In the first MASSIVE X Lab, we gave you a rough overview of the instrument. This time we’re going much deeper – specifically, into the wavetable oscillators. Their powerful modes and sub-modes allow a lot of sonic variety, even when using the simplest wavetables. This is what we’ll show with these two short videos. Bear in mind that they use quite simple wavetables, and feature absolutely no additional effects or processing, and offer just a tiny glimpse of the possibilities.
The first thing to understand is what a ‘mode’ is, and for that we need to think about what wavetables are. Wavetables are sets – or tables – of waveforms (there are up to 256 of them in MASSIVE X). While you may start with a simple sine wave in position 1, position 256 could be radically different. Sound is generated by cycling/reading through these wavetables, and ‘modes’ are the different ways of doing this. For example, it might start from a different position in the table, read forward then backwards, skip positions, or any combination of these. The key thing is this: The way wavetables are read by the oscillator has as much influence on what we hear as the wavetables themselves – that’s why modes are so important.
MASSIVE X features two wavetable oscillators. Both offer identical options, and have three Saturn controls. One always controls position, and displays the current wave shape in the center. Dialing clockwise and counterclockwise scrolls through the wavetable – you’ll see the wave respond accordingly. The behavior of the other two controls varies from mode to mode.
There are ten modes – each one is markedly different, and many have up to three sub-modes, allowing a huge amount of sonic variation, even from very simple wavetables. Here’s a rundown of the various modes.
The first mode is Standard, which operates like Spectrum mode in the original MASSIVE. It plays the wavetable without much interference, and offers a Filter control for diminishing spectral content, as a low-pass filter.
In Bend mode, the readout curve of the wavetables is shaped by adjusting the wavetable readout speed, according to their position. You control the amount and shape of this bending, and you can create even more movement by adjusting the readout direction – go from pulsing and hollow to harmonically rich sounds that require an additional filter dial to tame them.
Mirror mode simply plays the wavetable forwards and backwards, and features a Bend control, based on Bend mode. A Ratio control controls the range of the mirroring, and exceeding a certain ratio generates waveform folding (where the waveform peaks exceed the maximum threshold and create inward folds), with similar sonic results to hard-syncing.
Next up is Hardsync mode. This is a technique used in analog-style synths that generates distinctively complex timbres using the interplay of two different oscillators. MASSIVE X creates this recognizable effect without a second oscillator, however, and features Grain and Soft controls, for softening the harsh Hardsync sound.
The next mode, Wrap, is similar to Hardsync, but designed to be more stable. Hardsync generally creates a lot of pitch artifacts when modulation is applied, which can be great if that’s what you’re after, but Wrap mode produces more neutral results, expanding the usefulness of hardsync-style timbres.
Formant (or Formant Capture) mode does what you would probably expect – it allows you to play a waveform at different pitches without affecting the amplitude of the formant frequency, thus avoiding the ‘chipmunk’ effect. But it also allows you to introduce this effect manually, irrespective of pitch. To enable this, all the wavetables are imprinted with a new layer of metadata, Formant Center, which lets the wavetable engine know the pitch of the original table. Of course, formant manipulation is only really apparent when the source sound has complex formant data, so this is one of the few modes in which sine, saw, and square waves cannot be heavily manipulated.
One of the most interesting modes is ART (Artificial Resonance Technology). It uses hard-sync and some clever processing to create something very similar to a high resonating bandpass filter. It doesn’t aim to be a hyper-realistic analog filter clone – instead, it pushes into artificial filter territory that analog filters can’t reach. Meanwhile, a Body control lets you dial bass back in, allowing highly resonant sounds that don’t lose their bass energy.
Jitter mode is very descriptive – this mode essentially adds random deviations at the end of each cycle, adding a kind of exciting glittery quality.
Random mode uses two internal randomizers to adjust everything from the fundamental frequency to the Position setting – as you can imagine, this can generate some weird noises and sonic destruction.
Finally, the beast you’ve all been waiting for: Gorilla mode. Suited to simple wavetables with minimal spectral complexity, such as a triangle, it’s vulgar and aggressive, specializing in over-the-top sounds.
So, we have wavetables and modes. But that’s not the end of the oscillator section – in all modes, both wavetable oscillators can also be modulated by two dedicated phase modulators (each with six possible waveforms), and by an Aux modulator. The Aux modulator can take its source from another wavetable oscillator (so one can phase modulate the other), from the Insert Oscillators (see the first MASSIVE X Lab), or anything else you can send to the Aux via the audio routing system.
This combination of wavetables and modes gives you countless ways to create dynamic, exciting new sounds – and that’s before any additional processing, routing, or modulation is applied. Stay tuned for the next MASSIVE X Lab.