Article from Issue 263/2022

This month Graham looks at Cecilia 5, chezmoi, Viddy, EmuDeck, Paperless-ngx, MegaGlest, and more!

Ear bender

Cecilia 5

We've looked at esoteric audio manipulation software in the past, but there has been nothing to compare with Cecilia. It's like a concrete bunker for sound exploration with a user interface designed for a nuclear power station. It's probably capable of emulating the sound of a nuclear meltdown, too. In fact, one of its best uses is to generate sound effects, although it's equally capable of producing musical or soothing sounds. Cecilia is a desktop application designed for audio manipulation and, at a basic level, it loads a sound and allows you to process that sound with various modules. There are dozens of modules, and they vary hugely in what they do. Some aren't too destructive and will add echo, create 3D space, or blend two sounds together. Other modules add tens of parameters to the user interface and let you mangle sound beyond all natural limitations. It's an incredible array of sound potential, and it's so purely driven by DSP experimentation that it's unlike any other application we can think of. Every parameter, in whatever module you choose, can be changed over time with a line or curve in the main panel. Curves can be as simple or as complicated as you need them to be, and there are three further options for generating curves mathematically. These let you generate a sine or square waveform, or a randomly distributed pattern, all of which can then be further smoothed or warped with options from another menu.

Curves are central to Cecilia, and you can create a curve for almost anything you see on the screen, including loop lengths and pitch, and any parameters from the post-processing effects section listed in a second tab on the left. This section hides an excellent reverb effect and harmonizer, alongside a gate, chorus, and phaser effects, as well as many others. You can even adjust the FFT size for the output processing and generate more than one output at a time. Each output can be tuned to a specific chord or interval.

All of this might sound complicated, but you don't need to know what you're doing to create something useful. Cecilia is all about experimentation, and you can always press Play at any point to hear the results of your tinkering.

The sound you hear as the output can bear little resemblance to the sounds you feed into Cecilia. You often end up with long, reverb-soaked drones or atonal granular noise. But with judicious tweaking and careful curve editing, you can also generate beautiful shimmery pads and synthesized textures that could not be easily generated by anything else. Despite the initial complexity, the user interface is also easy to understand. The real struggle is in trying not to add one more curve, parameter change, or effect and to try and keep things minimal. In this way, you can keep some of the character of the sounds you start with, while generating something new at the same time, though this always depends on the module you've chosen in the beginning. Whether you're an avant-garde musician, a sound effect artist, an audio geek, or just a Linux user wanting some new notification sounds, Cecilia will always generate something utterly unique. And it's marvelous.

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1. Input and output: Cecilia takes your files and recordings as a source and generates a new output with the record button. 2. Time stretch: Set a length for the output and your audio will be stretched or shrunk to fit. 3. Modules: The main sound processing is dependent on which of the many modules is selected. 4. Curves: Any parameter in Cecilia can be automated with a curve. 5. Curve generators: Curves can be drawn manually or generated from function processors. 6. Module parameters: This is a simple example, but more complex modules have dozens of automatable parameters. 7. Granular effects: All sounds can be distorted with FFT and tone processing. 8. Effects: Finally, send your sounds through some gorgeous audio effects.

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