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User guide – 77_GS granular synth

Running the synth patch requires Max version 6 (or runtime) with Gen installed; previous Max versions are not supported. The patch has been tested on Mac OSX 10.7 and 10.8, but should work just as well on Windows platforms. I recommend running Max in 32 bit mode for this patch, as I’ve encountered some (still unresolved) operational issues with 64 bit mode.

Open the «77_GS_Main» patch to start the synth. The processing for each individual voice happens in the included «77_GS_VoicePoly» patch, which means that this file should be present in the same folder as the main patch. Also make sure that this folder contains the subfolders «samples» and «presets» – these are also required for proper operation.

The instrument is based on granular synthesis, which means that the source audio is broken into tiny «sound grains» and subsequently processed and recomposed in different ways. This user guide presumes that the reader is familiar with the basics of granular synthesis and some common terminology associated with the technique. If you wish to learn more about granular synthesis, I highly recommend Curtis Roads’ Microsound (ISBN-10: 0262681544) for a thorough introduction on the topic.

To fully understand all the instrument parameters, one should be aware that this instrument groups sound grains into cycles of four grains. This means no more than four overlapping grains can be played simultaneously for each instrument voice. The instrument is configured with 8 voices (although this can easily be edited «under the hood»).



The main patcher window.

The main patcher window.

Most of the parameters found in the main window are edited by clicking and dragging the value up or down. The controls correspond to the following functions:

1. DSP. This button opens the Max DSP window for setting audio preferences, such as sound drivers and playback hardware configurations. If you’re using Max runtime (and thusly don’t have access to the Max mixer), you’ll need to open the DSP window to activate processing («switch on the instrument») before the instrument will make any sound.

2. MIDI. Use this menu to select a MIDI device for controlling the patch. Click on the MIDI button to enter «learn mode», then move a synth parameter in the main window followed by a controller on your MIDI device to assign that parameter to the chosen controller. Option+click on the MIDI button to open the advanced MIDI settings window (see final section).



3. Sample waveform displays. These displays show a waveform representation of the loaded source samples. You can add new samples by dropping a WAV or AIFF file onto the desired sample slot. When you add a new sample this way it will automatically be copied to the «samples» subfolder, and you’ll be able to find it in the list of previously loaded files by clicking on the filename field for one of the sample slots. You can also add files directly to the «samples» subfolder – these will be recognized the next time you start the instrument patch (and will then be available from the sample menu by clicking on the filename field for one of the sample slots).

Click and drag in the waveform display to make a selection within the source sample. Sound grains will only sample audio from within this selection. Use the select/adjust button on the bottom of the display to change selection tools, for more precise control.

The percentage value in the upper right corner of the display can be changed to normalize the sample volume. 100% means that the audio peak is at 0dBFS.

Click on the edit button to crop the sample to the selected area. Option+click on edit to save a new version of the sample (which may be useful if you’ve cropped it down to a piece you like, or if you want to preserve normalization settings).

4. Play Speed. This parameter determines how fast the virtual playhead moves through the source samples. When an instrument voice is playing, the playhead loops through the source sample selection and periodically samples a sound grain. At 0% the playhead is immobile, meaning that every grain will be sampled from the same point of the source sound; at 100% the playhead moves forward through the sound at «normal speed», which means that the source sound can be reproduced with it’s original duration; at <0% the playhead moves backwards through the sound; at >100% the duration of the source sound is compressed, and at (0, 100)% the duration is stretched.

5. Roam/Resync. This setting determines where the playhead starts when a voice is activated. Resync means the playhead will always start at the beginning of the sample selection when a voice is activated. Roam means the playhead will start whereever it left off when that voice was last deactivated. This means that you could hold a key for a short time to play partially through



the source sample, let go and then resume from the same spot whenever a new key is pressed. Please note, however, that it can be difficult to predict which instrument voice is activated when playing several keys simultaneously – each new key will activate a new voice unless all eight voices are in use, in which case the key will steal the «oldest» voice.

6. Rnd Pos. This parameter allows the playhead to randomly deviate from its set course, and istead sample grains from random positions within the sample selection. At 100%, all grains will be randomly sampled; at 50%, there’s a 50% chance that a given grain will be sampled randomly and, conversely, a 50% chance that it will be sampled at the playhead position; at 0% the playhead is followed for every grain.

7. MIDI Mode. This setting determines the function of the connected MIDI keyboard. The keyboard can either control the pitch of the source sounds, or the rate of grain cycles. If the keyboard is set to control pitch, the rate can be controlled by the parameter below the MIDI mode buttons, and vice versa if the keyboard is set to control rate.

Try these settings if you’re looking for stable, tonal sounds:

Low grain rate, MIDI mode = pitch, large sample selection, play speed 100%. This setting is good for reproducing the source samples in a reasonably recognizable fashion – it follows that the tonality will be closely related to what kind of source samples are used.

MIDI mode = rate, small sample selection, play speed 0%. With this setting the resulting pitch is determined by the periodicity of the sound grains (i.e. the grain rate). The source samples and grain shape will determine the timbre of the sound. This setting is good for producing tonal sounds from atonal/noisy source sounds.

8. «Tuning». Adjust this parameter to determine which key reproduces the source samples at a neutral (unaffected) pitch. This has no effect if the keyboard is set to control rate.

9. Rnd Pitch. This parameter determines the amount of random deviation in pitch each grain can have. At 0% all grains will be at the played note; At 50% each grain will be randomly pitched



within ±50% of an octave around the played note; At 100% each grain will be randomly pitched

somewhere within one octave up or down from the played note.

10. Active grains. These buttons determine which grains are played or muted per grain cycle. If one

or more of the buttons are deactivated, the corresponding grain will be skipped each cycle – this

can produce rhythmic effects at low grain rates.

11. Grain distribution («phase»). This parameter determines the distance between each grain

within a cycle. At 100% the grains are evenly distributed; at 50% the grains are grouped tighter,

so that they cover only the first half of the cycle duration; at 0% all the active grains start

simultaneously at the beginning of each cycle (see illustration below)

at the beginning of each cycle (see illustration below) Fig. B: Grain distribution. The centre line

Fig. B: Grain distribution. The centre line indicates the duration of one cycle. The upper circles show the distribution of grains with the phase parameter set to 100%, the lower circles show the distribution at 50%.

12. X-fade. Crossfades between the two source samples. At 0% only the upper sample is used; At

50% equal amounts of both samples are used; at 100% only the bottom sample is used.

13. Pan. Each grain is randomly panned within the higlighted area between the left and right

channels. If the borders of the selection are tightly spaced, showing only a thin vertical line, all

sound is consequently panned according to the line’s relative position. Use the shift, option and

cmd/ctrl modifiers while clicking and dragging to adjust the panner.

14. Grain shape. This sets the dynamic envelope of each sound grain. Use the menu to select either

a curve, decreasing or increasing shape, and adjust by changing the percentage value to

determine the grain envelope «width». Note: you may experience signal distortion at values



greater than 0% (you can prevent this by normalizing the source samples at a lower level – see item 3).

15. A/D/S/R. Sets the overall instrument envelope based on a standard «attack, decay, sustain, release» model. The topmost parameter is attack, then decay, then sustain, and release is the bottommost one.

16. Filter. Each instrument voice is finally processed with a simple resonant lowpass filter. Use the freq control to set a static cutoff, or add a «per-voice» envelope movement on top of that by using the env, att and rel controls (amount, attack time and release time respectively). Res sets the filter resonance.

17. Morph. Each letter along this line represents an instrument «saved state». Option+click on a letter to store all current parameter settings to that state, and move the morph control (which is hard mapped to the MIDI modwheel) to smoothly interpolate settings between the saved states. You can also recall a saved state by clicking on the corresponding letter, or delete a saved state by option+shift+clicking.

Parameter morphing makes it possible to create gradual sound transformations. Since it works by interpolation you’ll be able to discover completely new «in-between» settings between the saved states. Try saving some completely different configurations and go exploring with the morph control!

18. Backpage. Opens an overview over all the currently saved values for each of the four save states (each column corresponds to one state) – for inspection or detailed editing. The checkbox in front of each parameter indicates which values are included or excluded from parameter morphing. Note: the parameters entitled SampleMenu1 and SampleMenu2 should always be unchecked for optimal operation – these are only included in the list for the sake of saving information about which source samples are in use; including them in preset morphing has no practical effect.



19. Save preset. Click save to store a complete preset, including all four morph states. The preset is saved as a separate .js-file in the «preset» subfolder, and can be recalled via the menu next to the save button.

Advanced MIDI settings

the menu next to the save button. Advanced MIDI settings Advanced MIDI settings Option+click the MIDI

Advanced MIDI settings

Option+click the MIDI button in the main patcher (see item 2) to open a new window with advanced MIDI settings. The following settings are available:

1. Change the range for MIDI controlled parameters. Should you, for instance, want a MIDI controller mapped to the crossfade parameter to only move that parameter between 20%-40%, simply enter 20 in the low value column and 40 in the high value column.




Currently mapped MIDI controllers are displayed here.


Clear all deletes all current MIDI mappings. Export saves the list of MIDI mappings to a text file. Load recalls MIDI mappings from a text file. Repopulate device lists refreshes the list of connected MIDI devices (necessary if you connected a new keyboard after opening the patch).


Choose which MIDI devices to use for keyboard and parameter control respectively. If you wish to use a separate controller for parameters (a fader bank, for example) you must configure that from this window – the MIDI device menu in the main patch window will set both keyboard and parameter control to the same device. Note: parameter morphing is hard mapped to the mod wheel (CC-01) of the keyboard device.


Displays the last changed instrument parameter.