Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Teaching Children Subtractive Synthesis

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am an avid fan of synthesizers.. I suppose that when I was new to the field, I was more impressed by the further reaches of the realms of synthesis such as additive synthesis which held a certain fascination for me because I understood the mathematics and it made music fit into a neat mathematical realm where music in some sense became a giant equation.

Now, some years latter, my belief about synthesis has changed and I believe that music plays us more than we play music. I have had a recent fascination with music therapy and those doctors and others who write about how the brain processes music. I am also ware of my own abilities as a musician and composer and how I got there as well as how music plays me, how I am influenced by all types of music from rock, Celtic, jazz and classical.

What I have realized over the years is how near music is to us. This latest blog is actually an attempt encourage therapists to buy their families at least a rudimentary analog synthesizer. Now that I think about it, a Doepfer Dark Energy might be nice or a micro Korg: - Dark Engery - MicroKorg

The Dark Energy is better for teaching subtractive synthesis in depth but the MicroKorg teaching music. With the Dark Energy you would also need a MIDI controller of some sort.

Kids are wonderfully open to ideas. When we get older we develop significant filters over time but childhood is a great time of discovery. Kids love to play X-Box and games like Guitar Hero but I thought about it and why not, why not teach children analog synthesis or even learn it together as a family. I also think that analog synthesis (and digital) have a lot to offer the music therapy world but I am still working on convincing others to look outside their box (the filters I am speaking of).

But I do believe that music is very near to us and in fact, infants learn subtractive synthesis from an early age and indeed, music. From 30 weeks a fetus can hear. And what does a fetus hear, the beating of the mothers heart around 70 beats a minute. When the mother is at rest, the fetus hears an adagio tempo. Isn't it interesting that 40 bpm is "grave" which in Latin can mean sick which certainly corresponds to the rate of the human heart which would be nearly dead at 40 bpm. I digress but the child before even leaving the womb experiences an LFO, a low frequency pulse.

After the baby is born at about 9 weeks it becomes aware (and delighted I might add) with the world of sound around it. Is it any wonder that those like Pauline Oliveros, a composer, would also be interested in what she coined "deep listening" which is in a sense an attempt to return to our very early childhood and remember the wonder of the sounds we first heard.

First, the child coos and becomes aware of it's vocal chords (let's call it the oscillator). The the begins to use filters. baby phrases like "da da" and "ma ma" are simple exercises in using filters. Then he consonants are used (the white noise generator). The child also begins to form full words by shaping the sounds (envelope).

OK, I could go on here but I think I have made my point. A child at a very early age learns subtractive synthesis. We don't remember how we learned language, in those early formative stages, but we do learn to use the synthesizer that is the human voice. In fact, the child uses the same techniques of feedback that are used in many ways by a musician called muscle memory. Learning to connect movements of the muscles with musical phrases. Children learn music much easier at a younger age (and language as well) because their filter cutoff in their brain is high. The are open to the many connections and discoveries that are part of the process of making music.

So, my hypothesis? That the human person at any stage, understand subtractive synthesis which interestingly enough remains the most common form of synthesis in synthesizers today.

So, to my music therapist friends with kids (or not). Buy a synthesizer. You can get some cheap ones (well, for little more than video game maching and a few games) and you can introduce your children and yourselves to a wonderful musical world of notes and sounds.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why I am just not that into modulars

Its funny for as long as I have contemplated getting a modular that I have not bought one. I have all the foogers (with the exception of the MURFs - I have the MIDI MURF - my latest purchase of a fooger - don't see the need to buy the others). OK, sure, if I got myself a bunch of modules and a cabinet I could spend hours happily connecting modules and sure, it would be fun but the truth is that I am a musician and composer at heart. Some of my most happy musician moments are sitting down at an upright piano (not mine) and playing or playing my guitars.

I have always agreed with Robert Moog that music is about the musician connecting with the instrument. I guess I am less into technically complicated instruments now and more into connecting to the instrument I am playing. For this reason, I see my studio not as a studio, a bunch of collected parts, but a whole. With the money I just spent on a "Switchblade" matrix router and a MOTU 828, I could have bought a nice modular but the reason I did this (and the reason I bought am MP 201 pedal from Moog) is that I want to integrate my equipment. I want it to be easy to get to the sound rather than rejoicing over technical specs. I have changed in this light.

So what does the Switchblade do? It lets my program all the complicated cable connections between synths and then just hit a foot pedal (I can do this the the MP-201) to change patches or the mix/crossfade/ect. I want a setup that is like that of a large pipe organ with everything either in front of me or at my feet. It also like Live because its organic. It works with the musician rather than trying to fit the musician into a mixer paradigm of creating a musician work.

I also don't see any clear dividing line between composition, performance and recording. I get an idea and then I try to make it happen and ultimately create a recording. How I get there is part of the creative process.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dropping the ball

OK, I got on a Twitter rant this morning and I have to finish it but to save my Twitter followers a twitter storm, I will use a blog. Why is it that companies come up with great ideas and then drop the ball.



The whole idea of this flagship (Korg's word) synth is to create a platform that will remain state of the art by supplying a line of new synths for the future. Where are they Korg? I love this idea and frankly, an expandable hard synth is a great idea but Korg clearly lost interest in this one.

Roland V-Synth

I think everyone has forgetten this but when the V-synth came out there was a promise of more V Cards beyond the D50 and vocal processor right? Again, the idea being expandability. Then, they just integrated these into the two synths in one idea and dropped the ball.


Another company that has offered expansion cards but for only part of their line. FM is still a useful form of synthesis but Yamaha has not built on it.


Making a additive soft synth was a great idea. Now don't' get me wrong, I have gone from being a fan of additive synthesis to a skeptic but I don't think this need be a dead issue. But VirSyn dropped the ball at Cube 2 being on the cutting edge and now makes ho hum effect plug ins. sad but I guess that is what sells.

Native Instruments

I have become a bigger fan on this company over the years because for the most part, with the exception of the B4 and "Spectral Delay" (big mistake), Native Instrument continues to develop there soft synths.

I am sure there are others but my point is, why come up with a great idea and then not develop it but this pattern seems to happen again and again. I have provided examples here but there are more.

Anyway, just had to let that rant finish for anyone who wants to listen.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pychomantiums, Music and Music Therapy

I am currently reading "Musicophilia", a fascinating book on music and the brain. It is interesting that this book discusses how the innate appeal of music to most people seems to defy both the notion that all human traits can be traced back to an evolutionary purpose. Music of couse can't help us to survive so it would seem to fall outside the Darwinian framework which so often in the realm of scientism, seems to claim to be a univesal explaination for all that is alive and indeed, all that is human.

Recent studies on where music comes from in the brain also seems to refute this in that music does not come from one single part of the brain and in fact, is both a right and left brained activity.

What we do know about music if we speak outside of the scientific realm, is that it seems to speak to our soul, to what is most human in us. Not a biological collection of evolved functions but what is human. It speaks to hour hope, our fears, our dreams, our anger and perhaps at times, our nightmares as well. Music in effect acts as a mirror on our soul. As I have said many times, we don't play music it plays us.

So what interests me, and why I sometimes frequent music therapy web sites, is that they seem to be attune to the healing aspects of music but also its strong psychological effects, negative and positive. What I am interested in is if there are universal Jungian type archetypes of sound? R Murray Schafer speaks about this in his "The Tuning of the World". Consider for example the power of the sound of the bell in many cultures. Is there anything universal about these sounds?

And if so, then where does this put the synthesizer. Before it, we were limited to fixed instrument sounds but now, the possibilities are greatly expanded. We can produced sounds that nobody has heard before.

So the synthesizer can in a sense act as a psychomantium to illicit emotional responses in us before not possible or so it might seem. What I am interested in doing is trying to learn the hidden language of the mind so as to use a synthesizer as a tool to speak that very language.