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Sugar Bytes Thesys review by Sound on Sound

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Masters Thesys

The main display packs a lot into quite a compact space, so much so that the ability to resize the plug-in window would be nice. The display is dominated by five lanes for the step sequencer. The first three of these deal with pitch, velocity and gate time: fairly standard step-sequencer fodder, but implemented here with some rather nice bells and whistles. For example, the Pitch lane offers a huge range of preset scale options allowing you to easily modify the musical mood of your pattern.

The final two lanes are called Performance and Modulation, and allow you to sequence a wide range of different parameters. For example, the Performance lane can be used to add pitch bends, chords, rolls and cleverly implemented 'humanising' elements to your patterns, while the Modulation lane actually provides eight different sub-lanes which each target a different MIDI CC number, so you can modulate sound parameters within the virtual instrument that Thesys is driving. (To toggle between these sub-lanes, you use the small vertical column of virtual LEDs situated outside the left edge of the lane.)

Along the base of the main window is the Keyboard Control Section, which can be switched between 'pitch' mode, where the full length of the virtual keyboard is used to provide a root note to transpose the current pattern, or 'performance' mode. In this latter mode, the keyboard is split into three zones: pattern select, action section and a smaller range for pitch transposing. While you can access all these options from the virtual keyboard, a hardware MIDI controller will mimic these functions if connected to Thesys. If you need it, the plug-in also includes a basic pattern sequencer located bottom-right, so you can chain patterns together.

The 'action section' refers to the selection of controls in the lower half of the right side of the main window. These provide a series of 'special effects' that can adjust the pattern playback in real time. The options include half speed, gradual slowdown and a velocity-sensitive gate, where only notes above the velocity threshold are played. There are some very useful performance options amongst these effects. Located top-right, meanwhile, are the Thesys synth engine controls. Yes, the plug-in includes its own synthesiser, and while it might not be the most sophisticated sound source you have on your music computer, it is perfectly capable and very useful if you just want to develop a few quick ideas. It also includes a range of preset sound patches. If you don't want to use the internal synth, you just switch it off via the 'power' button.

The top-right panel occupied by the synth controls can also be toggled to show some general settings for the plug-in. Some of these are 'set and forget' but three are worth further mention. The bottom two controls provide useful tempo and swing options, but the most interesting is the Loop setting. By default, this is set to Global, meaning that all the step patterns in all lanes are controlled by the length of the pattern set in the topmost Pitch lane. However, a simple click on this setting toggles it to Individual and instantly opens up all sorts of additional creative possibilities.

In this mode, not only can different patterns be different step lengths, but also different lanes within a single pattern can be set to operate over different lengths, as can the eight individual sub-lanes of the Modulation lane. You could, for example, have pitches cycling over 16 steps, while velocity cycles over 15 steps and a modulation lane is used to sweep a synth filter over 29 steps. The end results can yield some fascinating interactions between these different step-cycle lengths and an almost endless evolution of the pattern. If you thought step sequencers were only capable of creating repetitive fixed patterns, think again!

Thesys & The MIDI Tour

In use, Thesys does require a little setting up within your host. Within Cubase, for example, I had to add Thesys as a virtual instrument and then create a MIDI track set to send MIDI data to the plug-in. If I then wanted to use Thesys to drive a separate synth instrument within Cubase, I had to create a second MIDI track for that instrument and configure its MIDI input to be derived from Thesys, then record-enable the track. Once done, however, the results are well worth the effort, and I have to confess that I lost half a day just working my way through the presets, tweaking as I went along, and exploring what Thesys could do when hooked up to a range of different virtual synths. Thesys is deep, flexible and hugely creative and, aside from the fact that I'm going to need regular optician's appointments from squinting at the rather compact control layout, is a monster of a step sequencer. While, like Sugar Bytes’ other plug-in; Turnado, it takes time to learn. Thesys is a fabulous tool for use within your studio DAW — and for those who master its workings, I'm sure it could be a brilliant tool in a live context.

Like Sugar Bytes' other offerings, Thesys is probably a niche product. However, if you like your music electronic and experimental — and if you are prepared to put in some initial work to understand and appreciate all the features it provides — the plug-in has plenty to offer. Incidentally, if you also like to make music on an iPad, the plug-in is also available as an iOS app with all features intact, equally impressive in that context.

Personally, I'm hooked. Thesys has reawakened my somewhat dormant interest in step-based sequencing. And while it isn’t perhaps a casual purchase (although I guess that depends upon your idea of a casual purchase), given the features offered and the results available, I think it is fairly priced. Thesys comes highly recommended.

Original Source: Sound on Sound.com

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