Review

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Computer Music on The Swarm

Freeware News

April 2011

The Swarm is a bit of an oddity - to put it mildly. Based on rare hardware synth The Swarmatron and available only as a standalone (though thankfully ReWire-able) application, its unique selling point is the ability to spread its eight oscillators over a wide pitch range. We caught up with developer Leigh Marble to find out more.

What inspired you to create such a strange piece of software?

“I had read about The Swarmatron from Dewanatron, and wrote it down as a cool idea to explore. There were scant few videos to be found of people playing it, and it sounded like quite a mysterious beast. Luckily, the recent Oscar season coverage of the Swarmatron-heavy soundtrack for The Social Network (which won the award for Best Original Soundtrack) mean that there was a bit more information to be found out there about the instrument, and I finally decided that I had to find out - at least in a rough sense - what it would be like to play one! A couple of hours of patching in Max/ MSP later, I had my answer - and then I decided that I should refine it to a point where I would be able to publish it.”

How closely is the The Swarm modelled on The Swarmatron?

“The Swarm mimcs the architecture of The Swarmatron - a group of eight oscillators tuned on a continuum between a unison cluster and an even harmonic spread. Like The Swarmatron, it features a non-keyboardbased pitch controller, sawtooth and sine waveforms, and a low-pass filter. But it’s not an emulation - I wasn’t trying to circuit-model the oscillators, or get the exact attack and release times of the ADSR envelope, or anything on that level. After I published the initial version, I wrote to Dewanatron about it, and since then Leon Dewan has been very generous in answering my questions.”

Leigh plans updates to the synth and other freeware projects, so be sure to keep an eye on the reFuse Software website.