Thursday, December 13, 2012

Additive Synthesis - Is It the Holy Grail of Synthesis?

For years additive synthesis has been more of a theoretical animal than a practical form of synthesis. The reason? The amount of CPU power to make it happen. This has all changed and there are several additive synthesizers on the market now.

This blog post is the first of what I hope will be a series. I realized that the many posts I had made to a bulletin board are most likely going to disappear and I not only wanted to reproduce much of it but to update it and organize it for systematically. It's a huge topic because it really strikes at the heart of what sound is. I am also in a unique position to talk about it because I have a degree in mathematics and I have studied the topic for years. I am also an electronic musician and composer.

So, this blog is only an introduction. Let me begin by answering the question is it the holy grail of synthesis. The answer is a resounding no. Can it be useful? Yes, absolutely. Two good examples of this are Camel Audio's Alchemy and the Reaktor synth Razor.

Why would it be considered the Holy Grail of synthesis? In theory it can build any sound from it's parts that are called partials. Not only in a static sense but sound as it changes over time. Now I said in theory at least according to some. The theory is wrong because many who talk about additive synthesis do not understand what is called the Fourier Transform and many were mislead by an influential work "On the Perception of Sound" by Hermann Von Helmholtz. No one reads this any more (although I do have an unread copy on my bookshelf) but it has had a very influential effect on the perception of sound and I believe even additive synthesis.

Ok, now I warn you. We are about to go down a rabbit hole and it does involve a matrix. This one is called a Gabor Matrix. But don't ask Alice but a composer by the name of Xenakis. Confused?

Read this and be afraid. Be very afraid. Is sound a series of waves called partials or is it a series of grains?

More to come in future posts but I hope this peaks some interest. By the way, check out Poseidon. It's VirSyn's walk on the granular side wearing Helmholtz glasses.

No comments: