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The Soul of the Monk
By JJ Biener - 03/07/2006 - 08:00 AM EST

When plugins became easy to create, they suffered a population explosion. In short order there were dozens if not hundreds of delays, reverbs, choruses, and simple synths dotting the plugin landscape. Some were sophisticated examples costing hundreds of dollars and sporting enough bells and whistles to make any tweak freak happy. Others were simple, trimmed down affairs given away for free or for a modest shareware fee. What they all had in common was that for the most part, they were imitations or reworkings of familiar audio hardware.

Every once in a while though, a plugin comes along which is truly unique. It demonstrates its creatorís ability to move past the mundane and ordinary into the rarefied air of creative expression. That brings me to the subject of this column, the Delay Lama by Audionerdz. Whether you consider it a vocal synthesizer or a virtual singing monk, it is unlike anything else you are going to find out there.

The designers both gain and lose points on their choice of name. I love the play on words, but when I first saw it, I thought it was going to be a yet another delay plugin. It is anything but.

The functional part of the interface has a rectangular area representing the Tibetan flag. Clicking and moving the cursor on the flag will control the pitch and vowel sound produced. There is a knob to control the vocal character changing it from baritone to tenor to soprano. There is a knob which controls the glide time of the voice when played from a keyboard. Finally there is a slider which controls the echo.

The interface is dominated by the image of an animated monk. This monk moves in sync with the playing of the plugin. The mouth of the monk articulates the vowel sounds as they are played.

The plugin can be played from a keyboard as well. Pitch is obviously controlled from the keys. The vowel sound is controlled by the pitch bend. Vibrato is controlled with the mod wheel. Continuous controllers can be used to control the other aspects of the interface.

With a little bit of practice you will be able to get some interesting sounds from this interface. It will never be mistaken for a live Tibetan monk, but it can produce some unusual and satisfying sounds. I can imagine it fitting into a dance mix or perhaps an ambient piece with little trouble.

There are some caveats that should be pointed out. The controller routings are fixed. It would be far more useful if they could be configured. I would like to be able to layer the voice with other patches, but the with the pitch bend controlling the vowel sound it causes the second patch to go out of tune. The short term solution is to modify my second patch to ignore the pitch bend, but it would be better to simply change the modulation routing to use a different controller to affect the articulation.

Another thing is the amplitude envelope is a bit abrupt on the attack and release. I would like to see the envelope be made editable so I could adjust it to fit the needs of the piece.

I suppose this product could be viewed as simply a novelty and as such these caveats arenít really applicable, but I see this as a potential instrument that could be included in a serious piece of music. It is a new and interesting source of sound that can add flavor to an otherwise bland meal. I hope Audionerdz will continue to improve this plugin and allow it to reach its full potential.

The best thing about the software is the price. It is freeware. Audionerdz is a quartet of college students from the Netherlands who started Delay Lama as a special project for a college class. It grew into a VST plugin and they decided to release it to the public. If you would like to check out the Delay Lama, go to the web site at http://www.audionerdz.com/.

If you find the program useful or interesting, the guys ask that you send a donation to http://www.savetibet.org/.







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