Grain Delay

Grain delay is a process that samples incoming audio in very small pieces known as grains. In this process, each grain is released after a specific delay measured in sync to tempo or milliseconds. The user can control the grain size. 

Grain Delay: a Bit of History

The grain delay effect dates back to 1946, when Denis Gabor, a respected physicist, published his work about applying quantum physics techniques to sound signals. Hence, he cerated the basis of grain delay granular synthesis. Gabor developed a system that used grains to reproduce sounds. Years later, Iannis Xenakis, a Greek-French composer and musical theorist, developed a musical application based on Gabor’s principle. His method involved granular synthesis by intertwining magnetic tape into segments, rearranging those segments and joining them again. Afterwards, his method inspired Curtis Roads and he ended up applying the granular sound processing theory to the digital audio field. Around 1980, Barry Truax, a Canadian composer, developed a technique to create a granular synthesis in real-time. This technique has evolved throughout the years. Nowadays, many musicians use it.

Grain Delay: How It All Works

Granular synthesis is a type of audio synthesis that works on the microsecond time scale. Its basis is the same as the principle of sampling. The main difference is that, in granular synthesis, the samples split into pieces known as grains. You can layer multiple grains that are capable of playing at different volumes, speeds, frequencies and phases.

Grain Size

As mentioned before, the user can control the grain size with the frequency control. Higher frequencies refer to large grains, whereas lower frequencies allude to small grains. Lower frequencies tend to be more stable when applying pitch-shifting, feedback, randomization, and output settings. The measurement of the grain size is Hertz (Hz). Similarly, you can calculate the size in fractions of a beat at a song’s tempo by dividing the tempo by sixty times the frequency. 

Gran Delay: Conclusions

Grain delay is a process that cuts the input audio into short segments and delays, each piece by a slightly different time. Many involve pitch-shifters. These delays can transform audio into a completely different sound. Of course, each effect can be fairly simple or extremely complex.