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Review: pATCHES Strum, Free Max for Live Device
Joshua Casper on Tue, February 13th | 0 comments
Strum is a Free Max Device that allows for guitar-inspired rakes across a series of MIDI notes! Dan Hilse, better known as pATCHES, is back with a very unique and free Max for Live MIDI effect indeed.

Strum allows you to get “guitar-inspired rakes across a series of notes” using your controller’s mod wheel or touch strip. Don’t have a controller? Don’t worry! There is an Auto feature that uses an LFO to get the strum effects as well. The device’s interface is simple and has a flat design with a modern feel.

Pluck Mode

Pluck mode means a “single MIDI note will fire whenever the strum bar crosses an active strike point. Pluck makes moving the mod wheel feel like running a pick across guitar strings”.

I found that adjusting the glide function on any VSTi to vary degrees meant it can go from the strumming of a guitar’s strings at lower values, to sliding your finger up and down a single string at larger values and full on whammy bar at some points.

Density Mode

Density mode uses large areas which are “assigned to each active note and every move of the mod wheel fires a new note. The result is a 'cloud' that clusters together in dense, scratchy repetition with semi-random velocity.”

This mode, again, gets really interesting when adjusting the glide parameter. Also, with less glide and more plucky sounds, some reverb and delay can go a long way into getting a euphoric feeling, and even something reminiscent of Japanese Koto music. 

Auto Mode

With Auto mode engaged the mod wheel is no longer necessary to get the effect, however the mod wheel can be used to control the speed of the LFO. Auto mode can be used in conjunction with both Pluck and Density modes.  

Q&A with pATCHES

Q. Was this a collaboration with other Max developers or all you?

A. I had some helpful feedback from some folks who were kind enough to beta test it, but the actual building of it was just myself. If you open up any of my patches it’s pretty evident why I tend to work alone on these - they’re frankly a complete mess under the hood. A lot of that comes from inexperience. 

Most of the time, I know what I want to do but don’t know exactly how to go about implementing it on the technical level, so it’s a lot of fast paced trial and error until I see the results I’m looking for. By the time the thing starts to work, it’s pretty late to start thinking about organization/labeling/etc and I’m eager to move on to the next part. In my wake I leave a jumbled mess of objects and patch cables that’s hard for even me to decipher after the fact.  

It’s definitely an area I’d like to improve to make troubleshooting easier and so that I’m able to collaborate more easily. 

Q. What was the inspiration?

A. Propellerhead’s Thor has a similar mechanism built into its iPad app. I felt really inspired after trying it out and wanted to see if I could make a similar MIDI-generic version for use in Live. Once I had a working standalone version, the idea was ripe for expansion - density mode was the result of happy accident of mismatching floats and integers and LFO control seemed like an obvious option to include for such a device.

Q. Do you find some VSTi's work better than others? Which ones? Why ?

A. I assume you mean for the strum device to spit notes into?  There aren’t particular instruments per se, but the sounds that work the best have a defined, percussive attack and a strong decay so you get a nice saw-like shape to the dynamics. A good reverb or delay can really augment those qualities and create little micro-rhythmic chords in guitar-like rakes. That being said, there seems to be a lot of room to experiment with this. 

When I was recording the promo video, for example, I loaded up a random patch from the collection of sax-sampled instruments I put together for the pATCHES Patreon. It had a good tail, but a mellow attack and quite a lot of glide - not features I would have chosen on paper for strum to trigger notes on. I was really surprised by how unusual and interesting it sounded, different than if I’d played it with a traditional keyboard alone. I think it goes to show that it’s worth hot swapping in all kinds of instruments after strum in the chain without thinking too deeply about what will “work” the best and just see what results from the tactile control. 

Q. Are there updates or Expansions planned? 

A. At the moment, I’m fairly happy with it as a simple, engaging, expressive tool for MIDI performance. It’s not perfect by any means, but it suggests novel and inspiring music just as a different way to interact with soft instruments and that’s pretty satisfying for now. If I ever take the idea further, I’d like to take the core concepts driving density mode in auto mode to make a spinoff MIDI drone. It would have to have a lot more than 4 note “slots” and allow for chords, MIDI note delay, etc. 

Q. Do you have any other Max devices in the pipeline? 

A. Now that I’ve gotten the website redesign to a point I’m happy with, there’s a huge list of projects in my backlog I’m looking forward to digging into, especially Max devices. I’m starting by updating the couple of releases I made that were just shy of being successful - pump, a 4-on-the-floor sidechain compression emulator; and sevMIDI, a generic MIDI version of the fantastic sev Max instrument. I’ve also had a prototype for a TipTop Audio Trigger Riot-inspired sequencer that outputs MIDI notes and generic triggers that get fired over cross-device sends for eurorack-like integration with the Max Essentials envelope device, an sq-1-like sequencer, and others. Building an entire device ecosystem is hard work, though. The other big one is an insane 5-octave chord of bandpass filters for harmonic emphasis/de-emphasis with per-frequency randomized slew delay and randomized panning. I’ve put a lot of work into some pretty crazy filter devices that have never seen the light of day and I’m hoping to change that soon. 

Q. Why make them free?

A. I think it’s the nature of the Max community to be as open source and openly available as possible. I personally owe a lot to Max as an accessible entry point into programming and all the web coding I do these days can be traced back to the first time I started opening up and tweaking devices. There’s something really special about the seamless educational experience that results from Cycling’s references, Google, and paste-able snippets that makes it easy to jump once inspiration strikes. I hope someone sees how a simple idea can be made into a useful device like this one and that process can be fun and easy to pull together - even if they don’t have much experience. That can be a very empowering thing in and outside the world of music-making.

Price: Free

Pros: Very unique MIDI effect that garners interesting results easily.

Cons: There was an issue with the original download file name containing “|” which couldn’t be handled with Windows based machines causing and error or the files not to be seen in the .zip. I informed Dan and am told this will be corrected immediately.

Web: https://patches.zone/strum

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