Kantos is a software synthesizer that uses the subtractive-synthesis method with which many people are familiar. So it has oscillators, filters, LFOs and the like. However, this is a synth with a difference. With most synthesizers you have to hook up a MIDI keyboard to play them. This is fine if you play keyboards – but not a lot of good if you are a singer or a guitarist.
Andy Hildebrand – the person who designed Auto-Tune, and inadvertently unleashed zillions of Cher-style vocal clones onto an unsuspecting world – has now come up with something to let non-keyboard-playing musicians join in the synthesizer plug-in fun. Kantos works by extracting the pitch, dynamics, harmonic content and formant characteristics from audio input, such as a vocal or a guitar melody. This information is then used to control the Kantos synthesizer – transforming the input into synthesizer melody lines.
Kantos has two wavetable oscillators, a noise generator, two envelope generators, a modulation matrix, two LFOs, and a delay effect. The unique Articulator takes the harmonic content and formant information from the input, and applies this to the output of the oscillators and noise generator – producing effects similar to a vocoder. Kantos works best with monophonic source material – one note playing at a time – and can follow pitch-bends. You can also apply the pitch constrain feature to limit the output to the notes of a particular key or scale, to produce melodies from polyphonic or unpitched input – such as chords or drum loops. Shades of Auto-Tune here.
Kantos is available as an RTAS, MAS or VST plug-in that is inserted into the channel that is playing the audio you want to use to control kantos. The user-interface is quirky, but easy enough to use. Pick your preset, adjust the triggering and tweak the controls to taste. I used a short melodic improvisation on a jazz guitar as my test. This was expressively played with plenty of slides between notes, several pull-offs, and lots of dynamics in the playing. I chose the Mellow Tone preset, and Kantos made a fair job of tracking the pitches and slides. But the faster notes either disappeared or mistriggered the synthesizer. Then I tried a less well-defined preset, the WhisperTron – which sounds like something Woody Allen might have invented. This worked better, as this sound didn’t need to track the input so precisely. You need clean and well-defined input material to get good results.
If you like to fiddle with software to find unique effects, then Kantos is for you. It won’t magically transform everything you sing or play into an accurate synthesized version, but if you take care with the input material and settings it will.