4MSEnsemble Oscillator

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4MS Ensemble Oscillator

The Ensemble Oscillator from 4ms and Matthias Puech is a 16-oscillator additive synthesizer with internal quantization and deep waveshaping capabilities. The 16 sine wave oscillators are constrained to a common scale or set of intervals, leading to endless colorful textures and complex harmonies.

While often thought of only containing semitones, scales in the sense of the Ensemble Oscillator can be thought of as a series of intervals or harmonics. Any waveform can be recreated by combining sine waves of different frequencies, amplitudes, and phases—this is the core principle of additive synthesis. The 16 sine wave oscillators allow you to create a wide variety of textures, straddling the line between complex chords and complex waveshapes.

The 30 preset scales include your standard western 12TET scales, but also feature just intonation, microtonal, and non-octave repeating scales, such as Wendy Carlos' Alpha and Beta scales and Bohlen-Pierce tritave scales. New scales can be entered by using an external keyboard (or any CV source), or dialed in manually using the root knob. This allows you not only use the included scales but to create your own—meaning easy access to microtonal exploration. And if you ever want to go back to the factory scales, they can be reset easily.

The root knob sets the lowest note of the scale, known as the root note in music theory. The 16 oscillators can be spread from this root note, providing a wider range of notes and harmonics. The pitch knob acts more like a standard VCO tuning knob, changing the frequency of the oscillators post-quantization. Instead of stepping through different notes like most quantizers, the Ensemble Oscillator crossfades between notes, providing a smoother transition between intervals. The oscillators can also be detuned post-quantization, which, when used in a stereo configuration, can result in a massive stereo spread of oscillators. Balance allows you to crossfade between which oscillators are heard. In the middle, there is equal distribution, turning the note to the left emphasizes the lower oscillators, while to the right will allow the higher oscillators to come through in the mix. The freeze button allows you to hold certain oscillators to the frequency set at the time you press the button. This allows you to lock in certain notes while having a melodic line play under them.

There are three wave shaping techniques which provide the basis for the sound shaping of the Ensemble Oscillator. Warp is a three-algorithm wavefolder: providing an analog-inspired wavefolder, a Chebyshev polynomial wavefolder, and a linear, triangle based waveshaper. Twist mode contains three phase distortion algorithms: these include Ramp, which feeds the waveform back upon itself to create increasingly steep ramp waves; Pulsar, which compresses the phase of the sine waves into a series of narrow pulses; and a bit-crusher which bit crushes the phase of the oscillators.

The cross FM knob sets the amount of cross modulation between the oscillators, providing another layer of potential for complex tone shaping. Like the wave shaping techniques, this section features three modes. In Up, the root note modulates all the other oscillators; with All, each oscillator modulates the next highest oscillator in the series of intervals; and with Down, the highest oscillator modulates all the other oscillators. The fact that all the oscillators are constrained to sets of intervals and related ratios makes the resulting FM behavior harmonically interesting.

Using these three additive wave and phase-shaping parameters in conjunction allows for a huge range of tones. It can go from the prettiest organ sounds you've ever heard to bit-crushed, cross FM madness in a second—an incredible range of sounds. It has two outputs and can be used in either mono mode with one cable patched in or stereo when using both inputs. The panning of the oscillators can be adjusted to suit your needs and can allow oscillators to be separated by odd and even, upper and lower frequencies, and with only the root note assigned to one output with the rest of the oscillators present at the second output.

The Ensemble Oscillator provides a unique way of thinking about synthesis, both in terms of traditional additive synthesis techniques and a novel way of approaching frequencies, quantization, and harmonic intervals.

Ensemble Oscillator Features

  • Polyphonic additive voice
  • 16 sine wave oscillators
  • Frequencies are constrained to notes or intervals
  • Wavefolding with three algorithms
  • Phase distortion with three algorithms
  • Cross FM with three modes
  • 30 preset scales and intervals
  • Enter custom scales using a keyboard or by hand
  • Detune spreads oscillators in the stereo field
  • Balance adjusts which oscillators are heard at the outputs
  • All controls have bipolar CV inputs
  • Both quantized and unquantized 1V/Oct inputs
  • Eurorack module
  • Width: 16hp
  • Depth: 25mm
  • Current draw: 114mA @ +12V, 45mA @ -12V
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