- U-he's Bazille (pronounced "Batzilla") has been in development since 2009, and publicly available in various alpha and beta versions for a number of years. Each revision generated much excitement and discussion within synth communities. Finally, after a very lengthy gestation period, Bazille v1.0.0 was released in October. On learning that the synth was at last considered market-ready, I jumped at the chance to lay some (digital) cable.
According to its creator, Urs Heckmann, Bazille is, like its more modest sibling ACE, but one component of his grand vision: the Berlin Modular system, inspired by the Roland System 100 and named in homage to the Berlin school of electronic music of the 1970s (Tangerine Dream, Ashra, Jean Michel Jarre, etc.). Bazille's particular selling point is that it offers FM and phase distortion synthesis across four oscillators, combined with fully modular signal patching. Secondly, it features a huge variety of modulation sources and routing options, plus a comprehensive effects section. Although Bazille in many ways resembles an analogue hardware emulation, like Arturia's ARP2600 V or (Moog) Modular V, it behaves very differently. It is entirely possible to patch together a traditional subtractive voice with Bazille, but the software begs for more. Of course, one of the strengths of virtual instruments is that this type of architecture mash-up is completely viable. Bazille can be installed in VST, AAX and AU formats, together with an (optional) cache of presets and a very well-written manual. Its 50-plus pages are essential reading, explaining every element of the instrument in exhaustive detail; helpfully, it also includes eight pages of tips and tricks and a glossary.
Bazille's GUI is big—big enough that I couldn't access the entire interface on my 13-inch laptop and had to switch to a bigger screen. Right-clicking the panel background, however, reveals a drop-down menu from which the user can re-size the interface. Furthermore, users can specify brightness and text aliasing, and select one of two skins. Unlike most plug-ins' skin options, this one actually makes a functional difference: the aptly named GearPorn skin displays all of Bazille's controls within a single panel, which may suit some users' workflow but which others may find crowded and overwhelming. I found the default mode, in which controls are arranged more spaciously across two panels, more useful for finding my way around the synth. Then, once I'd learned the ropes, GearPorn mode was quicker. Patch cables can also be displayed in a variety of ways: users can specify thickness, opacity and colour-coding.
To users accustomed to hardwired synths, whether hardware or software, modular programming is quite a paradigm shift. Bazille is what it is, and does not offer an easy route into sound creation. (For that, U-he recommend their ACE synth, at half the price.) Reverse-engineering presets is an effective learning method, as is reading tips and tricks in the manual chapter and good old-fashioned experimentation. If you create a distorted mess through over-modulation, I recommend removing some cables to slow everything down. (I was grateful for the Undo button on many occasions.)
The manual is quick to acknowledge that Bazille's digital oscillators are not designed to offer as pure a waveform as those found in high-end analogue emulations (such as U-he's own DIVA). Aliasing artefacts are audible, particularly at high frequencies or when pitch bend or Glide are used. I don't consider this a particular impediment—that's not really what Bazille is about. Digital bite is quickly achieved through the phase mod/distortion controls and the unique and fantastic-sounding Fractalize function.
Unlike its oscillators, Bazille's filters (there are four in total) are designed as analogue emulations, and they contribute a great deal to the voice, complementing the digital waveforms beautifully. The filter design in this final release is sublime. Of course, the filters can also function as (self-)oscillators in their own right via KeyFollow and a high resolution setting, and they can be modulated by one of the audio-level oscillators. The filters output high-pass, band-pass and four flavours of low-pass—all at once if required—and feature a bipolar input, anticlockwise for resonance and clockwise for gain.
Given the design of this synth, detailing all the modulation sources is way beyond the scope of this review. Filters and LFOs can behave as audio-level oscillators; oscillators can behave as modulators. In traditional terms: there are two LFOs, four envelopes, a 16-step sequence, and two 128-step wave maps. Each of these can be configured in many different ways, with a myriad of modulation sources and corresponding behaviours of their own. It's no exaggeration to say that this is the most complex synth I've ever played with. Don't let this put you off: much fun can be had without necessarily knowing what everything does. Last but not least, there's the effects section, comprised of distortion, phaser, delay and spring reverb. The latter is distinctive and well-designed, emulating a dual-spring system with control over spring tension and shake modulation.
In performance, Bazille is unashamedly processsor-hungry. That said, none of my computers are less than three years old and all ran the software satisfactorily. In common with other U-he synths, such as Diva, Bazille thoughtfully offers a couple of ways around the processor tax, in case you need them. There's a multi-core mode, which splits the processing demands across cores (although in my case, using an i7 processor this actually reduced performance). There is also a toggling HQ mode.
Bazille is capable of gorgeous, lush analogue-style patches courtesy of its filters and effects. But so are many other synths. Where this instrument distinguishes itself is in its embrace of the wild, weird textures and timbres that are only achievable through its combination of synthesis types and modulation routings. Although it's good to have a detailed understanding of each module, much fun and some very worthwhile results can be had with even a basic grasp of the principles of synthesis. (And I wonder what proportion of Bazille's user base will actually put in the time and effort required to know the instrument inside out.) Bazille is a unique and extremely powerful synth, and a fine addition to U-he's suite of distinctive instruments.
Ease of use: 1/5