We check out this hybrid between an effect and a drum machine.
Anarchy Rhythms is a novel VST plug-in, which can also be run as a stand-alone application, and which its author accurately describes as "a hybrid between an effect and a drum machine". It takes an incoming audio signal and applies a mixture of effects including amplitude modulation, band-pass filtering and compression, while a built-in step sequencer provides rhythmic modulation of several key parameters. Internally synthesized tones can also be mixed in with the sound.
Anarchy Rhythms' user interface is quite clear and well laid-out, but nevertheless has plenty of controls crammed in. Fortunately, well written and nicely laid-out help files are included, which provide clear and straightforward explanations of what everything does.
At the top of the interface is the main pattern sequencer grid. By default this shows a single four-beat bar divided into 16th notes, although other variations are possible. The grid can be set to anything between one and 16 beats, with odd numbers allowing for some interesting polyrhythmic effects. The number of 'sub-steps' per beat can also be varied from one to eight, allowing for still more complexity. A 'shuffle' slider allows the phrasing to be loosened up considerably; the grid lines redraw themselves as shuffle is increased, giving a clear visual indication of how the phrasing is changed.
The sequencer grid features four 'instrument' channels, each of which corresponds with a kind of virtual mixer channel carrying a duplicate of the original input signal, optionally combined with that channel's own synthesizer. Each active step in the sequence opens a gate, triggers the synthesized sound, and allows the incoming signal through. When a step is empty the gate remains closed and no sound is heard.
The four channels are independent, colour-coded (with editable names), and all feature the same set of parameters. Each one has a 'channel strip', with a level fader and Mute and Solo buttons. There are also Len and Feed knobs, which respectively control the duration of each step and a 'feedback' parameter allowing sound to be 'carried forward' from one step into the next, to create repetition or echo effects. Comb and Comp control the amounts of comb filtering and compression applied; Filter and Osc control the width of a band-pass filter and the level of an in-built oscillator, while Pan and Pitch control stereo panning and oscillator frequency. The latter is calibrated in MIDI notes rather than Hertz.
To the right of the mixer channels are more parameters, including five graphical envelope displays. These are also colour-coded, changing to indicate which of the four channels the current settings apply to. There are envelopes to control volume, pan, filter width and oscillator pitch, as well as an envelope to allow dynamic interpolation between two different oscillator types.
Even when fed with the most uninteresting signals, Anarchy Rhythms is capable of producing some surprising results. I began testing with a simple sine wave, and spent a happy 20 minutes before remembering I could use other sound sources as well. Drum tracks can be utterly demolished, while vocals, strings and pads can likewise be chopped up and generally mangled to death. In fact almost any sound could probably be turned into something interesting with Anarchy Rhythms. It's a fairly 'blunt' instrument — don't expect much in the way of ethereal subtlety — but it can certainly be effective. The 'anarchy button' patch randomiser makes searching for new effects all but effortless, generating an entire bank of new presets with a single click.
Anarchy Rhythms is an unusual plug-in, with a range of possible applications. It's also easy to use, enjoyable, and might be just the thing to spark your imagination on those difficult days when inspiration is in short supply. The stand-alone version is a nice addition, and could be useful for real-time sound processing in a live situation. In an overcrowded plug-in market, Anarchy Rhythms stands out as something pleasingly different, and at just £29.99 represents good value for money. It's available for Windows (versions 95 to XP) and a free demo version can be downloaded from Anarchy Sound Software's web site.