WRITTEN BY James Singleton


Granular synthesis is one of the most versatile tools available to sound designers and an absolute favorite of mine.  I love using simple sounds like whooshes or taking a steady sound like an electricity buzz and creating something completely new.  From eerie drones to big sci-fi whooshes, granular synthesis can help you accomplish it all.  For this demonstration I used the Soundmorph Dust plugin.  We’re going to have a look at the plug-in's user interface and explore some of the methods I used to achieve some fun sounds.  First let's take a look at what Granular Synthesis is.

Granular Synthesis is a method that involves breaking the waveform down into tiny grains which are then re-distributed and re-organised to form completely new sonic textures.  

Dust comes equipped with 8 emitters which allow you to choose from a variety of different samples as well as choose your own custom samples.   I imported my own sample by clicking on the folder icon and navigating to the samples I wanted to load into Dust.  It’s also important to note that Dust allows you to trigger your samples in a binaural panner represented by the outline of a human head in the center of the plug in window.

I decided to make a sci-fi radio chatter sound scape using an electricity steady.  To achieve this I positioned the Emitter to trigger the sample starting in the front of the panner and positioned slightly to one side.  I wanted my sound to trigger across the stereo spectrum and continue bouncing back and forth from left to right.  

Then, I adjusted the Envelope settings to add some extra sustain to the samples I was triggering, as well as increase the time it takes for the sound to decay from the point it’s triggered.  

This is where it gets really fun! The Granulizer section allows you to select and manipulate the position of the waveform that you are sampling the grains from.  It allows you to select the length of time you want to sample before re-triggering, and using the l length knob,  you can alter the size of the actual grains once they are triggered.  In other words you can stretch or compress the audio grains to make some cool sounding textures. Last but not least, we have a pitch knob that can be used to affect the pitch of the sound being triggered.  

Here is an example of a drone that was made using just the electricity static sound.  To achieve this I played the sound for about 30 seconds, allowing it to build up and pan across the spectrum and recorded that to an audio track.  I then played the sound back and adjusted the settings to the Granulizer section in real time.  I started with the shorter length of grain size and slowly adjusted the length to stretch the grains.  I simultaneously adjusted the interval knob to increase the amount time the grains were sampled across the waveform and experimented by moving the position knob to adjust the point of which the grains were triggered across the sample.  I then slowly turned down the pitch over time to add a descending motion and added a bit of reverb to the overall sound for some extra depth.  

Here is another example I got by using similar methods.  The the main difference in this example is I modulated the position, interval, and length knobs with an LFO (low frequency oscillator).  An LFO can be used to modulate any of the parameters simply by right clicking on the knob you wish to modulate and adjusting the rate of the LFO which correlates to how fast you want the parameter to be modulated. I played around until I found a setting I was happy with, then I did volume swells by turning the volume knob up and down and again added some reverb to the final sound.  

These are just a few examples of what granular synthesis can do and there are tons of ways to experiment and get different results so go have some fun!

What are your favorite plug-ins or sounds created with Granular Synthesis?  Let us know in the comments!

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