“What if you had to take just one software instrument with you to a desert island?” It’s not an entirely silly question, with so many choices in software potentially distracting you from real music making. I say, cheat: take a tool that lets you build your own tools, specific to the job. Reaktor immediately springs to mind.

On the Kore @ CDM site, one of my goals has been getting deeper into making musical tools in Reaktor. We’re lucky to have Peter Dines onboard, who had already been dabbling with documenting the basics of Reaktor construction before we got some support from NI to do more. It was important to my own music making to be able to quickly assemble some of the tools I was imagining, so it’s been a real treat to get this rolling.

A sign that it really works – there’s already a free drum machine up on the User Library based on Doc Dines’ useful foundation sequencer, designed to be reused in your own patches. I’m assembling some of the steps here partly for my own musical/educational purposes!

Here’s a guide to what we’ve got so far, in the rough order I’d suggest to start learning:

1. Explore the User Library. Many people never get beyond the bundled factory library in Reaktor, but it’s well worth browsing the community-supported User Library. None other than Fennesz walked us through some of his favorites. One of the nice things about the User Library is that it includes basic ensembles as well as flashier ones – and there’s even a collection of user-contributed macros which could serve as building blocks for your own work. [Link]

2. Try out Peter Dines’ Frankenloop Step Sequencer. If you need some inspiration to get working on your own stuff, Peter’s awesome, Creative Commons-licensed Frankenloop for CDM is an ideal place to start. Your first ensembles probably won’t look this sophisticated, but the beat-synced mayhem here all comes from a series of techniques Peter is documenting on the site, so your own, personalized creations may not be as far off as you think. [Link]

Introduction to Frankenloop from Create Digital Media on Vimeo.

3. Get to know clocks. Timing is everything – the part that often trips up new Reaktor users (and is the key to unlocking its cooler sequencing and effects capabilities) is clocks and event management. Peter Dines starts out by showing you how to advance a series of lights and notes so you can fully understand the basics of clocks. [Link]

4. Try grains and gates. Clocks aren’t just for sequencers – they can be used to modulate effects, too, as in another of Professor Dines’ examples. And by working with grains, you’ll be able to manipulate live or sampled audio more freely. [Link]

5. Build your own grain delay / live grain sampler. With the basics of clocks and grains in hand, you’re on your way to creating your own grain effect, as in the video here from Peter Dines. Try building the basic version, then add on some additional features. [Part 1 | Part 2 (improvements!)]

Building and Using a Reaktor Grain Delay in Kore 2 from Create Digital Media on Vimeo.

6. Reuse and recycle. As you look at the guts of many of these creations, you may find some of the low-level plumbing confusing or repetitive, but never fear. The whole idea of modular patching environments (and, incidentally, any kind of programming) is to reuse components. I talked a little bit about that in journaling my own Reaktor patching experiments, which prompted Peter Dines to document the basic sequencer component you’d want to use in building other things. Like the basic “starter”/foundation ingredient in cooking, a roux, this sequencer is built for you so you don’t have to – plug it into whatever you want to control, and you’re good to go. [Pt. I (Introduction) | Pt. II (How it works)]

7. Debug your ensembles. Chris List’s Event Watcher is the one tool I had been desperately seeking that’s changed my Kore-using life. It makes visible all the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes with events and signals, which is essential to figuring out why your ensemble isn’t working the way you expect. [Link]

8. Get visual inspiration, and share what your work looks like. Part of the fun of building your own instruments and effects is, of course, building your own UIs. (And I’m inspired by the stuff people are building not only in Reaktor, but Pd, Max/MSP, and the like, as well – butterflies and all.) So, we asked Reaktor users to show us their UIs, and got a full range, from the primitive to the ridiculously polished, and in between, the simple but eminently practical. If you’ve got some ensembles you’d like to show off – even including your primitive first attempts – I hope you’ll participate. We’ll have the full round-up soon. (Pictured above: horuschild’s work) [Link | NI Forum Thread]

9. Hook up your creations to Kore. If you’ve got Kore, Kore’s ability to grab parameters and parameter names from Reaktor can turn your Reaktor creations into instant, controllable inserts. I’ve really been enjoying this as I prefer to work with a physical controller rather than a mouse and interface, no matter how cool some of those Reaktor UIs look. There are some tricks to making this work effectively, which I’ve documented after I learned myself the hard way. (If you’re a Kore user curious what else Reaktor could do for Kore, don’t miss Jonathan Adams Leonard’s Reaktor Toolpack for Kore, which is basically a set of ensembles that fill in for what Kore doesn’t do but should!) [Link]

10. See how deep the rabbit hole goes. These other steps should keep you plenty busy, but if you’re ready to delve into full-blown DSP science with Reaktor’s Core engine, there are some new resources up that could teach you how. We had all but given up on actually using them – but then Stefan Schmitt came through with some examples that can actually work. [ DSP documentation | Examples for mere mortals ]

We’re just getting started, of course. I can’t wait to continue this series. Reaktor users, if you’ve got any particular requests, do let us know. And if you aren’t already following the Kore site, watch kore.createdigitalmusic.com or subscribe to RSS.