I'm a relative newcomer to using synthesizers in my music. It always felt like too much work, too much money and too much fiddling that ultimately took time and effort away from the music itself. But in recent years, it seems to me there's been a boom in synths that make things easy.
The resurgence of low-cost analog synthesizers, kicked off by the Korg Volca series and now embodied by IK Multimedia's Uno Synth Pro and the Roland Aira series among others, has turned a lot of heads and brought newcomers to electronic music. And of course, Behringer has also been turning out low-cost recreations of classic synthesizers, not to mention a marketing hype machine that issues more press releases than actual, you know, products.
More important than just recreating the classic synths, there's a new focus on innovation, especially as it comes to ease of use and experimentation. I put BLEASS at the forefront of this trend. It's a small French company, but they are punching well above their weight in releasing a steady stream of audio plug-ins, effects and easy-to-use software synths. Best of all BLEASS's products are fun!
BLEASS was also the technology team behind Jean-Michel Jarre's generative music application EōN. I'm a huge fan of JMJ and the EōN app, and it's nice to see the company creating technology that enables the next generation of music creators and producers. (I would love to see a programmable version of EōN that let you create new generative music with your own rules and samples!)
(Aside: I don't know if it's something in the education system, the local music scene or even the water, but boy, there are a lot of innovative French music tech companies: Arobas Music, Arturia, BLEASS, Orb Plugins... to name a few.)
For world music day this year, BLEASS released a free mono synth called Monolit. It works as a plug-in (VST, AAX or AU) on Mac, Windows and iOS. For synth heads, it ticks all the boxes: dual oscillator, ADSR controls, filters, FM modulator, unison mode, built-in arpeggiator, and dozens of pre-sets. I have tested version 1.1 on a Mac with Logic Pro as well as on iOS, using on iPhone and iPad.
While the UX design can feel a bit cramped on a small screen, their use of tabs makes the best of the situation, putting related controls together in a color coded fashion: blue for oscillator 1, green for oscillator 2, yellow for ADSR envelope controls, and so on. This design is consistent across all of BLEASS's products, so once you've got the hang of it, everything becomes easy. In just minutes you can be creating interesting sounds without having to be an expert.
As important as design is in making approachable and fun, in the end it's all about the sound. On that front, Monolit delivers. It's a great sounding synth with some very well-crafted presets for buzzy bass sounds, dynamic leads and evolving arpeggiators. You can use the presets, tweak them, roll the random dice and hear and see what sounds good. As you experiment, you'll learn more about what all the controls do and how to dial in the sound you want.
Here's a simple track I created to demonstrate a few variations on Monolit presets.
Monolit, and all of BLEASS's plugins, appear to be very resource-efficient. I experienced no lag, no glitches, and no bugs, running the latest version even on slightly outdated hardware.
Oddly, Monolit does not include the reverb and delay effects of BLEASS's full-fledged Alpha and Omega synthesizers. On the other hand, the sounds are so good, they don't really need it. This is not some harsh sounding digital synth. Monolit has a rich, warm analog sound and the unison capability lets you thicken it up quite easily. No doubt, BLEASS is hoping that as newcomers try out Monolit, they will then spring for some of BLEASS's growing family of low-cost ($15-20) plug-ins including Phaser, Flanger, Saturator, DragonFly Tremolo, Chorus, etc. It's a good strategy.
And once you know how to use the Monolit, you may want to try your hand at BLEASS's full-blown Alpha classic polyphonic synthesizer or Omega FM synthesizer. Both are incredible sounding and a great value at just $69. The Omega may well be the easiest and cheapest way to add FM synthesis to your music without blowing your budget or frying your brain.
Personally, I'm looking forward to BLEASS's upcoming synth Megalit. This should make for a great introduction to wavetable synthesis that until recently has required a lot of complex programming on specialized hardware like the Korg Wavestate, ASM Hydrasynth or the Waldorf Blofeld. This will be a game changer!
Head over to the BLEASS site and download Monolit. It's free, easy-to-use and fun! What more could you want? Have you used some of the BLEASS family of products? Let me know what you think by posting a comment below.