Native Instrument’s Massive is probably the de facto go-to wavetable synth these days. Lately it’s had huge success off the back of the later waves of dubstep, particularly the abuse of the Modern Talking and Brutal Electro sounds found in it. Massive is great for lots of things – the performer LFO and effects are great and the wavetables are well-selected – but it’s actually not that flexible in terms of proper wavetable synthesis.
Before moving on we should really define what wavetable actually is but, even before that, what’s a table? A table is a way of arranging data, normally in cells and rows. Wavetable synthesis works by morphing between waveforms stored within cells. In Massive, there are (basically) two cells: the WT-Position knob in full clockwise position or full counter-clockwise position.
N.B It’s not really as simple as that because Massive’s wavetables do sometimes contain more than just two cells; have a look at this handy diagram detailing the waveforms in Massive.
Step in OkiComputer. Also made by Native Instruments as part of their Reaktor 5 content, this has been included in the factory library since 2003 and is dubbed as “a specialist in digital lo-fi sounds that hails back to the era of 8-bit beeps and bleeps…”.
For me, what sets OkiComputer apart from other wavetable synths is the fact it has sixteen cells available and the waveforms can be modified in some depth, too. Let’s start by having a look at the front panel.
Before starting, I’ve created a fully-reset default patch which you can download here.
Front Panel, Voice/MIDI Information
OkiComputer is quite compact. We have MIDI/voice information at the top with our oscillator and distortion section just below, and a master output/filter section next to it.
There are two AHDSR envelopes underneath them, a CC1 modulation and LFO in the middle right and a sequencer to the left of the LFO. Finally, there’s the modulation matrix and chorus units at the bottom. We’ll look at the majority of these sections in varying degrees of detail.
Let’s start at the top with the MIDI/voice information as it’s quite simple and, in fact, fundamental to our sound:
We have all the normal stuff like note polyphony (polyphonic, mono, legato), some tuning controls (octave, semitone, fine tune) and pitch bend amount. Also there’s Unison detune and unison spread, to distribute voices around the stereo spectrum. Finally there’s Glide, or as some people know it, portamento. Nice and easy stuff – let’s move on.
Envelopes, Filter and Master
Next, we’ll look at our envelopes. There are two AHDSR envelope generators:
Most of you might be familiar with an ADSR (if you’re not, brush up on basic synthesis here) so the H stands for hold, which is a time value between the attack and decay time:
Note that our y-axis can be anything we assign it to in the modulation matrix. Our first envelope is hardwired to our amplitude. Also be aware that A, H, D and R are times (milliseconds, for instance) whereas S is a value.
Length multiplies the overall time values for our envelope, which is useful when designing patches at one tempo and then using them at another. Velocity increases the amount of amplitude modulation affected by velocity.
Finally there are two symbols we can check or uncheck: the two quavers (♫) quantizes the A, H and D times to the MIDI tempo; the other symbol loops our A and D stages, turning this into a pseudo-LFO/function generator.
We’ll cover a few other easy wins before the oscillator section (which is mildly more complicated), so let’s look at our filter/master section:
Starting from the top left we have a knob to select the main outputs’ envelope, which can bee either envelope 1, gate or velocity controller. Next there’s dampening (dampens the high frequencies, useful with digital wavetable synthesis) and volume. Underneath we have our filter cutoff, resonance and trk (pitch tracking, where the cutoff increases with higher pitches and decreases with lower pitches).
Lastly, we have our three filters. OkiComputer’s filters run in parallel rather than series, so what you have here are three independent volume controls for the outputs of the low-pass, band-pass and high-pass filters. As we can see from the diagram above, we only have the low-pass filter enabled.