By Barry Rudolph
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It's hard NOT to smile when using the Electrix Repeater. This loop-based recording system is finally available with a new Version 1.1 operating system. After just weeks of using Repeater, it has become my favorite new toy...or should I say musical instrument. It's definitely a musical instrument, because it's a real-time, live performance-oriented tool for performing DJs, dance music producers, or anyone interested in immediate artistic control over musical loops and phrases. As part of a pop music pastiche, looping is a fun production style, and this stand-alone, loop-based, music-making system easily integrates into existing DJ rigs and MIDI music systems-- whether centered around turntables and CD players or computers and synths. I like Repeater because it operates simply and so differently from menu-driven units or computer-based loop programs such as Sonic Foundry's Acid or even Ableton's more advanced Live 1.0. Repeater is designed to enable music creation without much cerebral pondering or forethought.
DOESN'T LOOK LIKE A RECORDER…
Like previous Electrix products, Repeater ($749 retail) is a two-rackspace unit that will also sit angled up at you on any worksurface. The front panel has the familiar "tape deck" transport with Stop, Play, Record and Reverse (instant backward playback) buttons. A large LED shows what's going on at all times, and there are rotary Loop and Tempo controllers for selecting loops and editing parameters. The rear panel has 1/4-inch, -10dBv stereo jacks for line inputs and RCAs for CD players and turntables. There is a front instrument jack for plugging in guitars or synths and a headphone monitor out. Stereo outputs include L/R analog line mix outs and a 16-bit/44.1kHz S/PDIF coax digital out. There are no digital audio inputs, but analog stereo ins/outs are provided for inserting effects into any track. Three MIDI jacks with a rotary MIDI channel selector handles the extensive MIDI implementation. Lastly, there is a footswitch jack that works with a DigiTech FS-300 3-button pedal for undo, play/stop and record functions.
Digital audio is directly recorded/played to/from Compact Flash Cards, which come in sizes of up to 512 MB and supplement the unit's internal 8 megs (about 85 seconds total record time) of volatile RAM. Maximum contiguous loop time is eight minutes, and total possible record time is 51 minutes. My review unit included a 16MB CFC with several loops on it. CFCs are the only way to store audio, because after powering down, anything in internal RAM goes to digital heaven. A power-saving Sleep mode retains all data, as long as the unit is plugged in. Sound files are recorded and processed 24-bit/44.1 kHz and saved on the CFCs as non-compressed, 16-bit/44.1kHz .WAV files along with a Loop Data File (.ldf extension) and a Track Data File (.tdf). Buy a $30 CFC reader and you can save and share files back and forth with any computer.
DEALING WITH LOOPS
One thing that makes Repeater so much fun is that the often tedious and analytical trench work involved with making one loop play in sync (and pitch!) with another is done automatically-- mostly in the background. You can change tempo anywhere from 1 bpm up to 150% of the original tempo without pitch change. Any changes you make are immediately saved every time without bothering to ask you. You can return to the original or native tempo of a loop with a button push. The Undo/Redo button, with one level of undo, or the transport's Stop button usually aborted most blunders I made while learning Repeater.
The pitch change range (without changing tempo) is two octaves down to one octave up. Loop Point Assist is an automatic loop-trimming feature that precisely connects the head of the loop to its own tail. You can pick other looping points and trim loops via the extensive editing functions. Trimming saves memory space after the unused bits are dumped. Once loop points are determined, you can use the Multiply function to copy a loop as many times as you need to complete a song section. For example, record a 1-bar drum loop and multiply it four times for a 4-bar drum loop. This saves memory space because you are not recording any new information, just adding more looping points. The drum loop still only takes up one bar's worth of memory. You now have a 4-bar track. I found this important because subsequent overdubs can only last as long as the initial loop's length (and available memory). Once the end of the loop is reached, Repeater always repeats it along with any overdubbed parts.
LOOPING WITH A 4-TRACK RECORDER
Each Repeater loop is actually made up of a 4-track recording. On the front panel, there is a 4-channel stereo mixer with faders, LED level indicators, and separate track selection buttons for record, pan, slip (changing the time relationship of one track to another), pitch and effect sends. Recording is like any other 4-track tape recorder, with the ability to use two tracks together for stereo sounds.
Another similarity to 4-track recording is the resampling or bouncing feature. Users simply build a mix of tracks with panning, effect inserts, etc. (an analog process), and designate which tracks they'd like to bounce it to. Highly useful was the (digital) Copy function where I copied each successive iteration of my loop productions to new memory space so I could go back and get separate bits for reuse. Copy also is great when you want to experiment and still be able to get back your whole mix. The Erase/Undo button will erase an entire loop or any designated track of a loop. You can revert to all original panning, pitch and slip values of individual tracks by holding down the respective Pan, Pitch and Slip buttons.
There are three sync modes: User, MIDI and Beat Detect. User mode takes the speed from the Tempo knob or Tap Tempo. MIDI clocking syncs Repeater to an external sequencer (another no-brainer), and Beat Detection offers a way to have already-recorded loops in Repeater "follow" a live drummer or sync to music from any CD or turntable. Beat Detection also identifies the tempo of your incoming audio and synchronizes the internal clock so that loop points are quantized. Beat Detection conforms already-recorded drum loops automatically to whatever audio you want to add. This makes Repeater a remixer's dream.
I used Tap Tempo to help Repeater figure out tempos of audio that lack hard transients, such as loops without drums or percussion. One very important feature is the ability to change between different loops in memory with MIDI. You could have complete songs in Repeater i.e. verses, chorus, bridges, solos, etc. and toggle between them, and build song compositions on-the-fly. DJs can do this without MIDI right on the front panel by putting a loop in play and then selecting the next loop in memory. Once the first loop finishes, the next loop seamlessly hooks up to it. Repeater can store up to 999 different loops on CFC or 16 loops internally.
PLAYING WITH REPEATER
Recording is immediate and easy: Select an open memory location on the display, arm a track and push Record. I wished there was more internal memory for temporary storage, so, instead, I just bought another CFC! The sound quality is great-- better than I am used to with loopers costing more. Good quality becomes very important when bouncing down tracks or stretching tempos and pitch a lot. I like the "grungy" sound you pick up when changing tempos. Extreme pitch changes start to sound otherworldly, providing some great elements for song productions. The Slip function works well for sliding elements around; because it's real time, there is no waiting for a computer to render it every time you make a change.
You can overdub where additional parts are added or mixed in with audio already recorded on a track. This is just like using a JamMan, an Echoplex or (like in the old days) sound-on-sound-equipped tape decks. Repeater defaults to mixing in 90% of the original, with 10% of the overdub sound. Called Feedback Level, you can change this to any amount you'd like for any overdub. Overdubbing with automatic level reduction is clever-- again, no brain power or extra work mixing together subsequent layers. If you use Feedback values lower than about 60%, then each time you overdub, the resultant track starts to get psychedelic after only about 10 overdubs.
Repeater is a new kind of music gear: part recording production tool and part performance instrument. It was conceptually simple and intuitive, but I had to develop a few "chops" and learn its operational quirks and secrets, such as what I could get away with and how fast or slow I could play and manipulate loops. All great fun with serious power and control over loops or chunks of audio. Production-wise, it's not just for dance and trance: Repeater would also be equally at home in jingle houses or radio stations.
Electrix/IVL Technologies, 6710 Bertram Place, Victoria, B.C., Canada V8M 1Z6; 250-544-4091; www.electrixpro.com.
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