Two main pages
comprise Loom’s work area: the Morph and the Edit areas, with the
Master section accessible from either page. Next, you can set up to 512
partials (harmonic frequencies) per voice. The more partials you add,
the more complexity you can impart to the patch. That, of course, places
more demand on the CPU. Next is a readout of the number of partials
your notes are consuming. You can toggle the synchronization of partials
for each note on or off. On is basically oscillator sync, in which all
partials start at once; when set to off, partials play freely, which
generally latter imparts a cloudier sonic texture. Next is the Octave
setting, which is handy when I want to set up a playable range for my
MIDI guitar, fine-tune keyboard modulation, or explore the outer ranges
of the patch. You can set glide time by clicking and dragging in a small
bar to the right of the Octave setting. Therein lies a minor gripe:
Some of the controls would benefit from slightly higher contrast with
Next up are a save button, a patch selection area that
displays the current patch and opens to a hierarchical pull-down menu; a
patch randomizer; and a settings bar that (among other things) lets you
adjust pitch-bend range, save and load controller settings, and choose
Economy mode if your processor is getting hit hard.
The Patch Randomizer isn’t quite hit-or-miss—there isn’t
any selective randomization, but you can choose to simply randomize
parameters by holding the Shift key while clicking the button;
otherwise, parameters change, and the synth randomly swaps out modules.
The randomizing coupled with Loom’s formidable synthesis architecture is
occasionally capable of some truly exotic audio fireworks (listen to
Audio Clip 1 below). The ability to filter specific modules for
randomization would make for more consistently worthwhile results.
The Morph Page divides into two main areas: a Macro control area
and an X/Y pad. Either area can change your sound in radical ways. Macro
assignment names remain the same whatever patch you select, but in
reality—depending on the patch—and because of Loom’s modular
architecture, those macros can comprise a number of different modules.
Macros come in four main groups: Sound, Dynamics,
Modulation, and Master FX, each with a set of relevant knobs. For
instance, the Sound category has knobs labeled Character, Complexity,
Tone, Emphasis, and Contour. A positive twist of the character knob
altered the module that changed the relative volume of odd-to-even
harmonics, the damping of upper harmonics, and the gain of the EQ
module. Changing Punch in the Dynamics area altered the overall attack
time. In short, Macros are programming shortcuts. Generally, you can
observe any macro-based changes in modulation on the edit page, called
out in orange highlighting. If you want your new settings to be a
starting point for your next patch, you can hit the “Apply” button on
the right of the Macro section.
Morph X/Y Pad
At the lower left side of the page is the Morph X/Y Pad. Here, by
shift-clicking, you can embed the state of the macro settings at the
four corners of the window. Once you have done at least two corners, you
can drag back and forth between points and modulate macro settings.
With the Auto/Morph button engaged, it’s easy to add tempo-synced,
rhythmic animation to patches. Double-clicking at any point within the
axes provides a transitional segment between morph settings, and even
when synced, you can scale the transition time to taste. The pad is a
tremendous resource for animating patches (Audio Clip 2 below). A
large-size window to the pad’s right graphically portrays the frequency
changes as they dance to your tune (see image at left).
The Edit Page
One of the keys to making Loom’s additive synthesis engine more
approachable is that it presents frequency content as a whole, rather
than as a palette of individual sine waves with associated envelopes.
The conundrum for most synths of this kind is the creation of
non-harmonically related frequencies; Loom’s Edit page tackles this in a
novel way, although you may need to rely on your ear, rather than
calculating a particular index of values (see image below left).
The very first pair of modules: Spectral Distortion and
Spectral Modulation, are “hardwired” into Loom’s architecture, and
produce a raw waveform based on the number of harmonics you’ve specified
in the Master section. These two modules affect the level of
inharmonicity, and it’s easy to add bell-like, glassy, and metallic
artifacts ranging from subtle to very discordant. Spectral Modulation
lets you mediate and control the depth, speed, and starting time of
harmonic distortions with envelopes LFOs, and Control-Change messages.
MIDI learn is available to practically any parameter.
The default, initialized patch includes an Odd/Even
oscillator module. This reminds me of my old Oberheim Matrix-6, with a
knob that goes from a nasal pulse-wave sound at left to a sawtooth in
the center to a square wave at right. For additional choices, there’s a
pull-down menu of oscillator frequency templates including one that
mimics hard sync, another that emulates organ tones, and more. You
aren’t restricted to generating waveform templates from that slot; you
can choose from an interesting variety of objects, including filters,
time-based and rhythmic manipulations, mathematical functions, and even a
module to load audio files which are then used to create vocoder
effects. Suffice it to say that Loom provides a hefty and creative sound
For all its ease of use and its generous array of sound-shaping
tools, Loom’s documentation doesn’t quite do it justice. The PDF user
manual is barely a walk-through, with no details on the modules or how
they affect the sound. That task is left to the information buttons,
which in most cases (but not always), fill in the gaps. From the info
supplied, there’s often no way to tell (for instance) what modules are
tied to the macros. Some modules, such as the Tone and most of the
Dynamics macros, were obvious, but other than their names, there’s
little else to guide you. The Loom website links to a bundle of
third-party video tutorials you can download for $20, though it might
have been better to build that into the product price and simply have
the videos up there for free.
Loom provides tons of gosh-wow patches, and these can seed
plenty of creative synthesis adventures. There are a few emulative
patches of organs and harpsichords, but that’s hardly the point of this
synth. I was surprised to find quite a few emulations of analog-style
synthesizers, wobbles, and “super saw”-style, dance-oriented patches.
These sound great and are arguably what people browsing in a music store
want to hear, but Loom is capable of so much more that restricting
yourself to the factory patches is like taking the starship Enterprise
for a spin around Brooklyn. In any case, Loom is one of the most
innovative and exciting virtual instruments to emerge in some time.