How To: Granular Synthesis Like Flume

Granular Synthesis is one of the most powerful forms of synthesis out there. Flume's latest mixtape: Hi This is Flume, has massively increased the popularity of Granular Synthesis, where it had little attention before.

In this article, I will discuss what Granular Synthesis is and how to make it to sound like the electronic music wizard, Flume.

What is Granular Synthesis?

Granular Synthesis is the process of breaking down an audio sample down into tiny ~1-100 millisecond pieces, these are what are called 'grains'. 

Think of it like video - a series of images, that when played at a certain speed and in the right order, create seamless motion. The grains in an audio sample function in the same way.

What Granulator Synthesis allows you to do is gain control over the audio grains and manipulate them in such a way as to create unique and a legitimately unlimited number of arrangements of the grains.

 

What plugins do you need? 

There are heaps of options for granulator synthesis plugins, my favourite is Quanta by Audio Damage. For those with Ableton's Max For Live, there is also Granulator 2. Other plugins you can use are Padshop & Portal by Output. I haven't used either of those but I have heard good things.

How to sound like Flume?

For this post, I'm going to use Quanta, as that is the best plugin from my experience and the one I used to make all the Granulator Synthesis samples you'll find on this website.

It's a fairly straightforward layout. You drag and drop any audio sample (even full length songs) into the top section and from there the main area of focus is the Grains section.

quanta

  • The grains knob controls how many grains you will be sampling.
  • Length controls how long those grains are.
  • Tune obviously controls the tune of the grains. I normally leave this as is.
  • Position knob controls the playback position of the sample you have imported.
  • The big shape knob controls the volume shape of each grain
  • And the random knobs alongside each of these control the amount of randomization applied to each. 

The randomisation knobs are very useful as they allow you to add diversity to parameters, making them change and not sound like a repetition.

You can also modulate the position to create evolving, more interesting sounds.

I always have the width and level of the grains set all the way to 100% and the level of the oscillator all the way down. 

I also normally use anything above 15 grains and more than 100 for the length. Obviously this depends on the sound but it's a good starting point.

I recommend putting slight randomisation on thee grains and length to mix things up a bit, and definitely randomise the position. Randomising the position will give you the most interesting sounds.

That's pretty much it for the basics, you can mess around with those parameters and chuck in different samples for days and still not run out of unique, cool-sounding ideas. To further tweak the sounds you can move into the FEG, FLFO and Matrix tabs.

In the FEG section, you can adjust your ADSR shape and control how the sample loops (if at all). 

Inside the Matrix tab, you can assign envelopes and LFOs to modulate parameters and you can further tweak this in the FLFO tab.

 

If you're interested in Granular Synthesis, I've created a series of sample packs in the style of Flume & Quiet Bison using the techniques above. You can get 500+ samples, which is over 2gb of samples for £3.99 (Save £19.98)


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