Efx FRAGMENTS takes granular processing from niche effect to fully robust plug-in – and moves Arturia’s growing FX Collection into new creative territory. Today’s the last day of the intro pricing so let me make sure you get a quick review.
TL:DR – this thing is huge, one of the largest effects offerings in a standalone plug-in in recent memory, in terms of the sheer breadth of possibilities.
Okay, for those of you who haven’t gotten so far into granular processing yet – skip ahead, I’ll be with you in a moment. Those of you who have, yes, my first impression was “oh, this looks a bit like…” [insert Reaktor ensemble here, insert Max for Live thing, some iPad app, etc.]. And yes, indeed, if you are thirsty for more granular buffering-processing slicer-mangler ambient-texture-makers, this is that.
Efx FRAGMENTS immediately feels like an Arturia effect, though – a sound processing beast stablemate to their PIGMENTS semi-modular synth workstation. It’s really three different granular effects in one – “classic” open-ended mode, Texture mode, and Rhythmic mode. And it’s crammed with a lot of multi-effects, control tools, modulation, and additional options.
There just hasn’t been a granular effect I’ve ever seen with this amount of polish and functionality. Short of diving into Max, Pd, Reaktor, or SuperCollider yourself (which is a topic for another day as it is a whole heck of a lot of fun), Efx FRAGMENTS is already immediately the most capable and flexible granular processor you could imagine in standalone plug-in form.
And it all comes with a dazzling 3-D (ish) visualizer, which feels a bit like a Winamp effect crossed with that thing that happens when Dr. Bowman starts tripping at the end of 2001. It’s… sort of helpful. At least it’s slightly inspiring.
Efx FRAGMENTS’ granular core
Quick refresher on what granular processing is: it slices an audio buffer into tiny little pieces (grains), which then overlap to form a new sound texture, which can vary from stuttering to rhythmic to continuous depending on how you slice the grains. This also can allow independent control of pitch and duration; nearly all digital processing that does that is based on the same principle. By using this as an effect, you can manipulate an incoming audio signal in real-time.
Before digging into all the extras and icing, yeah, the core of Efx FRAGMENTS works like every other granular processor. The main thing to understand is the three modes:
- Classic gives you density, size, and pitch controls. It’s the details that are nice here. In addition to free-running density and size, you can synchronize to tempo (even with triplets or dotted rhythms). Pitch can lock to scale. (I still want microtuning in all these effects, but hey…)
- Texture has a LAYERS control that lets you lather on multiple grain streams all at once. (It forgoes the Density control and some of the sync options in the process.) This is a bit subtle, too, in that the Size control is linked to the Layers value – which also solves a problem most of our other granular effects (especially DIY ones) have, overloading the CPU or distorting when you have too many grains.
- Rhythmic mode is linked to a step sequencer; here instead of density, you get a SEQ RATE control that acts as clock division.
And let’s pause here, because having looked at a lot of granular effects, I think I initially missed how clever these three modes are. They look at first just like a lot of their granular processing brethren, but Texture allows denser effects without stability issues, and mixing up a step sequencer and granular effect in the same plug-in something relatively novel.
Arturia also has done a nice job with the RANDOM settings – not revolutionary by any means, but as nuances of randomization are essential in granular settings, it’s convenient having -/+ controls and visual feedback. They’ve also added negative and positive polarity options. You drag clockwise or counterclockwise to make positive or negative randomization tweaks, respectively, and can click the -/+ control to flip the values. (Density doesn’t have symmetrical mode.)
On its own, this probably isn’t worth a hundred bucks, but it’s an unusually thoughtful granular engine. The value-add is in effects and modulation, so let’s deal with those.
Effects architecture and panner
This is the 5-way chili of granular effects processors, in that it has a ton of stereo field and effects options.
The panner/spatializer has a ton of different options – eight-shaped curves, boomerang ping-pong, comb, random, etc., for a total of nine spatialization patterns. It’s really more accurately called a spatializer, not a conventional manner, as it’s performing filtering and other processing and not just common-law stereo panning, but there’s a cute visualizer and you should just play around with it. This for me was really overkill, but yes, one advantage of a granular engine is having a lot of stereo effects.
What’s important to note here, though, is that this is a post-engine effect – not stereo effects per-grain, which are controlled under “width.” So you have two options for messing around with stereo effects here.
On top of that, there are two multi-FX slots with dry/wet routing options and feedback with a controllable feedback knob.
Into each slot, you can add a multi-filter, distortion, compression, delay, pitch-shift, tape-echo, chorus, flanger, and reverb. Arturia are definitely not minimalists here.
The key here is you can route effects in feedback loops and feed them out of the granular engine back into the buffer. This was also a little non-obvious when I first powered this up (and wondered what the “GRAIN MIX” control was about). But it’s hugely powerful and well worth digging through that part of the manual if you want to do some of your own sound design. (There are a ton of presets in there, too, but frankly, it’s way more exciting to me now that I realize I can add all these effects in the feedback chain – again, stuff you could do patching away in another environment, but that is unprecedented to just drop into an easy-to-use plug-in like this.)
With or without the presets, “Psytrance” will never be the same. (Literally. No one making psytrance in the 90s had this. Sorry, it is a tag in the presets; I didn’t just bring that up out of nowhere.)
Here’s a bit of a late-night jam with the effects on several channels (with Roland Cloud JD and XV providing the sound source, originally dry).
Advanced options and modulation
Just get in this habit: if it’s from Arturia, click “advanced” straight away, as the good stuff is there (and usually just as intuitive, so don’t be afraid).
Grain quantization gives you some really unique controls that either snap the buffer to a rhythmic grid (with subdivisions controlled by GRID SIZE), or spits out grains based on transient detection (wait… what? cool!).
You get a stereo Width control (which offsets spray, size, and pitch) and direction control, plus Grain Direction including backward grains which can always sound nice enough.
And maybe the most unexpected option here is called Grain Crush, which introduces various bitcrusher presets – including, just for kicks, parameters equivalent to the bit depth of an Emulator or Fairlight CMI. That’s the reason a lot of the presets sound deliciously lo-fi; it’s here on demand when you want it (or when you don’t want it).
You also have your choice of Grain Shape, which sets the grain window.
It’s really the modulation here that rounds out the package.
You get a step sequencer that triggers and repeats grains – the various options meaning you can use Efx FRAGMENTS as a stand-in for stutter, repeater, and glitch effects, too. It’s not like a conventional step sequencer, in that it’s all about trigger actions at each rhythmic subdivision – so a step can be silent, or play a grain, or repeat two or four grains. You also can set the sequencer to forward, reverse, back and forth, or random playback options.
Modulation feels very like other Arturia software, with a bunch of options:
- Two macros: useful for controlling modulation live.
- Three function generators: essentially loop-able envelope generators, very Pigments-esque, which can double as LFOs by setting their shape to an LFO preset. This has breakpoint editing, curves, the lot.
- An envelope follower assignable to whatever you want.
- Another step sequencer: this one is more conventional; it just sets effects parameters per step, but it’s also fully loaded with features.
Hitting Advanced also unlocks a whole host of additional effects options for the distortion, compressor, everything.
So, what else offers anything in the same range? Unfiltered Audio’s Silo is worth a look, as a commenter notes – in fact, one slight advantage is having a bunch of very precise granular controls centered, and more direct control over a 3D spatializer (whereas Arturia’s approach is more like some black-box presets). I think you could argue Silo’s granular engine alone sticks more direct controls in one place. But you get a lot more in the way of additional modulation, control, and effects routing in FRAGMENTS, and while Silo has some basic tempo-sync options, it has none of the more elaborate rhythmic options, transient-following and envelope-following features, step sequencing, more extensive envelopes-modulation, or multi-effects that Arturia have on offer. Probably the one thing I do miss in FRAGMENTS apart from the spatializer controls is the freeze options in Silo.
Arturia has done something pretty incredible here – pack a full-blown semi-modular effects toolbox into a single, compact, intuitive effect. It is without question an effects-processing counterpart to their advanced Pigments synthesis toolbox. But it opens up an exciting new direction for their FX Collection – and serves notice to everybody else making the same recreations of the same hardware all the time. Instead of exclusively emulating existing hardware effects, what you get here is open-ended possibilities from a purely computer-centered sound toybox.
That’s not to say Arturia haven’t learned something from all the hardware emulation. While they’ve thankfully dropped all the usual skeuomorphic chrome here, you do still get plenty of dials to turn. And little touches like using vintage hardware-style downsampling or adding envelope generators makes this effect musical in the way a lot of beloved hardware can be.
Is it worth the intro piece? Yep. Sorry that I’m behind as we have been in crisis mode. (It could be even less if you’re an existing customer – log in and you’ll see personalized pricing.)
But moreover, it takes the already great FX Collection and makes it really stand out. Nice as the emulations are, I’ve noticed in the long haul it’s the Arturia originals – the ETERNITY delay, INTENSITY reverb, and Bus FORCE – that I keep coming back to. There’s so much here I could easily come back in about half a year with a proper set of tutorials.
And hey, any day the “granular” option is on the lunch specials, I’m in.