Swollen Sky — an atmospheric swell patch with a sense of foreboding

There’s been a lot of discussion about volume swell/slow gear-style patches recently, and it got me thinking about how I would really like to use a volume swell.

One of the beauties of ZOIA’s envelope follower is that it can grab dynamics from any point in the signal chain to control something at any other point in the signal chain. This allows for volume swell effects that can be difficult to produce using standalone pedals–placing a distortion before a volume swell can make triggering it imprecise, or make the envelope reluctant to close.

This is a relatively simple patch built around exploring these options. The signal path places a reverb and a distortion before a volume swell and follows them with a tape delay. It produces some lovely pads, but the distortion can give them a sense of menace as well. The reverb can be frozen and its input bypassed which allows washes of ambiance to accompany your playing.

Every module can also be bypassed, so you could use this as a volume swell, a reverb and delay, a dirty reverb, a dirty delay, etc….

Additionally, the swell can be changed to a footswitch trigger, for manual swells.



Left, latching/momentary: By default, this footswitch turns the volume swell on and off, allowing you to switch back and forth. When the manual mode is engaged, this footswitch triggers the envelope for the swell, allowing you to control when to engage.

Middle, latching: freezes the reverb.

Right, latching: bypasses the reverb input, allowing you to play over a frozen reverb sound.

Front page:

All on/off switches are WHITE.

First row:
In the top left are the controls for the distortion. Gain is pretty self-explanatory. Mix is how much of the reverb’s output is mixed into the distortion. (The distortion is the only mono element of this patch, but unless you turn the mix to fully distorted, stereo signal paths will be maintained at all other points.)

In the middle of the top row is a volume control. Because of the nature of volume swells, you may find you want to boost the patch’s overall volume.

In the top right corner is the switch for manual mode. See notes above regarding the left footswitch.

Second row:
On the left side are the controls for the envelope. If you want to go searching, there are sustain (maxed out) and decay (min’ed out) settings, but I find for this application, attack and release are the important controls.

Third row:
The reverb controls are here. I keep it pretty wash-y. Playing with the tone controls on a frozen ‘verb sound is pretty fun.

Fourth row:
The delay controls are here. Be mindful of the feedback, it can slip into oscillation fairly early (although that may be a perk).

Fifth row:
Indicators corresponding to each footswitch.

Left when lit = volume swell disengaged.

Middle when lit = reverb frozen.

Right when lit = reverb input bypassed.

Sound clip:

0:00-0:33 — Everything engaged, just showing off its ability to do soundscape-y things.

0:33-2:25 — The various parts of the patch are engaged. Notice when the delay comes on, it begins playing. The on/offs are not “true” bypasses but rather cheats where the mixes of the effects are zeroed out. (It saves a lot of CPU, but it does have some drawbacks.)

Then, I freeze the reverb and bypass its input while cutting the distortion. Then I turn the distortion back on (I forget why–probably to show that the distortion doesn’t affect the played notes when the reverb’s input is bypassed). Then I turn off the swell and just play over the frozen sound.

2:25-2:52 — Switched to manual mode, just fading in a frozen sound a few times. ZOIA’s on my desk, so it’s not the easiest to use this way, but on the floor, you can do some interesting things using manual mode.

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  • Modified: 1 year ago
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One comments on “Swollen Sky — an atmospheric swell patch with a sense of foreboding
  • Christopher H. M. Jacques on said:

    Brock contacted me to tell me that “Swollen Sky” was freezing upon loading. (Thanks for the heads up, Brock!)

    I’m not sure exactly why that is the case; it was not an issue, but now it is. Some change between firmware 1.04 and 1.05? I’ve contacted Empress, but in the meantime, there is a fairly simple ‘hack’ you can perform:

    On page 2 (the third page of the patch) at the top is a ‘delay w mod’ module. If you enter the options menu and change the type from ‘tape’ to ‘clean’ then save the patch, it will load fine. Once loaded, you can change it back to ‘tape’ if you want–I think this is a big part of the patch’s “sound”–but just make sure it loads as ‘clean’ to avoid freezing.

    I haven’t issued a revision, because I want to see what Empress’s response is; this is not the first time we’ve dealt with a similar issue, and the previous instance was resolved in a subsequent firmware.

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