Music for Tablets: Mitosynth from Wooji Juice
Here’s a versatile new iOS synth that covers lots of bases very elegantly indeed, and offers tweakers a kind of modulation heaven to boot.
by Warren Burt, July 2017
British app developers Wooji Juice have made a number of interesting synth apps over the years. (http://www.wooji-juice.com/) Their latest offering is called Mitosynth – I presume that’s as in mitochondria – and it’s a very versatile beast indeed. It’s a polyphonic, one-timbre-at-a-time synthesizer that will play electronic waveforms, or samples; either singly, or in a couple of different wave-sequencing modes. It also generates additive synthesis waveforms, and “painted” waveforms, in which you draw the wave shape for a single-cycle waveform. Or you can import your own waveforms. These can be played one at a time, or you can set up a list of waveforms (again, yours or theirs) and you can be morph between them in two different ways with a variety of controls. This is called “Blend” mode. Or, you can set up a two-dimensional matrix of up to 32 different waveforms, and then morph through those with independent control on both the X and Y axes of the matrix. This is called “Gridcore” mode.
Once you’ve set up the waveforms you want to use in this rather complex, but easy to use, oscillator (It’s called the Wave Chamber), your sound goes through an Envelope module, a Modulation module, and then up to four user-chosen effects (from a set of twelve), and then an output Reverb. The user-chosen effects can be in any order, and you can use each one more than once. If you wanted to have a chain of four chorus effects, you could have them. The first screenshot below shows the basic patching chain of the app, while the following image shows how waveforms can be selected in the Sampler mode. Following that is an image that shows the Gridcore mode in operation. In this example, the Morph mode is set to Fold (which produces some very edgy distortion – Blend produces smooth morphs between waveforms), and the moving through the 6 x 5 matrix of waveforms is here controlled by the X and Y axes in the Performance Page (more on that later). So as you play on the keyboard with one hand, you can morph between wave shapes with the other.
The sample import facility is quite simple to use, as is setting up the Wave Chamber for any kind of blending or folding (two very different transition modes) of your chosen waveforms. What makes things get very complex, and a lot of fun, is the fact that almost any of the controls (with a right pointing arrow in their middle) can be automated with a whole variety of internal controls, or externally controlled with a MIDI continuous control (CC). And this can go several levels deep. So, for example, in next screenshot, we have the Wave Chamber’s pitch being modulated with a Noise waveform. This is a very versatile random generator that can generate stepped or smooth random signals, and the randomness can have various size steps selected as the most prominent, with the degree of correlation or gliding, between the steps selected and controlled as well. The next image then takes us one level deeper. Here, the rate at which new values are chosen for the Noise is controlled, in this case, by a Sine wave, set at 0.1 Hz (10 seconds per cycle), that chooses a new Noise value in a range that is set to go from 200 ms (5 values per second) up to about 862 ms (4/5 of a second per change). And as you can see, the Minimum, Maximum and Frequency of the sine wave can also be controlled by an internal control, or by an external MIDI CC. You can go many levels deep with your control here, setting up patches that rival anything you could do with an analog, or analog-emulation synth in complexity, flexibility and control possibilities.
The set of internal controls (they’re so versatile I hesitate to call them LFOs) is wide, including a Constant (where you can type a precise value, of up to three-decimal-point precision, should you desire), Velocity, Pad (where the control pads can be assigned to values for live performance), a variety of LFO shapes (sine, square, ramp, etc.), the Noise control already described, and a Sequence control that can have up to sixteen steps, which can be set to stepped or smooth or linear, or exponential control between steps. In other words, the Sequence control can be used as a user-specified LFO shape, as well as a pitch sequence, or as a controller for whatever parameter you want to control with it. And, you can control the range the sequence controls in real time. For example, I made a patch in which the Minimum and Maximum ranges of the pitches controlled by the Sequence were controlled by one of the X-Y pads. So the range and width of the melody being produced by the Sequence control was then something I could perform, while playing the keyboard.
The Modulation module also allows various kinds of waveform modulations to occur. For example, Amplitude Modulation, Pulse Width modulation, Phase “Mangulation” (a special kind of modulation they developed for this synth), and a “Supercharger,” a kind of wave adder, which adds detuned copies of your waveform, along with a Sub-bass oscillator to produce very “fat” sounds. Again, most of the parameters of these modulations can also be controlled.
The Envelope control is a simple ADSR envelope, with a maximum 5 seconds duration on A, D and R (I want more, I want more!), and a Gain control which can, of course, be externally controlled. Simple, but effective.
After the Wave Chamber, Envelope and Modulation, then come the FX controls. There are twelve different effects (at the moment, more to come, I’m sure), divided into Distortion, Frequency (flangers and filters), and Other (Echo and Tube Resonance). Each of these has a number of parameters which can be controlled externally. The next screenshot shows a chain with a Bit Crush and an Echo in sequence. As said before, you can have up to 4 effects, and they can be multiple copies of one effect, or different effects, and they can be in any order. (For example, imagine four echo units, all with different settings, in a row. There would be a lovely chaos created that way!)
Finally, there is a Reverb unit, which has a variety of presets, as well as a very flexible Custom mode, where you can tweak your reverb settings to your heart’s content. Only the Pan control here is externally controllable, but I guess that’s because the Wooji Juice people look upon Reverb as a final kind of “set and forget” treatment, rather than a modulatable resource in its own right.
I mentioned the Performance mode earlier. This consists of four X-Y controllers, as shown in the image just below. These four controllers can have either axis set to control any control that has a right arrow in it, which is most of the controls available. So you can set up very complex control sets here. In this very simple patch, X and Y controls navigate around a matrix of 6 x 5 samples, which are then blending into each other. So this is set up as a real time timbral morphing control.
The next screenshot below shows the Library, where your patches, and the built-in patches are stored, as well as any audio used in your patches. There are separate sections for your imported samples, saved Additive and Painted waveforms, simple waveforms, and Wooji’s own selection of Built-In Audio samples. You can select any of your patches, and export them as a package via iTunes, and this package can be imported (again, via iTunes) into any other Mitosynth on any other device you have. Mitosynth is very versatile, and I have it on my iPad4, iPhone6, and even an ancient iPhone4. It works fine on all of them. I made a number of patches on the iPad, then exported them, and imported them to both iPhones. The export and import were totally painless, and the patches work identically on all 3 devices. The importing of patches is handled by the “Import Patches” control on the Settings Page. Also shown below is the Settings Page, although it’s not scrolled down far enough to see the Import Patches control.
The Settings page has controls for the kind of keyboard used – either Piano Keys or a Ribbon Controller, a Scale chooser, the kind of Sustain you want the keyboard to have, and a variety of MIDI(external MIDI keyboards work fine here, as do other MIDI generating apps on the iPad), Background Audio, and utilitarian controls. A full manual is included on the Info+Help page, which also has a link to Customer Support. So this is a very versatile and very well thought out app.
I’ve found various ways to use Mitosynth in the short time that I’ve had it. For example, I made a series of short samples of identical timbre detuned to the pitches of the 19 tone equal tempered scale. I then deposited these pitch/samples into the Grid Core Wave Chamber. These are then randomly selected with Noise controls on the X and Y axis morph controls of the Grid Core. Some of the samples, in addition to the pitch waveforms, were samples of me running my fingers over the tines of a comb. These provided a kind of “percussive” effect in the middle of all the microtonally detuned pitches. Then, when I play a chord (tuned in twelve-tone tuning of course), you get the microtonally detuned pitches transposed onto the steps of 12-tone equal temperament, making an extremely complex pitch and timbral field. The possibilities of Mitosynth are vast, and they will only become apparent by exploring it patiently, module by module.
Mitosynth integrates seamlessly into other environments. It’s worked flawlessly in both Audiobus2 and Audiobus3 for me, and it also has IAA capabilities. My wish-list for it is very small. I, of course, would like the ability to load Scala files to retune the keyboard, and I wish the Pitch Offset for each waveform in the Grid Core Wave Chamber could be set in both cents and semitones, instead of just semitones as it is at the moment. And as I said before, longer durations for the A, D, and R in the Envelope module would be welcome. Aside from those, however, I think this is just about as versatile and perfect a synthesizer as one could wish for. The tradition of clever British synthesizer design that began with Zinoviev, Cary and Cockrell’s VCS3 in the 1960s lives on today in the Wooji Juice crew. Buy this app. You’ll find hours of fun, and a variety of lovely and complex sound making possibilities in it.
http://www.wooji-juice.com/ On the App Store, $14.99 USD