Saturday, July 18, 2009

Modular, Digital and Soft Synth - Different Worlds

It would seem that I have now placed my feed firmly in at least two of the four worlds of synthesis, non modular analogue, modular analogue, digital and soft synth. My first synth was actually a Kurweil K2000. I remember spending many hours with it. I finally sold it which in many ways I regret. For a while I was busy with many other things and music took a back seat. Then I discovered soft synths. When I bought the Kurzweil, software synthesis was not really around.

My first soft synth was Native Instrument Absynth. I was in this strange new world of the software synth that I really learned a substantial amount about synthesis. I dabbled with the Kurzweil but many times I relied on presets. But Absynth really brought me completely into the world of synthesis.

Then I was hooked. I have many soft synths and sample libraries. I also have a lot of vintage emulators. They provided a hands on introduction to the historic roots of synthesis. I don't see them as much as tools that I would use to make my music but they are invaluable in understanding some of the classics of the past like the ARP 2600. Understand the past, both in terms of music theory and electronics is important to me and I believe enhances my music.

For a while, I got lost down a dead end path, additive synthesis. I will post something on this because its a long and complex story. I am even banned (apparently permanently) from the VirSyn board) for simply pointing out a few facts. You can find my posts there in the Cube section and some others as well. The only poster to the boards with the title "ex member" which I bear proudly because unlike some, I can handle the truth . Enough said about that. Better to not open up old wounds.

After this, I bought a Korg M3. I am pleased to say that my relationship with Korg and my use fo the M3 has been a happy experience. Great sounds and pretty powerful engine but working with an M3, and I suspect many other hardware based digital synths, is somewhat different. Much of this is due to the lack of a full screen as with a computer. However, I find with the M3 the ability to combine modulation sources and the routing of effects to be far more powerful than a soft synth. KARMA, despite the fact that its creator Stephen Kay states is an arppegiator on steroids, is much more. Stephen is being modest. KARMA is an advancement beyond the concept of an arppegiator and not really an arranger like the Yamaha Tyros but something new and powerful and most importantly, interactive.

After this, I went a bit wild and bought several moogerfoogers. I guess it started with a few guitar pedals and frankly, a longing to get back to the time that I delighted in just deciding on how to route a few guitar pedals together. There was just something valuable about the experience of physically connecting things and turning real knobs. Analogue electronics also have their own personalities. Not everything is musical and finding that sweet spot in the turning of knobs to get a certain effect becomes part of the analogue experience.

I also admit to a great deal of admiration for those like Karlheintz Stockhausen or Alvin Lucier who worked with electronics far less sophisticated that my rack of foogers and made great works of musical art. There was a sort of magic in what they did and while playing a chord on my M3 and hearing a symphony is useful and in its own way magical, there was something more essential, perhaps closer to the heart, in working with electronics.

I love knowing that actual electricity flows through the moogerfoogers and the patch cords that connect them. Not mindless zeros and ones and computer programs that just run the same way all the time but something unpredictable and at least in part, mysterious. The fun of being able to ask "what if" and being surprised sometimes by the answer, sometimes delighted, other times not.

So when I saw the Zerooscillator, quadrature waveforms and morphing of waveforms not determined by wavetables in zeros and ones but by electricity which can be shaped and modified it made me realize why I want a modular. I don't' want a modular because of the same reason that some people hold onto vinyl. Frankly, I always found that argument a bit silly. Its not about warmth, although I do like tube pre-amps for legit reasons that can be proven, but for the reason that those streams of electronics can be shaped by a hand on process that is very different than tweaking patches on soft synths or my M3.

Am I getting rid of my soft synths and M3? Not a chance. But I want to use a modular to make my own sample library. In the end, I probably will play the analogue stuff as samples from my M3 or directly or using a soft sampler because its easier that way, but I want to be able to get at the raw sound that can only come from the circuits of a modular.

Before I do that, I want to know more. I want to be convinced that modulars can move beyond the beeps and bloops that I often hear and produce really amazing stuff. I know they can because I hear it in the sample libraries I have. So, for the time being I save and study and when I am ready, I will take a leap back and forward in time into modular synthesis.

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