FXpansion Geist: The Spirit of the Age
When it comes to desktop music production the multi-award winning and leading plugin developer FXpansion have created some highly innovative products in recent years including such impressive products like: Guru, BFD 2, DCAM Synth Squad and now GEIST. Released in November 2010, ‘Geist’, described as the ‘next generation sampling drum machine’, is designed to slice, sample, resample and assign audio to pads with the minimum of clicks while enhancing the speed of pattern creation, sequence arrangements and overall user workflow. To this end, Geist certainly delivers and then some! Designing beats using Geist’s rhythm production and sound design tools is a smooth multi-levelled process which, as with any new software, necessitates a clarity of understanding about each component part in the creative flow. It begins with the browser and culminates with an export of your audio track, the space in between this dynamic is filled only with your imagination.
About Engines Pads & Layers: Approaching music-making with Geist is a mindset. The workflow is seamless from the ‘get-go’, and once you are ‘in the zone’ things happen really quickly. Geist has 8 ‘engines’. Assigned to each of the ‘engines’ are 16 pads and each pad is capable of hosting up to 8 layers of sound. Each of the 8 individual sound layers, 16 pads and 8 engines has a dedicated subtractive filtering processor stage and a dedicated mixer channel which provides 6 fx insert slots, in series, per channel. There is also a final stage ‘Global Mixer’ that houses 4 Aux busses each with a series of 6 fx slots which are introduced into the signal flow using the ‘Send’ knobs available on every channel at every part of the mixing stage. The master buss also includes a series of slots for 6 fx inserts. The sound quality of Geist is without question superb and is complimented by a very impressive array of 30+ effect types including DCAM circuit modeled filters, dynamics, drive & Overloud Breverb™. Furthermore, almost every parameter in Geist can be controlled by midi which enhances the sound sculpturing capability while adding to the overall power of Geist as serious piece of kit…oh and did I mention the ‘Time Stretch’ and Geist’s ultra cool ‘Sampler’ feature?! Irrespective of its inherent power Geist is not overwhelming at all. Infact, it’s well designed features and visual elegance border on the sublime.
Workflow: A broad brush outline of my newly found workflow in Geist would read something like this:
- Browser – source audio file(s)
- Slice/auto load in pads
- Create/arrange sequenced patterns
- Shape and sculpt individual pad sounds
- Arrange ‘song’
- Mix layers, pads, engines/apply fx
- Process master buss
- Export audio and save.
Words about the browser: The creative process in Geist provides some well-considered keyboard shortcuts and user options that help to steer you toward the ultimate goal of quality beat creation in Geist. There are shortcuts centred around the ‘arrow’ keys which greatly enhance file searching in the browser. With a simple right- click you can add folders to a favourites menu, you can also drag and drop files into the ‘Shortlist Pane’ and save the list as a ‘Shortlist’ to recall at anytime. The browser also has an auto preview function which allows you to audition your sounds as you search. Finally, most of the browser parameters are midi controllable too. The browser feature in Geist is fast and highly efficient and when utilised to its full potential, it saves so much valuable time. You can hide the browser to save screen space by clicking on the large arrow icon at the top of the browser pane, this will close and hide it from view.
Loading Sounds: There are 3 fundamental aproaches to loading your sound files into Geist’s pads and they all involve activating and de-activating the ‘slice’ and ‘autoload’ buttons found at the foot of the browser. Say, you wanted to create a custom kit using only one-shot samples; the 2 buttons need to be de-activated which then bypasses the slicer and loads directly into your selected pad. You would use this drag and drop method to add sound files to pad layers. To name a pad, and with the pad selected, click on the ‘Pads/Layers’ menu tab and click inside the uppermost text box to change and re-title. The second way to load a sound file occurs when you are looking to slice a loop. Here, you should activate both the ‘slice’ and ‘autoload’ buttons, then click on the loop and Geist will auto-slice the audio and map out each individual slice across the selected ‘engine’s’ pads. The third method involves activating the ‘slice’ button but bypassing the ‘auto load’ button. Dragging a file into the pad area asks Geist to slice the audio but not to allocate or assign the slices which means you can custom select the slices of your choice and manually drag them to the pad of your choice. So, if you like the kick and hats from a particular loop but dislike the snare then you can use this method to grab only those slices you want and create a custom kit. Cool.
The Slicer:This is a powerful feature and the main source of audio distribution in Geist and yet, due to its carefully thought out design, is so simple to use. Once a sound has been opened for slicing in either ‘Transient’ or ‘Divide’ mode, the slicer grabs the audio, identifies the transient peaks and splits it into audio slices. The audio is then reflected in the ‘slicer’ window as a waveform containing multiple markers which denote the regions or durations of the audio slices between them. There is a ‘sensitivity’ knob that adds or decreases the number of markers in the audio, or, you can manually add or remove markers in the window with a simple click. Geist has an intuitive classification regime activated by the ‘classify’ button which catagorises and colour codes each audio slice e.g. blue for kicks, red for snares, yellow for hi-hats. You can re-assign slice catagories by right-clicking under each audio slice and choosing from the drop down list. Individual slices can be auditioned by clicking in the upper part of the slice region and dragged out and on to a pad by; a click-hold of the lower region of the slice and drag. When used in ‘Transient’ mode and assigned by the auto-load function, slices are intelligently distributed across the engine’s pads by allocating kicks to pads 1 – 4, snares to pads 5 – 8, cymbals (hats) 9 – 12 and percussion to pads 13 – 16.
Patterns: Geist will also generate a midi pattern or sequence in the ‘Pattern’ window and allocate it to pattern button 1 located below the slicer window and ‘engine’ selectors. You must then click the ‘Done’ button under the pattern window to move on to Geist’s sequencing, processing and mixer stages. There are 4 tools allocated to the ‘Pattern’ window, however, it is recommende you learn the ‘multi tool’ and its respective shortcuts because it does everything you need for designing your rhythmic sequences. Also, check out the handy right-click context menu on the pattern sequence buttons. The options here provide for; cut, copy, paste, clear, lock, reset, quantize, convert,swap and ‘copy to’. Pattern blocks can be moved around, painted in and deleted. You set velocities, create fades and assign pattern presets to the parts. Each part in the ‘pattern’ window has an arrow which opens to a graph lane where a vast amount of processing parameters such as the filter cut off, resonance, pitch, reverse and auxillary sends to name just a few, can be automated and custom controlled. The ‘insert’ menu in the graph lane hosts an indepth list of curves and shapes that provide variation and gesture to the sound sculpturing capability in Geist. This is another powerful feature that really delivers and should be a compulsory port of call during every creative engagement with this excellent beat making product.
CLICK HERE to see more information about FXpansion’s GEIST…
Brought to you courtesy of Soundwrx Digital