Founded by composer and music pioneer Thomas Dolby Robertson, Beatnik’s mission is to bring a unique vision of music and interactivity to the Web, games and other digital devices. Unique is exactly what the company serves up in its all-in-one remix, production and performance software, Mixman StudioPro 4.0 ($89.95). Targeted at music and recording enthusiasts, Mixman StudioPro 4.0 provides the fundamental tools for creating and manipulating loop-based electronic music.
The software has four interfaces, which are called studios: the Remixing Studio, the Recording Studio, the FX Studio and the Editing Studio.
The heart of the software is the Remixing Studio, which is a performance interface that looks like two turntables sitting side by side. Each of the turntables has eight dots, distributed concentrically around the center of the platter. These are the slots into which sounds can be placed. Sound files must be formatted as either WAV or Beatnik’s proprietary TRK, and can be loaded individually or imported all at once as predetermined sound libraries.
The songs are performed by bringing different sounds in and out of the mix, adding and manipulating effects and changing pan and volume controls. All performing functions are mapped onto the computer keyboard, effectively turning it into an automated mixing board.
The FX studio can process any one of the sounds loaded in the Remixing Studio. Each sound may be processed simultaneously by up to five of the 25 different algorithms available. New sounds can be made from existing WAV or TRK files in the FX Studio and can be saved as all new tracks.
Mixman has Wideband Audio Real-time Processing (WARP) where the original sound is processed and the resulting sound is stored as a new file in RAM. That file is then accessed when the sound is triggered in the Remixing Studio. All effects applied this way are nondestructive and can be edited at any time. The software does allow one algorithm to be applied in real time during a performance.
The Editing Studio is a sequencer that records the live performance control information. Its drawing and editing tools can also be used to create songs from scratch or to edit prerecorded performance information. There is a mix to track export function where several WAV files can be loaded in to draw a particular performance while editing to yield a new rhythm. It can then be exported as a TRK file.
The Recording Studio is a bare bones interface for recording sounds from a microphone, line input or CD. There are only two editing functions available: auto trim, which trims dead space off of the selected file, and auto normalize.
This software is fun! I learned the controls by loading up one of the Mixman singles, which is a sound set composed of the individual elements of a commercial artist’s song. Iquickly familiarized myself with the keyboard, and was soon having a good time reworking the track.
When I delved a little further into the software I ran into a few limitations. There are no MIDI capabilities. I do like the interface so much that if I could sync it up to the rest of my gear I would be inclined to make it a part of my live performance.
Other than its wonderful performance interface, what stands out most is the FX Studio. In addition to the usual reverbs, delays and flangers, there are some very cool effects algorithms. Among them are the Envelope Follower, which sculpts the envelope of a resonant filter to follow the volume of a guide sound; the Chopper Sweep, which chops a sound file up in increasingly or decreasingly large pieces; the Chordinator, which adds up to four assignable frequencies to a sound file (this can be used to create chord stabs from percussive sounds); and – the coolest of all – the Beat Twister (only applicable to TRK files), which randomly shifts the pitch and timing of drum loops or any other TRK file. As I mentioned earlier, the only drag is that the effects cannot be auditioned within the context of the mix
Beatnik’s Mixman StudioPro 4.0 is targeted to the music hobbyist and is intended to be fun and usable by almost anyone. I think it has certainly succeeded in that respect. It is an excellent introduction to writing and producing loop-based electronic music. In addition, it provides some new tools and exciting prospects for those of us already steeped in the world of electronic music – especially those of us who take our sounds out of the studio and onto the stage. One of the primary challenges for electronic musicians is to find a way to perform the music while maintaining some sense of improvisation and playfulness. Mixman StudioPro 4.0 is a fun, easy-to-use program – a step in the right direction.
Contact: Beatnik at 650-295-2300; www.beatnik.com