Johan Eriksson, a PhD student at Birmingham Conservatoire, has released the free Automatonism virtual modular synthesizer built in Pure Data.
Electronic musicians have used modular synthesizers for decades to create custom sounds and tones. Essentially, a modular synthesizer breaks down the synthesis architecture to individual components referred to as modules, which are patched together using cables. It could be as simple as patching two modules, an oscillator and a filter, or as complicated as the user’s imagination can dream up. The main difference from conventional synthesizers is that the components are separate from each other and plugged or unplugged as necessary.
Being more of an acoustic instrument guy myself, I have not used a software version of a modular synthesizer until now. Automatonism claims to be user-friendly even if you don’t already have modular synth experience, so I decided to roll up my sleeves and dig in. While looking at the complex GUI showing hundreds of “patch cables” connecting dozens of different components, it’s a bit hard to believe that Automatonism is easy to figure out for complete beginners. There’s certainly a bit of learning curve here, but the payoff makes it worth the effort. The tutorial videos posted on the developer’s website make it even easier to grasp some of the basic concepts of patching in Automatonism
Apart from the fact that patching a modular synthesizer is fun in itself, the ability to create patches that are entirely “your own” adds to the satisfaction of the music making experience. Also, a benefit of using a software solution like Automatonism instead of a real hardware modular synthesizer is that the user can switch between different setups instantly without the need to unplug and re-plug anything! Of course, using a hardware instrument makes the experience even more special, but the software route also has its advantages.
Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed testing Automatonism, I don’t see myself using this style of synthesis in the future due to the wealth of amazing sounds available at the touch of a button in other virtual instruments today. However, musicians and sound designers looking to create modular synth sounds without spending crazy amounts of money on real modular hardware will certainly have a blast playing with this free synthesizer. It’s compatible with all of the major operating systems. Note that you will need to install Pure Data on your computer first (also free). After installing Pure Data, simply open the file downloaded from the Automatonism website and you’re good to go.
Automatonism is available for free download via Johan Eriksson’s website (261 KB download size, ZIP archive, contains 1 virtual instrument in PD format for Pure Data, compatible with Windows, Mac OS, Linux).