Every so often, something wonderfully original emerges out of a market oversaturated with virtual analog instruments and effects. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I try to be there with bells on my toes when it drops. Aparillo from Sugar Bytes surprised almost everyone late last year with its unusual approach to FM synthesis, and its strange assortment of modulation options, many of which I’ve never even seen before in a software instrument.
On the surface, Aparillo might seem like an ordinary two-operator FM synth, but just browsing through some factory patches will prove that there’s nothing ordinary about this instrument whatsoever. Aparillo has sixteen voices, each interacting with almost two dozen targets in a variety of ways that depend on the Envelope Mode, the behavior of both LFO circuits and the Arpeggiator, among a few hidden bells and whistles I’ll discuss in further detail later.
It can be a little confusing at first, trying to wrap your head around the voice handling, but once you get the basic principle at work here, it’s not really confusing at all. In “Polyphon” mode, Aparillo behaves like a sixteen-voice polyphonic instrument. Okay, simple enough. But in Unison mode, each of those sixteen voices can dance around in some pretty cool (and weird) ways.
If you click on the button below the “Shift” control, a hidden panel appears with the same modulation options available for all of Aparillo’s target parameters (more about that later) and a “Pitch Generator” with a small collection of factory scales and a user-definable table of values that behave like separate detune faders for each of Aparillo’s sixteen voices.
You can modulate any one of the twenty-three target parameters with a selection of modulation sources via modulation filters such as “Odd” or “Even” numbered events. Stationary sources such as Up, Down, Exponential, Logarithmic, and Flat apply constant values to modulation targets along a specific curve, with exception of Flat, which is just a simple offset value.
The two complex LFO circuits are basically the heart of Aparillo’s design concept. The LFO signal is split up into sixteen “dots”, each representing an LFO voice, which can be modulated separately with individual LFO frequencies via the Phase and Rate Jitter controls. Each LFO voice interacts with the Arpeggiator in a few different ways that opens up a whole new world of sound design possibilities.
There are four modes available in the “Arp Trig” menu, which includes a “Clock” mode that is synced to your host tempo, “Threshold” mode for each LFO that basically draws a line in the sand that triggers the arp every time an LFO voice crosses it, then my personal favorite, the “Collision” mode that triggers the arp whenever LFO voices bump into each other.
I’d like to backtrack to the LFOs just for a second to draw attention to the “Gravitation” controls, which are a bit baffling when you start fiddling with them, but they are really useful when you figure them out. Basically, the Gravitation will reduce the overall amplitude of the LFO while increasing its speed. When you have the Gravitation knob at a negative value, the LFO speed will start out very fast and then slow down while its amplitude increases, and the opposite of that will happen when the Gravitation knob is set to a positive position. This is especially useful for exponential rhythms and doppler-esque effects.
FM depth and frequency Ratio can be modulated with the same sources I mentioned earlier. Also, there are three optional FM Modes: Algo 1 uses both operators in parallel, not affecting each other. Algo 2 will use OP-I as a modulator for OP-II, bypassing the internal modulator of OP-II so that the ratio of OP-II is applied to the carrier of OP-1. Algo 3 does that too but also applies Ratio2 to OP-I’s modulator signal, which will often produce unexpected surprises in the signal output.
There are also three Harmonic Modes: an unquantized mode allowing you to have fun with inharmonic overtones, a Quantized mode that applies a “Farey sequence” to the frequency ratio, and a Harmonic mode that uses a table of forty harmonic ratios that are also applied to the carrier as further fractions.
Independent Formant/Shaper modes are available on the right side of the main Synth page in a hidden panel underneath the Form parameter, which includes a Folder effect that will boost the signal and send it through a sine function, folding the waveform back in on itself. Also, there’s a granular Jitter effect, as well as a Brightness control attenuating the feedback path of the FM circuit, which I use all the time to create a saw-like waveform for pseudo-virtual analog sounds.
In the FX Page, you have a multi-mode Filter with a dozen filter types, a delay based Spacializer effect with three spatial ranges, a Panner effect with four panner waveforms, a host-synchronized Dely with a saturation stage in the feedback path, and, of course, a beautifully dense reverb. I often use the Comb filter in tandem with the Spatializer in Pitch mode, especially when modulating unison voices to create inharmonic overtones in the high-frequency domain. Note that only the Filter and Spacializer interact with the modulation system, though the Panner, Delay, and Reverb interact with the “Orbiter object”.
In the Orbiter Page, you have fifteen target parameter objects, each with a small handful of controls in a hidden window that appears when you right-click on them. The Orbiter object will adjust the modulation for a parameter object in accordance with its Amount, Ratio, Level, and Pan controls. Up above, in the “Orbit Headline”, there are additional options for initializing and also randomizing these objects in a variety of ways and fine-tuning the behavior of the Orbiter object in the Orbiter Options window.
I’ve had so much fun with Aparillo that I’ve actually had difficulty with the review process for no other reason than I simply can’t pull myself away from it! The modulation system might present a bit of a learning curve, but once you finally get a general idea, the workflow becomes a joyful process sprouting with happy little accidents.
I can’t recommend this synth enough for anyone who might be looking for a fresh angle on sound design for experimental atmospheres, ambient textures, and generative sequences. Aparillo can be musical or atonal. It can generate beautiful, otherworldly soundscapes or a bombastic cacophony of furious cinematic cadences. In short, Aparillo boldly goes where no sound designer has gone before.
More info: Aparillo ($99)
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Sugar Bytes Aparillo Review
We highly recommend Sugar Bytes Aparillo to anyone who might be looking for a fresh angle on sound design for experimental atmospheres, ambient textures, and generative sequences.