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Reason Objekt Synthesizer

Physical Modelling Synthesizer By Simon Sherbourne
Published October 2023

A panel for sound designers: Objekt rewards experimentation.A panel for sound designers: Objekt rewards experimentation.

Reason’s new Objekt synth takes physical modelling in a new direction.

It’s been a few months since Reason Studios released their latest instrument, Objekt, but I’m still finding new and occasionally mind‑blowing things to do with it. Objekt is a physical‑modelling synth with a suite of tools for generating real‑world, acoustic‑like sounds. Interestingly its panel doesn’t present things in terms of emulating acoustic instruments: there’s no mention of plucks, hammers, strings or pipes. Rather it presents the tools of sound generation in pure synthesis terms. While this might sound like an academic approach, I think it’s a stroke of genius: why get hung up on emulating real instruments when you can make sounds that are lifelike but unique, and morph and bend the rules of physics. It’s great timing: there are many modern electronic genres incorporating more acoustic and fewer traditional synth lines, from Afrobeats to drill, liquid drum & bass to hyperpop. And if you’re making ambient or soundtrack music you should be all over this.

Let’s Get Physical

Objekt has lots of presets to explore, helping you get a feel for many of the things it can do. Learning to create your own sounds from scratch takes time and patience, so Reason Studios suggest using existing patches as starting points. The important resonator sections of the synth also provide starting point template settings. Certain types of sound come very naturally to Objekt, in particular bells, mallets, metallic sounds and tuned percussion. But it will also do plucked strings, electric pianos and organs. Less obvious but certainly reachable are wind and brass type sounds. Then you can move away from traditional classifications and explore more ‘sound design‑y’ tones as showcased in the Pads and Texture/FX factory patches.

To create sounds Objekt uses an Exciter (which in the real world would be something getting hit, plucked, blown, bowed, etc) and two different types of resonators (Modal and Object) which emulate how the excited object or system responds. In a real instrument this can be incredibly complex: a plucked string vibrates, which transfers vibration to the body and sound hole and other strings, resulting in an interacting blend of harmonic and inharmonic frequencies.

The Object resonators come with some very helpful starting points.The Object resonators come with some very helpful starting points.

Looking at the device, the Exciter module is the yellow section to the left. It can generate various types of impulses and noise and can also take an external input. Handy arrows on the panel and a schematic on the rear show how these feed into the three resonators. Each of the resonators can take a direct input from the Exciter, but you can also chain them serially. A mixer section blends the outputs of each section, so you have a lot of routing flexibility. Typically you’ll only use one or two of the resonators in a patch as things can get dense and chaotic quickly.

The remaining panel sections will be familiar from other Reason Rack instruments: a five‑stage multi‑effects module and a modulation assignment section. The mod grid shares space with the global voice section, which has some noteworthy features. As well as regular Mono, Legato and Poly voicing modes, there’s Auto Legato, which is polyphonic but detects legato‑articulated single notes (either on their own or while a chord is being held) and plays those without retriggering the exciter and envelope. Voice mode also determines what happens with external inputs. With any of the Poly modes (including Auto Legato) you need to play or trigger notes to open the input. In Mono modes the signal passes the input straight to the resonators.

Exciting Sounds

The Exciter has two independent sound generator sections. Impact produces tweakable flavours of clicks or impulses. Engaging the Diffuse button smears this out somewhat into more of a scratch, which you could use for example to emulate a plectrum on a wound metal string. The Noise section has a lot more range than the name suggests. As well as White, Colored and Filtered noise there’s Static, Noise Pulse and Random Pulse, all with variable Rates. The Noise Pulse gives you a regular repeating trigger which you could use to simulate fast plucking or modulate for the accelerating bounce of a hammer on a dulcimer string. The Pulse option is something like a sawtooth wave, which you can modulate with the keyboard as a straight‑up synth source.

The Noise Exciter has its own Envelope, in fact the only envelope on Objekt if you don’t count the Curve generator. The sustain stage means you can create continuous excitement, which you’ll want for making bowed or blown style instruments, or other synth or pad type sounds. The Envelope is available in the modulator so can be borrowed for other parallel uses. The two Exciter types can (and often are) used at the same time, and a Delay control on the Noise side allows you to offset the two in time.

Exciting Objekt’s resonators with external sources can produce amazing results.Exciting Objekt’s resonators with external sources can produce amazing results.

Material Science

The three resonators have some similar user interface elements featuring a series of columns that represent resonance frequencies. However the Modal and Object sections work quite differently and have a completely different set of peripheral controls arrayed around these main frequency slots. The Modal section uses from one to eight tuned, resonant band‑pass filters. The combination of these filters provides a kind of additive synthesis route to creating a sound, except that instead of synthesized partials you’re utilising resonators pinged by the Exciter.

You choose how many bands are active and set their frequencies as ratios. You also set how many of the bands track the keyboard. The two bar sliders in each band control the Decay Scale and Gain of each band, in other words how long the resonant overtones stick around and how loud they are relative to each other. The overall decay is set by a separate knob below, along with the Release Mute, which sets a release time after key release if the sound hasn’t already decayed.

With the default ratios in an Init patch you get a simple harmonic series which gives you a basic plinky sound. Things get interesting with non‑integer frequencies, quickly moving to sounds like struck wood or metal items. The best bet is to explore the Template configs accessed from the pop‑up above the main display area. Here you get examples that sound like, for example, Bells, Chimes, Harps, Metal Bars or Tines. The Modal system is pretty good at synthesizing electric piano tines, and Objekt enhances this with a Pickup mode that emulates the sound of electromagnetic pickups.

The Object resonators are more versatile and interesting than Modal, but it’s not an either/or situation as you can, for example, use Modal to form the basic tone then feed it into an Object. The Objects use tuned delay lines: a sound generation method called waveguide synthesis. Each of the eight available stages is essentially a pitch tracking comb filter, so unlike Modal each filter produces a set of harmonics. What’s more, the Coupling mode on the right allows each line to feed into each other.

This scheme can get wild quickly (and programming Objekt requires constant gain correction) but sounds can be tamed and pruned using the Damping controls. You have independent control over the decay time of Low, Mid and High frequencies, plus a master decay control. Left of these you’ll find the Collision and Pitch Mod parameters, which simulate the timbral and tonal disruption of something being hit or plucked hard. Then there’s Dispersion which has a dramatic effect on the sound. This sets the linearity (or non‑linearity) of harmonics, simulating how different frequencies of vibration can travel at different speeds throughout a material. Fully clockwise gives a linear response. As you turn the knob down the partials will drift apart and become inharmonic and metallic sounding. There are actually several sweet spots throughout the range of this parameter where you arrive at harmonic relationships and it’s a great tool for sound design.

Objekt has plenty to keep you surprised and interested, but it has one trick that I think is its killer feature: external input.

Outside Influences

Objekt has plenty to keep you surprised and interested, but it has one trick that I think is its killer feature: external input. You can take advantage of this to use Objekt as an effect device, or you can play it dynamically using the external source as exciter, either combining Objekt with another synth or animating a recorded or sequenced source. When you’ve connected a source to the back panel you need to choose an appropriate voice mode. Mono or Legato will let you use Objekt like a passive effects unit, routing the input into the resonators (and also to the External channel of the mixer if you want to blend dry/wet). Poly modes assume you want to play and trigger sounds, kind of akin to a vocoder. Either way, notes played into Objekt will pitch the resonators. (In most cases used like this I turned off the internal Exciter). Just about anything you try with this trick sounds instantly engaging. With drums or loops coming through, you can shape the sound in an interesting way or add a new harmonic part that’s magically generated by the drums. Other live inputs can be dramatically changed and morphed into new things. I highly recommend checking out Beardyman triggering Objekt with his voice and generating complete tracks.

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