Dust is a revolutionary binaural sample based granulising synthesiser which uses real-time particle simulation. It is available from Sound Morph in VST, VST3, AAX and Audio Unit formats for OSX and Windows. It’s normal price is $99.
For this review I’ve started with the conclusions because I’m so impressed with Dust and basically can’t wait until the end. It is absolutely phenomenal software and a joy to use.
What I love about Dust is that you can get to grips with the basics really quickly but there’s still lots of scope to learn how to further refine your sound using some of the more intricate features. It’s very capable software and transcends the possibilities typically offered by VSTs giving full control and virtually unlimited sound sculpting possibilities.
It’s one of those few VSTs that gives you a sense of anticipation and provides great inspiration. So much so that instead of the usual demo track I’ve created a whole album of 12 tracks based around Dust and just some of the different types of sounds that it can produce. Soundmorph’s website says that Dust is addictive and the album I’ve created instead of the usual single track definitely goes a long way to prove this. The album is embedded at the top of the post.
Dust has fairly high spec requirements – An Intel® Mac with Mac OS X 10.9 (or later), OR a PC with Windows 7 (or later); Multicore processor; 2 GB RAM; 1024×768 display. That said I currently have a 2Ghz dual core processor with 4Gb ram and it could handle most of what i threw at it with Dust, it did struggle a bit with extensive modulations and when pushed to its limits but generally it worked really well even with a few other VSTs and delay effects running during the creation of the album.
When you initially load Dust, first impressions are excellent. The GUI looks clean and well organised, there are clearly a lot of controls but it looks well thought out and logically arranged.
The first thing to do without knowing anything about the software is to load a preset. You know there’s some quality sounds when the likes of Richard Devine and Ivo Ivanov (Glitchmachines) have produced presets. And it’s not disappointing, the sound quality is excellent and there’s a bit of everything from ambient, drone, cinematic to robot / glitchy.
Because it is different to traditional synthesis methods there are number of terms and concepts that need to be explained and it’s worth considering these before looking at the interface:
Each particle is a distinct granular synthesiser. The source sound is split into smaller grains which are then repitched and repositioned arbitrarily to form another sound.
The audio output is panned binaurally based on the particle’s position relative to the centre with up and down corresponding to forward and backward in the sound field.
The particle moves around the flow field for a time determined by its amplitude envelope after which it is removed and can no longer be heard.
All parameters of the particle sound can be modulated based on properties of the particle’s motion such as speed, x & y position and distance from centre.
These create particles and can be independently positioned around the simulation space. They can emit particles automatically based on a given frequency or triggered manually via midi input. Particle initial properties such as speed and direction or granuliser parameters are set by the emitter and there are 8 emitters in total.
This is a 2d force field that determines how particles move around the space and is defined by a set of effectors and an equation.
Effectors are like customisable magnets. They can be individually positioned and have a strength (attraction or repulsion) and fall-off (reach of influence).
The flow field can be selected from a list of built in equations or generated by a user defined equation.
Dust has a built in convolution reverb. This works by taking tonal, textural and temporal characteristics from a loaded audio file instead of computing them algorithmically. What this means is that instead of computing the reverb for a given sized room, you can record the sound of a cave, in a pipe or rustling leaves and apply this as your reverb. Basically any audio file can be loaded enabling a wide range from natural or very unusual sounds.
Having considered the basics we can look at the interface in more detail. The design comprises of 6 principal sections. The majority of the display is the particle view. Emitters are shown as coloured circles with a protruding line indicating the speed and direction it will emit particles. Particles are shown as glowing blobs, colour coded to the emitter. The size of the particle indicates its sound output level. Effectors are shown as dashed white circles and are slightly larger than the emitters. The small ‘dust’ particles in the background show the flow field.
The emitters panel is the next largest section and controls the heart of Dust. The coloured circular buttons at the top correspond to each emitter and selecting one of these will bring up the controls for that particular emitter. Below the buttons you can edit the global volume and choose the audio source. At present, Dust is sample based but an ‘effect version’ is currently in development which will allow real time input. If you click on the drop down menu you can select sounds from the Dust samples folder but if you click on the little folder you can load any of your own samples.
The next part controls how the emitters create particles. The trigger modes are midi single note; sequencer auto (pattern designed by step sequencer); sequencer midi note (as previous but only whilst a note within emitter’s note range is held or off).
The step sequencer is fully featured with trigger, length, mode, sync, rate and phase controls.
The midi range button brings up a keyboard which is used to select the range of notes that trigger particle releases when midi note single or sequencer midi note trigger modes are selected. You can set range, start note and notes per emitter.
The next section is where you can edit the particle position and launch velocity.
The controls in the final section determine the various synthesis properties of the emitted particles – envelope, granuliser and filter.
The next section is presets where you can load, save or delete them.
The flow field section is where you define the flow field by a set of effectors and/or an equation.
The convolver section has an enabled button, dry / wet controls and a drop down list of Dust built in impulses or you can click on the folder to load your own.
The output panel has a master gain, hard limit output and meter.
Dust also has extensive modulation options – any parameter with a dial can be modulated by right clicking on the dial. There are four ways to modulate a parameter – LFOs, midi mapping, sequencers and particle property mapping.
All modulation is additive which means this adds to the manually set value rather than replacing it. Multiple modulations can be applied simultaneously with the result being the sum of all of them.
Although Dust offers comprehensive options, creating your own patches starting with the init patch is atraightforward and you can have a patch created in a few minutes. The emitters have default trigger note ranges and if you use these it can speed up the initial creation but these can be edited as required. The steps are generally to load the required samples; set the trigger mode (and midi note range if required); determine the starting position and starting velocity; set the envelope, granuliser and filter settings; set the flow field equation, either preset or define your own; determine whether you want to use effectors and where to place them and their values; decide if you want to use the convolver.
The flow field equation has quite an impact on the sound and experimenting with effectors yields some interesting results too. The range of convolution impulses is good, I’ve already got a number of these which can further define your sound.
There’s great scope for control, I’ve used Hollyhock’s advanced midi sequencer to trigger sounds randomly which gives really good results. I’ve also used a midi keyboard which gives you greater control over triggering the sounds and you can adjust ranges to layer samples as required.
Automation adds some great movement, I find that the reducing the scale control for the LFO enables you to provide some subtle movement of the position of the emitters for instance.
It works well with all types of sounds that I’ve loaded from short impact / glitches to longer vocal, synth or pad type sounds. I think that choosing / combining samples that go well together is a definite art and a key part of ensuring a great sound. Although you can create a patch in a few minutes, it’s very easy to tweak and adjust settings to refine your sound. For instance, envelope and granuliser settings can make a big difference to your sound resulting in sounds between a looping type of effect to more of an ambience.
It’s ideal for live performances, the effects version which will process live inputs will be very interesting and will open up further creative possibilities. When I created the album I used Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock II as my DAW which records live and I often edited the settings of the patch during the recording and didn’t suffer from any audio glitches or drop-outs. I also typically applied Spaceship Delay by Musical Entropy to further enhance the sound.
Overall it’s an excellent VST for anyone who likes creating or sculpting sounds. It offers virtually unlimited possibilities not only because you can load your own samples therefore giving potentially unlimited sound sources but also because you can edit particle settings, granuliser settings, filter settings, flow field equations and convolution reverb settings to create very interesting and unique sounds.