Theoretically, digital sound can sound like anything.
And I do mean anything: at the frontier of what is conceptually possible, digital representations can produce any sound. Despite this, so many of the sounds we hear, well, the same.
Dealing with that kind of generative freedom is no minor challenge. And that could explain the cult-like dedication of some sonic explorers to the sound environment Kyma. Kyma isn’t the only tool that can do spectral analysis and resynthesis. But it has a special history of working with data in this way, both as one of the first tools to do so and one of the environments uniquely refined in its approach to the task now.
Of course, finding people who know about such things is a bit like a hunt for a very special form of sound design druid. In other words – well, exactly our sort of people. NeverEngine Labs, aka Cristian Vogel and Gustav Scholda, are building on the Kyma 7 environment to make a suite of libraries to deal with these sounds. They’re making their tools your tools, in other words.
Yesterday, they launched their new Spectral Lab product. You get sounds and source material you can use freely, custom-designed techniques and prototypes, and via subscription, access to updates and chat, plus a nice Cristian Vogel album / “mist” tape. There’s also a volume of 33 modules for spectral work, a set of algorithms that you can turn into templates for your own sound design processes.
Now, to me, this is interesting both for its application to Kyma, but also more generally to understanding what this technique is about and why Cristian uses it. So I spoke to Cristian for a chance to understand more.
Don’t miss a trip to the site for the product to hear what all this stuff sounds like – there are some wild, fresh timbres:
KYMA 7: SPECTRAL LAB [cristianvogel.com / NeverEngine Labs]
CDM: Can you maybe say something about what spectral resynthesis is?
Cristian: Spectral analysis and resynthesis are the terms used for two important technologies in digital signal processing. The spectral analysis stage uses special filters to generate a stream of snapshots that describe amplitudes and frequencies and how they change over time. Essentially, a spectral analysis reverse engineers a data description of an audio signal, like an architectural blueprint. Using sufficient sine waves, a pure resynthesis can rebuild the sound from this blueprint.
How is it different working in Kyma 7? Do you have a sense of the equivalent state of tools in other environments / do you know people applying these techniques in other environments?
I have been studying Kyma since 2005. It is the cornerstone of my sound and musical thinking and I use the system with great admiration and respect. Kyma is built on different core values to other music software, which I think stem from the personalities of the creators, Carla Scaletti and Kurt Hebel at Symbolic Sound.
It is not an ‘easy’ Max/MSP or anything like Reaktor. It does contain a dialect of SmallTalk, like SuperCollider, but outdates all the other systems currently available as being one of the first visual signal flow realtime audio systems. In fact the first public demo of Kyma was at ICMC 1987!
How are you using this in your own music?
Many would agree that spectral analysis and resynthesis has always been one of the most compelling reasons for using Kyma. As one of the earliest systems capable of realtime resynthesis from spectral data, the maturity and refinement of Kyma’s native spectral manipulation capabilities cannot be under-estimated. I use Spectral composition in my music a lot, especially manipulations of the ‘blueprints’ , the analysis data, before they get resynthesised which always creates fresh approaches to sound design. I also use spectral analysis to compose rhythmic and harmonic structures such as in Black Swan (2009).
Black Swan, 2009 [Bandcamp album]
What does that look like in your performances?
Here is a solo experimental show I performed using some of the NeverEngine Labs sounds in combination with my Eurorack modules.
Ed.: Not terrific sound here, sadly, but you get the idea! It sounds a bit like wandering through an alien ship as it breaks apart inside a wormhole…
Why a subscription model for NeverEngine Labs?
The NeverEngine Labs is where myself and co-developer Gustav Scholda, are developing a suite of libraries that extend Kyma in the spirit of the core values of Symbolic Sound. As Kyma is an incredibly precise and demanding development environment, we have created a business model to support us during our first year of sustained development.
After that, the Libraries will be available for sale at a fixed price, with clearly written documentation for the future of Kyma (which we hope is a very long one!) . Our subscription model is one which considers the participants as being both crowd-funders and highly creative people. The experience of NeverEngine Labs is designed to feel educational, deep and rewarding at the same time – like Kyma itself.
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