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Tutorial: Granular Synthesis Sound Design in Reason 10

Posted March 27, 2019, 9:46 a.m.

Granular synthesizers combine the coolest features of samplers and traditional synths to produce complex sounds you just can’t get anywhere else. The theory behind granular synthesis may be fairly complex, but Reason 10’s Grain Sample Manipulator makes it incredibly easy—and just plain fun—to craft utterly unique textures. This tutorial will teach you how to use Grain to create extraordinary sounds from ordinary audio clips. Read on and watch the video below to learn how to make a patch in Grain!

Granular Synthesis 101
So, what is granular synthesis? How do granular synthesizers work? A granular synth slices audio samples into tiny pieces called grains, which can be played at different speeds, manipulated, and rearranged. The Grain Sample Manipulator even goes step further than most granular synths, incorporating several unique features. But despite its power and versatility, Grain is designed to make it easy to quickly craft complex, one-of-a-kind sounds.

The fun starts in Grain’s sample view, where you can load any sample you like, trim the start and end points, and adjust key parameters like Speed and Root Key. You can make your sample play forward or backward, as a one-shot or a loop, in freeze mode, or controlled by an envelope (more on that later). These settings alone are enough to spend hours tweaking, but things really get interesting in Grain’s other sections.

Modes
One of the keys to Grain’s versatility is its four modes, which each interpret the source sample in a fundamentally different way. The most straightforward of these is Tape mode, which simply maps a sample across the keyboard like a traditional sampler. Long Grains mode employs true granular synthesis, letting you freely adjust the Grain Length, Rate, and X-Fade to achieve a variety of sounds.

Grain’s other two modes share more in common with synthesizers than samplers. Grain Oscillator mode works like an analog oscillator, playing grains at the speed of each note’s pitch. Spectral Grains mode analyzes each grain’s frequency content and uses additive synthesis to recreate them with partial frequencies. The result is an artificial-sounding version of your sample which you can shape with the Snap, Filter, and Formant controls.

Oscillator, Filters, and Effects
Grain also contains some common synthesizer components which make it easy to dial in sounds just like you would on an analog-style synth. A traditional oscillator with six waveform choices can be mixed with any sample to lend a recognizable synth character. With a five-octave range and modulation control, the oscillator can produce everything from bright overtones to subharmonic thickening.

The granular synth and oscillator signals can both be routed through Grain’s filter section, which provides high-pass, band-pass, low-pass, and ladder filters for a variety of timbres. The straightforward Amplifier section controls the volume dynamics with a standard ADSR envelope. A full complement of onboard effects is also available, including chorus, phaser, flanger, delay, reverb, compression, EQ, and six types of distortion.

Modulation
Grain gets infinitely more powerful when you explore its modulation tools. The Envelopes section contains four fully customizable envelopes for unlimited potential. Each can be freely manipulated by adding points, bending lines, or drawing in custom curves. You can even use the Motion envelope to control the playback behavior of your source sample, changing where it starts and stops or making it skip around in time.

Grain also features three low-frequency oscillators with ten different shapes, plus Beat Sync and Delay options. Below the LFO section, Grain’s flexible modulation matrix allows you to link all sorts of parameters for incredibly expressive sounds. In the Source column, you can choose from any of your envelopes, LFOs, MIDI velocity, and more to be the modulator. Each Source can control two Destinations, which can be anything from filter frequency to grain length or even the onboard effect parameters.

With Grain, every recording you’ve ever made, every sample in every library, and countless sounds yet to be discovered can all become the basis of your next awesome patch.

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