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Vector Sequencer + Jack Expander - Five12

Vector Sequencer + Jack Expander - Five12

by Ellison Wolf

It’s safe to say that there is no one perfect-for-all-occasions sequencer. With so many different sequencers—Eurorack and otherwise—it can be hard to navigate through them all to find the right one/s for your purpose/s and desires. The past few years I’ve been spent time with everything from a DIY Baby-8 to much more advanced, fully featured ones reflecting the passion and creative inspiration of their designers. With all of the sequencers I’ve gotten to know, I’m not sure I’ve encountered one that has combined the ease of use with such vast functionality as Five12’s Vector sequencer. It’s a real testament to the design that the Vector is as navigable and intuitive as it is, and that’s not just my initial reaction to getting to know it, it’s a lasting impression.
The Vector rose from Five12’s Numerology sequencer, a program that started all the way back in 2004. Those nearly twenty years of experience have really paid off, as Vector is a powerhouse. It’s shockingly deep, even more shockingly intuitive, and built so that it can be updated easily, with bug fixes, tweaks, and new features being frequently added since its initial market offering a few years ago. The hours and hours of “Deep Dive” videos on Five12’s YouTube channel are a testament to how much this sequencer and its Jack Expander have to offer; and any search on the web about the Vector or Five12 yields numerous [Numerologous?] comments about how great and responsive the company and their founder, Jim Coker, is, and how dedicated the company is to their sequencer and its users/customers. I imagine that their users are just as dedicated to them.
Learning a new sequencer is usually akin to learning a new language, with time spent getting familiar with bizarre nuances, button combos, accents, and exceptions. I’ve already mentioned a few times how intuitive Vector is, and this holds especially true if you step away from it for a bit. I found that once I learned how to navigate Vector, its operational tendencies stayed with me—no manual needed to remember anything but for the most advanced functions, and even then…
Like every sequencer with a lot going on, sorting out Vector’s operation is important, and getting familiar with the hierarchy of how Vector operates and stores things via the very helpful diagram found on the last page of the manual was key. Vector divides things as such: a PROJECT—saved to an internal micro-SD card—contains eight PARTS [sequences], each having a main note-based sequencer. Each PART [sequence] can have up to twenty PRESETS [alternative sequences] depending on the sequence length. There are two sub-sequences for each PART that act as PART [or sequence] modulators, and there are also two inputs for external modulation. All of the PARTS and PRESETS run off of the same tempo, but can be configured to have their own division/multiplication of the main tempo.
At the heart of Vector are the two clear OLED displays that occupy the middle portion of the module and display everything. They are well lit and easily read at any angle, even under dark club lighting. Above the displays, at the top of the module, you will find both a USB-A “TO DEVICE” and a USB-B “HOST” for interconnectivity to other devices. Vector is programmed to work well with various newer models of the Novation Launchpad, a really cool feature which I’ll get more into a little bit later. Continuing along the top of Vector, next to the USB connections, you have RUN, CLOCK, and RESET jacks that double as both inputs and outputs [an excellent space saver], which is menu configured. There are also MOD1 and MOD2 inputs for adding external modulation to the sequences which can be configured on a MODULATION page. To the right of the MOD inputs there are outputs for both Parts 1 and 2 for PITCH, GATE, and VELOCITY, along with MIDI-1 and MIDI-2 TRS outputs.
Below the OLED screens are eight push-button encoders with multi-color LEDs above to signify each step on that particular page. Since you can have up to a 64-step sequence, and there are only the eight step encoders, you only see eight steps at once in real time, though you can configure Vector to have the screen follow the sequence, meaning that you can always see and modify the step that’s currently playing if desired.
Below the eight encoders lie twelve push-buttons that have several functions, one is the ability to act like one octave [selectable] of a keyboard, which is useful for recording sequences without the need for an external device. To the left is where you will find the global controls. A GLOBAL push-button for selecting tempo, key, scale, etc., and a push-button encoder called “The 9th Encoder,” for scrolling through global parameters also resides here. There is also a PART push-button, for selecting between parts, a SHIFT button, and PREV and NEXT, for scrolling through pages.
Most everything on Vector has an alternate function or two, and by simply pressing a button repeatedly you can scroll through pages and get to where you need. Everything is well-labeled and easy to read, and using the PREV and NEXT in tandem with multiple pressings of a parameter button is a simple and easily remembered way to navigate around Vector. Sometimes, though, like when scrolling through global parameters, I couldn’t remember if I should use the 9th encoder to get to the next thing, or the PREV/NEXT buttons, but that was about as confusing as things ever got for me with Vector and it was always easy to go back to where I needed. Vector, while quite deep, is very user friendly.
Vector has many parameters for which to tweak and pore over the details with, and the controls for these are located above the OLED screens. The yellow RUN button starts and stops sequences, the red REC button is used for step recording, and buttons for PITCH, GATE/GROOVE, VELOCITY, LEN/RPT [for step length and step repeating], RATCHET, CHANCE, MODULATION, CONTROL, AND PRESET/SCENE. Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, and pressing on the respective buttons repeatedly brings you to the alternate parameter screens, yielding even more possibilities. For example, when you hit PITCH for the first time, the notes of eight steps of a sequence are displayed, and by using the encoders under each note, you can change the pitch. Hitting SHIFT while turning the encoder changes the octave of the pitch, making larger pitch jumps quicker, and the scale of the notes can be user configured with a myriad of scales—as well as alternate tunings—to choose from. By pressing the encoder under each note you can mute the note, and by pressing the button beneath the encoder you can either skip, mute, or select the note, depending on your settings. I typically kept it on SKIP since you can already easily mute a step by pressing each step’s encoder. Pressing the PITCH button a second time brings you to a GLIDE page where glide length and shape can be determined for each step. GATE/GROOVE also has two pages, and hence, two functions; gate length and groove—where you can micro-adjust the timing of each step to get a little funkier with the rhythm. Depending on how and what you’ve got Vector connected to, VELOCITY can be an interesting parameter to patch up. The first page is for outputting CV, and you can patch that into anything: Filter resonance, FM mod in, CV in on a VCA…anything that you want to accent and bring some variation to. As well, you can send MIDI CC through three VELOCITY MIDI channels. The combination of GLIDE with the GATE length [when GATE is patched into an external VCA/ENV/etc.], is interesting in that you can create legatos that have unique rhythms. Short gate, and the glide is barely perceptible, but increase the length of the gate on two successive notes, both with some sort of glide enabled and you get a more pronounced legato. Combine that with the GROOVE function, and rhythmically you can get things that most sequencers can’t even dream of.
LEN/RPT [length and repeat] selects the length of the step—the amount of time the sequence stays on the step as opposed to gate length—and the number of repeats for each step, each with its own page. Combined with the next button over, RATCHET, and you can get a little lost in this realm with beats per step, and length.
CHANCE has three parts to it: TYP [type], PRB [probability], and PTN [pattern]; and it allows you to select a chance operation for each step along with the percentage [or chance?!] of probability—the likelihood the event will take place—as well as the pattern of the operation. Press the CHANCE button to cycle through the variables and it’s all displayed nicely, though a bit cryptically, on the screen above each note. Symbols represent what parameter you are leaving to chance, and a few of these can be hard to decipher at first, but after perusing the manual for a bit, for example deciphering the strange looking J with the arrow with a number right next to it [jumping forwards to happen only on whatever number of bar is indicated], it isn’t as cryptic as it at first seems. With the CHANCE variable you can really stretch any sequence, no matter how many steps you have, into something way more complex, getting a lot from a little.
On this note, there are two sub-sequencers for each PART, and those exist for the purpose of modulating the sequence. It’s a little like CHANCE, with a laundry list of modulation destinations and variables, and scrolling through the MODULATION pages is also where you can configure and fine tune the external MOD-1 and MOD-2 inputs when those are patched in.
Two more buttons remain on this row; the yellow CONTROL and the blue PRESET/SCENE button. CONTROL acts like a global button for a selected part, where you can adjust the start point, the sequence length, the direction the sequence moves in, etc., while PRESET/SCENE allows you to choose which preset for the selected part you’d like to be on.
I mentioned earlier that the buttons below the push-button encoders have double duty, and they really add to the playable and programmable aspects of using Vector. By holding SHIFT and pressing the white buttons, there are options to shift the sequences left or right, invert them, double the pattern length, mute the entire part at once, clear the given PRESET, and also generate [GEN] new sequences, with several algorithms for determination on offer, and to evolve [EVO] the current sequence. They’re both quick and easy ways to change things up, though I do wish there were a way to go backwards or return to an original sequence after messing with either of these. It’s always possible—as well as a good idea—to make a copy of the desired sequence to have as a sort of base sequence for safe keeping.
Just for fun, I decided to go through all of the parameters [sans VELOCITY] via the buttons and tweak each for every step of an eight-step sequence, and add CHANCE and MODULATION to see what I could get. I made the GATE length for each step maxed out, the GROOVE values alternating for each step and maxed out, I set the LEN value for 4 [the max] for each step, the RPT value for X8 [again, the max], and maxed out the RATCHET as well. With a BPM of 70 and a RATE of 1/16 I then randomly gave each step a maxed out CHANCE type and pattern and added both MODULATION sub-suquences to the sequence, the first being TRNS [transposition] with a rate of 1/8, and randomly set the values in both the positive and negative realms. The second MODULATION sub-sequencer was set for OCT and the rate set at 1/4, again with randomly set values in both the positive and negative realms. With the modulation rates set high, I got a pretty random sequence, sounding much longer than the 8 steps selected. The sequence wasn’t super interesting, but the ease in which I was able to select and adjust each parameter, and then further manipulate the steps, whether it be by muting them, skipping over them [via the encoders and white buttons, respectively], or changing the values of the various parameters, really showcased Vector’s ease of use and potential for performative playing. I realized that with the GATE set at max for each step that the ratcheting didn’t take effect, and once I made the gate length for each step shorter, my sequence got more interesting both melodically and rhythmically. It only took a minute or so to do all of this, without any outside reference help or the memorization of multi-button techniques. Using the global encoder to change parameters for all steps at once is a quick and easy to make uniform adjustments on all of the steps at once, and holding down SHIFT while adjusting a step’s encoder scrolled through the values at a quicker rate, making larger, step-specific adjustments quicker.
One of the things that got me really excited about Vector was the ability to sequence chords—any four-note chord you’d like—with all of the parameter options [sans GLIDE] that are available. Configured and patched out of the Jack Expander into four separate voices going into four separate envelopes being triggered by four TRIGGER outputs on the expander with the VELOCITY outputs of the expander patched into various CV ins of the voices, and things got interesting fast. The TRIGGER outs on the expander can be user configured but come factory set to be at certain divisions [32nd, 16tr, etc.] of the clock.
On one of my tests I decided to sync my Pamela’s New Workout to control the Vector and some LFOs. This wasn’t as easy as patching a clock signal into the Vector’s clock input—as is the case on most sequencers—and took a minute to figure out. As the CLOCK jack on Vector can be both an input and an output, it’s necessary to define its SYNC operation in the GLOBAL settings menu. Using Encoder 4 to switch the SYNC from INT [internal] to RC24 was the only change needed for the Vector, but it was necessary to make sure Pam’s was putting out 24 PPQN and to set the intended output to a gate at whatever division/multiplication of Pam’s tempo I wanted. It’s also necessary to select another channel on Pam’s to “Modifier ON” and patch that into Vector’s RUN input for proper clocking. Once I did that, Pam’s and Vector got along famously.
As I mentioned, Vector is able to be controlled by one of the newer Novation Launchpad models, intended mainly for live use, and since I have a Launchpad Pro [a MKII from 2017, one of the older models] I was able to sync it up with the Vector to test this out too. Usually I’m not a huge fan of playing grid controllers as much more than alternate keyboards—which I’m a bit meh about—or drum machines/sequencers [yes!], but it’s an interesting addition to Vector for sure, so I spent some time with it. I did need the Vector manual handy to remember the LP navigation, but it was like having a remote for Vector, and I found it really handy and—dare I say—a somewhat exciting proposition to have a sequencer controller away from the rig, especially one so visually pleasing and without the fidgetiness that quickly changing things on a sequencer can bring. I’m pretty sure my older Launchpad didn't sync as well as a newer model would, as I still had to go to Vector to perform various functions [turning REC and RUN on and off], but switching many of the other parameters worked great, and things like switching presets between the various parts on the PRESET page of the LP or changing the notes and octaves on the EDIT page was really helpful, and I could see how using an LP with Vector in a live performance could be a really fun/tactile way to control Vector. It took a bit to get the hang of it all, but if you’ve got a Vector, and you’re committed to it, you’d best get a newer model Launchpad to go with it.
In order to let Vector really flourish—to be able to take advantage of all it has to offer—I also highly suggest picking up Vector’s Jack Expander, which adds an additional four configurable outputs each for PITCH, GATE, and VELOCITY, as well as eight configurable TRIGGER inputs/outputs, 5 pin MIDI in/out, as well as DIN SYNC in and out. With the Jack Expander, your connectivity needs will be well covered, and if you use VECTOR for drum sequencing you’ll definitely want it.
In order to make a song type structure out of more than one PRESET, you need to configure that through what’s called a PLAYLIST. In there you can assign the amount of time a PRESET plays and its action after that assignment is over [back to PRESET 1? Stop completely? Repeat 3 times?]. It’s not my ideal of linking PRESETS together, as I think it would appease the linear side of my brain if you could just cut and paste, or assign, PRESETS in order of desired play and assign how many times to play through that PRESET before moving on, and lo and behold, Vector had me covered with the ability to do exactly that, by using the PASTE, INSERT, and COPY functions which are the alternate functions, of the last three gray buttons under the right side of encoders. Is there anything they haven't thought of with Vector?
Vector is so deep that there's a bunch I didn't cover here. It's truly a great sequencer that has a ton of depth and possibilities, but won't crack your brain figuring out how to use it. The enormity of Vector’s programming was apparent every time I would make some change, like MODULATING the length of a 4-step drum pattern, only to have step 7 be in play due to the fact that I was modulating the length, and it was being over-written by the modulation. I mean, kudos to Five12 and all of their beta-testers, because crossing all their I’s and dotting their T’s must have been a long journey. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Vector and seeing what it can do and I see many bags of popcorn in my future as I sit down to watch Five12’s “Deep Dive” videos to glean even more.

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