By Len Sasso
MetaSynth 2.7 Puts a Painterís Palette in Your Sonic Toolbox

The multifaceted MetaSynth 2.7 sample editor and synthesizer from U&I software offers a broad range of DSP functions. But what really sets it apart is its palette of graphic sound-design tools. Not only can its Image Synth turn images into sound, but it also converts sound files to sonograms for graphic manipulation and resynthesis. MetaSynth’s assortment of standard and not-so-standard DSP tools offers a range of possibilities not found anywhere else. This makes it an essential tool for both sound designers and composers.

Yet because MetaSynth is such a deep program and, frankly, doesn’t conform to conventional Mac interface design, unlocking some of its mysteries requires a bit of know-how. In this article, I will provide an overview of some of MetaSynth’s more advanced features, including the Image Synth, the extensive array of filters, and the Cross Convolution tool. Along the way, I’ll touch on other aspects of the program, but keep in mind that this only scratches the surface of MetaSynth’s capabilities.

In the Heart of the Image Synth
To fully appreciate the uniqueness of MetaSynth’s Image Synth, here’s a brief look at how it works. At its heart, the Image Synth is a graphics editor with tools specially selected for sound manipulation. In converting a picture to sound, think of each horizontal line of pixels as representing a single note that will play the built-in synthesizer or a sample of your choice (the sound-making option is called the “rendering source”). The line’s vertical position indicates the note’s pitch, the horizontal position marks its position in time, and the line’s length shows its duration. The line also provides time-varying volume and pan information for the note: changes in brightness control volume, and changes in color on the red/green scale control pan position. (The RGB spectrum’s blue component doesn’t affect the sound.)

Pictures are rendered into sound using a variety of sound sources, including a variable-waveform oscillator, a sample player, a multisampled instrument, a pseudo-FM synth, and a granular synth. The Image Synth can be approached as a kind of glorified piano roll–style note editor or as a sound canvas for painting and analyzing sound files. The view you adopt during any session will greatly influence how you use MetaSynth’s many graphic-editing tools, and it will also affect your choice of rendering sources. I’ll describe both approaches in this article.


Reprinted with permission from Magazine, February, 2001
© 2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved

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