Usine Hollyhock 3: a modular DAW unlike any other

Usine Hollyhock 3: a modular DAW unlike any other

Sensomusic’s Usine Hollyhock has lurked on the fringes of the computer music community for quite some time. It seems weirdly exotic, not just in name but in function, mode and interface. Version 3 hopes to transform the strangeness and complexity into something that’s easier to grapple while pushing the boundaries of what this powerful release can give you creative control over.

Hollyhock 3

“Digital Audio Workstation” doesn’t really cover it. Hollyhock is more of an interactive creation station. It does multi-track audio, sure, it has a timeline and everything, but at its core Hollyhock is a modular system through which audio, MIDI, control and modulation are patched and manipulated. It’s built for performance, for installations, for sound generation and musical manipulations. It started with audio and MIDI, then lighting control via DMX got itself plugged in, which now has a whole new engine, and in version 3 they’ve introduced a modular video engine. So if you’re a real control freak you can perform your music, control the lights and throw up the videos all from the one piece of software.


It’s a modular environment where you build your “channels” from various devices. Hollyhock calls the container a “rack” into which you create a patch that contains source material like audio or MIDI, and then manipulators such as effects or controls. These have a Reaktor feel to them where you have a nice top-end GUI that hides a deep level of modular patching beneath that you can get into if you wish. These racks can be self-contained sound generating devices, or you nest racks within racks, patches within patches and have the whole thing interrelated.

The ability to build manipulation and processes has a sense of Max For Live about it. There’s a whole community of users who contribute devices and modules. There’s everything from effects, machines, sequencing through to multi-touch input devices, MIDI filtering and synthesizers.


It was the multi-touch element that first drew me to Hollyhock. You can design whole control surfaces for multiple fingers and performance manipulation. There’s a very cool physics engine inside that lets you throw blocks of sound together and see how the various parameters bounce and rebound around in space – particularly satisfying in a touch environment.

Easier and more powerful

Sensomusic claim that version 3 is the most powerful version to date. And they’ve worked very hard on making it easier to use. There’s no doubt that through my experience of version 2 a lot of the genius in Hollyhock is difficult to unearth without some dedicated learning time. Somethings just need to be simpler and by the looks of it, Sensomusic have really taken this on board.

It looks completely stunning. The ability to control lighting and video sounds really exciting for the performer. I also like the idea of creating a performance sound or effects engine. Using the internal devices and VST plug-ins, and then building a perfect, sort of macro controller multi-touch interface for it. That could really be something amazing.

Check out the videos which will probably both confuse and delight. Sensomusic say they’ve got a whole load of tutorial videos lined up and a much better manual. I hope these resources will turn more people onto the potential of this unique and creative piece of software. I’m certainly going to give it another go.

Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 is available now for $99 and you’ll find more information on the website.

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