Today's music-software offerings include a spate of additive synthesizers. Image Line has joined the fray by releasing Morphine ($159, download only), which, like Camel Audio's Cameleon and VirSyn's Cube, is a hybrid of additive and subtractive techniques along with resynthesis tools (for more on additive synthesis, see the online bonus material at www.emusician.com).
Morphine offers spectral models for emulating acoustic instruments and can serve as a springboard for creating fresh new sounds out of familiar harmonic content. It relies on four Generators (roughly equivalent to oscillators) to play spectral models from its own supply or from user-supplied samples.
Getting into Morphine
Morphine''s well-designed user interface lets you instantly access high- and low-level programming tasks quickly. The center work space shown here displays the modulation matrix and one of four envelope generators, but you can immediately access transposition parameters, Master Envelope settings, or overall gain in the top panel.
Morphine runs standalone or as a VST 2.4 (Mac and PC) or AU (Mac) plug-in. Its intuitive layout includes the header panel, which holds global menus for polyphony, transposition, and other parameters on the top left and knobs for Glide amount, Velocity curves, and more on the top right. An array of bread-and-butter effects — chorus, delay, reverb, and equalizer — occupies the bottom panel. The upper and lower panels are constant fixtures throughout the other windows, so it's easy to audition edits unadorned by effects or make basic tweaks to envelopes, all without interrupting your work flow.
Rectangular buttons on the left panel provide access to the various edit pages in the center, where most of the in-depth programming occurs. The first button opens an intuitive but extensive modulation matrix: 12 sources and destinations appear in pull-down menus, each with a knob to dial in the desired amount of positive or negative modulation. Although modulation sources are comprehensive, Morphine's ability to map spectra to individual key zones makes a case for including Polyphonic Aftertouch.
Buttons for each of the four envelope generators appear in the lower right-hand corner. It's a breeze to build envelopes from breakpoints by clicking from left to right across the timeline. I built a complex, bipolar envelope that I used to detune harmonics on a second oscillator, creating pulsating, inharmonic frequencies (see Web Clip 1). Selecting a start and end point, I set a back-and-forth loop in the envelope (you can also choose forward or reverse directions and add a release loop).
The Rate knob is a nice feature: it expands or compresses the envelope's duration, and turning the knob provides instant visual feedback. Directly to its right are knobs for key or Velocity scaling of the rate, an especially important feature if you are emulating acoustic instruments.
The Morph/Mix button opens a center section hosting two main areas. The leftmost is a square, with each quadrant representing the maximum amplitude of each Generator; the center point represents an equal, balanced mix. I easily created complex morphing patterns by Option-clicking-and-dragging on the small white boxes in the square. In the right area, you can edit Generator pairs in more familiar horizontal envelopes, but I found the 4-quadrant panel conceptually easier.
The Noise SMP section provides access to factory-supplied sampled attacks. If you don't find something useful in the factory set, load your own. (I got more-interesting results by importing short rhythm loops; see Web Clip 2.) Samples get their own multimode filter, mix, pan, tuning, Velocity, and loop settings.
Each Generator has an associated button that reveals its spectrum. Mouse over the partials to adjust amplitude, panning, detune, Velocity, and global volume. Editing partials one by one can get tedious, but mercifully, you can group partials by selecting from available options (even, odd, third, fourth, or fifth harmonics, or preset bandwidths surrounding the target frequency) found in the Tool pull-down menu. You can also jump from individual partials to group edits instantly.
You can load WAV or AIFF files in the Resynthesis section, which is found below the Generator buttons. Select a Generator, then import the file whose spectrum you want to use. Once it's analyzed, you can compare the original sample with a preview of the analyzed sound, set a root note, tune the sample, and save it for later use. My results were always musical and useful; imported Absynth 4 samples, voices, and acoustic instruments alike generated some truly awesome sounds.
Bugs on Drugs
I had no operational problems when working with the plug-in versions, but Morphine in standalone mode had a few bugs. For example, I had to assign MIDI inputs every time I launched the application, so each time I wanted to switch from keyboard to MIDI guitar for input, I had to open the Settings window. Also, the Windows standalone was plagued by stuck notes. (Image Line says it is working on a fix.)
Morphine provides terrific tools for designing living, breathing sounds with elements of realism or hints of familiar but not easily discernible origin. It is capable of anything from samplelike emulations to animated, inharmonic, and cloudy soundscapes suitable for film. Morphine offers a streamlined path to the nitty-gritty of additive synthesis. I'm addicted.
Value (1 through 5): 4
Image Line Software