I’ve had the weekend to begin working with Sonic Charge Synplant, a wonderful new synth creation from Magnus LidstrÃ¶m. LidstrÃ¶m is a Propellerhead veteran best known for creating Reason’s MalstrÃ¶m synth. But while LidstrÃ¶m has made a name in sound, I have to say, Synplant is something very, very different. Partly because of the user interface, partly because of the strange and mysterious sounds that emerge, Synplant makes you feel like you’re on an episode of Star Trek – like you’ve smuggled some alien vegetation after shore leave and are squeezing its leafy bits so it makes odd sounds. (Watch out for spores!)
The idea of the interface is not unlike the morphing UIs of old MetaTools software like Kai Krause’s Kai’s Power Tools and Eric Wenger’s Bryce and (as U&I Software) MetaSynth. Instead of tweaking a lot of fake knobs and doing the usual oscillator / filter adjustments, you’re presented with a big globe containing a leafy plant. Extend different arms of your plant, and you explore different variations of the sound. All of this can be done in real-time, so you could create ever-changing synth sounds that you modify directly or that randomly respond to input. Or you could use it as an alternative way of dialing in new sounds.
It’s all really inspiring to work with, partly because it returns you to the experience of exploring sound directly. Many user interfaces have tried to do that, but because the interface allows subtle and even fine-tuned exploration and not just randomization, and because the sounds themselves are so exotic, here it really seems effective. In fact, if it were just brute-force randomization that drove Synplant, I think you’d lose interest in it quickly. But there are some clever interface details that allow you to control the degree of mutation, how you restore previous settings, and how you map sounds to pitch and audition sounds. Despite similarities to Apple’s Sculpture (in Logic Studio) and Kai’s Power Tools, I actually find Synplant’s similar UI elements do some of the same things in a way that’s more usable.
(Before anyone asks: on a superficial level, yes, Synplant is closer to Sculpture than the MetaTools work. It’s even got the same circular sliders and interactive ring and draggable circular puck on a modeled, dark 3D-ish globe thing as in Sculpture. But because mutation is central, the functional reality of using it is closer to Kai’s designs. Those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t sweat it, just go have fun with Synplant.)
I’m working on a video / audio walkthrough of Synplant because it’s well worth it. But I couldn’t wait to talk about it. Magnus is finishing up the product site as I write this, so go have a look. I will say, the sound demos almost don’t do the product justice, because you really have to get the impact of using it with the interface. I’ll have more on this soon.
Availability: Right this instant
Compatibility: Mac, Windows, Universal, Vista (VST/AU)
More good news: Magnus’ ÂµTonic is available as a bundle with Synplant (US$158). If you’re not familiar with ÂµTonic aka Micro Tonic, it’s a truly brilliant drum machine synth in an age of generic drum machine samplers. ÂµTonic is old news, but then many good things are. I feel bad I’ve never written about ÂµTonic so I’ve been working with that, as well. If you do own ÂµTonic, you get a 25% discount on Synplant for a limited time.
Digital LoFi also participated in the early, pre-release test and has some thoughtful reflections on using the instrument.
Analog Industries considers the design from the perspective of a fellow designer, and laments that some blogs didn’t “get it” from seeing the press release. (Then again, no matter how press releases are crafted, that always happens … I certainly don’t always get it right.)