circle Something interesting is happening in software synthesizer design: after years of trying to boast more of ingredient “xx” (whether it’s modulation, eight-zillion-point envelopes or other whiz-bang features), the new challenge is to make the user experience itself different. The challenge: don’t just do more sonically — make it easier to actually make music. I’ve personally been a big fan of the elegant tabs in Cakewalk’s Rapture, the minimalist aesthetic of Ableton’s Operator, and the drag-and-drop routing in Native Instruments’ Massive. Now, could one instrument really leap forward in terms of guiding its design?

Circle is one of the most ambitious soft synth designs I’ve seen yet. Its core features read like a wish list for what a modern soft synth would do:

  • On-screen routing designed for the computer screen, with color-coded circles, drag-and-drop, previews — and no silly virtual cables. (Sorry, Propellerhead.)
  • OpenSoundControl support for the Monome, Lemur, Wacom tablets, whatever you’ve got — along wih easy MIDI learn.
  • “Live performance”-optimized UI — actually very much a kindrid spirit with tools like Ableton Live or FL Studio in design aesthetic, workflow, and accessibility, but in a synth — just the thing if you’ve felt a gap between the sequencing workflow and the synth / sound design working method. And you can even swap presets with an Apple Remote if you’ve got one.
  • Easy sound design (more on this soon)

The sound engine itself is a good survey of the kind of tools you might want, with a mix of analog- and digital-style waveforms and modulation, but plenty of oddball wave shapes and modulation and effects thrown in, too.

What I like best about developer Future Audio Workshop’s approach: rather than be the most powerful or the most sonically unusual or the most feature-laden instrument, they want you to achieve a sense of creative “flow.”

But I really can’t talk about the instrument very well as a result — have a look at the demo videos, and I think you’ll be as intrigued as I am. (I’ve been working a little bit with an early build, and really like it a lot.)

Future Audio Workshop (skip to the videos, really)

Mac / Windows (Intel, Vista, AU, VST, RTAS)

Pricing TBD (but expecting a fairly reasonable price point); available soon

Stay tuned, as I’ll be making some music with this software over the coming days and want to report back in more detail — particularly when it comes to evolving OSC connectivity for hardware like the Monome (and software connectivity, too, naturally — would be great to couple this with Reaktor, for instance).

If you’re at Musikmesse in Frankfurt, stop by and say hi to the developers. They’re also keeping a Flickr stream of the new goodies at the show — not just theirs. Hope they’re able to break away from the booth and look around.

  • http://www.proemland.com proem

    one look at the interface

    and my mouth began watering…

  • http://www.sighup.ca Steve

    Looks promising.

    Why do so few audio software developers put their names/bios up on their websites? I see no names up there at all.

    Personally, I like knowing who is behind the software I buy/use.

  • http://keithhandy.com Keith Handy

    I love it!

  • http://www.electronicmusic.ca ilo

    Peter, I just checked the vids out. Wow man, wow. Thanks for the heads up on this beautiful synth. The Modulation preview alone had me floored. Peas to you.

  • Wes

    this is awesome. will it be long until this comes out? i want this..like now lol

  • http://pesto.de Jon Silva

    If you like what you see here, you should definitely take a look at Alphakanal's Automat. It's Mac only, free though and has an excellent sound and a pretty straight forward way to making sounds. Looks difficult in the beginning but is very easy to handle after you got used to it;)

  • http://www.soundbeast.net Tha_Mail_Man

    I could really use this right now. I've preeety much exhausted all my plug-ins. I'm in need of a few curve ball plug-ins for the toolbox…This gives me inspiration by just looking at it…Whens the release date?

    -iTunes, eat your heart out…
    http://myspace.com/soundbeastdigital

  • http://myspace.com/electroradiance Cody

    Ok, so you know how Live has two samplers: Simpler and Sampler. See, I consider Operator, in all its minimal delight, comparative to Simpler. Therefore, we need a new integrated synth in ableton that has a semi modular design capable of emulating various other synths. Ableton contracted AAS for their new live 7 instruments, so why cant they do the same for this company? I don't know, this product is young but I think it has the potential to be the next big thing.

  • bobobobobo

    cool.

  • off topic

    hey Cody,

    no they just need an "expert" modulation matrix on Operator that could expand upwards like the spectrum plugin. everything in the synth is great, it just needs more > more mod routing more lfo etc. no need for another one!

  • http://www.creativebump.com Myles de Bastion

    Nice, the future of the soft synth world starts here would be my initial impressions.

  • http://www.nicolasfournel.com NickSonic

    Very nice GUI, very inspiring.

  • Thomas

    The solution of all our problems is here:

    http://www.aqi.co.jp/product/ds10/en/index.html

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  • guidedbyVOIP

    um, my interest is piqued.

  • http://syncretism.net Niall
  • http://syncretism.net Niall

    Arg, I never get tags right here.

    JUCE

  • http://syncretism.net Niall

    Screw it. Is there no way to preview a post on CDM?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Steve: Happy to let you get to know the developers; I've been talking to them, and they're all CDM readers. I sort of whipped this up in a hurry in the Continental lounge in Austin. ;) But I agree — I like to get to know the people developing the tools. I'd say that's equally important at the big devs, too, when the individual personalities tend to get obscured by the Corporate Brand.

    @Niall: I swear we'll implement this one day. Last month we did a bunch of behind-the-scenes template cleaning and server fixes, so that makes it easier to work on now…

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  • Mighty Pea

    I had a look at this earlier, and I really like it. The website's a bit short on details at the moment, so I'll patiently wait for the demo, but the large interface (finally!) and overal seemingly ease of use have me quite excited already.

    Peter, you mention using OSC with a wacom, how would you go about doing this? I was under the impression you needed something like max/msp to make use of that, or is there an easier solution? I hate to have my tablets sitting by idly while I'm doing audio.

    Actually, the same goes for my gamepad/joystick, but that's another story…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Ah, sorry — I mean, using another app to translate hardware input into OSC. Only Monome, Lemur etc. actually send OSC currently. But that still means that OSC is more useful with a lot of gamepads, Wacom tablets, etc., than having to translate those inputs to MIDI, which often doesn't make sense in terms of messages and resolution.

  • fiz

    @ Jon Silva — thanks for the link to Automat…its spare design looks both pretty powerful and simple to use. I'm all over it.

    Circle looks nice too…

  • http://seismo.blogspot.com/ seismo

    very cool.

    credit where it's due, though… : FabFilter has been doing the drag/drop mod routing for a few years, now.

    http://www.fabfilter.com/products/twin.php

  • http://amoebafunk.com amoeba

    love the interface. i think Zebra has it beat by miles under the hood, but i will definitely take the demo for a spin when it comes out. man, did i mention i love the interface?

  • fiz

    Later that day day…having downloaded Automat and taken it for a spin (both v. 1.0b & 0.4.2), it's a lot of fun, but it isn't standalone — AU plug-in only. Seems to perform like a serious road-hog in Live, by my trial anyway…neither able nor willing to allow for other instruments to be loaded anywhere near it. A drunk road-hog too: crashes Live often. To their credit, the makers do admit its not fully road-tested or worthy. Probably best for non-Live, and slower, recording methods. Still, it's sleek, sounds amazing, and free.

  • Wes

    @fiz, i agree, its a nice plug but god is it a hog on the cpu and a live crasher.

  • http://www.postlude.co.uk Jamie Bullock

    It's refreshing to see a softsynth where the emphasis is on interface design and workflow. It's also refreshing to see a commercial product embracing the OSC protocol from the outset. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but for me it's just the starting point in terms of what an audio UI could be…

  • fiz

    @Wes — Good to get your confirmation. Seems to be precious little user feedback on the 'nets. Also, fwiw, this a.m. I gave it a whirl on Logic 8, and there the zen-like Automat seems to really shine. Looks good, feels good, sounds good, didn't crash at all, even while runningmultiple tracks at once…and wow, its noiZe quality really is impressive.

  • Sawtooth

    I like the GUI.

    My biggest concern is how it will sound. Will it at least compare to or exceed these, soundwise: GForce, WayOutWare, u-he? Most other companies start from a generic template: these few code from the ground up. That's why their respective pure unfiltered waveforms sound so damn good .

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  • MISU_BETY

    VIRTUAL INSTRUMENT

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  • http://andyleclair.com Andy LeClair

    The UI is so clean! I can't wait to get my hands on this.

  • http://percussa.com bert

    fyi, audiocubes also support OSC (see blog.percussa.com)

  • tom

    This is way after the fact, but let me say… Circle sounds and works great. One of the best apps I have on my system.

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