Creative Arts Building

Convolution software makes way for new directions in digital music-making

Based in the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM), researchers have been developing state-of-the-art open-source software used to create and enhance electronic music. The HISSTools Impulse Response Toolbox allows users to customise the solutions they need rather than having to rely on fixed and limited options. Its deliberately musician-centric approach has been adopted internationally, including integration into a world-leading product with 1.7 million users.

Developments in convolution

Convolution has become a key element of digital music-making. This technology allows the reverberant behaviour unique to a certain space – for example, a room, a recording booth or a concert hall – to be captured and recreated, amongst other uses. The original convolution reverbs were hardware boxes that, because of their expense, were confined almost exclusively to studios. The technology is now commonly available as affordable computer software, but technical limitations have been constraining for users.

HISSTools Impulse Response Toolbox

In 2011, as part of the HISSTools project, a toolbox of externals was released for the digital music software system Max. These addressed a range of creative and technical problems, many based on innovative spectral processing techniques, including convolution. Rather than limiting the use of convolution techniques to emulate reverb, this approach allowed a more open set of applications, meaning researchers could use impulse responses in a variety of ways , like never before.

It was important that the software was not created to only deliver a single tool as its users encounter a range of issues, both creative and pragmatic. To ensure this, a modular and reusable toolbox was designed to address the wide range of technical and creative applications. Each module deals with a specific convolution-related task or problem, including capturing, transforming and applying impulse responses.

The HISSTools Impulse Response Toolbox has helped make high-level technology available to practitioners and has been adopted by major international companies, organisations and independent research centres involved in the creation and reproduction of state-of-the-art sound.

Working with international commercial companies

In 2012 Berlin-based software company Ableton, a world leader in its field, formed a partnership with the HISSTools project to develop a new convolution reverb device to run within the firm’s flagship Live 9 software, which has 1.7 million users. Two reverb devices and an impulse measurement device were developed and can now be used by any owner of Max for Live, part of the Suite version of Live 9. As open-source and fully customisable devices, they offer an unprecedented level of accessibility for the user. They have the ability to use different sampled spaces for the early and late parts of the reverb, offering enhanced flexibility and real-time control. Two of the University’s concert halls are included in the sample spaces for artists to use in their musical explorations. Ableton has released a video demonstrating the wide range of spaces the project focused on.

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