Saturday, February 27

An advocation for alternative synthesis

Over the last 10 years or so, the revival in hardware synthesizers has been somewhat meteoric. As a lover of all thing synthesis and hardware, this has been incredible.  The choices a musician has now are verging on overwhelming, especially when you factor in the second hand market for vintage gear too.  There's one thing that's kinda irking me though... and that's the fact that every new synth that comes out these days is usually a subtractive analog.  Don't get me wrong, I love analog just as much as the next guy, but when every company is getting on the monophonic analog synth game, I can't help but feel a little disappointed.

I refuse to be brainwashed by common opinion that 'you must buy analog', or that  'analog is the best' etc. Quite simply, that is bullshit. Analog definitely serves it's purpose, but the amount of times I wind up shaking my head reading things from people saying that they would only buy analog gear and not use anything else, is just mind blowing. Digital synths seem to have this stigma surrounding them, like you are just as bad as those filthy peasants using VST's!  Heathens!  Of course, you should all know that I'm a big supporter of ANYTHING that sounds good and serves a purpose... but yeah, on with this rant, since I'm building a head of steam here :)

I've got a good number of analog gear in my studio that I love and swear by, but as you're probably aware by now, I write music with deep atmospherics.  The kind that FM synths like the DX series are capable of, or weird alien landscapes that the JD-800 can only do. I can't help but feel that people are missing out on a whole new world of possibilities by limiting themselves to strictly analog hardware. But the other side of the coin is companies not producing digital synths due to the overwhelming seeming demand for analog gear, caused by these very people that shun the beautiful pristine sounds of the DX7 or the D-50. Another point to consider is there's software like FM8 that can do super complex FM, sounds somewhat decent, and would always be a damn sight cheaper than a hardware version! But I digress...

So while everyone pines over the new Moog Mother 32, or the new DSI OB-6 (both of which are fantastic synths, don't get me wrong!), I'll be sat here praying to Yamaha for a new 6 or 8-op FM-X synth, that doesn't have all the Montage bells and whistles that I don't particularly need. You know what would be even better?  Dave Smith resurrecting the old Prophet VS technology, or Korg doing a new Wavestation.  Bring back vector synthesis!  Hell, someone make a new shit hot granular synth or a new wavetable unit!  Until then, keep your mind open people, and buy hardware based on how it sounds and what it can do for you, rather than if it's signal path is 100% analog.


Andrew Gerrand said...

Interesting post James. You should take a look at the Eurorack scene. There are a lot of people there exploring many different kinds of synthesis, besides subtractive.

For instance, the Intellijel Shapeshifter is a unique wavetable-based dual oscillator that is exceptional for FM. The Synthesis Technologies Morphing Terrarium is another kind of wavetable oscillator that takes me to many surprising sonic places. There's also the MakeNoise Mysteron that does digital synthesis of plucked strings (the "karplus strong" algorithm). Another favourite digital oscillator in the Euro world is the Mutable Instruments Braids. And the list goes on...

But once you have a signal, the Eurorack world provides endless ways to manipulate it. Besides the plethora of great subtractive filters, there are wave shapers, ring modulators, and many kinds of wacky digital processors. The Mutable Instruments Clouds and 4MS Spectral Multiband Resonator are both worth checking out.

I guess what I'm saying is: you're not alone! The electronic music industry is seeing an explosion of creativity and innovation right now, if you look in the right places. :-)


ASC said...

Andrew,it's been a long time mate. Nice to hear from you. My eyes and ears are firmly on the modular scene, as it's definitely where the innovation is right now. I've already bought a Mother-32 to integrate into a modular setup when I eventually end up pulling the trigger on some modules. Intellijel, Mutable, Makenoise, Tiptop etc are all on my watchlist. It'll be a matter of time before I'm emptying my bank account into a modular setup I fear :)

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