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Mononoke by Bram Bos

Bram Bos released Mononoke, a soundscape and drone generator! Mononoke includes 2 different synthesis engines that run independently... but you won't get to control it fully! There's a lot of stuff that Mononoke hides from you. You get to "steer" it, but the engines and transmission are doing their own thing.

If a new developer popped up with this kind of sales pitch I'd be rolling my eyes. But this is Bram Bos! I can't wait to check it out and see what he's come up with!

Mononoke App Store Description:

Mononoke is an unconventional 8 voice polyphonic, 2 part multitimbral synthesizer, designed to compose evolving soundscapes and musical textures.

A tale of two engines
The synthesizer engines (each of the two sections has its own independent engine) have relatively simple controls, which influence a complex system of many invisible, interconnected LFOs. You never 'control' Mononoke, but rather steer it in a certain direction. The result is a constantly evolving sonic entity, yet with a distinct signature sound (in other words: this is not your bread-and-butter general purpose synthesizer).

Feedback routing
What sets Mononoke apart from other synths is that its voices (4 in each section) can be routed back into each other in multiple ways, creating all sorts of overtones and pulsating resonant frequencies. Sometimes harmonic, sometimes weirdly atonal. Sometimes clear and delicate as icicles, sometimes harsh as metallic blades, sometimes soft as fresh snow. This interaction between voices helps fuse all layers together into a coherent musical landscape.

Expressive pads
Complex soundscapes can be created live, using the 8 performance pads which let you modulate each voice independently in several dimensions. Your interactions with the pads will also be sent out as MPE/MIDI (when loaded as an AU plugin in a compatible host) so you can record and tweak your session. The onscreen pads can be latched individually so some voices can be used as drones, while others as can be added and removed as extra sonic layers. The pads are fully integrated in the Audio Unit plugin.

Connectivity
Mononoke is designed as an AUv3 plugin, with advanced Audio Unit features such as MPE input and output (!), a fully exposed array of AU parameters for automation and all the connectivity and scalability you can expect from modern plugins. 

The standalone mode is basic (just meant for jamming and creating presets) and does not offer any connectivity, so if you want to use Mononoke in conjunction with other apps and effects you'll need to load it into a host, such as Garageband, Audiobus, AUM or Cubasis.

Summary:
- Audio Unit (AUv3) plugin
- 8 voice polyphony, 2 independent engines with 4 voices each
- Compatible with MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) and MIDI
- MIDI Input and Output (only available when used as an Audio Unit plugin)
- Limited standalone mode for jamming (full screen, no connectivity)
- 8 independently tunable performance pads for expressive interaction
- Universal, fully scalable to any screen size, supports fullscreen mode in AU hosts
- Freely tunable voices, or quantized to semitones (with overall finetuning)
- iOS10 (MIDI/MPE output from the plugin requires iOS11) or higher

Here is the latest demo from Bram Bos, running Mononoke into Eventide's Blackhole!

Reader Comments 8

Such wonderful butter sounds!!!😎
January 17, 2020  | favorite_border Tony
It’s one where it pays to RTFM (Read the Fine Manual). It’s pretty unique.
I was mostly attracted by the MPE support and that controller is a really clever way to set things up. Will be useful with other MPE synths as well. Especially the per-pad hold buttons. How come nobody gave us per-note CC64 as part of MPE?
The dual synth engine may not sound like much and the differences between patches tend to be fairly subtle. In the end, as Bram says in his copy, it’s the feedback which sets this dronesynth apart.
It’s worth exploring with MPE controllers in both note-quantize and in free mode.
This reminds me of how playing a multitrack recorder the way some ambient artist do these days. One chord or note per track essentially. This synth is ridiculously expressive. Feels like having a whole "string" section at my fingertips.
January 18, 2020  | person_outline VGA Port Authority
On January 17, 2020 - @Enkerli said:
...Especially the per-pad hold buttons. How come nobody gave us per-note CC64 as part of MPE?

It's an interesting question. In essence, the ability to release each note is just part of the regular duration, and you would still just need some means of suppressing and/or "buffering" a note release until some other time. It's not clear how it would be implemented in hardware, but this touch-screen probably just sends that note off once the hold switch is turned off.

Sostenuto is part of the MIDI spec. So if a synth/sampler/ROMpler supports it, is a pretty nice way to choose some notes to sustain while others notes can release normally.
January 18, 2020  | favorite_border stub
On January 18, 2020 - @stub said:
this touch-screen probably just sends that note off once the hold switch is turned off.
Sure sounds like it. And this sounds very simple, technically. Isn’t it? I know we’re all worried about stuck notes. This one sounds like it isn’t difficult to control.

On January 18, 2020 - @stub said:
Sostenuto is part of the MIDI spec. So if a synth/sampler/ROMpler supports it, is a pretty nice way to choose some notes to sustain while others notes can release normally.
Right. The same way MPE itself leveraged a part of the MIDI 1.0 spec, you’d imagine someone thought about holding notes indefinitely. I often talk about the #pianocentrism inherent to MIDI. Since a piano note has a limited duration, it made sense to make gate/trigger a kind of default, note on/off a straightforward thing, and sustain a separate controller. It’s possible to have notes with indefinite duration, it’s just a special case.
In the drone mindset (quite common around the World’s many musics), infinite duration is the default case. It’s less about separate notes, it’s more about a continuous flow, with fluctuation in different ways (including pitch).
For wind players, there’s yet another approach in which a phrase is one breath, with diverse notes through it. You can represent that in MIDI through legato mode. Staff notation has phrases as series of discrete notes. In some sense, though, it’s possible to think of a phrase as a single note with fluctuating pitches, like vocal melisma.

It strikes me that a significant portion of Eurorack (and “modular” in general) may have to do with this shift in mindset. You can easily create a patch without an envelope and modulate pitch the same way you’d modulate timbre or volume. In the end, the results may sound fairly similar to having discrete notes. The approach remains quite different and the ear pays attention to things in a different way.

As is often the case, these days, this all becomes part of my research interests.
It's fun to think about the "pianocentrism" of MIDI-- which is both understandable and forgivable. The growing interest in alternate controllers is perhaps due both to an interest in branching out sonically, and a consideration of the different creative possibilities compositionally.

Some soft instruments do a very clever job of blurring those lines. I used a wind instrument in Reaktor (I believe) where it combined the use of a breath controller with a background monophonic-ignore-releases mode. So you selected pitches with the keyboard, but the B.C. and tonguing handled all the amplitude & phrasing. Took a minute to get the feel of it, but then it was like playing any wind instrument.

On a slightly different topic, I'm nostalgic about an Ensoniq EPS that had polyphonic portamento. You play a chord, then play another chord and each note of the first chord bent smoothly to a note in the new chord. It wasn't flawless, but it was captivating.

My point is that the spec gets you partway, and the software of the instrument itself has lots of possibilities to take things further.

MIDI 2.0 will, on paper, tear down lots of walls. However, as with MIDI 1.0, we'll have to rely on manufacturers/developers to implement things, and that's gonna be more like little holes drilled in the walls. If you can't get developers to embrace release velocity, their gonna just let a lot of this skate. I have sympathy though. They can fairly honestly guess that "Only 0.3 % of users give a crap about X, Y or Z."
January 19, 2020  | favorite_border stub
On January 19, 2020 - @stub said:
I used a wind instrument in Reaktor (I believe) where it combined the use of a breath controller with a background monophonic-ignore-releases mode. So you selected pitches with the keyboard, but the B.C. and tonguing handled all the amplitude & phrasing. Took a minute to get the feel of it, but then it was like playing any wind instrument.
Nice!
Lots to be done with breath control.
My main controller is a Yamaha WX11. Some parts of windcontroller practice are about bypassing the envelope. I was just reading Aikin’s piece on envelopes which is what reminded me of this thread.
https://synthandsoftware.com/2020/01/jim-aikins-modular-synthesis-for-beginners-envelope-generators/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jim-aikins-modular-synthesis-for-beginners-envelope-generators

On January 19, 2020 - @stub said:
I'm nostalgic about an Ensoniq EPS that had polyphonic portamento. You play a chord, then play another chord and each note of the first chord bent smoothly to a note in the new chord. It wasn't flawless, but it was captivating.
Ha! Recently thought about implementing something like this in software modular, probably in Bitwig’s Grid. Where it could become easier is when chords are generated in the patch itself.
MPE makes something like this possible… and a bit difficult to perform.

On January 19, 2020 - @stub said:
MIDI 2.0 will, on paper, tear down lots of walls. However, as with MIDI 1.0, we'll have to rely on manufacturers/developers to implement things, and that's gonna be more like little holes drilled in the walls. If you can't get developers to embrace release velocity, their gonna just let a lot of this skate. I have sympathy though. They can fairly honestly guess that "Only 0.3 % of users give a crap about X, Y or Z."
Much of the idea behind a musicking spec is to allow unexpected things to happen. We’ve overcome a whole lot of limits which were set by the expectation that most music would fit in a certain configuration. It’s now time to allow new possibilities to emerge, especially those about which nobody ever thought.
On January 20, 2020 - @Enkerli said:
Much of the idea behind a musicking spec is to allow unexpected things to happen. We’ve overcome a whole lot of limits which were set by the expectation that most music would fit in a certain configuration. It’s now time to allow new possibilities to emerge, especially those about which nobody ever thought.

Very well said. Something I often do in my music theory writing and teaching is to strip things down to their most essential elements, and I try to bypass my biases. In this mode of "building a new system from scratch" I develop an appreciation for things that our system gets right. But I also see the many ways our concepts are so arbitrarily constricting.

The good news is that clever artists can work around most of it.
January 20, 2020  | favorite_border stub
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