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25 September 2010


The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ integrated, multi-faceted audio/visual exploration units gang aft agley. Eddie Izzard has been known to query such Burnsian verse. I mean, do mice make plans? Well, exploration unit and sound designer Biomechanoid, which describes himself/herself/itself as just such a unit on his/her/its website, certainly does, even if addled on Absynth. Not the wormwood-tinctured, 74% ABV Swiss barmy fluid (sorry, ‘medicinal elixir’) absinthe, but the Native Instruments soft synth, a copy of which is, of course, necessary if this article is to be of any relevance. Excessive green hours spent on Absynth can lead to dangerous addiction, as with the anise-flavoured beverage, and it would seem that Biomechanoid is so afflicted, having rustled up a six-volume sound set backed by more than 750Mb of original samples. Camel Audio sells the collection in two bundles: Biolabs Absynth Sounds Vols 1-3 and 4-6 at £39 a throw, although buying the full package makes more sense financially. Let me see, 39 plus 39 equals... umm... more than 65? Sounds about right.

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If you’re at all familiar with Native’s €179 Absynth, you’ll know it’s a bit of a monster and capable of producing all manner of weirdness. Its sound generators include subtractive, FM, granular and sampling, all of which can be mangled via wave-morphing, the application of filters, modulators, numerous effects and 68-stage envelopes, making for a highly versatile virtual instrument. That is, versatile as in mind-bending. The learning curve could be considered steep, although generating new sounds is made that much easier by a Sound Mutator, which can combine the characteristics of various patches to create new sounds without you having to plumb the synthesis engine’s considerable depths. A dream for the lackadaisical sound designer who can't be arsed to RTFM.

Biomechanoid, however, appears to have gone deeper than snorkelling in order to devise 768 original sounds that break down as bio:synthesis I&II, bio:rhythmics I&II and bio:sfx and atmospheres I&II. They’re compatible with Absynth versions 4.02 to 5.01, leveraging the soft synth’s sample-playback, granular synthesis and surround-sound capabilities. Each preset offers at least four pre-defined, rapid-access controllers so that sounds can be morphed and mutated with alacrity, which should come in handy if aiming to torture the tympanic membranes of a live audience in real time. Of course, presets are customisable in the comfort of the studio, the collection providing a useful leg-up for your own sound-design aspirations.

Each category of the six-volume collection comprises 128 unique and diverse patches. We've bio:synthesis delivering, mostly heavy, bass rumblings and bzzts, along with a wide variety of leads, plus pads ranging from sweetly atmospheric to deeply disturbing. Getting a groove on, bio:rhythmics is, as the name suggests, a 128-strong collection of rhythmic loops game for mixing on the fly. Meantime, those into composing soundtracks will doubtless lunge immediately for bio:sfx and atmospheres, which totes a host of ambiences and odd noises for adding spice to on-screen action. By way of demonstration, here’s a pair of patch-by-patch audio-quilts featuring the naked noises available from Biolabs' Absynth Sounds volumes 1 to 3 and 4 to 6...

Biolabs Abysnth Sounds vols 1-3

A selection of soundbytes showcasing the tones available from vols 1-3 of Biolabs' latest

Biolabs Abysnth Sounds vols 4-6

Soundbytes from volumes 4-6. The final par of this piece hints at something beyond 6

Patches in the raw are all very well, but it’s more rewarding and educative to hear sounds in the context of complete compositions. To such ends, Camel Audio has rounded up an octet of artists to give it some Absynthian welly by means of a bunch of structured works. There are other instruments active in some of the pieces, as you'll note from the captions, but the main timbral thrust is courtesy of Biolabs’ latest bundle. You’ll even find a brace of Biomechanoid’s own compositional caprices among the diverse assortment of tunes below. So keep those monitors active, your ears peeled, sit back and hear how our biomechanical audio/visual exploration unit’s best-laid plans pan out...

Soniccat: Big Bio World

An ambient work, reminiscent of a stroll along the seaside, waves hello

Tim Conrardy RIP: Bio Spheres

Journeying through ambient space warps into a new dimension of uneasy glitch

Jim Hunter: Crescendo

Gradual orchestral swell leads the unwary towards a crashing D'n'B workout. Wikid.

Claire Fitch: Gatsby Inspiration

Real, live violincello enters the Biolab, bringing a bowed-acoustic aspect to ambient

Steven Schlane: Ineluctable

A wide variety of Biolabs sounds conspire to produce an irresistible tune

Biomechanoid: One Trick Pony

Biomechanoid presents a downtempo take on his/her/its very own sonic arsenal

Normal: Rainclouds

This slowly evolving, unusual weather pattern has the Met Office typically confused

Beatslaughter: How Can One Raindrop Make A Tide?

Dollops of CamelCrusher, plus Biolabs' Starscape Absynth Sounds, join the breakbeat

Endmusik: Reel

D'n'B'n'glitch beat in yer face, washed with pads and melodies to cover the bruising

Biomechanoid: Wormwood Dreaming

A dramatic breakbeat piece featuring a wide variety of sounds from the Biolabs library

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, and the wealth and diversity of the audio above should be more than enough to help you decide whether Biomechanoid’s distillations are your cup of tone. My favourite is Wormwood Dreaming (apparently, wormwood is not a hallucinogen, but absinthe’s alcohol content will certainly give rise to vivid nightmares). Dreaming is a big, fat tune that shows off the fullness of many of Biolabs' concoctions. As you’d expect, there are some truly appalling items in the library’s six banks, but the flexibility of the Absynth engine gives you adequate means by which to mutate the, to your palate's, crap components into sounds less foul.

While the files as supplied are colour-coded, it must have been a bastard job to apply meaningful categories, such is the eclectic nature of the collection, especially considering that a tweak here can turn an atmospheric pad into a rhythmic pattern while a tweak there can transform a groove into a wash. This really is a bundle for the tweak-head. Straight out of the box, there are rich sounds, plus some godawful howlers, on offer, but the quality and diversity of the underlying sample archive means you can re-design patches from a solid sonic base. On initial acquaintance, Biolabs’ Sounds vols 1-6 seem well suited to those into harder music forms, such as D’n’B, industrial and techno; ambient ambling with ample attitude; and cinematic soundtrackery of driver-frying magnitude. But with deep dabbling, yet more can be coaxed forth and there’s great scope for splattering your own personality over the soundscapes made possible.

On a final note, there is a hidden bonus: Bank Seven. Registered users can download bio:remixed, a mash-up of patches from banks 1 to 6, so it’s a seven-bank collection after all. Lovers of limp plinky-plonky may not get along with Biomechanoid, but then biomechanoidal integrated, multi-faceted audio/visual exploration units are not noted for their warmth and cuddliness. I do, however, get the impression that this unit is the alter-ego of a sound designer, producer and musician living in Edinburgh, hence the Burns reference at the outset of this piece, and goes by the human name of Colin Fraser. He knows u-he's Zebra, Camel's Cameleon and NI's Absynth full-well. He collaborates with a band named Artemis and has done sterling work in conjunction with Grammy-nominated Hollywood film-score composer and former member of Tangerine Dream Paul Haslinger, including the supply of a glut of sound treatments for motel-slash movie Vacancy. Let us also not forget the 2006 release Crank, as well as Brazilian backpacker Bom Dia Cinderela-driven Paradise Lost, aka Turistas. How do I know all this? I'm a journalist, hence no secret is safe, Colin. However, it's no secret to know that Biolabs has brewed up a brace of desirables for the Absynth addict with nae ganging aglae. Nice one, hoots mon?

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