Master Class: Soaring with UVI Falcon

Get hands-on with a remarkably versatile soft synth
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Get hands-on with a remarkably versatile soft synth
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Since its release late last October, UVI’s flagship virtual instrument has gradually gained an enthusiastic following. Falcon’s dizzying wealth of creative possibilities is an open invitation to explore and discover new ways to program and manipulate audio samples and algorithmic timbres. Although Falcon is an extremely capable synthesizer, its user interface is so complex and unlike other soft synths that it can be difficult to wrap your head around. Despite UVI’s helpful series of fast-paced online tutorial videos, you could easily become intimidated trying to accomplish even the most basic programming tasks.

As much as any synth, Falcon is a timbre-construction kit for designing finely detailed original sounds. As with any construction kit, the best way to learn your way around is to get your hands dirty building things. In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through some of the basics while pointing you toward some of Falcon’s more advanced features. So let’s dive in and start learning, shall we?

ORIENTATION CLASS

Fig. 1. Because Falcon is so flexible, it can be challenging to figure out what goes where in its complex top-down hierarchy. A Falcon multi contains one or more parts listed in the left sidebar. Each part contains a single program, and a multi may contain any number of parts. The right sidebar is the browser, where you can find and select soundbanks, factory programs, oscillators, effects, event processors, and modulators—all the various elements in Falcon’s virtual box of spare parts.

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What appears in the center panel depends on which buttons and tabs you click in the panel’s upper area. You’ll spend most of your time in Edit view, accessed by clicking on the Main button and the Edit tab (see Fig. 1). Edit view displays the parameters for the currently selected program in a top-down hierarchy of editors. Editors are stacked in levels, like a layer cake, and you can reveal parameter controls by clicking on buttons at the top-center and on triangles on the left of each level, very much like opening folders within folders. The Program, Layer, Keygroup, Oscillator, and Mapping Editors each serve specific functions within the hierarchy. The Modulation Editor at the bottom of Edit view connects to any and all of them.

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BUILD A CUSTOM SYNTH TEMPLATE

Many synthesizers supply an initialized program or template you can use as a starting point for building your own programs from scratch. A template with oscillators, a filter, envelope generators, and vibrato already in place would save time whenever you’re inspired to whip up a new sound. Because Falcon Factory lacks such a template, programming your own is a useful exercise, and it will also help you learn to maneuver Falcon’s user interface. Even though you’ll likely replace oscillators or filters with other elements in future projects, your workflow will go more quickly if you don’t have to start from zero.

Near the bottom of Edit view, just above the Modulation Editor, unfold the Mapping Editor by clicking on its triangle. To ensure that you’ll see every lane you’ll need to see for this exercise, enable the three buttons (Parameters, FX, and Modulators) in the Keygroup Editor’s header and the Parameters button in the Oscillator Editor.

The first step in building our template is adding an oscillator to an empty program. In the right sidebar, click on the waveform tab, open the Synthesis folder, and then open the Analog subfolder. Click on the word Saw, drag it from the folder to the Mapping Editor, and then drop it at the very top of the keymap. How high you drop it on the keymap determines the width of its pitch range, and because we want it to use the entire keyboard, be sure to drop it just below the top edge. You’ll know you’ve done it correctly when the entire keymap turns blue.

If it isn’t already open, unfold the Oscillator Editor by clicking on its triangle. Double-click on the Pitch knob and type in the number 0 to bring it down an octave from its default setting. (Tip: When you’re searching for a setting that sounds right, turn the knob. When you already know the value you want to enter, double-click and type it in.) Save your new program by clicking on the toolbar’s main menu (the wrench button on the window’s header), selecting either Save Program or Save Program as… from the dropdown menu, and name it Synth Template.

Click on the + symbol in the lane labeled Osc and select Analog from the dropdown menu to insert an additional analog oscillator. On the Oscillator Editor’s upper left, click on the Edit All Oscillators button (the chain link icon) to disable it. Doing that is crucial in order to adjust the second oscillator’s gain, tuning, or note tracking independent of the first oscillator’s. Once you’ve done that, double-click on the second oscillator’s Coarse Tune knob and enter -12 to tune it an octave below the first oscillator.

Now let’s add a lowpass filter. In the Keygroup Editor, click on the + symbol in the FX lane to reveal another dropdown menu. Select Filter and then Analog filter from the submenu. (Yes, Falcon classifies filters as effects.) Because the default setting is a lowpass filter with a 1kHz cutoff, all frequencies above that point will be rolled off.

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JUST ADD MODULATORS

We’ll need an envelope generator to shape the filter cutoff. As with oscillator and filter types, Falcon gives you numerous choices. Right-click (or Control-click) on the filter’s Cutoff knob to reveal the dropdown menu, choose Add Modulation, go all the way down to Keygroup, and choose New Analog ADSR. The envelope’s controls will appear in the Modulation Editor. Their settings will be identical to the amplitude envelope’s settings, which you can view by clicking on Amp Env next to the filter envelope (labeled Analog ADSR 1) in the same lane. Double-click on the Analog ADSR 1 label and change the name to Filter Env. If you haven’t saved since inserting the first oscillator, now would be a good time to save your changes again.

At this point, I suggest experimenting with parameter values. With Filter Env still selected, you’ll see a tiny horizontal Ratio slider in the Modulation Editor’s Keygroup lane. Dragging it to the left decreases the filter envelope’s modulation depth. Try different attack, decay, sustain, and release values for both envelope generators. Change the oscillator waveforms by clicking on the tiny triangle on the Osc lane’s far right, which reveals a menu listing options that include basic analog-type waveforms, as well as waveforms such as ’80s, brass, kazoo, and nasal.

Let’s add some vibrato to the template we’ve created. First, re-enable Edit All Oscillators to ensure that LFO modulation will affect both oscillators equally. Right-click on the Oscillator Editor’s Pitch knob and choose New LFO from the Add Modulation menu’s Keygroup submenu. LFO1 will appear in the Modulation Editor’s Keygroup lane. Double-click on the Freq knob and change its value to 6. Now right-click on the Depth knob and choose Modulation Wheel from the Add Modulation submenu. Lean into your keyboard’s mod wheel, and voilà! You have vibrato.

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MAKING MACROS

Fig. 2. In Falcon’s Info view, each program displays a unique panel of controls defined by its programmer. Because a single macro can simultaneously control numerous parameters, you can name them anything you like. In Falcon, a macro is a programmer-defined knob or button that controls one or more parameters. Macros appear as front-panel controls when you select the Info tab next to the Edit tab (see Fig. 2). In factory patches, Info view is where you can access the parameters you’ll use most often, such as filter cutoff and resonance, LFO speed and depth, delay times and depth, and so on. Macros can be either continuous (knobs) or on-off (buttons), depending on what type of parameters they control. When you view the Info tab on your custom synth template, though, you’ll notice that the panel is completely blank. Let’s add a few macros to populate it.

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Return to Edit view and click on Analog Filter in the Keygroup Editor’s FX lane to make it visible if it’s hidden. Right-click on the Cutoff knob and choose Add New Macro from Assign To Macro’s submenu. In the Modulation Editor’s Program lane, click on Macro 1 and then change the name to Cutoff. In the Modulation Editor’s Keygroup lane, right-click on the Filter Envelope’s Ratio slider to add another macro, and then rename it Env Depth. Back at the filter, right-click on the Resonance knob, add a third macro, and change its name to Resonance.

Now click on the Info tab to view the three new controls you’ve created. If you’d like to change their order or positioning, click on the Edit button (which looks like wrench in the upper left corner) and drag the knobs to wherever you’d prefer. You can also use your computer’s arrow keys to move them more precisely.

Like practically any parameter in Falcon, macros can be modulated by other sources, including external MIDI controllers and DAW automation. If your controller has assignable knobs or sliders, right-click on the Cutoff knob, choose MIDI Learn, and turn the knob you want to control cutoff. Repeat the procedure to assign physical knobs to the onscreen Env Depth and Resonance knobs. To better hear the effect of changing those parameters, go back to the Edit tab and adjust the filter envelope so that its attack is slower than amplitude attack, sustain is lower than amplitude sustain, and release is faster than filter release. When you’re satisfied your template is a good starting point for creating other new programs, save your changes once more.

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MORE OSCILLATORS AND FILTERS

At this point, you’ve learned programming essentials such as how to add oscillators and filters, how to modulate them with envelopes and LFOs, and how to control modulators with an external controller. Now would be a good time to experiment with oscillator, filter, and envelope settings. Better yet, let’s replace the oscillators and filters with different types.

If you’ve changed any parameters since your last save, reload your synth template. Disable the second analog oscillator by toggling its power button off in the Oscillator Editor’s Osc lane. In the same lane, right-click on the first oscillator’s Analog label and select Pluck from the Synthesis menu. In the pluck oscillator that appears, click on and choose Hard Pluck from the Basic submenu. Play a few notes, and then try some of the other samples. The pluck oscillator is a physical model of a plucked string, and the sample contributes to the synthesized timbre’s initial transients. Bring the Sample slider down about -12dB and notice the difference. Now bring the Noise slider up full and notice the difference. Experiment with the other parameters to hear their effect.

If you’d like to learn more about what all the pluck parameters do, consult the Falcon user manual. And if you’d like to find out how other oscillator types work, give them a try by replacing the oscillators in your template. I particularly recommend checking out the analog stack, wavetable, FM, and organ oscillators, as well as Falcon’s various sampling oscillators.

Now, reload your synth template. In the Keygroup Editor’s FX lane, right-click on the Analog Filter label and choose Xpander Filter from the Filter submenu. The Xpander filter is Falcon’s most flexible, a multimode ladder filter with 37 variations ranging from 6dB-per-octave lowpass to an impressive assortment of bandpass, highpass, peak, notch, all-pass, and even no-pass filters. In addition to cutoff and resonance, you can dial in the Xpander filter’s distortion type, distortion amount, and key tracking. If you can’t find a suitable response curve somewhere in Falcon’s library of filters, it probably doesn’t exist.

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RACK ’EM UP

Before we finish up this tutorial, let’s look at effects. Like filters, the most logical place to insert most effects types is in the Keygroup Editor. Most often, you’ll add effects directly to the FX lane, but let’s try a different approach. In the Keygroup Editor’s FX lane, click on the + symbol and choose Default from the Effect Rack submenu. A blank panel will appear. Click on the Tree tab in the left sidebar and unfold Part 1 and then Synth Template, Layer 1, Keygroup 1, and finally, Effect Rack. Tree view gives you an alternate perspective on your program’s architecture, which can be especially useful for more advanced functions. It’s also the only way to populate an effect rack.

Right-click on Chain1 and add an analog tape delay. Right-click on Chain1 again and add an analog chorus. Right-click on it a third time and add a spectrum analyzer. You’ll notice immediately that the effect rack remains a blank panel. To view the controls for the delay, chorus, and analyzer, switch from Edit view to Effects view by clicking on the center panel’s Effects tab.

To add controls to the effect rack panel in Edit view, right-click on the knob you want to add in Effects view and assign it to a new macro from the Assign to Effect Rack Macro submenu. Repeat as needed until you have all the controls you want in the Effects Rack. If the controls would be more useful to you in Info view, choose Assign to Macro instead.

All this complex maneuvering may seem like a convoluted way to program Falcon, but it’s the only way to achieve many tasks. Though Falcon’s user interface may not be particularly intuitive, you’ll eventually master its intricacies if you approach it with persistence, patience, and determination.

Geary Yelton has been programming synthesizers for 40 years and writing for Electronic Musician for more than 30 years.