First of all, what is a synthesizer?
A synthesizer, often referred to as a “synth,” is a type of electronic instrument that generates sound by using a variety of techniques, such as oscillators, filters, and envelopes. Synthesizers can be used to create a wide range of sounds, from traditional instrument emulation, such as piano or guitar, to completely new and unique sounds.
The most basic types of synthesizers have a keyboard interface, allowing musicians to play melodies and chords, but synthesizers can also come in many other forms, such as drum machines, modular synthesizers, and software synthesizers.
Synthesizers can be either analog or digital. Analog synthesizers use analog circuits to generate and shape sound, while digital synthesizers use digital signal processing (DSP) to generate and shape sound.
Synthesizers are used in a wide variety of musical genres, including pop, rock, electronic, and experimental music. They are also used in sound design for film and video game soundtracks, and in many other areas where electronic sound is needed.
What is a granular synthesizer?
A granular synthesizer is a type of synthesizer that uses small snippets of sound, called “grains,” to create new sounds. These grains can be manipulated in various ways, such as by changing their pitch, duration, or position in the original sound sample, to create unique and complex sounds.
This technique can be used to create a wide range of sounds, from atmospheric pads to glitchy percussive sounds. It’s often used in electronic music production, sound design, and experimental music.
What makes granular synthesizer different from other types?
Granular synthesis is different from other types of synthesis, such as subtractive, additive, and FM synthesis, in several ways:
- Subtractive synthesis involves filtering out unwanted frequencies from a rich, harmonically complex waveform (such as a sawtooth or square wave) to create a desired sound. Granular synthesis, on the other hand, starts with a pre-recorded sound sample, and manipulates it by dividing it into small grains and manipulating various parameters.
- Additive synthesis involves combining and adjusting the amplitude and phase of sine waves to create a desired sound. Granular synthesis, on the other hand, does not involve generating new waveforms, but rather manipulating pre-existing ones.
- FM synthesis involves modulating the frequency of one waveform (the carrier) with another waveform (the modulator) to create new sounds. Granular synthesis does not involve frequency modulation but instead it uses short snippets of audio (grains) and manipulates them.
- Sampling synthesis, also, uses pre-recorded audio samples as the basis for creating new sounds, but it works differently than granular synthesis. Sampling synthesis typically involves playing back a sample at different pitches and/or looping a section of the sample to create a sustained sound, while granular synthesis involves dividing a sample into small grains and manipulating various parameters of those grains.
All in all, granular synthesis is a unique and powerful technique that can be used to create a wide range of sounds, from atmospheric pads to glitchy percussive sounds, that are hard to achieve with other synthesis techniques.
How does a granular synthesizer work?
A granular synthesizer works by dividing a sound sample into tiny segments, or “grains,” and then manipulating and recombining these grains to create new sounds. These grains can be as short as a few milliseconds or as long as several seconds, depending on the desired effect.
Once the sound sample is divided into grains, various parameters such as pitch, duration, and position can be adjusted to create new sounds. For example, the pitch of the grains can be raised or lowered to change the overall pitch of the sound, or the position of the grains can be shifted to create a stuttering or “glitchy” effect.
Additionally, effects such as reverb, delay, and filtering can be applied to the grains to create even more complex sounds.
Granular synthesis can also be used in real-time, by capturing live audio input and processing it in the same way as a pre-recorded sample. It can also be used in conjunction with other synthesis techniques, such as additive or subtractive synthesis.
What parameters can be found in a granular synth?
The parameters of a granular synthesizer can vary depending on the specific instrument or plugin, but some common parameters include:
- Grain size: This controls the duration of the individual grains that make up the sound. Shorter grain sizes can create a stuttering or “glitchy” effect, while longer grain sizes can create a more sustained sound.
- Grain density: This controls the number of grains that are played back per second. A higher density will create a more complex sound, while a lower density will create a simpler sound.
- Pitch: This controls the pitch of the individual grains, allowing you to shift the pitch of the entire sound.
- Position: This controls the position of the grains within the original sound sample, allowing you to create a stuttering or “glitchy” effect by playing back the grains out of order, or to create a more sustained sound by playing the grains in order.
- Effects: Many granular synthesizers include effects such as reverb, delay, and filtering that can be applied to the grains to create even more complex sounds.
- Envelope: Envelope parameters, such as attack, decay, sustain and release, can be used to shape the sound by controlling how the amplitude of the sound evolves over time.
- Modulation: Some granular synthesizers also offer modulation options, such as LFOs or envelopes, that can be used to modulate various parameters in real-time.
These are some of the most common parameters of granular synthesizers, however, different granular synthesizers or plugins may have different parameters, or different ways to access them.
Want to know more about synthesis? Check out The Complete Guide to Modular Synthesis with Colin Benders, or Analog Synths, Music Production & Creativity with Rodriguez Jr.