By Trent Rentsch
I’ll be honest with you, free is my favorite spice. This applies whether someone is picking up the dinner tab or if I’m looking for new ways to tweak audio. A few years ago I wrote about the freeware audio plug-in options available, which, at the time, seemed like a huge and varied selection. What’s available today is even more astounding. Whether you want high quality EQ, Compression, Limiting, Reverb, Delays, the options really are endless… and did I mention, free?
OK, mostly free. Some companies ask for a pittance to download their plug-ins, and others make it clear that donations, while not mandatory, would be welcome. Honestly, considering the quality of many offerings, they could get serious coin if they put them on the market, so my feeling is, if I find even Freeware constantly useful, it’s worth paying something to keep a talented programmer working. Here endith the guilt sermon…
One group of audio plug-ins I’m especially fond of is the one that allows you to really make a mess of my audio. I don’t know if it’s the need to produce clean, clear audio at the day job, or just a primal need to make noise, but whatever the case, I’m always looking for some new plug-in to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear, and there are no lack of them in the Freeware market. I’d like to share a few with you this month.
(TECHNICAL DISCLAIMER: I’ve tested (read: messed with) all of these on a PC running Audition 3, and they played nice with my set-up. Several of them are also available as Mac VST plug-ins, but I’ve not played with them in that sandbox. All can be found at 440audio.com, along with 100’s of others.)
2WarpDelay is not your Grandfather’s delay software. Yes, it has independent left and right delay lines, cross feedback controls, compressors to prevent clipping… all the usual jazz. But 2WarpDelay also uses something called frequency-warped lattice filters in the feedback path that are basically controlled by a bitmap. Yep, we’re talking audio effects controlled by picture files. While you may have played with software in the past that does this, trust me, 2WarpDelay takes the mess to a new, strange level. It’s… how do I describe it? OK, it’s like you yelled out the port hole of the Enterprise before it went into warp… yes, it’s really that odd. Of course, there are tons of sliders for tweaking just how warped you want it to be, and the ability to import your own bitmaps to change it up. It was fun to hear what my own picture did to the audio… actually, it was as scary as I feared it would be…
Next on my list of Freeware must-haves is something called “Crazy Ivan.” What does it do? According to the website, it’s a “100% Certified Pure Evil VST Effect.” (Is it any wonder I love this one?) Crazy Ivan comes with no pre-sets, but plenty of sliders to mess with, both familiar ones like attack, feedback, distortion, delay and the like, as well as stranger titles such as “bitmurderer.” My personal favorite is “randomize,” which shuffles the levels of everything at once at, well, random. The result might be an endless, echoey feedback or a distorted, constantly pitch-shifting sweep, or… well, something different every time you play with it. Crazy Ivan may not make your daily tool kit, but when you want really, really odd, invite him to the party.
The next plug-in brings back fond memories of messing with an Eventide Harmonizer, as well as watching Max Headroom in the ‘80s. It’s called “Glitch,” and that’s exactly what it does to your audio. There are 9 main effects in Glitch… TapeStop, Modulator, Retrigger, Shuffler, Reverser, Crusher, Gater, Delay, and Stretcher. All come with their own parameters to tweak, and can be used separately or all at once to bat around your audio… but that’s not the coolest part. There is a sequencer you can use to build effects patterns, which the plug-in will cycle through as you play your audio. The amount of control is overwhelming at first glance, but if you want to simply jump in and see what strange things it can do, there is a randomize button that will do just that. It is a real time effect, so if you do live DJ’ing as well as studio work, it can be a powerful audio cruncher on the fly, but as a studio rat, I find it great for those old/new again stutter effects, abrupt audio stops and starts, and just plain chopping up and re-imagining my sound.
The last plug-in I’d like to mention wins the award for the most elegant interface… if you were designing it on a napkin right before “last call” on a lost weekend. As indescribable as all the other plug-ins are, Cohmpost takes strange to a whole new level. The layout literally looks hand-scribbled; it’s hard to believe that the crude circles are really controls until you try to turn them. As far as what it does to your sound… hmmm. Well, turn one “knob” and you’ll get some odd, filtered sound with random high-pitched squeals mixed in… another adds random cat sound effects; turn that knob all the way up and you’ve got an entire cat chorus mixed with a hollow filter of your sound. These are but a couple of possibilities with this plug-in, and frankly, after messing with it awhile, I’m not certain I’ve found the end of what it can do… hell, I’m not even certain I’ve found all the controls. Bottom line… you like really out there, Cohmpost is your pile of sound.
These are only a few of the many Free ways to mess up your audio available today. True, your local Jeweler wouldn’t appreciate the noisy debacle they would make of his ad, but if you’re looking for new, unique sounds, or simply something to screw up perfectly good audio, it’s out there.