spectral

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.

modules

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.

More on Kyma:
http://kyma.symbolicsound.com/

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  • mist09

    if only i could even remotely afford a kyma system.

  • mist09

    if only i could even remotely afford a kyma system.

  • go Spectral! Amongst the spectral weaponry: I use SPEAR a lot, and of course Mammut, Chris Penrose’s Synthtronica, and my own Tondo, based on my much earlier RGS. Kyma has the advantage of some dedicated DSP hardware, though.

  • go Spectral! Amongst the spectral weaponry: I use SPEAR a lot, and of course Mammut, Chris Penrose’s Synthtronica, and my own Tondo, based on my much earlier RGS. Kyma has the advantage of some dedicated DSP hardware, though.

  • Freeks

    Native Instruments Spectral Delay (R.I.P) was great (and affordable) instrument. Sadly it got killed.

    • Well, you can build that Pd effect (for example) for free. And you can build something like Spectral Delay in Reaktor… in fact, someone I assume has already made an example like that?

      • Freeks

        In theory yes. Quit job, learn PD, create spectral delay in 6 months. Cost: $25K 😀

        Quick search in reeaktor User library: No similar spectral delay.
        Probably someone is going to create Blocks version of spectral stuff at somepoint.

        NI Vokator was great too. Mouth is not ever near of what Vokator could do. I assume that both were built with Reaktor so why not just add those to Reaktor library for free.

  • Freeks

    Native Instruments Spectral Delay (R.I.P) was great (and affordable) instrument. Sadly it got killed.

    • Well, you can build that Pd effect (for example) for free. And you can build something like Spectral Delay in Reaktor… in fact, someone I assume has already made an example like that?

      • Freeks

        In theory yes. Quit job, learn PD, create spectral delay in 6 months. Cost: $25K 😀

        Quick search in reeaktor User library: No similar spectral delay.
        Probably someone is going to create Blocks version of spectral stuff at somepoint.

        NI Vokator was great too. Mouth is not ever near of what Vokator could do. I assume that both were built with Reaktor so why not just add those to Reaktor library for free.

  • binary

    I’ve always been very ambivalent towards spectral (re)synthesis, because it always (and I mean always) has a very distinct signature – depending on the frame size, of course, but still. It’s always glassy, and always something you can pick out from any track that uses it (every release on empreintes DIGITALes, for instance). There are a number of other reasons I’d like a Kyma system, even though with all the amazing tools and plug-ins (and free software) available today, I am longer particularly tempted to shell out $4402 for the middle system. I’ve always been hoping that Symbolic Sound made Kyma hardware independent, or least something you could as stand alone on a Mac and PC. It must be one very, very few software systems that so heavily depend on external hardware, in a time where the most amazing things can be done on a laptop – and very little else. And I haven’t even mentioned all the exciting things coming out of Eurorack. So, spectral synthesis. Meh(ish).

    • MadeInMachines

      What cool eurorack stuff? I’d like to find out more about those strange cool modules. It would be cool if they did a vst version of the euro rack where all manufacturers can release their own modules for the platform.

    • João Menezes

      Well, being hardware dependent is actually what makes Kyma the most powerfull sound design environment that is around… Expecting to have the same sound quality from the a hardware independent approach is not realistic, as the true magic of it is not in the software, but in the DSP capabilities of the hardware unit (paca,pacarana,capybara etc)… In other terms, your computer and the software are just an interface that allows you to interact with the real core of the system, which is what is being computed in that hardware unit… That being said, and to put it in your own words, this is one of those “most amazing things” that can’t be done on a laptop.

      • foljs

        As a programmer, I know that a dedicated DSP can’t do anything that a CPU cannot also do. The DSP is just a means to offload the main CPU, and, for some specialized operations, to have a task run faster (e.g a CPU maybe cannot run in real time something that a DSP chip can).

        But given the state of CPUs in 2015, I’d bet big money on any modern high-end laptop CPU and dedicated GPU combo trumping all over those specialized DSPs at their own game. I seriously doubt those dedicated DSPs are much better than dedicating an i7 core, and/or re-writing the task as CUDA for your GPU (if parallelizable).

        • Pete

          I think the term DSP is being used to mean digital signal processor as a concept not necessarily a family of chips. We don’t know what is inside the new pacarana it could well be 8 multi core i7s or GPUs. I think you have hit the point when you say dedicated. In a lap top it’s not easy to get dedicated hard ware written in low level language. it is certainly impressive what is achieved using modern plugins on a laptop and these plugins are optimised for the job. What makes Kyma Kyma is that you make what you want without compromise and add to it as randomly as you like. It cannot be fully optimised because it doesn’t know what you are going to do next. This sort of flexibility is where you would find laptops struggling. This sort of no compromise flexibility costs money, but for some people it’s worth it, for others it’s not.

    • lala

      Yeah, all spectral things always have that beepy artifact sound.

  • binary

    I’ve always been very ambivalent towards spectral (re)synthesis, because it always (and I mean always) has a very distinct signature – depending on the frame size, of course, but still. It’s always glassy, and always something you can pick out from any track that uses it (every release on empreintes DIGITALes, for instance). There are a number of other reasons I’d like a Kyma system, even though with all the amazing tools and plug-ins (and free software) available today, I am longer particularly tempted to shell out $4402 for the middle system. I’ve always been hoping that Symbolic Sound made Kyma hardware independent, or least something you could as stand alone on a Mac and PC. It must be one very, very few software systems that so heavily depend on external hardware, in a time where the most amazing things can be done on a laptop – and very little else. And I haven’t even mentioned all the exciting things coming out of Eurorack. So, spectral synthesis. Meh(ish).

    • MadeInMachines

      What cool eurorack stuff? I’d like to find out more about those strange cool modules. It would be cool if they did a vst version of the euro rack where all manufacturers can release their own modules for the platform.

    • João Menezes

      Well, being hardware dependent is actually what makes Kyma the most powerfull sound design environment that is around… Expecting to have the same sound quality from the a hardware independent approach is not realistic, as the true magic of it is not in the software, but in the DSP capabilities of the hardware unit (paca,pacarana,capybara etc)… In other terms, your computer and the software are just an interface that allows you to interact with the real core of the system, which is what is being computed in that hardware unit… That being said, and to put it in your own words, this is one of those “most amazing things” that can’t be done on a laptop.

      • foljs

        As a programmer, I know that a dedicated DSP can’t do anything that a CPU cannot also do. The DSP is just a means to offload the main CPU, and, for some specialized operations, to have a task run faster (e.g a CPU maybe cannot run in real time something that a DSP chip can).

        But given the state of CPUs in 2015, I’d bet big money on any modern high-end laptop CPU and dedicated GPU combo trumping all over those specialized DSPs at their own game. I seriously doubt those dedicated DSPs are much better than dedicating an i7 core, and/or re-writing the task as CUDA for your GPU (if parallelizable).

        • Pete

          I think the term DSP is being used to mean digital signal processor as a concept not necessarily a family of chips. We don’t know what is inside the new pacarana it could well be 8 multi core i7s or GPUs. I think you have hit the point when you say dedicated. In a lap top it’s not easy to get dedicated hard ware written in low level language. it is certainly impressive what is achieved using modern plugins on a laptop and these plugins are optimised for the job. What makes Kyma Kyma is that you make what you want without compromise and add to it as randomly as you like. It cannot be fully optimised because it doesn’t know what you are going to do next. This sort of flexibility is where you would find laptops struggling. This sort of no compromise flexibility costs money, but for some people it’s worth it, for others it’s not.

    • lala

      Yeah, all spectral things always have that beepy artifact sound.

  • Eoin Coughlan

    Expensive stuff Kyma.
    Can’t beat Adobe Audition for spectral goodness. Especially and older version like Audition 3.0 which allows you to open any file type as audio. Nice

  • Eoin Coughlan

    Expensive stuff Kyma.
    Can’t beat Adobe Audition for spectral goodness. Especially and older version like Audition 3.0 which allows you to open any file type as audio. Nice

  • MadeInMachines

    Is this just like the Izotope Iris kind of sound?

  • MadeInMachines

    Is this just like the Izotope Iris kind of sound?

  • Name User

    As far as sound design I used to preach VirSyn Cube and Alchemy for years until I finally came to terms with how predictable the sounds were. Doesn’t inspire me at all anymore, it’s just an alternative method, but for me it’s a tedious one. I can do more interesting things by copy and pasting audio snippets and layering them together like it’s 1993 again.

    Technique doesn’t matter, this is still one that’s worth exploring but you’ll soon realize that “anything” doesn’t really sound as vast as you might have thought it would. Still, Christian’s statements about using it in in a compositional way are pretty cool.

    It’s just that it’s 2015, I thought we’d be somewhere by now, but no. The future happened a while ago, we’re not going to get that technological leap to influence styles again. We’re kind of up against what our ears can hear and what our minds can think. Really seems like dance music scenes have a greater ability to hone in and explore interesting sounds than sound designers do. I guess you gotta give the wank some context.

    • Martin Zimmermann

      Totally agree…..most of those tools out there not really interesting…..i threw all away and started learning Supercollider…..much much more interesting still
      Also very true statement about the dance scenes……they bring the change

  • Name User

    As far as sound design I used to preach VirSyn Cube and Alchemy for years until I finally came to terms with how predictable the sounds were. Doesn’t inspire me at all anymore, it’s just an alternative method, but for me it’s a tedious one. I can do more interesting things by copy and pasting audio snippets and layering them together like it’s 1993 again.

    Technique doesn’t matter, this is still one that’s worth exploring but you’ll soon realize that “anything” doesn’t really sound as vast as you might have thought it would. Still, Christian’s statements about using it in in a compositional way are pretty cool.

    It’s just that it’s 2015, I thought we’d be somewhere by now, but no. The future happened a while ago, we’re not going to get that technological leap to influence styles again. We’re kind of up against what our ears can hear and what our minds can think. Really seems like dance music scenes have a greater ability to hone in and explore interesting sounds than sound designers do. I guess you gotta give the wank some context.

  • Chris R Gibson

    As a Kyma owner I did do the ‘trial day’ that Christian provided several months ago and his work/product and work ethics are stellar, a real gentleman. I had unrelated hardware problems at the time but plan to eventually subscribe based on my experience when all is resolved (I am having Motu 828 problems that require sending it away for repair which I keep putting off not having a direct replacement in the meantime).

    Anyway, just to add to the periphery of related tools…2C Audio’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ and Zynaptiq’s ‘Morph 2’ are two tools that helped me personally reawaken the interest in this area, having also waned on the original promise of spectral tools…though Izotope Iris (and especially Simon Stockhausen’s subscription patches for it) have kept the fire warm here for continuing inspirations 😉

  • Chris R Gibson

    As a Kyma owner I did do the ‘trial day’ that Christian provided several months ago and his work/product and work ethics are stellar, a real gentleman. I had unrelated hardware problems at the time but plan to eventually subscribe based on my experience when all is resolved (I am having Motu 828 problems that require sending it away for repair which I keep putting off not having a direct replacement in the meantime).

    Anyway, just to add to the periphery of related tools…2C Audio’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ and Zynaptiq’s ‘Morph 2’ are two tools that helped me personally reawaken the interest in this area, having also waned on the original promise of spectral tools…though Izotope Iris (and especially Simon Stockhausen’s subscription patches for it) have kept the fire warm here for continuing inspirations 😉

  • louwrensferreira

    Just to add to the list of things that allow access to similar areas of exploration in sound creation if Kyma is out of your reach, there is also a set of free tools by Michael Norris for spectral and granular processing:

    http://www.michaelnorris.info/software/soundmagic-spectral

    Not that I am comparing any of these tools, the idea of spectral processing is central although the approach to each is quite different.

  • louwrensferreira

    Just to add to the list of things that allow access to similar areas of exploration in sound creation if Kyma is out of your reach, there is also a set of free tools by Michael Norris for spectral and granular processing:

    http://www.michaelnorris.info/software/soundmagic-spectral

    Not that I am comparing any of these tools, the idea of spectral processing is central although the approach to each is quite different.

  • LFSaw
  • LFSaw