When I was just learning my way around a recording studio almost 20 years ago, the idea of using a computer for music was pretty much unheard of. The idea of every control room having a computer in it was a futuristic promise - only a bit more far-fetched seeming than taking my next vacation on the moon. I remember reading every word (that is the ones I could understand) in the Computer Music Journal and thinking how cool it would be if some of these experimental ideas could be accessible to everyday recordists. I'll spare you my tales of interfacing my Commodore 64 to DX7s and Ensoniq Mirages in assembly language, and I'll skip ahead to the last DigiWorld event in Nashville. One booth was displaying the wares of GRM Tools and was manned by one Benjamin Chadabe. "Chadabe," I said. "You wouldn't be related to Joel Chadabe would you?," I asked Ben. (Joel Chadabe by the way, was an early pioneer of electronic music who was always popping up in those early issues of CMJ.) "Yeah, he's my dad, and he's the founder of EMF, the organization that distributes GRM Tools."
As I'd mentioned earlier, I used to be really into the idea of electronic and experimental music - but when the promise of MIDI degenerated into the mostly boring and pathetic state of contemporary music that can make any geek who looks like a model into a pop star, I lost interest and rediscovered guitars and punk rock. It turns out that the experimental electronic music scene was alive and well, I had just lost touch with it. EMF (www.emf.org), which stands for Electronic Music Foundation (duh!), was founded to promote an understanding of experimental electronic music. In addition to the Chadabes, the foundations members include folks like Jon Appleton, Paul Lanksy, Donald Buchla, Elliott Carter, Annea Lockwood, Robert Moog, Pauline Oliveros, Iannis Xenakis, Laurie Spiegel, and Morton Subotnick - all familiar names to anyone who's followed experimental music. From the EMF site, you'll find tons of links to other electronic music sites, including EMF's cdemusic.org, which makes available to the public hard to find books on electronic music and recordings from the above artists among many others. Pro Tools and DAW-based recording get a fair amount of critical press in Tape Op, but there's a whole other musical world out there beyond auto-tuning singers who can't sing and locking drummers who can't keep time to a grid - and the EMF site is a great introduction to that world.
Finally, there's the GRM suite of plug-ins that's available for all Pro Tools formats. The plug-ins were designed by Daniel Teruggi and Emmanuel Favreau of the Paris based Groupe de Recherches Musicales de l'Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, or Ina-GRM for short! That these plugs were designed by guys whose roots are in musique concréte and not pop music is immediately apparent in the interface. The traditional "make it look like some kind of hardware" interface is gone, with a thorough rethink of the screen space. Different yes, but intuitive and quick to understand. One unusual aspect of the GRM interface is the 2D controller found on many of the plugs that can control two separate parameters in a musically useful way. Another innovation is the Elastic String, which, like it sounds, strings together a bunch of sliders as if they were tied to a big rubber band. Both of these features take the GRM plugs beyond just effects and into the realm of musical performance. And of course, anything you do can be automated and become a permanent part of a piece of music. Nothing about these effects is basic or simple, despite how easy it is to manipulate a lot of complex and interlocking parameters. The Delay plug, for instance, has up to 128 delays. You can program not only the number of delays, but a set of variables on how each of the delays is distributed in relation to each other: delay range (time difference between first and last delay) - delay distribution (how they're distributed in between the first and last delays) - amplitude distribution (amplitude of delays in relation to previous delays) - two parameters that introduce randomness - and feedback. Suffice it to say, the effects from this delay are unlike anything I've ever heard, and the Delay plug-in is one of the simplest GRM Tools! But, nothing about the GRM Tools is very ordinary and it would take far more space than I have here to discuss every effect in detail, so I'll finish up with a very brief overview. The Bandpass Filter is another seemingly straightforward plug that with the addition of the 2D controller can make for some very unique effects. The Doppler plugs simulates a sound moving towards and then away from you. The Reson plug provides up to 128 resonating high-pass, low-pass, or band-reject filters. The Comb Filters plug has five high-bandwidth comb-filters and five low-pass filters all working in parallel. Freezing is a unique sampling plug-in and Shuffling creates fragments of a sound that get shuffled in both time and frequency domain. Pitch Accum uses two pitch transposition and delay lines to "shadow" a sound. The plug-ins mentioned above are part of the basic GRM Tools Classic package. A new package, the Spectral Transform (ST), includes four new plug-ins. Contrast is a complex new approach to compression and expansion that subtle enough for a mastering session and drastic enough to really whack things out. Equalize is a 31-band graphic EQ that can be used in really creative ways in conjunction with the Elastic String controller. Shift combines a pitch shifter with a frequency shifter, or ring modulator. And finally, FreqWarp is one of the most whack (in a good way) plugs in the set. It creates some totally unusual frequency manipulations. The only thing I can kind of compare it to is the feature in Photoshop that lets you manipulate colors on an XY curve. FreqWarp gives you an XY curve of the sound spectrum to manipulate. I should mention that I used these plugs in the RTAS version, but there's also a VST version of the Classic plugs that's distributed by Steinberg. I feel like these effects might lend themselves to a more advanced DAW platform like Logic. Bottom line, you really have to hear these plug-ins - and since they're all available as downloadable demos, that's what you should do. Just make sure you have a lot of time to spend with them, or you'll only scratch the surface. (www.grmtools.org)