Listen to Brian Clevinger (Inventor of Absynth) Interview on Art + Music + Technology Podcast


I've been using Absynth since version 1. It IS my desert island synth. This being the case I was super excited that Darwin Grosse interviewed Absynth's creator Brian Clevinger for this week's podcast Art + Music + Technology Podcast!

Listen to episode #131 here – or on iTunes (where you can subscribe to the podcast).

Absynth is one of my favorite software synthesizers. It is everything you'd want in a modular system, but is packages like a standard instrument – helping smooth the way for quick-and-efficient patch development. But the level of modulation and pure sound design goodness is unparalleled – and this thing is 15 years old!

It's a sign of great work when something lasts, and 15 years is forever in software terms. What makes Absynth so great? A combination of excellent design, fantastic sound and the fortitude to keep improving it the whole time.

Several people have pointed to Brian as a potential interview; I finally reached out to him and found him more than willing. Then we started talking, and it turned out to be one of the great chats that I've had. Brian is a cool guy, and was willing to be introspective about his work and perspectives. I felt like I made a new friend during our discussion – and you get to hear it happen.

Check out Brian's sound work at his Soundcloud page. And if you aren't using Absynth, you need to check it out at its Native Instruments product page. Enjoy!

Absynth Sound Design Experiment – Non-Linear Radioactive Soda Can

Radioactive soda can

I recently did a post where I manipulated the sample of the sound of a pen striking a half-full can of soda with Ableton Push and pad pressure. In this post I used the same sample, but this time with Absynth. You can listen to the experiment on Soundcloud here or in the embedded player below.

The recoridng starts with the original sample just to illistrate the starting point. I built an Absynth preset with granular synthesis to manipulate the play head plus grain size. I use the Aetherizer effect to further manipulate the signal with a comb filter with feedback. I achieve non-linearity by setting the sample start envelope to "Loop" which causes the sound to keep re triggering and playing through the grains and filing up the Aetherizer's buffer. When played at certain pitches, this non-linearity feedback results in a Geiger counter-like sound. All that from a coke can strike :^) A play the preset with various notes to show how different the harmonic content is as it feedback at different frequencies.

I've become quite handy with Absynth, so if there is some aspect of Absynth you'd like me to do a post on, leave a comment.


Mark Mosher 
Electronic Musician, Boulder, CO (meetup)

Patch & Performance Deconstruction of “Endless Chime Improv (Absynth)”


Last night I was doing some late night patching with Absynth and I came up with an original patch called “endless chime grains”. I then did an improv using only this patch and built-in Absynth FX and posted it to soundcloud here “Endless Chime Improv (Absynth)". The spectrum view overlaid on Absynth is from Image Line’s Wave Candy. I  deconstruct the patch and performance below to show you how even a simple patch/preset in Absynth can be used to create a piece that covers a lot of sonic ground.

Signal Flow


I use three oscillators with a master filter and the Pipe effect.

OSC Roles

imageOSC A is in Granular mode using a huge sample that has a breathy quality when you slow down the movement of the playhead. I’ve transpose it up a bit and moved sample start to remove the attack. On the Mod page, you can see that I’ve slowed down the Time% (controls playback speed) turned up density, grain size, and added some randomization of frequency and time thereby smearing the sound.

imageOSC B is a basic sine wave with the OSC set to Double mode making OSC B have two oscillators who’s outputs are mixed together. This double mode offers a Uni (Unison) page where I bump up from 1 voice to 8 voices. I turn Trans up to 9 which controls the amount of detuning between the two voices. I turn up Rand which adds random detuning upwards and downwards in half-tones creating ring modulation. Note there are other ways to add ring modulation to a signal path not used in this patch such as the “Ring Mod” module, and you can even add ring modulation in the feedback of certain filter types.

OSC B is a pure sine wave.

Channel Volumes

Each vertical lane is a channel. Here I set the relative volumes of the channels for the default patch without performance tweaks.


Master Channel

In the Master Channel I’m using a –12db Low Pass Filter with the Pipe Effect.



Even though Absynth supports 64 breakpoints in its envelopes, I only use a few here. Note that I stretch out release times a bit on the Amps. I used the “+New” button to add an envelope for “Effect Master Time” which slows time down for the Pipe Effect after note release which helps to glitch things out in a subtle way.


Pipe Effect

The only effects used in this piece are from the Pipe Effect.


It’s such a cool effect and rather than try and explain, I’ll paste in P. 88 from the manual.

The effect type Pipe replicates the physical qualities of resonating bodies and resembles a simple waveguide application. Unlike waveguides based on physical modelling, ABSYNTH’s pipe algorithm does not attempt to realistically simulate existing instruments or other natural resonating bodies. It is helpful to imagine Pipe as a kind of string or pipe.

Let’s take the image of a string. A loudspeaker (a contact loudspeaker) is connected to a string, which begins to vibrate as a result. You can determine the position of this virtual loudspeaker on the string via the parameter Input Position. Above the string are two pickups, similar to an E-Guitar. The pickups’ positions can be determined through the parameter Output Positions. Changing those two parameters can be compared with changing two microphones. You can modulate the string’s length and the pickups’ position through the LFOs or a MIDI Controller. This way, various flanging, pitch-shifting and rotary speaker effects can be achieved. These effects are particularly apparent when the modulation of the pickups are modulated in opposite directions.

Consider the following: When one of the Output Positions crosses the Input Position (when loudspeaker and pickup would directly be facing each other) a muffled side tone can be heard. By modulating the parameter called Length, which relates to the string’s length, the crossing values for Length and Input can produce a muffled click. However, it is not a problem to cross the Output Positions. The graphic representation of the effect Pipe shows the current settings of the parameters for Input Position, Output Position and Length, as well as for the adjacent modulations. It should help you to prevent undesired crossovers with the Input Position.

An easy way to get going with the Pipe Effect is to load an Effect Template then experiment with settings.


I loaded the “Echo Reverb” template which uses pipe. Note that there opportunities to load templates in many areas within Absynth – so click that “Edit” button where you see it and you’ll learn a lot about how Absynth Works :^).

I turn feedback way up, and “Lowpass Hz” way down. This makes the extremely long delay and reverb tale less bright and nearly endless.

Performance Parameters


I map Master Filter Frequency to performance parameter 1. A super fast way to do this is to right-click on the parameter you want to map to the performance controller then click on the performance param slot in the list to make the assignment.


I repeat this mapping Master Filter Res to Performance Parameter 2. 3 & 4 are not used in this patch. Perform Param #4 modulates OSC A Main Pitch so I can tune the breathy sound in real-time. You’ll see that I mapped the OSC volumes to params 9-11 so I can fade and balance the timbre in real-time.

imageNote that this convention of using OSC A for atonal elements and OSC B & C for tonal elements and dedicating performance params to OSC A pitch and OSC volume is something I just learned by studying the late Tim Conrardy’s sound design work on the absolutely wonderful Starscape Absynth Sound Library.I highly encourage you to get this sound set. It’s like a master class on its own.

If you want to learn more about Tim’s work please visit his memorial page at which was created by my friend Tim Thompson (creator of Space Palette) .

I wanted to make special note of another way to add assignments in Absynth. If you click the “Assignment” tab in the “Performance” page , you can click “Add” then select from the list of params available from the patch elements that are active in the preset. I used this method to add  “Effect Time”. You can also go back and revise depth and lag settings for any parameter mapped on this page as well as invert the control signal. I turn “Lag” up so that changes to the performance parameter will scale and be less jarring. If you leave lag alone with this template, you’ll get more of a tape delay effect.


Lastly, I mapped Effect Feedback and Effect Balance Wet/Dry to performance slots 7 & 8.


I recorded the improv in one take inside of Ableton Live. I played notes and modified params in real-time. One REALLY great thing about Absynth within Live is that all the performance parameters plus Master Envelope ADSR are automatically exposed without having to go through the device configure process. This is a HUGE time saver. This being the case you can quickly MIDI map to your controller or rack up and create macros.


I then rendered the piece and automatically uploaded it to Soundcloud using Live 9’s embedded soundcloud feature..



Wrap Up

I wanted to show you a simple use of Absynth to inspire you to dig deeper. Once you get the hang of Absynth and take advantage of templates within modules you’ll find Absynth is fast and the workflow becomes second nature. To put it into perspective, it took me an hour and a half to write this post and less than 10 minutes to go from idea to performance enabled preset. Thanks to Ableton’s Soundcloud export I was able to record the piece and get it on Soundcloud in less than 10 minutes. ‘

Happy Patching,

Mark Mosher
Electronic Musician, Boulder, CO (meetup)

How to Send a MIDI Program Change to Absynth in Ableton Live

(Click Image to Enlarge)

Absynth’s “Program List” is a great way to organize your favorite presets for studio or performance work. You can also use it as a list of MIDI program changes. In this article I illustrate how this works with step-by-step instructions on how to to use MIDI program change in Ableton Live to change presets in Native Instruments Absynth.

  1. Click the Browser tab Absynth has a featured called “Program Lists”. To access this feature, click on the “Browser” tab.
  2. Click “Programs” if it’s not lit in green. This exposes the Program List. If the “On” button is lit, Absynth listens for MIDI program changes.
  3. Drag sounds you would like in your preset change list to the “Program List”
  4. Create some dummy clips (a clip with no notes) by double clicking in a clip slot for the device holding Absynth.
  5. In the “Notes” section of the device interface, use the bottom field to set the program number. In the example, the clip in focus is set to a value of “Pgm 3” which will select the third preset in the list. You can set a different progam number for each clip.

Of course this technique will work with any VST or hardware synth that can receive a MIDI patch change.

One use case for a live situation is to use a grid controller like a Launchpad or APC 40 to launch the dummy clips to quickly change patches. You could load up 8 of your favorite synths (or 8 instances of absynth), then use scene launches to tee up the patches per scene. For example, if you use used one scene per song in a live situation, you could launch the scene, then select each track (or set of tracks to arm and layer the synths as the song progressed. When you are ready for song 2, launch scene 2 and all the patches will be teed up. 

The advantage that instead of having to load a new set per song, or have a lot of instances of a synth, you simply use the same synths instances for each song and change the presets in play for each song.

Mark Mosher (meetup)

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