Aristotle and Plato had one thing right: Creativity is often about mimesis - when we think of the things we'd like to make or do, we often have something that someone's already done (or some minor variation on it) in mind. In many cases, it's how we learn, too. But that sense of imitation also has some interesting interactions with our choice of tools - we're often torn between precise imitation or simulation of something we find interesting, or we're almost immediately off imagining some minor variation on it. When the range of possibilities is large, those considerations can be bewildering. I personally welcome tools that focus my attention on a subset of variations and allow me to really explore them.
As such a territory, granular synthesis is a good case in point. Anyone who's spent any serious time either listening or (more efficiently) working through Curtis Roads' masterwork Microsound has figured out that it offers a huge and complex set of possibilities.
The art/science/knack lies in the decisions one makes about what out of this whole universe of possiblities to include/exclude. A quick look at some of the ways of controlling those parameters in current plug-ins or Applications (from Robert Henke's Granulator II to the Borderlands App for the iPad ) will suggest the range and variation in approaches.
There's an elegant recent entry to the field from Delta Sound Labs - their Stream plug-in. It's currently in beta and available without charge from the Delta Sound Labs' website, and well worth your time. If you would like to access Stream VST, you just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stream VST Beta,” and you're off to the races.
What makes the plug-in compelling and useful for me lies in its simplicity - the layout is straight-ahead: a rotating buffer into which you pour your real-time audio, which you can freeze and loop through to your heart's content.
The plug-in gives you the following:
- A pair of grains with variable duration and phase offset
- A lowpass filter for each of the pair of grains
- Adjustable control over the playback speed and direction within your circular buffer
- A simple wet/dry mixer
That's it. Don't let the length of that list fool you - the range and control these carefully chosen parameters allows will surprise and delight you - particularly once you start controlling those parameters in real time.
Just for fun, I put together a simple "let me hear it" patch that takes advantage of the fact that standard Vizzie generator and controller modules all work with the same data output range as a VST plug-in hosted by the vst~ object expects.
I plugged a 4OSCILLATOR in for a set of LFOs as output, added a 4DATAROUTR module to let me combine those outputs in interesting ways, routed the data outputs into the Stream plug-in, and started tweaking. That was it for much of the rest of the evening.
I commend this nifty bit of plug-in-fu to your attention. Give it a try!