When it comes to synthesis, most producers are probably familiar with the subtractive method where audio signals are attenuated by various oscillators, envelopes, and filters (think classic analog synthesizers from the 60s and 70s). This approach alters the timbre and tone of the original signal with fairly foreseeable results, which is great when you’re seeking predictability.
But for those with more exploratory aims, FM or “frequency modulation” synthesis generates increasingly complex timbres by modulating the frequency of one sound with another, which can result in both harmonic and inharmonic sounds. In this experimental approach, the end result is unforeseeable and occasionally mind-boggling – but for all the erratic and often unstable aspects of working with FM ensembles, the benefits are obvious: Harnessing such “predictable unpredictability” results in a richly-textured and vastly expanded harmonic spectrum that can completely transform your tracks.
Here’s a list of five excellent and easy-to-use FM ensembles from The REAKTOR User Library. Ranging from conventional multi-operator synths to drum machines, percussion synths, and stimulating sound generators, all of them are ideal candidates for dynamic sonic exploration. Read on for a brisk breakdown of each evolutionary ensemble, and click the embedded links for a free download.
And as usual, make sure you’re running the full version of REAKTOR.
Dream Phase Machine
Tana Barbier’s Dream Phase Machine is a DX style FM synth whose internal complexities deliver delightfully resonant drones. Packed with textural grit and kinetic psychedelic swagger, this metamorphic synth has modulable delays with envelopes that rise and fall at different times, creating a dynamic sense of movement, depth, and space – all of which make this a striking sonic vehicle for spectral evolution.
FM Polynator V3
Doron Sadja’s FM Polynator is a powerful polyrhythmic FM drum machine composed of four drums that use FM synthesis to cross-modulate each other. Boasting an overhauled interface and a robust randomization engine, this inspiring update gives each individual drum sound its own Pitch, Envelope, Filter, FM LFO, and Pitch Modulator controls for maximum modulation. This one’s definitely on the more experimental side of things, but don’t worry – if those polyrhythms ever get too out of hand, you can always smash the Sequencer Restarter.
In stark opposition to the stunning sonic complexity of that last entry, Doron Sadja is back with a delightfully simple, two operator FM synthesizer. With clean and uncomplicated controls and a vibey, vintage video game interface to boot, the FM Explorator is both fun and easy to use – but if you’re looking for a more haphazard approach, high five the hand above the Explorator logo to randomize everything.
Colin Dunkerley’s BoooMBox is a four-part FM drum machine that’s great for a broad range of sonic applications: from classic rhythm machines, to current techno and electronica drums and percussion. Part synth and part sequencer, this potently progressive instrument’s engine consists of a simple dual operator FM synth plus noise – all brought to life by sequences and two LFOs – which makes it a perfect production partner for vintage visionaries and impassioned techno heads.
Random - One-Button Synth
Heavy on ephemeral exploration, Tom Jarvis’s Random is a single button synth that generates all new presets every time the button is hit. Deliberately designed “for inspiration and exploring how synths are made,” this decidedly impermanent instrument is a great way to explore FM synthesis and familiarize yourself with the vast sonic possibilities – but keep in mind that it won’t save presets, so once a sound is gone, it’s lost forever.
There’s more where that came from – don’t forget to explore the full User Library for an almost limitless archive of instruments, effects, sequencers and more. Should you need a hand finding the cream of the crop, we’ve a whole series right here on the blog. You’ll find it all over on the aptly named Free Stuff section.
Sound design: Konstantin Grismann