Sugar Bytes has raised the bar for pattern based playable effect instruments with their latest release, Looperator. Following in the footsteps of their earlier works, Artillery and Effectrix, Looperator provides significant improvements in effect quality, user interface, interactivity, and overall user experience. Innovative features such as powerful per-step modulations and intelligent randomization encourage creativity and experimentation.
Overview Sugar Bytes posted a good explanation of the basic functions here:
Here’s the gist: Looperator is a 16 step FX sequencer with 6 rows of effects. Incoming audio is recorded into a buffer and divided into chunks (1/8, 1/4, or ½ note per step) and each of these is processed, top to bottom, by the effects in each column on each step.
On each step you can choose from 20 effect or modulation settings. If that’s not enough there are also 4 user configurable effect/modulation choices that allow deep customization, such as selecting from modulation shapes AND setting the beginning/ending values, and/or constraining the values to useful numbers, such as scale quantization of pitch-based events.
Remote Control Once you’ve established a sequence of effects, that pattern can be saved as a Preset. Looperator comes with over 300 presets organized by type (ambient, complex, looping, etc.) that are helpful to explore the range of this plugin. However, the real jam begins when you arrange sets of presets into Remote Lists, which allow you to trigger a different preset with each incoming MIDI note.
This is where Looperator really comes alive as a performance effect. It feels so powerful to have this much control over the music in real-time. The sync is rock solid and I experienced no discernable latency with a 128 sample buffer in Logic at 44.1KHz. Auditioning presets is also lightning fast. Unlike some other plugins, the preset window stays open and allows for selecting presets with a single click. This efficient workflow makes it easy to quickly discover or create the sounds you need.
(Semi)Randomize Sugar Bytes developed very clever ways to use randomization within the plugin to produce musically useful results. You can randomize all, a particular track, or a user effect. Furthermore, you can set a step to choose random values on each repeat. Most importantly, each type of randomization has a set of preferences that is individually crafted to that effect to shape the results in an intelligent manner. Exploring these parameters provides quick inspiration. Crucially, Looperator allows unlimited undo steps. This security really encourages experimentation and I found it to be very freeing.
In Use Once you get the basics, Looperator is a blast to use. In general I found it to be most successful with a minimalist approach, using at most 1 effect per step. Of course, your mileage may vary and if massive mangling is what you’re looking for, it can deliver in an instant. My typical workflow is to pick a group of programs that work together, assemble them in a Remote List, then jam realtime or manually sequence them on top of the music (which could be anything from a complete mix to a single track.) If further customization is called for, I’ll edit the individual presets, save them to my user folder, then substitute the new versions in the Remote List. Some of the effects (such as reverbs and delays) are not particularly remarkable on their own, but they work well enough in the context of complex effect sequences. I preferred the looping, envelope modulation, tape stop, tonalizer, and vowel filters. The volume of the effects can vary dramatically, so take some time to adjust the levels of each row in each preset within a Remote List for more uniform operation. To this end I found it benefitted from a bit of analog style saturation (such as Decapitator, Slate VTM, or Trash 2) and/or some dynamics control (as with any compressor of your choice.)
Tips Get fluid with the simple key commands and modifier+mouse moves and it’s like painting patterns over your sound. Assign a hardware fader to the main mix control and use that to control FX mix during performance. You’ll want hands-on control of this one. Play live into it, or send your bandmates’ signals into it in real-time, but make sure they have a pre-fade monitor mix or it can get pretty tricky!
Conclusion Looperator is truly an instrument in its own right. To fully appreciate it, you need to set aside more traditional ideas of effects and see it as a unique environment that is finely crafted to produce favorable results. In other words, don’t overthink it. Take a quick peek at the succinct manual and start sculpting (not necessarily in that order.) Most of its features and logic become apparent through use, and its ability to inspire new ideas is intoxicating. Silence your critical voice, experiment, and save the program or remote list when it sounds good.