The original polysynth, the Oberheim Four Voice (or the Two Voice, if we’re counting duophony; an Eight Voice came later), was actually four monosynths chained together with an analog version of this RE – called a voice allocation unit. The VAU scanned the keyboard for new notes and routed them to a synth. Each synth had its own panel’s worth of knobs and switches to be tweaked, making the larger instrument big, heavy, and difficult to manage. In normal use, an integrated poly-synth with cv routings done behind the scenes and one interface for all voices is much more practical, so why is Blamsoft taking us back to the beginning with Distributor? Well, sound synthesis has never been a field very interested in practicality…
The idea is pretty simple: Distributor turns incoming polyphonic midi into many outgoing monophonic cv streams. There are modes for using more than one synth per voice (reducing polyphony), allocating voices in different ways, and the like. But what’s the point, you ask?
The Two and Four Voices were a way of making polysynths out of existing monosynths (Blamsoft not-at-all coincidentally also sells a monosynth, VK-1 Viking) but that’s not much of a concern within Reason, where polyphony is more or less a given. The trick is that the Two and Four Voices having had separate controls for each voice was a blessing, as much as it was a curse. You’d never set them all exactly the same, which gave the sound a lot of personality. Or you could deliberately set them differently, for effect. Or play each synth simultaneously, as a single, monster of a monosynth. For all its faults, the system also had a lot of charm.
Save a few select sound design uses, the “monster of a monosynth” functionality is redundant; you can stack as many synths (polyphonically!) as you like, just by putting them in a Combinator. But how about the rest? In short, Distributor works. It’s a very inefficient way of adding individuality to a polysynth’s voices, in my opinion (I much prefer some mod-matrix creativity in Thor), but it works. There are controls for how outputs are prioritized, how many outputs are used for each voice, and how the device interacts with its inputs and outputs (should it be smart or dumb?) My one complaint is that there’s no way allocate voices based on pitch, say if you wanted to imitate a horn section, but this is difficult to implement, so I don’t blame Blamsoft for leaving that out.
Distributor’s good for some less conventional uses, too. You can trigger instruments twice: once, polyphonically, using midi and once, monophonically, using an arpeggiator, distributor, and cv . You can also create sound effects by using an LFO as a note in source. Or weird, gated effects by using an LFO as a gate in source. I’ve gotten some fun sounds by applying cv from a Matrix to a rotating series of inputs on two Subtractors, run in stereo.
Voice allocation isn’t magic but there are some fun things to be done with it, to be sure.
It’s not instant Two, Four, or Eight Voice – that’s far more a matter of the brilliant SEM sound than their complicated interfaces – and it doesn’t have every feature in the book but Distributor is a very practical voice allocation unit for Reason.