An introduction to Physical Modelling in Logic's Sculpture

Physical modeling synthesis is arguably the most fascinating form of sound creation at the disposal of the modern music maker today. This technology was once reserved for the elite and was only really  

Physical modeling synthesis is arguably the most fascinating form of sound creation at the disposal of the modern music maker today. This technology was once reserved for the elite and was only really found in extremely expensive hardware instruments.

Now we can find this form of synthesis popping up in more and more virtual instruments. Logic's Sculpture is probably one of the best examples of these instruments, so let's look into programming a basic patch using some of Sculpture's key features.

01 - Performing an Initial Set Up

Your first look at Sculpture will leave you in no doubt that it's a complex instrument. It's got a huge number of controls and becoming familiar with all of it's features will take some time.

Saying this, programming a simple sound in Sculpture and getting to grips with the basics doesn't need to be an uphill struggle. Your job will be made much easier by starting with a completely blank patch. To do this simply click in Sculpture's pre-set area at the top of it's interface and select Reset Setting.

This should give you a simple patch with no extra modulation or effects, this means no distractions and a strong starting point.

Our fully reset instance of Sculpture is ready to go.

02 - Setting up the String and It's Objects

The first thing to realize about Sculpture is that although it uses Physical modeling to produce it's sound, the actual structure of the instruments is comparable with more simple synths.

If you are used to virtual analog instruments it's likely the first thing you will look for when programming your own patches is the oscillator section. As Sculpture aims to recreate real acoustic instruments, as opposed to analog synthesizers, it uses a virtual 'String' sound source, instead of an oscillator.

The string has it's own display where it's movement can be animated, to give you some visual feedback whilst programming. There are also 'Pickups' in this display window which can be moved around to adjust overall timbre.

The String is then manipulated by three 'Objects'. The Objects can be programmed to behave in a variety of ways, mimicking picking, impact, blowing and bowing actions. Each different object mode will excite the String in completely different ways, resulting in very different results.

The sequence used with a 'Grav strike' Object:

This system allows much more flexibility than a standard oscillator section and the sound produced can be shockingly realistic compared to anything else you may of heard. For the purposes of this tutorial, and to keep things simple, I have opted for only one 'Object' and have used the default Impulse mode. This should emulate a simple string instrument and keep things nice and clear.

Sculpture's String and Object section

The chosen string set up plays back with a simple pattern:

03 - Choosing your Material Type

Perhaps one of the most innovative features of Sculpture is it's ability to emulate different material types. Essentially you can decide exactly what the actual String is made of and of course changing this dramatically alters your sound.

The display in the very center of Sculpture deals with all the material based alterations. It's actually very clearly laid out and fun to use. The four different materials available (Steel, Nylon, Wood and Glass) can be easily selected using a floating ball.

Sculpture's central Material section

By moving the ball around the display area and playing a few notes you can actually hear Sculpture morphing between the different substances. By experimenting with different combinations and a few running MIDI sequences you should quickly find the result you want.

Our pattern playing back and morphing between Materials:

It's not just the actual material you can change here but also it's properties. Two of the most interesting parameters here are the 'Resolution' and 'Media Loss' controls. The Resolution control is capable of acting almost like a bit crusher giving you edgier, more lo-fi sounds.

The Media Loss slider offers the user the ability to decide how much resonance and decay is lost while the string vibrates. At high settings the string will lose it's ability to vibrate very early giving you a short decay. Low settings will allow the sound to ring out to it's full potential.

For this guitar (ish!) patch I opted for a Nylon String, with an extremely low crunchy resolution setting and full Media Loss setting.

The final Material settings used

The chosen material settings in action:

... And with some added Media loss effect:

04 - Using the Envelopes and LFO Modulation

To spice things up a little you can use Sculpture's synth engine to alter your sound further. In this case I decided that a touch of vibrato would work pretty nicely. To execute this I used LFO 1 to modulate the pitch of my string. I used a very fast LFO setting, coupled with a low modulation depth.

If you dig deeper into Sculpture's mod section you'll see some pretty unusual sections, for example I could of opted for the dedicated Vibrato generator here, or used the interesting Jitter generators. These and many of Sculpture's other parameters will be explored in future tutorials.

I also opened up the release on the amplitude envelope here to let the part breathe a little. If you plan to do this you will also need to ensure that the patch is using Poly mode as opposed to Mono or Legato, otherwise you will experience note stealing and cut outs.

Some Vibrato is added using one of Sculpture's LFOs

The Vibrato effect in action:

05 - Adding some extra touches with Sculpture's internal FX.

So now the core of our new patch has been built and we are starting to see some great results. We have a simple sound that mimics a classical acoustic guitar. I wanted to push things a little and transform the patch to something a little edgier and Sculpture's effects are more than capable of doing this.

I opted for a healthy amount of Tube saturation from the Waveshaper, some tempo synced stereo delay and although it's not strictly an 'effect' I also added some Glide. After slowing up the attack time of my Amp Envelope the patch was finished.

As you can hear building a simple, useable patch in Sculpture isn't that difficult a task and in only a few stages you can really start to familiarise yourself with it's impressive array of controls.

Some delay and other effects are added to our sound

The final patch playing back:

Want to learn more? Go deeper into Sculpture

Mo has been a professional in the music industry for around 15 years. He has released material with the world's leading record labels and also produces music for TV and Film. Mo is also a prolific writer and is a regular contributor to magazines such as Music Tech, Future Music and EQ magazine. There isn't a piece of music software tha... Read More

Discussion

Jordan
Great run-through! Definitely want to spend some more time in Sculpture now. But it also makes me wonder: are there other physical modeling synths worth checking out?

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