Sound Design Workshop: Drawing the Line

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FIG. 1: Artificial Audio Quartz multi-effects processor lets you route its four Line Modulators to other plug-ins as MIDI control change messages. The envelope shown here sends out a 4-bar pattern of MIDI mod wheel (CC1) messages.

Breakpoint envelopes are among my favorite sound-design tools, especially on synths that also offer a robust modulation-routing scheme. But it''s rare to find them on special-purpose synths such as emulations of classic electronic and acoustic instruments, and it''s even more unusual to see them on effects processors. So when Artificial Audio released its multi-effect Quartz, boasting four of them, I couldn''t wait to get my hands on it. Quartz calls them Modulation Lines and lets you also route them to other devices as MIDI control change messages (see Fig. 1).

To route Quartz''s Modulation Lines when using the AU version on a Mac, most DAWs make you use an IAC bus—a process that has some inherent lag. So if your DAW supports VST plug-ins, that''s usually the way to go. On the other hand, if you want to control external hardware or a software application that doesn''t support plug-ins, the AU version with an IAC bus is the best route. For example, this lets you control Propellerhead Reason and Record devices when you run Reason or Record as a ReWire client to your DAW.

Vintage keyboards such as organs, electric pianos, and string machines had few controls and nothing resembling an envelope generator. Software emulations such as the physical-modeled Applied Acoustics Systems Lounge Lizard EP-3 expand the control set to let you dial in your own sounds. But they are usually light on modulation, that not being in the spirit of the original instrument. To use Quartz''s Modulation Lines on these instruments, you''ll need to route Quartz''s MIDI output to the instrument plug-in, and how to do that depends on your DAW. I used Ableton Live 8 and Lounge Lizard for this example.

I started by inserting Quartz VST as the last plug-in on the track containing Lounge Lizard. Alternatively, you can insert Quartz on any audio or MIDI track or as a send effect. To send MIDI from Quartz to Lounge Lizard, I created an empty MIDI track, set its MIDI From boxes to point to Quartz, and set its MIDI To boxes to point to Lounge Lizard. I then used Lounge Lizard''s MIDI Learn to assign MIDI CC numbers to the controls I wanted to modulate: Pickup Symmetry, Mallet Strength, and Notch Filter Rate (see Web Clip 1).

Rather than create Modulation Lines and then dial in Quartz effects settings, I prefer to browse Quartz''s presets to find an effect I like and then set up external modulation. Typically, the presets use one or two Modulation Lines, which you can see in the upper half of the control panel as you select presets. You can use those simultaneously for external modulation, thereby synching to the effects modulation, or you can create separate Modulation Lines in unused slots.

Keep in mind that the Modulation Line graph spans the full MIDI controller range. You can limit the range by lassoing some or all of the breakpoints and dragging them up or down. Some synth controls—all of Lounge Lizards panel B controls, for example—affect only notes triggered after they are changed, so you may need to nudge all break points a few ticks early to achieve the intended effect.

Len Sasso is a freelance writer and frequent EM contributor. For an earful, visit his website.