- What do you do if you're a company whose name is simultaneously synonymous for having developed some of the most sought-after sample-based drum plug-ins and an award-winning suite of synthesis tools? Well, if you're FXpansion, you combine your knowledge and thinking in both areas to develop a hybrid product in the form of a synthesis-based drum plug-in. With no onboard samples but an engine tweaked from the D-CAM collection of synth plug-ins and pattern sequencing techniques borrowed from Geist and BFD2, the result is Tremor, which could legitimately be considered a synth-programmer's dream drum machine.
With an absence of samples—Tremor's download footprint is just 35MB and as it runs in 32 and 64-bit hosts for both Mac and PC— you'll be up and running in no time. Authorization is completed via a challenge and response code, with each legitimate download of Tremor being compatible on three computers. A demo version is available for immediate download from FXpansion's website.
Tremor is an eight-voice drum machine, with sound synthesis at the core of each voice. The GUI is split in half with the upper section representing a step sequencer for the separate drum engines, with their names listed along the left-hand edge. Below this, you can click between a Kit Mixer, with key parameters available for limited editing of each sound source, or a full, in-depth editor for each drum sound in turn.
You can select each sound source either by clicking on the relevant section of the mixer and then clicking the Synth button, by clicking the numbered engine for each sound or by clicking the name of the instrument you want to edit in the step sequencer. As you'd hope, the range of parameters for each instrument is comprehensive, so that a wide range of sounds can be constructed for each engine. Across the top, the Oscillator section can be tuned via Semitone and Fine Tune dials, while the Shape rotary allows you to set a balance between saw and square shapes, or square and triangle with a pop-up text box showing you the currently selected balance.
LFO1 can be used as a Frequency Modulator to the Oscillator stage too, while PWM and Sync amounts can be set to taste. However, this regular synth engine is enhanced with capabilities unique to Tremor which let you more actively create drum type sounds. This is achieved through the Harmonics section next to the Oscillator which offers a Membrane option to accurately model the skin behaviour of the virtual drum head being struck. In real terms, this reorganizes the partials and harmonics present within any drum sound, so that you can either produce natural sounding drum-head behaviours, or warp the settings to produce a wider range of experimental sounds via the controls offered—Peak, Space, Roll and Decay.
Each sound actually benefits from three blend-able sources, with the Oscillator stage further enhanced by a Noise generator and a Sub Oscillator too. The Noise stage has controls for Tone, Width and Stereo Spread, while the Sub stage can be tuned across three octaves.
There are two Distortion layers, one of which can be used before the filter stage with a separate one afterwards, both of which feature seven distortion types, with a slider to select the Drive amount. To stress, both of these can be used simultaneously—it's not a question of deciding whether to use a single Distortion unit before or after the filter. The filter stage itself offers multiple modes with options for low, high and bass-pass types, while Resonance, Gain and Cutoff are the other dials available here. The final module in the upper section controls output volume and pan.
Below this, you'll find four sync-able LFO modules, all of which offer Rate, Shape and Phase options and a Sample and Hold section which can be synced as well. Then there are three envelopes—Fast, Slow and Amp—which can be used to tweak responses of each drum parameter to taste. The Modulation section of Tremor is hugely impressive as rather than limiting the assignment, for instance, of an LFO to a small number of specific parameters, you can simply click on the mod source you want to assign at the bottom of the window and then click almost any parameter to create a blue crescent around its dial; this will then show the range over which it will be affected by your assignment. This means that a much wider range of parameters can be modified and, as a result, the range of sounds which can be produced is significantly enhanced. The system reminds me of Reaktor's Razor instrument, for anyone familiar with Native Instruments' synth gem.
Once you've built a sound-set you like, modifying these parameters in turn for one instrument after another, you can either trigger the sounds over MIDI—instrument 1 is assigned to C1, instrument 2 to C#1, etc.—or you can program a pattern via the Step Sequencer. There's a Pencil to draw notes into the grid for each instrument, while dragging up and down on a selected note controls velocity by default. There are a number of other creative tools, including a global swing amount to get some shuffle into your sequences, as well as a nudge function, which can shift all notes, or just those for a specific instrument in either direction, to introduce more syncopated patterns.
Via an Insert drop-down, you can even load pre-made note patterns, which are combinations of repeating sequences. Speaking of repeats, as well as being able to enter notes onto the grid, you can select 'repeating' events which break a single note down into a glitched-up stutter hit—perfect for IDMers. 24 patterns can be built for a single sound set, so your entire track's percussive needs can be covered by a single instance of the plug-in.
Effects-wise, Tremor also has its bases covered. Each source can be processed with three independent effects, while three more are available globally which will process everything Tremor spits out. The effects are great, with options within Distortion, Dynamics, EQ, Filters, FX and Reverb drop-downs, though do note that heavy implementation of effects does push the already considerable CPU count even higher.
For the chronically lazy, or—to be more kind—those first starting out on their Tremor adventures, there is a range of presets available for each sound type which can be loaded individually, or via style guide banks. However, as building a pattern and editing sounds on the fly is so much fun, it doesn't take long before you'll be leaving those alone to create sounds of your own. Also, as all Tremor's sounds are built from tune-able oscillators, there's nothing to stop you expanding a sequence to include bass and synth sounds into a pattern too. Tremor is creative, inspiring and fun and comes thoroughly recommended.
Ease of use: 4/5