Percussor is a Max For Live percussion generator. It is the accumulation of far too much thinking, and a stubborn willingness to do something right, and do it myself.

Percussion synthesis has been my longest-standing frustration in electronic music production. Very few synths are adequately designed for it, and what specialist synths are available I’ve found have tended to be either limited in their feature set, or a variation of the classic, however rudimentary x0x-series drum machines. With this in mind I’ve had a few attempts at creating specialist devices in Reaktor, but with limited programming knowledge, this never really went anywhere meaningful.

As a Live user however, Max For Live is a thing, and Max has subsequently become the language in which I’ve attempted to develop, to my exact requirements and needs, a device specialised in laying down the most fundamental parts of what makes music move; percussion in all it’s forms.

Design & Feature Requirements

Percussors primary purpose is to work as a flexible percussion synthesizer within Lives Drum Racks, and be capable of quickly generating any percussive element, using fundamental synthesis techniques, to a high degree of accuracy and quality.

As most popular and common synthesizers are not well designed for percussive tone generation, the device requires most of its components to be designed as being bespoke from the outset. Each stage requires feature conventions to be re-thought, opening up the possibility for best case scenario approaches.

As I have wishes for the device to be playable using a variety of controllers and electronic drum kits, it stands to reason that the device must be capable of responding well to highly dynamic and and expressive performance input. A firm goal is for it to be capable of representing each and every component of a standard drum kit, and more.

Components & Modules

Percussors signal generators are designed to be highly reminiscent of Buchlas Complex Oscillator modular synthesis module, as the ‘West Coast’ approach to synthesis is well suited to this task. It is effectively an FM/PM operator generating a carrier signal, and a separate modulator signal with which to vary, spice, and mangle the carrier wave. 

Additionally, a noise source, and a sample player are necessary additions, both of which hold the potential to contain a variety of clever features to maximise their flexibility.

As is the case with percussion sound design, the devices envelopes have to be snappy and specialised, and capable of being precisely tuned in a multitude of ways.

Of course, the device will also feature LFO’s, and potentially other modulation sources.

These requirements in themselves are fairly simple, however expanded upon they make for a fairly daunting task, requiring a relatively novice programmer to implement:

  • 2 x complex oscillators
  • 1 x flexible noise generator
  • 1 x granular capable sampler
  • 4 x percussive amplitude envelope generators (PAEG’s)
  • 4 x percussive pitch envelope generators (PPEG’s)
  • Flexible EQ and filter modules
  • A flexible modulation system
  • An intuitive GUI

Not a big list, but broken down it’s quite the workload, and that’s without some of the ‘what-if?’ features that I’m sensibly leaving for a prospective version 2.0.

Present Status

At present, Percussor is very much still a work-in-progress. It works, and is showing tremendous promise,  but it has proven every bit as complex as I imagined it would, and is taking its time in taking form. Enough of it has come together though to showcase some its visual elements, along with some of the requirements I set out in creating it.

I am hopeful that I will have the device finished by the end of 2020, however depending upon the game of life and its many variables, this is highly flexible. Its development is not presently a priority, however I am working towards life conditions that will permit me to re-prioritise it.

Until then, here are a few developmental screenshots, which should give an idea as to how it will likely end up looking both above, and under the hood.