FIG. 1: Cycling '74 Mode's Bang drum synth has three sound engines: a one-shot sample player (left), an FM synth (center), and a classic analog synth (right). Distortion, filter and delay effects round out the module.
Mode is a collection of three virtual instruments and two effects plug-ins based on Cycling '74's Pluggo technology. The instruments are a monophonic drum synth (Bang), a monophonic lead synth (Mono), and a polyphonic synth (Poly). The effects are a time-synchronized multi-effect called Spin and a unique multichannel delay effect called Wash. Together they form the basis of a classic synthesis kit aimed primarily at the retro crowd, but they are fully capable of blips and bleeps for any era.
Mode comes in Audio Units (AU), VST, and RTAS versions and is compatible with a variety of hosts. I tested the AU and VST versions and found them to be stable, although somewhat CPU intensive. For example, eight instances of Bang pushed my dual-processor Mac G5/2 GHz CPU meter over 50 percent.
BLINDED BY SCIENCE
Each of Mode's five main plug-ins consists of a number of submodules. Cycling '74 has made most of those submodules available as separate plug-ins. That allows the effects from Mono, for example, to be used with Pluggo-technology plug-ins as well as plug-ins from other manufacturers. The submodule plug-ins also save CPU power by allowing you to use only the features that you need. Several modulator submodules are also provided as separate plug-ins, but they require Pluggo technology and can therefore be used only with other Pluggo-technology plug-ins.
Mode's developers, the CreativeSynth team, made the unusual decision in their interface design to eschew numerical data display and entry; only a few of the sliders, knobs, and buttons give any indication of their value. The rationale for that decision is to promote programming by ear rather than by number. In many instances that seems like a good choice and probably saves some CPU cycles in the bargain, but in other cases, such as oscillator tuning and tempo-synchronized rate controls, the lack of visual feedback is a handicap.
BANG ON A CAN
Bang is a drum synth that has three sound engines followed by an output section containing a distortion effect and a multimode filter (see Fig. 1). There is also a built-in stereo delay that operates as a send effect. Bang's distortion-filter output stage, sound engines, and stereo-delay effect are available as separate plug-ins.
Bang has no built-in sequencer and plays one timbre across the full MIDI Note range. Its purpose is to augment your drum kit with a few classic, synthy drum sounds, rather than to serve as yet another drum box.
For sound engines, Bang offers a one-shot (no looping) sample player, an FM synth, and a classic one-oscillator analog synth. The sample player draws its samples from a dedicated folder. The contents of the dedicated folder are displayed in a drop-down menu. The samples are standard AIFF files, and you can add your own to the folder as desired. A delay, attack, decay, sustain, and release (DADSR) envelope generator controls amplitude, and a bit crusher adds grit.
Bang's FM engine has multiwaveform carrier and modulator oscillators with DADSR amplitude envelopes for each. The oscillators provide sine, triangle, saw, square, and noise waveforms. The analog engine has a similar oscillator with amplitude and modulation envelopes. It has a resonant lowpass filter, and the modulation envelope can be applied to oscillator pitch and filter cutoff.
The oscillator tuning is different for the two synthesized sound engines, making it impossible to get them precisely in tune. In addition, the analog engine's keyboard tracking changes with its tuning. As a result, creating tuned percussion sounds, which should be one of the strengths of this synth, lies somewhere between difficult and impossible. These problems, however, should be addressed in a future release.
Tuning foibles aside, Bang is a capable sound-design tool, and as the documentation suggests, you can go way beyond the included presets. In particular, mixing the three sound engines, with varying pan positions and different send amounts to the stereo delay, can produce an array of interesting evolving sound effects. See Web Clip 1 for a few examples.
LEADING THE WAY
Mono is a one-voice FM synth with a built-in arpeggiator. Its synthesis engine has two identical FM operators. The operator outputs are mixed and sent to an effects section that consists of a waveshaping distortion effect, a multimode resonant filter, and a stereo delay. As with Bang, the synthesis engine, the effects section, and even the arpeggiator are available as separate plug-ins. The standalone arpeggiator, when inserted as an instrument plug-in, can be routed to any parameter of any Pluggo-technology plug-in to produce a pitch tracking effect. Due to limitations in the Pluggo technology, however, it can be used only to play notes in its built-in form.
Mono's FM operators have two oscillators: a carrier and a modulator. ADSR envelope generators control amplitude and modulation amount. The modulation envelope also can be applied directly to the carrier and modulator pitches, and the amplitude envelope can be applied to the modulation amount. A built-in sine-wave LFO can be applied to carrier and modulator pitch, and either oscillator's keyboard tracking can be turned off. You can add waveshaping, filtering, and stereo delay. As with Bang, there is a lot of room available for creative programming.
The arpeggiator can be either free-running with a range of 40 to 220 bpm, or synced to the host's tempo, in which case the range is in note increments from a whole note to a 16th note. Triplet- and dotted-note values are not supported, making tempo synchronization somewhat limited. Arpeggiator modes are up, down, up and down, up and down with repeated end points, and random. The note range can be extended to four octaves, and the note duration can be extended beyond the step size, in which case repeated pitches are not retriggered. That makes for interesting complex rhythmic patterns. Finally, the note order can be played or sorted by pitch.
FIG. 2: Mode''s Poly is a classic analog-style polyphonic synth with a unique three-voice arpeggiator.
Poly is a classic digital synth and can play from 4 to 12 voices, depending on the selected voice count (see Fig. 2). The more voices you play, the more CPU power you use. Poly features two digital oscillators with a selection of 24 waveforms. The oscillators are followed by a resonant lowpass filter and two output effects: delay and chorus. The Poly synth and effects modules are available as separate plug-ins.
Poly's modulators include dedicated LFOs and ADSR envelope generators for pitch and filter cutoff. Rather than offering multiple waveforms, the LFOs are 6-step sequencers, with a slew control to set the glide between successive steps. With the minimum slew setting, the LFOs function like step sequencers, which is especially interesting when applied to pitch and used in conjunction with the arpeggiator.
Poly's most unusual feature is its 16-step polyphonic arpeggiator. It can be thought of as three step sequencers running in sync: one for triggering the highest note held, one for triggering the lowest, and the third for triggering all the notes in between as a chord. Each step can be transposed up or down an octave. When free-running, the tempo can be set from 60 to 200 bpm. When synchronized to the host tempo, the steps are always 16th notes — a limitation that will be addressed in a future update.
WASH AND SPIN
Mode's two effects plug-ins are a time-based multi-effects processor called Spin and a multichannel delay effect called Wash. Spin has a multimode filter, an overdrive and bit-crushing distortion effect, pan and volume modulation, and a stereo feedback-delay line.
Each of Spin's effects — except for distortion — is slaved to a master clock, which can be free-running or synced to host tempo. When synced, the step size is set in 32nd note steps from 1 to 128. Each clock step represents a gate that can be applied in varying amounts to filter cutoff and pan position. The clock rate also determines the delay line's delay time and is used to advance a 16-step volume sequencer. Each of the effects is available as a separate plug-in.
FIG. 3: Wash is a performance-oriented six-channel delay effect with complete control over the signal path.
Wash is a 6-channel, performance-oriented stereo feedback-delay line with a routing matrix that allows total control of the signal path (see Fig. 3). You can route either stereo input channel or the output of any of the six delay lines to the input of any delay line. You can also route the output of any delay line to either or both stereo output channels. Maximum delay time for each delay line can be set from 100 ms to 10 seconds, and a knob lets you control the actual delay time within that range.
Each delay line has a multimode resonant filter, and each of its modes — lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and notch — are simultaneously available. The most important controls, however, are each delay line's Record and Lock buttons. A delay line is inactive until you enable recording by clicking on the Rec button. When you click on the Lock button, the feedback is automatically set to maximum, recording is disabled, and the material in the delay line cycles endlessly, subject to manipulations of the filter, level, and pan settings. Recording can be reenabled for a locked delay line to allow for overdubbing. Multiply that description by six and add automation and you'll get an idea of how tangled things can become. Check out Web Clip 2 for an example. A single-channel Wash plug-in is also available.
The sheer variety of offerings makes the Mode bundle well worth investigating. While I might quibble with some of the user-interface decisions and the tempo synchronization options, each synth fills its roll, and the effects, especially Wash, have lots of possibilities. Each module sounds good, and unless you unleash all features of the complex modules at once, they are quite CPU efficient.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: G4/800 MHz; 512 MB RAM; Mac OS 10.2.8
Mode 1.0 (Mac)
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE3.0QUALITY OF SOUNDS4.0VALUE3.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Variety of synthesis methods. All synthesizer and effects submodules provided as separate plug-ins. Unique, performance-oriented multichannel delay effect.
CONS: Lacking some essential numerical displays. Limited tempo-synchronization options.