Experimenting With Metasynth

Metasynth is a very unusual Mac only Digital Audio Workstation, very different from anything else I have seen. It is being developed by Eric Wenger, a French music composer and computer graphics enthusiast.

Metasynth Web Site (opens in a new window)

Unlike other DAWs, Metasynth is completely self contained. It takes no plug-in effects or instruments, it does not even interface via MIDI. It is immensely popular among DJs and Sound Designers, especially in Europe. Quite pricy for “something that doesn’t even do MIDI”, but absolutely worth every cent of it, I reckon. I have been doing Granular Synthesis for about 15 years now, using a forever increasing multitude of nerdy little hacks programmed with “patchers”, such as PD, Max/MSP and cSound. Metasynth has allowed me to ditch almost all of them.

For the Cork City Gamelan, Metasynth is useful for changing the pitch and the duration of my samples when Audacity (my free little audio editor) fails to deliver good results.

Here is an almost “Metasynth Only” composition: Solar Sailing (12.5 MB, 13 minutes, in the iPod / iTunes MPEG 4 format, opens in a new window) -  a single piece of music in five short movements:

1: Acceleration (2:32)
2: Solar Wind (2:46)
3: Northern Lights (3:04)
4: The Heliopause (2:02)
5: The Oort Cloud (2:36)

It is complex and quite abstract, yet highly structured – probably not everybody’s cup of tea. It is also quite impossible to perform live. The musicians required would probably fill both, stage and auditorium, of a medium sized concert hall.

Using Metasynth’s various tools and its Sampler, I created 4 large String Orchestras and some Electronic Percussion from snippets of sound which I produced with the Vienna Symphonic Library. I then rendered several audio files with Metasynth’s Image Synth, mixed them down in my main DAW (Logic Studio) and added 2 Tamtams, A Due Cymbals, Suspended Cymbals, Snare Drum, Tomtom, Timpani, Triangle, Tambourine, and Xylophone from the Vienna Symphonic Library. What, no Cork City Gamelan in this piece of music? Well, this actually predates my Gamelan. It is the kind of music, though, I would probably use some CCG sounds with.

Update: since I published this page, I rendered another version of this music, replacing most of the orchestral percussion with some of my Cork City Gamelan sounds. I posted it in this Blog entry.

My favourite composer using Metasynth extensively in his work is Todd Barton from Oregon. “He seems to be a traveler in alternative realities” says my friend and occasional collaborator Metalizer. The music in his “Metascapes” page is quite a journey. His Genome Music project may come across as rather academic, the music resulting from it, though, sounds just simply beautiful to me (both links open in a new window).

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