Pigments from Arturia is a new software synth that is their own original creation, rather than an emulation of a vintage synth. Is it the best sounding synth ever? I think it sounds pretty good but I’ll leave that decision up to you. What I think they really did well here though, is make a synth that’s an extremely useful tool for learning synthesis, for a few reasons.
#1: Arturia’s Demo Policy
The first reason Pigments is a good learning tool isn’t actually unique to it, but is true about all of Arturia’s software synths and that’s their demo policy. You can download Pigments and use all of its features free, check out all its presets for as long as you like. The only thing you can’t do is save presets you make, and once 20 minutes are up, it no longer makes sounds, but if you shut it down and open it up again – something that takes about 5 seconds – you’re back up and running for another 20 minutes.
Other companies will degrade the quality of the audio, introduce noise every minute or so, or just shut down the plugin after a few days, which is a big turnoff – at least for me.
So, for starters it’s free to try, which means you can take your time learning. Now that of course isn’t enough… which brings me to the second reason Pigments is a great learning tool…
#2: Modulation Oscilloscopes & Destination cues
In most synths – both virtual and real, the mod matrix can be quite an unpleasant place. Just the name alone is enough to scare off a beginner. Most synths are really good at giving access to the easy stuff, like the waveform of an oscillator or the shape of a filter – but when it comes to the mod matrix – where the really interesting things happen – things start falling apart into a boring table with a list of sources and destinations, or a sub menu somewhere.
If you’ve seen this channel before you know how important I think an oscilloscope is as a learning tool. What Pigments does really well is its center-strip row of little oscilloscopes – for every single modulation source in the synth. If there’s any motion going on, it’s going to be represented in this row.
You can also drill down, view and edit the individual mod sources on the bottom half of the screen and see little animated dots track envelopes and LFOs – similar to the way modulations are shown in synths like Serum, but the center strip is a truly unique way of showing the behavior of each and every one of the 23 mod sources at one time.
However, seeing what the mod-sources are doing is only one half of the puzzle – the next user interface challenge seeing what’s connected to what.
You can get a glimpse of what a mod source is connected to by hovering over its name. Little color coordinated dots will appear on the tab the contains the element and the destination knob will glow with the modulation range.
On the flipside, if you want to know what’s modulating a parameter, click on the little plus that appears when you hover over the top right portion of the knob and the center strip will show you which sources are impacting it.
Finally, if you want to see, edit or create your own modulations, you can do it either from the source or the destination.
#3: The whole kit and caboodle
The third thing that makes Pigments a great learning tool is the sheer amount of synthesis engines and tools you have access to. On the engine side are both wavetable and virtual analog engines – you have two engine slots and either slot can use either engine.
The virtual analog engine has three oscillators and supports oscillator sync and FM, as well as a really nifty customizable quantization feature on the coarse tuning destination. I’d certainly like to see more of that in synths – this is the kind of thing you typically need a modular synth for.
The wavetable engine also has a ton of stuff to experiment with including FM, phase modulation, wave folding and even a nice chord mode for its unison feature.
On the filter side, Arturia threw in their Moog, Matrix and SEM filter emulations along with implementations of comb and formant filters – things you don’t see every day, and which are extremely useful tools to have in your synthesis palette. You have two filter slots you can fill in with your choice of filter and routing options.
Pigments also has an extensive FX section with multiple effect types, as well as an arpeggiator and sequencer with polyrhythmic, or polymetric capabilities and probability conditions, so there’s quite a lot to explore here.
#4: Mod source variety
The fourth thing I really like about Pigments is the sheer amount and variety of mod sources, and the attention that non-typical mod sources get.
On the most prime screen real estate on screen – the center strip – keyboard expression and randomness get more space than the traditional envelopes and LFOs. On most synths these features are buried in a menu or secondary tab somewhere.
You’ve got three sources of randomness – which include a Turing machine, which is a random engine that can quickly create random, repeating but slightly adjusting loops, a sample and hold source with rise and fall smoothing options.
The last modulation source are the four macro knobs, which is a nice segway into the last reason I think Pigments is a great tool for learning about synthesis, and that’s its beginner tools.
#5: Beginner tools
With so many possible options in Pigments, it might get quite overwhelming, but there are a few beginner tools that make getting into it a little bit easier.
The first tool is step-by-step tutorials that give you a quick lay of the land and explain how link mod sources to destinations
The second tool is a little yellow lightbulb icon. Hovering over it tells you a bit about the preset and the person that made it, including specific parameters they thought would be interesting to play with.
And then the third great beginners’ tool are the four macro knobs, which are labelled on a per preset basis and can move multiple parameters together. These too are another great tool to get to know what the sound designer of a preset had in mind when creating it.
So that’s pretty much it for Pigments – the demo is free, it has an exceptional user interface and a lot of the presets are very unique. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more modulation scopes in the future…