- There's no greater mistake anyone working in the music technology business can make than thinking that he or she has seen it all. While it's perhaps true that the majority of the "new" technology released each week draws heavily on scientific theories and interface design we've all seen before, the idea that there are no new approaches left to uncover is simply wrong. Every once in a while a single plug-in or instrument brings just such a reminder into sharp focus, and SugarBytes' new monophonic "Bass Synth" Cyclop is just such a product.
At a glance, the interface looks as though it borrows from a retro computer game as much as it belongs in the world of high-end audio plug-ins; this fun, refreshing approach continues into its sound design options. Despite being advertised as a "wobble bass" synth, just like Native Instruments' Razor, this plug-in is capable of an almost infinite amount more, including lead sounds and biting sequences. So if you've written Cyclop off based on its YouTube trailer alone, my first words of advice would be to keep reading.
The upper section of Cyclop is devoted to modulation—assorted ways of getting the sounds you've built moving. There are two large dials in the upper left and right corners, while two smaller ones below and to the sides of these are related, connected parameters which allow for a greater degree of control. While it might seem strange to focus on modulation routing possibilities before actually describing how sound is produced, this upper section is as responsible for producing Cyclop's unique array of noises as its actual generators.
Any sound you're working on can be morphed, in the upper left-hand section by the Wobble Generator. Again, fear not: even if you're not interested in dubstep, there's more here than meets the eye. The Wobble Knob offers 12 "locations" which, in turn, provide a range of LFO shapes in each location. The central dial changes the sync clock speed of the Wobble Generator so if, for instance, you want an upwards ramp at a speed of 1/2 notes and a sine wave generator in 1/8th notes, you simply need to select the relevant shapes as you turn the dial to those speeds. There are a number of waveform choices at each location but the fun really starts when you assign which parameters are controlled via these "wobbles" in the Assignment page.
Dubstep wobbles control filter cutoff via LFOs and, as you'd expect, the twin filters of Cyclop are available as targets. However, so are a range of synth parameters, so if "wobble" to you means effects more like vibrato or wider sonic mangling of synth engines, Cyclop is ready to respond. The smaller Amount dial below the main Wobble Generator adds a second layer of complexity. Imagine the assignments, as explained above as one layer of routing. The Amount dial allows you to morph between this layer and a second one, complete with its own assignments. These could be a subtle offset of the first lot, a complete inversion of them or anything in between, but the Amount dial lets you move from the first A Layer to the second B one, with the sound responding accordingly.
It gets more complex still. Both the Wobble Generator and this second Amount control can be sequenced so that their values can change as a note is held down. This obviously provides sonic mayhem, in either controlled or off-the-wall ways, but it's guaranteed to throw up some musical ideas around which you can build entire tracks.
Up in the top right-hand corner, a second sonic engine lies in wait. We're used to effects processors featuring natively within software synths by now but this is a processor with a difference, as it can be used to add effects to individual steps of a sequence. By clicking on the FX Sequencer button, a matrix of 8 x 4 locations appear, upon which up to four different effects can be placed per step. The bottom row contains variations of Phaser, Chorus, Reverb and Delay effects (in pink), the next one Vinyl, Stop and Scratch effects (in orange), the penultimate one eight "instant looper" variations (in green) and the top eight "Pitch-shift" effects (in blue). As you play a note, the whole sequence loops, applying the given effect(s) to each step. The Sound dial below it, like the Amount dial below the Wobble Generator, can be used to sweep between two snapshots of parameters (again, which ones you change can be controlled in the Assignments page) and this can either be moved manually or assigned a controller to keep it moving as you play a note. Let sonic mayhem ensue again.
There are more modulation possibilities still but let's focus on the sound generation section at the bottom as this too provides options aplenty. The two oscillators which power the synth engine are in the bottom left hand corner though, again, "oscillators" is a loose term. There are six sound engines from which to choose for each one, namely Saw Regiment (imagine a robot army of sawtooth waves), Analog Sync (offering Master and Slave, user-controllable waveforms), FM, Transformer (load any audio sample you like and then apply Granular Synthesis), Spectromat (for frequency Spectrum, almost Additive Synthesis style control) and Phase Stressor. Each engine provides its own three-dial control set and, as you've probably guessed, many of these can be controlled via the Assignment page to get parameters moving.
Twin filters are offered too, with a variety of modes including flexible Vowel shapes which offer the unexpected in abundance. Add in master effects, including multi-mode Distortion, further routing pages for Envelopes and LFOs, a sequence gating option and a routing page at the bottom which lets you control the signal flow of sound sources and filters, and you've got some idea of just how flexible this plug-in can be.
One of the best things about working in music is the huge number of welcome surprises that come about when you work with other musicians. A wrong note, an unexpected tone, a unique performance: these happy accidents often end up being the strongest moments within a production. Too little technology encourages this sense of surprise, with GUIs and control panels awash with great-sounding but predictable parameters. Cyclop brilliantly reverses this standard, to the point that the first 30 minutes you spend with it will be spent in equal parts delighting at the preset list, scratching your head at the assorted options, and occasionally just giving up in the process of trying to design a sound you can control. Patience is rewarded though: once you understand the capabilities here, the possibilities add up to a thoroughly impressive, unique instrument whose sounds can prop up your productions.
Ease of use: 2.5/5