Review: The Strange Agency Soup

Granular processing with a vintage flair
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Oil-can delays are among the most obscure and unusual echo devices from the earliest years of audio production. Literally based on a spinning drum filled with an oil that interacted electrostatically with a specialized head, these outliers in the history of effects conjured ethereal, haunting tones that can only be described as a strange blend of echo, reverb, and pitch modulation.

Soup’s unique user interface allows you to manipulate the grains of your audio input in a very organic, fluid way.

Soup’s unique user interface allows you to manipulate the grains of your audio input in a very organic, fluid way.

The Strange Agency’s latest iPad app—the appropriately named Soup—reinvents this unusual device for iOS, fusing it with modern granular technology and integrating touch-based tools that deliver a wide range of “how’d they do that” textures that are beyond what is expected from either granular synthesis or delays.

While the minimalist interface becomes more approachable once you get the hang of it, skipping the manual will only lead to frustration. On the input side, you can use your device’s integrated microphone or load WAV files from the iOS Files app or Dropbox. Because the results are so chaotic, starting with your voice is a recommended tactic, as real-time interaction with your source material is key to understanding Soup’s processes.

The disc in the center of the interface represents the “oil-can” element, spinning with a red Write (record) head and a green Read (playback) head, with adjustable rotational position for each. Within the disc are countless black grains that can be manipulated via touch, instantly creating jittery mayhem.

As the disc spins you can see the audio change the color as you record, while the Radius parameter lets you change the size of the read and write elements, varying the detail and range of the recording. Repositioning these heads gives some degree of control over delay time, but it’s best to think of this as something more abstract than an echo. Fans of granular will comprehend the Density and Decay parameters for each, but things get more complex when your fingers are involved.

As the disc spins, activating the Stir control allows direct manipulation of these grains, instantly reordering tiny fragments of the recording. The fluid nature of the interface behavior does feel like you’re swirling a liquid. This interactivity no doubt contributes to the app’s CPU footprint, which is on the heavy side. Even so, the results are mesmerizingly complicated and will appeal strongly to both soundtrack composers and experimental artists. You can also control the disc’s spin rate, grain density, and overall radius, with a few inertial behaviors thrown in to enhance the app’s organic behavior.

There’s no Audiobus or Inter-App audio compatibility (and none planned, according to the website FAQ) you can record and share experiments as WAV audio using the same cloud tools.

Soup’s approach to granular delays is decidedly experimental, and some may find the flavor too exotic for traditional tastes. But for artists who enjoy pushing boundaries, its mix of ingredients may be just the spice a project needs. In fact, the app’s real-time processing from the mic (or your device’s audio interface) makes Soup particularly well-suited to interactive art installations, like those found at Meow Wolf or CalArts projects. It’s also a useful resource for industrial and dark techno productions if you have the patience to master its parameters.

All in all, Soup is a fascinating app for creating eerie granular effects that can’t be easily duplicated by other means.

STRENGTHS
Granular manipulation of live and recorded audio. Innovative touch controls include inertia and other physical behaviors.

LIMITATIONS
WAV import only. No IAA or Audiobus.

$9.99
strange.software

Francis Preve has been designing synthesizer presets professionally since 2000. Check out his Scapes project at francispreve.com.