The physical modeling ninjas

Started in 1998, Applied Acoustics is a Montreal based company that designs some of the sweetest sounding software instruments on the market. The magic ingredient in their products is the use of physical modeling for sound generation. Where other styles of synthesis first generate a signal and then use various ways to modify it, physical modeling recreates the physical interactions within a real instrument to produce its sound. So, if you want to reproduce a violin for instance, you represent the parts of a violin with different algorithms that then interact based on the midi information they receive. While not a new concept, it was only recently that personal computers were able to handle all the math required for the instruments to be used in real-time.

Product line

Tassman modular synth
Their original piece of software was the Tassman modular synth, which was the first commercial software capable of real-time physical modeling. It is a beast. In its current iteration it recreates 50 different synthesizers and, most amazingly, allows you to mix and match different parts of them! Unreal. This is the kind of synthesizer that can actually reduce your musical output because you start to geek out on all the possibilities. Of course, the result of this geeking out can be some pretty cool shit. Add on the fact that you can route sound through it and use it as an effects processor and you have the best synth on the planet. For real.

Strum Electric and Strum Acoustic.
Here is where the physical modeling is really put to the test. The main purpose of these two programs is to recreate rhythm guitar. Basically, you use a midi keyboard to play in chords, and it plays your chords as though a guitar was strumming. Palm muting, the speed of the pick or fingers going across the string per strum, where the pickups are placed, and much more are all easily modified. These two programs definitely perform much better than you would expect, considering how monumental a task it is, but they are not perfect. To create a human sounding performance does require some mouse editing to add the natural variations in sound that a guitar produces. Even then it can't really reproduce all the dynamics of a guitar player. This being said, if it is buried in a track with other instruments, or being used in a very straightforward way, it will trick most people. For a keyboardist who wants to arrange for guitar, it is perfect.

String Studio
I love this program. It recreates such warm and natural sounding basses. The harps and violins are not really there yet but the basses really stand out. While there is some room for improvement on the violins, I was able to make an erhu that could make even the most hardened warrior weep at the beautiful sorrow of the world.

Lounge Lizard
The electric pianos made by this program sound incredibly close to the real thing. And because you are able to change so many of the parameters used in generating the sounds, you can actually make instruments that sound more beautiful than a Rhodes or Wurlitzer. If you are looking for something that can recreate those two gorgeous instruments there are no samples or synths out there that even come close to Applied Acoustics' Lounge Lizard.

So ya

Obviously I am a big fan of this company. Indeed, the String Studio and Lounge Lizard both load up automatically when I open up Digital Performer. There is room for improvement on making more realistic bowed instruments, but they are already pretty close. That being said, these instruments are not made solely to recreate real instruments anyway, but to make sounds that, even when they are clearly artificial, have that dynamic, natural, and nuanced sound that real instruments offer.

Sources:

Everyday use.
http://www.applied-acoustics.com

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