Sustainer — a patch for producing overlapping sustained sounds

Drawing a lot from the Gamechanger Plus, a little from the EHX Freeze, and some more from a sound that kept running through my head, the Sustainer is a patch designed to produce overlapping, sustained notes for the purpose of creating ambiance/backdrop/soundscaping.

Using four granular modules to produce sustained notes, up to three notes can be held at a given time (the fourth granular module is “listening,” so that it can be engaged). ADSR-driven envelopes follow the granular modules, allowing for all manner of envelope shaping, from swells that rise and fade away to long, sustaining notes (although not infinitely sustaining–more on that when I discuss envelopes; still, they can sustain for up to 60 s and that’s a loooooong time).

The Sustainer can also be used in two distinct modes: automatic mode responds to your playing, automatically sustaining notes; manual mode allows you to decide which notes should be captured.

The mix is stereo; the dry path is stereo throughout. The sustained notes are summed to mono before passing through a stereo spread, which is then mixed in with the dry sound.

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Controls:

Left stompswitch, latching — switches between manual and automatic mode; when manual mode is enabled, a yellow light on the front panel nearest the left stompswitch grows bright

Middle stompswitch, momentary — captures a note in manual mode

Right stompswitch, latching — pitches the sustained notes down an octave; when enabled, a yellow light on the front panel nearest the right stompswitch becomes dimmed; this effect is somewhat like being accompanied by a bowed bass

Front panel:

Pixels across the top — these light up as a sound is captured

Aqua controls beneath relate to the AHD envelope:

Attack, hold, decay — shape the envelope; there are some peculiarities to these controls. If a decay is too long, due the nature of the patch, one can occasionally hear a slightly delayed echo before a new note is captured; I would suggest that one either use long hold times or long decay times, but using them in conjunction is best left for manual mode.

The controls of an ADSR seem to scale exponentially, or something like that. At .5 on the hold time, for instance, the hold is approximately 250 ms, but at 1, it is 60 seconds. Keep this in mind as you dial in envelopes and trust your ears.

Additionally, I chose an AHD envelope over an ADSR because with an ADSR, the notes *only* held indefinitely; they would not fade over time, unless the sustain stage was disabled entirely. If you would prefer indefinitely held notes, change the settings of the ADSRs from ‘hold attack/decay on, s+r off’ to their opposites. You may have to connect a new value module to the sustain stages or attach the existing hold module to them.

Blue controls to the left relate to the captured sound; all are highly interactive.

Grain size — the length of the captured loop; I found the range between .890 and .930 produced the best sustained sounds; larger grain sizes tend to reproduce transient artifacts, smaller ones can produce some interesting glitch sounds

Grain position — the point in the grain where audio begins; values around ~.5 produce the smoothest effects; earlier audio tends to contain trainsient artifacts, as can later positions (I think the start position loops back to the transient)

Freeze delay — this sounds like a really cool control (note to self: make something called a freeze delay) but all it really does is produce a delay before the freeze is enabled; this gives the granular module time to ‘hear’ what is played. Again, values around ~.55 seemed to produce the smoothest effects, with artifacts found at other positions.

Because of the delay, there is always some (brief) gap between a granular track being cycled to and its captured audio being played. This becomes much more noticeable when the envelopes are set to little or no attack (the swell helps mask the delay).

A note about granular audio: I employed as many grains as I could while maintaining functionality (5), but even at 8 grains, the frozen sound of the granular module “warbles” (this may not be the case with something like a sustained synthesizer note, but even in a very short microloop, like what is used here, the subtle changes in frequency and amplitude as a note decays will produce oscillations).

Next to these controls are two white pushbuttons:

1 layer, 2 layers — these control the number of active layers; if you would like to use 1 or 2 sustained notes, press the appropriate button; when neither is selected, the default (3 layers) will be available.

Beside the pushbuttons are red controls for master effects:

Mix — a wet/dry mix. Please note, a sustained note, especially if it is loudly played, will be considerably louder than an unsustained note. Consider your dynamics as you set this parameter and freeze notes in place.

Threshold — a threshold for a gate in front of the envelope follower. Higher values will make playing notes in succession easier; of course, beyond a certain degree, you may not be able to play hard enough to surpass the gate’s threshold.

Sound clip:

0:00-0:50 – Notes and chords played with a slow attack/release and no hold time

0:50-1:30 – Hold time increased (~ .7) so notes overlap

1:30-2:00 – Octave down accompaniment

2:00-3:32 – Manual mode with 1 layer enabled (although I use it a lot like automatic mode, so… take my word, you can hold a chord and then play over top of it, then change the held chord); for the last chord, I let it ring out the entire 60s

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