It's always nice when music drives product development rather than the other way around. Musician and software developer Zeus Issariotis designed synthesizers Bizune (free) and Mantragora ($49.99) for his electronic-music duo, also named Bizune. You can download both synths from the Time Control Productions Web site (www.bizune.com), and you can hear the band's music at www.bizune.net.
The synths' engine-block graphical user interfaces reveal manifold possibilities under the hood. Control labels (when they exist) are intentionally cryptic; the idea is to start tweaking without worrying too much about what you're doing. Both synths have 2-D Head Trip controls and Mantragora (shown here) has an additional 2-D Eye Chorus control. The effect of the 2-D controls is as dramatic as their function is secret, and they are begging to be assigned to a MIDI x-y controller such as a joystick.
Bizune and Mantragora are 4-oscillator synths. Two of the oscillators are analog-style with standard waveforms including two flavors of noise. They can be frequency modulated, and though it's not clear who's modulating whom, there is no doubt about the effect. The other two oscillators, labeled Dirty, use phase-distortion techniques and add grit to the sound. The oscillators are followed by a pair of multimode filters in series, and Mantragora has an additional resonant lowpass filter hardwired to the Mod Wheel. Both synths have chorus-phase-flange and reverb effects at the end of the signal path.
Mantragora has a few more modules (LFOs, for example) and is easier to program than Bizune, but they share the same design philosophy and basic sound. Both synths come as VST plug-ins, and purchasing Mantragora gets you a standalone version of each. Mantragora also has a built-in audio recorder to instantly turn your ramblings into WAV files.
Bizune and Mantragora are excellent synths for generating ambiences and pads with a lot of grit, but as their banks of factory presets show, plenty of leads and basses are also lurking behind all the ironwork. They'll add to your sound palette on the road and plugged in to your favorite DAW.