Reviewed: Soundtrackers are cool. They let musicians create music in a style reminiscent of the way assembler programmers write code. Notes become numbers and timing becomes a position in a list. Renoise is a proprietary sound tracker for Windows, OS X and Linux with a mostly functional demo version. But does it live up to the memory of OctaMED? Read on...
The main limitation of the demo is that you can't render your compositions to WAV files, which would enable straightforward CD burning, or encoding to another format. On the carrot side of the deal, registered Renoise users get a library of samples thrown in, as well as voting rights on new features and early access to development versions.
Renoise 2.0.0 is delivered as a tarball, with both installation and run-immediately binaries provided. There's also a 36-page getting started guide included as a PDF, which is more than comprehensive enough for the beginner. As proprietary music applications go, the €49 (plus VAT) registration fee is very reasonable. This fee includes software updates until the next major version, and the ability to download releases for all three supported platforms as many times as you need to.
If you need a more permanent install of Renoise, there's an install script that you can run as root. This script worked flawlessly on a Debian Lenny system, even prompting us to configure PAM so that audio applications can grab real-time priority, with a link to an online tutorial.
One advantage of the static binary and script approach to package installation (rather than a Deb or RPM) is that there were none of the dependency or forced upgrade problems that new releases of free software packages can often cause, particularly on older distributions. On the other hand, it's difficult to see how the Renoise package could be upgraded in an automated way, and potential security holes in compiled-in libraries could cause problems later on.
Renoise 2.0 brings the tracker concept up to date, with instrument and sample editors and support for DSP effects with automation.
Bring the (re)Noise
When running Renoise for the first time, a list of demo files are shown in an upper window to the right, in the main GUI. If you've not used a tracker before, it's a good idea to load one of these demos to get the general idea of how things work. Renoise offers concessions to modern convenience by including a mixer, instrument editor with piano keyboard and a sample editor.
There are also real-time audio DSP effects and automation features, neither of which would have been found in the olden days of the Amiga, Atari or DOS trackers.
But back in the main window, the basic idea is still the same as ever - load up some samples, get the transport rolling with the Record and Play buttons, select a particular track, and hit the Qwerty keys in time to set the pattern. It's also possible to record with or trigger external MIDI devices.
You can be making your own looped compositions within a few minutes, although for truly original creations you would need to source or devise some of your own samples. Whether you love or hate Renoise will depend on your experience of tracker interfaces, and your attitude towards proprietary software.
Verdict: If cross-platform usability is more important to you than freedom, Renoise may suit your needs perfectly. 8/10.
Features at a glance
Embedded edits: The samples that Renoise depends on can be edited directly within the program saving a switch to Audacity.
Config checking: Renoise will tell you if it can't get real-time priority, with the risk of clicks and pops in the audio output and poor MIDI timing.
First published in Linux Format magazine