Generate, from Newfangled Audio and Eventide Audio, combines chaos, physics, and West Coast synthesis. Is this synth plugin more than the sum of its parts?
It’s not every day that a synthesizer plugin like Generate comes along. Created by Dan Gillespie, who wrote DSP for Eventide for 15 years and is now the head of Newfangled Audio, it combines a number of fairly unusual ideas into a polysynth that resists easy categorization. It also manages to tap into the current zeitgeist of West Coast synthesis with elements borrowed from Buchla modular systems.
To get a hold on Generate, let’s take a look at its synthesis architecture. It starts with the oscillator, which is based on the physics model of the double pendulum but sped up into audio rate. There are five modes, all based around the same model. We spoke to designer Dan Gillespie to get our heads around what was happening. “The (five) oscillators are actually based on the same setup, two stiff-armed pendulums, one attached to the end of the other,” he explained. “But I just went in and started changing the math in the physical models to see what came out.”
The amount of chaos in the oscillator can be further tweaked, with two sub oscillators, oscillator sync, and interval adjustment all available. As you can see, Generate is fairly unusual right from the start.
Wavefolder and Low Pass Gate
The signal next passes through a wavefolder with three modes, Animated, Fractal, and 259, the latter of which is based on the Buchla 259 Complex Waveform Generator. There’s an option to change the VCA from digital to vactrol, plus a number of other ways to affect the shape and movement of the wavefolder.
The next stage is a Buchla-style Low Pass Gate, which does a good job at reigning in the frequencies created in the previous two stages. Gillespie explained: “A low pass gate is a combination VCA and VCF initially developed by Don Buchla for the 200 series synth. It’s a really cool circuit and has a unique sound. Even after adding the wavefolders I was still using a separate VCA and VCF but the sound of Generate still wasn’t clicking for me; swapping these out for a lowpass gate really made everything gel.”
Lastly, the sound passes through an effects section, with EQ, delay, chorus, and reverb. The reverb is especially lush and lovely. We’d love to see it spun out into its own plugin. There’s also an extensive, modular-style modulation section for further synthesis tweaking, as well as unison, portamento, and the usual subtractive synthesis options.
Generate may be complicated, but it’s the DSP under the hood that does the heavy lifting. The controls themselves are simple and intuitive and we were crafting new sounds in no time. The plugin is also lovely to look at, with three different skins and animations that helpfully display what’s happening to the sound in realtime. It goes a long way in making the admittedly challenging concepts tangible and understandable.
While Generate can do bread-and-butter sounds, this is like using a Ferrari to putt around the neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon. Given all the chaotic power here, you’re better off experimenting and really pushing things to the limit. And at this, it excels. Generate is superb for drones and soundscapes—sound designers will be in heaven—as well as wild, Reese-style basses and noisy leads.
Given that it’s based around chaos, Generate doesn’t always do what you expect, and even small changes can produce huge variations in sound. This is part of the fun. Like a modular, it’s an instrument that rewards experimentation. And, like a modular, it’s capable of some unique sounds.
You can try the audio engine out for yourself with Pendulate, the monophonic, free version of Generate.
Price: $99 ($149 after October 19, 2020)
Purchase: Newfangled Audio Generate