You have to see it for yourself. You either love it or ignore it; there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding this particular Reason device. Without generalizing too much, it can perhaps be said that traditional keyboard players are the first to ask "What's that thing for anyway?"
The fact is that the Matrix can be most anything you want it to be, whether you're a keyboard virtuoso or a 'paint-by-numbers' kind of composer. Think of it as your trusty house elf, the one that performs tedious automation chores while you concentrate on more important things. Or, think of it as the bug in the electrical system - plug it into any of those mysterious CV/Gate connectors on the back panel and interesting and unpredictable things may happen.
The Matrix Reloaded
The reason we're kicking off the new Reason era - 2.5 - with an in-depth look at the Matrix, is that it just got a whole lot better. Thanks to the new Spider CV Splitter & Merger unit introduced in 2.5, the signals from a single Matrix unit can now multiply and spread like wildfire over the entire rack. How about two Subtractors and two Malströms playing the same bassline? Or volume automation of 16 synths at once? The sky is the limit. But before we board the rocket and cram the rack chock full of Matrix units, let's go over what the Matrix can do, device by device:
In Reason 1.0:
- Mixer 14:2: Automation of Master Volume, Channel Level and Pan, per-channel (curve).
- RV-7 Reverb: Automation of Decay (curve).
- CF-101 Chorus/Flanger: : Automation of Delay and Rate (curve).
- DDL-1 Delay: Automation of Pan and Feedback (curve).
- PEQ-2 Parametric EQ: Automation of Frequency 1, Frequency 2 (curve).
- PH-90 Phaser: Automation of Frequency and Rate (curve).
- COMP-01 Compressor: No CV/Gate inputs.
- D-11 Distortion: Automation of Amount (curve).
- ECF-42 Filter: Automation of Frequency, Resonance (curve) and Envelope trig (gate).
- Subtractor: Monophonic sequencing of notes (note, gate), automation of OSC Pitch, OSC Phase, FM Amount, Filter 1 and 2 Frequency and Resonance, Amp level, Mod Wheel (curve), Amp Envelope trig, Filter Envelope trig, Mod Envelope trig (gate).
- NN-19: Monophonic sequencing of notes (note, gate), automation of OSC Pitch, Filter Cutoff and Resonance, Level, Mod Wheel (curve), Amp Envelope trig, Filter Envelope trig (gate).
- Dr. REX: Automation of OSC Pitch, Filter Cutoff and Resonance, Level, Mod Wheel (curve), Amp Envelope trig, Filter Envelope trig (gate).
- ReDrum: Sequencing of notes, per-channel (gate), automation of Pitch, per-channel (curve).
+ Reason 2.0:
- Malström: Monophonic sequencing of notes (note, gate), automation of Pitch, Filter, Index, Shift, Level, Mod Amount, Mod Wheel (curve), Amp Envelope trig, Filter Envelope trig (gate).
- NN-XT: Monophonic sequencing of notes (note, gate), automation of OSC Pitch, Filter Cutoff and Resonance, LFO1 Rate, Master Volume, Pan, Mod Wheel (curve), Amp Envelope trig, Mod Envelope trig (gate).
+ Reason 2.5:
- BV-512 Vocoder: Automation of Hold (gate), Shift and individual Band levels (curve).
- RV-7000 Advanced Reverb: Automation of Decay, HF Damp (curve) and Gate trig (gate).
- Scream 4: Automation of Damage Control, Parameter 1 and 2, Scale (curve).
- UN-16 Unison: Automation of Detune (curve).
- Spider CV: Merge, split.
That's a total of 149 inputs just waiting for a Matrix connection - so what are we waiting for?
A few ma-tricks up the sleeve
Since creating Matrix patterns can be time consuming, it's a good idea to have a preset Matrix unit in your customized default song. Naturally, musical preset patterns might not be very useful but you can make lots of handy generic curve and gate patterns ready for instant access. Some basic ones, like this:
Tip: Hold down [Shift] while drawing, to draw continuous curves or note sequences
Curves like these are very handy for filter sweeps, pan automation, level automation and other things. If you keep these basic curves in mind and go back and read the above list of places to plug in the Matrix you're guaranteed to spot a dozen instant uses for them.
These curves only have to be drawn in one resolution, since you can easily change the speed by changing the time resolution of the pattern. In 1/32 mode, the above patterns play for one bar - change to 1/16 and the length will be two bars, 1/64 = half a bar, and so on.
Of course, you can also use Randomize Pattern and Alter Pattern. While randomized notes seldom produce a musically correct or appealing result, randomized curves and gates often turn out interesting and useful.
Using the new Spider CV module for merging two basic Matrix curves you can generate insane curve data by for example merging two identical curves played back at different speed!
Now for examples. First off, let's just let the Matrix flex its muscles in a simple yet effective "before and after" demonstration to show the profound effect that a little CV/gate injection can have on your sounds, even if you choose to play the actual notes from the keyboard and not the Matrix. History has shown that many Reason users overlook the power of the Matrix and of CV, and choose to limit their use of modulation sources to what each instrument offers.
In this example snippet we've taken a Matrix with a completely random pattern, split its signals through a Spider module and plugged it into virtually every available hole on one Malström and one Scream unit. Here's the little tune before it was fitted with a turbo: fuel.rns
And here's the after shot: fuel_injected.rns
Which version is more spunky?
A multi-tasking ReDrum
One of the inherent annoyances with pattern-style programming of drum machines is that you need a new pattern for each tiny variation. But why not use Matrix units to create one big "multi-tasking" pattern sequencer with one independent layer for each ReDrum channel? There are many advantages to this method:
- Pattern variations only need to occur on the involved sounds, the rest can play on independently (example: the snare drum Matrix can temporarily change to a snare roll pattern but the bass drum and hi-hat patterns remain unchanged)
- Each drum channel can have its own individual time resolution (example: the hi-hat is programmed at 1/32 resolution in a 32-step pattern but the bass drum in 1/8 resolution in an 8-step pattern)
- Velocity resolution is 1-127 instead of 1-3
- Triggering drums only requires Gate signals from the Matrix so you can use the Curve part to control the pitch of the drum if you like
- Instant visual representation of each individual drum pattern right inside the rack, no need to switch to Edit view
- You can combine ReDrum pattern data with Matrix pattern data - you don't need ten Matrix units for each ReDrum instance, you only need them for ReDrum channels where lots of variations occur
In this example song we've used three ReDrum channels for bass drum, snare and hi-hat. The bass drum pattern is static while the snare and hihat patterns switch between two patterns each, while also using a different time resolution and pitch automation: multidrum.rns
The Return of the Dirty Trick
Remember "dirty trick 1" from the "Ask Dr. REX!" article? We're going to use this again to create a fake arpeggiator from a Matrix and a couple of synths. The idea is to turn the "Osc Pitch" knob next to the Osc Pitch input on the back panel of the instrument all the way to the right (value 127) which will "boost" the incoming CV so that it translates with 100% accuracy to semi-note values, allowing you to change the pitch with Note CV instead of Curve CV. This is not only more intuitive but it frees up the Curve CV so you can use it for other things.
Using a single Matrix we will control one Subtractor and one Malström, combining the Matrix data with MIDI note input. To do this we need to split the Matrix signal using a Spider CV Merger & Splitter. Here is the example file: digibubbles.rns
Now open the song and explore the signal paths. The Matrix is sending Note CV to the Spider module which splits the signal in two, sending one to each synth where it's boosted to map onto the chromatic scale. The Matrix is also sending Gate data, split by the Spider and sent to the Filter Env input of the Subtractor and the Filter (not Filter Env) CV input of the Malström, adding a rhythmic texture to both sounds. The Curve output from the Matrix, finally, is connected to the Filter 1 Freq CV input on the Subtractor. But wait, it's not making sounds yet(!). What you now need to do is feed each synth with MIDI notes. A single sustained note is all it takes, and the Matrix will play the melody based on that 'root note'. You can play any single note or chord you want and the Matrix will take care of the rest. The example file already has MIDI notes in place but you can mute the tracks and play your own notes to get an idea of what it's all about. If you need more variations on the pattern (such as major/minor scale alternatives) just copy the original Matrix pattern to another slot and change whatever you like.
The truth is out there, Neo.
Text & Music by Fredrik Hägglund