July 19, 2021

Current Pedal Obsession: Pladask Bakfram

It’s Thanos’ delay, eroding the known audio universe

You’d think granular pedals would all sound the same since they’re all based on one of a few DSP chips. But there’s a big difference depending on how the builder programs the chip to re-assemble the audio grains. Knut at Pladask freely admits Bakfram is not a forward/reverse delay, but a granular synthesizer masquerading as one. This article answers the big questions about Bakfram, explains the complex nature of the controls and gives you recipes for some of the other pedals that Bakfram can masquerade as.

Is Bakfram unique?

There are similarities to other grain pedals like the Cooper FX Outward, Montreal Assembly Count-to-5, Red Panda Particle and Red Panda Tensor, but also a few key differences that make Bakfram sound worlds apart, at least among granular pedal aficionados. Bakfram can both add repeats and time-stretch the signal. None of these other pedals mentioned can do both. The most similar pedal is probably the Drolo Stame[n] v4. Though digital, to me Bakfram sounds more—dare I say “organic”—than these other pedals.

Another big difference is that many builders work to smear together the grains of their pedals so they sound smoother. Pladask pedals blend the grains to sound more crumbly. While both methods have their place, Bakfram has a randomness and deteriorating effect that keeps it from ever sounding synthetic.

Can it be used as a normal delay?

Almost. Bakfram is more focused on how the grains blend and doesn’t try to achieve the normalcy of a digital delay like the Count-to-5 or Particle do. So if you want to use this pedal as your normal delay, it’ll always be modulated and lo-fi. Kind of like you’d expect a Keeley Eccos flanged delay to sound if it was plugged into a dying power supply. In the destructive Loop mode, the repeats get dissipated and degraded quickly. This can sound captivating.

Direction Mod Clock Loop Time Mix
For 10a 7a 8a 8a-12n 12n

Also, a lo-fi delay that can extend up to three-seconds puts Bakfram into the shallow end of the Frippertronics pool. (Use the above recipe and set the Time knob to almost 12n.

Can it be used as a reverse delay?

Bakfram doesn’t literally mean “backwards”. It seems to translate as “back to front”. To imitate a reverse delay, it plays the forward grains in reverse order. While this can sound choppy, time-stretched in reverse with regeneration can be beautiful in its own right.

Direction Mod Clock Loop Time Mix
Rev 10a 12n 12n 3p 12n

Can it do a freeze effect?

Not quite. The left footswitch will max the loop and you can get some beautiful freezes in reverse. But there’s no tails mode, so you can’t use the trick of kicking off their pedal and letting the frozen signal linger. Instead, when left foot switch is engaged, it will layer the audio.

Can it be used as an octave pedal?

There are some restrictions, but yes. With a short delay, fast clock and a lot of regeneration, you’ll get an octave above or below with a fast tremolo and minimal lag behind your dry. With the Loop knob at 7a, the octaves rise or fall with each repeat. So if the octave is set to up, it will jump up an octave on each pass of the buffer until it twinkles off the audio spectrum. (Works best in the forward mode. Try some staccato playing.)

Direction Oct Mod Clock Loop Time
For Up or Down 7a 5p 9a 7a

The Clock and Time knobs control the lag. The Loop knob controls the decay.

Can it do Fairfield Shallow Water-type effects?

Well yes. And very well. The Shallow Water K-field generator is a unique pedal that uses random modulation to vary a short delay and create a watery movement of the signal. Since Bakfram has a delay that can be set really short, random modulation and a regeneration Loop knob that can create a wet Q, it can masquerade as Shallow Water extremely well.

Direction Mod Clock Loop Time Mix
Rev 12n 5p 7a 7a 5p

You may have to move the Time knob up and back to engage the shortest delay. The effect can be varied by monkeying with the Modulation, Clock and Loop knobs. Setting the Mix knob at noon can put you into the random phasey/flangey/chorusy territory that the Shallow Water can achieve when the dry is mixed back in. And setting the direction to forward gives you a whole different effect.

Can Bakfram do insane?

Sure. That’s more the reason players add Bakfram to their collection. Here’s reverse, dual-octave, stretched with destructive feedback.

Direction Oct Mod Clock Loop Time Mix
Rev Up+Down 5p 7a 7a 3p 1p

These examples just scratch the surface of what Bakfram can do.

Those quirky controls

Some knobs on Bakfram do different things whether they’re before noon and after noon. And the alternative functions you get to by holding down the bypass switch and turning some knobs may not be marked on the pedal. As is, most of the multiple function knobs and alt functions are logical and easy to get the hang of. (And none of that silly unplugging and replugging of the pedal while holding the footswitch required.)

While knobs like Mix and Volume are logical and one function, here are the ones that require explanation:

Clock also controls direction and octaves. In its native state, the Clock knob controls the length of the buffer, from 2700ms at 7a to 650ms at 5p. This also has an effect on fidelity, getting more lo-fi as the buffer gets longer. To control alt functions, hold the Bypass switch and turn the knob from noon to one side or the other and back again. Moving from noon to 7a changes direction. Moving from noon to 5p changes octave: cycling through normal, lower, both and upper. The both-octaves setting is a bonus mode and sounds very quirky. It works both forward and reverse.

Time controls both delay times and time stretch. Until noon it increases delay time. The max length will be just over half a second to almost three seconds, depending on the position of the Clock knob. After noon it time stretches the audio by playing the grains longer without affecting pitch. (The time stretches get more poetic at a slower clock speed.)

There seems to be an undocumented slow-down delay in the Forward mode just to the right of noon on the Time knob. For max effect, set the Loop knob to 7a and Clock to 5p.

Loop controls destructive or non-destructive decay. This knob is what’s missing from both the Red Panda Tensor and the Cooper FX Outward and adds Bakfram’s ambient character. What’s cool is you can choose whether the effect repeats and lingers or degrades and morphs. After noon it’s non-destructive. It functions more like a conventional digital delay, with identical repeats. Before noon it’s destructive or morphing: feeding the signal back into itself like an tape delay with very old tape. On the destructive side, the octaves continue to rise or fall and the repeats get eaten by further granularization of the previous grains until there’s nothing left. Note that in the both-octaves setting, the octaves don’t rise or fall. When the knob is at noon there’s no regeneration.

My take

With a new granular pedal seemingly introduced in the market every day, Pladask pedals are definitely for those who want something distinctly, organically granular. (Many granular pedal makers have headed either toward imitating normal delays or are creating pedals that can sound synthy.) This is a much deeper pedal than it seems at first. While Bakfram can be used for its own take on delay, reverse delay, octave delay and shimmer delay, you can also morph the loop (up to three seconds) into a randomness that’s continually evolving. A little more difficult to use on stage with all the quirky controls, Bakfram is definitely at home on practice board and in the studio.

Note that Bakfram is out of production with a new version due out eventually. If you want one you’ll have to buy it used on a site like Reverb.com

Signal path for all demos above: Beat Root Multiscale Tongue Drum > Fairfield Accountant Compressor > Pladask Bakfram > TC Wiretap Riff Recorder.

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