The latest plug-in from Swedish boutique manufacturer Klevgrand takes their unique line of instruments to a new level. Tomofon is wave/sample based, but not a wavetable synth or sampler. And the sounds can be realistic, strange, expressive and strange.
And wow, listen.
Tomofon is full of synthetic vocals, satisfying drums; the beats we’ve come to expect from Cleveland. But then everything quickly slides into sonic multiplicity, like all those worlds unite. My friend David Lust described the sound as satisfyingly “uncanny valley”. Suddenly your Congo is kind of… singing. Or your vocals sound like a violin. Or you can push the models to extremes and hear sawed, bent textures, almost physical modeling, but it’s not. There are tons of expressive presets that you can modify to your heart’s content, and it’s just as easy to create sounds from scratch. This instrument is just full of unexpected synth sounds.
They call this a “Real Audio Synthesizer” with “Audio Models” at the heart of the synth engine. It’s a little hard to describe exactly what they did to make this possible. They don’t call this plug-in synthesis, but at least some of what they do is similar (and allows for vocal-style modeling). As with that technique, you start with longer samples and chop them up with a bunch of smaller waves extracted from a longer file. They then map those bits to a range of MIDI keys.
Where this stops being traditional plug-in synthesis or wave synthesis is how the playback engine then renders the sounds from the keys and other dimensions. Audio content is: “Audio Model” – then rendered in up to four doubled voices (and monophonic or legato polyphony) using a range of envelopes and controls.
This video is worth watching. (The docs are also helpful, but in this case it’s much clearer to me than the video what they actually do.) in that you are trying to get audio content in different notes.
Of course, that doesn’t stop you from just throwing random sound files at the engine and letting it run wild, which also produces amazing and unique results. I got weird, rattling metal sounds, uncontrollable bowing bell sounds and more, even using the import process intentionally wrong, and automapping still produced playable results.
(I hope I got that right, so we can have an update with the developers soon.)
The main components of the playback engine / synthetic instruments.
- 124 Audio Models with “High-quality multi-expression audio” covering a variety of instruments (strings, vocals, brass, woodwind, guitar, etc.), though you can absolutely make the results sound like none of those instruments.
- Import your own audio create your own Audio models using the editor button, then map automatically, manually or in combination
- Time envelopes
- pitch and layer depth envelopes
- Filter with modulation and envelope
- LFOs, select and hold at random
- A modulation matrix that can also plot velocity versus envelope times, etc.
- Monophonic (with glide) and polyphonic legato modes (with envelope sync when playing new notes)
- Up to 4 doubled voices with their own pitch, pitch and level
- Reverb, delay and EQ sections (recording)
Those envelopes are also pretty crazy, bending through a series of Bezier curves with breakpoints and a twist option. (Some envelopes also have modulation.) There’s a lot you can do just by turning the envelopes and stuff, which also means you can quickly abuse any of the presets by changing their envelopes and modulation.
There are also many details for sound designers. The import audio workflow includes various options for automatically or manually adding audio content, sorting and merging, normalizing and smoothing, all undo/resize.
It’s also really fun that you can import from just one file and let the software do the work, which begs the question of why wavetable and sample tools don’t work the same way. You can also double-click values to reset them and alt/option-drag to fine-tune the setting. The import technique needs a little revision, but the rest of the tool is friendly and discoverable.
My only gripe here is that leaving out tuning seems like a huge missed opportunity. (There’s also no MPE support, which can make tuning harder with third-party solutions, at least in polyphonic legato mode.) These tools offer some tuning options almost immediately.
But this is a really genius approach. I hope that the tool will develop more over time. there is such potential here.
Tomofon is AU/VST/AAX for 64-bit macOS 10.10+ (Intel/Apple Silicon) and Windows 7+.
I almost made some demos here, but… I’m going to wait and really get the import workflow sorted out better. However, this is an instant favorite and I’ll be showing it live tomorrow.
$99 intro, $129.99 after. Full demo available.