The Tasty Chips GR‑1 makes granular synthesis more approachable than ever.
Foremost in my memories of SynthFest UK 2017 was the Tasty Chips GR‑1 granular synthesizer. It looked striking, took an alternative approach to sound generation and I made a mental note to get my hands on one. Age and decrepitude stretched this resolution to near‑farcical levels, but my dithering has racked up one bonus. Thanks to a series of updates, the GR‑1 has matured considerably since its first appearance. Without further ado, let’s...
The panel’s ‘granular synthesizer’ proclamation is exciting and maybe slightly mysterious. The granular process breaks audio into small pieces — grains — before familiar shaping and processing techniques can be applied. The GR‑1 puts the size, shape and number of grains where they can be easily controlled, using knobs, sliders and buttons. The emphasis is on tweakability and instant feedback.
Taking pride of place on the white, slightly inclined aluminium box is a sharp 7‑inch colour display. The hardware also sports a stereo output and a mini headphone jack (with volume control), along with MIDI In and Thru sockets, an Ethernet port, (currently only used for firmware updates) and a quartet of USB connections.
Perhaps the biggest advantage in catching up with the GR‑1 today, rather than when it was released, is the inclusion of sampling. But without an audio input, how can this be? The answer is that the Raspberry Pi3 living in the box is capable of addressing USB audio devices. If you add one of these, sampling becomes possible.
Making use of existing technology seems like a smart move. The Raspberry Pi is a powerful, generally known and serviceable piece of hardware. More importantly, its presence means the Tasty Chips team are free to concentrate on the fun stuff — coding. However, it does impose certain restrictions, eg. the choice of screen colours and the behaviour of the USB audio drivers.
Most of the computery stuff is quite unobtrusive. There’s an internal fan which, so far, I’ve only heard at power‑on. Apparently at high ambient temperatures, or when you’re taxing the processor, it could be called upon to cool things down. The most recent models ship with 20GB of internal flash storage for samples and patches, but USB sticks can handle much more.
Although I suggested the term ‘granular synthesizer’ carries an air of mystery, once you get beyond grain creation, the architecture becomes fairly standard; it includes a multimode filter, envelope shaping, LFOs and even a modulation matrix. There are limited effects too — delay, reverb and so on — but only a pair of assignable knobs with which to address the filter, effects or sub oscillator.
Whether sampling or importing, the GR‑1 can only deal with mono samples, which are subject to a maximum length of 10MB — around two minutes. This rules out working with gratuitously long recordings as on, say, the Bastl Microgranny or the 1010music BlackBox. However, the Tasty Chips take on granular is a world away from either of those.
The GR‑1 can be played and sequenced like any MIDI synth and I’m pleased to report all important parameters are accessible via MIDI CCs, with clock synchronisation added where it makes sense to do so. Joining the traditional 5‑pin variety is USB MIDI and should you require higher than 7‑bit resolution, NRPNs are supported, as is CV.
The two Eurorack‑sized (3.5mm) inputs are practically begging to be plumbed into your favourite analogue sources, while the Gate output could, for example, gate an external envelope. Here I should say that the onboard digital filter operates...