By now, it's pretty well established that certain pieces of music technology have the power to create and shape music genres. Obvious examples include AutoTune and Native Instruments' Massive, which have become must-own tools for creating signature sounds within some genres. One lesser-known instance of this phenomenon comes from Berlin-based developers Sugar Bytes, whose multi-effect plug-ins have been the backbone of frenetic sound-mangling artists like Modeselektor and Siriusmo for nearly a decade.
It started with Artillery, a plug-in that allowed for effects to be spread across a virtual keyboard and activated via MIDI notes, resulting in a truly "playable" effect instrument. It was a novel concept that, along with its excellent effect engines, launched Artillery into legendary status. In 2008, Sugar Bytes introduced Effectrix, which took the "buffet of effects" concept and substituted a timeline roll for the keyboard. Fast forward to 2011, and Sugar Bytes has identified yet another interaction model to cater to: knobs. The plug-in I'm speaking of is called Turnado, and it utilizes the eight-knob design that has been made ubiquitous lately by controllers like the Novation Nocturn, Akai APC40 and Korg nanoKontrol. Turnado's knobs serve in the same way Artillery's key ranges did: they activate and control eight different effect slots. In July 2012, Sugar Bytes released version 1.5 of Turnado, an update that brought with it a number of new features.
There are 24 effect types in Turnado, organized by color into eight categories—delays, modulation effects, reverbs, transformation effects, amplifier, loop effects, DJ tools and filters. You can choose from these by clicking and dragging them into the desired effect slot. When a slot is filled with an effect, it displays the name of the current preset along with a helpful background image that provides a visual description of the effect. You can change these presets by either clicking the arrows next to the preset name or by clicking on the name itself, which opens a drop-down menu. Once you choose an effect, it's just a matter of mapping a controller to the plug-in and you're on your way. By default, Turnado listens to CC1 through CC8 for controlling the knobs, but this can be adjusted via a MIDI learn function within the plug-in itself. Using Ableton Live, I found it easiest to configure the knobs for host automation so that they could be easily assigned to the knobs on my control surface. Otherwise I'd need to create an additional MIDI track in order to route MIDI to the plug-in itself.
Once you get your knobs moving, you'll notice that by default the effects are off when their knobs are turned fully anti-clockwise. As soon as you start turning a knob, the effect assigned to that knob turns on. As you turn it, the effect's parameters change. The routing of the effects within Turnado is dynamic, meaning the last activated effect takes the signal of the previously activated effect. You can change the routing to follow the slot order, though, so that the effect in slot one always processes before the effect in slot two and so on. This can be handy if, for example, you always want a reverb to come last in a chain regardless of when it's active. I can see how this might be a bit confusing for some users since the plug-in doesn't indicate the signal flow setting on the front panel. (It's nested in the settings dialog instead.) But in most cases the dynamic signal flow is how you get the most flexibility from Turnado.
For some users, this amount of power is enough. If you feel like getting more in-depth, however, you can fine-tune the parameters of each effect slot through the edit page, which is accessed by clicking the edit button in each slot. This page allows you to tweak five different parameters—four that are specific to the chosen effect, and one that controls the dry/wet amount. Each of these five edit-screen knobs can be tied to the main-screen knob, which is what gives them the magic described earlier. If you want some hands-off automation as well, each slot has two LFOs and an envelope follower that can be used to modulate each parameter. Turnado uses a nice color-coded system to handle the assignment of the modulators to the parameters, and each parameter has a rocker switch that allows you to set the modulator to have a positive or negative effect on it. I would have liked to have control over the amount of modulation independently for each parameter rather than simply turning it on and off for each, but as it stands it's still a pretty powerful system.
Perhaps in a nod to Effectrix's sequencing heritage, Sugar Bytes also built a powerful automation sequencer called the Dictator into Turnado. This is a window that, when active, takes the place of the list of effect choices and provides eight automation lanes plus one master fader. Each effect slot within Turnado has a designated automation lane within the Dictator where you can place automation points that will cause the slot's knob to be automated as the Dictator travels between them. The Dictator fader can be controlled via MIDI or host automation, so you can fairly easily set up Effectrix-style automation sequenced to the host tempo if you are so inclined. The Dictator takes some time to wrap your head around, however, so reading the manual and taking time to experiment are strongly suggested. And I would have liked to see the range of the automation points displayed within the GUI as they're adjusted, which would eliminate the trial and error required with the current setup.
Overall, I was very impressed with Turnado. Even though it's marketed as a simplification of the multi-effect model that Sugar Bytes has done so well in the past, the dynamic routing, along with the tweakability provided by the edit page and the Dictator, results in a deceptively powerful plug-in. That means it works really well whether you're a novice looking to spice up your DJ sets or an advanced user in search of tools to bring variety to sessions.