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#2849877 - 04/16/17 04:01 PM Synthesizer note existentialism
Theo Verelst Offline
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When synthesizers became popular part of "modern" music and probably nobody thought "what the hell is a synthesizer" anymore, the Minimoog and Roland SH bass solos possibly had become obligate and boring, the race for synthesizer dominance changed. The polyphonics and the digital tone generators however seldom create what a lot of people, from JMJ aficionados to (usually rather senseless, which isn't an insult) modern dumb dance lovers would receive as the New Laser Harp or a Great Synth Solo Sound.

Musically, synthesizer notes can be of a lot of variety and when you include digital synths there can be material mostly reminding of other instruments, or typical digital stuff that doesn't make people think "that's a synthesizer", however, how often is there a piece of music, a song, that clearly is "played on synthesizer".

I just successfully 3-(deep)phase post processed some high definition tracks among which "Killer Queen" from an album where I think the liner notes stated explicitly there were no synthesizers used. The opposite, only "synthesizer" music knows many genres, too, but strangely enough it's still a bit of a strange hobby to "play" music on a synthesizer. Depeche Mode being an example I like, where I also tested a track from in my processing setup for enhancing mix bands, correcting tape errors, and preparing for more proper DAC sound and stereo image. They got nice synthesizer existence that is recognizable in various instrumental music theory.

Often, synthesizers appear to have to fight for an existence as an instrument that plays music according to the music theory rules of at least 5 centuries, it seems more than organs, pianos and electric pianos.

T.

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#2849887 - 04/16/17 05:44 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Theo Verelst]
Cower, Boy! NQ Offline
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Originally Posted By: Theo Verelst
I just successfully 3-(deep)phase post processed some high definition tracks among which "Killer Queen" from an album where I think the liner notes stated explicitly there were no synthesizers used.

Yep this was a bit of a thing Queen did on their earlier album liner notes until "The Game" was released. They eventually succumbed - big time!

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#2849895 - 04/16/17 06:20 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Cower, Boy! NQ]
Jonathan Hughes Online   content
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I was never sure if it was an anti-synthesizer statement, or boast about the fact that Brian May could get so many unique, non-guitar-like sounds out of his guitars.

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#2849927 - 04/16/17 10:22 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Jonathan Hughes]
Cower, Boy! NQ Offline
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My understanding is it was more of the latter. I think the story goes that Queen were frustrated that folks thought that May's guitar work was done on a synth.

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#2849942 - 04/17/17 03:14 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Theo Verelst]
Phreakay Offline
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Originally Posted By: Theo Verelst
The polyphonics and the digital tone generators however seldom create what a lot of people, from JMJ aficionados to (usually rather senseless, which isn't an insult) modern dumb dance lovers would receive as the New Laser Harp or
Great Synth Solo Sound


I not insulted but my head is spinning around the world while I am up all night to get lucky.
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#2849970 - 04/17/17 07:27 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Phreakay]
BurningPianoMan Offline
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Theo, is this a musical question, or perhaps a larger one. La Nausée might be a good start.


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#2850051 - 04/17/17 12:46 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: BurningPianoMan]
Theo Verelst Offline
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Right. Existentialism
a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will..

That, and Sartre aside lets take the most obvious meaning of what I meant please, there's this idea "the synthesizer" is an important instrument, how does that reflect in terms of tone, as compared to trumpets, organs, piano guitars, and so on.

A solo synth can produce a nice note to play a musical piece with, but how does this go in practice ? Is there an existence of The Golden MiniMoog Bass, the perfect Prophet chord, the Omnisphere Master of All presets, or has synthesizer become synonymous with a host of nameless sound elements in a hundred parallel sequencer tracks.

Is some sort of squary or saw-ish wave with a lame envelope enough to put together a dance track, or should it be so that synthesixers are like part of measurement equipment, thrilling for their accurateness, of an overwhelming musical deepness and applicability. Are synthesizers finally cartoon figures for collectors ?

T.


Edited by Theo Verelst (04/17/17 12:47 PM)

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#2850143 - 04/17/17 07:33 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Theo Verelst]
David Emm Offline
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Theo: Are synthesizers finally cartoon figures for collectors?

To a large extent, yes. It began once a teenager could acquire a few starter devices and make a synth noise. There is now an observable gulf between cheap, ubiquitous fun-time synths and tour-worthy keyboards. You have to reach into the near stratosphere to find a serious instrument like the Prophet-12, because relatively few are looking for the multi-year commitment that most of us take for granted. Without enough of that, you're not likely to find a personal voice of merit. You gotta sweat if you wanna Get.

Likewise, I'm not interested in claims of "infinite" possibilities. If my notes don't get across, the synth patch sure won't become Art by itself. How cartoonish it becomes is up to you. I think there is a synth counterpart to the old dictum that if you have a web site for your cats, that's cute, but a separate one for each cat means you have a problem. With that in mind, by my calculations, the maximum number of hardware synths a marriage can withstand is seven.
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#2850155 - 04/17/17 08:58 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: David Emm]
Tom Williams Offline
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I think that a major impediment to the acceptance of synths is that, even more than pipe organs, synth voicings are a sort of one-off, and thus hard to pass on to the next student. On an organ you can say "Gimme 8' and 2' diapasons / principal, and I can play this song for you." On a B3 you can say "888, C3, slow rotor" and have a somewhat replicable sound, with predictable playing techniques. On a synth the closest we've some to standard registration is "analog brass." Well, that and the Lucky Man outro.

The piano has a limited timbre -- so it's relatively easy to write for and to teach. But due to the synthesizer's very strength -- its timbral versatility -- it's nearly impossible to get academia or for that matter culture to approach synth as a serious performance instrument.

As far as I can tell, the last time a new instrument made it into artistic respect was when Segovia got guitar accepted as legitimate. At least the (acoustic) guitar has a well-defined set of pitches and timbres.

By the way, whenever I can, I show school kids how the synthesizer is actually the most expressive keyboard instrument yet developed; by this effort I hope I can get some of 'em to say "I want to take that seriously as a musical instrument."
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#2850191 - 04/18/17 06:12 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Tom Williams]
Theo Verelst Offline
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In perfect form, a synth should be one of two things, maybe three if you count "commercial success", a measurement generator (you know those racks with dials and bleep noise) that's fairly accurate and can span the whole audio range, or a top musical instrument in terms of the outcoming sound being exceptionally suited for application as a unique instrument. Probably that would have to do with the amping and the acoustics, not beyond where the hard to discuss taste area mounts itself above. Then there's the "I want these types of knobbies" thing. hmm.

A a measurement device, the synth is underrated, maybe because people aren't working their audio systems anymore the way some would, because well, you know, digital is better!

T.

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#2850192 - 04/18/17 06:26 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Theo Verelst]
DicemLabs.com Offline
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Originally Posted By: Theo Verelst
digital is better!


No religious talk/debates, please.

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#2850200 - 04/18/17 07:34 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: DicemLabs.com]
Theo Verelst Offline
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Actually, when done right, the promise of digital is better: an audio file is an audio file, playback on the same DAC (should) always sound(s) the same, etc etc.

So, no I'm not all cynical about it..

Question is: how does a, first of all analog, synthesizer sound through a sound system and second, the listening space. Or maybe it can even be prepared for a digital mix, which is certainly a real option. Unfortunately most of that is pretty hard, and not on the radar of most people.

T.

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#2850267 - 04/18/17 12:54 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Theo Verelst]
Synthoid Offline
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I'd like some bacon with my eggistenialism. laugh
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#2850274 - 04/18/17 01:03 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Synthoid]
Wasteland Offline
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Originally Posted By: Synthoid
I'd like some bacon with my eggistenialism. laugh

Bacon wasn't an eggsistentialist. His philosophy was rasher.
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#2850300 - 04/18/17 03:21 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Wasteland]
JerryA Offline
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The Moog and SEM seem sure of their existence here ... cool smile





maybe they are merely searching for a sun? wink

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#2850343 - 04/18/17 08:11 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Tom Williams]
Nathanael_I Offline
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Originally Posted By: Tom Williams
I think that a major impediment to the acceptance of synths is that, even more than pipe organs, synth voicings are a sort of one-off, and thus hard to pass on to the next student. On an organ you can say "Gimme 8' and 2' diapasons / principal, and I can play this song for you." On a B3 you can say "888, C3, slow rotor" and have a somewhat replicable sound, with predictable playing techniques. On a synth the closest we've some to standard registration is "analog brass." Well, that and the Lucky Man outro.

The piano has a limited timbre -- so it's relatively easy to write for and to teach. But due to the synthesizer's very strength -- its timbral versatility -- it's nearly impossible to get academia or for that matter culture to approach synth as a serious performance instrument.


There are few synth performances as expressive as an acoustic instrument solo. I think that's the real issue. Who is doing live synth work as expressive and emotionally moving as YoYo Ma's Bach Cello suites? Most synths are tonally capable in potential timbres, but the performance control vs programming effort is not even close to accessible for most musicians. How would any of us program ONE sound to be as expressive as his cello? Turning keyboard tracking on in the filter section doesn't get that far for this exercise. Even a Roli Seaboard doesn't get there by itself - maybe with pedals and one hand making notes, one running continuous controllers.

You can hear this problem even in fantastic music like Snarky Puppy. The synths are superbly played - wonderful, inventive lines. But the actual tones are not rich and intrinsically interesting - the lines don't breathe like good string playing or horns. The horns in Snarky have "more emotion per note". The synth bass parts are relatively static compared to what Michael League lays down on either upright or electric bass. The synth bass parts ARE musically effective, cool, and all the rest. But they are not as nuanced, and I think that's the real issue. Well-trained musicians get more return-for-effort from acoustic instruments than synths right now. You can see that on this forum with the preference for acoustic pianos if given a choice (completely guilty here - my piano gets more play than my synths).

I don't find the theremin to provide a particularly interesting timbre compared to a synthesizer. But, Carolina Eyck plays with major orchestras in Europe. Why? She plays with the same level of expressive control and nuance as the other players. (With a predictable and clear timbre, since it only makes "the theremin sound").

Edmund Eagen plays some wonderfully expressive pieces on his Hakken Continuum. But this is after years of practice, work, and programming on a control surfaces that is arguably the most expressive yet devised for synthesizers. He focuses on a limited set of patches that have taken years to tweak to the level of expressiveness he demonstrates.

Interestingly, the most pure synth music is almost all "performed" with the help of a DAW. With automation, a musician can control a dozen or more parameters and alter them in response to the desired musical line. Very expressive and musical results can happen. That solves the "synths can be expressive" issue, but not the "musician making expressive music in real time with others" problem.

Acoustic instruments have had hundreds of years of evolution. They fit a defined place in an orchestra. The tonal variety of the synth is certainly an impediment to fitting into the regimented nature of orchestral music. But given that tonal variety, we still don't have thousands of people playing synths even at the expressive level of university violinists. So, they are relegated to playing backing pads, ambiances, and textures, loud lead lines where dynamics aren't that important, evoking other instruments, or making playable percussive keyboard parts since the interface tends to be keyboards. I think that if the most tonally capable instrument was also equally expressively playable, many more musicians would want to play the synthesizer.

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#2850351 - 04/18/17 10:19 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Nathanael_I]
seanl Offline
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"There are few synth performances as expressive as an acoustic instrument solo. I think that's the real issue. Who is doing live synth work as expressive and emotionally moving as YoYo Ma's Bach Cello suites? Most synths are tonally capable in potential timbres, but the performance control vs programming effort is not even close to accessible for most musicians. How would any of us program ONE sound to be as expressive as his cello? Turning keyboard tracking on in the filter section doesn't get that far for this exercise. Even a Roli Seaboard doesn't get there by itself - maybe with pedals and one hand making notes, one running continuous controllers."

Jon Jenkins

David Helpling
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#2850373 - 04/19/17 05:21 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: seanl]
JerryA Offline
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This conversation seems to be about a glass half full and the glass half empty, and there is merit to both sides. I tend to a bit of a rose tinted glasses guy so let me try to address some of the points which have been raised. Here's to everyone on all sides of this issue. cheers

- Everybody who sees a THX movie gets treated to a bit of iconic synth culture as an hors d'oeuvre. This means that the synth has won a place in society already. cool

- True, most of us don't sound like Yo Yo Ma playing JSB but how many cellists do? At this point, for single note expressivity, my high point is Brecker on EWI. I am not aware of a keyboard synthesist who approaches this expressivity, but I'd put Brecker up against a Carolina Eyck or Clara Rockmore. YMMV. (Great examples btw)

- I agree that the best analogy to the keyboard synthesizer is the organ. We don't have traditional registrations yet, but I feel a kinship with AGO guys who are busy preparing registrations for days and weeks before a recital. It's the same labor of love. smile

- The synthesizer is still 52 years young, (For personal reasons, I maintain that fifty-something is young, lol. razz ) and will find it's own unique performance traditions, which may include automation, daws and unusual interfaces. Why not? I agree that it has not yet become a staple vehicle for "serious" composers, but in an age when concert orchestras are downsizing ... perhaps a better path to acceptance in society is through middle-brow and low-brow culture such as movies, musicals and dance music?


Here's Michael Brecker ... taken too soon. love cry


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#2850518 - 04/19/17 08:01 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Nathanael_I]
Tom Williams Offline
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Nice conversation, Nathaniel. Thanks for a well-considered response.

Originally Posted By: Nathanael_I
There are few synth performances as expressive as an acoustic instrument solo. I think that's the real issue. Who is doing live synth work as expressive and emotionally moving as YoYo Ma's Bach Cello suites? Most synths are tonally capable in potential timbres, but the performance control vs programming effort is not even close to accessible for most musicians.


I think I agree with your axioms, but not with your conclusion. Just as the cello has multiple expressive parameters -- bow position, pressure, bowing speed, etc. -- synths have many articulation and realtime expression controls available as well, including sliders, wheels, velocity, yada yada.

IMO The problem is not that a synth as an instrument can't be expressive; it's that the great majority of us don't bother to utilize those features in performance.

...and that goes back to the fact that the synth is so versatile that it's tough or impossible to standardize on synth expression. F'rinstance, I often map aftertouch to pitch shift rather than to LFO depth, so I can control my vibrato more expressively -- but how would I notate that in a "symphony for synth and orchestra"? How could another synthesist even utilize the technique without first custom-programming a patch?
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#2850532 - 04/19/17 10:15 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Tom Williams]
Nathanael_I Offline
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Originally Posted By: Tom Williams
Nice conversation, Nathaniel. Thanks for a well-considered response.

I think I agree with your axioms, but not with your conclusion. Just as the cello has multiple expressive parameters -- bow position, pressure, bowing speed, etc. -- synths have many articulation and realtime expression controls available as well, including sliders, wheels, velocity, yada yada.

IMO The problem is not that a synth as an instrument can't be expressive; it's that the great majority of us don't bother to utilize those features in performance.



I wonder if the piano is poor preparation for synthesizers. On the piano, the sound is essentially percussive, and dies away quickly. This means that dynamics and phrasing exist "within the line", not "within the note". At slow tempos, the arpeggios and other devices give us enough notes to shape the dynamics, unless the decay of the note is itself the interest.

On wind and string instruments, there is a "life of the note" that is part of even beginning instruction. Players have to physically control embouchure or bow pressure to even make a sound at all.

As you say, synths have many controls - all programable. But a pianist default is to want two hands on keys. So, we add pedals. But the flexibility is there to make a synth control scheme that works for the player and the music. Need both hands? use pedals? Only need to play melody or one-handed, use the other for expression.

I am actually not at all negative on synths or expressive playing/programming. I think it is a marvelous opportunity. The instrument is barely explored in that sense, and it IS still early days.

The Brecker video was strong. Very expressive playing (and a master musician by any definition).

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#2850573 - 04/20/17 06:41 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Nathanael_I]
Theo Verelst Offline
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It wasn't the original use of a lot of synthesized solo sounds worshiping the expressiveness outside of plain sound. Though the quest for controllers, also outside of keyboards, was there.

I maintain there's a reason to assume that synthesis benefits from understanding the limitations of digital (As oppose toa full analog synth and amp path) as well as that (proper) measurements can very much do away with problems of acoustics and amplification as well as create an understanding what it is that most people like about synthesizers, and probably dislike about digital "things" including software.

Measuring how that Minimoog bass bounces through the hall or gymnasium sure can be a part of it. Sub-Decibel level accurate tuning of a (high res, digital) remixed Commodores recording can make audio bliss appear and move away, but that's a whole lot more of synth and acoustics knowledge that's involved there. And more complicated measurements about sound perception and acoustics that a simple synth seems to offer. But the Moog on a full range amplification has been around for a long time, and still holds very interesting promise in such fields!

T.

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#2850574 - 04/20/17 06:47 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Theo Verelst]
J Graul Offline
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Loc: Louisville, KY
My head hurts.

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#2850589 - 04/20/17 07:51 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: J Graul]
Synthoid Offline
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Originally Posted By: J Graul
My head hurts.


You get used to it. laugh
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To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.
-- Aaron Copland

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#2850699 - 04/20/17 04:20 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Nathanael_I]
JerryA Offline
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Originally Posted By: Nathanael_I

I wonder if the piano is poor preparation for synthesizers. On the piano, the sound is essentially percussive, and dies away quickly. This means that dynamics and phrasing exist "within the line", not "within the note".


This is my perspective also, but primarily as it relates to melody. While a pianist is able to convey beautiful melodies ...



... the instrument tends to need harmonic and rhythmic clothing in order to be lyrical, due to it's focus (as you elegantly describe) on the velocity/attack relationship. Rhythmically, however ... the pianist has strong ergonomic advantages over horns and bowed strings ... it wasn't till the advent of Yamaha/Chowning's linear FM, that synths could approach the complexity of a piano in the attack phase of the sound (Somebody might disagree with this and mention the Roland SA engine, but I think my observation will largely stand).

This suggests at least two paths for the keyboard synthesist:

1) Focus on lyrical melodies and de-emphasize velocity sensitivity, while using alternate controllers to simulate energy (analogous to moving less or more air on a sax, or using more or less bow in a violin). For example with a ribbon controller, if you have some functions available or just the ability to define a variable and add to it from a bi-directional mod source, you could allow the amount of wiggling on the ribbon denote energy. (I believe this kind of coding is possible within several environments such as Nord Modular, Kurzweil VAST, Max, etc.) This would allow the left hand to be shaping the energy in a finer way than opening and closing a pedal (which is nice to have, but a little less precise). It would be less direct than denoting energy from finger position on the ribbon ... and would lead to a certain type of fluid melodic line.

2) Focus on rhythm and hand patterns, in the attack phase ... which could take the synthesizer out of center stage in homophonic music and relegate it to an accompaniment role. (A rhythm instrument like the piano!) Still, it is a rich environment for solo performance and for example, with FM and and a bit of programming someone could create a controller which functions as completely as this idiophone ...



Just a couple of ideas which occurred as I read your thoughtful post. ... Peace.

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#2850724 - 04/20/17 07:50 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: JerryA]
Nathanael_I Offline
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Registered: 01/11/15
Posts: 69
Originally Posted By: JerryA


This suggests at least two paths for the keyboard synthesist:

1) Focus on lyrical melodies and de-emphasize velocity sensitivity, while using alternate controllers to simulate energy (analogous to moving less or more air on a sax, or using more or less bow in a violin). For example with a ribbon controller, if you have some functions available or just the ability to define a variable and add to it from a bi-directional mod source, you could allow the amount of wiggling on the ribbon denote energy. (I believe this kind of coding is possible within several environments such as Nord Modular, Kurzweil VAST, Max, etc.) This would allow the left hand to be shaping the energy in a finer way than opening and closing a pedal (which is nice to have, but a little less precise). It would be less direct than denoting energy from finger position on the ribbon ... and would lead to a certain type of fluid melodic line.

2) Focus on rhythm and hand patterns, in the attack phase ... which could take the synthesizer out of center stage in homophonic music and relegate it to an accompaniment role. (A rhythm instrument like the piano!) Still, it is a rich environment for solo performance and for example, with FM and and a bit of programming someone could create a controller which functions as completely as this idiophone ...


Jerry,

Thanks for the considered response.

My own explorations have led me more down the first of your two paths more than the second. Most orchestral sample libraries do not use velocity for anything on sustain patches (long notes). Dynamics are controlled with CC1 or CC11. On my DAW rig, I use a set of MIDI faders to ride this with my left hand, while playing with my right. Given that most orchestral instruments are monophonic, this is not a compromise in terms of note playing. On my synthesizers, I have tended to replicate this control arrangement. I'll use the Mod wheel to control dynamics and to slightly open the filter as volume rises and other volume related tonal changes. Velocity will be mapped to the attack envelopes. My favorite string patch that I made on the Solaris works this way. I enjoy playing it, but I can't play two handed, and the patch has a lot of subtlety to small changes. It is much better played from the mod wheel than a pedal - which you mention.

The Haken Continuum is the logical conclusion to this search for an ideal "expressive note" controller. I stopped short at the Roli Seaboard in my first foray, but will likely switch to the Continuum at some point for this type of control. It is superior in potential to the Roli by a long margin, and the "keyboard layout" of the Roli is still quite different from a traditional keyboard. After this experiment, I am ready to trade full expressivity and "acoustic instrument" sensitivity for "keys".

The second style seems to come naturally to keyboard synths. We are all used to shaping a line or playing rhythmically, so doing so with other similar timbres seems to work.

Getting back to the ideas around controllers and standardization, I think that this is a significant difference to traditional instruments. Violins, trombones, and pianos all exist in fixed form. While quality differences exist and minor keying differences in woodwinds are common on concert instruments, pretty much any player can pick up any instrument and it will be familiar. Synthesizers are certainly not that way. Even keyboard synths have little standardization where muscle memory is concerned. Mod wheel placement varies, ribbons are rare, some systems use joysticks, pitch sliders, etc. All of them work, but the variety tends to create the situation that nuance doesn't transfer. So the mod wheel is used to modulate an LFO for vibrato. Some controls have a fairly short throw, and therefore seem coarse in control potential. I know the 100mm faders I have on my DAW rig are vastly better than shorter ones for subtle string work.

It seems that part of playing a synthesizer is customizing it to personal playing preferences, control layouts, etc. In this way, there is no "standard" training or system of expression, so results vary widely.

I have been planning to standardize the control layout for all my custom patches in the Solaris. I've been back and forth around whether to optimize for one keyboard hand or two with pedals. For "expressive note" work, or sustained type of patches like pads, strings, etc, I believe I'll settle on one handed playing, with the other for expression and control. The Solaris has the best mod wheel I've ever used - it is very precise, long-throw, and expressive. It also has a full-length ribbon, a joystick, programmable buttons, and knobs for key tonal controls on the front panel. My plan is to make an "INIT" patch with all the controls mapped so that each new patch has everything standardized and ready for customization.

There is still the downside that this is all in one device and will never transfer elsewhere. It makes the effort seem temporary compared to practicing piano, and that is certainly a factor in how much time I suspect keyboard players put into synths vs. pianos, organs, Rhodes, etc.

Enjoying the exchange,

Nathanael

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#2851535 - 04/24/17 05:10 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Nathanael_I]
JerryA Offline
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Posts: 6946
Loc: New England
I too have "passed" on the Roli, in part because I enjoy the high resolution of analog control at least for the melodic voice. High resolution digital, such as that on Solaris and Continuum/Eagan-matrix could be a different experience. I am eager to hear your point of view.

"There is still the downside that this is all in one device and will never transfer elsewhere. It makes the effort seem temporary compared to practicing piano, and that is certainly a factor in how much time I suspect keyboard players put into synths vs. pianos, organs, Rhodes, etc. "

I agree this is the paradox for a mid-culture instrument with high-culture aspirations. How do you convince audiences of subtle and grand expressiveness without putting in the time to build virtuosity, and why would one build virtuosity on a changing platform with uncertain returns?

Recently I saw the Charlie Parker movie, "Bird" and was reflecting on the courage of jazz pioneers who put in way more time and way more expressiveness than the immediate nightclub context required. In doing so they moved their instruments and their idiom into a high art space, sometimes at great personal cost to themselves. I wish you all the best with your aspirations and explorations.

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#2851572 - 04/24/17 07:47 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: JerryA]
Tom Williams Offline
Gold Member

Registered: 01/04/14
Posts: 604
Loc: West Virginia
One of my current frustrations is that many synths are trending away from the kind of control ( == expressiveness) under discussion. I haven't had polyphonic aftertouch since I gave my Ensoniq sampler to my son. My AX-Synth has no aftertouch on its keys. Heck -- it maps the squeezy thing to the mod wheel, and maps the wheel to aftertouch. I have to customize patches to do what I feel. Roland keyboards in general seem to eschew pressure sensitivity.

The evidence is that the current market does not significantly include expressive synthesists.

I'm loving this thread. It's stuff I have been working on for decades. Apologies to Theo if we have hijacked it from its original intent.
_________________________
-Tom Williams
<First name><At>AirNetworking<dot>com
PC361, AX-Synth, K2600S
M-Audio Keystation 88, Axiom 61, Boss RT-20

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#2851593 - 04/24/17 10:45 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: JerryA]
Nathanael_I Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 01/11/15
Posts: 69
Originally Posted By: JerryA
I too have "passed" on the Roli, in part because I enjoy the high resolution of analog control at least for the melodic voice. High resolution digital, such as that on Solaris and Continuum/Eagan-matrix could be a different experience. I am eager to hear your point of view.

"There is still the downside that this is all in one device and will never transfer elsewhere. It makes the effort seem temporary compared to practicing piano, and that is certainly a factor in how much time I suspect keyboard players put into synths vs. pianos, organs, Rhodes, etc. "

I agree this is the paradox for a mid-culture instrument with high-culture aspirations. How do you convince audiences of subtle and grand expressiveness without putting in the time to build virtuosity, and why would one build virtuosity on a changing platform with uncertain returns?

Recently I saw the Charlie Parker movie, "Bird" and was reflecting on the courage of jazz pioneers who put in way more time and way more expressiveness than the immediate nightclub context required. In doing so they moved their instruments and their idiom into a high art space, sometimes at great personal cost to themselves. I wish you all the best with your aspirations and explorations.


JerryA,

Another thoughtful reply. I am enjoying the high S/N ratio in this thread! I love this line of yours:

"I agree this is the paradox for a mid-culture instrument with high-culture aspirations. "

That seems to express the paradox well, along with your observations about the roots of Jazz. I guess that is part of innovation as an artist. The first drum kits weren't very easy to play compared to today - vintage kick pedals wouldn't make very many happy today. But people used them, and pushed them, and evolved them.

So in that sense, it is up to us as musicians to take the tools, and use them, push them, inspire the designers to do better. I've had wonderful email exchanges with John Bowen (inventor of the Solaris synth). Yes he is a brilliant synth designer, but he is curious, open, and wants to figure out how to be a better, more innovative designer in his next work. There is a partnership between artists and designers that is key to advancing things. It has been this way for acoustic instruments for centuries. (Note, I am not talking about marketing partnerships, but actual design and usability work).

With respect to high-resolution control, I would safely be counted as a fan. I have a VAX77 keyboard which has high-resolution MIDI and poly-AT. It is more expressive than my Kronos keyboard. The Roli is more expressive for slow lines than the VAX77.
The Haken Continuum is radically fast in the time domain, and the X-Y-Z domains. I believe it has the most responsive control surface of any electronic instrument. Leopold made sure it samples faster than human thresholds of perception. It is interesting that there are many classical examples of Continuum playing on YouTube, but not so much with other surfaces. I believe it to have the most "acoustic" interface.

Another "fast" keyboard designed for real-time use is the Non-Linear Lab's C15. The designer is so into real-time control that he elected not to put MIDI on it! It's too slow for his taste. That means you HAVE to play this from its keyboard. But it doesn't have poly-AT, pitch sliding, etc. I love the creativity of the new synth engine (though the sound examples are not strong yet), but I'd rather have a Continuum for expressivity.

Personally I think that adding a Continuum to a regular keys rig is optimal. There is a lot of value and expressivity out of traditional piano "expression through a stream of notes". My observation is that as the tempo ramps, individual note expressivity reduces outside of vibrato. It is the slower, more lyrical sections that alternate interfaces seem at their best. I think that having both allows optimization in each world.

I don't know whether the Solaris over-samples the controller inputs. The main thing with the mod and pitch wheels is that they are long-throw, and the weighting/friction is perfect. The wheel has resistance, and that allows for finer control than a purely unweighted wheel. The combination of long-throw and resistance makes a compelling controller. The ribbon is coarser. It would be great if you could "bow" on it, but it is a standard ribbon controller. The joystick is VERY sensitive and expressive. It is almost weightless, but stays where you leave it. It is easy to have one patch morph through several different timbres and to use that to help subtly articulate notes. I can manipulate the joystick and mod wheel simultaneously (not at virtuoso levels), but it is physically possible with control.

Best,

Nathanael

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#2851595 - 04/24/17 11:08 PM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Tom Williams]
Nathanael_I Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 01/11/15
Posts: 69
Originally Posted By: Tom Williams
One of my current frustrations is that many synths are trending away from the kind of control ( == expressiveness) under discussion. I haven't had polyphonic aftertouch since I gave my Ensoniq sampler to my son. My AX-Synth has no aftertouch on its keys. Heck -- it maps the squeezy thing to the mod wheel, and maps the wheel to aftertouch. I have to customize patches to do what I feel. Roland keyboards in general seem to eschew pressure sensitivity.

The evidence is that the current market does not significantly include expressive synthesists.

I'm loving this thread. It's stuff I have been working on for decades. Apologies to Theo if we have hijacked it from its original intent.


The good news is that it is out there if you look for it. That wasn't true even 10 years ago. Check out the new VAX keyboards. Under $1000 for full PolyAT!

That said, polyAT on the VAX77 is nowhere near as expressive as the Roli Seaboard. I have the original "Grand", so it is not front-to-back sensitive like the newer, cheaper model. But it is much more expressive than any synth or piano action I've tried for "individual note expressivity".

I don't miss polyAT on the Kronos, but I would happily take finer control than the Seaboard offers. I guess the more like a piano it is, the lower expectation I have. But as soon as it isn't a piano, I want it to be acoustic instrument good, more than I want it to be piano muscle-memory convenient.

Pitch seems continuous when sliding on the Roli, but if you move on a single note, it is clearly quarter-tones to the next note. Vibrato is not quantized. The Continuum is not this way and is truly continuous like a fretless guitar.

The other "glass half full" perspective on expressivity is that Max and OSC exist. That is Max the programming language, and OSC the control protocol. There is lots of hardware, iPad interfaces (Lemur), etc that allow for just about any imaginable control layout. It has never been easier to have a surface that is EXACTLY what you want. I have a custom Lemur template for my DAW that gives me all kinds of custom buttons and features. It takes a bit to set up, but then I have what I want. Faders, buttons, knobs - its all there and easy to do without being a programmer.

Max is limitless. But very easy to use for MIDI routing and processing (and lightning fast). I've purchased MIDI buttons, knobs, etc and it is easy to set them up for anything. You can see some of my explorations here. Obviously, I use a computer with my rig. There's a degree of computer geekiness that comes with some of this.

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#2851618 - 04/25/17 04:51 AM Re: Synthesizer note existentialism [Re: Nathanael_I]
Theo Verelst Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 02/27/10
Posts: 3618
Two sentence poems without swear words can only do so much good eh ?

I feel enough jazz and classical harmonic feel when striking a few chords on a decent piano such that I feel, that that musical space isn't threatened by an army of people waiting to hop a hip because their sensitivity for honor versus hypocrisy is low.

A music teacher explaining a simple instrument imitation on a Mini Moog is good enough raison d'etre by now. Obviously my point is a lot of musical notes in the digital age are threatened by a sameness and lack of vibrant variation, and hampered from going loud by limitations unknown to many.

Even a compressed, low bandwidth recording of a Prophet 6 can be refreshing in comparison, I feel more for assessing what gives a synthesizer tone in this time the right to have a big mouth on it ?

Theo


Edited by Theo Verelst (04/25/17 04:54 AM)

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