Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Less is More

I have found that lately I have made somewhat a turn to the more introspective musically. One of my problems is that I have to much equipment and plug ins. There, I said it. Consider the simplicity of bag of gold clubs. Less than 20 clubs can navigate a gold course. I used to play golf a little but perhaps what fustrated me the most was perfecting the swing. But perhaps, therein lies the rub. Perhaps real artistry comes from perfecting ones swing using a limited number of tools. I guess this is somewhat of a question I am putting out there because I am not sure I have the answer and I suspect its a bit more complicated that a yes or no, black and white approach to music.

I have three synths: A Korg M3, a Moog Voyager and a Waldorf Blofeld. Then I have a lot of other soft synths but I want to talk hardware for now. My Korg M3 is a masterpiece of complexity. You want to change cutoff, ok, three menus down and to the left but make sure that you know what layer of sound you are talking about when you tweak it. OK, to be fair, if you can figure it out you can assign thinks to sliders, the joystick, the XY pad, ect., which is a nice idea since you can record those movements but you get the idea, not an easy synth to program. Modulation matrix? Forget it! There are so many ways to modulate and combine modulation sources that you get dizzy thinking about it. The matrix would be enormous.

When I was younger musically, I thought that was great. Make a synth with 10 layers of menus I would say give me 20. But I often find digging into that many menus tedious and unnatural. Am I going to sell my M3? Not a chance. The upside is that it makes beautiful sounds so I can excuse how awkward at times the menus are. And it has some great presets. Yes presets. Boos from the purist gallery.

Now the Voyager is another animal. It's simple. Very simple although the latest addition of MIDI has adds a few layers of menus. The Voyager is in face more like one big all in one module with lots of CV ins and outs especially if you get the expansion module and the CP 251 or get the XP which is basically the same but in one box. But the Moogs knobs are meant to be tweaked and add an MP 201 pedal, you have another sophisticated tweaking mechanism or to put it simply, an instrument. So tweaking is part of the performance, of the instrument. OK, you can do this with a Korg M3 but it's only 8 sliders and some other controllers try to remember which one does what.

The Voyager is meant to be tweaked as you play it. It reveals its secret in the tweeks. The subtle settings that provide a certain sound. It seems to me this is more what true artistry is. Not the bold or what I would call "let's see if we can make spot howl" approach, although I have given into that myself at times, but the subtle realms of musical expression that can be found in tweaking just the right know at the right time, lets call it improving the golf swing with the knobs being the clubs.

Then there is the Blofeld. An amazing little piece of machinery for the money. I read a add for some IPad wizardry to make the Blofeld one of the multilayered synths more like the M3. OK, but truth but told, most of the parameters you would need to tweak on the Blofeld that are going to work musically are right there. Only a few knobs you say? Yes, but buttons that change what those knobs do in a way that is so natural that I learned most of their functions in a day. I am still trying to learn Korg's KARMA system and forget about getting the software and talking it down more menu levels so deep that you come out in China.

OK, I know, I can be a blatherskite at times. But my numerous words are only to suggest that sometimes its nice to have a really familiar set of clubs so that one that sunny day when the sun is in the right position and the wind is just right, the ball can soar into the sky and the music can find heavenly heights.

Then again, you can buy a Jupiter 80 and have a whole orchestra playing at the same time. I'm just not sure it's in tune and who can track 80 golf balls hit into the sunny sky? Hope the analogy works.


Anonymous said...

I'm right there with you. As I work on my next album, I've been reducing the number of synths in play. I want to go deeper with more control and spend less time trying to remember synth architecture to get a desired result.

I too am not a purist and when composing I'm happy to use a factory sound and/or tweak it to if the sound servers the composition. Of course I love sound design so I am also making my own patches from init – but on a smaller number of synths.

I agree that the Blofeld is amazing and the matrix with the LCD GUI is really immediate and a nice compromise with the one-for-one model.

I’ve come quite used to the 8 macro knob in focus model after over 3 years of deep Ableton Live use. Since I can label the macro and see the label on my Remote SL controller I’m finding this a nice alternative for the one-for-one knob model. If I just arm a different track, I immediately see what the params are in focus.

Partly because of our discussions on hardware vs software, I’ve decided to add another hardware synth to my rig. I will someday get a Voyager but decided to go with a Novation UltraNova synth because it uses the same 8 knob system I’ve come accustomed to in live and has touch encoders so I can get some controllerism options without having to boot a laptop.

So, yes, the analogy works. Less clubs in the bag, less golf balls in the sky.


dogmeat said...

I could not agree more on how complex M3 is to tweak. I guess I'll never fully understand how everything works (especially KARMA).

I was thinking about buying Waldorf Blofeld Desktop but I don't know how well M3 can control this little beast of a synth. Should I buy an additional masterkeyboard instead?

Lux_Seeker said...

The M3 has great sounds and the concept behind KARMA is a good one but yes, sadly it gets buried in the interface.