Tuesday 14 August 2018

A Bank of Max For Live Oscillators - revisited

When I created BankOSCmr0v01, I thought that it was quite a neat, simple multi-oscillator sound generator, and so I released it into the wild...

After a bug report, followed by careful investigations by myself, Ableton and Cycling'74, it looks like  we could not reliably generate the problem, and so I went back to playing with it and seeing where this took me - which is where it started to get really interesting...

The problem with large numbers of oscillators is always one of control. Additive synthesis suffers from this because there are lots of harmonics that you need to control. BankOSCmr has 32 oscillators, and so suffers from similar problems, although I was determined not to do a traditional 'separate envelope for each oscillator' and I was equally focussed on not going anywhere near the standard FFT-based 'draw a response' approach either - the beauty of having 32 separate oscillators with a few Hertz resolution across the audio band is that you have a very different audio palette to FFT-based generators. (Plus I have already done a couple of those!)


So I played around with logical extensions of what I already had, and this rapidly expanded into the control method that is in BankOSC0v03f. The main new additions are the Freq and Volume 'damping' controls, and these affect the way that the density of the oscillator frequencies and volumes are affected by the scanning across the oscillators. Low values of damping create thick clusters of frequencies, whilst high values of damping give more open, thin whips of frequencies. I also added a timed 'Update' function, which resets the frequencies and volumes of the oscillators to random values, just to add a bit of variety in how the oscillators can be controlled. You can also click on the 'New' (at the top of the Van De Graaf) to force a new set of random values for the oscillators.

And it was great fun. The additions allow a lot more control over the sound pallete that BankOSCmr could create, and widened the possible sounds as well. In fact, it felt like you could almost use it for performance as it was, and so I put it through 3rd hand, the automatic volume fader, and just played around for 12 minutes or so, capturing it on video.

The result is available on YouTube.

The (Updated) video demo of BankOSCmr0v03f was recorded live, and the only effect is Zynaptiq's superb free SubSpace plug-in to add a bit of spatial variety (If I could afford it, then I would be using their astonishingly wonderful Adaptiverb instead, which I fell in love with at NAMM, and which comes incredibly highly recommended by me!). 3rd Hand is just an automatic volume control. In more skilled hands than mine, then the demo would be better, and there's a few warts in the audio (this is version 0v03 remember!), but this was my first time putting everything together of a live video demo... and now I have added better text commentary...
So what's going on in the demo? Well, the Update time is set to just under 15 seconds, so there's a bit of timed underpinning in the background for much of the time, although I do turn it off, and then back on again, just to show how this is simple to do. Then I just explore the various controls. High and Low set the range of frequencies generated by the 32 oscillators, whilst the Time sets how long it takes for each oscillator to change frequency, so you can go from very quick jumps, to very slow glides. Freq and Volume control the damping, and the Run control sets how quickly the scan runs across the oscillators. Fill has two functions: above 0.1s it just generates ramp functions, whilst below that it generates random values. The ramps allow the generation of some very cool Shepard tones, as you can hear in the middle part of the demo. The random values can give some astonishing bell-like timbres, again in the middle of the demo. At the end, I break with convention, and keep altering things as the fade out progresses. One of my more commercial songs introduced a blistering lead solo just after half way through the final fade, just so that anyone who was listening got the feeling that there was more - kind of the reverse of Roxy Music's intro to Virginia Plain (Sound of lots of people looking this up on iTunes and Spotify...).

What intrigues me is that there are lots of videos on the Interweb that show people playing Modular synths live and 'DAW-less', whilst I haven't been able to find very many that show an Ableton Live plug-in being played live, sans any sequencing or pre-recorded backing. Well, now there is one. Enjoy!

Getting BankOSCmr0v03f

You can download BankOSCmr0v03f for free from MaxForLive.com.

Here are the instructions for what to do with the .amxd file that you download from MaxforLive.com:


(In Live 10, you can also just double-click on the .amxd file, but this puts the device in the same folder as all of the factory devices...)


Adaptiverb is incredibly highly recommended, and comes from Zynaptiq.

Modular Equivalents

In terms of modular equivalents, then reproducing this functionality in my modulars either involved 32 VCOs and four 8-step sequencers, or advanced oscillators banks or sequencers that I can't count as 'basic' modules, so I would rate this version as being about 46 ME (or 12ME if bank oscillators are allowed, or 8ME with fancy sequencers!).

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