Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tweaking for the Non-Programmer

I've often said that owning a synthesizer and never learning how to program your own sounds is a bit like owning a Ferrari and never driving it over 35 miles an hour. Sure, it'll probably still get you the chicks, but you're missing out on half the fun.

Still, I understand it's not for everyone. And sometimes, a particular preset just happens to fit the arrangement perfectly, save for a few characteristics you'd like to change. So how do you make those changes without needing to know how to program a sound from scratch? Fortunately, most synths share a common range of parameters that make this pretty easy. Keep in mind that many synths use differing terminology to describe the same things, but with a little noodling around, you'll figure it out. Here are some guidelines:

To change the overall timbre of the sound most easily, try changing the WAVEFORM in the synth's OSCILLATOR section. This is where the 'raw material' of your sound starts, so it has quite a big influence on what the end result sounds like.

Assuming the synth uses a lowpass filter (this is the most common type), you can get this result by increasing the CUTOFF (sometimes called FREQ) in the FILTER section. Also try increasing the FILTER'S ENV AMOUNT to exaggerate, for example, the pluck in a plucked type sound.

As above, try lowering the CUTOFF value of your FILTER, as well as decreasing the ENV AMOUNT on the FILTER.

If you have a relatively slow sound, like strings, you can give them a more immediate sound by decreasing the ATTACK value in the AMP ENVELOPE. Try also manipulating the ATTACK in the FILTER ENVELOPE if still sounds like it's fading in a bit.

As above, but you increase the ATTACK values of your envelopes.

If you want to make a percussive sound sustain like a pad or organ, try raising the SUSTAIN value of your AMP ENVELOPE. You may want to increase the DECAY value as well. If it still doesn't sustain as loudly or brightly as you'd like, make the same adjustments to the FILTER ENVELOPE.

Try increasing the RELEASE value in your AMP and FILTER envelopes.

In the OSCILLATOR sections of your synth, look for something marked COARSE or OCTAVE. Adjusting this will change the overall octave of the oscillator. Additionally, some synths have a TRANSPOSE function that lets you transpose the entire sound up or down.

Those are the most basic tweaks you'll likely need to know on a regular basis. Not that complicated, is it? Practice tweaking sounds until you get a bit more comfortable with it and then consider cracking open your manual (gasps of horror) and learning what 1 or 2 of your synth's other parameters do. Once you're comfortable with those, try learning 1 or 2 more. In no time, you'll have learned to program your own sounds from scratch. Want a guide to getting started with that? Check out my Synthesis Made Simple series from earlier this year.

Reversed Keys Microkorg on Ebay

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Access Virus TI on Ebay

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Vince Clarke and Martin Gore Collaborate on Track

Via slicingupeyeballs:

Depeche Mode songwriter Martin Gore and ex-Moder Vince Clarke have apparently collaborated on a techno-oriented track called "Zaat" for inclusion on the next Erasure album. There seems to be a lot of reunions happening in the Depeche Mode camp these days, as it was also recently announced that Gore would be DJing at the upcoming show with Recoil, the project of ex-Moder Alan Wilder, in Santa Ana, CA.

David Hillel Wilson of Synthmuseum Passes Away

via Matrixsynth

Sad news in the world of all things synthesizer. David Hillel Wilson, creator of the New England Synthesizer Museum has died at the age of 49. I didn't find out about the museum until well after I had moved away from New Hampshire, so I never got the chance to check it out, but I've seen plenty of YouTube videos and he had a mighty impressive collection along with a clear passion for the machines so many of us take for granted. Condolences to his family.

Oberheim Xpander on Ebay

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Moog Micromoog on Ebay

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Roll Your Own Lead Sounds: The Hoover

There are some synth sounds that transcend mere coolness and enter the realm of the iconic - sounds so instantly recognizable that they almost become integral to the genre that spawned them. The Hoover is one such sound. The gnarly, detuned lead/bass sound started life as a preset called "What The?" on the Roland Alpha Juno, and after it made an appearance on a track by the band Human Resource, it went on to become one of the most popular types of sounds in the rave and new beat movements. Even today, these types of sounds frequently pop up in drum n' bass, electro, and even dubstep tracks. So today, I'll show you how to make your very own hoover utilizing TAL's recently released freebie instrument NoizeMaker.

1. Fire up your DAW of choice and initiate an instance of NoizeMaker.

2. In the OSC 1 section, change the waveform to the pulse/square wave.

3. On LFO 1 change the DEST 1 to PW to modulate the pulse width of that pulse wave. This will give us a nice, fat detuned sound out of a single oscillator. Set the DEST 1 knob most of the way to the right (at about .3732 in the DISPLAY) and the RATE to about 50%. You can hear the pulse width being modulated, but it's doing so in a bit of a disruptive way. Fix this by turning the PW of OSC 1 all the way to the left.

4. In the MASTER section, turn up the OSC 2 level so it is equal with OSC 1. (You'll note that OSC 2 is a sawtooth wave tuned an octave above OSC 1.) The SUB oscillator should already be up, but if it isn't, dial that up so it is equal as well. Turn PORTA to ON and set the PORTA knob (the rate of portamento) about halfway up. This is what gives us those sliding notes, so you may want to adjust it to taste.

5. In the filter section, drop the CUTOFF back to about 90%.

6. Finally (and this is optional), you turn on the CHORUS 1 button to thicken the sound up a little further with some chorus.

If you've done everything correctly, you should have something that sounds a bit like this:

Yamaha SK-30 on Ebay

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Roland Jupiter-8 on Ebay

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vince Clarke Launches "The Analogue Monologues" Minidoc Series

Synth-pop legend Vince Clarke has launched a new series of mini-documentaries entitled The Analogue Monologues in which he talks about some of his favorite analog gear. The first episode is up on his site and discusses the wonderful Sequential Circuits Pro One.

Simulating Guitar Strums With Logic's Q-Flam Parameter

Anyone who has tried it will attest that Logic is an extremely deep program. So deep, in fact, that you may only ever use a fraction of the features it offers. That's fine. No use in making your life more complicated than it needs to be. The down side is, there are a lot of neat features that get overlooked or forgotten. A good example of this is the Q-FLAM parameter under the ADVANCED QUANTIZATION options of the QUANTIZE section.

Q-FLAM simply staggers the notes in a chord you play by the selected note amount. While this can indeed be used to simulate flams with drum sounds, it also happens to be perfect for emulating the strum of a guitar. Eventually, with longer note values, you'll get an arpeggio instead of a strum, so try to keep values somewhere between 24th notes up to 64ths for best results. And remember - for best results, you need to voice your chords like they'd be voiced on a guitar for best results. Give it a try!

Radikal Technologies Spectralis 2 on Ebay

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Nord Rack on Ebay

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Trailer for Upcoming Live Yazoo Album

New Brian Eno Album Out in November on Warp Records

While word of this leaked out a little while back, today came official word that a new album from ambient pioneer/super producer Brian Eno would be releasing his new album, entitled "Small Craft on a Milk Sea" on November 2nd on Warp Records. The album will be available in a standard CD/download format, as well as 2 deluxe box set versions. More info is available at Eno's website.

Bad-ass Looking Lucite Organ

Via Boingboing:

Check this thing out...It's a Wersi Digital DX500 organ made of lucite (it includes some pretty cool looking lucite speakers too). Turns out it's for sale too, if you have an extra $85,000 burning a hole in your pocket...

Akai AX-80 on Ebay

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Mattel Optigan on Ebay

Ugh... wish I had some extra cash laying around. I've always loved the sounds from this thing...

Info at the link...

Arp Quadra on Ebay

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Friday, August 20, 2010