Posted by midiguru on April 23, 2010
I still have a fairly large collection of LPs. Also a turntable that works. God knows how old the stylus is, or where I’d find a replacement, but it still sounds good. After a few years in storage the gears were a little gummy, but after I played a couple of records it smoothed out. It spins just fine now.
So I’m listening to a 1987 album by Cabaret Voltaire called Code. It’s not unlike Kraftwerk, but with a dark and nasty edge. Very clean ’80s electronics — punchy drums, analog string machine, sampled vocal clips. The sonorities are nicely transparent; you can hear everything that’s going on. It’s all muscle and gristle, no flab.
I liked this album when it came out, haven’t listened to it in probably 20 years, but I still like it. This kind of stuff is my roots. Well, this and Patrick O’Hearn and Gentle Giant and Haydn string quartets. There are other albums I love (Jon Hassell’s early LPs come to mind, I know they’re on the shelf somewhere, gotta put the records in alphabetical order so I can find things) that I don’t think influenced me much, even though I was knocked out by them.
Eighties-era synth pop, though, I can see how to do what they’re doing. I’ve got the technology to do it, and my mind likes doing those things.
What you do musically doesn’t have to be new to be good. It just has to be good. You can draw on anything and everything, whatever rings your chimes, be it Couperin or Zappa, Brahms or Ellington, Stravinsky or the Residents. Throw it all in the pot and stir until simmering.
Last night I was listening to a CD of synthesizer music that I recorded 20 years ago. Haven’t really listened to it in years, so I was amazed by how good it sounds. The technology I used was primitive by today’s standards, but certainly adequate. What impressed me most (if I can admit to being Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in music | Tagged: music, synthesizers | 3 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on March 20, 2010
After grumbling a couple of days ago about the dearth of tunable software synthesizers, I belatedly remembered … hey, wait a minute. I have a synthesizer that will do most of that. I built it myself.
I used Native Instruments Reaktor. Reaktor doesn’t seem to get as much buzz these days as it did five years ago (or maybe I’m just not paying attention). It’s an extremely powerful DIY environment for developing your own visionary synthesizers. The main limitation is that for other people to use your instruments, they have to own Reaktor too. There’s no run-time-only version.
I built this synth about five years ago, and I’ve never used it, other than for a little noodling around. Sometimes just building an instrument is the fun part — but also, I have more impetus now than I did then to actually finish new pieces of music.
My tunable synth has a couple of features I’ve never seen on any other instrument. Its pitch-bend depth is defined in key steps, which means the bend will tend to have a different depth depending on what note you’re bending from and to. To facilitate steel-guitar bends, bending can be switched on or off independently for each of the 12 notes on the keyboard.
Because the raison d’etre of this instrument is just intonation, it doesn’t do vibrato. Instead, it does trills whose depth is calibrated in terms of the base frequency of the tuning. The oscillators have a linear frequency offset knob, which again is calibrated to the base frequency. These features can produce some very rich (and unexpected) harmonies.
It has separate tuning controls for each of the 12 notes on the keyboard. Limiting the scales to 12 notes per octave is perhaps not ideal, but it makes keyboard performance ever so much easier — and in most musical situations, it’s hard to imagine needing more than 12 pitches from a single instrument in a single phrase. A bank of buttons for each key gives quick access to some of the more useful ratios, and each key also has a pair of number knobs (numerator and denominator), so the key can be tuned to any harmonic ratio you happen to want.
Last night’s experiments suggest that these features can indeed be controlled during sequence playback using MIDI CC messages. While the UI is not quite as slick as what I was fantasizing about, it works. I can change the tuning on the fly. Reaktor is kind of a CPU hog, but there are ways to manage that.
As soon as I finish my current music project, I think maybe I’ll write a few pieces using my Reaktor instrument.
Posted in music, technology | Tagged: just intonation, music, synthesizers | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on February 20, 2010
Yesterday I downloaded the new presets and data for Camel Audio Alchemy. Then I spent some time checking out the sounds. What a shockingly great synthesizer!
Also on my hard drive are u-he Zebra 2.5 and ACE, Spectrasonics Omnisphere, FXpansion Synth Squad, and a suite of Native Instruments synths — Reaktor 5, FM8, Massive, and Battery 3. All of these are absolutely awesome.
Zebra is my personal favorite synthesizer. I just about can’t imagine anything better … though Urs Heckmann (u-he) is working on a secret project that I can’t talk about yet.
The universe of computer-based music-making is so grand, words fail me. And words very seldom fail me.
Posted in music, technology | Tagged: music, synthesizers, technology | Leave a Comment »
Posted by midiguru on May 24, 2008
Searching for “synthesizer” in WordPress, I stumbled upon a post by someone who styles himself Click Me, Robert. Robert is either borderline illiterate or (more likely) not a native English speaker. There are several of what look like phishing links on the page — and the same text material, with different phishing links, is on a page attributed to Todd Jenkins. Looks like digital rot is creeping through the WordPress ivy at a great rate!
Be that as it may; in the course of a very bad overview of synthesizer programming, Robert/Todd the Bulgarian prankster tumbled into a wonderful sentence. He was advising folks to start by programming the filter, and he said of filtering:
“First we need to carve away the unwanted part of the music.”
That is profound advice. Maybe I could carve away the hyperactive Keith Moon drumming from an old Who record or two….
Posted in music, random musings, technology | Tagged: music, synthesizers | Leave a Comment »