Granular synthesis splits sound into tiny fragments, called grains, which are superimposed over or between one another when played back. The technique was pioneered by artists like Iannis Xenakis, who was painstakingly cutting up and rearranging slivers of magnetic tape as early as the late '50s. Things really kicked off when computers entered the picture, saving many hours and fingertips in the process. Nowadays, it's a key piece of the time-stretching and pitch-shifting technologies found in software like Ableton Live and Auto-Tune. Though it has plenty to answer for in that regard, its alchemic sound design possibilities continue to be a vast source of inspiration for producers.
Palindrome seeks to mine that rich vein using four granular samplers. Glitchmachines provide 1.4GB of sounds to work with, conveniently split into Organic and Synthetic folders, while the samples themselves are labelled onomatopoeically (TrancegateGuillotine.wav and WhippedCreamSlime2.wav, for example).You can also import your own samples, but you're stuck with WAVs—AIFFs or MP3s won't work. This opens up fun ways of making new sounds and rhythms with existing elements from your productions. An open hi-hat could become a deep, washing introductory element or a skittering new percussion loop. Here I've taken a basic 909 open hi-hat and put it into one of the samplers. I drew a couple of loose, triangle-style envelopes to modulate the Start and Size parameters and messed around with the Time and Feedback settings on the Delay FX insert by hand. The result isn't pretty (909 hats are pretty brash at the best of times), but it's cool to hear how quickly Palindrome can create interesting rhythms and textural ideas no matter the input.
By virtue of its big, sci-fi plotting grid, Palindrome's real jam is knocking out strange, creepy and otherworldly noises. Here I've taken a polite-sounding synth loop recorded from the Novation Circuit and spread it across all four samplers while randomising the trajectory of the grid, every parameter, the modulation amounts and envelopes. The results—everything from Brostep wubs to shrill, bell-like tones—are clearly based on, yet wildly different from, the source material. Palindrome has a fun and extensive randomisation matrix that allows you to precisely define the elements you wish to modulate. You could, for example, choose to randomise everything besides the custom grid you just plotted, or, as in the example below, everything but the samples you've chosen to use.
The matrix makes it easy to keep track of what's what in your sound. Simply randomise each section until you find something you like before moving onto the next one. It's an enjoyable way to work, and one that, far from coming across as cheating, rewards careful listening and decision making. Below is an example of just that. We start with sample selection before moving up through the matrix, covering envelopes, modulation settings, FX and knob parameters, settling in the end on a purring, alien sort of sound.
Should you wish to get specific, Palindrome's custom plotting grid and envelopes come into play. The grid basically defines which samples are being heard. Think of it as an X-Y graph where each corner represents a sample player. The far corners of each quarter are where that particular sample will play solo at full volume. As the playheads move around the grid, the other samples are blended into the output signal. The playheads can either be synced to your host DAW's tempo or set to run wild and free at any rate between 0.001Hz and 25,000Hz. They can also be triggered as one-shots or looped in various ways. Each MIDI note has a playhead following the path you've drawn on the grid, and Palindrome's four-note polyphony means that four playheads can run simultaneously. You could set these off at different times to create organic, fluttering rhythms and head-spinning trips around the stereo field.
Glitchmachines explicitly state that they chose not to include any basic LFO shapes for the eight envelopes, as custom ones are more interesting. While I agree to an extent, basic LFOs do serve a purpose, and it would've been nice to have quick access to a few, if only as a starting point for more varied options. Should you wish to draw your own, however, it's easy enough to accomplish in a couple of clicks, though a lack of curve options mean smooth sine waves are out of the question. Like the grid, they can either be tempo-locked or set to run at any speed between 20ms and 20,000ms. The envelopes are assignable as modulation sources to every parameter of the four samplers, including their individual FX sections, as well as the rate control of the grid's playhead speed. One disappointing omission is that it's not possible to modulate any of the Global controls, which include overall attack, release, amplitude and pitch amounts, as well as reverb parameters like size, damp and mix amount.
That minor issue aside, it's hard to argue with the bizarre sounds that Palindrome spits out. With some noodling around it's totally possible to get some sweeter, calmer tones out of it, but I feel like that's not the point. As you can tell from the audio samples above, it tends to default towards an intense, sometimes abrasive kind of rhythmic stutter that isn't to everyone's taste. But if you want things to get a little strange, Palindrome's probably got you covered.
Ease of use: 3.8