Vol. 25 Issue 3 Reviews
Cycling ’74, 1186 Folsom, San Francisco, California 94103, USA; telephone (+1) 415-621-5743; fax (+1) 415-621-6563; electronic mail info@cycling74.com; World Wide Web www.cycling74.com

Reviewed by James Bohn
North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, USA

Cycling ‘74’s Pluggo software processing suite (MacOS, VST format) offers 74 plug-ins for US$ 74. How can you possibly go wrong? You can’t. Even if you end up only using one of them, you still have a bargain on your hands.

Pluggo was created by David Zicarelli, one of the creators of Max. In spite of its name, though, Pluggo is more than just a set of plug-ins. When paired with Max/MSP, the software allows you to write your own VST plug-ins, thus engendering Pluggo’s maxim: “the never ending plug-in”.

I’ve been using Pluggo for nearly a year in a multi-user environment (Studio A at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth). Originally, the suite was installed on a G3 desktop computer, using Digital Performer 2.4 and AudioDesk 1.01 as the host applications. Recently, I installed it on a G4 computer (OS 9.0.4, 256 MB RAM), and upgraded to Digital Performer 2.7. The only technical problem I’ve had thus far is that occasionally I will have to change the type/creator data for the Plug-ins of the Month that I have downloaded from Cycling ‘74’s Web site (www.cycling74.com). Even then, some of these downloaded items have still crashed my computer. You get what you pay for. Other than that, Pluggo has been extremely reliable. An acquaintance who uses it on a Mac G3 PowerBook computer (333 MHz) with Logic Augio Platinum also reported no technical problems.

The latest release (version 2.1) offers automation for Cubase, Logic, and Digital Performer 2.7. Pluggo comes with a Plug-in Manager, which is extremely helpful if you’re the type who doesn’t like huge menus that are longer than the height of the screen. If you leave all 74 plug-ins installed, it can be awkward selecting ones near the middle of the list.

Due to Pluggo’s close association with Max/MSP, many of the plug-ins featured in the set are a bit eccentric. The package features a number of granular synthesis applications: Granular-to-Go, Pendulum, Rye, Shuffler, Slice-n-Dice, Stutterer, and Wheat. Most of these effects are pretty basic though, save for Granular-to-Go, Rye, and Wheat. In addition, two of the Plug-ins of the Month are granular based: Snow (created by Luke DuBois and Dan Trueman), and Squirrel Parade (which allows you to frequency modulate the grains).

There are two plug-ins that deal with Fast-Fourier Transform (FFT) processes. Convolver will allow you to work on the fly, rather than waiting long periods of time for your work to render in a non-real-time application such as SoundHack. By routing one channel of sound to the PluggoBus Send, you can convolve it with another channel of audio. Convolver reduces both audio signals FFT data, allowing the amplitude spectrum of the filtering sound to act as the frequency content of the source sound. This essentially yields a result that has harmonic components common to both sounds. In addition, Convolver allows you to select the weight of influence between the source and the filter sounds. The Spectral Filter allows you to alter the levels of a 1024-bin FFT analysis of recorded sound by simply drawing an image on the screen, allowing for extremely tight filtering. In addition, Spectre, a Plug-in of the Month, features similar processes, analyzing a sound in terms of energy levels in frequency bins. You can then set thresholds in order to only let through frequency components with energy levels that are above or below a certain level. You can also set envelope rates for signals that are allowed to pass through, or that are cut off.

Pluggo also features a number of ways in which signals can be distorted. These range from the simple to the complex. Degrader allows you to emulate the reduction of the sampling rate, the bit depth, or both, of a given sound. Monstercrunch is based on standard techniques used in most distortion guitar pedals. PluggoFuzz allows you to get fuzz-type distortion, just like the good old days. The Waveshaper allows you to draw a “transfer curve,” which determines how points on the original wave will be mapped onto a new waveform. Other distortion-type plug-ins include Average Injector, Feedback Network, Fragulator, Noyzckipper, and Ring Modulator. There are a couple of Plug-ins of the Month that also allow you to distort signals. Mayhem is actually a series of plug-ins containing Weaver, Rounder, Flipper, and Gravy. Waste Band separates a sound into three user-defined frequency bands, each of which can passed, muted, or overdriven as desired.

The pitch of an audio track can be altered through the use of several different Pluggo plug-ins. Are you yearning for a classic “electronic music” sound? Frequency Shift will bring you back to the 1960s, multiplying your audio signal by a sine tone with a user-defined shift frequency. Speed Shifter emulates two tape loops running at different rates, with different feedback levels. Producing bubbling-like sounds, Vibrato Cauldron features two filters that are modulated by random processes. A Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO) controls Warble, a plug-in that allows you to add vibrato, make your music sound like a warped record, or more extreme effects. Warpoon uses four chorus taps to create a cluster of sound around your original audio.

Pluggo offers several delay effects, as well. Comber utilizes a left and right comb filter, each of which is modulated. Designed like a step sequencer, Flange-o-tron allows for sixteen delay and feedback levels to be cycled through at a user-controlled tempo. Generic Effect can yield vibrato, chorusing, flanging, and other delay effects through the use of a modulated comb filter. Modeled after a Roland RE-201 tape delay system, Space Echo offers options that go beyond the limits of this classic delay system. Sixteen equally spaced delays are offered in Tapped Delay, each of which can be adjusted in terms of level and stereo placement. Very Long Delay offers up to 30 seconds of delay along with filtering and modulation. Pluggo even offers two reverberation plug-ins: Rough Reverb and Chamberverb.

There are also a number of delay effects included as Plug-ins of the Month. Chorus x2 allows you to modulate high frequencies and low frequencies independently of each other. Long Stereo Delay is very similar to Very Long Delay, but offers delay times up to one minute. TapNet features four tap delays which back into each other as well as themselves. Inspired by a song of Paul McCartney, Jet is a flanger plug-in which is very standard, but works nicely.

As if effects plug-ins were not enough, Pluggo offers three software synthesizers. Laverne is a subtractive synthesis instrument with two oscillators. For those who prefer additive synthesis, Sine Bank offers up to 32 sinusoidal oscillators. Based upon step sequencers, Synth features sawtooth and sine-tone oscillators and a noise generator.

My students have worked with a variety of Pluggo plug-ins. Two used the Phone Filter, which simulates hiss and dropouts. One student became interested in layering several exotic plug-ins one on top of another to create pad-type sounds. To this end, she used Nebula, Spectral Filter, and Raindrops. The Nebula plug-in alters the amplitude and phase of a sound to create swirling effects. Raindrops creates a network of narrow bandpass filters, thus creating momentary peaks that emulate the plug-in’s namesake.

Luke DuBois of the Freight Elevator Quartet (www.fe4.com) has not only written two Plug-ins of the Month (Mayhem and Snow), he also uses Pluggo in live performance situations. Brian Emrich, sound designer (for the movies Pi and Requiem for a Dream) and composer (under the pseudonym Psilonaut), used Pluggo’s Rough Reverb and Space Echo plug-ins in Requiem for a Dream.

The basic interface for Pluggo is pretty crude. It doesn’t allow you to type in values, you must use sliders or knobs, making it difficult to get specific values. Some of the parameters provide brief explanations when you do a mouse-over. Information on some plug-ins is nearly non-existent, unless you visit the Cycling ’74 Web site. Even then, explanations are pretty brief. If you end up using Pluggo, chances are you will probably adopt the ever-popular “mess around with it till you get something you like” paradigm. Due to the low price and the crude interface, one may be tempted not to take Pluggo too seriously. However, I feel that the 74 dollars I spent on this flexible program is the best studio purchase that I’ve made recently.