ReBirth RB-338 2.0

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What's old is new again. Just ask the folks at Volkswagen or fans of analog synthesizers. Those old instruments that musicians gladly abandoned are now considered classics and are highly prized. And just like the new Beetle, these instruments are beginning to reappear, in this case as software. One such creation is ReBirth RB-338 2.0, from Propellerhead Software (marketed by Steinberg), an application that mimics three of Roland's venerable rhythm synths: the TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines and the TB-303 bass module.

Granted, those model numbers probably mean bupkis to you. The sounds are familiar, though–just think of the drum machine in Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight" or the bass and drum tracks in any of today's "house" dance mixes. ReBirth is a remarkably convincing imitation of Roland's rhythm boxes. Not only are the sounds virtually indistinguishable from those of the original but the software versions also look, and for the most part operate, just like the Roland machines.

As with its analog counterparts, you develop ReBirth songs–by creating and stringing together a series of short drum and bass patterns–the old–fashioned way. On the TR-808 and TR-909, you select a tempo, start recording, and assign different drum sounds to buttons that represent 16 sixteenth notes. For example, to create a boom-chick-boom-chick bass and snare pattern, you assign the bass drum to buttons 1 and 9 and the snare to buttons 5 and 13. The two TB-303's can also be programmed in this manner or by step-recording–assigning a pitch to a sixteenth note, clicking on the Step button, and then assigning the next pitch to the next sixteenth note. This process so closely mimics the old ways that it may seem tedious to those accustomed to creating riffs with modern MIDI sequencers.

While remaining faithful to the sound and design of the original machines, ReBirth adds several modern-day goodies. For instance, in Song mode, you can twiddle any of ReBirth's many tone controls in real time and record that twiddling–change a sound's tuning and resonance over time, for example. And using an included program called ModPacker, you can plug your own sounds into ReBirth as well as create a custom interface. You can also export your ReBirth tunes as AIFF or WAV files.

ReBirth is an outstanding achievement, both aurally and visually. Modern musicians who missed out on the analog years and are interested in the sounds of yore should give ReBirth a long look and listen. And if you're like me and tossed the analog gear ages ago, maybe you're ready for the sound to be reborn.

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