Software developer Magnus Lindström of Sonic Charge doesn't release a lot of products, so when one does show up, it's big news. His virtual drum-machine plug-in µTonic was the subject of EM's February 2005 “Download of the Month,” and his new synth, Synplant ($89.95), is just as unusual. Under the hood it is analog-modeled, but a quick look at the user interface reveals a totally different programming approach that he calls genetic.
The brown seed at the center of the GUI represents a basic synth patch. You use the 12 surrounding branches to grow variations on that patch. Click-drag a branch to make it grow, and audition it by playing a note in the pitch class (C, C#, D, and so on) indicated on the outer ring. All the branches differ in timbre, but because the sounds are evolved from the same seed, you often get a playable synth right off the bat. When you don't, you can clone a branch so they all match, or you can create a new seed from a branch and evolve it some more. Synplant does let you under the hood to tamper with the genome, but that kind of defeats the purpose.
You can map MIDI continuous controllers to each front panel function, and three are of particular note. By default, the Mod Wheel (CC 1) evolves all the branches at once; the Wheel Scaling slider at the bottom sets the range. If the branches have been cloned, this will have a uniform effect on all notes. CC 18 rotates the branches relative to the pitch-class ring. That's very useful when playing repeating sequences, but it only has an effect when the branches produce different sounds (see Web Clip 1). CC 82 creates a new seed from the selected or last-played branch.
Synplant practically forces you to think differently. But you quickly develop an intuition about the effect of the various operations, and that distinguishes it from simply generating random patches. Grab the time-limited demo and give it a whirl.