Tuesday, June 14, 2011

First Impressions of Alchemy (part one)

Well, I have Alchemy now. For a long time I have not purchased any soft synths really for two reasons. The 1st is that I really don't need anymore and I am actually trying to reduce what I use. The second is that I wanted to at least have a rudimentary set of synths working on my MacBook Pro. I accomplished the later and I thought I might try my hand again at additive synthesis. My first experience was with Cube and let's just say that that experience did not end well.

I have to admit that there is still an inner Geek within me. OK, yes, I have a Bachelors in Math and a masters in statistics and another less geeky one that shall remain stealthy. I like an element of mystery. Here is the geek part.

1. Fourier
2. Helmholtz
3. Gabor

The first Of these tells use that any periodic (really important word) waveform is made up of simple sinwaves in frequencies that are multiples of the 1st (called the fundamental). The multiples are called partials.

The second tells use that these partials pare how we pwecieve sound. The 1st expressed a mathematical theorum that can be proved. The 2nd is simply wrong. That's will take me to the 3rd but that will have to be in part 2.

So the theory is that you can build any sound from sin waves (partials) so that has a kind of geeky appeal like when synths came out that let you draw waveforms. The problem is that no sound has a waveform that never changes unless a computer or electronics made it. As they say, therein lies the rub and a huge one it is. Well, to fix the problem those who wanted to create a form of synthesis had to divide up time into windows. Now let's now think of the windows as what we call the time domain and the partials the frequency domain. Once one enters into time periods less than the wavelength of the waveform. We enter the sonic twilight zone. Think about it and you might see why.

So it appears to me that Alchemy hides this little dilemma from the user and what Harry Gohs of Virsyn once told me was the dark art of additive synthesis, how to connect the dots, or rather, windows.

Confused, don't be if you stick with Alchemy. No one needs to know how an internal combustion engine works to drive a car. Alchemy hides it and that's good. It's nasty business.

So, Ok, this is all Geeky stuff and why would one want to bother making sounds from sin waves? After all you can sample (record) sounds right? Yes, but there are two advantages to additive synthesis:

1. You can do magic with time.
2. You can morph sounds

Morph just means one sound changes into another. Now some of you might remember the Korg Wavestation which did wave sequencing and cross fading (and very well I might add). Isn't cross fading the same thing? Do you want to follow the rabbit down the hole Alice? Turns out that fir most sounds pitch changes and, and here I become like a Nationwide agent and blow you mind, the pitch change in partials is not uniform. Trust me, morphing and cross fading are different. Alchemy does both of these as well as some really interesting variations. It also makes sense to mix samples and additive synthesis. Kawai did this with there additive synthesizer. It makes sense musically so kudos Camel Audio.

I will leave more of this to part Ii of this but there is a strong tendency to get wrapped up in math with additive synthesis and get list and loose the music in the process. Alchemy avoids this and IMHO is a much better synth than Cube.

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