It started as an artist tool, but it could become yours, as well. Grainstation-C is a free and open source sound creation workstation that’s playable live and supports ambisonic spatial sound. And the music its creators makes is ethereal and wonderful.
Micah Frank, noted sound designer and toolmaker as well as composer/musician, produced Grainstation-C for his own work but has expanded it to an open source offering for everybody. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while, and I think it could appeal both to people looking for a unique tool as well as those wanting to learn a bit more about granular sound in Csound.
https://github.com/chronopolis5k/Grainstation-C [link + full installation instructions, etc.]
http://csound.com/download.html [requisite Csound install]
The engine: 4 streams from disk, 3 streams from live input. Live audio looping, multiple grain controls, six independent pitch delay lines, six switchable low- and high-pass filters. Snapshot saving.
Powered by: Csound, the modern free and open source sound creation tool that evolved from the grandparent of all digital audio tools.
Live control: It’s pre-mapped to the eminently useful Novation LaunchControl XL MK2, but you could easily remap it to other MIDI controllers if you prefer.
Ambisonics: This optional spatial audio processing lets you use a standard format to adapt to immersive sound environments – in three-dee! Or not, as you like.
It’s deep stuff – even with different granular modes and controls (time stretching, frame animation, pitch shifting). The inspiration, says Micah, was the now-discontinued System Concrète, a complete MakeNoise modular rig that combined grains with modulation, filtering, and delays. But – as is easily possible with software, unconstrained by knobs and space and money – he kept going from there.
Equally notable is the ethereal, beautiful album Quetico that also debuts this week, on Micah’s own Puremagnetik record label. Once, the line between toolmakers and musicians, engineers and composers was thought sacred – even with elaborate explanations about why the two couldn’t be compared. But just as electronic artists have demolished other sacred walls (club and concert, for instance), Micah is part of a generation doing away with those old prejudices.
And the results are richly sensual – warm waves of sound processed from Yellowstone geysers and Big Sur nights, Micah says. It’s classic ambient music, and the tool simply melts away, the essential craft of delivering a palette of sound. At the same time, being transparent with the tools is the ultimate confidence in one’s own musical invention. Micah’s Puremagnetik was a business built in making sounds for others, and yet both the album and free tool suggest the limitless possibility of that act of sharing.
In any event, this is acousmatic creation of the finest quality, with or without the GitHub link. And Micah is getting some deserved recognition, too, with a 2019 New York Foundation award for the Arts Fellow in Music and Sound.
With so much of the sound out of my country of origin the United States ugly, it’s wonderful to hear beautiful algorithmic sounds derived from the nation’s national parks instead.
Image credit: “Yellowstone 8/07”by stevetulk is licensed under CC BY 2.0