Here's a flexible additive software synthesizer from Image Line, the developers who made the nearly-ubiquitous FL Studio app. Morphine is a standalone application, VSTi, or Audio Unit plug-in for Windows XP/Vista or Mac OS X 10.4+. What is an additive synth? Without getting all up in some complex Fourier series (should've paid attention in college math), let's just say that the goal of additive synthesis has generally been the reproduction of complex harmonics through the use of huge banks of tuned oscillators. Until recently, this type of synthesis was somewhat prohibitive for creating complex sounds because the required number of mathematical operations demanded a vast amount of CPU resources. These days your average MacBook has more computing power than the sum of the Apollo missions to the moon, so we're seeing a few more additive soft synths popping up, including Camel Audio's Cameleon 5000. Enough geekery, let's talk about the stuff that matters.
How does Morphine sound, and how easy is it to use? Installation was a snap on my MacBook Pro and Dual G5 tower; I simply downloaded the DMG file from Image Line's website and double-clicked my way through the painless install. A PDF manual is included in the download as well (no boxed version is available). The layout of the Morphine user interface seems logical and intuitive, if not exactly minimalist-plenty of virtual knobs, buttons, and sliders to tweak and a healthy modulation matrix. Kudos to the UI designers at Image Line for keeping such a depth of control and tweakability wrapped up in a relatively compact and easy-to-use form factor. Of note is the mix/morph page, which offers an X/Y control for seamlessly morphing between the four generators (think of a generator as a kind of non-traditional oscillator). Morphine also has the ability to resynthesize any standard AIFF or WAV samples (through Fourier analysis); I used this feature to generate some pretty unusual vocoder-like textures after importing a few clips of a vocal track.
The preset menu is clear and easy to page through, and any user presets are conveniently placed at the top of the list. On first impression, as I paged through the various presets (about 300 of 'em, divided into ten banks), I was struck by Morphine's similarity to the more-expensive Absynth; the pads in particular had a deeply modulated, evolving texture that reminded me of some of the wonderfully weird Absynth soundscapes. "It's very Eno-esque," was my first thought. But moving along into some of the other sounds, it became clear that Morphine isn't just a one-trick (mutant) pony. Many of the presets attempt an emulation of real-world instruments, and some are shockingly close to the real thing. For instance, the baby-grand piano sounds generated by this synth are great-in fact better than most software samplers I've heard-which kind of freaks me out because acoustic piano overtones and harmonics are notoriously difficult to reproduce in software. So again, good on Morphine. That said, other acoustic instrument presets fall a bit shy of the mark to my ear, and I found the accordion and most of the string sounds to be somewhat unrealistic. But hey, that's probably not what I'd be using Morphine for anyway; my goal would be to generate new and unusual sounds, which is something this synth excels at. ($159 MSRP; www.image-line.com)
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