and Phraser modes. But thankfully this is an instrument that invites understanding by exploring.
Sequences can be up to 64 bars in length, and Euclidean sequences – a method of distributing hits within a rotating pattern – make the patterns fresh and lively. Euclidean sequences can be sidechained to the main sequence so that they affect its overall dynamics and rhythmic feel. For extra motion thrills, assign a Continuous Controller to modulate the number of “Hits” in the Euclidean Emphasis panel.
I found that Quadra’s scale-quantize feature keeps the input musical, but sometimes it was not what I intended, like an errant text-to-speech algorithm. For example, it modified what I hoped would be a C Lydian pattern into a a dominant or minor inversion of a D chord. Switching pitch quantize off can often remedy the problem and produce more harmonically flexible results.
The way to get a feel for depth and breadth of Quadra’s capabilities is simply to play through its presets. But the category names are just a starting point.
For example, almost any of the presets could handily underscore a cinematic scene not just the ones in the Cinematic category. Moreover, the patches have extensive non-cinematic applications!
Inside the Realistic folder, Orchestum sent me back to the electronic glory days of Steps Ahead and Michael Brecker, as did Galope in the World Motion folder.
Deep in Heart could easily be the rhythmic core of a Salif Keita song.
Hibbert Marley is just plain funky.
Lefty Greeky splits the left hand into a lovely pad, with an odd-meter sequence from middle C on up. The inspiration for Police, with its muted guitar arpeggio shouldn’t be hard to figure out. Some of the patches are reminiscent of the Korg Wavestate, others could easily be complete song sections.
The additional folder of Simon Stockhausen patches is filled with terrific stuff. Eleven Hours is a great song-starter motif in 11/8. Stargazer mixes sparse 1/8th-note lines with skittering 32-note, upper register bursts and vocal-like punctuations.
Ambient Chordquencer is an atmospheric piece of work, with interwoven muted guitar, bass, and a sustaining, rich pad that sounds like a phased electric piano (but it’s actually derived from a harp).
Depending on your taste, of course, you might not want to play the full-on sequences, preferring instead to add or subtract parts dynamically. Mute or solo, or each individual part’s level – and practically every other parameter – can be assigned to host automation, MIDI learn, or a programmable macro.
One of the major distinctions between Quadra and many other loop and arpeggiator libraries is the outstanding playability of the instrument. You can alter many aspects of the performance in real time.
With all of the interchangeable sequences, sound sources, effects, and detailed programmability, the recombinant possibilities in Quadra are staggering. Consider the presets as jumping-off points or as inspirations for your own ideas, or just tweak the existing patches as needed. It bears emphasizing that you can design your own instruments and sequences from scratch.
As impressive as the sequences may be, don’t overlook the Instrument folder. You’ll find plenty of punchy basses, sparkling guitars, and unusual but eminently useful pads, many with gradually emerging motion or a compelling bass line.
Most importantly, I can’t imagine an electronic music composer, cinematic or otherwise, who wouldn’t find this instrument useful and inspiring. I’ve reviewed tons of libraries with great sound design and compelling rhythmic ideas, but Quadra skates way ahead to the front of the line.