Dissolve is a couple of things: a four-voice polyphonic keyboard synth built around pinged filters with an additional layer of enveloped-controlled VCAs, and a Cosmos-style delay/looper that can use be used on the built-in synth or an external audio source (or both). But it is the combination of the soft, plinky internal synth and this blurry delay/looper that makes me describe it as a “dream machine”: as the delicate sounds of the synth swirl around in the offset, cross-feeding delays, wonderful little dreamscapes form and dissolve (hence the name).
To push this even further, the internal synth’s four voices are panned across the stereo field. Since the delays are asynchronous, that means that the two middle voices — panned 33% and 66% respectively — already produce sort of “ghost notes” in the opposing delay, while the hard-panned voices slide out of phase of the original phrasing. If you’re looking for more traditional stereo effects, you can set the right delay to the same length as the left, but this phase slippage and asynchronicity quickly produce interesting, enveloping results.
I also added a tape-ish (maybe emphasis on the “-ish,” depending on how strict you want to get) module, called Warble. At very low levels, it just adds a mild vibrato, but at higher settings it can give the loops a very chewed up sound, introducing unexpected changes in pitch and noise/distortion.
The output is stereo, and the external audio is processed in stereo.
Left — record on/off (this is also replicated in a UI button on the control page that also flashes in time with the left delay. When recording is on, this UI button is red; when recording is off, it is green)
The top three rows of the control page are devoted to a keyboard module, tuned to A minor pentatonic. You can, of course, retune it to whatever scale you would prefer; I chose minor pentatonic because it’s an easy scale to get good results from without much planning. There is also a “Transpose” control, below the recording UI button that allows you to change the key or octave (or both).
You can also use MIDI to control the synth. You need go to the second page, titled “MIDI,” and push the button in the bottom left corner called “MIDI control.” You can also change the channel of the MIDI note in module on this page (default channel 1).
These are clustered in the bottom left corner of the control page in two rows, which roughly correspond to “delay controls” and “modifiers.”
Delay time — up to 16 seconds. This is slewed, so changing it will introduce pitch effects (rising pitch as delay time increases and falling pitch as delay time decreases)
R(ight) delay offset (time) — this is a percentage of the total delay time that the right delay uses (e.g. a value of .75 will be 75% or 3/4 whatever the value of the delay time is). This control is also (independently) slewed, so you can introduce pitch artifacts on only the right side for some added weirdness
Feedback — the regeneration of the delay. For quasi-looping, keep it close to 100%
Mix — wet/dry mix for both the internal synth and delay, as well as external audio and delay
Blur — this determines the amount of cross-feedback between the two delay lines. At 0% the delays are totally separate — good for some Reichian phase experiments. As the value increases, more of the left’s output is fed into the right, and vice versa. Since the delays are (probably) offset from one another in length, the repeats will begin to smear between the two delay lines. At 50%, feedback and cross-feedback are equal. As you increase beyond 50%, there is more cross-feedback than feedback and some ping-pongish sounds will begin to develop
Drift — this is a randomized pan, tied to the length of each side’s respect delay line
Smear — this is a very subtle, slow modulation that helps the delays dissolve into tonescapes, but it also can keep certain frequencies from building up in the regeneration (this is an old trick to making reverbs avoid the same sort of build-up, since the frequency is always slightly changing gain can’t build up at just one point)
Warble — this is a more aggressive, tape-like modulation, which can be used to give the delay/loops a more “broken” quality
Most of the synth controls have to do with its envelope. The engine is based on a pinged filter, but that filter is subsequently passed through a VCA, which can be entirely open (allowing the ‘natural’ decay of the filter’s resonance to pass) or have an envelope applied to it (adding an attack slope or cutting the decay short, etc.) or a combination of the two.
So, the most important control is a bit obscurely titled….
Filter – env — this determines the ratio of audio that passes directly from the filter’s decay to the audio that is affected by the VCA envelope
Resonance-decay — this determines the resonance of the filters (which in turn determines their decay)
Amp attack — you can use this to add attack/fade-in the filter resonance
Amp decay — you can use this to fade-out/cut off the filter resonance
Something to keep in mind is that these envelopes are only shaping the decay produced by the pinged filter. They can’t extend its length, only shape the sound it produces.
The envelopes employed use exponential CV. This is because it provides more fine-tuning of very short times. But it can also result in having to “feel out” appropriate times more than a linear control might.
HPF frequency — there is a high-pass filter placed after the synth to shape the bottom end (pinged filters can get a little low-end heavy)
Noise mod — this introduces noise modulation of the filters, which can be used to add some rough edges to the sound