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Camel Audio Alchemy 1.09 Review (Bonus Material)

June 30, 2009

Sonic Circus

Browsing through the categories in Alchemy''s banks of factory patches, you might think there is a preponderance of conventional instruments; the pull-down menu reveals guitars, woodwinds, mallets and drums among the choices. But because a who''s who of some of my favorite programmers created the presets, including the late Tim Conrardy, John Lehmkuhl, Biomechanoid, Richard Devine and Ian Boddy, most of these are conventional in name only. For example, in the Drums bank John Lehmkuhl''s Broken Science and Ian Boddy''s Filter Mod Kits undergo changes in grain size and density as you move through the Remix Pad (see Web Clip 3).

Some patches are more difficult to deconstruct; for example, Biomechanoid''s Hollyweird Drums use parameters such as Sstrtch and Shudder. Although all patches could clearly function as drum kits, there wasn''t a single conventional kit or even a TR-808 emulation to be found.

Whole-Grain Fun

A large number of instruments in the guitar bank use granular synthesis to stunning effect. Artvera''s Carilloguitar adds granulated acoustic guitar alongside an unaltered conventional version, granulated organ and a music box to create a plucked instrument from another world. From the same author, Guitar Chord undergoes breathtaking transformations, helped along by the Remix pad, which harbors radically different snapshots of the synth''s parameters for additional morphing fun (see Web Clip 4). In many cases, snapshots are different enough to inspire different musical applications, and movement between squares produces continuous changes. If you can''t find the exact formula you want, be sure to listen to sounds produced between the squares.

A bank of loops relies on sequences, tempo-synched gates and rhythmic delays to brew a selection of roiling beats and motifs. Biomechanoid''s Kuta Beach—with its sparser, more percussive motif—stands in stark contrast to Tim Conrardy''s gauzy M Jam (see Web Clip 5).

Fodder of Invention

The same cadre of programmers turns out an impressive set of sounds in Atmospheric and Electronic, two add-on banks of 150 patches. The Electronic collection tends more toward emulation of analog synthesizer–type sounds, but you will find plenty of interest in both banks. The collections are well worth the additional expenditure as they provide additional samples, and thus more fodder for creating your own sounds.

Patience is its own reward as you audition the Pads and Soundscapes categories, as sounds evolve through complex and dramatic changes. Alchemy''s multi-segment envelope generators (MSEG) are key here, with user-definable breakpoints and curves. Likewise, many of the arpeggiated patches achieve rhythm-synched timbral changes through sequenced modulation of pulse width, symmetry and other parameters. All in all, the Atmospheric and Electronic collections are valuable add-ons to an already fascinating sound library.

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