The Cosmetic Rhythm Sequencer/Sampler/Synth.
© 2003 Peter Nyboer

In addtition to the text below, there are visual guides for the Sounds, Sequencer, the Sequencer's Step Inspector, MIDI Configuration, and a Keyboard Map, which explains many of the convenient computer keyboard shortcuts and controls. These can be accessed with the above links, or in the Help menu of the Cosmetic application.


Cosmetic is made of different Sounds. A Sound can host up to five different sound elements: three samples, an FM synth, and a VST Instrument or Effect, and can be altered with a multimode filter and a delay. Use the Mac keyboard, Sequencer, and/or MIDI to play the Sounds. Samples are easily loaded in the Sample Layers. There are two pop-up menus for each layer. Press the "FM Synth" button in a Sounds strip to open the synth window. Be sure to review the Keyboard Map in the Help menu to learn the simple keystrokes that quickly alter the sound.
A spirit of "randomness" and imprecision makes Cosmetic a unique musical instrument. Many of the keyboard commands will set random values for parameters such as pan, delay length, and FM carrier waves. The Sequencer's output can be "thinned" with probablility. A Sequencer step in a measure can have a "chance" attached to it, such that on repeated playback of the measure, the step may or may not play a Sound. These chance operations are implemented to encourage the music-maker to listen and react to what she is creating, rather than control every last detail of a composition.


Many functions can be controlled using your computer's keyboard. Rather than specifying precise values, most of the keys will provivide a random setting for a particular parameter. Refer to this image for the various controls.


The top, horizontally-oriented window has a number of global controls. They are as follows:
• Use the "New Sound" button to add more Sounds windows.
• The "Audio In" button opens a floating window that can be used to record live audio into a Sound's Sample Layers. In this window, select a Sound to record to, a Sample Layer to record to, and a recording duration, then press "record."
• Up to three VST Effect Plug Ins can be loaded to effect the final stereo output of Cosmetic.
• The "Open Sequencer" button opens the Sequencer where you can organize Sounds using the 96-step measure sequencer as well as sequences of measures.
• Easily record to an AIFF file simply by entering a name and pressing "record." The resulting file resides in the Cosmetic/Sounds/Recordings folder.
• The "Sync LFOs" button will force all currently running LFO's to the start of their cycles.
• The cpu usage of Cosmetic is displayed as a percentage.
• The master volume can be adjusted by typing or click-and-drag in the VOL: number box.
• Final output can be visually metered using the display on the far right of the window.

The "MIDI" selection from the "Configure" Menu will open the "MIDI_Config" window:
You can control almost any parameter of Cosmetic using MIDI controllers. For Macintosh OS9 users, you will need OMS 2.38 installed. On opening the "MIDI_Config" window, you will open an extensive and customizable table of all the MIDI controllable features.
Setup is easy. Simply select your input device from the top menu. You can use the "MIDI Spy" to view all your incoming MIDI data.
To configure your controllers, you can just press on the light blue parameter name (it will turn yellow), and move a lever/knob or press a MIDI note, then click the name again.
You can also enter in the controller numbers and channels in the number boxes, using the "tab" key to navigate through the boxes.
To turn a MIDI control off, set the control/note# to -1.
You can customize the range of the controllers as well. If you want a midi knob's values 0-127 to vary pitch only from 0. to 1.0, rather than the default -3.0 to 3.0, you can change the range in the right 2 columns of the MIDI setup window.


Click "SimpleSounds" to open the SimpleSounds panel. Click "new" to add a simple sound to play an AIFF, WAV, or MP3 file in your Sounds folder. The "SimpleSound" modules let you play or loop a sound file, change its pitch, volume, and pan, and add a VST plugin. Since these modules take up very little processing power, they are ideal for playing back longer, pre-produced sound files for "backing" tracks.


The Low Frequency Oscillator is used for changing a parameter over time. Pressing any of the numerous "~" buttons will open an LFO Window, where you can set a variation range, a cycle duration in milliseconds, choose a cycle duration based on the Sequencer's Master Tempo, and set a type of LFO. There are four types of LFO: the ramp (/|), the triangle (/\), random (.:':), and continuous random( :) ). The Ramp will output continuous values from the minimum to the maximum values in the cycle duration, the Triangle will output continuous values from min to max and back to min, the Random will output a random number within the min-max range once every duration cycle, and the Continous Random will output continuous values between two random numbers within the range.

A Sound or SimpleSound's pitch can be controlled using a MsPinky vinyl platter playing on a turntable. Scratching and needle-drop effects performed on the turntable can be applied to the digital audio for DJ-style playback effects.
You will need to purchase the specially-encoded vinyl platters from the MsPinky website. Plug the turntable outputs into a phono preamp and then plug in phono preamp into your computer audio inputs. That is all there is to the hardware setup.
The first step is to open up a MsPinky control channel from the "Configure" menu. In the floating MsPinky Configure panel, simply press the "new" button to open a MsPinky channel. You can add as many channels as you have turntables. Select the Left and Right inputs that your turntable(s) are plugged into. You made need to adjust the threshold levels, but the defaults will likely be fine.
The next step is to select a MsPinky channel from the MsPinky menu in the Sound or SimpleSound you wish to control. Once selected, the playback rate will now be tied to the turntable, where normal pitch for the digital audio file is represented by 33 1/3 rpm at 0 pitch shift. If you are playing a file in a SimpleSound, you can change the location of the needle on the platter which will change the location of file playback.

As mentioned previously, a Sound consists of up to three samples, one FM Synth, and one VST instrument or effect. The sound can be modified with the pitch shifting, filter, and delay, and the samples can be modified with the stretch effect.
To use the samplers, you will need to make sound files available for Cosmetic by putting folders of files in the "Sounds" folder. You can also use "aliases" or "shortcuts" to soundfiles, rather than the files themselves. Click here for a visual guide.

At the top of the Sound window is a set of controls that set the (or display the incoming) MIDI note and velocity, a pitch adjustment, a sample "stretch" effect, and Velocity Layers. There are also a number of buttons:
"mute" - mutes all sound output from the Sound.
"1x" - press to play the Sound one time
"<<" - press to return the Sound to the beginning of playback (useful for longer samples)
"loop" - turn looping on/off.
"t" - press to turn trigger mode on/off. In trigger mode, any MIDI note directed to this Sound will simply trigger the set note and velocity. In other words, the incoming MIDI note value is ignored, and merely triggers the set note.
"~" - a pitch LFO
"grid" - puts the pitch adjust into "grid" mode, restricting the pitch adjust to common values such as 0.333, 0.5, 1., 1.5, 2., etc.
"stretch" - stretch sample sounds using a granulator effect. The number boxes become active when stretch is turned on and control randomness, grain size, and stretch rate.
"VelocityLayers" - opens the Velocity Layers popup window.

A Sound can have its elements separated by velocity layers. This means the different values of velocity can trigger different Sound elements. For example, if Sample Layer 1 is mapped to velocity values 1-63, and the FM Synth is mapped to values 64-127, then you will only hear the Sample Layer 1 on "quiet" notes, and only the FM Synth on "loud" notes. There is also the option of "scaling" the velocity maps. In the previous example, this would mean that Sample Layer 1 would only play on velocities 1-63, but at velocity 63 would provide full volume for Sample Layer 1. Similarly, for the FM Synth, velocity 64 would be very quiet, and velocity 127 would be loud.
There is another setting in the Velocity Layers panel: "ignore notes off." This functions for sample layers only - it does not affect FMSynth or VSTi sounds. When enabled (the button is yellow), samples are played in their entirety, ignoring any incoming duration. If disabled, then duration values and note offs will affect the length of time a sample plays.

In SampleLayer 1, 2, or 3, select a folder from "Sounds" from the first poup-menu. This will populate the second menu with the soundfiles in that folder. Select a file to load. You can then change the envelope (select an evelope from the white "Envel." menu), make a smaller selection (press the blue "Select" button for a waveform selector), set the pan with the small black and white control, and change the gain (using the gain/volume mixer at the bottom of the Sound panel). There is also an LFO for the pan, accessed by pressing the "~" button.

The FM Synth is accessed by pressing the "FM Synth" button, which will open a window with FM Synth controls. This synth is made of a stereo pair of one carrier-one modulator arrangements. The carrier and modulator waveform types can be selected from a popup menu: sine, square, sawtooth, or noise. The frequencies of each waveform can be set relative to the note played using the frequency number boxes. Different releationships produce different tones.
All carriers and modulators have an amplitude envelope for time-varied timbres and volume decays. The actual duration of the envelopes, and therefore the sound, is determined by the "duration" numberbox in the lower left of the FM Synth window. This duration can change using the Sequencer, or it can be fixed if the FM Synth is in "ignore notes off" mode.
As an example, to produce a bass drum - type sound, you would start using the Sine wave on all carriers and modulators, and play a low note on the on-screen keyboard. The Envelopes would be set to a percussive-type decay - actually the default setting for envelopes. Make the duration around 100-200 ms. Set the relative frequencies to numbers less than 5. Experiment with different settings for different timbres, and test the sound using the keyboard or space bar. This can be quickly changed into a snare drum sound by changing the carrier and modulator waves to "noise".
The stereo pan is set using the black and white pan slider or by using the LFO (press the "~" button), and the stereo image can be adjusted using the blue-and-grey "image" slider - at minimum value, the FM synth has the carrier/modulator pairs in the Left and Right channels, at maximum value, the carrier/modulator pairs are mixed into a mono signal.

Use the small VST panel to load either a VST Effect or Instrument. Click the white "VST" to display and select a popup menu of all VST Instruments and Effects in your Cosmetic/VST folder (OS9) or in your Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST folder (OSX). Once loaded, you can use the "open" button to open the VST editing window to change parameters. Use the "on/off" toggle to engage or bypass the VST output. Additionally, the VST output volume can be adjusted in the Sound mixer at the bottom of the window.
If you select a VST Instrument, it will respond to MIDI and Sequencer notes and will be played as part of the Sound.
The first 10 parameters of a VST Effect or Instrument can be controlled with MIDI controllers. Set this up using the "MIDI Config" panel (opened from the Configure menu).


As previously mentioned, a VST effect can be loaded for effecting the sound.

Ring modulation provides either a fade-in/fade-out effect with slow modulation rates, or a metallic, electric sound at high modulation rates. Change the amplitude and frequency sliders to change the sound. An LFO can be used to affect the frequency over time.

A multi-mode filter can be used to filter out or enhance the Sound's frequency spectrum. Use the popup menu to choose either a lowpass, highpass, bandpass, peaknotch, lowshelf, or highshelf filter. The filter's graph interface can be manipulated by clicking and dragging with the mouse to set the cutoff frequency (left-right), the gain (up-down), and the resonance (bandwidth or Q) by placing the mouse on the edge of the highlighted region, and click-and-drag. There are additional filter controls - the filter pan (black-and-white slider), the mix of the filtered and original signal (blue and grey slider), and LFO's for the frequency and pan (the "~" button).

A tempo-sync'ed delay can be used for a variety of delay effects. The green note-division menu can be used to set delay length to common note divisions (such as quarter, eighth, sixteenth, whole, etc.) of the master tempo. There are four sliders in the delay panel. In order from top to bottom: delay length (up to 3000 ms), delay feedback, delay pan, and delay wet. Additionally, LFO's can act on the length, feedback, and pan.
Extremely short delay times provide a "chorus" effect. An LFO sweeping through short delay times (1-40 ms) provide a "phaser" or comb-filter effect. A sweep through long delay times provide a "woozy" pitch-shifting delay.

The bottom panel of the Sound window is the Sound Mixer. Each of the five sliders corresponds to the different elements (samples, FMSynth, and VSTi) that make up a sound. The colors of the sliders correspond to the color of the element's panel. From left to right, the sliders control volume for Sample Layer 1, Sample Layer 2, Sample Layer 3, FMSynth, and VST Instrument/Effect. The grey slider is the Master Volume, and effects the maximum volume for the Sound.

In the Sequencer, the topmost white panel controls the module number to be played at a particular step. There are up to 96 steps per measure, depending on the meter (i.e., 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, etc). The meter can be set using the "meter" pulldown menu; by default it is 4/4.
Tempo (bpm) can be entered with your keyboard or by clicking-dragging in the number box. The tempo multiply buttons (0.25, 0.33, etc) work as you would expect: pressing a button will multiply the current BPM by that value. However, there is another feature - The Sequence Layer will remember this multiplier value, and any changes to the Master BPM will use that multiplier. For example if the Layer 1's bpm is set to 120, then the "0.5" button is pressed, the Layer will now have a bpm of 60. If the Master BPM is changed to 100 (thereby changine the BPM on ALL layers), Layer 1 will have a bpm of 50.

There are two methods of editing the steps, pitches, volumes, and durations of the Sounds in the sequence. First and most obvious is by clicking in the white areas in a sequence layer's window. The top row lets you select a Sound at a particular time. The light blue space below each white space allows you to attach a probability or variation to a step. The next rows are the pitch, velocity, and duration controls, with their respective blue areas controlling amount of possible variation. Additionally, you can vary the pitch according to scales, currently there are only a few basic variations. There are guides to help you with placement in time: the black lines represent quarter notes, grey lines eighth notes, and optional blue and pink lines to guide triplets and sixteenth notes. Click for a visual guide.

Pressing the "Step Inspector" button will open a window that conveniently groups all the properties associated with a single step in time: the Sound, the probability it will trigger, the pitch, the pitch variation, the duration, the duration variation, the velocity, and the velocity variation. You may find this a more convenient way to edit a step.
Additionally, you can easily navigate through quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and triplet notes using the left and right arrow buttons at the top of the step inspector. Use the pop-up menu in between the arrow buttons to select the note type you want to navigate.
It is also easy to quickly create patterns of quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and triplet notes by creating a note in the inspector and pressing the "copy to" buttons. Click for a visual guide.

As you build a measure in the sequence window, you can store it (and name it). With "Autostore" enabled, selecting a new measure from the menu will store the current measure in the measure you are leaving, and load the measure you are selecting. Use the measure sequencer at the bottom to arrange stored measures.

You can add layers of step sequencers too. Just press the "New Layer" button, and you will have an additional layer of steps to control your sounds. Layers are easily selected using the popup menu, or by pressing a number key on your computer's keyboard.

Although it uses the same "Command-S" keystroke, saving a project in Cosmetic is a bit different than in other applications. Rather than storing all the information in one file, a Cosmetic project is composed of separate files for the Sequencer (with extension .csq), Sounds (.csd), MIDI Setup (.cmd), and FMSynth Presets (.csy), the Cosmetic Project Bundle File (.cbl). When you first save a project, instead of giving it a filename, you will be asked to select a folder (or create a new folder) where your project's files will be stored. All the files will then take on the folder's name, plus the appropriate extension. For example, let's say you have three Sounds open, four Sequence Layers, and FM Presets loaded in the FMSynths. When you save your project, create a folder called "Project A". You will end up with a folder named "Project A" with the following files in it:
Project A.cmd (MIDI Setup information)
Project A.csd (Sound Cells information)
Project A-1.csq (Sequencer Layer 1)
Project A-2.csq (... 2)
Project A-3.csq (... 3)
Project A-4.csq (... 4)
Project A-1.csy (FM Synth presets for Sound 1)
Project A-2.csy (... 2)
Project A-3.csy (... 3)
Project A.cbl - The file that contains all the information about the project.

When you open your project up again, you will find "Project A.cbl" and open that file. Your project will be where you left it.
While this may seem a bit complex, it can open up a new world of composition. At anytime, you can load sequences, synth presets, sound cell information, and MIDI Setups separately from other projects. For example, using the sounds from one song, but the sequences from another is very simple with Cosmetic.

Enjoy! [to top]