Extreme EQ (part 3)
At the moment the only way to access VST plug-ins is via Cubase VST MIDI+Audio sequencer software. This I know is off-putting to non-musicians because Cubase is obviously presented as a musical tool and not something that a non-keyboard playing engineer would probably want to use. Nevertheless, it is perfectly possible to ignore Cubases MIDI features almost completely and use it as just another audio tool. It is also worth knowing that while MIDI+Audio sequencers generally do not synchronise continuously to MTC (or SMPTE converted to MTC) without specialised equipment and knowledge, trigger sync to a digital multitrack is usually very effective so you can offload material into Cubase, process it in whatever way, and then transfer it back with an accuracy probably within a couple of tens of milliseconds. For the cost of a Macintosh computer and Cubase VST, there is a whole new world of plug-in processing available which, while it wont replace your existing hardware processors, will certainly open up new horizons. With Macintosh computers you dont even need a sound card, if you can accept mini-jack stereo ins and outs, and a signal-to-noise ratio subjectively equivalent to quarter inch analogue tape.
Once you have the platform, you can set about acquiring a filter plug-in that will provide Extreme EQ. How much will this cost? Amazingly, absolutely nothing. The North Pole plug-in by Frederic Shelling and Stephan Sprenger is freely available to download from the Internet (you can find it via Steinbergs web site and have a look at other plug-in goodies on the way). Shelling and Sprenger are associated with Prosoniq and Sprenger claims to have developed North Pole for fun in his spare time! Its commonly thought that free software gives proportionate value for money, i.e. it is of no value at all. This is often true, but not in this case. North Pole works very well indeed and I have no quibbles about its performance. As you can see from the graphic, it isnt a million miles away from the Mutator in terms of its capabilities. The two key controls are again Cutoff (frequency) and Resonance. In low-pass mode the Cutoff control sets the frequency above which the signal will be attenuated. Beneath the control there is a numerical display of the cut-off frequency. The resonance control is in effect a Q control. Unlike the Q control you would find on a mixing console this one goes to values so high it self oscillates. Its interesting to adjust the Q control in real time when it will pick out the harmonic series as a kind of stepped glissando. I can see users being very hands-on when control like this is available, rather than just setting and forgetting. In addition to low-pass mode, the North Pole plug-in also provides band-pass filtering which, while not as generally useful, is well worth having around. In a similar way to Mutator, but not with such advanced facilities, North Pole also has an envelope generator which is good on percussive sounds as it triggers a filter sweep on every beat. This is EQ in a very creative sense, and it is possible to make interesting sounds from very plain source material, the only drawback being that you have to record the audio into Cubase VST first - it can work on a live source but only with a slight delay. The envelope facilities are not as advanced as Mutator, in particular not allowing triggering from a secondary source, but what do you expect for free?