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Orbulator

Orbulator is a new kind of multi-pad touch controlled synth for iOS devices. Extending ideas first introduced in earlier apps like Mandala Music, Orbulator takes these apps to a new level. Orbulator consists of nine circular frequency modulated (FM) pad controllers. Each pad has its own pitch from an assigned scale. The pads independently control four synth "voices". There are 32 presets, which can be modified statically using x-y slide controllers, or dynamically by sliding your finger on the control pads. Orbulator plays more like a real instrument than a conventional synth, allowing the user to articulate control synth parameters while playing.

The latest version includes a new autoplay feature available under Settings. Options control a random note/rhythm sampler. Here's a short video of the autoplay feature (Theme from "Gremlins").

The instrument has thee basic views, which are described below.

Play

Tapping a pad plays a note. The initial touch reveals a circular control ring on the pad as shown above. What happens then when you move your finger depends on the X: and Y: pad settings at the bottom of view. Tapping the pad settings moves through the following choices which affect the x (left-right) and y (top-bottom) finger movement within the control ring:

  • Off - No control change in this direction. Previous changes remain in effect.
  • Bend - Changes the pitch up to one semi-tone up or down
  • Trem - Changes the volume (and for some synth settings re-triggers the sound)
  • Ratio - Changes the FM frequency ratio
  • Index - Changes the FM modulation index
The FM parameters are discussed below. Movement within the gray region in the middle of the pad has no effect on the sound. After triggering a sound, moving your finger around the screen moves the sound in space (i.e., left-right).

The P: button on the bottom controls the portamento (slide from note to note). Tap "Show" on the bottom to see the note names, which are also color-coded for convenience.

At the top are four synth level sliders. Tapping one of the controls selects that synth. Finger movement within a control pad affects the only the selected synth. When the app starts up four randomly selected synth sounds are loaded into the four voices. The sounds can be changed either in the setting view (discussed next), or by shaking the device to load a new set of randomly selected sounds.

Synth

Each voice is generated by a 2-oscillator FM synthesizer. All of the controls are exposed in the iPad version. In the iPhone/iPod Touch version you must tap the button on the bottom to reveal that control. The controls are as follows:
  • Octave Shift - Changes the fundamental frequency in octave increments
  • Attack-Decay - Changes the attack and decay. When they are not zero (lower left position in the control) the sound is sustained when you keep your finger on the pad.
  • Delay-Decay - These settings control the repeat (delay) and decay of a sound.
  • Frequency Ratio-Detune - The frequency ratio determines the harmonic structure (partials or overtones). There are 8 set frequency ratios: 0, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1, 4/3, 5/3, and 2. Detune adds an additional amount to the frequency ratio to create certain effects.
  • Modulation Index-Envelope Modulation - The modulation index changes the number of harmonics much like a conventional low-pass filter. Envelope modulation affects the way the envelope generator (attack-decay) changes the modulation index. The amount the control is up or down affects the how much the envelope affects the harmonics. When the control is up the harmonics increase when a pad is pressed and decrease when it is released, and vice versa when it is down.
The synth controls change the selected voice (above). As you move from voice to voice the corresponding synth control settings are updated automatically.

The synth controls establish the basic sound of a voice, which can be changed dynamically as you touch pad controllers as described above.

Orbulator comes with 32 preset synth sounds, which are stored in the patches.xml file in the Documents directory of the app. At present edited sounds cannot stored, or new sounds added; however you can change the xml file (at your own risk) in the meantime. Removing this file will automatically reload the factory settings the next time the app is launched.

Settings

Settings reveals one of two tables below the voice controls.

Scale selects the pattern of musical notes assigned to the control pads. There are 33 scales you can choose from:
  1. Aeolian (Greece)
  2. Ake Bono (Japan)
  3. Banshiki-Cho (Japan)
  4. Dorian
  5. Harmonic minor
  6. Hitzaz (Arabia)
  7. Hitzazkiar (Arabia/Persia)
  8. Hungarian major
  9. Huzam (Greece)
  10. Ionian (Western major)
  11. Kokin-Choshi (Japan)
  12. Kourd-Atar (Arabia/India)
  13. Lydian
  14. Minor pentatonic (W. Africa)
  15. Neveseri (Greece)
  16. Niavent (Egypt)
  17. Pentatonic
  18. Pentatonic (China)
  19. Purvi (India)
  20. Pygmy (Rwanda)
  21. Rumanikos (Greece)
  22. Sabah (Greece)
  23. Segiah (Greece)
  24. Sho (Japan)
  25. Locrian
  26. Mixolydian
  27. Pyeong Jo (Korea)
  28. Shang-Diao (China)
  29. Magen Abot (Jewish)
  30. Noh (Japan)
  31. Zokuso (Japan)
  32. Melog/Selisir
  33. Phrygian
Tap a row of the top section of the table to load that scale into the control pads. The second section of the table lets you change the key up/down.

Tap "Sound Patch" to reveal the other table which loads a sound into the selected voice. Like shaking the device, tapping the "Dice" icon at the bottom loads four randomly selected sound patches into the four voices.

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