Real-Time Granular Synthesis

Granular synthesis is a tool that takes a sound and chops it into little pieces.  Each piece has its own window and can potentially have its own panning, duration, silence and transposition.  Granular synthesis in music is analogues to pointillism in painting.  Granular synthesis ca also be seen as a cloud of small fragmented sound akin to throwing a handful of sand into the air and each piece of sand is a sound.  There are many ways to design a granular synthesizer.  In this short post I will demonstrate one simply way to achieve granular synthesis in real-time.

In this patch the incoming sound will be windowed.  The length of the window will be set by the user or randomly chosen.  To start we will make a buffer called window.  A message box with the statement sizeinsamps 1024, fill 1, apply hamming, will create a hamming envelop in the buffer.  Any envelope can work and the user can substitute their own.  We will be using index~ to read back this buffer.  Connected to index will be a line~ object with a message saying 0, 1024 $1.  The 1024 is the number of samples and can be user defined.  The $1 is time and can be set in a variety of different ways.

I am using tapin~ and tapout~ to add a little bit of delay to the signal, but this step is not necessary.  To trigger a grain I am using a metro that is connected to a random object.  Every time the random object picks a number it also uses that number to set the metro time in ms as well as the window time.  The random can have any range or a controllable range however + 1 is needed to prevent 0 from occurring.

In the below example I am also panning using 2 scale objects on sqrt.  The metro is also triggering a random value that controls where in space the grain is being played.  This means that each grain has a different space.

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In this example feedback can be added after the *~ that index~ is connected to.  This will create a more complex sound by adding granulated iterations back to the signal to be granulated.

Looking at Sound with Jitter

When I am designing sound I use a sonogram and oscilloscope a lot.  the sonogram gives me the spectrum of the sound while the oscilloscope gives me the wave form.  I mainly use the oscilloscope to look for dc offset or in the case of noisy sounds, look for periodicity.  Max/MSP has a built in scope (scope~) but the user cannot pause it or freeze it so therefore I made my own.

To do this I used jit.catch~ to grab audio and turn it into a matrix.  If you don’t know what that is, think of it as an xy plain with a certain amount of dimensions.  The image below is how cycling74 shows what a jitter matrix is.  As you can easily see it is ARGB plains with a dimension of 8×6.  Each box holds a value between 0 and 255.

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Once the sound is converted into a matrix we can use jit.graph to graph the information from the matrices.  Jit.graph has 4 different modes which can be used to visualize the waveform in different ways and by adding @frgb you can change the color of the waveform.  The last argument we have to add to the jit.graph object is @clearit 1.  This refreshes the screen every frame and makes it so the wave does not write over itself.  Lastley, a qmetro is used to trigger a new frame to appear.  This acts to slow down the frames and or freeze one.  This qmetro is the entire reason I made my own scope.  It gives me the power to pause and look at an instance of the sound.

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Here is the max patch that I made.  I am using a basic ring modulation and running it through jit.catch~ at mode one (it says mode 0, but @mode 1 is the default).  Qmetro 2 sends a bang every 2 milliseconds, therefore making jit.catch~ release a frame every 2 milliseconds.

*If you like these little tutorials or if there is something you want to see please let me know.

Writing Sample Values into Buffers

Wavetables and buffers store sample information of the sound that can be used/manipulated at a later time.  Buffers are also what store audio that you are recording for later use.  While recording sounds and or loading sound is fun, sometimes algorithmically generating a buffer can yield interesting timbres. In this short post I will be looking at one way to generate a buffer that produces a fun noisy timbre.

First we will set Max/MSP up to write a buffer with the click of a button.  First we will create a buffer (buffer~), name it whatever you like and give it a time of 11.61.  This is how many milliseconds the buffer will be. This number can change or scaled to accommodate for more values. 11 milliseconds is about 512 samples so you would need 22 milliseconds for 1024 etc.

The main object that will release numbers is uzi.  uzi will count up to whatever number you give it in order.  This is how we are indexing sample values as well as creating sample values.  Uzi needs to release its numbers into an expression.  The expr object is what you would use to write an expression.  In my example below the expression is (cos($i1)/511) * 500.  I am using t i i to release the numbers generated by uzi into different objects without having timing issues. Pack is then used to gather the index and the value and send them together to peek~.

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To play the sound I am using wave~ to play the buffer back as a period wave.  You can also use play~ to read the buffer at different speeds.

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This same method can be used to write windows for granular synthesis and by using index~ to read it back for amplitude values. Either way, writing your own buffer for wavetable synthesis, granular synthesis or windowing is a very important technique that can yield rich results.

Related to Amplitude Modulation

Amplitude modulation is a fundamental synthesis technique that can be heard in all types of music from the avant-garde to dub step (wobble bass).  This technique is the idea behind an LFO and can be related to tremolo because only the amplitude is being affected.

Amplitude Modulation is similar to Ring Modulation but the modulation is uni-polar instead of bi-polar.  this means that the modulation frequencies samples get scaled from -1.0 -> 1.0, to 0.0 -> 1.0.  This is very important because in amplitude modulation we are not trying to change the frequency.

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As you can se the wave “bounces” or the volume increases and decreases at a steady rate.  This occurs when the modulation frequency is at sub audio rate or below 20 Hz.

Just like Ring Modulation, Amplitude Modulation creates other frequencies that are so close together they are not heard when the modulator is below 20 Hz.  These frequencies can be calculated by Carrier Frequency + Modulation Frequency, Carrier Frequency – Modulation Frequency and just the Carrier Frequency.  Unlike Ring Modulation the Carrier Frequency will always be heard and will not change even if the Modulation Frequency is above 20 Hz.

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When the Modulation Frequency is above 20 Hz the C+M and C-M start to get further away from each other and eventually sound like 2 separate frequencies with the Carrier remaining the same.  In the above example the Carrier Freuqnecy is 440 and the Modulation Frequency is 2000.  This would give us 3 frequencies at 440, 2440 and 1560.  When the Modulation Frequency is lower the frequency are closer together, but still can be heard separately.

With complex Carrier Frequencies the spectrum becomes ver full because each harmonic is producing 2 other frequencies and keeping the harmonic heard.

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This is a Square Wave run through an Amplitude Modulator.  As you can see it looks like a Square Wave.

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This is a Square Wave through an Amplitude Modulator with a Modulation Frequency of 2000 Hz.  The spectrum fills out and the sound changes from a classic Square Wave sound to a sound that has a lot more buzz/crunch to it. As the Modulation Frequency gets higher higher partials start to be heard more and the structure of the Square Wave changes.

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While Amplitude Modulation is always thought of with the modulator below 20 Hz, I encourage everyone to break that thought and experiment with all frequencies and even different types of waves for the modulator.  Amplitude Modulation is a building block to creating interesting and complex sounds.  By “breaking the rules” new sounds can emerge like the one below that uses a Sawtooth Wave for the modulator with a frequency of 5000 Hz.

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Thoughts About Ring Modulation

Ring Modulation is easy to make technique in a program such as Max/MSP that yields fun and interesting results.  This sound synthesis technique uses a bi-polar modulation signal.  The frequencies produced can be calculated by saying Carrier Frequency + Modulation Frequency and Carrier Frequency – Modulation Frequency

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Even When the modulation frequency is below 20 Hz  the C+M and C-M frequencies are produced but are critical bands because they are perceived as a beating pattern and not two separate signals.  In the above example the two frequencies are 439 and 441.  They are close enough together to produce a pulse without much change in pitch.

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Now the modulator is 2000 Hz.  Two distinct pitches are produced at 2440 and 1560. This relationship will always occur until two distinct pitches are heard that seem to not influence one another.

With complex sounds the result is more interesting.  When the modulation frequency is higher than 20 Hz each frequency in the sound will produce 2 frequencies in the C+M and C-M relationship.

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This shows a regular square wave with the modulation frequency of 1 Hz.  It looks like a regular square and the C+M, C-M relationship is not seen because the frequencies are too close.

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Now that the modulation frequency is 2000 Hz each frequency in the square is producing 2 frequencies and the spectrum doubles in size and the sound changes.

Ring modulation can be used live as well to create vibrato and also exploited (modulator with higher frequencies) to alter the sound drastically and create interesting pitch relationships.