Not all good synth gear is physical. Some of it’s software, and some is even free.

Vital “spectral warping wavetable synth” pretty obviously takes inspiration from Serum. In a side-by-side comparison, I’d say Serum’s UI is a bit more polished (but that’s exactly what the Vital devs are working on right now), its filters more interesting, its effects suite a little nicer. Vital’s oscillators can do a bit more and that’s really where it shines. It can also do audio rate modulation up to a point. Overall it’s my kind of synth, fun to design sounds with and can respond expressively to velocity and pressure from the Launchpad. And it’s free — at least a “basic” version with a limited set of presets and wavetables. I really don’t care about presets, and it has enough wavetables to do a lot of interesting stuff with, and you can create your own. So there’s that. 🙂

Not free but cheap thanks to Black “Friday” (the longest “day” of the year), are Audiority Plexitape and Tube Modulator. The former is a tape loop delay plugin, with a bit of a different vibe than the also excellent Cherry Audio Stardust 201 and the do-everything-incredibly-well Valhalla Delay. Tube Modulator combines a selection of tremolo/vibrato/vibe effects with a stereo panner, Leslie rotary speaker emulation, or tape wow and flutter. for all kinds of retro, liquid warble. Effects like this are an important part of sound design, which is why I kind of think forum arguments about synth presets are silly and pointless. I personally create all my synth sounds from scratch, but if I didn’t, I’d still be routing them through chains of effects (much like a guitarist does with their one “preset” sound!) and making them my own. No judgement here — using presets is just a different approach.

42 minutes recorded for the next album, but I kind of think I’m going to reject one of the tracks. I wound out on a limb with it and I think I went too far. There are a couple of gorgeous tracks though, and yes, I do say so myself. On what I think is going to be the album’s closing piece, I have some call-and-response going on between two main parts:

  • A harmonic oscillator patch quantized to a 7TET scale (so there’s some interplay between the Pythagorean and… weird ratios). Faders control the levels of six harmonics, and another fader applies some FM and saturation.
  • A synth patch in a standard minor 12TET scale, doubled with an oscillator that’s following it two octaves lower using Bitwig’s Zero Crossing module and a sample-and-hold. Again, faders control the relative levels of the upper and lower registers.

So overall it’s very dynamic and expressive, and flows smoothly between octaves. The aforementioned Plexitape and Tube Modulator give the 12TET part’s lower register some width and wateriness, while the 7TET part is relatively dry at lower frequencies but has some Supermassive reverb on the higher end. Overall it just works really well.

If I sounded a little bit lukewarm on Arcane before, well… I’ve just finished watching the full season and I have to say it gets better with every episode. The drama and emotion, the animation… it just really comes together. I’m super impressed and looking forward to that next season they’ve announced.

(I could do without the Imagine Dragons song though. Really not my thing. Using it as the theme song is one thing, but also using it in an episode? Bleh.)