FIG. 1: The CrystalModulation page offers extensive signal-routingpossibilities.FIG. 2: Finale NotePadmakes it easy to enter notesthat look sharp and clean whenprinted.FIG. 3: Inspector'scompact design shows a tremendous amount of information in a singlewindow.FIG. 4: MidiPipe 0.5.5provides an extensive number of powerful MIDI-processing functions,such as the new MicroTuner with visualization.FIG. 5: PulsarGeneratorwindows show various components of the pulsar, including the waveformsand envelopes that control the sound..FIG. 6: Spark ME 2.8 is afree editor from TC Works that is packed with useful editing functionsand features, such as the ability to view QuickTimemovies..FIG. 7: The fish filletschannel insert package provides subtle analog-style dynamic processingand saturation. The front panel of BlockFish opens to reveal thecircuit controls.FIG. 8: The CellSynthcircular window uses a unique matrix interface. A Filter Cell is shownhere open for editing.FIG. 9:More FeedbackMachine is the ultimate virtual delay device. It should satisfy eventhe most extreme desire for control.FIG. 10: Rax hosts AUmusic devices and effects. You can stack as many effects and create asmany racks as your computer can handle.FIG. 11: ReMIDI allowsyou to play chords using the notes as the root of the chords. You canalso add the Arpeggiator to play chordsequences.FIG. 12: Transcribeassists transcription by using spectral analysis to extract pitchesfrom an audio file segment.FIG. .13: Ambience 1.0allows control of numerous reverb parameters usually found only onhigher-end hardware reverberators.
Mac Shareware RoundupShare the wares of creative softwaredevelopers.
By Gregory D. Moore
My search for Mac shareware yielded a number of pleasant surprises.The first was finding programs of such high caliber. Several of thesehave as many or more features than more expensive commercial programsand offer sound quality that is equally stunning. The second surprisewas the range of tools available. While there are many dozens ofeffects and soft-instrument plug-ins, there are also programs, such asPulsarGenerator from the Center for Research in Electronic ArtTechnology (CREATE), that offer ways of working with sound that youprobably haven't come across before.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the realization that there is asharp divide between the Mac OS 9 and OS X worlds. Though manymusicians are still working with OS 9, others are well into the bravenew world of OS X Core Audio, CoreMIDI, and Audio Unit (AU). In fact,it seemed that each day there was something new appearing in the OS Xworld, and programs were updating version numbers faster than I couldkeep track. The Mac is in a wonderful state of evolution, and it'sgoing to be fun to see how things develop (see the sidebar “MacOS X Freeware and Shareware Links” for some sites to watch).
WHAT WE'RE COVERING
This roundup will include Mac shareware, freeware, and (in one case)donationware. As in the Windows roundup, we're looking primarily atnewer programs, many of which are offered by lesser-knownmanufacturers. Though numerous “hall of fame” shareware andfreeware programs are still going strong, they've been well covered inthe past (see the sidebar “Mac Shareware Hall of Fame” foran overview of these tools).
Note that several of the freeware programs included here arescaled-back versions of commercial software. Yet far from being justdemos or crippled applications, they are fully functional and usefulprograms in their own right. And if you want to upgrade, there is aclear path to satisfy your appetite for additional features.
Finally, if you don't yet have an OS X AU host, you may want toexplore Granted Software's Rax (covered later), which will run all theAU programs mentioned here. Though I hope you'll enjoy reading aboutthese programs, I assure you they are a lot more fun to play with thanto read about.
This category of software is about the best bargain you'll find.Free, no strings attached. What more could you ask for?
Crystal 2.2 (Mac OS 9: VST; OS X: VST, AU; Win)
Green Oak Software's Crystal is an amazing soft synth, with stunningsound quality, that stands up well against any commercial soft synthregardless of price. Yet its creator, Glenn Olander, offers Crystal forfree as a labor of love. Moving beyond a simple modular synthesizer,Crystal features subtractive and FM synthesis as well as wavesequencing, granular synthesis, and SoundFont playback.
Crystal is a plug-in for the Mac and the PC that requires a VST hostunder OS 9.x and OS X or an Audio Unit host under OS X. A G4 (orPentium II/500 MHz) is the minimum CPU. Even with a fast processor, youmay want to record tracks to disk if you plan on using many Crystaltracks.
Crystal's extensive controls are accessed from five different areas:the Modulation page, three Voice pages, and the Mixer page. There isalso a utility page that remains visible at all times and that providesextensive editing functions, such as setting voice levels, togglingvoices on and off, and copying and pasting voices and patches. A Revertfunction lets you do A/B comparisons between the original and theedited patch.
Crystal refers to an oscillator sound component as a Voice andallows up to three Voices per patch. You set up parameters for a Voiceby selecting its page. This is also where you can select banks andpatches. An oscillator can employ any of several waveforms or anySoundFont you have on your system (none are included). You can alsocombine samples with Crystal's internal sounds to create new timbres.Filter and amplitude envelopes are also available for each Voice.
Each Voice has a dedicated FM and hard-sync oscillator that furtherexpands its sound capability. Various parameter options appeardepending on the waveform type that is selected. For example, withSawSquare or WarmSaw, a Mogrify control appears that lets you re-createclassic hard-sync sweep sounds. With sampled waveforms, Granular andWave Density parameters are available for exploring granularsynthesis.
The real fun comes on the Modulation page (see Fig. 1), whereyou have six different multistaged envelope generators with a graphicaleditor, six LFOs, and a modulation matrix. Envelopes can be one-shot orcan be looped for interesting evolving patterns. You can select frommore than 90 modulation parameters on the modulation matrix, includingany MIDI source, LFO, or envelope generator to target any number ofparameters. Such extensive modulation control is what allows Crystal'ssound to evolve and be so animated. It also allows for some interestingfunctions, such as wave sequencing. Crystal lets you use the 8-stageenvelope generator to sequence among 8 different predefined sampledwaveforms. On any Voice page, you can select the degree of crossfade asthe program sequences through the waveforms.
The Mixer page is where you combine Voices and add effects such aschorus, flanger, delay, and reverb. Crystal offers a frequency-bandsplitter that divides the signal into four frequency bands, each ofwhich can be processed separately.
Overall, Crystal is one of the best-sounding soft synths available.Its ability to combine so many different synthesis types makes ituseful for a wide range of interesting and complex evolving sounds.Kudos to Glenn Olander for providing such an amazing free gift to themusic community.
Finale NotePad 2003a (Mac OS 9, Classic, Win).
MakeMusic (formerly Coda Music Technology), the maker of Finale,offers a free notation program called Finale NotePad 2003a that issurprisingly useful for simple notation needs (see Fig. 2). Itoffers many of the features of Finale 2003 and includes a very elegantand nearly foolproof notation-entry feature. A serial number that isrequired for installation will be sent to you when you download theprogram.
Upon startup, a wizard guides you through the setup of a newdocument, including the title, credit, instruments, key, and timesignature. Be sure to select the instruments in the order you want todisplay them, as altering the setup is not possible later. Once setupis finished, NotePad presents a formatted page of sheet music where youcan begin entering notes.
The note-entry process is extremely intuitive: just select a notevalue and click on the staff where you want the note to appear.Extensive keyboard shortcuts make note and value selections very fast.NotePad keeps track of the note values you enter, so it's impossible toaccidentally enter too many or too few notes in a measure. Enteringarticulation and dynamic markings and correcting mistakes is just aseasy. For example, to delete a note, simply place the cursor over it,press the Delete key to select the Eraser tool, and click on the note.Then press a numeric key to select the next note value. A message bardisplays helpful information as you roll the cursor over each tool, andyou can choose to have notes displayed in concert pitch ortransposed.
NotePad 2003a can open any 2003-family file from Finale, FinaleGuitar, Allegro, or PrintMusic. What you won't get with NotePad is theability to save your music as a MIDI file or the ability to enter notesfrom a MIDI instrument. However, if you simply want to enter and printfast, beautiful music notation, then NotePad is an elegant way to getthe job done.
Inspector 1.05 (Mac OS 9: VST; OS X: VST, AU; Win: VST)
Elemental Audio Systems' aptly named Inspector is a powerfulspectral analysis, metering, and level-monitoring tool. Inspector comesin two plug-in formats: VST for OS 9 and OS X and Audio Unit for OS X(a Windows VST version should be out by the time you read this). Don'tbe deceived by the pretty meters and graphics; Inspector is a serioustool that can provide vital information about your audio. It has bothpeak and RMS meters with programmable caution and warning zones thathelp you visualize and monitor your recording levels. It monitors levelclipping, balance, and headroom and has a Master Alarm that informs youwhen thresholds you've set have been exceeded.
The first thing you'll notice on loading Inspector is the SpectralDisplay (see Fig. 3). This window is cleverly arranged toprovide maximum information in a compact design. It allows you tovisualize (on the same screen) what is common to both channels and whatis different. The left-channel spectrum is in blue; the right-channelspectrum is in red (areas common to both channels are in purple). Adisable button allows you to turn off the display and reduce CPUload.
The peak and RMS meters to the right of the Spectral Display areanother example of compact yet informative design. The large peakmeters are on the inside and smaller RMS meters are on the outside,with the scale from -96 dB to 0 dB running down the center. Levels of 0dB will cause the clip meters to remain lit until they are reset (byclicking on either one of them). The meters are divided into threecolored zones: green (normal), yellow (caution), and orange (warning).You can customize the range of the caution and warning zones. Inaddition, a Balance meter indicates the balance between the left andright channels using color codes, which gives you a historical pictureover time.
The clipping displays consist of several numeric indicators thatkeep track of the number of clipping incidents in your audio file. ClipIncidents shows the number of times a group of one or more consecutivesamples exceeds 0 dB for each channel, and you can set the InspectorAlarm to notify you when the audio has clipped beyond the threshold youspecify. Consecutive Clips and Clipped Samples keep track of thelongest run of consecutive clips and the actual number of clippedsamples, which could indicate a more audible clipping error.
The Headroom meter displays the remaining headroom for each channel,and when the threshold you set is reached, the alarm goes off. When anyof the alarms go off, they will trigger the Master Alarm, which is alarge red indicator that is sure to grab your attention. Simply clickon the values to reset any alarm.
Spectral Display, in conjunction with the peak and RMS meters, givesyou an excellent visual indication of your audio levels. However, thereal power of Inspector lies in the level-tracking numbers and thealarms that will warn you if any threshold levels you set have beenexceeded. If this were a hardware device, it would cost a fortune. Thefact that a tool with this power is being given away for free isastonishing.
MidiPipe 0.5.5 (Mac OS X)
In the early days of MIDI, hardware MIDI patch bays and processorswere powerful devices used for keyboard splitting, transposition,message-type conversion, and MIDI effects such as delays andharmonizers. These devices were sometimes complex and cryptic toprogram and often added significant latency to the signal. Nico Wald'sMidiPipe is an intriguing work in progress that in many cases replacesthe function of a MIDI processor by making use of the new OS X 10.2CoreMIDI functions. Most important, this utility adds a great deal offunctionality, is much easier to use than its hardware predecessors,and can modify MIDI messages in real time for use both in the studioand onstage.
When you first open MidiPipe, you'll see a list of MIDI processingfunctions (called Tools) on the left and a column for Pipes on theright (see Fig. 4). The Pipes column is a virtual rack thatholds the Tools you select. MidiPipe will work with an external MIDIcontroller, a software source such as MIDIKeys, or its own virtualkeyboard. The keyboard can be used both to send MIDI data and as amonitoring device, as it provides a visual indication of any MIDIsignals being received or transmitted.
To add a Tool, double-click on it or drag it over to the Pipescolumn. Once Tools are loaded, you can rearrange them as needed.Because MidiPipe is still in development, some functions have yet to beimplemented, such as the Tool and Pipe menu functions. For example, todelete a Pipe, you must use the Mac's Delete key, as the Delete and Cutoptions in the Pipe menu aren't currently enabled.
MidiPipe gives you a large number of Tools to work with, including amessage-type converter, a delay, Message and Channel Filters, and aTranspose Tool. There's also the Channel Router, Keyboard Split,Randomizer, (virtual) Keyboard, MicroTuner, and Set and Duration Tools.You can combine the Tools into various configurations to create manyuseful applications, such as making custom keyboard tunings and unusualkeyboard splits, rerouting and filtering MIDI channel and systemmessages, or converting one type of controller to another (such ashaving a footpedal control Pitch Bend). You can also create multipleprocessors for a single MIDI input by designating a different MidiPipenumber for each MIDI output channel and sending each process to adifferent synthesizer voice.
Unfortunately, one of the most interesting functions, Delay, didn'twork with any of my software or even when I sent data to an externalMIDI device. As it turns out, Delay works only with MIDI interfacedrivers and applications that support scheduled events, such asPropellerhead Reason. Delay could potentially work with both theTranspose and MicroTuner Tools to create some very interesting effectsthat aren't readily available even from effects processors.Nevertheless, MidiPipe is useful even in its current state ofdevelopment and offers powerful real-time processing and relatively lowlatency.
PulsarGenerator 2001 1.0.01b (Mac OS 9)
PulsarGenerator is a real-time interactive sound-synthesis programcreated by Curtis Roads and Alberto de Campo of the Center for Researchin Electronic Art Technology (CREATE) at the University of California,Santa Barbara. It's a computer-music composition tool that's designedto be manipulated in real time using the computer itself as acontroller rather than an external device. If your focus is on popmusic, this may not be for you. But who's to say the next big hit won'tbe made of looped pulse trains?
In order to use PulsarGenerator, it is necessary to understand a bitabout pulsar synthesis and its associated terminology, some of whichcan be a little intimidating (the documentation calls panning“spatial trajectory,” for example). Some of the mathdiagrams might also frighten away certain users, though on closeexamination, they're not all that complicated. Fortunately, there's agood bit of documentation on both PulsarGenerator and pulsar synthesis,though it is scattered about in various documents, on the Web, and inthe onscreen help.
Pulsar synthesis generates a train of sound particles calledpulsars. A single pulsar consists of a pulsaret, which is aband-limited pulse followed by a duration of silence. Repetitions ofpulsar signals create a pulsar train that can last seconds orminutes. Pulsar synthesis is named after spinning neutron stars thatemit periodic signals, coincidentally in the same range of frequencies(0.25 to 642 Hz) that pulsar synthesis uses to generate rhythms andtones. Frequencies below 18 Hz are heard as rhythm. With frequenciesbetween 18 and 30 Hz, pulsar synthesis generates a fluttering sound.Frequencies above 30 Hz are perceived as distinct tones.
PulsarGenerator has several graphic windows that represent variouscomponents of the pulsar, including its waveforms and envelopes (seeFig. 5). You can tweak parameters in real time to control thepulse train as it's playing. The fundFreq parameter determines thefrequency of the pulse train and whether it is a rhythm or a pitch.Some of the other parameters are analogous to more traditionalsynthesis parameters, such as formFreq, which acts like an oscillatorto determine the pitch of the pulsaret (the pulsaret parameter controlsthe waveform). PanN and ampN are panning and amplitude controls.
Other controls don't relate to general synthesis parameters aseasily; for example, pulseMask, a probability function that determinesif and when pulsars are emitted. However, the manual suggests that in acertain range, this parameter causes “an analog-likeintermittency, as if there were a loose connection,” which isprobably something we can all relate to.
PulsarGenerator's Control Panel offers start and stop commands andmixing controls for up to three different pulse streams, the maximumallowed. There is also a Burst Ratio that sets the ratio ofpulsar-to-silent intervals. At the bottom is the Cyclebar, which showsthe current position within the pulse train. Here you can also record apulse to a sound file or play pulse trains in reverse. The Tables Bankis where you store and load wavetable sets (up to 16 wavetables in abank), and the Scope gives you a visual representation of the pulsarsas they play.
Getting to know the extensive keyboard shortcuts seems to be a keyelement in successfully manipulating PulsarGenerator in real time. Theprogram's greatest strength is also its weakness. PulsarGenerator isdesigned as a real-time compositional instrument that uses the power ofthe computer and its own envelope generators to shape the sound andcomposition. However, by focusing on the computer as the input device,it limits the interactive expression that could be possible with a morededicated instrument controller. Nevertheless, PulsarGenerator is acomplex instrument itself with plenty of sonic and compositionalpossibilities to explore.
Spark ME 2.8 (Mac OS X)
TC Works' Spark ME is a free stereo audio editor that is meant to bean introductory teaser to TC Works' line of more feature-rich editors,which cost up to $599 depending on the version. This free version has arespectable number of features and is one of the stablest and mostrobust editors currently available for the Mac OS X platform. As anative application, it has been designed to utilize the new OS X 10.2Core Audio, which results in low latency and fast response. Spark MEhas a large list of features, including playlists, sampling-rateconversion, VST effects hosting, and QuickTime movie import. And mostimportant, Spark ME works with any professional audio interface.
Spark ME's main window consists of a File menu, the Playlist menu,and the Wave Editor (see Fig. 6). The Wave Editor offersgraphical waveform editing and is split into two parts: an overview anda zoomed-in region. You Option-click to zoom in andOption-Command-click to zoom out. You can even zoom down to theindividual sample level and draw the waveform, which might be useful ifyou need to remove a pop or click.
Editing couldn't be easier: click on the waveform to create anediting point, then Shift-click on another point to make an areaselection. Holding the Shift key down while moving over the windowallows the start or end points to be adjusted. Pressing Return confirmsthe selected area, which can then be heard by selecting Play Selectionfrom the Options menu. Selected areas can easily be turned into Regionsby pressing Command-R. Regions can then be organized into a playlistfor CD preparation and exported as a Roxio Toast playlist.
Spark ME can process audio in a number of ways. It has awell-deserved reputation for its sampling-rate conversion tools, and itsupports a variety of rates between 11 and 192 kHz. Other processingoptions include gain change, reverse, invert, normalize, and find peak.Fade-ins or fade-outs, which include a number of curve options, areespecially easy to perform. Files can also be saved at various bitdepths from 8 to 24 bits and in several different formats, includingAIFF, WAV, SDII, RAW, and Sonic Foundry's W64. The program can importbut not save MP3 files. The ability to import QuickTime movies (but notMPEG movies) is a nice touch, but it would be helpful if you could seethe frame numbers as well as the time.
Spark ME comes with only one VST EQ plug-in but can access any thatyou have in your VST folder. (A fun set to try out is mda-vst's VSTeffects plug-in suite. Note that the VST folder is stored in adifferent place in OS X than in OS 9.) Spark ME has an extremely niceVST plug-in interface that includes a preview option and the ability tosave and load both individual plug-in settings and banks. If youinstall the Spark XL demo, all of its VST plug-ins will show up inSpark ME as well. Though you can't preview the XL plug-ins, they willprocess audio.
Also note that the XL plug-ins don't show up in the VST plug-infolder, so they are not easy to remove. Moreover, there's no uninstallfor the Spark XL demo, and even trashing the Spark XL demo will notremove these plug-ins.
The documentation included with Spark ME is rather sparse, and thereis no online manual (a two-page getting-started guide is available inthe Support section of the company's Web site). TC Works shouldconsider allowing the download of the full Spark XL manual to educateusers both about Spark ME and about the features of its other versions.As it is, you're basically on your own, and there are many hiddenfeatures that the casual user may overlook at first. For example,Command-clicking will start playback immediately from the point onwhich you click, and in order to play back only a selected area youmust turn on Play Selection in the Options menu. Nevertheless, Spark MEis a powerful tool, and its professional quality makes it well worthexploring.
The fish fillets channel insert package 1.1 (Mac OS 9: VST; OS X:VST, AU; Win: VST)
If you're hungry for even more great-sounding plug-ins, we offer youDigitalfishphones.com's The fish fillets channel insert package. Thisnew offering appeared just as this article was being completed. Even ifyou're not hungry, don't let the name turn you off, as the sounds itmakes are delicious!
The first course is BlockFish, a compressor with soul. As thedeveloper says, “It likes to bite, but it can be tamed easilyonce you've learned how to use its potential.” BlockFish offers aversatile range of sounds, which can be clean, smooth, dense, punchy,loud, crunchy, or fat. By smoothing out the dynamic response of yoursource, it effectively increases the level of the track while addingwarmth. BlockFish provides simulations of either VCA or opticalcircuits. A great deal of effort has been made toward creating anaccurate simulation of gentle analog-style compression and saturationthat doesn't squash the sound (as do conventional digital compressors).This allows the music to “breathe.”
One of the coolest features is the ability to open the virtual frontpanel and tweak the circuit-board trim pots to achieve a variety ofdifferent sounds (see Fig. 7). What a concept! For those of youold enough to remember messing around with analog effects, you'll havegreat fun with this.
The second course is SpitFish, a simple de-esser designed to smoothout the harsh sibilant ess sounds from vocals that mightotherwise overload the recording. It can also be used to tame othersounds in the upper frequency range, such as crash cymbals. Theresponse of the compression is gentle and effective.
The last dish is FloorFish, an expander/gate that's useful forvarious applications from slight expansion to noise reduction togating. It was designed to clean up drum tracks by raising the level ofthe track only when an amplitude threshold is reached. It is especiallyuseful for eliminating track bleed. What makes this different from anoise gate is that because it's also an expander, you don't have toeliminate the bottom noise floor completely unless you choose to do so.FloorFish also allows you to scan the source frequency and thus adjustthe transition curve accordingly.
This unique package of plug-ins is great fun and will add superbanalog-style sound to your digital effects rack. And if this freeoffering sounds a bit fishy to you, it comes with an excellent PDFmanual so you can read all about it in great detail.
Developers of the next group of programs aren't asking much. They'reletting you try out their software before buying to be sure it suitsyou. Though these applications may be missing a few features, you canstill get a good idea of what they are all about.
CellSynth 1.7 (Mac OS 9, Classic, $95)
Living Memory's CellSynth is a powerful modular synthesizer for therest of us, as the “Sync Different” theme on themanufacturer's Web site indicates. The program consists of a monophonicmodular software synthesizer, sample player, sequencer, and effectsprocessor, and utilizes a unique matrix interface. CellSynth can beplayed as a live MIDI performance instrument with its output recordedto disk, or the audio can be routed to your favorite sequencer forrecording via ReWire. The synthesizer section of CellSynth is fullyoperational, but the Automation, Event Sequencers, and ReWirecapability are disabled until registered. The $95 shareware fee is abargain when you hear and see what this monster soft synth can do.
CellSynth runs in both OS 9 and with limited functionality inClassic. MIDI control of CellSynth works only in OS 9 with OMS 2.0.CellSynth does not yet support OS X 10.2 CoreMIDI, so MIDI access isnot available. A well-designed downloadable PDF manual provides a verythorough introduction to the program and includes numerous diagrams andgraphic examples. However, several features and changes have been addedto CellSynth since the manual was written, and no update has appeared.CellSynth also has an online Apple guide and a Shortcut tip list. Andit makes extensive use of pop-up windows that explain functions as youroll the mouse over them. We wish more programmers made their softwarethis easy to understand.
Due to the expandable nature of its modular structure, CellSynthrequires a fair amount of CPU power, particularly for its more complexmatrices. I found that some programs bogged down when tested on a MacG3/400, though I certainly had a lot of fun playing with CellSynth evenon this older machine. The manual warns that both reverb and hard-diskrecording utilize a lot of processing power and suggests not usingreverb on slower machines.
When you first load CellSynth, it looks like a Go game board withits unusual 6 × 6-square Matrix (see Fig. 8). However, itquickly becomes apparent that the Matrix is an extremely powerfulconcept. Underneath its lean surface is a deep and flexible interface.Within each Matrix square, you place what the program calls Cells. EachCell is a complete modular component that can be moved around in theMatrix and connected to other modules in the same waymodular-synthesizer components are patched with cables.
You assign Cells by selecting them from the two palettes of sevenCells each that appear at the top and bottom of the Matrix. The toppalette offers seven different Generator Cells, including waveforms,noise, a harmonic generator, and a sample player that supports AIFF,WAV, and MP3 files. At the bottom are the DSP Cells from which youselect various effects processors, including filters, a phaser, adelay, a reverb, and a vocoder. The DSP Cells can be combined invarious configurations to create any number of more complex effects.Clicking on a Cell opens up an editing window where you can view andedit parameters. To employ a Cell, select it and drag it onto theMatrix.
Each Cell has small grayed-out red and green arrows on its sidesthat, when selected, allow connection from an adjacent component eitheras a modulation control (red arrow) or as an audio connection (greenarrow). This makes simple experimentation easy but also allows advancedusers to construct complex patches with extensive parameter control. Infact, the sounds from CellSynth are uncannily reminiscent of the rich,fat sounds from a real modular synthesizer.
CellSynth goes beyond the modular-synthesizer analogy, however, toinclude digital effects and samples. The included digital effects canbe greatly expanded by combining modules. For example, to create aflanger, simply modulate the comb filter with a slow-moving oscillator.CellSynth can also work as a sample player with editing functions andkey ranges for each sample. Loops can be synced to bars, and samplescan be automatically tuned and stretched to fit bars and also processedwith DSP Cells.
CellSynth has an extensive range of MIDI-controlled parameters thatallow real-time control via a MIDI controller or sequencer (registeredusers can use the built-in Automation Sequencer to perform mix andeffects automation). There is also a Step Sequencer that can be used toperform sample-and-hold-style modulation. The one notable limitation ofCellSynth is its lack of response to MIDI Velocity (you can use MIDIcontrollers for expressive control). We hope that future releases ofthe program will address this shortcoming. Overall, though, CellSynthis an audio treat that really is different. This is one download youdon't want to miss.
More Feedback Machine 1.0 (Mac OS 9: VST; OS X: VST, AU; Win,$20)
If you enjoy effects programming, Urs Heckmann's More FeedbackMachine (MFM) is the Holy Grail of software digital-delay processors.This incredible beast has more knobs and features than most softwaresynthesizers (see Fig. 9). MFM offers four delay lines that canbe fed back into each other using a 4×4 feedback matrix. Eachdelay has filters that can be applied to either the input or the delayfeedback. To control unruly feedback, each delay line has alimiter/compressor/saturator, and to modulate the delay lines andfilters, there are two LFOs and a step sequencer that allowssample-and-hold-type modulation.
MFM is sure to satisfy your lust for control. In addition to thefeatures just mentioned, each delay has a delay time of up to 2,000 ms;a lowpass, highpass, bandpass, or notch filter with filter cutoff andresonance; a dual-polarity feedback matrix; and output-level and pancontrols. The LFOs and step sequencer can modulate most of theseparameters. You can use the delay lines in various configurations,including two stereo delays, two independent stereo filters, and fourindependent mono effects. Using any of these configurations and thenumerous modulation, filter, and feedback parameters, you can create anextraordinary number of sound effects.
Even with the processing demands of MFM, the CPU overhead isrelatively low on a G4. However, further optimization for the G4 isplanned and will be available to registered users. The program has nomanual, but the developer maintains an extensive online manual at hisWeb site that includes detailed information, diagrams, and tips. Thisis by far the ultimate software digital delay.
Rax 0.3.3b (Mac OS X, no fee)
Granted Software's Rax (in late beta) is a virtual synth/effectsrack and a live performance Audio Unit host. It's one of the first AUhosts that makes good use of the new OS X 10.2 Core Audio and CoreMIDIfunctions and is an excellent choice for hosting some of the many AUinstruments and effects featured in this article (see Fig. 10).The release notes make it clear that Rax is only a preliminary releaseand is not intended for “real” applications. However,anyone exploring the new world of OS X and Audio Unit will find this aninvaluable tool even in its current state.
For those new to Audio Unit, both effects and synthesizers go intothe User/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/Component folder. Once there, Rax andother AU programs will recognize them. Regardless of what MIDI sourceyou choose, whether it is an external MIDI device, a sequencer withCoreMIDI support, or a software MIDI keyboard such as MIDIKeys, be sureto make it active before loading Rax. Otherwise, it won't berecognized.
When you first load Rax, you will need to select a synthesizer fromthe Music Device list. I suggest exploring the built-in AppleDLSMusicDevice, Crystal AU, or Urs Heckmann's new Zoyd monophonicsynth. You then add effects to the rack from the Effect menu. To openan effect for editing, click on the white sphere next to its name, andan editing panel for the synthesizer or effect will appear. Raxprocesses the signal from the top down, and you can move effects aroundin the rack once they've been loaded.
In addition to AU effects you add to the Library, there are severalgreat AU effects built into the new OS X 10.2 Core Audio. These includeMatrix Reverb, Digital Delay, Parametric EQ, Peak Limiter, and a numberof filters, all freely accessible from within Rax. You can stack asmany effects onto the rack as your CPU power will allow, and on my MacG3/400, I was able to stack three or four simple effects on a synthwithout any problem. You can create as many racks as you want and haveeach one respond to a single MIDI channel or to different channels. Youcan also save and load a virtual rack with its synthesizer and effectsfor reuse.
Rax is a fun and useful tool for exploring OS X Audio Unit devicesas well as for live performance applications. Keep your eyes on theGranted Software Web site for future developments.
ReMIDI 0.4b (Mac OS X, no fee)
ReMIDI (pronounced “remedy”) from Granted Software is aperformance assistant consisting of an arpeggiator and a MIDI chordtool that is still in beta development. When you first run the program,there's not much to look at. But don't let that fool you: there's a lotof fun to be had with this software.
ReMIDI is designed for use between your MIDI triggering device and aMIDI application. It allows you to create simple arpeggios orarpeggiated chordal sequences, and supports transposition, looping, andretriggering. You can use the computer keyboard to trigger arpeggios,which gives a number of useful performance options such asoctave-shifting and transpositions.
Clicking on the Edit box will open the Arpeggiator, where you enternotes using a piano-roll interface (see Fig. 11). You canspecify Tempo, Interval (note value), Length (note sustain duration,that is, legato or staccato), and Notes (number of notes in thesequence). Rests are created by Control-clicking in the piano roll(rests are indicated in red). You can also save and load sequences inReMIDI's ARP format, but not as Standard MIDI Files.
I ran into trouble when I set the length of notes to a value longerthan the time interval: the program hung, and I was unable to stopplayback even by turning the Arpeggiator off. A reset button would be awelcome addition. I'd also like to have the ability to createpolyphonic arpeggios (though polyphony could get out of hand if usedwith the Chord tool).
ReMIDI's Chord function lets you select chords that will be playedwhen a single note is pressed (the triggering note becomes the rootnote of the chord). This is a fun little tool by itself (try using someof your favorite synth pads), but it can also be used in conjunctionwith the Arpeggiator. Possible applications include live performance,composition, or recording MIDI arpeggios and chords for use by a MIDIsequencing application. Though there are 29 chords to choose from, itwould be nice if you could use different inversions or create your ownchords. An intelligent chord function, where chords are determined bythe notes on a scale, would also be useful. These additions would makeReMIDI an even more powerful tool.
Transcribe 6 (Mac OS 9, OS X, Win, $40)
Seventh String Software's Transcribe 6 is an unusualspectral-analysis program given that its function is to assist in musictranscription. By extracting pitch and harmonic information from thespectral analysis of a section of an audio wave, it helps you determinethe notes that are being played. The program doesn't perform thetranscription for you, but displays spectral peaks across a keyboardindicating the notes and harmonics in the audio segment (see Fig.12). Transcribe can also slow the music down without altering itspitch when playing back, which makes it much easier to hear individualnotes within a fast passage of music.
Transcribe can open files in AIFF, WAV, and MP3 format or extractaudio directly from a CD under OS X and newer Windows versions. You canplay back a passage at any speed between one-twentieth and double thenormal speed, or add processing such as EQ. When you locate a phraseyou want to analyze, highlight it with the cursor, and the notes in thespectral analysis are immediately displayed on a virtual keyboard withthe waveform shown above each note. The process is extremely easy andvery fast. Because the extracted pitches are highly accurate, it's veryeasy to determine the notes being played. Though Transcribe is prettymuch a one-trick pony, it sure beats transcribing audio by ear!
Here's a deal you can't pass up. If you like the program, just senda few dollars to the developer, and everyone will be happy.
Ambience 1.0 (Mac OS 9: VST; OS X: VST, AU; Win)
Ambience is a dedicated high-end reverb plug-in that rivals manycommercial reverbs in both the scope of its controls and the quality ofits sound. It is an extraordinary offering from Magnus Jonsson ofSmartelectronix, who spent two years developing the underlyingalgorithm. When you first hear Ambience you immediately realize that ithas a distinctive character, adding both ambience and depth that gobeyond your typical reverb plug-in. It can create sounds from cupboardsto cathedrals and everything in between. The AU version I tested didn'tcome with any presets, but those are planned for release soon.
The real power of Ambience lies in its wide range of parameters,which allow you to precisely tailor its sound to the source materialand the virtual space you are creating. Aside from the ubiquitouswet/dry, room size, and reverb-time controls, Ambience offers low- andhigh-frequency crossover filters and separate control of the low andhigh reverb times (see Fig. 13). It also offers low- andhigh-shelf filters that allow you to effectively emulate realisticfrequency falloff of acoustic spaces. There is also a variationparameter that changes the resonance and echoes of the algorithm. Thissetting provides numerous sound variations, some subtle and others moredistinct. Special effects such as hold and gating are also possible.Overall, there's tremendous control in shaping the sound to emulatevarious ambient spaces.
Ambience gives you the ability to adjust the CPU load, albeit at theexpense of real-time performance. It doesn't make use of AltiVecacceleration on the Mac, and you can often hear a very slight loopingin the reverb tail with certain sounds (this is also occasionally trueof hardware reverbs). You can overcome this somewhat (particularly withslow-attack sounds) by combining Ambience with other plug-ins, such aschorus and delay, effectively increasing the density and smoothness ofthe overall sound.
Ambience is an extremely high-quality reverb, but it is not free, sodon't forget to make a donation if you choose to use this gem.
Gregory D. Mooreprogrammed many of the effects heard onthe Sony DSP series effects processor. He also created audio demos andanimation for Sony and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a number of other programs that are worth a look. Some areexcellent tools for OS X testing and setup, while others are justgreat-sounding and good fun.
Amazing Slow Downer 2.5.7 (Mac OS 9, OS X, Win; shareware)
Learn a musical passage by slowing the music down without changing itspitch. You can tweak a variety of parameters to optimize the sound.
Audacity 1.1.3 (Mac OS 9, OS X, Win; freeware)
An open-source multitrack audio editor that has numerous built-ineffects, frequency analysis, and support for VST plug-ins.
Frequency 1.0 (Mac OS X; freeware)
Pandaa, Jonas Åström
A graphical spectral editor that lets you brush harmonic content tocreate unusual effects.
iMIDI 0.2b (Mac OS X; freeware beta)
IMIDI uses Rendezvous and TCP/IP to provide MIDI ports betweencomputers on a LAN. The ability to set up a MIDI network opens up someintriguing possibilities.
MadShifta 1.0 (Mac OS 9, OS X, Win; donationware)
This VST effects plug-in is a pitch-shifter with an unusual interfaceand powerful capabilities.
mda VST Effects Plug-ins (Mac OS 9: VST; OS X: VST, AU; Win: VST;freeware)
A suite of 30 VST effects that range from a Leslie simulator to a talkbox. Some have been ported as AU effects.
MidiClock 1.2 (Mac OS X; freeware)
A MIDI clock source for synchronizing MIDI applications, even betweentwo computers. It can also transmit MIDI clock signals to additionalMIDI end points.
MIDIKeys 1.6b2 (Mac OS X; freeware)
This soft MIDI keyboard lets you play notes with the computerkeyboard. It also allows you to view incoming MIDI notes as they playon the keyboard. A great setup and test tool.
MIDIMonitor 1.1.4 (Mac OS X; freeware)
MIDIMonitor presents a useful window on all incoming MIDI messages andincludes a filtering capability for selective viewing of specific MIDIdata.
SimpleSynth 0.7 (Mac OS X; donationware)
A simple soft synth for OS X that uses Apple's QuickTime Instrumentsor SoundFonts.
Sonasphere 0.7 (Mac OS X; freeware beta)
A live performance tool that offers one of the most interesting musical3-D-graphic interfaces. 3-D spheres represent sound processors, and theinteraction of the spheres creates intriguing musical effects.
SupaPhaser 2.0 (Mac OS X; donationware)
This 23-stage phaser with saturation can be used to create incrediblydeep phasing effects.
SynthTest 1.2.1 (Mac OS X; freeware)
An OS X application that lets you select a MIDI input, an AUMusicDevice synth, and an AU effect. You can open and edit the synthand the effect.
SysEx Librarian 1.04 (Mac OS X; freeware)
As its name implies, this program lets you back up and restore patchesto and from your MIDI synths.
USB Monitor 1.1 (Mac OS X; freeware)
A simple tool that shows the name of a USB device as it is beingplugged in or removed.
The Virtual Theremin (Mac OS 9, OS X, Win; freeware)
This virtual simulation of the theremin is more of a toy than a tool.Good silly fun.
VoiceBox 1.3 (Mac OS X; shareware)
Type in a sentence, and a Mac voice reads it back with the option tosave to disk.
Zoyd (Mac OS X; freeware)
Four waveshapers, a noise generator, more than a dozen filters, andsome very unique oscillators make this hot new modular synth worthwatching.
MAC SHAREWARE HALL OF FAME
These are time-tested freeware and shareware gems that have earneda place in our select Hall of Fame. You'll find a few very deepprograms among the other, more utilitarian offerings.
Csound 4.23 (Mac OS 9, OS X, Win; freeware)
The famous sound-programming language. Csound has a rich history andis the basis for numerous other programs.
Delay Lama 1.1 (Mac OS 9, Win; freeware)
The famous singing-monk VST Instrument that offers vocal synthesisfrom within a 3-D animated interface.
iTunes 4 (Mac OS X; freeware)
Apple's audio player now features AAC audio compression as well asaccess to the iTunes Music Store, where you can try and buy songs for99 cents.
Pro Tools Free 5.01 (Mac OS 9, Win; freeware)
This version of Digidesign's workhorse audio editor offers up to 8tracks of audio, 48 tracks of MIDI, real-time plug-ins, and many otherpro features. An OS X version has been announced but has yet to bereleased.
QuickTime 6.3 (Mac OS 9, OS X; freeware)
Apple's free multimedia player now offers MP4 with AAC audiocompression that is more efficient than the MP3 codec. The full versionof QuickTime ($30) allows sampling- and bit-rate conversion and a wideselection of audio formats and video codecs.
SoundApp 2.7.3 (Mac OS 9; freeware)
A sound player and conversion utility that supports an extensive listof formats and bit rates.
SoundHack 0.892 (Mac OS 9, OS X; freeware)
Tom Erbe's sound-processing program offers numerous esotericprocessing functions, many of which are not found elsewhere. Amust-have in every musician's toolbox.
SuperCollider 3 d5.1 (Mac OS 9; freeware)
A music programming language for real-time audio synthesis withextensive support for I/O devices. It is currently being ported to OSX. Even the included examples sound great.
thonk_0+2 (Mac OS 9; freeware)
An offering from Audioease that uses granular synthesis to mangle andenrich your sounds.
Many of these programs are available from multiple locations. Wherepossible, we've listed the program's home page.
Digitalfishphones.com e-mail email@example.com; Web www.digitalfishphones.com/main.php?item=2&subItem=5
Elemental Audio Systems tel. (919) 462-3351; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Web www.elementalaudio.com/products/inspector/index.html
MAC OS X FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE LINKS
Here are a few Web sites to watch for new shareware and freewarereleases.