Granular synthesis has recently become a popular trend and product category over the last couple of years, and rightfully so as it is one the most effective ways to create depth and expressivity in our sonic palettes. As endlessly fun and curiously enigmatic as it is, there are certain limitations in place that are necessary for making up the style of synthesis; by association, this means the tools end up having the usual optimized workflows to cater to those limitations. Refreshingly, Novum developed by Peter Dawesome, offers an alternative and incredibly imaginative new way of conceptualizing granular synthesis.
Novum is best described as a multi-layer granular synthesizer with a unique feature called its “Timbre Flower;” a visually vibrant spectral editor that uses color to elegantly open up a world of sonic discovery. Amongst these key features are tools for grain editing and basic timbral control, various effects and modulation parameters, an envelope, and another unique element called “Syntify” which injects an analog-style sawtooth into the original signal. Additionally, Novum comes with 300 evocative presets for all production types, and are as well great for learning how this synth operates.
Novum being a brilliant and complex piece of sound design beauty can make for a lengthy breakdown of all its features and secrets, so I’ve chosen a few of its key elements to shine light on:
- Layer Timbre
- Timbre Flower
Some of the features within Novum, such as the types of effects and modulation parameters, are similar to those in Dawesome’s Kult, which you can read more about in our review.
As well, if you’re unfamiliar or need a freshening up on granular synthesis, we’ve recently covered a great tool that will get you primed for Novum.
Note: Novum is available for both Mac and PC and can be purchased or demoed for free under a 90-day trial through Plugin Boutique.
Immediately, Novum starts with a unique way of conceptualizing an oscillator by employing “layers” as its terminology, which is both unique and organic. The way a sound is built in Novum feels pleasantly organic; instead of being limited to a single waveform and its timbre, users can build or edit a waveform, texture, or even instrument, from the ground up. For instance, in the picture above, the sum of the final sound is made up of all of the waveforms, and their timbres, and each layer is represented by a color, and placement in the window.
This functionality makes for an incredibly wide range of synthesis possibilities and outcomes that are easy to visualize and reach. On one hand, users can add multiple layers for deep, intentional, aching atmospheres, while also being able to design realistic instruments, both new and contemporary, with the same intention. Furthermore, once a desired sound is developed, each layer can be taken away by toggling the power button next to each waveform on or off. As a tip, this can be incredibly helpful when needing a dynamic range of intensity or intimacy, according to any particular arrangement.
A couple of important hidden features in the Layers window include the ability to view the layers as one whole blended waveform, or dissected into each individual layer (such as the picture above shows), and of course most importantly in any granular synth, the ability to drag and drop in your own samples to create truly custom sounds.
Once all layers are decided, designers can head directly below to “Timbres” and have access to all of the individual layers’ grain and timbre settings. Directly on the left are the grain controls where designers can customize grain size and their continuity in either duration or length, grain density and their generation either freeform or synced to DAW tempo, “POS JIT,” which applies either a subtle or dramatic amount of grain start position randomness, “skew” adjusts the envelope of each individual grain, and “TIM JIT” which influences grain spawn times by either regular or random through a respective low to high value slider. The initial textural quality of designers’ sounds will be decided through these parameters.
On the far right designers have access to gain, pan, and pan randomness slider parameters. With the first two being static, applying a subtle amount of “PAN JIT,” (pan randomness value) can further the dynamics of the final sounds through imaging dynamics- an important element of granular and textural sound bed synthesis. Lastly, each parameter in the Layer Timbre window can modulate each layer in tandem or independently, by toggling the orange link symbol on or off. Granular synthesis can quickly become messy and having a toggle to wrangle everything in is powerfully handy.
One of the most unique features of Novum is its Timbre Flower. Essentially, the Timbre Flower further opens up the timbral and textural world that lives in a sound by rearranging its spectral envelope, which by effect changes its timbral characteristic. Each dot on the Timbre Flower represents a different variation of a selected layer’s spectral envelope, or, its timbre.
One way to conceptualize the change in timbre per dot is through their colors- in this instance, the hues of blue would apply what sounds like a lowpass filter, shaving off higher frequencies and yielding a deeper resonant sound, and as we get brighter in color and hue scale up to white, that lowpass filtered sound becomes a full-bodied sound with higher frequencies included. Consider it softened to brighter. If you’re familiar with color scales and gradation in visual editing, this experimental and downright gorgeous processing feature should come naturally.
If all of the timbral shaping possibilities we’ve covered weren’t enough, Novum also comes with a special oscillator that injects a rich analog sawtooth-sounding layer- perfect for adding stable tonality or thickness to otherwise unstable and unpredictable organic sounds such as field recordings and foley. A simple layout to understand, designers toggle Syntify on and off by clicking the power button next to “Syntify,” and use the bar parameter directly above to adjust the volume.
On the right, the sawtooth transposition, pitch, and detune can be adjusted either independently, or in tandem with all of the other layers. Below is “REF PITCH,” which is an algorithm that reads the tonality of the layers and estimates the root or stable tone to which the sawtooth is set. However designers can manually set this pitch by clicking on the note letter and octave. Below are parameters for setting pitch glide with an MPE controller, and PB for the distance of pitch wheel modulation.
Besides the Syntify on/off and volume meter, also featured in the middle is a filter and the usual frequency cutoff, dB/octave slope and filter type, resonance amount, and filter dirt and distortion. “DIRT” applies saturation, while “DIST” applies distortion of varying intensities such as soft, hard, and noise. Much like in Kult, the distortion units in Novum are high-quality and add just the right amount of analog-style grit to a sound. “DIRT” is especially lush.
Finally on the left are two areas: a comb filter with associated parameters, and gain and channel pan parameters that run into the FX, which is the next tab over. Designers can use “COMB” to apply the desired amount of comb filter quality, which works with “FB,” or the feedback of the comb filter, to produce classic metallic and glassy timbres. “FREQ,” simply adjusts the frequency cutoff of the comb filter. Novum’s comb filter has an incredible sound all the way around. Simple or largely dynamic changes of parameter placement, or LFO, MPE, and envelope modulations can produce a menagerie of additionally tonal and crystalized wonders.
Although these are just a few key features of Novum, the synthesis possibilities are nearly endless just through what’s immediately accessible. Upon further exploration of the synth such as its effects and modulations, sound designers can seriously open the taps on their synthesis ideas and experimentation with all of the nuances that add to the major elements of the synth. As mentioned before, those who have experience in Kult or other Dawesome synths will find themselves right at home when setting up those nuanced parameters. Either way, Novum is an elegant and refreshing conceptualization of granular synthesis that on the surface seems complex, but is truly clear and charming.
As always, now I turn to you. What are some of your favorite and most charming tools currently? I think we all secretly want to be swooned by a new synth from time to time.
Thanks so much for reading.
About The Author
Bio: Imaginate is a renowned American recording artist and award-winning sound designer known for his unique, eclectic blend of music. In 2019, he began releasing a series of award-winning collections, including Glitch Kitchen and Kaleidoscope Neuro DNB on Loopmasters and Aqua, Charta, Verre, Terra, Metallum, and Aer as part of the Elements Series with Black Octopus Sound, and released on Splice. He has also released numerous synth presets and sample packs with Slate Digital. Imaginate is also a songwriter, composer, and performer of original music which you can listen to here.