The lat­est re­lease from one of our favourite plugin houses wants to wres­tle gran­u­lar syn­the­sis from the clutches of beard-stroking academia

Computer Music - - Contents - Web­dio­dam­

The fourth vir­tual in­stru­ment from US de­vel­op­ers Au­dio Dam­age – gen­er­ally best known for their range of colour­ful, an­ar­chic ef­fects – is a hy­brid ana­logue/gran­u­lar synth for Mac, PC and iPad, the last priced £8 at the time of writ­ing. Like all AD plugins, Quanta (VST/AU/ AAX) walks its own de­sign and work­flow path, and one of its main aims is to make the po­ten­tially be­fud­dling con­cept of gran­u­lar syn­the­sis easy and ap­proach­able. At the same time, though, it’s also in­tended to be a se­ri­ous synth for sound de­sign­ers, spe­cial­is­ing in the types of son­ics tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with gran­u­lar: pads, drones, am­bi­ences and the like.

Quanta vi­able

Quanta is a true stereo, ten-voice poly­phonic synth that blends three sounds sources: the “gran­u­la­tor” (the pri­mary fo­cus), an ana­logue os­cil­la­tor (see Ana­logue sauce) and a noise gen­er­a­tor. The gran­u­la­tor is a gran­u­lar sam­ple player into which any mono or stereo WAV, AIF, OGG, FLAC or MP3 file of any length is loaded via drag and drop. Upon im­port, the sam­ple is nor­malised and baked into the Quanta pre­set it­self (for porta­bil­ity), and chopped up in re­al­time into ‘grains’. The Po­si­tion, # Grains, Length and Tune knobs con­trol the point in the sam­ple at which play­back of grains starts, the num­ber of grains gen­er­ated per se­cond (up to 100 per voice), the grain ‘win­dow’ size (1-1000ms), and the speed of sam­ple play­back for each grain (re­sult­ing in pitchshift­ing). Each of these, as well as the vol­ume and grain play­back di­rec­tion con­trols, has an as­so­ci­ated Ran­dom knob, used to vary that pa­ram­e­ter for ev­ery gen­er­ated grain within the di­alled-in range. This ran­domi­sa­tion is one of Quanta’s defin­ing fea­tures, im­bu­ing the sounds it makes with or­ganic mo­ment-to-mo­ment vari­a­tion. In­di­ca­tors over­laid on the crudely stylised wave­form vi­su­alise per-voice play­back and ran­dom grain Po­si­tion range.

Equally im­por­tant is the Shape con­trol, which ap­plies one of ten fixed fade-in/out vol­ume en­velopes (ramps, curves, square, tri­an­gle, etc) to ev­ery grain, rad­i­cally al­ter­ing the way they lead into each other and over­lap. The up­ward ramp and curve Shapes are note­wor­thy, mak­ing the grains sound as if they’re play­ing back­wards.

“Ran­domi­sa­tion is one of Quanta’s defin­ing fea­tures, im­bu­ing it with or­ganic mo­mentto-mo­ment vari­a­tion”

Whether or not a sam­ple is loaded, the out­puts of the ana­logue and noise os­cil­la­tors can also be tapped off and routed to the gran­u­la­tor in par­al­lel with their ‘dry’ sig­nals, wherein they’re then duly treated to the same gran­u­lar pro­cess­ing. While we’re talk­ing about the noise os­cil­la­tor, its only con­trol other than Level is Color, which acts to in­creas­ingly ‘darken’ it away from white noise the fur­ther around you turn it an­ti­clock­wise.

There’s a Uni­son mode, too, which stacks up to ten voices for mono­phonic play, with voice de­tun­ing han­dled by the Tune Ran­dom pa­ram­e­ter and var­i­ous rout­ings in the mod­u­la­tion ma­trix (see be­low).

Su­per gran­u­la­tor

The sig­nals from the gran­u­la­tor and os­cil­la­tors meet at the Fil­ter sec­tion, in which a pair of twoor four-pole mul­ti­mode res­o­nant fil­ters are ar­ranged in se­ries or par­al­lel. High-pass, low­pass, band-pass and notch modes are on of­fer, and they’re edited by drag­ging two nodes around in a graph­i­cal dis­play – hor­i­zon­tally for cut­off fre­quency, ver­ti­cally for res­o­nance. Au­dio Dam­age’s fil­ters al­ways sound fan­tas­tic, and these are no ex­cep­tion.

Quanta is big on mod­u­la­tion, with a ‘hard­wired’ (as op­posed to menu-driven) mod ma­trix en­abling as­sign­ment of 14 source sig­nals to 36 tar­get pa­ram­e­ters from through­out the synth. Hand­ily, wig­gle a pa­ram­e­ter on Quanta’s in­ter­face and that des­ti­na­tion will in­stantly jump to the top of the ma­trix list for as­sign­ment. Sources in­clude Au­dio Dam­age’s new Flex­i­ble En­ve­lope Gen­er­a­tors (FEGs) and Flex­i­ble LFOs (FLFOs), a Sam­ple-and-Hold mod­ule, a ran­domiser, and all the usual MIDI sig­nals (Ve­loc­ity, Note, Mod Wheel, etc).

The four FEGs en­able the to­tally free con­struc­tion of cus­tom en­ve­lope shapes: add as many nodes as you like, bend the ad­join­ing lines between them, and set up a loop range, if de­sired, for LFO-style cycli­cal ac­tion within the en­ve­lope. Each seg­ment can be set between 0ms and 10s in length, al­though the en­ve­lope graphic can be very mis­lead­ing, as the time scale used by the dis­play is non-lin­ear – you have to mouse over a break­point to see the du­ra­tion of the seg­ment pre­ced­ing it.

The ‘F’ in the two FLFOs lies in their Phase, Shape, Skew and Warp con­trols. Work­ing these, the range of wave­forms that can be de­fined is pretty much lim­it­less. Shar­ing the same win­dow, the S&H mod­ule can take any of the FEGs or FLFOs or a ran­dom sig­nal as its source in­put.

Think dif­fer­ent

As promised, Quanta does in­deed make gran­u­lar syn­the­sis easy and fun, and even sea­soned syn­the­sists should find its con­cise con­trol set em­pow­er­ing rather than re­stric­tive. The sound of the gran­u­la­tor is, of course, de­cid­edly ‘dig­i­tal’ – space out short grains for glitchy sci-fi beds, or ex­tend and over­lap them for smoother melod­ics and sus­tains – but the ana­logue and noise os­cil­la­tors and dual fil­ters are ideal for bol­ster­ing it and adding warmth, dirt and bite. The mod­u­la­tion sys­tem, mean­while, is su­perb, and we’re only slightly sad­dened by the lack of ef­fects.

Au­dio Dam­age are true mas­ters of ‘dif­fer­ent’, and Quanta is cer­tainly that. It won’t be any­one’s first call for basses or sear­ing lead lines, but for pads, keys, tex­tures, drones, weird rhyth­mics and FX, it’s a ver­sa­tile, dis­tinc­tive in­stru­ment.

“Au­dio Dam­age’s fil­ters al­ways sound fan­tas­tic, and these are no ex­cep­tion”


FEG AND LFO Quanta’s two ‘Flex­i­ble’ head­line mod­u­la­tors MOD­U­LA­TION MA­TRIX As­sign sources to tar­gets in this tab ANA­LOGUE OS­CIL­LA­TOR A qual­ity os­cil­la­tor with min­i­mal con­trols WAVE­FORM DIS­PLAY The loaded sam­ple is roughly vi­su­alised NOISE OS­CIL­LA­TOR Out­puts di­rectly and via the gran­u­la­tor PRE­SETS With con­tri­bu­tions from Richard Devine et al GRAN­U­LA­TOR Turns any sam­ple into a gran­u­lar synth source RAN­DOMISE Key to the gran­u­la­tor are the Ran­dom knobs DUAL FIL­TERS Run them in par­al­lel or se­ries, with two poles or four UNI­SON Switch from poly­phonic to stacked mono

There’s prac­ti­cally no limit to the shapes that can be formed by Quanta’s FLFOs and FEGs

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