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Sound-Guy 26th January 2020 10:32 PM

Audiomodern Riffer 2
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Riffer 2 from Audiomodern

Riffer 2 is a MIDI “composer-sequencer” that creates original sequences using randomization of note pitch, note length and note velocity levels, but not totally random values. Totally random notes generally sound pretty lame, although John Cage might have enjoyed such mayhem. Riffer enables defining a key, quantization (whole, ½, ¼ notes, etc.), musical scale, number of steps to be generated, motion (forward, backward, ping-pong), and several other constraints in order to produce musical results. Riffer 2 is an update to the original Riffer with some useful additions such as a create/save custom scales function, individual note locking ability, an “infinite loop” playback function, a “Quick Load Preset” menu, a new scale transposition mode, and a root note probability feature.

Riffer 2 (Riffer from now on) comes both as a standalone version and in all the usual plug-in formats for use in a DAW – and there is an iOS version available. Riffer creates MIDI data so the plug-in version must be used with some kind of sound generator, a synth or sample player. The standalone version includes a built-in “beeper” type sound generator, but if you want musical sounds using the standalone version you’ll need a way to “pipe” Riffer’s output to a sound module. You might want the standalone mode if you are using Riffer in a live performance mode, but for my use, a DAW works best since it enables more flexibility and enables saving any riffs I like to a DAW track.
The Riffer 2 window with an example in the key of F#, Phrygian scale, 1/16 note quantization, 32% shuffle,
and forward motion. A number of other settings are described below.

How Does It Work?
Riffer works very well indeed! Although it does require some considerations since a stream of 32 or more notes may still sound a bit “random” even when constrained to a key and scale. I found using from four to about 16 steps to provide the best chance of a truly useful musical passage. And the ability to select musical scales is a great feature. The wealth of scales was a key reason I decided to buy Riffer. Not just major, minor, chromatic, and the usual suspects (Dorian, Mixolydian, Phrygian, Lydian and Blues scales), but Chinese, Japanese, Balinese, Spanish-Gypsy, Hungarian-Gypsy, Hindu, Hirajoshi, Persian, and 41 more scales! And if that’s not enough, you can create and save your own.

Basically you set the parameters you want and click the die icon at the middle top of the window – each time you click the die a new sequence is generated. Parameters include musical key above the key/step display (F# in the screen-shot), and down the left side, quantization, shuffle, motion, number of steps and loop size. Above the key/step piano-roll display, just right of the little keyboard graphic, is a pull-down window to select the musical scale – 57 of them are provided. Directly left and right of the piano-roll display are slider handles that adjust the pitch range (left) and lowest note (right). Notes start at minus-C2 and go as high as +G8, over ten octaves, and the pitch range can be adjusted from zero semitones (only the lowest note is played – pretty boring!) to the full range. But there is more! The piano-roll view can be changed from the default pitch view to view a graphic plot of duration or velocity per step, and as with pitch, you can adjust the limits, and/or grab any parameter symbol in the piano-roll display and move it to a different value. This provides incredible flexibility.

There are other very useful controls such as the Root Note, below the middle of the key/step display and a “number of notes” control (to the left of the infinity-like symbol near the top right of the screen). Root Note will force the root note of the selected key to be used exactly as many times as you define, but in random order – you can set this from zero to the total number of steps – zero will result in sequences played in the key and scale selected, but with no root note used, while if you set it equal to the total number of steps you’ll get just the root note played over and over, which is not very interesting. The “number of notes” setting enables some steps to play as rests. In the example screen-shot I’ve set 12 notes to play with a total of 16 steps: you can see that the resulting sequence has 12 notes and 4 rests (the grayed out blocks) in each cycle.

There is also the “infinity” mode using the infinity-like symbol near the top right that will “roll the die” automatically every cycle (or in as many cycles as you select – I have 2 selected in the screen-shot above). This will produce an unending, ever-changing sequence. There is also a useful “note lock” that can lock any step to play the same pitch (note) every cycle. This is helpful, for example, to force a bass line to always start each measure on the root note. On the right there is also a “Tie Notes” button and a “Sustain Notes” button which do as listed, the first tying two adjacent notes of the same pitch together to play as one long note, the second acting like a sustain pedal.

At the bottom is a transpose control with one or two octaves, up or down, available. Clicking the little Presets icon to the left of this changes the view to show up to 16 “Quick Load” preset buttons. I found Riffer’s preset system both handy and a bit frustrating as I’ll describe later.
Quick Load Preset view selected to instantly access up to 16 sets of parameters.

MIDI Stuff
Yes, there is MIDI since the Riffer plug-in does not make any sounds itself. But you don’t need to only play Riffer sequences in your DAW – the MIDI DIN plug icon in the lower right (labeled Drag) let’s you drag the current sequence directly into your DAW. Just click and drag the icon to a DAW track. There is also MIDI input available to Riffer in the form of CC controls, but no note input. Riffer is a “composer”, so not intended to record inputs – though you can click and drag notes in the key/step display to adjust them as desired. Audiomodern has indicated it might add MIDI note input for even more flexibility.

Although there is some control available using MIDI CC’s, Riffer does not automatically link to any automation controls in your DAW. I have some programs that automatically provide hundreds of automation parameters, which in many cases is far more than anyone needs, but it would be very helpful if the main parameters of Riffer were easily controllable through automation. The CC controls are convenient if you are running Riffer with a controller keyboard, but can be somewhat clumsy within a DAW, though I did successfully set up some CC automation tracks in REAPER. However, some of the Riffer controls, such as Scale, are not available as CC inputs. Maybe in a future update.

Although Riffer is designed to be a simple riff generator, when running it in a DAW (it worked fine in REAPER, Studio One 3.5 and Studio one 4.6) I found it fun to put an instance on each of two or three tracks with a bass sound on one, and a melody instrument on the others. The screen-shot below shows two instances of Riffer running in REAPER – in this case each is driving two sampler/synths. In this example the track 1 Riffer (left) is set to a quantization of a whole note (1/1) while the Riffer on track 4 is set to 1/16 note. And I have the first Riffer set to 4 steps per cycle and the second one to 8 steps – using a low tempo this produces a slow drone-like bass tone from track 1 along with the faster melody notes from track 4. I also used “note lock” to fix the first note of each cycle of the bass track to F#, the root note of the key used. And I used a shuffle setting of 29 on track 4 to add a little swing to the part. Running the “infinity” mode produces a never-ending composition with a droning bass part and a melody that is reminiscent of a Philip Glass composition (though maybe not all as good as his works!). In a DAW you can simultaneously record both the MIDI output and audio, which enables reviewing the results later and using cut/paste editing to develop complete new songs. Riffer will sync to the DAW’s tempo so recorded MIDI and audio can be accurately linked to other parts like drum tracks.

In spite of lacking direct DAW automation controls, Riffer does remember all the settings of each instance used in your DAW when you save a project. This is good. However, as I mentioned and will discuss below, there are some problems with using presets.
REAPER project using two Riifers for a bass part and melody.

Some Issues
With the “Quick Load” preset view open, when you press an empty preset button, the sequence currently in the key/step display is saved along with all settings (key, quantization, shuffle mode, motion, musical scale, number of steps, etc.). Pressing any “Quick Load” preset key that has been previously saved will instantly bring back all the settings and the sequence. This is all good. However, to change a previously saved “Quick Load” preset requires opening the normal Preset window (clicking the little pencil symbol just left of the gear icon at the top right – see screen-shot below), erasing the preset (presets need to be removed one at a time – there is no “clear all” or reset feature), then going back to the normal view and saving the new preset to a clear “Quick Load” preset key. I’d like to see an update where a “Ctrl” or “Alt” key might be used to instantly update any of these “Quick Load” presets.

But there is a more serious issue with the preset feature. There is a Save button in the normal preset window that allows naming a preset – and it saves the current settings (all settings as described above) under that name. However, there is no way to specify a folder for saving presets. All saved presets end up in a single (potentially huge) list in the normal preset window (see screen-shot below). It took me a few minutes to track down where presets are stored, and on my system they’re in C:\Users\PCAudioLabsDAW\AppData\Roaming\Audiomodern\Riffer. All presets are stored in a single file named presets.xml. So if you want to save a block of presets, say, “Japanese A Scale Presets”, you need to do a bit of “computer” work. I set up a few extra folders in the above listed directory, copied the initial (empty) preset.xml to one of them I named “Blank”, and then created some Japanese A scale presets back in Riffer that became the new preset.xml file (this happens automatically when you save presets). Then I copied this new preset.xml file to a folder named “Japanese A Scale Presets” so I could use it again in the future. However, to use it, I need to copy it to the main preset.xml file before running Riffer (and if not careful could erase some other presets I’d created in the meantime). A simple file management system like most other programs I’ve ever used have, would really be helpful!
The normal Preset window on the right with all the presets stored in one presets.xml file as described above.

Since all instances of Riffer use the same presets.xml file as described above, changing the presets in any Riffer instance, whether erasing or saving new ones, will affect all uses of Riffer – even changing the presets in the standalone version will change the presets of all Riffer plug-ins to the new presets. On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, reloading a previously saved DAW project will restore any instance of Riffer to its last saved state, even if several are used and each set up differently. This is very useful.

One less serious issue – while there is an Undo button at the top of the Riffer window, there is no Redo button – as I started playing with Riffer, I found it useful sometimes to back up to a previous sequence, but found once you do so, all later sequences are gone . . . forever. A Redo control would be a nice addition.

Manual Fun
There is a “Riffer Basic Manual” that describes installation and use. Half the manual (a dozen pages) is taken up describing how to set up Riffer in a DAW (specifically for Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Cubase, Bitwig Studio, REAPER, Pro Tools, Studio one, and FL Studio). I didn’t bother with the DAW set-up instructions since anyone who has used their DAW more than a week knows how to insert a plug-in – and actually for REAPER and Studio one, the suggestions are inefficient (“Create two instrument tracks, the first with Riffer, and the second with any of your synths/samplers”). Maybe Pro Tools requires such an approach, but REAPER and Studio One are happy with a single track – just load Riffer as the first device and the sound module as the second.

Unfortunately this basic manual has only the very minimum description of Riffer controls and use – spending several hours playing with it will yield many features/processes not mentioned or clearly described. The manual also seems to be a bit behind Riffer 2 – it states there are 54 scales rather than 57. And some pages are duplicated (like the Tie-Notes toggle description). And there are other errors in the manual, such as in the Preset description that states, “In the above example 'My Awesome Preset' is moved to the 2nd slot of the Quick-Load section”. But there is no such example shown. Basically I gave up on the manual and just tried “pushing buttons” with great results!

Tech Data
I tested Riffer using my trusty PC Audio Labs Rok Box with Intel Core i7-4770K CPU @ 3.5 GHz, 16 MB RAM running 64 bit Windows 7. Riffer is, of course, a MIDI program, so the size and processing needs are minimal – each instance uses about 5 to 6 MB of RAM (that’s megabytes!) depending on the plug-in version, and CPU use is also very low – under 0.05% per instance in REAPER. Riffer 2 comes with a standalone module and VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plug-ins for Windows and Mac. There is also a separate (cheaper) iOS version for those on the go.

In spite of the listed preset issues, Riffer is a fine creative tool and will no doubt get even better as Audiomodern continue development. I certainly wouldn’t want to give it up! It works as promised, has negligible memory and cpu requirements, and is very good value for money.

Very flexible “automated” riff generator.
57 different musical scales are included, and you can invent and save your own.
“Quick Load” preset keys are handy.
Great value for money.

Preset file management system could use improvement.
User manual is not very thorough.