Who said all soft synths have to look, work, and sound the same? For better or worse, Gaugear’s interface is like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Gaugear is one of the gems that appeared along with the 5.1 update to Native Instruments Reaktor. (“5.1” to most developers means a bug fix or two, but Native Instruments crammed a surprising number of new and updated instruments and effects into this minor, free update. Go download it now if you haven’t yet.) Believe it or not, there’s a playable monophonic synth behind the glitchy, indecipherable interface. This isn’t just eye candy atop a typical synth (with the exception of the ADSR envelope at left): the sound generation facility involves eight parallel FM/AM pulse oscillators fed through delays and lowpass filters.

Now, as with other Reaktor synths and effects, each parameter and control in Gaugear is painstakingly documented . . . but do you really care? The point seems to be to drag those curvy things around, then drag that squiggly thing around which does something else, then move those rectangles around so they look, erm, different, and listen to the sound. Play a note, and wild animations of the sound dance across the screen in response, as seen previously on Reaktor’s visually stunning Skrewell sound generator.

Does it matter that you don’t know what you’re doing? I don’t think so. Many interesting synthesis methods have never been tried (or have fallen by the wayside) because it’s difficult to create a simple, understandable interface. As you delve into these more complex sounds, it often makes sense just to forget everything you know and play with the interface until you get a sound you like. After all, even with a good knowledge of synthesis, a lot of us find our best sounds by accident, by doing something other than what we intended. Gaugear and some of the other Reaktor creations certainly fall into that category. Just remember to hit that Snapshot button. I didn’t, and lost a couple of sounds I couldn’t find again. (Did I have that middle arc here . . . or over here?)

I’ll be continuing this series with a look at some other interfaces that work in similar ways. If you’re tired of looking at banks of knobs on yet another cloned subtractive synth, fear not. Help is on the way.