Layering with Magma

In sound design, as in electroacoustic composition, we are constantly searching for inspiration. Having a specific timbre or sound object in your mind and wanting to share it with your listeners makes you resort to precise tools, which you have clear in your head and perhaps master. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to cultivate creativity and divergent thinking, so relying on tools that have their own character, on closed boxes that simply have to be used, in order to discover their mysteries and be given some unexpected jewels, is absolutely indispensable.

(what is) MAGMA

Magma is a tool conceived precisely in this way. As is the entire totem/ series to which it belongs. A simple plugin, on the surface, with a very intuitive use, but with deliberately creative outcomes that give character to the sound. At the root is the concept of some boutique guitar pedals, mysterious little boxes that have a will of their own, that fascinate, continuing to reinvent themselves as the music evolves in the head of the creator. Because what is missing, in the creative act, is often the spark, the unexpected, that saves you from boredom or the cosmic void.
Magma is a software that can be used both solo and with other colleagues, to give that special twist to sound that is always needed. It has many arrows in its bow. It can be used as a sustainer, sound warmer, micro-looper, granular engine and, if you let it loose, more and more. It warms up the sound, makes it crunchy, in a light way or in a decisive way, completely distorting it, in true noise and punk style. When you have Magma on your hands you actually think of sound as material to be sculpted, as a texture to be woven. You touch the sound and immediately find yourself experimenting, taking in the inspiration generated by this path. Because it’s a path that inevitably gives unexpected pleasant surprises.

Ambient-ish MAGMA

Let’s take a look at an occasion where we can hear this plugin very much at home. Layering is a technique that is widely used in the sphere of so-called ambient music, but which obviously also finds its way into many other contexts.

An example:

There are no correct or incorrect procedures ‘to layer’, however, at the basis of this methodology there are precise theoretical and practical foundations of sound treatment and obviously also of music theory, so if they are not applied correctly, some mistakes can be made, mistakes that can significantly change the result we wanted or expected.

In this example we’re talking about basic layering, i.e. the creation of a timbre, a synth of our own, which we want to play in a hypothetical track as a drone. Let’s use Ableton’s Live and start with any simple instrument from this DAW. At the moment, let’s focus on an overlay of three sounds, all generated by the same plugin, a I°-V° dyad with a doubling of the root note. In doing so, we can either pause in an undefined amodal place, greatly lowering the tension, a peculiarity of much ambient music; or, by inserting a further note, perhaps the third note, travel between major and minor modes.

To create a proper differentiation and movement of timbre, we add Magma, for example, on one of the channels handling the root note. We work with a low percentage of dry signal, just to give the contours of the original sound, while the high percentage wet signal will give a fill to the sound that will direct the timbre towards a new direction. Let the plugin work freely and it will surely surprise you. It should be remembered that when we go to build this voice, we are mixing sounds, so the fewer sounds I have to start experimenting with, the fewer phase and masking problems I will have to deal with, although of course it would be possible to overlay a very large number of sounds.

The digital Temperature pot will add distortion, warming the timbre and giving character and presence. We can add more temperature if we want and while in the first moments we can hear a pseudo-saturation, moving the knob again adds a definite distortion, while simultaneously lowering the value of the Memory gives even more movement to the sound, granularising it. Now we pay attention and listen to setting the length of the buffer recorded with the Size potentiometer and the amount of memory. Remaining within the 60% memory and 90ms recorded buffer, we can give our newborn timbre even more dynamism and, without even touching the eq section, we will have a great airy sound at our disposal, having thus constructed a distro-reverberator that will only act on one voice of our timbre. This part will be, at our pleasure, more or less audible but certainly very perceptible.

A separate discourse for this technique that we have investigated, even if only briefly, deserves the Freeze button. If pressed, perhaps even with the settings described above, the single voice on which you are working to build the timbre, will have an infinite sustain, a factor that will air the final result even more. With the freeze pressed the buffer will be frozen and it will be like having set the memory to 100%, but no fear! Magma is a CPU-extremely-friendly plugin: it won’t affect your work with unwanted glitches. The three-voices pad made with Magma can now be inserted into an ambientISH project with other sounds, other channels and other voices which can also host this plugin.


This is just a particle of a truly wide world: Magma definitely has many possibilities within it. So the invitation to pair it with other plugins from K-Devices or other companies is a must. It is really fascinating to be guided by an inspired tool like this, definitely as if you had a colleague at your side, with his own will and his own taste, who affects your initiatives, to give you surprises but at the same time makes creation your cre-action.

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