The lowly yet essential file browser: you know you can’t live without it, but living with it isn’t exactly an exciting proposition either. While synthesis, sampling and editing techniques have steadily advanced in recent years, file organization has remained a comparatively neglected aspect of most DAWs. Live 10’s recent Browser improvements still rely on users doing their homework to organize Collections, and it still doesn’t implement any kind of meaningful metadata: the search tool only finds relevant files if the search term was written directly into the file name; haphazard criteria at best.
Even metadata itself is only sometimes helpful: one sound designer’s “Dreamy, Analog, Pad” might seem to a sound-seeking producer more like “Euphoric, Vintage, Strings”. The words we use to describe the sounds we seek (and create) are hardly standardized, in most cases woefully inadequate, and often just plain inaccurate. As the old saying goes, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”
So, how to reinvent this particularly clunky yet undeniably crucial wheel? Berlin’s Sononym may have finally cracked the code by cleverly deploying offline machine learning algorithms to analyze sample libraries and search them across myriad qualitative dimensions. It took about 25 minutes to analyze 84 GB of samples on a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 Macbook Pro – pretty fast, though you might want to pop out for lunch while it works if you’re on an older machine or have a massive library.
Once analysis is complete, Sononym automatically identifies whether sounds are Loops or One Shots, while also extracting Pitch, Loudness, Tempo, Brightness, Harmonicity and Noisiness ratings. Self-organizing category mapping impressively separates snares from kicks, leads from pads, and vocals from guitars, for example, grouping them accordingly and intelligibly within a comprehensive metadata matrix. Files remain in their original directories.
However meticulous your folder organization might be, it’s difficult to be certain you’ve searched every possible location for a relevant sound, particularly while you’re deep in production mode; maybe you found something passably suitable, but the perfect sound was inscrutably named and tucked away in a folder you haven’t opened in years. Sononym eliminates any sense of doubt from that equation by collating all metadata from analyzed folders into an intuitive centralized interface.
While you can of course conduct a search by typing vague terms into a familiar search bar if you insist, Sononym’s power lies in seeking out sounds similar to any audio file on your computer, even in an open DAW project, by simply dragging and dropping it directly into Sononym’s GUI. The engine quickly presents sounds with similar characteristics, and you can further hone results by selecting instrument Category and other filtration attributes including Loudness, Frequency, Tempo and more in the lower section of the screen.
Making the process even more intuitive, Sononym’s Similarity search maps the audible traits of all analyzed files across five primary aspects: Spectrum, Timbre, Pitch, Amplitude and Overall, resulting in a similarity ranking that corresponds to your source. Using the Similarity sliders, you can then calibrate your search results by weighting to any one of those five traits and see at a quick glance which qualities any similar sample bears most in common via their own preview wheels at left. Care more about Timbre than Pitch? Adjust the attribute sliders accordingly to skew search results in that direction.
Perhaps most impressively, you can record any audio in real time via Sononym’s simple Record button in the transport – including your own voice, for example – as a source to drive your search. Looking for a particular melody or rhythm? Just hum, sing, or beatbox it in, and Sononym will find similar sounds in a matter of moments. It's incredibly impressive.
Transcending the clumsy language conventionally deployed to organize sound libraries, Sononym is a sound designer’s best friend and a composer’s dream come true. It might even make you fall in love with your sample collection all over again.
Could this year’s most valuable piece of workflow-enhancing kit actually be a file browsing system? Check out the free trial of Sononym today and find out for yourself.
Price: €89 EU (including VAT, which is subtracted from non-European sales) / $99 USD
Pros: Revolutionary sample search, intuitive interface, offline algorithm.
Cons: Would be nice if there were an option to write some of Sononym’s main category results directly into file names and/or metadata; would be good if Collections had the option to exist strictly as a feature of Sononym’s metadata library without necessarily copying audio files to a new directory.