How to use Arturia’s Pigments

Arturia is a digital audio software company that develops top-notch music software and hardware for musicians at all levels.

They boldly venture into new territory with Pigments, their immensely powerful original synthesizer that combines wavetable and virtual analog synthesis. This feature guide will overview some of the essential components you’ll want to be aware of to get the most out of the synth.

Overview

If you don’t have much interest in sound design, Pigments features a wide selection of neatly tagged presets that you can rely on to instantly get some great sounds. However, if you’re looking to understand the nuts-and-bolts of Pigments, these presets might feel a little overwhelming at first, since many of them feature a ton of complex settings and moving parts. If you want to get a clear understanding of what each parameter is doing, the Default preset might be a good starting point, which you can find by going to ALL TYPES → Template → Default.

This preset starts you off with the simplest of all sounds – a sine wave. To design a sound from scratch (or to edit a more complex preset), there are three main tabs that you’ll need to be aware of: Synth, FX, and Seq. Let’s take a look at each in more detail.

The Synth tab

This tab is where you’ll be doing what often lies at the core of sound design: synthesis. As mentioned earlier, a central aspect that gives Pigments its unique character is its combination of wavetable and virtual analog synthesis. The plugin makes this possible by allowing you to create a blend between two synthesis engines, labeled Engine 1 and Engine 2. In the Default preset, only Engine 1 will be turned on. Activate Engine 2 and you’ll hear that the wavetable-generated sine wave is now blended with a virtual analog saw wave. That in itself might not sound particularly revolutionary, but there are a host of parameters you can manipulate in each engine to get some more nuanced and intricate timbres.

The wavetable engine
You can customize the wavetable synth by either importing your own wavetable or working off of one of the many available presets (which span everything from Gentle Additives to Clownesque). You can also adjust parameters such as FREQUENCY MODULATION, PHASE DISTORTION, WAVEFOLDING, and more to fine-tune your sound.

The analog engine
In the analog engine, you can select a waveform with OSC 1 (sine, triangle, saw, or square), apply some noise with OSC 2 (red, white, blue, or something in between), and modulate it with a separate signal with OSC 3.

Concoct a perfect blend by using the Volume knobs on the OUTPUT section of the engines. You can also change the synthesis types of both engines, if you wish to use two wavetable synths or two virtual analog synths.

Filters
The other parameter in the OUTPUT section is the Filter Mix knob. There are two filters in Pigments that each synth engine can be sent to (labeled F1 and F2):

The filters are located immediately to the right of the synth engines, and offer the best of Arturia’s acclaimed processing modules:

There are eight unique filter types that you can pick from, some of which are models of famous analog synth filters:

…and each filter type has its own selection of modes, with additional parameters you can tweak to meet your specific needs:

The filters are particularly great when modulated, since this generates interesting changes in the frequency content of your synth.

Modulation
You can design a dynamic, evolving sound with Pigments by modulating essentially any parameter in essentially any way you can imagine. The synth offers two main methods for modulation.

The first method is to hover over any parameter’s rotary knob and hit the plus sign that appears:

Then, dial in any amount of a wide array of possible modulation sources, ranging LFOs and envelopes to custom functions and binary waveforms, via this horizontal bar:

You’ll begin to see the the knob you selected move in sync with any modulation source(s) you dialed in. Furthermore, you can edit any of the modulation sources to get your knobs moving just right.

The second method is to start with the modulation source and work towards the parameters that you want to modulate. To do this, click on any modulation source from the same horizontal menu we looked at earlier. From there, click on any parameters you wish to modulate, and you’ll see them get highlighted in the same color as the source. Then, simply drag along the selected rotary knob(s) to create a custom contour.

This method is particularly useful if you want to efficiently target a bunch of parameters with a single modulation source. By hovering over any source afterwards, you can easily view all the parameters that it’s modulating.

Pro Tip: The four macro controls can be used to accomplish a different but related goal, allowing you to group and modulate multiple parameters with a single knob. They’re great for creating dramatic effects, and you can rename them to help you remember their function – you’ll see macros heavily used across many presets.

The FX tab

Once you’ve designed your sound, you can sweeten it with the many effects available in this tab. There are three FX busses, and each can load up to three of the following thirteen effects:

Pigments also provides flexible INSERT and SEND options, which you can access via the rightmost sections:

Routing can be re-configured so that Bus A runs into Bus B, Bus B runs into Bus A, or the two busses run in parallel.

Pro Tip: A cool trick that’s worth trying out is modulating the Send knob. Depending on the modulation source you use, this can allow you to have your effects beat energetically, fade in as a note sustains, etc.

The Seq tab

The third and final tab is the Seq tab, which features a sequencer that allows you to create pulsating arpeggios and sequences. It syncs to the tempo you set in your DAW by default, but it can also be set to run at its own speed in the RATE section.

The sequencer has individual lanes for OCTAVE, VELOCITY, TRIGGER PROBABILITY, GATE LENGTH, and SLIDE – while many of these are customary across most sequencers, TRIGGER PROBABILITY in particular is a pretty unique feature that allows you to randomize the chances of certain step values being activated. This parameter helps make your pattern a little more variable and a little less predictable.

The POLYRHYTHM section is another useful tool for adding fluctuations and complexity to your pattern. By activating the PolyR button, you’ll be able to set a different step size for each individual line by dragging the gray vertical bars (located after the 16th step by default).

Go paint some sonic colors

Though we’ve now explored a handful of the key features in Pigments, believe it or not, we’ve only scratched the surface; the synth contains so many sections and parameters that it would be almost impossible to go through them all. Fortunately, its layout and workflow are highly intuitive once you get the hang of them, so you won’t be worrying about any features that aren’t relevant to your creative aims in any given moment.

Hopefully this feature guide helps you get started with Arturia’s Pigments – if you have a question, leave it in the comments below.

March 5, 2019

Harrison Shimazu Harrison Shimazu is an editor of the Splice blog and a composer for video games and film.