Granular synthesis

Granular synthesis is a basic sound synthesis method that operates on the microsound time scale.

It is based on the same principle as sampling. However, the samples are not played back conventionally, but are instead split into small pieces of around 1 to 50 ms. These small pieces are called grains. Multiple grains may be layered on top of each other, and may play at different speeds, phases, volume, and frequency, among other parameters.

At low speeds of playback, the result is a kind of soundscape, often described as a cloud, that is manipulatable in a manner unlike that for natural sound sampling or other synthesis techniques. At high speeds, the result is heard as a note or notes of a novel timbre. By varying the waveform, envelope, duration, spatial position, and density of the grains, many different sounds can be produced.

Both have been used for musical purposes: as sound effects, raw material for further processing by other synthesis or digital signal processing effects, or as complete musical works in their own right. Conventional effects that can be achieved include amplitude modulation and time stretching. More experimentally, stereo or multichannel scattering, random reordering, disintegration and morphing are possible.


Greek composer Iannis Xenakis is known as the inventor of the granular synthesis technique.[1]

The composer Iannis Xenakis (1960) was the first to explicate a compositional theory for grains of sound. He began by adopting the following lemma: "All sound, even continuous musical variation, is conceived as an assemblage of a large number of elementary sounds adequately disposed in time. In the attack, body, and decline of a complex sound, thousands of pure sounds appear in a more or less short interval of time ." Xenakis created granular sounds using analog tone generators and tape splicing. These appear in the composition Analogique A-B for string orchestra and tape (1959).[2]

Canadian composer Barry Truax was one of the first to implement real-time versions of this synthesis technique.[3] "Granular synthesis has been implemented in different ways, notably by the Canadian composer Barry Truax."[2]

Programming languages

  • Csound - comprehensive music software including granular synthesis (overview over granular synthesis opcodes)
  • SuperCollider - programming language for real time audio synthesis
  • Reaktor - visual programming environment for sampling, granular sampling, sequencing and modular synthesis
  • Max/MSP - graphical authoring software for real-time audio and video
  • Pure Data (Pd) - graphical programming language for real-time audio and video
  • ChucK - audio programming language for real-time audio synthesis
  • Real-time Cmix - programming language for real-time audio synthesis, including several algorithms for granular synthesis
  • AudioMulch - modular audio software for real-time audio manipulation


There are now many dedicated devices available for exploring granular synthesis without using a computer.

Many of these devices are in the Eurorack modular synthesizer format, such as:

  • ADM02 Grainshift by Audio Damage
  • Clouds by Mutable Instruments
  • g0 by Mungo Enterprises
  • Grains by Ginko Synthese
  • GXN by Mordax Systems
  • grandPa by Bastl Instruments
  • Nebulae by Qu-Bit Electronix
  • Particle Granular Delay by Red Panda Lab
  • Morphagene by Make Noise



  • "Granular Synthesis" by Eric Kuehnl
  • "The development of GiST, a Granular. Synthesis Toolkit Based on an Extension of the FOF Generator" by Gerhard Eckel and Manuel Rocha Iturbide
  • Searching for a global synthesis technique through a quantum conception of sound by Manuel Rocha Iturbide
  • Going with the Grain a review of 10 granular synthesis programs by Dennis Miller (2008)
  • Further articles on Granular Synthesis
  • Bencina, R. (2006) “Implementing Real-Time Granular Synthesis,” in Greenbaum & Barzel (eds.), Audio Anecdotes III, ISBN 1-56881-215-9, A.K. Peters, Natick. online pdf


  • Roads, Curtis (2001). Microsound. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-18215-7.
  • Miranda, E. R. (2002). Computer Sound Design: Synthesis Techniques and Programming. Oxford: Focal Press. ISBN 0-240-51693-1.
  • Roads, Curtis (1996). The Computer Music Tutorial. Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-18158-4.
  • Wilson, Scott (2011). The SuperCollider Book. Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-23269-2.
  • Iturbide, Manuel Rocha (1999). "Doctoral Thesis: Les techniques granulaires dans la synthèse sonore". University of Paris VIII.


See also


  1. ^ Iannis Xenakis, Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1971.
  2. ^ a b Roads (1996), p.169.
  3. ^ Barry Truax, "Real-Time Granular Synthesis with a Digital Signal Processor", Computer Music Journal 12(2) (1988): 14-26. MIT Press.

External links

Barry Truax

Barry Truax (born 1947) is a Canadian composer who specializes in real-time implementations of granular synthesis, often of sampled sounds, and soundscapes. He developed the first ever implementation of real-time granular synthesis, in 1986, the first to use a sample as the source of a granular composition in 1987's Wings of Nike, and was the first composer to explore the range between synchronic and asynchronic granular synthesis in 1986's Riverrun. The real-time technique suites or emphasizes auditory streams, which, along with soundscapes, inform his aesthetic.

Truax teaches both electroacoustic music and acoustic communication at Simon Fraser University. He was one of the original members of the World Soundscape Project. His students include composers Jean Piché, David Monacchi, Michael Vincent, Paul Dolden, Susan Frykberg, Charles Wilkinson, and John Oswald.

Cloud (music)

In music a cloud is a sound mass consisting of statistical clouds of microsounds and characterized first by the set of elements used in the texture, secondly density, including rhythmic and pitch density. Clouds may include ambiguity of rhythmic foreground and background or rhythmic hierarchy.

Examples include:

Iannis Xenakis's Concret PH (1958), Bohor I (1962), Persepolis (1971), and many of his pieces for traditional instruments

György Ligeti's Clocks and Clouds (1972–3)

La Monte Young's The Well Tuned Piano

Bernard Parmegiani's De natura sonorum (1975)Clouds are created and used often in granular synthesis. Musical clouds exist on the "meso" or formal time scale. Clouds allow for the interpenetration of sound masses first described by Edgard Varèse including smooth mutation (through crossfade), disintegration, and coalescence.Curtis Roads suggests a taxonomy of cloud morphology based on atmospheric clouds: cumulus, stratocumulus, stratus, nimbostratus, and cirrus; as well as nebulae: dark or glowing, amorphus or ring-shaped, and constantly evolving.

Concatenative synthesis

Concatenative synthesis is a technique for synthesising sounds by concatenating short samples of recorded sound (called units). The duration of the units is not strictly defined and may vary according to the implementation, roughly in the range of 10 milliseconds up to 1 second. It is used in speech synthesis and music sound synthesis to generate user-specified sequences of sound from a database built from recordings of other sequences.

In contrast to granular synthesis, concatenative synthesis is driven by an analysis of the source sound, in order to identify the units that

best match the specified criterion.

Daniel Menche

Daniel Menche (born December 4, 1969) is an American experimental musician and multidisciplinary artist from Portland, Oregon. Since 1989 he has recorded many albums that are categorized as electro-acoustic, noise music, dark ambient music, abstract, avant-garde, experimental, field recordings, drone, minimalist music, percussion and soundtrack film music.

His music has a range minimalist quiet to densely loud. The sound sources of his music are wide ranging and diverse. They include manipulation of acoustic and electronic instruments, field recordings such as storms and nature sounds, feedback noise, electric Rhodes pianos, pipe organs, brass horns, granular synthesis, effects pedals, vocal choirs, prepared guitar and cellos. The core instrumentation is and continues to be far ranging. Recordings are created with analog and digital technology.

Graft (album)

Graft is an album by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow. The recording was inspired by the plant illustrations in the Voynich manuscript, and the design was inspired by a 1970s Jethro Tull bootleg called My God. The artwork for Hiranya was also inspired by a Jethro Tull album.

An unreleased work called "samidara1" was played during an event at ohrenhoch in Berlin, Merzbow described it as "using the method of several granular synthesis programs and random process of the composition.", and referenced Graft, Chabo, Jigokuhen, and Ouroboros as having the same concept.


A granule is a large particle or grain. It can refer to:

Granule (solar physics), a visible structure in the photosphere of the Sun arising from activity in the Sun's convective zone

Granule (cell biology), any of several submicroscopic structures, some with explicable origins, others noted only as cell type-specific features of unknown function

Azurophil granule, a structure characteristic of the azurophil eukarytotic cell type

Chromaffin granule, a structure characteristic of the chromophil eukaryotic cell type

Martian spherules, spherical granules of material found on the surface of the planet Mars

Granule (geology), a specified particle size of 2–4 millimetres (-1 to -2 on the φ scale)

Granule, in pharmaceutical terms, small particles gathered into a larger, permanent aggregate in which the original particles can still be identified

Granule (Oracle DBMS), a unit of contiguously allocated virtual memory

Granular synthesis of sound

Hans Kockelmans

Hans Kockelmans (born February 20, 1956) is a Dutch composer, teacher, and performer of Early Classical and electronic music.

He studied baroque lute with Mijndert Jape, as well as electronic music, and classical guitar at the Maastricht conservatory.

In his compositions he is a pioneer of granular synthesis. His electronic music as well as his acoustic work frequently refers to medieval themes. He composes for such unusual instruments as Phantastron.He has collaborated with Roman Turovsky on a number of experimental compositions involving lute and torban.Hans is a nephew of Dutch composer Gerard Kockelmans. He lives in Maastricht and is active in an organization of composers in his region, Dutch Limburg.

Jigokuhen (album)

Jigokuhen is an LP by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow. It is the 15th and final volume of the Japanese Birds series, but is a stand-alone release. The title Jigokuhen (地獄HEN, Hell hen) is a pun on the title of the book and film Jigokuhen (地獄変, Hell Screen).

The LP was first announced on the label's Twitter in December 2009. It was intended to be released in January 2011 to commemorate the second and first anniversaries of the releases of the first and second volumes of the 13 Japanese Birds series, but due to pressing errors it was not released until March. The first 100 copies ordered from Important are on red vinyl.An unreleased work called "samidara1" was played during an event at ohrenhoch in Berlin, Merzbow described it as "using the method of several granular synthesis programs and random process of the composition.", and referenced Graft, Chabo, Jigokuhen, and Ouroboros as having the same concept.Also released by the label on the same day was Alchemic Heart by Vampillia, which Merzbow contributes mixing and arranging on one track.

Kamadhenu (album)

Kamadhenu is an album by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow. It is the first volume of the Merzcow trilogy, inspired by cattle veneration in Hinduism. The theme was suggested by the owner of the label, who visited the Care for Cows charity in Vrindavan, India, which takes care of abandoned cattle. The music is intended to be "warm and organic", and was made using granular synthesis, oscillators, and tone generators.The album is named after Kamadhenu, a Hindu goddess who is the mother of all cows and a "cow of plenty". "Churning of the Cosmic Milk Ocean" refers to Samudra manthan.

Merzcow was originally announced as a double LP by Merzbow, but it then became a CD trilogy. Kamadhenu was followed by Surabhi. Goloka was announced as the final part of the trilogy, but wasn't released due to the label becoming inactive. Goloka was later included as part of the album Gensho in 2016. A new album called Gomata was released by Hypnagogia in February 2017.

Kurt Hentschlager

Kurt Hentschlager, or Hentschläger (born in Linz, Austria, in 1960) is a New York-based Austrian artist who creates audiovisual installations and performances. Between 1992 and 2003, he worked in a duo called Granular-Synthesis.

Ouroboros (Merzbow album)

Ouroboros is an album by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow. It is named after the Ouroboros, a symbol depicting a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail and forming a circle, and is dedicated to snakes.The album is presented in a handmade eight-panel sleeve that can be rolled end-to-end to create an ouroboros. It is limited to 500 copies. The painting is an homage to Le Serpent by Ernst Fuchs.

An unreleased work called "samidara1" was played during an event at ohrenhoch in Berlin, Merzbow described it as "using the method of several granular synthesis programs and random process of the composition.", and referenced Graft, Chabo, Jigokuhen, and Ouroboros as having the same concept.


Samidara is an album by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow, released as both an LP and a cassette. It was made available for pre-order on December 5, 2012, but didn't start shipping until July 2013.An unreleased work called "samidara1" was played during an event at ohrenhoch in Berlin, Merzbow described it as "using the method of several granular synthesis programs and random process of the composition.", and referenced Graft, Chabo, Jigokuhen, and Ouroboros as having the same concept."Gran 1" was posted on the Merzbow SoundCloud on January 26, 2012. The entire album was posted to SoundCloud on October 13, 2013.

Sound collage

In music, montage (literally "putting together") or sound collage ("gluing together") is a technique where newly branded sound objects or compositions, including songs, are created from collage, also known as montage. This is often done through the use of sampling, while some playable sound collages were produced by gluing together sectors of different vinyl records. In any case, it may be achieved through the use of previous sound recordings or musical scores. Like its visual cousin, the collage work may have a completely different effect than that of the component parts, even if the original parts are completely recognizable or from only one source.

Stutter edit

The stutter edit is an audio software VST plugin, implementing forms of granular synthesis, sample retrigger, and various effects to create a certain audible manipulation of the sound run through it, in which fragments of audio are repeated in rhythmic intervals. "In plain English, a stutter edit contains a single segment of audio repeated a number of times, giving a performance a decidedly digital flavor." Stutter edits not only occur as the common 16th note repetition, but also as 64th notes and beyond. Stutter edits can go beyond 2,048th notes and can be measured in milliseconds. Above a certain point, these repetitions transition from rhythmic to tonal frequencies, making musical notes out of the repeated audio. These extremely short, fast groups of notes are often placed into the spacing of an eighth or sixteenth note in an otherwise “normal” bar, creating rhythmic accenting and patterns that call attention to a particular section. These patterns can be placed at the beginning of a bar, or towards the end for a more syncopated sound. One example is in the second verse of "Drop It Like It's Hot", Snoop mentions a DJ followed by a stutter edit and turntable scratch in reply.

'Stutter' edits, which are commonly used in a variety of pop music, including dance music and hip-hop, slice and dice clips into pieces and then reassemble them in a different order.

While electronic musician Brian Transeau developed the specific plugin, coined the phrase, and later released it as a standalone plug-in, various forms of this type of editing have been utilized by composers like Aphex Twin, Xanopticon and older modern classical composers for decades. The majority of stutter edits were created through deliberate manual editing techniques rather than automated processes such as the eponymous plug-in. The audio plugin is named "Stutter Edit" and was co-released by iZotope and Sonik Architects.

Surabhi (album)

Surabhi is an album by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow. It is the second volume of the Merzcow trilogy, inspired by cattle veneration in Hinduism. The theme was suggested by the owner of the label, who visited the Care for Cows charity in Vrindavan, India, which takes care of abandoned cattle. The music is intended to be "warm and organic", and was made using granular synthesis, oscillators, and tone generators.Surabhi is another name of Kamadhenu, a Hindu goddess who is the mother of all cows and a "cow of plenty". The album photos were provided by Care for Cows. Vanamali and Balarama are the names of cattle at Care for Cows, the cover depicts Vanamali, and the rear Balarama. "Yamuna Snan" refers to bathing in the Yamuna river.Surabhi was preceded by Kamadhenu. The final volume, Gomata, was released in February 2017.

Symbolic Sound Corporation

Symbolic Sound Corporation was founded by Carla Scaletti and Kurt J. Hebel in 1989 as a spinoff of the CERL Sound Group at the Computer-based Education Research Laboratory of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Originally named Kymatics, the company was incorporated as Symbolic Sound Corporation in March 1990. Symbolic Sound's products are being used in sound design for music, film, advertising, television, speech and hearing research, computer games, and other virtual environments. The company is based in Bozeman, Montana.

Kyma, Symbolic Sound's main product, was one of the earliest commercially available examples of a graphical signal flow language for real time digital audio signal processing. The Kyma Sound design language, based on Smalltalk, continues to evolve and runs on several generations of DSP processing units.

The company has developed and commercialized several audio processing and synthesis techniques, including real time spectral analysis and additive resynthesis, audio morphing, aggregate synthesis, granular synthesis, and Tau synthesis. They have also developed algorithms for partitioning a signal flow graph to run on multiple parallel processors and multiple devices in real time.

Ulf Langheinrich

Ulf Langheinrich (1960, Wolfen, Germany) is a visual artist and composer.

His work is mainly concerned with non-narrative environments and performances focusing on a specific approach to time, space and body. Since 2016 he is the Artistic Director of the International Festival for computer based art CYNETART in Dresden, Germany.

Uzu Me Ku

Uzu Me Ku is an album by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow. It features the Koto, a traditional Japanese instrument, "manipulated through granular synthesis by digital and analogue electronics devices." According to Masami Akita, "Uzume Hikoyuzu" means "spiral generating" and "Itsu Akitsu" means "generating of particles". The album photos were taken at the Nagasawa Purification Plant in Kawasaki, Japan, which was designed by Mamoru Yamada (who also designed the Nippon Budokan).The album was announced in January 2012. On January 28, Merzbow posted a sample mix from the track "Itsu Akitsu" on his SoundCloud page. It was originally scheduled to be released on May 30, but due to problems at the pressing plant it was not released until August.

Gman//HJYUGTF2 is from the same sessions.

Williams Mix

Williams Mix (1951–1953) is a 4'15" electronic composition by John Cage for eight simultaneously played independent quarter-inch magnetic tapes. The first octophonic music, the piece was created by Cage with the assistance of Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and David Tudor, using a large number of tape sound sources and a paper score he created for the construction. "Presignifying the development of algorithmic composition, granular synthesis and sound diffusion," it was the third of five pieces completed in the Project for Music for Magnetic Tape (1951–1954), funded by dedicatee architect Paul Williams.The material, recorded by Louis and Bebe Barron, was organized in six categories: city, country, electronic, manually produced, wind, and "small" sounds; " I Ching manipulations, producing constant jumps from one sound to another or buzzing, scrambled textures of up to sixteen simultaneous layers." The 193-page score, "a full-size drawing of the tape fragments, which served as a 'score' for the splicing," is described by Cage as similar to "a dressmaker's pattern – it literally shows where the tape shall be cut, and you lay the tape on the score itself." Thus, like a recipe, the piece may be recreated using different tapes and the score.

The work was premiered at the 25th Year Retrospective Concert Of The Music Of John Cage on May 15, 1958, and was recorded by Columbia Records producer George Avakian and issued by him on a three-LP set with a booklet including extensive notes and illustrations of scores.

Larry Austin later created a computer program, the "Williams (re)Mix(er)", based on an analysis of ""Williams Mix"", which could "yield ever-new Williams Mix scores." With this software, Austin created Williams (re)Mix[ed] (1997–2000), an octophonic variation of Williams Mix using different sound sources.In 2012, Tom Erbe became the first person to recreate "Williams Mix" from the original score, entering each tape edit from the 193 page score into the computer, and creating performance software carefully following Cage's notes. Erbe's debut performance of "Williams Mix" was on Cage's 100th birthday, September 5, 2012, at Fresh Sound in San Diego. Erbe also created a version of "Williams Mix" for clipping.'s 2014 album CLPPNG, using clipping. samples to re-record the work according to the original instructions.

Sample-based or Sampler
Physical modelling
Analog synthesizer
Digital synthesizer

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