Understanding NI Massive: The Stepper
Welcome to a new series from MassiveSynth and OhmLab called Understanding NI Massive.
I have searched high and low for in-depth modular articles about the different parts of Massive and how to really get the most out of them, as I am sure many of you out there have. In some cases I have been greatly rewarded, other times…well, let’s just say that there is a lot to look forward to once there is a more diverse selection to choose from.
This series, although finite in it’s nature, is aimed at doing just that. You will learn more about each of the individual components that make up this truly incredible program that we have all come to love. I do not intend to present these in any order, so if you want to see a post about a specific tool, just say so in the comments area below or shoot us a message, and I’ll make sure it makes it onto the site sooner rather than later.
Alright, so let’s get started with the Stepper. Why start with the Stepper, rather then the Oscillators or something more critical? Well first, I love it. And the way I see it is that there are a bunch of tutorials and walkthroughs out there for Massive and may of them include material on the more familiar pieces of the synth. So for now, I will spend time on the parts that a little less discussed and perhaps used and hopefully uncover some things that even the more experienced users of Massive haven’t yet tried.
There is no on/off switch for the Stepper, rather it is active at all times there are sounds running through it. You can think of it as just another way to automate your sounds generated within Massive. If you create a sound and play it by pressing a key on your keyboard or midi controller, and leave the Stepper in it’s default configuration, it will be unaffected. But as you raise some of the individual sliders, you will begin to hear that for each change you make your sound is altered accordingly. The changes are in pitch in the beginning, but as you start to incorporate more advanced techniques, such as assigning the Stepper to various effects and filters, you will unleash it’s hidden power.
This may seem very basic to some but as already mentioned, it can be rather powerful when used in conjunction with some of the other tools in Massive. It also allows you to get a much broader range of sounds and motion in your music with a single note being played. Using this, you can achieve an arpeggiating effect. Many people consider arpeggiation to be a chord played as a series of notes, and they would be correct. But actually it can also simply be the rise and fall of any series of notes (usually in an automated fashion). With Massive’s LFO’s you can use the Stepper to create truly unique and powerful automated sequences without having to enter each individual sound heard. And like I hinted at before, try controlling effects, filters, noises, etc with it and see what happens! You can also have up to four instances of the Stepper in any given Massive track, adding even more opportunity for complexity and uniqueness.
You can use and create presets within the Stepper, and you should. Save yourself time and don’t lose track of the cool stuff you come up with! Even if you stumble across something great and don’t end up going with it in that particular track, save it for later use. It allows for anywhere from 1-16 steps per cycle. You can set the rate at which the Stepper operates either independently or in synch to a ratio. You can also manipulator the volume and amount of glide heard in regards to the sounds and effects that go through the Stepper. You can set it up so the cycle starts from the beginning with each touch of a key, or you can allow it to cycle through to the end of the number of steps you have selected. You also have the ability to add controllers from elsewhere within the universal panel tabs, ie envelopes, LOF’s, etc. So there is just about no end as to what you can do with this tool. Some of the greatest sounds that will come from using it will be through random experimentation, so play around and have fun!
Understanding how all of this works will allow you to take full advantage of the Stepper in your projects. A great way to familiarize yourself with the full range of sounds capable of being generated is by selecting a few factory presets that do not have settings configured within the Stepper panel by default. For instance, let’s grab a basic synth that sustains and have some free controller slots available so we can experiment a bit. I have chosen the FALTERMEYER synth. As you can see in the image below, it meets the needs and has no Stepper input set up yet.
Now I have set up a random selection of values in the Stepper as well as set the Rate to 1/8 time, set it to restart, turned up the Amp so we can hear the effect and assigned it to the Cutoff knob of the Lowpass 4 Effect on the Filter 1 panel. You can immediate hear the difference it make by simply following these few easy steps. A quick example of just how easy it is to begin manipulating the overall sound and feel of something.
Let’s give it another go using a different synth, and this time we will change things up a bit more. I have picked VINTAGE LEAD 1 and will start with creating a random pattern in the Stepper. I have set the rate to synch at 1/16 this time and added a couple of the Macro controls to the Amp and Amp Mod values. I then added the Stepper to the following panels; OSC1, OSC2, FILTER1, FILTER2, FX1and FEEDBACK. It was also added to the 1Env and 7LFO tabs. As you follow along and make these changes yourself you will see how much things change. Some of the manipulations are more drastic than others, but keep in mind that now there are several panels as well as Macro controls involved, and changing just one of them will alter your sound much more than before.
That’s it for this lesson. Keep playing around with the Stepper and make sure you try switching out one of the LFO’s or the Performer for a second, third or even fourth Stepper to really mix things up. You may just stumble upon something great.
Until next time, enjoy the music!