Looking for some atmosphere? Marty Cutler is not one to use the word “awesome” lightly.
The idea of merging found and environmental sounds with synthesis is not new. It goes back to Musique Concrete and Pierre Schaeffer sometime in 1940.
Those kinds of sounds became more commercial in the 1980s, when they were sampled and put into the ROM of popular instruments like the Roland D-50 and Korg M1.
Chris Watson, late of the band Cabaret Voltaire, is at the forefront of the technique; sample developer Sonic Couture has a penchant for beautiful and unusual sound design. Together they have released several titles: Geosonics, Haunted Spaces, and most recently Geosonics II – the subject of this review.
Geosonics II is an update of the earlier Geosonics library, containing material from the previous version plus new sample content. It also has an updated Generative engine, which we’ll detail shortly, that keeps things animated rhythmically, timbrally, or both.
Hot on its release, patch libraries from noted synthesists Ian Boddy and Robin Rimbaud are already available.
All these libraries meld environmental sounds and modern-day sample-based subtractive synthesis. But don’t mistake them for your average ROM-playback fodder. These environmental sounds have otherworldly qualities, as you’ll hear in this demo I made:
Interface. Three oscillators are hitched to Geosonics’ Prism Controller, a 3-point vector that crossfades between samples. The upper two vector points generally hold the more tonal components of the patch, and the bottom point harbors Chris Watson’s ambiences and environmental sounds.
You can crossfade manually, choose one of many preset paths, or record your own vectors.
There’s plenty of room for creating your own patches. Each stereo oscillator offers Level, Pan, Width, Start (for adjusting sample start time), Pitch, and a knob for velocity-to pitch – great for percussive sounds.
If you want more, edit each sample’s Filter, of which there are 25 varieties to choose from. There are also ADSR envelope generators – one for amplitude, and one for each filter. You get velocity control for every envelope, as well as a pair of LFOs for each oscillator.
Generative. Geosonic II is more than synth waveforms layered and crossfaded with Chris Watson’s sounds. The Generative Tools section mentioned earlier is why.
Describing this section as a sophisticated arpeggiator is inadequate. There are a number of ways it can process and transform MIDI input that go several levels beyond typical arpeggiator moves.
There are three different processors:
– Jammer is a very pliable hybrid of step sequencer and arpeggiator, allowing programmable step lengths, variable durations, and the ability to constrain output to a preset or user-definable scale, among other things;
– Weaver is a multi-lane, step-input sequencer whose Euclid rhythm generators distribute input as evenly as possible within a programmed number of steps. If you set the HITS parameter to 5, for instance, it will try to distribute those 5 hits evenly among the 8 steps, providing interesting and ever-varying rhythms.
– Phraser can record a series of notes or a phrase into a buffer. This is then re-triggered by new MIDI input, replacing the notes you play and generating new melodic material based on your recorded phrase.
You can choose whether any of the three oscillators respond to the generative material, allowing you, for example, to play a pad over an active rhythmic component.
It goes without saying that the rhythmic activities lock to the host’s tempo.
These processors are fun, and a terrific creative kick in the pants.
And? Geosonics II sounds breathtaking. Use it for anything from songs in search of ethereal, spooky character, to film scoring with imaginative pads and effects. It can sound foreboding and eerie to glorious and awe-inspiring.
I’m planning to bring Geosonics’ atmospheric depth to an underscoring project for an H.P. Lovecraft-based theatrical production in progress. The word “awesome” may seem played out, but Sonic Couture Geosonics II is truly awesome.