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Creating virtual instruments and sounds using physical descriptions

Modalys is IRCAM’s flagship physical model-based sound synthesis environment, used to create virtual instruments from elementary physical objects such as strings, plates, tubes, membranes, plectra, bows, or hammers.

It is also possible to create objects with more complex shapes out of 3D meshes, or using measurements, and Modalys does all the hard computational work for you, bringing them to life and making them sound.

By combining these various physical objects, astonishing, unique virtual instruments can then be shaped, and it is up to you to decide how to play them!

Max/MSP (Modalys for Max) or OpenMusic (Modalys Library) both offer some friendly environment to deal with the synthesis engine of Modalys, via an intuitive graphical interface.

Main Applications

  • Music & Composition: Avant-garde / Techno, combined with acoustic instruments
  • Sound Design: natural work on the quality of sound (metallic, wood, etc.)
  • Education: “modal theory” in pratice
  • Cinema & Video: virtual and hybrid sound design
  • Scientific Research & Development: comparison of theoretically determined and measured modes

Main Functions

At the heart of Modalys is an engine used to create virtual instruments using simple physical objects, measurements, or even 3D meshes. The user creates instruments and then decide how they should be played & controlled. To create a virtual instrument the user must define:

  • The objects that will be used to make the instrument (e.g. tube, string, membrane, plate, plectra, bow, hammer, etc.). These objects have standard settings that can be entirely customized if desired;
  • The access to the objects, i.e. the locations of the objects where interactions happen;
  • The connections that make possible to define the playing styles to be used (e.g. strike, blow, rub, etc.);
  • The controllers that let the user change the settings of a playing style in time and to play the instrument.

Additional Information for Product

Modalys for Max, chosen by many composers or sound designers, is Modalys embodied in Max/MSP real-time environment, and is used to graphically build sophisticated instruments from strings, plates, membranes, and tubes of virtually any kind of material (metal, wood, rubber, glass, etc.), size, and interactions: striking, pinching, rubbing. This user-friendly interface fives a control of Modalys directly in real-time. Modalys for Max requires Max/MSP 5 or higher (including 7) and is available for Mac OS X (10.6 or superior) and Windows (7 or superior).

Also, Modalys can be invoked from ModaLisp, a textual programming environment based on Lisp, and can be used to define the physical models in a more programming kind of way. In other words, the user writes and executes Lisp programs in order to obtain musical results. IRCAM’s OpenMusic music composition program, also using Lisp behind the hood, offers another interesting  graphic control over the models, for instance using curves or score fragments.