KVR Audio held the first of what will surely become an annual competition among independent music-software developers. The competition was open to anyone willing to create a plug-in or standalone music application in any open-standard format for any platform. The only requirements were that the contribution be newly created, not violate any copyright laws, and be free to KVR Audio members. The inducement, aside from worldwide fame, was a kitty of donations by KVR members; at the time of this writing, the prize fund was more than $2,000, to be divided among the top three winners.
Thirty-one developers stepped up to the plate, and the offerings were, as you might imagine, varied. Some of the developers, such as U-he and NuSofting, were well known; others were newcomers. Steinberg's VST plug-in format and the Windows platform were strongly favored; there were only five Mac plug-ins and four standalone products. You can peruse and download the applications from the KVR Audio Web site at www.kvraudio.com. You need to be a KVR Audio member to download, but membership is easy to set up and free.
Instruments and effects processors dominate the field, with 14 of each on offer. The three exceptions are an MPEG1 movie player that syncs to any audio host, an unusual 2-dimensional onscreen keyboard for exploring scales and chords, and a standalone pattern sequencer and instrument host called Matryx.
The instruments range from conventional to off-the-wall. A grand-piano plug-in, a slew of hybrid synths favoring the subtractive model, and several drum machines are among the conventional offerings. Pondular is the most unusual of the synths. It is played by keyboard, but its sound is modulated in real time by a graphical matrix of squares through which events propagate like ripples in a pond. You get onscreen control of the size of the matrix as well as the friction and viscosity of the rippling. Host permitting, you can use automation or MIDI Control Changes to determine how the rippling affects the synthesis engine. Collide and Play is a standalone graphical synthesis engine. You create balls and lines by clicking with the mouse, and the balls play and process samples as they bounce off the lines. The results are unpredictable and lots of fun (see Web Clip 1).
The effects include a couple of loopers, and I especially liked the multitrack, easy-to-use uLoop. You'll find an assortment of EQs, filters, and dynamics processors, as well as a smattering of sound-munging effects, a harmonizer, and amp and mic-placement simulators. Although certain user interfaces are more polished than others and there were some entries out of the 31 that I couldn't get to work, you'll find a lot to like here.