Cycling'47 are not a company to do things by halves when it comes to the volume of their plug-in bundles. Their flagship collection, Pluggo, comprises over 100 effects and instruments.
And now we have Hipno, adding 43 signal processors, sound generators and innovative new modulators, all built on Pluggo technology, which is in turn rooted in the Max/MSP programming environment.
Hipno's development has also called on Cycling 74's Jitter object library in order to implement some video-related boffinry that definitely qualifies as innovative.
As is usual with Cycling '74, Hipno is not the solution to turn to if you're looking for bread and butter synths and effects.
These guys are known for the cerebral nature of their products, which generally seem to be most at home on the 'artier' side of the musical tracks – IDM, ambient, performance sound-art… electronica, if you will – and with Hipno, they've made no exception.
The plug-ins have been grouped into five categories: granular effects, spectral effects, delay/filter effects, instruments and modulator/bus effects.
They come with names like Deluge, Drunken Sailor, Shypht, Morphulescence, LoopDeeLa and SquiglyQ – as anyone familiar with Pluggo will appreciate, this is typical Cycling '74 nomenclature.
The eight granular effects plug-ins work by taking the input signal and dividing it up into 'grains' that can then be manipulated in terms of length, pitch, spacing, amp envelope and other parameters.
The ten spectral effects concern themselves with frequency manipulation and multiband filtering, many of them making heavy use of FFT analysis. For me, the two jewels in this particular crown are Morphilter and SfylterBank.
The former combines a bank of six resonant filters (low-pass, high-pass and four band-passes) with ten LFOs via a freely assignable modulation matrix, throws a pre-delay/comb filter into the mix for extra musicality, and shows the results visually in a smoothly animated real-time display.
The sound of the filter algorithm is awesome, and all manner of elaborate and variable movement is made possible with the LFOs. SfylterBank is a bank of 16 filters, each of which can be set to specific pitches via its onscreen keyboard.
The amplitude and pitch of these filters can then be modulated in various ways, for anything from delicate melodic tremolos to bubbling, spring-loaded effects.
The delay/filter category includes plug-ins for pitch-shifting, reverb, aural enhancement and even envelope substitution.
CrackVerb is an astonishingly versatile reverb – its quirky collection of adjustable parameters giving rise to beautiful, shimmering ambiences and dark, hellish vistas in equal measure.
Technishyft, meanwhile, is a powerful step sequenced pitch-shifter, and VDelay enables you to modulate pitch-shifting delays with live video input.
The instrument section is short and sweet, but half of its six plug-ins are video-controlled (the other three comprising a hugely entertaining loop synth, the synth version of Sfylter, and a nifty granular audio looper), which is where things get really crazy…
While the core technology and post production logistics behind Hipno are down to Cycling '74, its actual designers, Electrotap, are a Kansas-based company producing various bits of sensor hardware for physically interfacing with Max/MSP.
It comes as no surprise then that Hipno has been designed with advanced real-time control firmly at the top of the agenda.
This control comes in two forms: the Hipnoscope Interpolator (see the box above), and a set of Modulators that operate between plug-ins on Hipno's own signal bus (the PluggoBus), completely separate from the host sequencer's own systems.
One of these Modulators sends out signals created by mathematical functions, another interprets input from any connected USB device (yup, absolutely anything) and turns it into control signals, and three of them use live video as control data.
Setting up for video input involves connecting a QuickTime-compatible DV camera or webcam, the live feed from which appears as part of each Modulator's GUI.
The three video Modulators all work in the same way, but each generates its modulation output from a different element of the moving image: motion tracking, colour tracking and difference tracking between the current image and a recorded static one.
Various input parameters can be adjusted to tweak the tracking sensitivity, and visual feedback comes in the shape of hi-tech looking tracking boxes and crosshairs on the target areas. It has huge live performance potential, although little in the way of meaningful studio application.
As well as modulation, video input is also used with the three instruments I mentioned earlier. VAirTime is a percussion synth that's triggered by colour changes; VSynth is a monophonic synth that takes a black and white video feed as its spectral source; and VTheremin is a Theremin-style synth operated via motion tracking.
In terms of sheer fun factor, this trio is the best thing about Hipno, requiring very little setting up and it works quite brilliantly.
However, with only a little more user input, the video Modulators can be used to bring the same functionality to all of Hipno's plug-ins. It's pure genius, and I'd definitely factor a webcam in as a necessary cost for anyone who doesn't already own a DV camera.
Hipno's a difficult entity to sum up as a whole, as it contains so many different elements. Many of the plug-ins – particularly the granular ones – are decidedly 'niche', which, while not a bad thing, is something to be aware of if you're working at the more commercial, populist end of the musical spectrum.
For the more progressive producer, though, this is a veritable treasure trove of out-there sonic power tools.
Hipno's many devices offer plenty of genuinely innovative signal processing techniques, one of the most powerful modulation and patch morphing systems around, and the magic of accurate and eminently usable video control. Oh, and they also sound great, although much of the time great doesn't necessarily mean nice…