MARCH 28, 2024

Pro Tools | Sonic Drop: GrooveCell Spectral Particles


This month’s Sonic Drop comes in the form of GrooveCell Spectral Particles, a collection of 10 GrooveCell kits based around spectral and granular synthesis/resynthesis. While spectral and granular synthesis have been used for quite a long time in sound design and avant garde electronic music, the technology behind them is extremely commonplace in modern music production for tasks such as time stretching and pitch shifting.

I was first introduced to spectral and granular synthesis as a student at Berklee College of Music near 20 years ago (my sincerest gratitude to Dr. Richard Boulanger), and still to this day they are my personal favorite forms of synthesis/resynthesis. I’ve always been attracted to sounds that are a hybrid of acoustic and digital worlds, and this is where spectral and granular excel. While both are capable of similar goals, the way in which they go about processing sound is quite different. In spectral synthesis sound is analyzed via an FFT (Fast Fourier Transform), which is essentially a snapshot of time versus pitch by breaking the sound down into its spectral components over the course of a window of time in which can then be manipulated individually. Granular works a bit differently, where sound is split into tiny particles called grains and the grains can then be manipulated. One could say granular is broadband whereas spectral is ridiculously multiband. In practice, spectral is smoother and blurrier sounding, while granular is more clicky and glitchy.

20 years ago, access to these forms of synthesis was less common, although programming languages like CSound and SuperCollider, as well as programs like Soundhack, MetaSynth, and Native Instruments’ Reaktor were available. These days, they are much more common, and granular is especially well implemented in modern synths such as Minimal Audio’s Current or Native Instrument’s Ashlight. Paulstretch is a well-known piece of freeware known for ridiculously long time stretching via a kind of spectral synthesis known as Phase Vocoding. Necessary to mention as well of course is iZotope RX, which to me is essentially a spectral playground. Spectral synthesis and granular synthesis are effectively natively build into every DAW these days as well. Pro Tools’ Elastic Audio contains both: the Polyphonic and Monophonic modes are granular, whereas XForm and ElastiquePro are spectral. I encourage you to stretch a sound far beyond the realm of recognizability with each to hear the differences.

Musically, some of my favorite artists have used and abused both spectral and granular. If you listen to artists such as Telefon Tel Aviv, Richard Devine, Amon Tobin, Nine Inch Nails, etc… you’ll hear them both all over their work, which is in part why I fell in love with the sound. I’ve always been pulled toward what it’s like when sound is breaking and that’s literally what both spectral and granular are capable of, as well as making truly haunting and complex pads and ambiences. You’d also be hard pressed to hear a modern film score without granular or spectral, and that’s before we even get into the sound design aspect of sound editors who freely use both (the sound of films like The Matrix or Transformers would be drastically different without them).

In creating GrooveCell Spectral Particles I aimed to create a collection of kits that abuses both forms of synthesis to create unique sounding drum kits that will stand out in your existing drum library and augment it with a palette usually reserved for those willing to go down a particularly nerdy wormhole. They’re clicky, smeary, and sometimes a little odd—and that’s the beauty of them. While these drums naturally excel at genres such as IDM, utilizing them in more traditional forms of music will give you great results as well with some added flair. I programmed the GrooveCell kits as well to have all the drum sounds gated by the length you hold the pad as well, as opposed to a simple one shot that plays through each entire sample. Some of the samples are long (as is the nature of time stretching) and using the Amplitude ADSR to gate the samples allows you far more variation and dynamics. If you feel so inclined, do explore manipulating and creating sounds via spectral and granular synthesis yourself.

Like all Pro Tools | Sonic Drops, GrooveCell Spectral Particles is FREE with your active Pro Tools annual or monthly subscription or current Upgrade plan (for perpetual license holders). So go get your GrooveCell Spectral Particles expansion kits from the Sonic Drop tab in Avid Link—a world of sound awaits you!

  • Matt Lange headshot

    Matt Lange is a multiplatinum artist, producer, DJ, and sound designer who recently joined the Avid team as Head of Audio Content.

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