Su[-mu / -perbooth]

It’s that time of year again, the time when a critical mass of synthesizer builders gather for Superbooth at FEZ Berlin for a massive round of show-and-tell, and synth players and sound designers all over the world inevitably rearrange their studios to make room for new goodies.

There are always teasers and early announcements, but this year there seemed to be more than usual, with a few full-on demos and product releases before the first official day (or even week) of the event. RYK Algo probably should be counted among those.

Superbooth is much more about hardware (especially Eurorack) than software, so it was probably a coincidence that Madrona Labs just released the early access version of their long-awaited Sumu.

And it is definitely a coincidence that this wasn’t all that long after the release of Dawesome Myth, the other software synth I’d been waiting for and which also is based partially (heh heh) on resynthesis.

Sumu is a lot to take in at first, and as excited as I was about it years in advance, it took me a good while with the demo (and sleeping on it) before I decided to actually buy it. In a nutshell: spectral additive resynthesis, but instead of sine waves, it uses 2-op FM (or AM) pairs. It’s semi-modular, and every “cable” can be either singular (like MIDI gate/pitch/pressure or a time index), or a bundle of 64 parallel channels, which can come from the resynthesis data, a bank of parallel envelope generators, or a bank of parallel function generators (“Pulses”) with probability skippers and rhythmic repeat/rest options. There’s also a “Spaces” block that positions each of the oscillator bank’s outputs in 3D space, with parameters for moving them around (complete with doppler shift). Like I said: it’s a lot.

One of the points where I hesitated was wanting more basic modulation — some simple envelopes and LFOs. And also, modulation of modulation depth. But I realized first that (A) Bitwig can do this for me and (B) after mastering Pulses and learning to embrace the Way of Sumu, this is a bit less of a necessity than I thought, and (C) every dial is going to gain its own simple LFO available with a right-click in an update.

A few things you can do:

  • Basic spectral resynthesis. Just let the time index control the Partials Map time, patch Amp to Amp and Pitch to Pitch, use Envelopes to control the level, voila. You can still detune the partials inharmonically, and apply FM or AM if you want.
  • Crank the pitch input to almost zero, so it’s just a bit of unison detuning. Lovely with FM!
  • Basic 2-op FM or AM synthesis… just don’t patch the Partials Map to the oscillator at all.
  • Use the Partials map as a template, but let the time stay static. Lots of timbres available there, particularly with the detuning, FM and AM.
  • Control the Partials Map time with the Envelopes or Pulses, so the partials are disjointed from each other. I find that some slow motion can work really nicely here for ever-changing timbres.
  • Map Partials Map pitch to FM modulator ratios instead of (or in addition to) the base frequency.
  • Map Pulses to FM ratio, offsets or even base pitch for wild swoops or subtle wobbling.
  • Allow wild motion to happen in Space, but map Pulses to its reset input to bring things back to a (relatively) central point where they’re audible again.

Overall I’m finding this great for drones and soundscapes. It’s quite CPU-hungry (at least in its current Early Access state) but I am finding that one voice of polyphony (about 10% CPU use) is often plenty for cases like that.

As for newly announced gear: there sure is a lot of it. So far, most of it is kind of only of moderate interest to me. I’m not saying it’s not good stuff — there are a few things I’d love to have if there was space, like the Soma Flux or Polybrute 12 or Udo Super 8. And more things that are probably great but I recognize I just don’t need them, either because it’s covered or not in my musical wheelhouse. But even the latest iteration of Korg Berlin’s electroacoustic gizmo seems less interesting to me this year than the previous one did last year.

Instead, an electronmagnetic… or rather, kinomagnetic (?) gizmo caught my eye: Landscape Ferrous. This lovely looking gadget rotates strong magnets at variable speeds to excite strings, kalimba tines, and so on or just to confuse magnetic pickups. Strong enough to work on bass and piano strings, it’s a ticket to drones and harmonics and other things that are right up my alley. So I put in my preorder for that.

But, yeesh, Myth and Algo and now Sumu are all new to me, and Aodyo Loom and now this are in preorder, and I’m still in a mood to explore all my older stuff too.