The Reason Rack

This Close-Up will focus on the Reason rack itself. The rack is the framework in which you create the studio setup you choose to work with, creating your tracks. Since the rack provides many of the basic concepts behind Reason, we felt it deserves it's own close-up.

What's in the rack?

The rack has four main parts: The MIDI in device, the Audio out device, the Sequencer and of course, the rack space where you put your gear:

Building the rack

Adding equipment to your rack is easy. Just use the 'Create' menu or right-click in the rack and pick the device you want to use.

Here we are adding a mixer to the rack by right-clicking in the empty rack space (mac users with a one button mouse can of course use [ctrl]-click).

The mixer will automatically be connected to the audio outputs since it is the first device we put into the rack.

Next, let's add a Subtractor synth to the rack, making it look something like this:

Here is the rack with the Subtractor synth added. The synth is automatically patched to the first free mixer channel and the first free MIDI in channel - in this case mixer channel 1 and MIDI channel 1.

To help you keep track of the devices in the rack, Reason has little tape strips on each device and on each mixer channel. The synth we added is called Synth1, so a tape strip labeled 'Synth1' is taped to the synth and the mixer channel. This is very handy when racks are getting large so that you don't have to scroll up and down all the time to find out what's on each channel.

To make things even easier, you can also rename each instrument to reflect it's function. Let's rename the Subtractor called Synth1 to Bass, giving a hint of this synth's role in our track.

Note that the name also changes on the mixer channel's tape strip. If only a hardware studio could be this well organized... This is like having the studio's tape op guy constantly running around the place, with a roll of tape and a pen. Wonderful, isn't it?

Patching

So far we have mentioned that devices get patched in automatically, meaning that they automatically connect to the next free audio and MIDI channels etc. This is also true when you add effects. In Reason you can add effects to any device that makes some kind of sound (it wouldn't make much sense adding reverb to a sequencer, would it?).

Just like in a real studio, there's a difference between send effects and insert effects. Send effects are connected to the mixer's effects send so that more than one device can be routed to it. Reverb and delay are the typical send effects. Insert effects are those effects that you route the instrument's sound through before going to the mixer. Typical insert effects are compression, distortion and filters.

To add a send effect you simply select the mixer by clicking on it and then select the desired effect from the 'Create' menu. The effect is patched in on the next free effect send and effect return. Here is our mixer with a reverb and delay added to it.

Of course, there will be tape strips on the effect returns telling you what signals goes where:

To add an insert effect, you simply select the device you want to add the effect to and pick an effect from the 'Create' menu. When you do this, an effect will be patched in between the selected device and the mixer or effect it is connected to.

Re-Patching

So far you have seen how new devices are automatically connected to the rack's other units, so what if you want to change something. Perhaps you want that synth on a separate output on your multiple outs audio card? Perhaps you want the left return from the digital delay to go through phaser, distortion and a compressor before going back to the mixer?

Let's take a look at how to repatch Reason. To illustrate the patching capabilities, we have an example rack with a mixer, a reverb and a delay connected to it. It has two synths - one for the bass and one for a filter sweep. It also has a sampler for the piano, a rex machine and a drum machine. The bass synth also has a Phaser as an insert effect.


Since Reason is made to look and work just like hardware equipment, we thought that the best and easiest way to handle the audio routing and such would be to do it like you do it in the studio: Flip the rack around! By hitting the [tab] key, the back of the rack is displayed and here all the cables and connector jacks are visible. The instrument cables are red and the cables connected to effect units are green.

To change the audio routing, you just click and drag the connector to it's new location. The example to the left shows how to move the synth mixer channel one to it's own hardware output as indicated by the blue arrow.

The little label next to the mouse cursor shows what device is connected to this cable. Now that's something missing in a hardware studio! Also, Reason's patch cables are always the right length, they never break and they never get noisy.

This form of patching means a fantastic freedom for the producer since you can create the most crazy noises by combining machines in the rack. The example mentioned above with the left return from the digital delay going through a phaser, distortion and a compressor before going back to the mixer is a breeze to create in Reason. Just add the devices and patch away!


More control!

While we are talking about the backside of the rack, let's take a look at some of the coolest features of Reason. The image below is a close-up on one of the subtractor synth's from rack above with some cables going by from the sampler, the Rex player and the Drum Computer:

To the right you can see the Audio Output connected to the mixer, but what are all those little connectors on the rest of the back panel? Welcome to the world of Control Voltage and Gate! In a pre MIDI era, analog control voltage was what you used (and still use) to control analog synths. Apart from just trigger notes with a certain pitch, you can use control voltage to control filters, volumes or just about anything you can come up with. Every device in Reason has it's own Control Voltage implementation that you can use to control it from another device (or use it to control another device).

As an example, the Subtractor synth has the following analog inputs:

Sequencer control CV (pitch)
  Gate
Gate input Amp envelope
  Filter envelope
  Mod envelope
Modulation input Oscillator pitch
  Oscillator phase
  FM amount
  Filter 1 Cutoff
  Filter 1 Res
  Filter 2 Cutoff
  Mod level
  Mod Wheel

...and these analog outputs:

Modulation output Mod envelope
  Filter envelope
  LFO

So how can you use the analog controls? The answer is: Anyway you want! You can use the envelope of a synth to control the filter of the REX-player, or you can use the synth to control the rate of a phaser. Why not use the Matrix analog sequencer (will be featured in a later Close-up) to create a ReBirth-style super PCF!

A simple example:
Let's say we want some kind of automatic panning on the bassline in the rack above. To our luck, there is a pan CV input on the mixer, so let's just take the LFO on the synth and connect it to the pan CV in on the mixer, like this:

The blue cable is the CV cable and as you can see, it's connected from the LFO 1 out on the synth to the Pan CV in on the mixer. What does it sound like? Check below!

Audio example - CV control of panning
Panned bass - This little loop demonstrates the use of the control voltage to control panning of the mixer from the synth's LFO output. download mp3 (250kb)

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