- Sugar Bytes has built a solid reputation for designing plug-ins aimed at sonic manipulation on the fly, whether you favour instruments like its bass-oriented Cyclop or the modular effects suite Turnado. Its latest instrument plug-in is Egoist, which combines a versatile sample slicer alongside dedicated bass and beat sections. Sprinkle in Effectrix-style spot effects and a comprehensive pattern, part and song sequencer, and from the off Egoist sounds like a whole lot of fun. The question is whether it's a serious production tool as well.
The best place to get a sense of Egoist's capabilities is to flick through the preset browser. Next to this, in the top-left corner, is a handy play button that auditions the current preset, giving you a good general sense of Egoist's sonic personality. However, once you've listened to a few audio samples being chopped, sliced and warped in assorted ways, you won't be able to resist getting involved yourself. Here's how that works. Down the left side of the Egoist interface, you'll see separate tabs for the slicer, bass/beat and effects sections.
The slicer section is where samples are loaded, and you can either choose one from Egoist's comprehensive library (neatly organised into instrument types) or load your own by clicking on the browser and navigating through to your chosen file. Egoist then allows you to slice this sample into up to 16 separate bits, which you can either do manually or randomly by clicking the dice button. Either approach will assign start points for a series of slices, with the overview window above showing the start positions of any individual slice. You can then apply useful offsets to your chosen sample below, with options for overall sample pitch, length, envelope shape and "max out," which compresses the output volume to make things louder.
Thereafter, each of these slices is available as a single step within the sequencer that lies below. If you want Slice 1 to act as the first step in your sequence, simply move the first slider to 1. If you'd rather start with Slice 9, no problem—push the fader up to this, or any other position you like. You can then repeat this for every subsequent step, meaning that you're able to completely reorder and rearrange your source sample in record time. Below these sequence step faders, you can decide whether individual slices will play forwards or backwards and then apply tuning offsets for each step in both semitones and octaves. Then you can choose an envelope offset for both attack and decay times, before the final lane controls volume for each slice. Pretty soon, you'll find that even the most predictable of source samples can be turned into complete mayhem. What's particularly pleasing here is that extended, atmospheric samples and found sounds work as effectively as rhythmic ones. Since you can shape each slice of a sample, pretty soon even the most sustained material will be grooving nicely.
To a sliced sample, you're able to add bass and beats parts internally, too. These are accessed via the bass/beat tab. The bass section provides sawtooth or square wave oscillators. These then pass through three modelled filters—based on emulations of the Roland TB-303, Moog Ladder and Korg MS-20 respectively—complete with cutoff and resonance controls. The filter can be modulated via a dedicated LFO or envelope, and drive and amp decay sliders complete the line-up. Again, there's a group of presets available if you're feeling lazy, and any sounds you devise can be saved to a user bank. To get a bass sound grooving to your sliced-up samples, you'll need the bass sequencer, which lies below. Again, three main lanes lie in store. The first allows you to choose a note type, from staccato blasts to sustained notes to ties, which bend nicely into subsequent notes. Below this, you can choose a pitch offset for each note, and an octave offset for that pitch can be added to the row below.
To the right of the bass controls, you'll find the beat section. This module represents simplicity itself. Three drum sources are offered—kick, snare and hats—and the easiest place to start is to load one of the ten preset kits. You can then independently choose different sound sources if you want to swap out the kick, snare or hat, and you can also tune each drum sound and offset its volume. The max-out dial normalises the volume of the drum kit for quasi-limited effects, and there's also an attenuation function to control overall dynamic range of your beat patterns. The beat section's sequencer lies below that of the bassline, with separate lanes for each kit piece, making it easy to build a pattern.
Egoist takes a similarly sequencer-driven approach to effects routing. Each of the slicer, bass and beat sections can be routed independently for effects manipulation. But rather than being static processes, these are also added on a per-step basis that will be familiar to anyone who knows Effectrix. There are seven effects types in total—filter, delay, reverb, lo-fi, chorus, record stop and looper—and these are all beautifully depicted in the upper pane of the effects tab. Each effect offers a couple of parameters that can be edited via sliders around the icon for each effect, while the Filter section begins by offering seven types. Then, to add a specific effect to a step of your sequence, you use the sequencer lanes below to place spot effects wherever you like. It's extremely straightforward and hugely effective. And, of course, being able to treat effects as one-shot moments is much more dynamic than using overall global effects.
Everything that's described above represents the creation of a single pattern triggered from one note of your keyboard. However, pressing the next key launches a new blank sequence, allowing you to create a second pattern and so on, with up to 16 patterns available to you at once. Patterns are then arranged into parts. These are labelled from A-F and can access as many of the 16 patterns as you like in subsequent steps. Finally, there are songs, which can arrange parts and therefore, by extension, the patterns that make them up. This might sound hugely complicated. But since patterns, in whole or part, can be copied via a series of navigation buttons for the slicer, bass and beats sections, it's easy to copy and paste a pattern before making variations and then moving on to the next. It's huge fun, too.
But is it only fun, or can serious music be made with Egoist? Of course it can. As a sketch board for throwing ideas together, this plug-in is hugely entertaining. But I don't know a single producer who separates his or her plug-ins into "fun" and "serious" categories, judging that tools in the former category can play no part in the latter. In fact, Egoist contains one of the most straightforward and fun interfaces for importing an audio file and using it to produce something else that I've come across. While the plug-in is clearly aimed at dance producers, there's no need for it to be considered exclusively by that fraternity; I actually found it invaluable as a tool for sonic mangling on a sound design project I recently carried out. So if you're after a fun plug-in for jamming ideas with audio and onboard sequencing while also inspiring leftfield creativity, Egoist has a lot to offer.
Ease of use: 3.5/5