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SoundonSound Review: Image Line Gross Beat

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Another offering from the people behind FL Studio, the not-very-descriptively named Gross Beat is an effects plug-in “designed for repetition and scratching effects”. More specifically, “gating, glitch, repeat, scratching and stutter” noises are the goal, the target audience being dance producers wishing to emulate the turntable trickery of the more creative club DJs. This is not an entirely new idea, and one or two similar plug-ins have previously seen the light of day. That said, Gross Beat is rather more sophisticated than its predecessors.

The plug-in provides a two-bar-long audio buffer, which is continually refreshed as the host application plays. A vertical green line scrolls from left to right across the plug-in’s display (the ‘envelope mapping panel’) to indicate the host’s playback position relative to the buffer. Two different multi-point envelopes are superimposed: one (in green) is the ‘time mapping’ envelope, while the other (in orange) is the ‘volume mapping’ envelope. These control time and amplitude modulation respectively, and work pretty much as you’d expect.

In the screen grab, for example, the blocky orange envelope creates a stuttering ‘gate’ effect that gradually increases in speed, while the green wavy envelope spins an imaginary turntable (represented by the small ‘clock face’ in the upper left-hand corner) back through 180 degrees, in four smooth steps. If this is difficult to visualise, rest assured that it’s much easier to grasp when you can watch the playback marker move and hear the effect on the audio. In use, Gross Beat is actually quite intuitive — certainly more so than the slightly bewildering help file might lead you to believe.

Time and volume envelopes can be edited with a great deal of precision, and can contain straight and curved segments. Right-clicking an envelope point opens a contextual menu from which preset shapes such as ‘Double curve’, ‘Pulse’ and ‘Half sine’ can be chosen. Just about any imaginable turntable movement can be modelled, along with some that would probably be impossible with physical decks. What the plug-in can’t provide, of course, is the hands-on, tactile experience of a real turntable — the ‘clock face’ dial can be clicked and dragged with the mouse pointer, but that’s hardly the same thing.

Nevertheless, a degree of improvisation is possible. Thirty-six preset slots are provided in which time envelopes can be stored, and another 36 for volume envelopes. These have MIDI notes pre-assigned for ease of switching, while a right-click allows other external controls to be assigned. Set up a dozen or so envelopes in advance, and you’re then free to string them together in whatever order you like, however the urge takes you.

Gross Beat really only does one thing, but does it exhaustively, offering pretty much every function you could ask for — along with a few you probably wouldn’t have thought of (for instance, audio files can be loaded, analysed, and used to create new mapping envelopes). The simulations of ‘real’ DJ effects sound natural and convincing, and are not difficult to create. Other, more unnatural ‘glitchy’ effects can also be produced, although these are not really where the plug-in excels.

You probably already know whether a plug-in for simulating turntable effects in painstaking detail is something you want. If it is, you should certainly be looking at Gross Beat: it’s a technically clever implementation with few real competitors.

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