Native Instruments Absynth 3.0

Famed for its visual hallucinogenic effects, Absinthe was THE drink of 19th century artists. Famed for its hallucinogenic auditory fx, Absynth is THE software of 21st century sound designers. It’s not hard to see why… it’s massive…really massive…and, unlike Absinthe, Absynth isn’t going to make you go blind…though turning it up loud enuff might just make you go def…

Absynth 3.0 reviewed in the technofile by Jewish rapper, jewish comedian and journalist, MC Rebbe the Rapping Rabbi.

Essentially it’s a complex synthesizer (that can operate in both stand alone mode and as a plug in) which offers pretty much everything but kitchen sync. Most of the action takes place in the patch window, where there are three ‘oscils’, four filters, three mods, one waveshaper and one effect module, all of which are modular so can be turned on and off independently of each other.

The ‘oscils’ are sound sources that can act as wavetable oscillators (offering single, double, FM, ringmod and fractalize modes), as classic/granular sample players, or even as ‘audio in’ sources that allow external audio to be processed through Absynth’s filters modulators and effects in real time a la Moog (which is why they are ‘oscils’ not oscillators). Add to this one filter per oscil each offering no less than fourteen different modes (including low pass, band bass, high pass, comb and notch) and a modulator per oscil that offers user definable waves as well as ring mod (and the more subtle frequency shift), then take the outputs from each of these ‘channels’ and optionally send them through a waveshaper, a master filter and an effects module (that is equally programmable) and you start to get the idea. But wait, there’s more…

Envelopes with an unprecedented maximum of 64 breakpoints; a tuning editor that allows programming of alternate tunings; three LFOs that can modulate numerous parameters simultaneously and a choice between everything from stereo to eight channel surround sound output. But one of my favourite features has to be the wave window, which allows you to view oscillator stylee snapshots of the various waveforms available and to edit them graphically. Don’t like the waveforms on offer? Then why not roll…oops…I mean draw your own with a mouse…although I went one better and used a Wacom Intuos 3 Graphics tablet which worked seamlessly with Absynth to give me a virtual Fairlight experience (minus the crappy green screen display). And if that’s not enough, you can even switch the wave window to spectrum mode which displays the first 64 harmonics of the selected wave form…and allows you to alter each harmonic individually! Superb!!

Unfortunately the process of editing waves is a little more convoluted than it needs to be (convolution being a bad thing in this case) as it is not possible to directly edit a factory preset wave, meaning that you first have to create a new wave and then edit it, which is a bit of a pain. The solution? Wherever there is a wave (including a factory preset wave) I’d like to see a button, which, when pressed, opens that waveform for live editing in the waveform window (and I’d also like to see a cheque for consultancy when NI implement this truly excellent idea!).

Equally frustrating is the tuning editor, which comes with some useful factory preset scales…none of which can be directly edited, meaning that if you want to create your own scales, you have to create them from scratch (BTW NI, Aeolian isn’t the only mode…how about Lydian, Myxolidian, etc…?). Native Instruments are concerned that if users were allowed to directly edit factory preset tunings and waves, they might do permanent harm…not if the software were designed so that all user edits must be stored in a different location and/or renamed before editing/saving…

There are some other issues (mainly graphical), such as the sustain pedal button not working, but these are fixed with the 3.01 upgrade, which is free to all registered users as a download from the NI website. While you are there, you can also download various additional free patches (including twelve Absynth 2.0 patches from Yello supreme Boris Blank)…just in case the excellent 1000 factory presets that Absynth ships with aren’t enough for you.

The conclusion? Absynth 3.0 sounds wicked! It is an extremely powerful piece of software that’s capable of producing incredibly rich, diverse and original sonic textures and thanks to the new user interface, it is also surprisingly easy to work with and to program (we’re talking almost as easy as an analogue mono synth). A must have for sound designers, filmscorers and Drum n Bass heads, who’ll love its alien soundscapes and atmospheric fx it’s also highly recommended to anyone and everyone working with electronic music.

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