Granular Synthesis – What is it and How does it work?

What is Granular Synthesis?

Point Blank Music School Instructor Chris Carter describes Granular Synthesis as “Something in between sampling and synthesis. [It is] synthesis, but using audio (Point Blank Music School, 2016).”

How does it work?

Basically, it chops up a sample of audio up into tiny little slices called ‘grains,’ which can be all different sizes. They can then be replayed, shuffled, looped and otherwise manipulated to create a new sound (Point Blank Music School, 2016). As with most synthesisers, some Granular Synths are more complicated than others, meaning some have a smaller amount of parameters to manipulate. General parameters include grain size, grain shape, envelope, grain spacing over time and grain density (Serafin, 2007).

Why use it?

It is used correctively in many pitch shifting (such as Melodyne) or time warping (such as Flextime) plug-ins, but can also be used creatively. The video below shows how Jim Stout from DesigningSound.Org uses Granular Synthesis in a plug-in called Alchemy, to manipulate mundane noises into creepy sci-fi textures:

Example: Extending Samples in the Granulator II

Robert Henke AKA Monolake, created the Granulator. Below is a tutorial of his on how to take something simple (like a drum stick on a glass) and extend it, and turn it into atmospheric ambience:

I gave it a go myself on the Granulator II and, although it doesn’t sound quite as good as his, I think I’ve got the hang of it!

 

Here you will find a normal bass sample, and one I modulated with the Granulator II.bass-gran

The Basics:

So you can change the size of the ‘grain,’ which is the orangey transparent square over the waveform. You can also change the position of the grain by either clicking and dragging, or using the ‘FilePos’ parameter. You can also change the ‘spray’ which is how widespread in the waveform you want it to take samples from. For example if the spray is lower it will only take samples from the middle of the grain section, however as the spray gets higher it will start taking samples from the entire wave form.

I hope you have a bit of a better understanding about Granular Synthesis, I sure do. Thanks for reading!

References:

Point Blank Music School,. (2016). Creative Sound Design w/ Granular Synthesis (FFL!). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/MfWgzjUC-l0

Serafin, S. (2007). Granular Synthesis (Undergraduate). Aalborg University Copenhagen.

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