Creative Sample Manipulation Software
Creatively mangling a piece of audio allows you to design unique textures and atmospheres for use in an electronic music production. Here’s a list of three standalone programs that allow you to manipulate samples in mind- and ear-bending ways.
Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch
Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch, as the name indicates, stretches an audio sample out to ridiculously long durations (up to ten thousand times its original length in normal mode, and up to a quintillion times in “HyperStretch” mode). Surprising and fantastic things happen when you run an audio sample though it: a kick drum, stretched out to eight minutes, becomes a deep, unsettling, sci-fi-style ambiance; stretching a chime sample out creates choir-like harmonies. Once you’ve stretched the sample, you can apply some simple processing to make it more usable: Paul’s Stretch allows you to mix in octave-shifted copies of the sound, add a low-pass or hi-pass filter, change the noise/tone balance, and compress the amplitude dynamics. The software also includes a stretch envelope, which lets you change the amount of stretching depending on the position, and a filter envelope. Download it here.
Of the programs listed here, AudioMulch is the most flexible and powerful sample manipulation tool. It uses a patch-based interface that’s reminiscent of Max or PureData — but with a much gentler learning curve. Once you load a sample-player device at the start of the patch chain, you can route it through a series of effects, including granular synths, ring modulators, filters, and frequency shifters. AudioMulch also supports third-party VSTs, so you can add your favourite reverb or distortion plugin to the chain. The real fun starts when you enable the “MetaSurface” interface. This section of AudioMulch allows you to create snapshots of different FX parameter configurations, arrange them on an X-Y control surface, then morph between the different snapshots using the mouse, a MIDI controller, or an automation lane. You can record your sample manipulations to a WAV file in real time, or export a defined section of the session to audio. Download the trial version of AudioMulch here.
The SoundGrain granular synthesizer uses a unique, intuitive interface to transform the audio that you load into it. Instead of the usual set of knobs and buttons, SoundGrain controls grains using “trajectories”: a series of lines, curves, and circles that you draw on top of the audio’s waveform. Each trajectory plays its own set of sound grains, and you can adjust the speed, smoothness, and amplitude of each individual trajectory. The X axis of each trajectory controls the position of the grains in the waveform; you can configure the Y axis to control the pitch, volume, panning, or randomization levels. Effects are applied using resizable (and overlappable) “FXBalls,” which activate when a trajectory’s grain marker passes through them. SoundGrain excels at creating otherworldly atmospheres and awesomely glitched-out drum loops; you can download it from here.