circle Something interesting is happening in software synthesizer design: after years of trying to boast more of ingredient “xx” (whether it’s modulation, eight-zillion-point envelopes or other whiz-bang features), the new challenge is to make the user experience itself different. The challenge: don’t just do more sonically — make it easier to actually make music. I’ve personally been a big fan of the elegant tabs in Cakewalk’s Rapture, the minimalist aesthetic of Ableton’s Operator, and the drag-and-drop routing in Native Instruments’ Massive. Now, could one instrument really leap forward in terms of guiding its design?

Circle is one of the most ambitious soft synth designs I’ve seen yet. Its core features read like a wish list for what a modern soft synth would do:

  • On-screen routing designed for the computer screen, with color-coded circles, drag-and-drop, previews — and no silly virtual cables. (Sorry, Propellerhead.)
  • OpenSoundControl support for the Monome, Lemur, Wacom tablets, whatever you’ve got — along wih easy MIDI learn.
  • “Live performance”-optimized UI — actually very much a kindrid spirit with tools like Ableton Live or FL Studio in design aesthetic, workflow, and accessibility, but in a synth — just the thing if you’ve felt a gap between the sequencing workflow and the synth / sound design working method. And you can even swap presets with an Apple Remote if you’ve got one.
  • Easy sound design (more on this soon)

The sound engine itself is a good survey of the kind of tools you might want, with a mix of analog- and digital-style waveforms and modulation, but plenty of oddball wave shapes and modulation and effects thrown in, too.

What I like best about developer Future Audio Workshop’s approach: rather than be the most powerful or the most sonically unusual or the most feature-laden instrument, they want you to achieve a sense of creative “flow.”

But I really can’t talk about the instrument very well as a result — have a look at the demo videos, and I think you’ll be as intrigued as I am. (I’ve been working a little bit with an early build, and really like it a lot.)

Future Audio Workshop (skip to the videos, really)

Mac / Windows (Intel, Vista, AU, VST, RTAS)

Pricing TBD (but expecting a fairly reasonable price point); available soon

Stay tuned, as I’ll be making some music with this software over the coming days and want to report back in more detail — particularly when it comes to evolving OSC connectivity for hardware like the Monome (and software connectivity, too, naturally — would be great to couple this with Reaktor, for instance).

If you’re at Musikmesse in Frankfurt, stop by and say hi to the developers. They’re also keeping a Flickr stream of the new goodies at the show — not just theirs. Hope they’re able to break away from the booth and look around.