I’ve been using Renoise to great joy for a while now, but I find working with automation parameters still tricky. I mean, I can do it, I can automate the shit out of anything using envelopes, pattern commands, triggered LFOs, all sorts of tricks. It’s just that doing it, always seem to present a bunch of unnecessary hurdles that take me out of my creative flow.
I’m wondering if there’s maybe some part of my workflow that’s getting me in the way. I used to have the same issue with InkScape (graphic design vector app), I understood the program, but I wasn’t able to get down my creative ideas, not until I read some tutorials and adapted my workflow. Now InkScape comes natural.
Example. I will describe a typical “workflow” of mine, you tell me what’s wrong (please).
So say I got a sweet acid bassline instrument with macro controls for cutoff, res, env.mod, decay and drive. I program in a simple bassline melody, set to loop, map the controls to the knobs on my MIDI keyboard, start exploring the settings. I end up with some values for res/env.mod/decay/drive that define the sound of the bassline in that part of the song, and I add some wild cutoff automation envelopes for that cool acid sound. So far so good.
Now I continued to work on other parts of the song for a bit and decide it’s time for a new bassline part. I enter a variation or new bassline melody, loop it and start exploring the knobs again. Oops! I just destroyed the res/env.mod/decay/drive settings of the previous part! Usually I catch myself and can undo. But what now? I need to go back to the first part (that is done, I don’t want to have to touch it), add automations for those other settings. This already takes me out of my flow, I had a creative idea but now I’m doing some unrelated busywork. And then, what happens in the new part? Depending on the type of playback mode I use (or if I skip back and forth to compare/paste parts from the rest of the song), the new settings I was exploring will sometimes reset due to the automation. Fortunately my MIDI knobs are still in the same (new) positions so I just have to nudge them a bit to get back the settings, but it’s yet another thing that gets in the way.
Anyone got any ideas? Is there some crucial bit I’m missing? Something that I’m not doing, or shouldn’t be doing? Maybe some entirely different approach?
Some possible solutions:
New track / duplicate instrument. This way the settings will be completely independent. But it also seems a bit of a waste, especially if the instrument contains loads of samples, or big samples.
Using MIDI recording, adding the (constant) modulation settings in the automation envelope is slightly easier than clicking and dragging control points on that tiny graph (the dragging of control points did get somewhat smoother/responsive in R3, but it’s still IMHO miles from “a pleasure to use”, could be my PC is a bit old though). After I finished the first part, I just need to remember to get these constant settings down in the automation envelope. Problem is, if you also got a device chain in addition to the Instr.Macros, there are a lot of settings that you’d consider constant, and you might not know beforehand which ones you will want to tweak later, which is when you have to go back anyway, break your flow, etc. Also it doesn’t quite solve the resetting problem for the base settings for the new part.
A super sweet Lua Tool “write all Instr.Macro control settings to automation control points on current position”. This doesn’t exist yet. I need to learn how to write Lua tools anyway, is this an easy thing to get started with? (and does the API allow it?)
I still need to properly try out that “NoodleTrap” tool, I’ve got a feeling that the way it changes workflow might (or might not) circumvent some of these problems. Though I’m not sure how, I need to try. There’s some other tools with similar shaking-it-up capabilities. Suggestions?
If the first bassline part is really done, just render it to a sample and use that. Overkill, but it also opens up a few creative possibilities for re-using that sample in novel ways. I’ve seen some threads about a “Freeze Track” tool, but I’m not sure if it still works for R3, or is even available. Does it work well?
Maybe it’s just hard work and I need to suck it up. But there’s really something to be said for the ability to keep your creative flow going, ideas can be fleeting, and if you task-switch between getting the idea down and bookkeeping/busywork, they might get lost or you get out of “the zone” or just distracted.
So there. Any and all tips on improving this workflow would be greatly appreciated. I should note, btw, that this type of “automation to come haunt you in later parts of the song” problem is not exclusive to Renoise, I ran into somewhat similar hurdles back when I used Ableton Live. It is why I’m characterising this as a “workflow problem”, not so much a problem with Renoise’s automation (except for editing envelope control points :P). The available solutions and workarounds, however, are of course specific to the software.
I hope this thread gathers some fruitful discussion. Don’t be afraid to post your thoughts, even if they are only tangentially related or slightly off-topic. Tips & Tricks is our business here!
 in fact I’ve got several, remind me to post them to the downloads section some day