Native Instruments co-founder Stephan Schmitt, and a self-taught programmer Volker Hinz saw the potential in computers to become powerful enough to synthesise real-time audio. They developed two modular synth programs for PC (Generator and Transformator) which were soon re-packaged as REAKTOR. It became the very bedrock on which NI is grounded as a company today. “I became fascinated [with] how people could continuously make new instruments,” explained NI co-founder Stephan Schmitt, recalling REAKTOR’s developmental stages. “With that shared sentiment, we grew along with the internet.” And as the webspace grew, REAKTOR completely recast the creative boundaries for any musician with a computer. All of a sudden, you were not limited by anyone else’s design decisions –– you could create the instruments and sounds yourself. The possibilities became infinite.
Twenty years since its conception and now into its sixth generation, REAKTOR continues to democratise music production globally. REAKTOR 6 introduced a major development in Blocks: a new rack-style modular framework in Reaktor that allows users to explore the speedy patching and flexibility of modular hardware, with all the benefits of digital. In essence, Blocks allows you to build a modular synth inside your laptop for a fragment of the price of a full Eurorack system. As every individual module and component is represented graphically, its ease of use is more welcoming than ever for newcomers looking to grip the software for the first time.
Praised for its boundless versatility, REAKTOR stands proudly as the modern torchbearer for experimental sound processing. From Radiohead to Squarepusher, and Merzbow to The Flaming Lips, read on to uncover artists’ testimonials of ten big musical works to which Reaktor formed the creative backbone.
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1/ Haxan Cloak Excavation
Haxan Cloak demonstrates his hardware love in his Excavation opus, always opting for the modular stuff over MIDI controllers – synths by Analogue Systems Apprentice and Harvestman, Doepfer sequencers, and the OP1 and pocket synth by Teenage Engineering. HC explains, “I tend to draw everything in by hand, sampling and building a lot of stuff from scratch with REAKTOR.” This notion complements his belief that “music comes from your brain” rather than a program. “Just because you buy a Jaguar, you’re not going to sound like J Mascis. Just because you buy REAKTOR, it doesn’t mean you’re going to sound like your electronic heroes.”
2/ Liars WIXIW
“REAKTOR has an online user library where people build unique pieces of equipment, and you can further alter them within REAKTOR – so it’s almost like a user friendly MAX/MSP for synths,” says Aaron Hemphill. “It’s not as technically demanding. So, really, we didn’t rule anything out including guitars later on. It was a pretty wide range of things.”
3/ Objekt Flatland
Objekt uses REAKTOR frequently for instruments and effects, rather than sequencing. “I always separate programming from music-making,” he explains. “The two are totally incompatible workflow-wise. Usually I’ll save a completed ensemble, load it into an instrument rack and then assign all the parameters to Ableton macros so I can control it directly from there.”
4/ Radiohead Kid A
Radiohead’s millennial Kid A marked their fourth studio album – and a seminal one at that. It was recently confirmed the entire album has REAKTOR all over it, as personally confirmed by producer Nigel Godrich himself.
5/ Squarepusher ‘Abstract Lover’
On his 2010 Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator album, Squarepusher explained, “I created a bass effect patch doing pitch‑shifting in the Orville, and then going into a frequency divider/distortion patch on REAKTOR software.”
6/ Mark Fell & Gabor Lazar The Neurobiology Of Moral Decision Making
“I first got into REAKTOR around 2006 I think. Then I went into MaxMsp around 2010. With these combined together I realised that I can do things which would be very complicated, almost impossible and even boring to do in a time-line based music editor software. So I kept developing my own interface in MaxMsp in combination with the sound quality of REAKTOR ending up with a customised REAKTOR ensemble which still runs perfectly on my very old computer. I used this ensemble for all of my albums and recorded all the tracks directly from REAKTOR without editing. Each album represents a musical and a technological idea at the same time which is basically the way how I’m thinking about music in general: being innovative but somehow traditional at once. By listening through all of these albums in chronological order – I.L.S. / EP16 / The Neurobiology Of Moral Decision Making in collaboration with Mark Fell – you can get an impression of the process of the development and of the possibilities of the environment I made using REAKTOR and MaxMsp.” –– Gabor Lazar.
7/ Alva Noto Xerrox Vol. 2
Through his five-part Xerrox series, Alva Noto (born Carsten Nicolai) elevated noise music and abstract sound design to hypnotic new highs. With parallels drawn to Fennesz’ hyper-emotive explorations into noise, Nicolai shared that the 11 parts of Xerrox Vol. 2 included samples from far-spanning sources: Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, screen composer Michael Nyman, and even a malfunctioning Continental Airline inflight program. Both in found sounds and technical attributes, the Xerrox series also drew heavily from REAKTOR – notably Metaphysical Function 1 and 2. These tools assisted Nicolai in his sample-manipulation process of “removing any semblance of their former selves,” correspondingly making the music highly abstract, with “slow sweeping melodic oscillations, transcendent digital noise, electronic pulses, clutches of static and brooding bottom end.”
8/ Max Richter The Blue Notebooks
“A lot of the synth-like sounds on The Blue Notebooks have a soft, warm analogue quality to them,” states Richter, despite having no analogue synths visible in his work room. People often misjudge the work as not an electronic work, “but it is. It’s just that the electronics aren’t shiny. People associate electronic sounds with shiny and sparkly colours, but I’m not interested in that.” Richter goes on to explain how he built mail order synth kits and analogue keyboards as a kid. Regardless of the the fact that he no longer opts for that realm of music-making, the effect that it had on Richter is still prevalent. “I now tend to roll of a lot of the high end in my music’s electronics, and this makes them sound very vintage-like. REAKTOR and the Virus Pro Tools plug-in are my main synths. Grittier than the fourth edition, REAKTOR 3 is my synth of choice.”
9/ The Flaming Lips The Terror
Dave Fridman confirmed that there’s some REAKTOR sprinkled all over The Terror. “I’m a big fan of the Native Instruments stuff. It works great and sounds great.” Again opting for the Metaphysical Function, “anything that has a ‘random’ button, then I’m a big fan,” he laughs. “I just tend to crack it open and hit random until something happens.”
10/ Merzbow Turmeric
Recorded in 2005 and released the following year, Turmeric marked Japanese noise musician Merzbow [Masami Akita]’s return to metals and feedback to make music, after his temporary switch to computers. The album exhibits an array of musical oddities – with sounds made by a small tin box, a piezoelectric microphone and Akita’s pet silkie chickens (a type of chicken with black skin and bones) pecking at objects. “Deaf Composition” was made by “randomly operating REAKTOR patches without monitoring.”
This article was originally published on Boiler Room.