If you’re wanting to create unusual, evolving pulsing sounds or melodies, this plugin is an excellent one to spark creativity.
Pros – It offers a massive amount of options – VST host included
Cons – The GUI is slightly daunting
Sugar Bytes has long been one of my favourite plugin creation factories. They create off-the-wall oddities that have a lot of charm, without losing any usefulness or intuitiveness. Their Effectrix and Turnado plugins litter my work with their glitchy twerkiness, adding interest and flavour to my beat-based electronic music.
Their latest release, Obscurium, is a VST/AU/RTAS/AAX generative synthesizer with an emphasis on pattern generation and modulation. Obscurium not only generates sound with its synthesizer, but it also generates harmonic or scale sequences, and provides a myriad of modulation options to boot.
Upon opening, the GUI is slightly daunting, awash with coloured dots, and every pixel used to its max potential.
There are 6 tabs along the top, enabling you to mess with various elements of the synth engine, timing, and Mods to the sound.
The synth engine is a very basic 2 oscillator affair. One is an analogue emulation, saw and pulse waves that you can morph between and add up to 8 voices with a spread, to create the big supersaw sound. The other Oscillator is FM, with three modes, and routings, overtones, and a knob to alter the ratio between carrier and mod frequencies. There are 3 effects – reverb, chorus and delay. Not that exciting in itself you say. However, there’s a big surprise in that Obscurium is also a vst host, enabling you to select any of your sound generating plugins to sit in for the built in synth, and provide the sound source that Obscurium will modulate. I tested it out with some of my favourite plugins, and it worked very smoothly with all of them, although Sugar Bytes warns that it depends on the plugin maker; the older the plugin, the more glitches there may be with operation.
Stepping up The main window of the plugin is awash with coloured dots. This is rather confusing to start with, but is essentially a 16 channel step sequencer, that modulates 16 different parameters of the sound you’ve created. Each colour represents a specific channel, that is clearly marked on the right hand side of the window. Some of the targets are expected, such as the pitch, the cutoff freq and resonance of the filter, and the mix between the two oscillators. Some of the targets are more unusual, such as the CHORD channel – which selects one of 24 chords from the root note in the current table (the table can be changed in the pitch tab at the top, which selects harmony and scale patterns for your chord table) If you choose to host another plugin as the sound generator, 11 of the channels will now control the parameters you select from your synth. You open up your synth within Obscurium, select them by midi learn, or hit the random button, and Obscurium will select them for you. These parameters of your synth will now be subject to whatever modulations you choose in the colourful step sequencer.
There are several tools available from the bottom of the window that enable you to draw in the dotty coloured mess for each channel. with the bright colours and tools available, it reminded me a little of Metasynth. Not only can you free draw, you can select each step across all the channels, and modify them together, by spreading or shrinking them. If you’re feeling lucky, there’s a ‘superobscure’ tab, which randomly assigns steps for each channel infinitely as you play, and you can guide the height and spread of all the dots for each step. This gives you a lot of control over each sequence, and how you create the steps.
These drawing tools, and different sequence elements combined with the random generators will provide hours of fun, I can attest. Quirky is the adjective of the day. More often than not, the sound came out like it was my first go on a modular synth. bleeps and bloops. However as I spent more time tweaking, and figured out how to control it better, the sounds became more focused, and I was getting some lovely ambient pulsing rhythms, and percussive loops.
If that wasn’t enough modulation options for you though, there are also morph and shift sliders. Shift is found to the right of the 16 channels. and as you slide it up it slowly switches the parameters for each channel. So as you move it the sequence of yellow dots, which control the amount of noise in the synth, will slowly change shape to adopt the sequence that used to be the orange dots. So each sequence can swap shape with the next, all the way through. This can either be a smooth transition, or a step from one immediately to the next.
The morph slider enables you to have two instances of Obscurium in one plugin. (using the same sound source) you can create one complex set of sequences in A, and another set in B, and then slide between them using the morph slider. Morph has it’s own little modulation pop up window, containing mod options of LFO, envelope, and a simple 8 step sequencer to control the slider, if you don’t want to control it manually.
Conclusion Obscurium is a very dense plugin. It offers a massive amount of modulation options in a very compact form. Even though the built-in synth is simple, the sound possibilities are endless with the VST hosting, and I found it brought fresh sounds out of synths that I’ve used for years. The fact that it’s a step sequencer lends itself to more rhythmic sound creation, and is very good at it. If you’re wanting to create unusual, evolving pulsing sounds or melodies, this plugin is an excellent one to spark creativity. It tends towards quirkiness from my experience, but can be tamed with a bit of focus and time, for lovely pulsing pads, percussive loops, through to more mainstream standard sounding chord patterns that would get the hands raised in the trance room. I highly recommend this plugin, especially for those more interested in the sound design elements of electronic music. On Soundcloud you can find some sounds created using the in-built synth. You can get Obscurium for $99 and more info from here.
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About The Author
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.