I always hesitate when I type words like that – customisation – I was taught in Australia and New Zealand to spell it with an “s”, yet I find in my job, typesetting, that many here now prefer “z”. I’m guessing most readers here are US based, so I usually use a “z”. What an absurdly ridiculous thing to have to give so much though to.
Neuroprogrammer 2 is still a favourite of mine. I like the style of the supplied sessions. They’re cleaner and more simple than the Mind Workstation equivalents. I also like the ease with which the sessions can have quite dramatic changes made without editing. The “Customize” button makes accessible many of the capabilities otherwise accessible only via the session editor.
The “General” tab allows the session’s tracks to be muted – any combination of Background Sounds, Noise and Tone can be selected, although the suggestion is made that Noise and Background together may be unnecessary. Fade In and Fade out can be adjusted – worth remembering when worrying about start and end volume when designing sessions.
You’ll all know the Session Countdown Timer - here under the General tab you can change the countdown time. I find a longer settle time useful when I’m using biofeedback.
Digging deeper into General, we find “Customize Volume/Intensities” and the Advanced Customization dialogue. Here you’ll find most of the controls that would otherwise be found using the Node Edit in the session editor.
The controls are divided up according to the type of track they are relevant to – Tones, Noise, Background Sound.
Tones and Sound/Music volume are obvious – changes the volume of the sessions binaural, monaural or isochronic beats or the sound tracks respectively.
Noise also has a volume control. In addition, the smoothness of the noise can be altered. In its most basic form, noise is a random value in each bit time of the audio bitrate. Smoothing limits the random range, making the sound softer and less “hissy”.
The background track can have the intensities of the Pitch Modulation or the Crossfeed adjusted. Pitch Modulation varies the pitch of the sound track at the entrainment rate and to a depth selected by the Pitch Mod Intensity slider. Crossfeed swaps left and right channels at the entrainment rate, again to a depth set by the intensity slider. It’s is possible to trigger entrainment with any repetitive stimulus, but these methods are much more aesthetically pleasing than effective.
Noise and sound files can be pulse modulated at the entrainment rate. The noise track or sound track is modulated in the same way a tones track is with an isochronic beat. The Pulse Intensity slider determines how much the volume of the track is varied – maximum chops the sound into discrete pulses.
A Low Pass filter blocks high frequencies, allowing only low frequencies to pass. Low Pass modulation is similar to pulse modulation, except that it only acts on part of the frequency range of the sound track.
Autopan shuttles the audio perceived centre left and right, just like quickly flicking the balance control on a stereo back and forth.
Next along is the Scaling tab. This deals with all matters relating to session length. In the Session Options, when editing a session, a pair of Ramp Markers can be set, beginning and end. When scaling a session the entire session, including ramps, can be stretched or condensed, or just the part between ramp markers. Play to Infinity plays the last node forever – take care using this if the session has an end ramp. Start and end times for any selected recordings can be set, however this is best left alone unless you wrote the session – the main purpose is to begin suggestions when the session reaches the point where maximum suggestibility should have been achieved. “More Info” takes you to the Customization page of the NP2 Help file.
Want to experiment with lower pitch sessions? Under the Tones/Sound tab is the opportunity to over-ride the session’s designed pitch(es). Even if the session usually changes pitch throughout, specifying the Tone Pitch will make the entire session play at the selected pitch. This tab is also the place to replace the default background track with your own – either music or hypnosis/NLP content. If the session is longer than the background track, the sound file will be looped. To prevent noisy transitions at the loop crossover, a selected number of seconds can be overlapped and faded. “Advanced Customization” takes you to the same dialogue as the “Customize Volumes/Intensities” in the General tab.
The AudioStrobe Flashing tab contains all the controls for the visual side of things. AudioStrobe can be turned on or off. If you have sensitive hearing and can hear the high pitched AS tone, this can be a useful option if you’re not using light glasses. Adjusting AS brightness here can overcome some problems with getting a satisfactory lightshow and an acceptable audio volume on some mind machines. The Screen Flashing colors are used in conjunction with the “Use Screen Flashing” checkbox on the main NP2 session screen. Screen Flashing can be effective, but don’t let it put you off getting a proper AudioStrobe decoder and glasses.
From the Recordings tab the way suggestions and other recordings are played can be controlled. Usually recordings fade in and out over 20 seconds to prevent startle, but some recordings may need to be started more quickly, if the important content begins immediately. Panning the “speaker” left and right can be quite effective with suggestions – Pan Modulation will occur at the entrainment rate, with the depth adjustment varying how dramatic the left/right shift will sound.
The final tab determines what happens when the session ends. I find the “Shut Computer Down” option great for sleep induction sessions. The “Open and Play Session” option allows sessions to be run in sequence. By setting the session end options of the called session, any number of sessions can be chained together. If you have a habit of falling asleep during sessions, the “Play Sound File” option will let you sound an alarm. I have yet to need to have NP2 launch another application when it finishes, but it’s nice to know I can if I do.
At the bottom left of the Session Customization dialogue a button marked “Save Config As” has been lurking throughout. When you customize a session, this customization is saved under the same name as the session, and becomes the default customization for the session thereafter. If you want to keep particular session customization, you use the Save Config As button. When you hit the “Customize” button, the first thing on the Session Customization dialogue is “Saved Configurations” – from here you can select any pre-saved configuration, including ones devised for use with other sessions. Supposing you customize the “Alpha Alternating Hypnotic Relax” just the way you want it and you want to apply the same tweaks to “Alpha Hypnotic Relax” – open the Alternating Hypnotic session, click “Customise” and choose the config you saved for the plain Hypnotic session.
It is this customization facility that is a distinguishing mark of NP2. To change a session in Mind Workstation means getting in there and editing tracks. MWS is a session creator’s tool, with more controls than most people will ever find, let alone use. NP2 provides maximum flexibility for the user who is mostly going to want to play existing tracks. With NP2 significant variation in the character of a session can be achieved with negligible effort. The easiest way to become familiar with all the settings is to set up a session containing one plain tones track, a simple background and an unmodulated noise track. Change customization settings one at a time and listen for the difference.
There’s a lot I like about NP2. Of the Transparent packages, NP2 offers the most comprehensive selection of sessions, all designed in accordance with the best research and trial information available. It’s the first piece of real brainwave stimulation software I bought, it’s what got me totally hooked, and it still delivers some of my favourite sessions. I’m loooking forward to seeing what NP3 will bring – improved user interface and fully editable sessions, I believe, among other things. I hope it doesn’t stray too far from the clean, simple listener-oriented interface of NP2.