Twisted Tools are a company that use the computing power of Native Instruments’ brilliant Reaktor to their advantage, creating killer effects and instruments for use in electronic music and sound design. S-LAYER is their latest creation: a sample layering sound creation tool for reaktor 5. You can layer up to 8 sounds on top of each other and then blend them in different ways to create new and interesting sounds for your sample collections. There are various sound design effects that are a part of S-layer to manipulate the sound as part of the process.
One down side is that you can’t use the reaktor player – you have to have the full program. The flip side of that is that you have to have the full program, which for anyone vaguely interested in electronic music, is pretty much a must.
The interface of s-layer, as with all of twisted tools stuff, is clean and pretty. There’s even a completely unnecessary but aesthetically gorgeous graphic of the sound waves of the separate samples playing over the top of the rest of the plugin.
Snapshots and scenes
S-LAYER comes prepackaged with a tasty set of 128 samples and 2500 preset (snapshot) combinations created by some of the masters in the current scene, including Richard Devine, Jedsound, Glitchmachines, and Antonio Blanca.
Each preset loads up 8 scenes, which are essentially 8 different sample layers within that preset, like a small sample set. Those samples are mapped to midi notes C3 to G3. Simple midi drum rack size.
The ubiquitous random button changes every element of your preset, giving you 8 new sample layers every time you press it. As you create your own presets and sample sounds, you can save them simply using the built in process in Reaktor.
You can easily load up your own samples, either one sound at a time, or replace the whole set at once, using Reaktor’s sample sets.
The parameters section contains 2 main sections that hold all the parameters (surprise) with which to choose and shape your samples. These parameters can either be controlled separately or jointly for each of the 8 layers.
The first window contains the essential elements. You choose which sample out of the loaded bank of 128 to use. You choose where you want to start the sample, the pitch, pan and volume of the sample. As a simple example, you could choose the start of one hit, the middle section of another, and the tail of a third. Pitch pan and change the volume, and you’ve created a completely fresh hit.
The next window along contains the various effects that can be applied to the samples. Grain, stretch, cutoff, resonance and filter mode. The third page is for envelopes. Attack, hold, decay, sustain and release.The final page is the external effects. These consist of inserts and sends to two built in effects – a delay and a reverb. Alternatively, you can route the sound to any of your 3rd party effects which essentially makes the routing possibilities of the plugin infinite. All of these effects and envelopes can be applied independently to each of the 8 samples.
The awesome power of modulation enables you to fluidly and constantly change all the effect parameters, with the potential that you never hear the same sound twice. There are two ways of modulating the effects in S-LAYER. The wrapper enables the assignment of various effect parameters to a single knob. For example you can group the start point of all 8 samples together, and enable a different sample start point for all of them by moving one knob. The next knob can control a cutoff filter for all 8 samples. And so on. There are also four step sequences that can be assigned to any of the parameters. They will trigger automatically with midi signal, and can be synced to host tempo.
Here’s a remix I did for Nonclassical records, using S-layer for much of the percussion elements of the track.
If you’re unsure where to begin, twisted tools provides some excellent video tutorials, on top of the manual, to give you a kickstart. You can see them here
Perhaps the best way to use this tool is with the free Lemur template that comes with it. Lemur is a modular control app for the iPad, and provides users with templates, and the ability to create and customize templates to control any software that responds to midi or osc. You might recognize it from the now discontinued JazzMutant lemur box. Well now it costs $50 instead of $2000, and is midi control heaven! The iPad app for s-layer, built by Antonio Blanca, enables you to create much more quickly – using fingers to change parameters instead of a mouse. For the latest release, there has also been a Maschine template created.
Conclusion S-LAYER has been described as a ‘happy accident generator’, and I don’t think it’s far off with that description. The speed at which you can create whole new sample sets is inspiring. For the price, you’re not going to find anything near as powerful and intuitive to design and create your own sounds. I would recommend this especially for those interested in sound design. You can really create some good sounding stuff very quickly here, and the routing options are almost limitless. There was one small issue that I tried to iron out, and couldn’t seem to find solutions to. It seems that S-LAYER takes a little while to settle into a project. When first opened, CPU spikes all over the place. I traced it back to S-LAYER unquestionably, and it seemed there wasn’t much I could do about it. However, it calmed down fairly quickly. I’m wondering if it is the Reaktor engine loading samples in the background.. S-LAYER’s flexibility, intuitiveness, stability, and it’s extras (iPad Lemur template, Maschine template, extra free sounds) make this software is an absolute steal. Even though it seems to be aimed more at beat and hit creation, you are really limited only by your imagination. Fantastic Reaktor ensemble that cements Twisted Tools as THE company to go to for reaktor ensembles.
…S-LAYER has been described as a ‘happy accident generator’, and I don’t think it’s far off with that description. The speed at which you can create whole new sample sets is inspiring…
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.