Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Sonic Charge Pemut8

Product: Permut 8
Developer: Sonic Charge
Format: Windows (VST), Mac (VST & AU)
Demo: Audio demos on product page.  Downloadable 3-week trial version.
Price: $66

Sometimes a plug-in comes along where mere audio or video demos really aren't enough.  Sure, you can get a general idea of the sound of an instrument or plug-in, but with some plug-ins, it's as much about the process as it is the end results.  Sonic Charge's latest release, Pemut8, is a perfect example of this kind of plug-in.  More on that later.

That's a good question.  It's hard to describe Permut8 without using vague terms like "audio destroyer" or "glitch machine", but those don't really do it justice.  The reason is, although there may be tons of glitch and buffer effects out there, no one has quite done it in the same way Sonic Charge has with Permut8.  Permut8 was inspired by the lofi tastiness of 12-bit digital devices from the 80's.  It's based around a 12-bit digital delay with a variable sample rate from 0 to 352k.  That doesn't sound all that impressive on its own, but what makes Permut8 different is it allows you to switch on and off different "operators"in the modeled processor that further effect the sound.  Depending on the operation you carry out, you can get reverse effects, beat repeater/buffer effects, comb filtering,  flanging, bitcrushing, and more.  Add to this filter, saturation, feedback and other effects to apply to the signal as a whole and you have some serious sound-mangling firepower under the hood here.

When you purchase Permut8, you simply select "REGISTER" from the pulldown menu at the top of the interface and enter the serial number you received.  Easy.

Permut8 has very basic documentation in the form of pop-up windows that come up the first time you launch the plug-in.  This is enough to get you messing around, but if you really want to understand Permut8, you're going to need to crack the full manual, which is available as a PDF.  The manual is well-done and easy to follow, which is important, as this isn't the most obvious plug-in to figure out at first.

The topmost part of the interface consists of a pulldown menu where you'll find initialize and randomize commands, save and load, links to the manual and pop-up tutorials, etc.  Additionally, there is a two-digit display that allows you to select different banks, each of which contains several presets.  I'm just going to get this out of the way and say the current preset management system kind of stinks.  Why force you to save entire banks?  Let's please just have an alphanumerical display where we can see preset names and select sounds independent of banks.  Perhaps they were trying to replicate some of the archaic methods of preset management on old devices, but I think this is one area where users will forgive you for taking some liberties in bringing it into the present.

Next to the preset selection are switches that allow you to control certain parameters via MIDI keys, opening the door to more real-time use.

The majority of the interface is taken up by the sound parameters themselves.  On the left hand side you'll find INPUT trim (with a limiter), OUTPUT level and CLIP mix, a FILTER that varies form LOWPASS to HIGHPASS and can be placed in various points in the signal chain, and a FEEDBACK parameter which can be used to produce everything from comb filtering effects to digital shrieks.

To the right of this is where the real action takes place, however.  Here you will find the two INSTRUCTION sections.  These run in series and allow you to turn on and off different "bits" to create rhythmic effects, while the OPERATORS control the various ways in which the READ and WRITE buffer interact.  I know that all probably sounds like a bunch of vague nonsense, but I promise you it makes sense once you've messed around with it for awhile.  Spend some time selecting different OPERATORS and switching the various bits on and off just to see what it does. That's part of the appeal of this plug-in that I hinted at earlier.  Sonic Charge made a brave choice to make the interface for Permut8 something that is not immediately obvious when you use it.  That's not a failure on their part (aside from preset management), but instead is aimed at encouraging you to mess around without knowing exactly what you're doing until something just clicks.  To that end, you can even alter the bits by adjusting the HEX readout if you want to feel even further removed from knowing what you're doing.

At the very bottom you'll see a graphical representation of the READ and WRITE buffers and the SYNCable CLOCK FREQ which selects the speed at which the INSTRUCTION sections do their thing.  You can also turn off the SYNC and freely adjust the frequency for truly out there effects.

I'll cut to the chase and say that I absolutely love this plug-in.  With that said, I also believe this is not for everyone.  Sure, it ships with 300 presets which are all nice enough, but to my mind, this isn't a preset user's plugin.  This is one for people who like to tweak and experiment until they come across that perfect little touch of audio magic.  In many ways, working with Permut8 feels like working with some bizarre, circuit-bent device, and indeed the types of sounds it can produce are not far removed from that at all.  But as I said in the beginning, this is a plug-in where the process of creating new effects is part of the appeal.  Even if you have no idea what you're doing, it's a blast to randomly flip switches and dials to see what the result is.  To that end, this seems like a plug-in that's built for live performance.  Map some parameters to your MIDI controller, and tweak away.

The sound quality of Permut8 is a nice meeting of the digital and analog worlds.  The analog processing section (INPUT/OUTPUT, FILTER, FEEDBACK) really does lend a bit of analog-style warmth to the occasionally harsh digital sound of INSTRUCTIONS section.  And the digital section is everything you'd hope it would be.  All sorts of crazy digital distortions and manipulations are possible with rhythmic precision and an interface that really feels like working on a weird bit of old hardware.

And if you're REALLY a tweaker, an artificial terminal comes up when you click on the plug-in name that you can apparently operate as an actual assembly terminal of some sort.  This is a bit above my geek-level, so I haven't messed with it myself, but just the idea of putting it in there is pretty awesome,  I love it when a developer doesn't "dumb down" their products!

So who needs to check out Permut8?  Obviously anyone into experimental music is going to love this.  Likewise, IDM and dance music producers looking for edgy effects are going to eat this up.  I also think people who do live PA sets and the like would have a lot of fun with this.  You very well may have an entire plug-in folder full of glitchy plug-ins, but I guarantee you don't have anything like this.  Spend an hour with the demo and you'll figure out rather quickly whether it's the sort of thing you'll enjoy or not.  But for those who will enjoy it, I feel confident they're going to love it dearly. [9/10]


Ronnie said...

I always love using random stuff for inspiration, so I'm happy to read in the manual: There is a short-cut for randomizing the instructions by shift-clicking the "Main
Menu" button.

Had a quick run with it earlier and liked it a lot. I just hope I can refrain from using it on everything.

Tom said...

It's one of those plug-ins I can see myself getting sucked into for an inordinately long time. haha

oliver schmitt said...

yeah, same here! seems getting addicted to this one again...love the stuff of sonic charge - allways an immense inspiraiton for my sound design!

best, olli

djemptyx said...

It is a fantastic SOUNDING plugin as well. The Analog section is full of tricks and character alone. I love the tape effects one can get from this and then being able to slow delay rate smoothly down (backwards or fwd) all the way to 0hz is quite nice. The only function I don't quite grasp is the weird terminal screen under the Permut8 label. After some time I was able to figure out that it wanted me to enter "username" and "password" but after that I've no idea.