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SoundonSound Review: Image Line Ogun

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Image Line describe Ogun’s GUI (Graphical User Interface) as “space-saving”, which is fair enough, although ‘cramped’ would be another way of putting it. The largely grey-on-grey colour scheme is not unattractive, but is quite low-contrast, which is not an aid to visibility. The GUI controls are small, some to the point where they can be quite fiddly to manipulate with an ordinary laptop touchpad.
The Ogun window is divided into thirds. The top third contains master pitch and volume controls, an on-screen “modulation square”, and a patch information display. Beneath are the main synthesis controls. A graphical envelope editor is used to assign modulation sources, or Articulation Parts, to parameters. The bottom third is given over to Ogun’s on-board effects, which include chorus, delay and reverb.
Ogun represents something of a departure from conventional synthesizer designs. Programming it from scratch can be a challenge, and sadly the help file isn’t all that helpful. Two “seed values” — numbers between 0 and 9999 — are specified per preset, providing “two independent weightings for the harmonic spectra”. Exactly how these numbers influence the process is not made clear, although adjusting them can alter the sound significantly. The Rich parameter determines the total number of harmonics generated (between one and 32,767), and hence the ‘richness’ of the sound. Further parameters control the balance between the harmonic content generated from the two seed values, and how variable EQ is applied to further shape that content.
Although it’s algorithmically very different (and technologically a lot more sophisticated), what Ogun reminds me of more than anything is an elderly Yamaha four-operator FM synth I used to own. Its user interface is awkward and obscure, with parameter labels that are either unfamiliar, abbreviated, or both (‘Pre’, ‘Dec’, ‘Full’, ‘Phs’, and so on). Adjusting these parameters often produces unexpected results, and attempting to steer the synth in any particular direction can be frustrating, as it sometimes seems to want to veer off on its own, for reasons that aren’t clear.
Yet, for all that, the surprises are often pleasant ones. Ogun is capable of coughing up novel, attention-grabbing noises unlike anything a more conventional synthesizer might be expected to produce. Some of the presets are excellent, and plenty of fun can be had by picking one as a starting point and just randomly tweaking parameters to see where you end up. Lots of metallic, percussive, bell-like sounds are available, but eerie, floating pads and drones are possible too, along with scratchy, clunky, textural glitches of various kinds. Further possibilities are suggested by Ogun’s analysis and resynthesis functions: WAV files can be dragged and dropped onto the instrument’s GUI, and analysed to produce new harmonic spectra, to serve as starting points.
Given time, it would be possible to become better acquainted with Ogun’s inner workings, and begin programming it more deliberately. However, I wonder how many users will have the patience. Personally, I suspect I wouldn’t bother. Given its reasonable price, I’d be happy to approach Ogun much as I did my old Yamaha: with only a limited grasp of its inner workings, but in the knowledge that a bit of trial-and-error experimentation might well result in something interesting.
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