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Propellerhead Reason Tips - The Combinator (Part 1)
Written by C.L. Martin - 2005, Cengage Learning. Reprinted with Permission.
This article is an excerpt from the following book: Reason Overdrive! - Expert Quick Tips.

The Combinator is a beast that can hold entire songs, let alone a few devices. You can learn this device easily by opening up the Combinator patches. In this way, you can experience a good portion of its potential and how it can benefit your song. The basic idea behind the Combinator is to combine devices and their parameters. This means the Combinator can combine the sounds of two or more devices into one sound, or control two or more devices with one sequencer track or MIDI controller. Four knobs and four buttons on the Combinator panel can be assigned to many parameters simultaneously.

To combine devices simply means to put devices within the Combinator. You can either put new devices in the Combinator or drag previously added devices into the Combinator, thereby "combining" them. When the desired devices are combined, you can then assign a combination of any parameters on the combined devices to be controlled by the knobs and buttons on the Combinator device panel. Not only can the knobs be assigned, so can their range. For example, if you assign Rotary 1 on the Combinator to a volume slider for a SubTractor within that Combinator, you can set the range of modification for that volume slider from, say, 52 to 65, recalling that the normal range is 0 to 127. This means that when Rotary 1 is turned to 0, the volume on the SubTractor will be at 52. Similarly, when the Rotary 1 knob is turned to 127, the SubTractor knob will be at 65. Simultaneously, you can have the Rotary 1 knob control another knob on the SubTractor, or another parameter on another device that you have placed within that Combinator. The Combinator is controllable by a Matrix for pattern sequencing, and all the rotary knobs have CV inputs on the back for automation.

Despite its relatively simple operation, the Combinator is actually the most complicated device in Reason aside from the NN-XT. This is because you can create worlds of sound inside the Combinator that may run for extremely long screen lengths, comparable in size to many artists' racks for an entire Reason song. The Combinator keeps this potentially enormous sound creation organized by its collapsible device window and its parameter-controlling Programmer window. The Programmer has all the instruments named in order, as they are selectable for changing parameters and assigning knobs to the rotaries and buttons. Thanks to the rotaries, CV can now control every automatable parameter. You can also set both the key range and the velocity range for individual instruments, opening the doors for creating split patches and key-sensitive patches within the Programmer. As you can see, the Combinator really takes Reason to the next level.

Splitting Instruments in the Combinator
Creating a split instrument Combi is extremely easy. You simply split off key ranges for the sound-generating instruments within the Combinator's Programmer. A key range is the area on a keyboard in which a sound is played. For example, you can set a key range for a sound so it plays only on the bottom half of the keyboard, meaning that when the top half of the keyboard is played, no sound comes out. When you split off key ranges, it means that you set up one sound to play on part of the keyboard and the other sound to play on the remainder of the keyboard. Because this procedure as outlined in the Reason manual may be confusing to the average user, I have developed an alternative process:

1. Because this sample procedure uses two sound-generating devices, route at least two sound-generating devices by either a merger or a mixer into the From Devices input.
2. Open the Programmer, select the first device whose key range you want to manipulate, and click the Receive Notes check box to mark it. The check box must be marked in order for you to be able to manipulate the key range.
3. By default, the key range for a sound-generating device is at the device's maximum range, C -2 to G 8. To set the key range for the first device, leave the Lo setting at C 2, and change the Hi value to halfway up the keyboard, at E 3.
4. Change the key range of the second device to cover the rest of the keyboard, which would be F 3 to G 8.
5. Play your keyboard and notice the split. Now that you know how to use this method, you can utilize more than two devices to create a split; indeed, you can literally have one device per key!

Adding Mergers
In order to have two or more sound devices within the Combinator, you must use an audio merger. That way, the sound is actually combined and fed into the Combinator input. To accomplish this, you can use a Spider audio merger, a reMix mixer 14:2, or a line mixer 6:2. When Propellerhead Software created the line mixer 6:2, they designed it to be smaller so it would take up less space within the Combinator.

One reason it's important to use a mixer is to have a volume control for the overall internal Combinator mixdown other than the one in your main mixer or submixer. It's somewhat annoying that the Combinator itself doesn't have a master volume knob, but there is good reason for this: The Combinator has no pre-amp, nor does it have a processing engine. Instead, the Combinator lets the devices that it contains create and process the sound. If you want to program a volume knob to control all the devices simultaneously from one of the rotaries, that can be done in the Programmer. You can also program a rotary to act as a master panning device by using the Programmer's Modulation Routing section to assign each pan knob on the mixer within the Combinator to a single source. Don't forget that the Combinator has its own mixer channel. For the mixer to which the Combinator is cabled, create a sequencer track so that the mixer is easily accessible when "lost" in the rackmountthat is, set in the middle of several devices, making it hard to find.

This article is continued in: Propellerhead Reason Tips - The Combinator (Part 2).


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