Review: Tim Exile's SLOO - A Swarm Of Sound

Reaktor provides an almost endless set of sound design possibilities. So when Tim Exile really goes to town, you know he's going to produce something very special...  

Having cut his teeth developing an ingenious custom live electronic rig, eventually releasing Native Instruments’ Reaktor devices The Finger and The Mouth and recent free offerings FLOWs and SLOW, musical maverick Tim Exile finally presents his debut solo instrument offering: SLOO. Combining a cleverly intuitive GUI with a revolutionary approach to synthesis, Shed Load Of Oscillators is a truly unique sound design tool.

Once instantiated as a Reaktor ensemble, SLOO’s sleek, minimalist GUI belies a deceptively deep instrument. Eschewing the standard deployment of just a handful of oscillators, SLOO takes an astonishingly unusual approach: it’s powered by 48 oscillator voices which can be set to combinations of Sine and Saw, Saw and Square, or simply all Sine, Saw, or Square waves. 

SLOO’s core parameters are familiar enough, consisting of Pitch, Pan, FM Pitch, FM Amount, Filter Pitch, Filter Resonance, LFO Frequency, and LFO Amount. Each of those parameters is controlled by three essential values, all based around the concept of “swarming”: a center value, swarm pattern selection, and relative distance from swarm center value.

Swarming Up

Consider the multitude of oscillators as a flock of birds: pattern determines their general shape, distance their spread apart from one another, while center controls their location. A pair of identical parameter sets allows for dynamic morphing between two discrete states, with the ability to deactivate specific parameters from having a second state.

Along the top of the device are a pair of large, five-point die-like icons, each of which randomize all the parameters, or swarm states, for their corresponding parameter set below: left die for the left parameters, and right die for the right parameters. A large dial between them allows you to scroll between 16 different randomized settings; the large slider beneath allows you to morph from the left parameter state to the right and back again – all of which delivers a huge degree of flexibility with minimum effort.

Large ADSR buttons govern the global amplitude envelope, while the H button toggles a Hold mode that’s useful for making tweaks and exploring without having to trigger any MIDI input. Four user-definable scale quantizations are selectable via the c-a-l-e buttons, while the 's' toggles the default scale quantize, detecting the scale from input notes and quantizing to that – a brilliant concept that seems to work well despite the seemingly mystical math behind it. 

Keyboard input can be set to mono, chord, or a brilliant adaptive mode that plays chords when two or more keys are struck to start a phrase, but which, when starting with a single note, plays back like a classic monophonic instrument replete with legato glide. Finally, the live q text toggles host-tempo synced rhythmic quantization for incoming notes, set by the draggable value that appears at right, from 1/4 up to 1/64 notes, which is highly useful to ensure live improvisation falls within a conventional timing grid.

 There's More...

If those were all the features on offer, SLOO would still present an impressively unique feature set and a wild array of unusual sounds. Just a few clicks of the mouse gets you from thick, buzzing bass patches to soaring, expansive leads or densely clustered drones. The quantized pitch glides and global swarm pattern dial lend themselves to compelling real-time expressivity, while the self-oscillating filter resonance cuts through the mix with glassy precision.

SLOO with bonus parameter toggles in view.

SLOO with bonus parameter toggles in view.

Naturally, there’s still quite a bit under the hood. Anywhere you see a + symbol, clicking it opens a hidden panel of “bonus” parameters. The global oscillator parameters are accessed via the + next to the ADSR, providing oscillator type, pulse width, oscillator retrigger, velocity amount, and a nifty latch mode that determines whether new notes retrigger the amplitude envelope while another note is held. 

Adding considerably more shape to your sound, the Morph slider bonus parameters include an ADSR envelope along with an amount so that each new note triggers a global parameter shift, controlled by the env and vel amounts. Curve weights the morphing for a different response, while a smoothing control helps it all shift smoothly as needed.

Pitch bonus controls provide a spread amount and scale quantization toggle for each morph state, along with global pitch bend, glide, and tuning, while the FM Pitch features a key mapping option along with its own scale quantization toggles. The Filter Pitch, which is essentially cutoff frequency, reveals key mapping and velocity amounts, along with a slider to morph between Low Pass, Band Pass, and High Pass circuits. 

Each of the two LFO states comes with Shape, Width Distance, and Curve sliders for intricate wave pulse programming, while global retrigger and sync timings along with free rate and soft or hard sync settings result in a wealth of complex rhythmic patterns and tidal undulations. The LFO Amount bonus settings allow you to bidirectionally apply each morph state of the LFO to SLOO’s Amplitude, Pitch, FM Amount, FM Pitch, and Filter Pitch.

All desired parameters were available for automation, with one of the most captivating being the 16-state swarm history dial atop the interface. Accessing the swarm history bonus parameters allows you to randomly select a different swarm state with each incoming MIDI note – or to sequence a specific set of swarm history states in forward or reverse order. This allows for some incredibly dynamic sound design, with each new note automatically triggering a new set of parameters throughout the instrument. 

Conclusion

Containing a wealth of powerful possibilities under the hood, SLOO’s stripped-down GUI makes mind-bending sound design an effortless pursuit. Although the CPU-intensive feature set may rule it out on some systems, Exile’s expertly executed live performance functions such as note and rhythmic quantization make it truly tempting to try on stage. The visionary approach of swarming oscillator patterns, coupled with extensive randomization options and morphing capabilities, provides instant inspiration while the musical parameter set and swarm pattern history invite hours of captivated tweaking. 

At such a reasonable price, the primary obstacle to running SLOO is the requirement of a full Reaktor license: it won’t run on Native Instruments’ free Reaktor Player. But if you happen to already use Reaktor – or have it installed along with Komplete – don’t hesitate to grab this unique and powerful instrument, particularly if you’re looking for a new approach to exquisite synthesis.

Price: £39 GBP

Pros: Unique approach to modern synthesis. Great sound. User friendly interface. Brilliant features for live performance. Handy presets. Reasonably priced. Support for Komplete Kontrol S-series keyboards.

Cons: Requires full Reaktor license; Reaktor Player is not supported. Certain patches can be fairly CPU intensive.

Web: https://shop.timexile.com/products/sloo

 Learn more about Reaktor in the Ask Audio Academy here.

Noah Pred is a Canadian techno and house producer, DJ and Certified Ableton Trainer living in Berlin, Germany - where he runs his label, Thoughtless Music. His Juno-nominated full-length album Third Culture, is out now: http://www.thoughtlessmusic.com/releases/tlm086-noah-pred-third-culture/ - and you can check out his new project with... Read More

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