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Tattoo, the first (and long-awaited) instrument from Audio Damage is a powerful and flexible drum synthesizer (no samples here, just to be clear).
Well, actually Tattoo is more than a simple drum synth. Its multiple sequencers are the real core of instrument and the guys at Audio Damage have made great use of some of the techniques implemented in their previous products (the randomization/mod features/compressor come to mind).
Multiple sequencers? Yes, with Tattoo you get a grid-based pattern sequencer as well as a mod sequencer section.
The pattern sequencer works as you would expect, and it’s very intuitive to use. 16 patterns available (step size: 1×32, 2×16, 1x16T, 1×16, and 1x8T), which can also be triggered from the keyboard.
The added value here is the randomization you can get from a couple of controls just below the grid: Selected Beats and Random Beats.
The first slider “determines how likely Tattoo is to play any given note” (therefore with a subtractive function), while the Random Beats can be used to add notes to your pattern.
Keep in mind that the Random Beats works also on a completely empty pattern. Just select an instrument/voice, make sure its grid row is empty and start playing with the Random Beats slider!
The mod sequencer makes Tattoo even more remarkable. Every single synthesis control parameter in Tattoo has its own sequencer. This means that, depending on the voice used (different voices have different synthesis controls), the mod sequencer can be assigned to tune, velocity, noise frequency, saturation, etc. Just click on a synthesis parameter, and here you have a mod sequencer ready to be used on that particular parameter.
The mod sequencer can be controlled manually (using the mouse to draw shapes) or using the provided Autofill feature. This has several pre-made shapes and an additional randomize-on-reset switch, which will bring instant modulation gratification to the sound you’re working on.
As you can guess, the above mentioned probability sliders and these mod sequencer controls can add some life even to the most boring pattern!
What about the sound? Audio Damage is upfront about the sound-design of this plug-in, clearly “inspired by the famous X0X series of analog drum machines”. If you love Roland’s classic sound (and I’m sure most users do), you will love Tattoo, otherwise you could find it a bit limited from this point of view.
Being a Microtonic lover, I still think SonicCharge’s plug-in offers more sonic options and a better sounding palette. But we’re talking of different beasts, and Tattoo’s sequencers make it a truly creative and inspiring device.
Actually, I’ve never been a purist, and to me a creative and inspiring interface is worth more than the never-ending search for the “perfect sound”.
If you like, it’s possible to switch off Tattoo’s internal sounds and use it as a controller for other instruments, like Battery, MicroTonic, etc. (unfortunately only VST users can benefit of that, the AU protocol does not support MIDI Output, damn Apple!).
Tattoo has also a multi-output mode, which is often needed if you want to have full control of each channel (so you can use your most expensive outboard or plug-in to give some final tweaks to the sound).
Need to work with odd time signatures? This is usually something that can give headaches to most drum-machines, but Tattoo has a MIDI Note Sync mode which can be used to have full control of the whole she-bang.
As explained in the manual, “the MIDI Note mode lets you use MIDI note messages to make Tattoo’s sequencers step forwards and backwards”. At first it can seem a bit tricky, but I’d recommend following the example in the manual. You’ll be able to master complex time signatures quite easily after reading that.
Tattoo is well-designed and very easy to use. The 34 pages manual is worth reading anyway (also because of its clever copywriting!).
There’s clearly some complex stuff going on behind the scenes, but the user’s workflow is crystal clear.
Tattoo lets you quickly get some good results, and I think that’s one of the best things that can be said of a musical instrument.
I’d just love to see a bigger/more readable GUI, it would make the whole experience even better. Unfortunately resizable interfaces are not so common, and I hope more developers will pay attention to this in the near future (U-he Zebra is actually one of the few good examples).
At 79$ (VST and AU, OS X and Windows) Tattoo is definitely something to add to your plug-ins’ collection. No demo version (the manual is available here), but a fair no questions asked money-back policy, as usual for Audio Damage’s products.
I doubt you’ll ever make use of this option though…
Last but not least: if you are going to browse Audio Damage’s shop, have a look at some of their previous releases. I’m sure stuff plugs like Automaton or BigSeq2, for example, could become your Tattoo’s best friend!
- powerful sequencers
- inspiring randomization features
- MIDI Out
- MIDI Note Sync
- comprehensive manual
LOVE-IT OR HATE-IT:
- soundwise it’s a Roland X0X-inspired drum-synth
- no MIDI pattern export
- the GUI could be bigger/more readable
- the preset/kit management could be improved