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Concrete FX Kubik

PC VST Plug-in By Mike Bryant
Published January 2005

Concrete FX Kubik

Concrete FX's effects and instruments incline towards the less well-trodden areas of sound generation, and their latest is a wavetable synthesizer that recalls the Waldorf Microwave. Named Kubik, it allows for the creation of custom wavetables of up to 64 waves, and promises all the advantages of the virtual format in terms of waveform import, drawing, and even resynthesis.

Kubik 's complex interface is divided into three sections, each with three tabs for selecting various components. The default view shown in the screen shot presents the settings for oscillators A and B, the envelope panel, and both literal and additive views of the currently selected waveform, with a 64-button matrix letting you browse the wavetable.

Kubik comes with a large number of categorised preset waveforms, along with almost 100 ready-made wavetables, providing many good starting points for classic synth sounds or timbres with an acoustic flavour. For custom wavetables, the best way to get started is to draw (or import from very short, preferably single-cycle WAV-format files) a few key waves at intervals throughout the blank wavetable. You can then morph or interpolate between these to create a continuously varying pattern over the full 64-wave sequence. Oscillators A and B each access the same wavetable, sweeping it at a speed governed by the tempo-dependent Length parameter in the envelope section. Both do so completely independently, however, and in an entirely flexible manner, using different start and end points, and the complex, multi-stage envelopes described below.

Another way to feed the wavetable is by resynthesizing pre-existing samples, and Kubik 's 64-partial additive engine provides two ways of doing this. The first method analyses the sample for characteristic repeating waveforms spread throughout its length, and builds up a kind of snapshot animation of an evolving sound over the 64 wavetable slots. The second method takes a continuous stream of additive data from the sample and divides it across the wavetable, meaning the pitch of the resulting sound is very dependent on the length of the original sample, since more cycles will be crammed into each wave slot. Imitating samples isn't Kubik 's raison d'être, and it's clear that faithfulness isn't really the ultimate goal here, but I was surprised at how effective the single-cycle method was with simple, distinctive timbres, such as brass sounds. Likewise, the wave-splitting approach often comes in handy, particularly if you limit it to a small portion of the original sample, and both methods provide decent ways of generating new and original wavetables to experiment with and thoroughly mangle.

To help with this mangling, Kubik has dedicated envelopes and LFOs for the volume, pitch, and wavetable tracking characteristics of the two oscillators, and two more for the cutoff frequency of each filter. Some aspects of the envelopes are fiddly to use, but they're an extremely versatile design, with up to 16 stages, easily definable loop points, and a variety of preset patterns. The LFOs are also somewhat out-of-the-ordinary, and exceedingly configurable. They allow you to combine sine, square, and sawtooth elements into hybrid shapes, with lots of scope for fine-tuning when you want something really specific. A small bucketload of tweakable parameters includes a Humanise control for adding unpredictability to your oscillations.

Four modulators are also available, each with the ability to affect the majority of Kubik 's continuous parameters. Mods can be configured as either simple wave shapes or a variety of keyboard controllers, such as velocity or aftertouch, plus MIDI CCs 16-19. This amounts to a fantastic load of modulatory options, and it's hard to run out of ways to add movement or expressive variation to the sound — an impression further strengthened by the very well implemented MIDI latching feature for assigning Kubik 's virtual knobs to your hardware controller. There's also a simple arpeggiator, a feature I always appreciate on virtual synths.

Next in line are a pair of multi-mode filters, assigned by default to oscillators A and B, though they can also be set to treat the mixed oscillator output in serial or parallel configurations. They're capable of satisfyingly thick sweeps at the 24dB/octave setting, and in addition to the usual flavours, formant, ring mod, and tuned-noise modes are provided. In addition, there's a versatile effects section, comprising two multi-effects processors along with EQ, compressor, widener and tremolo modules. FX1 concentrates on distortion and modulation treatments, such as phaser and chorus, whereas FX2 deals in delays, comb filtering and reverb.

Kubik 's conventional elements are highly tweakable, but it's in the wave-sequencing panel that it really reveals its depths. With a vaguely tracker-like interface, the sequencer provides up to 64 slots in which individual waves can be strung together, each with adjustable parameters such as pitch, length, and pan. Whilst sequencing in this manner is laborious, it can reward determined fiddling with some fantastically complex melodic patterns, particularly since the wavetable can be sequenced separately for oscillators A and B. Many of the supplied presets do a good job of demonstrating what's possible with a decent wavetable at your disposal, and the Randomise function can come up with handy results if patient programming isn't your forte.

Kubik certainly isn't a perfect virtual instrument. I ran into a few bugs, mostly concerning the resynthesis features, and the interface feels a little clunky and unfinished in places. It could really do with enhancement in areas such as wheel-mouse integration and use of the mouse right-click, which currently behaves in a seemingly arbitrary fashion to cycle through options, produce drop-down menus, or switch views. It could certainly be more visually appealing, and by working on this area and rationalising some of the synth's more obscure functionality Concrete FX could turn a very good product into a really great one with a much wider appeal. It's a very powerful instrument already, and the essentials are there in terms of playability and programmability. At just 50 quid it's also a bit of a steal, and anyone who enjoys a bit of hardcore programming should download the demo and see what it can do.