XFadeLooperCM feature in Computer Music

XFadeLooperCM, the free version of Crossfade Loop Synth exclusive to Computer Music Magazine, is the subject of a multi-page feature in issue 191. The tips and tutorials apply equally well to the full version of Crossfade Loop Synth, so do check it out if you own that plug-in.

The feature also includes a (heavily edited!) interview with your truly. For the record, here’s the full text that I submitted:

- what inspired Crossfade Loop Synth?

Back in 2002, I was transitioning my mostly hardware studio setup to a more software-based one (something I've since mostly reversed - but that's another story). Time-stretching & granular resynthesis was all the rage at the time - things the new-fangled software instruments could do which traditional hardware generally couldn't. As a result, finding a sampler instrument that actually did work like an old hardware unit seemed surprisingly hard.

At the same time, Apple had not long released Mac OS X, and with it Project Builder (which later became Xcode). Previously, software development on Macs involved buying a development environment; now it was available for free. So there was no longer a reason not to dabble.

So, to satisfy my own musical needs, and enabled by the new software ecosystem of OS X, I decided to have a crack at writing a plug-in.

The result, Crossfade Loop Synth 0.1b, was released in December 2002.

- what challenges were involved in its creation?

Despite being a reasonably experienced developer at the time, I'd never before worked on a Mac, so that was all new. Also, for reasons that aren't completely clear in retrospect, I decided to do it as an Audio Unit (buying the whole Apple shebang hook line & sinker, I guess), and the AU SDK was very immature at the time. Fortunately some AU pioneers had put their work up online so I was able to learn from example.

Crossfade Loop Synth v2 (2004) was the second (I think?) plug-in of mine to use my new graphical UI framework, originally created for my additive synthesis instrument Minky Starshine. There was still lots of learning going on at that time.

Crossfade Loop Synth v3 (2007) was the real challenge. Applying analogue VCO concepts like pulse width modulation and hard sync to sampled material was great fun, if your idea of fun involves lots of hard work and head-scratching. And the effect version - being able to record into the sample buffer while playing notes (at any speed, in either/both directions) - was the real head-f***.

- what do you think of other software samplers?

The only one I've ever used much is VSamp (http://www.vsamp.com). That's what I use if I want a traditional multi-sample of something vaguely realistic - it comes with a nice free library of orchestral staples. I mean, it's a tiny tiny thing compared to modern multi-GB romplers, but it works well for what I do. Otherwise, I just use Crossfade Loop Synth. Or a Live drum rack I guess would be the only other time I use a sample instrument.

It strikes me that there's very little emphasis on actual sampling in modern instruments. Just on playing samples back.

- do you have a favourite hardware sampler?

Roland S-330. A fantastic bit of kit - I used one for years back in the 90s. Its 'alternating' loop mode was the inspiration for the feature of the same name in Crossfade Loop Synth v2, and really the reason I wanted to create a sampler instrument in the first place. I used that all the time. It really was a unique thing at the time - a 1U rack box but you could plug in a mouse and a monitor, and see your stuff up on a screen. No editing through a tiny LCD window on the box itself. Really revolutionary.

- do you have any tips for readers using the instrument?

Buy the full version! :)

Do try the 'alternating' loop mode, especially on pads.

If you have a volume dip at the loop point, try the different Crossfade Types (Equal Gain/Equal Power).

Go nuts with Hard Sync.

Overall - the sample is just fodder for the instrument to create sound from. Don't just play it back, pure and simple. See what else you can make with it!