Let this Permut8 your beats: Soniccharge did it again

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Sonic charge has been around since 2003 making slightly unusual plugins that are excellent-sounding, and really push the boundaries of manipulating sound.The latest offering – Permut8, is billed as an ‘ effect plug-in that embraces the sounds of primitive digital signal processing hardware.’ A big effort has been made to create a product that looks (cue tasty orange and black GUI), behaves and sounds like an old digital multi-fx hardware unit. Delays, beat repeats, bit-crushing and further sonic madness can all be squeezed out of this box.

Essentially the plugin is based on an old 12-bit digital delay with a variable sample rate. This is represented at the bottom of the plugin by two LED light graphics sweeping back and forth as they display the read and write positions of the delay’s memory. Hello KITT2000.

In between the computer’s read position, and the point at which it writes the output, you the user insert two ‘INSTRUCTIONS’ that will modulate the read position, thus affecting the output, and the sound.

Each of these Instruction windows is a box with four different parameters, and 8 switches that sort of represent the ‘bits’ of the instruction. Sort of like sub-commands for the overall command. A little bit confusing, but I think that’s definitely part of the beauty of this machine. The manual delves more deeply into the properties of each of the operators and bit switches, and can at times feel like reading a programming manual for creating a game on the Amstrad 1628, back in the day, with instructions on how to use operator titles such as AND, OR, XOR and MUL to control the read position of the memory. Brillliant. Makes about as much sense to me now as it did then. The parameter selection contains word titles that wouldn’t look out of place in the Tron script – but twisting the Instruction 2 knob from XOR to MSK, can engender some absolutely delightful sound.

Operators

AND – creates skips in the read position MUL changes the rate of the read position – so every time a point is read, you can speed the write position up from double time back down to reverse. OSC – takes the read position as if it’s been affected by an LFO, so it smoothly reads forwards then backwards. (Good morning, Michael) RND – adds random motion to the read position. OR – Pushes the read position infront of the write position – great for beat repeat XOR – sort of like AND and OR – it inverts the read position to different kinds of reverse. This one is the one for Aliasing your sound to destruction MSK – effectively turns the eight bits into a sequencer, and you can turn on or off each of the bits in a sequence. SUB – like mask – the read position is taken away at fixed repeating points. Can create delay type sounds, and if you crank up the speed, comb filter.

Within these 8 operators are the 8-bit switches that affect the sound differently in the up or down position, and depending upon the operator. For some, they act as as sort of sequencer, providing on/off for different sections of the memory, for others they can affect the stereo image, play order, or speed of instruction

These are very very rough descriptions of each of the operators, and as I mentioned, the manual goes into much more detail about how they affect the sound. But I found myself not really wanting to read the manual, but just crank sound through the effect, and press buttons. This is one of those rare plugins where you find yourself ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ almost every time you tweak something.

You can change the speed at which the ‘instructions’ are given, using the clock frequency knob in the memory window. You can sync the speed to host tempo, or run frequencies from a full stop to 300 odd hz. There’s also a reverse button that enables the memory read and write to go in the opposite direction. Interestingly, once the full memory has cycled, the reverse signal begins to be read, creating wildly different sonic results than the original forward motion.

On the left hand side of the window is an analog section. Here you can change the input and output level, limit the outgoing sound, add a filter, feed the output back into the input, invert the signal, and mix the output with the original source signal. With this window, it seems to me that sonic charge have taken great care to ensure that the sounds that come out of this box are usable. You can control the amount of dirtying and grungeifying you would like to undertake, and the analog section ensures that what you want to come out clean and warm will do that.

The one gripe I had with the plugin was the Write protect button. I didn’t realise straight away that the original patch is not kept in memory – unless you write protect it. So if you tweak a preset at all (Of which there are 320) it remains permanently changed even if you go away to another patch and return. Except for keeping in line with the nostalgic vibe of the plugin, I’m not sure what the point of this is.

There is also a midi control section that enables you to automate most of the parameters in the plugin. Very useful for live tweaking and evolving the sound that the plugin creates very easily.

Here’s a video from Sonic charge’s website showcasing some of the sounds:

Conclusion
Once again, Soniccharge have delivered another highly unique and very fun plugin. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s one of those plugins that really inspires creativity. For me, not being a very technically minded musician, it was quite refreshing not to really understand exactly what was occuring as I pressed various buttons, but just to follow my ears, and experiment, and be very consistently and happily surprised at the consequences of my actions. It felt like I was messing with a crappy old digital delay unit with the back open, and was crossing the wires over as I played. Awesome! On the product webpage there’s a little audio demo box that takes you through various different effects on a single drum loop. It’s really impressive to listen to.
Sonic charge have said they want to give an impression of a piece of digital hardware, and I think they’ve really come up trumps here. The overall sound quality is very distinctive – a gritty, dirty digital crush that permeates the sound. It really sounds awesome, and adds a LOT of character and life to loops, beats, and other tracks. Within that though, there is much subtlety – glitchy effects, delays, resonance, overdrive, distortion etc. I really enjoyed Permut8. Winner.

Price
$66 plus applicable taxes

…This is one of those rare plugins where you find yourself ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ almost every time you tweak something…

Product page

PROS

  • In terms of sound, it fits a niche that not much else out there can.
  • Digital crunch, phase, aliase, grunge, dirt, delay, you name it, you can probably make a messy version with this.

LOVE IT OR HATE IT

  • Don’t like dirtying up your sound, avoid like plague. Love a bit of grit, old school aliasing and circuit bent weirdness, then this one’s essential

CONS

  • Not 64 bit yet – but coming soon
  • Write protect was a little annoying

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