Granular Synthesis is one of the most powerful forms of synthesis out there. Flume's 2019 mixtape: Hi This is Flume, massively influenced the rise in popularity of Granular Synthesis, with it having little mainstream 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 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.
Granular Synthesis allows you to gain control over the audio grains and manipulate them in such a way that creates unique and unlimited number of arrangements of the grains.
What plugins do you need?
There are loads of options for granular synthesis plugins, my favourite is Quanta by Audio Damage. However, for those with Ableton's Max For Live, there is also Granulator 2. Whilst 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?
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 (highlighted below).
- The Grains knob controls how many grains you will be sampling.
- Length controls how long those grains are.
- I normally leave the Tune as is but it controls the tune of the grains.
- The Position knob controls the playback position of the sample you have imported.
- The 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 parameter.
The randomisation knobs are very useful as they allow you to add diversity to the parameters, making them change and not sound super static/repetitive.
You can also modulate the position to create evolving and vastly more interesting sounds.
I always have the width and level controls (in the grains section) 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 the 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 sample pack in the style of Flume & Quiet Bison (amongst others) using the techniques above. If you sign up to my email list I'll also give you 100 more granular samples for free.