Last updated on June 28th, 2016 at 11:56 pm
Obscurium is something strange and new to behold. Just look at it. Those rainbow-coloured blobs. The scientific-looking markings… What could possibly be going on in this picture? Doesn’t it intrigue you? It does me.
There are three parts to this new offering from Sugar Bytes – firstly, it’s a generative and morphing sequence creation and manipulation environment; secondly, it’s a fully featured synth completely plumbed into the former; and thirdly, it can host plugins and subject them to the madness of its whims on a parameter level.
The general modus operandi of Obscurium is to create and manipulate chaos. Every facet of it has been set up to facilitate happy accidents, experimentation, and bold leaps into the unknown. In a nutshell, there are 16 graphs which you can draw and manipulate, which control things such as pitch, chord type, oscillator configurations, filter cutoff, etc. Each one is colour coded and all are superimposed on the graph in a way such that the selected entry has rings around its markers and can be edited simply by clicking and dragging or by using special parametric drawing tools for generating sprays, lines and waves in the data.
With regards to pitch, there are two ways of working. The standard mode takes each MIDI key-press and uses it as an offset to drive the sequencers which graphically modulate pitch, chord type (from a selectable table of many chords) and polyphony. MIDI Only mode ditches all of that and runs all the timbre sequencing stuff whilst using the notes you play.
This kind of set-up gives you something like a cross between wave-sequencing, morphing synthesizers, arpeggiation, sequencing and chording all in one. Oscillator sync, filter sweeps, LFO rates, envelope triggers, pretty much everything you’d expect to find on a synth can simply be drawn onto the screen using a complex but surprisingly easy to use interface.
Layers Of Complexity
That would be complexity enough for most people, but not so for Sugar Bytes. We aren’t even really beginning. Double the whole thing and allow morphing between two scenes either manually or via the envelopes, LFOs or a sequence. Now individual notes and articulations can be thrown wide open and bent around in unpredictable, emergent ways.
Then there’s the Shift Fader. This is a sort of internal shuffling morph for each scene, where the data for each lane is rotated through all available lanes, either smoothly or abruptly. You might have your pitch data suddenly playing the LFO rate or dictating the filter profile. All of these changes are represented graphically in real-time as you tweak, which looks absolutely beautiful… Patterns shift in and out of aural focus as coloured dots fly around in tandem with what you hear in a gratifying synaesthetic display.
Lanes can be opted out of the party, allowing you to funnel the chaos intelligently. This is really what stops the whole process from falling into cacophony, and gives stability to what you generate. Each lane also has a miniature modulation mixer which pops up and can set modulation amounts and bracket them into a range that you like. An 8-step sequencer, LFO and envelope with trigger sequence can all be tied to parameters in a semi-modular way with the minimum of fuss.
Even something as simple as the clock pulse used to drive the sequences can be “obscure-ified” by rotating through different note values from a table you can edit. Nothing is spared.
The Death Of Specificity
I haven’t covered all of the unique features that Obscurium holds, nor would it be wise to discuss, manual-like, how they all work and influence each-other. Hopefully I’ve given a fairly good overview of what it’s all about and how it feels to use, though. In a similar manner, Obscurium itself seems designed to eschew specificity and definite goals, and rather offer an almost play-like experience of setting up patterns, mashing them into each-other, and then selectively scaling back and pruning the chaos until one arrives at an interesting place.
The manual and presentation of the GUI are excellent, and everything you need to know about what is a rather complex audiovisual playground is well laid out and itemised. The step-by-step tutorial was appreciated and much needed, making the possibilities clear. These are the people who designed Turnado and the WOW2 filter – they know what they are doing when it comes to GUI and user experience.
Guided By Voices
So, how about that internal synth I mentioned earlier? The one that actually makes all these sounds at the behest of the GUI? Well, it’s pretty good. It has everything you’d expect in a small to mid-sized synth, and the sound is competent. Oscillator sync and PWM is involved, so that’s always a plus. Crazy FM mods can get almost formant-like and the filter can morph through its modes. I’ve always preferred the sound of Sugar Bytes’ effects and filters to their oscillators, but these ones sound very nice when the unison is brought in – if perhaps a bit lacking in sonic girth and power compared to dedicated synths.
Of course, the most fascinating thing about the synth itself is that it’s completely enslaved to this modulation and sequencing monster! But here’s where the hosting comes in – you can put any plugin inside Obscurium, provided it’s not an effect, and easily have it learn a bunch of parameters (or have them randomly picked by clicking on the dice). This puts the plugin on another level and opens up all sorts of crazy possibilities, such as using it to trigger a sampler or drum machine, or of course just to tie your favourite synth in knots!
Obscurium is a highly novel and powerful tool with a playful interface which can be used to create far-out sequences, unusual morphing sounds and riffs, arpeggios and percussive figures, or be used to power your favourite synth. While it’s possible to use it to get certain premeditated results, its very DNA is geared towards taking patterns and themes and peturbating them along a continuum of hitherto unconsidered variations, and then iterating, modulating or randomizing the process over and over with your guidance. Mind-bending stuff!
We are giving away one FREE copy of Obscurium to one lucky BPB reader. Many thanks to Sugar Bytes for the support! To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below. The winner will be picked by a random draw on October 5th and announced on this page (we will also notify the winner via email).
And the lucky winner is our reader cat f, congratulations! :)
We have more freebie news, giveaways, product demos and top freeware plugin lists coming soon, so stay tuned and thank you all for reading BPB!
Sugar Bytes Obscurium Review
Obscurium is a highly novel and powerful tool with a playful interface which can be used to create far-out sequences, unusual morphing sounds and riffs, arpeggios and percussive figures, or be used to power your favourite synth.