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Synthesizers are "babies" (Herbie Hancock)


Sundown

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Around 1991, Herbie Hancock appeared on a television show that Graham Nash was hosting, and he answered some questions and performed some Headhunters tunes. Nash asked him about acoustic pianos and synthesizers, and Hancock said that you can't compare the two. To paraphrase, he said the piano has had 300+ years of development and refinement, and by comparison, synthesizers are "babies" (meaning they are too new for a relevant comparison). It was a brilliant remark.

 

I hope he's right. I hope synths haven't stopped evolving, and I hope that 4-pole filters, Moog-style wheels, and ADSR's are just stopping points along the way. It's great that a whole new generation of musicians can buy a Minimoog, a real Rhodes, and great clonewheel emulations, but I'm ready for something NEW. You can only look back for so long.

 

Around that same time, Rick Wakeman was interviewed in Keyboard about the fist ABWH album (1989), and he said that all the sounds that can be sampled and/or synthesized have already been heard, and it's now just a matter of gear getting smaller and cheaper (again, I'm paraphrasing). He called it a bit early (there have been some new developments since then), but he hasn't been proven entirely wrong yet.

 

Here's to synths continuing to evolve for many years to come...

 

 

 

 

Sundown

 

Working on: The Jupiter Bluff; They Live, We Groove

Main axes: Kawai MP11 and Kurz PC361

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I would agree w/ Herbie but not with Wakeman (everything that can be heard has already been heard...really?)

 

Evolution now seems to be along two lines (with the advent of VSTs and similar plugs) - sound creation / engine and hardware interface.

 

Now that the engine has been decoupled from hardware, every issue of KB brings some new soft synth which may or may not have novel advances - and I remember how strange DX-style FM seemed to me at the time, having been weaned on basic subtractive synthesis.

 

How long will it take for someone to really plumb the depths of additive in one of the new soft synths, or even exhaust Omnisphere's options?

 

On the hardware side, new waters are being tested, like that Seaboard (is that the name?), or the fold-in-half Infinite Response, etc.

 

So I for one find it ironic that the most blood and ink gets spent on this forum when the topic is approximating or duplicating the experience of the hallowed B3.

..
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That's why Wakeman is no longer relevant musically. Apparently, he thinks everything that can be done has been done already.

 

:facepalm:

'Someday, we'll look back on these days and laugh; likely a maniacal laugh from our padded cells, but a laugh nonetheless' - Mr. Boffo.

 

We need a barfing cat emoticon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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French essayist Montagne (thank you John Schaefer for this)

"I quote others only the better to express myself."

 

Bernard Xolotl "what's interesting to me is developing an orchestration of the future: how all these different sounds and instruments can give you varied colors (sic), timbres, and sonorities. And there WILL be different sounds and instruments, even if they're under computer control. It's how you put these sounds together, the orchestration, that's interesting."

 

Vangelis (a few decades ago) "don't try to tell me they're a real instrument. The 'playability' is not correct today. Not because we don't know how but because we think we don't need it. It's a matter of attitude, not technology."

 

I've chosen the first as I think Herbie's point is valid, the second in support of Rick.

 

Lastly (again a while back):

 

"Electronic music as such will gradually die and be absorbed into the ongoing music of people singing and playing instruments. Steve Reich.

 

I hope this is true. Stranger things have happened. Berio gave us his squalking wife (you go girl - love it) and those sequenzas - Wikipedia says he also taught Einaudi composition.

 

You gotta' love life's rich (aural) tapestry.

 

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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I don't think Wakeman was all that far off the mark actually. At least in terms of what we have seen for instruments since.

Certainly the focus seems to be either on better simulations of Hammonds, Pianos, Rhodes, Orchestral sounds etc. etc. or a new generation of analog synths which are very close to what was already out there in the 70's and 80's.

 

The world of Techno is an exception I imagine (I don't listen to it personally) but most keyboard sounds I hear are simulations of sounds well known well before Wakeman made that statement.

Stage: Korg Krome 88.

Home: Korg Kross 61, Yamaha reface CS, Korg SP250, Korg mono/poly Kawai ep 608, Korg m1, Yamaha KX-5

 

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I think something the technology has done is make it possible to layer and manipulate unheard of gobs of sounds and synthesis types that just weren't possible when the technology was new. You could conceivably layer a dozen minimoogs, play a sampled orchestra, a B3, an AP and an EP all from one keyboard. That changes the possibilities compared to say, the late 70s.

 

In a way, I think it allows for a certain laziness. I think of it in the same way as video games. In the days of asteroids and pacman, they couldn't fall back on thrilling graphics and lush soundtracks, they just had to make the game fun to play.

 

That doesn't mean you CAN'T write good songs and create unique sounds, it just means there are a lot of distractions and it can be really easy to take short cuts.

 

I agree though, I would REALLY love to see some new synthesis method that changes the game. Even a modern hardware synth that makes better use of some existing technologies would be cool - additive, FM, granular, as well as some of FM's derivatives - interactive phase distortion, digital pulse modulation, etc..

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Human hands and ears are what they are. Every instrument and sound-production method pulls back towards that center by default. You can "fake it" nicely in certain styles, but once you exit the province of niche gear fans, its back to the notes you play. We've all seen huge rigs being used to play weasel farts and candy-coated cover tunes, as well as people shredding on just one or two instruments. The difference between an eye-rolling "Digital Native Dance" appearance and something memorable ultimately depends on the context you create. If Joe Zawinul could put a fresh slant on the old M1 piano, it makes the endless debate over new technologies seem quaint.

 

 

"What's the password?"
"'I have bourbon.'"
     ~ Joe Hill, "Full Throttle Stories"

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Wakeman for the most part has been. The true last game changer was D-50. .... maybe the M1.

 

The real advancements since has been

 

1) Manufactures building synth engines that can sound like each other. I no long have to carry, a FM piece, a Roland piece, and a true analog piece..... plus any electro mechanics stuff.

 

2) The improved emulations of acoustic, electro mechanical and vintage synth sounds.

"It doesn't have to be difficult to be cool" - Mitch Towne

 

"A great musician can bring tears to your eyes!!!

So can a auto Mechanic." - Stokes Hunt

 

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I hope he's right. I hope synths haven't stopped evolving, and I hope that 4-pole filters, Moog-style wheels, and ADSR's are just stopping points along the way. It's great that a whole new generation of musicians can buy a Minimoog, a real Rhodes, and great clonewheel emulations, but I'm ready for something NEW. You can only look back for so long.

 

Unfortunately, many hardware manufacturers found out the hard way that making instruments capable of new and exciting sounds is the quickest path to commercial failure. While they won't admit it, most musicians are extremely conservative in their musical views looking to reproduce songs that have been played a million times before, note-for-note, in precisely the same way, using the exact sounds of the original.

 

Creative types aren't waiting around for hardware to change, they use software. Here's a simple example of the Omnisphere envelopes. A similar capability can be found in other software synths. Know of any hardware synths that can produce this complexity?

http://macprovid.vo.llnwd.net/o43/hub/media/1001/6536/Step-2.png

 

Radical new sounds and approaches will come via software. It's much less expensive to create and you don't have the long list of constraints trying fit things into a hardware package.

 

I have to think Herbie was referring to how crude synths were back in the day in terms of expressiveness. Hell they weren't even velocity sensitive. Roland's SN stuff is an attempt at making sample-based material naturally expressive, but seems like there's still a long way to go.

 

I disagree with Wakeman. I'm hearing sounds today I never heard in the 70s-80s.

 

Busch.

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I am so hardware focused I don't think about software.

 

Personally I use my software to cover old analog synth roles ....... plus some really nice pianos I use for recording.

 

But yes you are right.

"It doesn't have to be difficult to be cool" - Mitch Towne

 

"A great musician can bring tears to your eyes!!!

So can a auto Mechanic." - Stokes Hunt

 

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Creative types aren't waiting around for hardware to change, they use software.

Or they're continuing to create with tried and true hardware. There are plenty of musicians who are more concerned about what they're playing and how they're playing it than whether or not the sound they're using is "new."

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There are plenty of musicians who are more concerned about what they're playing and how they're playing it than whether or not the sound they're using is "new."

 

+1

 

I never get tired of this sound:

 

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Hammond_b3_con_leslie_122.jpg

 

 

When an eel hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's a Moray.
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But to address the OP's comments more directly, +1 to this:

 

Radical new sounds and approaches will come via software. It's much less expensive to create and you don't have the long list of constraints trying fit things into a hardware package.
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Herbie is right. I'm hearing some really cool stuff while playing with aliasing; with just a couple of simple DSP bits you can get very interesting sounds out of aliasing artifacts that would require far more resources to create in other ways. All the usual tricks sound radically different when you listen to their aliasing artifacts in isolation from the original signal. There's a lot of "there" there IMO, and worth serious exploration.

My music http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/Pk12

 

My Soundware (Kurzweil PC3)http://pksoundware.blogspot.com/

 

My Kurzweil PC3 Tutorials http://www.youtube.com/user/poserp.

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...fogetting someone ?

 

What Wakeman and Hancock were engaging in are discussing the leaves on the trees.

 

Robert Moog created the forest.

 

It's unlikely we'll see anything quite like the late '60's/early '70's in most of our lifetimes as far as keyboard development. (Yes, I know who Thaddeus Cahill is, so let's not play history one-up-manship).

 

Advances now are incremental; and should be embraced, celebrated, and as we do-discussed.

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Here's one path forward (out of many):

 

1 Software is cheaper and easier to distribute to the masses

 

2 Trends are faster these days than they have ever been.

 

3 The "I'll play...you listen" model of music requires certain social structures, attention spans, a geographic locality, etc.

 

4 The "We'll play together" model, is portable, has all kinds of community building effects, a primal architecture (drum circles or jam sessions, anyone?) ... and is a tremendous fit with synthesis tools and with software.

 

5 I'd love to see a set of tools that will enable us to discuss music (as we are doing) with actual sound. :cool:

 

I agree that synthesizers are babies. We have no idea what they could become. Perhaps that's a good thing.

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Outside of the modular synth world (where most of the innovation in synthesis is happening - eg. voltage-controlled digital oscillator modules and digital effects modules), I like the directions DSI (Prophet 12) and Moog (Sub 37) are exploring.

 

My standard for modular synth work is Wendy Carlos's "Timesteps," followed at a distance by Johannes Schmoelling's "Wievund Reit" ("Windblown Reeds"), especially the second movement. They set the bar really high and leave 8-step Berlin sequencing in the bushes. (I love Berlin e-music, but its a fair comparison, too.) I'm a guy, so I like the blinkenlighten, but its what happens when you close your eyes & just listen that counts.

 

I owned a Moog and 2 Prophets back when and I'm eyeballing the Tetra for a true analog resource. The P12 is like a Kurzweil or Novation SuperNova: partially modular, gorgeous and a poor candidate for anyone's FIRST synthesizer. It also has better internal processing power than me and my 2 best synth bros combined. :))

"What's the password?"
"'I have bourbon.'"
     ~ Joe Hill, "Full Throttle Stories"

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Outside of the modular synth world (where most of the innovation in synthesis is happening - eg. voltage-controlled digital oscillator modules and digital effects modules), I like the directions DSI (Prophet 12) and Moog (Sub 37) are exploring.

 

My standard for modular synth work is Wendy Carlos's "Timesteps," followed at a distance by Johannes Schmoelling's "Wievund Reit" ("Windblown Reeds"), especially the second movement.

 

Listening to Wievund Reit now. Sounds great (thanks!) but are you sure it's a modular? I'm hearing some digital sounds here, and AFAIK, voltage-controlled digital oscillators weren't being made yet for modulars at that time - though I have no doubt he, Carlos, or Tomita could make awesome music with the current state of the art in modulars. Morton Subotnick is making great (imo) music with his modern Buchla modular, albeit in a very different genre.

 

[video:youtube]

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That's why Wakeman is no longer relevant musically. Apparently, he thinks everything that can be done has been done already.

 

There's always people who say this about everything, whether music, art, or anything else. And they're always the ones left behind at the train station while others else moves on.

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I don't think Wakeman was all that far off the mark actually. At least in terms of what we have seen for instruments since.

 

 

The world of Techno is an exception I imagine (I don't listen to it personally) but most keyboard sounds I hear are simulations of sounds well known well before Wakeman made that statement.

 

I think, first of all, that there have been a number of developments and progression during that time, including the progression of analog synthesis, FM synthesis, digital keyboards, modeling, filtering, and on and on).

 

But even if you feel there's not, I think that taking the long view, comparing hundreds of years of development of the piano, harpsichord and organ and comparing it to only several decades of the synthesizer is bizarre.

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Outside of the modular synth world (where most of the innovation in synthesis is happening - eg. voltage-controlled digital oscillator modules and digital effects modules), I like the directions DSI (Prophet 12) and Moog (Sub 37) are exploring.

 

My standard for modular synth work is Wendy Carlos's "Timesteps," followed at a distance by Johannes Schmoelling's "Wievund Reit" ("Windblown Reeds"), especially the second movement.

 

Listening to Wievund Reit now. Sounds great (thanks!) but are you sure it's a modular? I'm hearing some digital sounds here, and AFAIK, voltage-controlled digital oscillators weren't being made yet for modulars at that time - though I have no doubt he, Carlos, or Tomita could make awesome music with the current state of the art in modulars. Morton Subotnick is making great (imo) music with his modern Buchla modular, albeit in a very different genre.

 

[video:youtube]

 

I loved Schmoelling's work at the time but IIRC it was just some cheap gear that he was left with after the TD days IIRC. I know he was using some Casio/Hohner samplers and FM modules by Zoo of Tranquliity

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I don't think Wakeman was all that far off the mark actually. At least in terms of what we have seen for instruments since.

 

 

The world of Techno is an exception I imagine (I don't listen to it personally) but most keyboard sounds I hear are simulations of sounds well known well before Wakeman made that statement.

 

I think, first of all, that there have been a number of developments and progression during that time, including the progression of analog synthesis, FM synthesis, digital keyboards, modeling, filtering, and on and on).

 

But even if you feel there's not, I think that taking the long view, comparing hundreds of years of development of the piano, harpsichord and organ and comparing it to only several decades of the synthesizer is bizarre.

 

OK, but I think comparing synthesizers to say, Hammond organs is not so bizarre. The time frame is not so different.

Yet the Hammond (or a simulation) is everywhere and in all forms of music.

Hell even during the "unplugged" trend some bands felt it was ok to include the Hammond. It is that natural a sound for most people.

 

Take a Minimoog in contrast. Beautiful sounding instrument, but much more specialized in what music it fits well in.

When people hear a modern song with Hammond they don't think anything of it any more than with piano or guitar.

Put a moog in it and suddenly it sounds.....retro, at least to the popular ear.

 

Like a DX7 Rhodes is the sound os the 80's, the minimoog is sort of locked in the 70's for many people.

 

I think that there will always be new sounds and new instruments, so Wakeman wasn't right about all the sounds that can be made having been made, but in terms of popular usage, he was pretty close.

btw if he made the statement during ABWH, then he was using M1's and D50's extensively.

 

 

 

 

Stage: Korg Krome 88.

Home: Korg Kross 61, Yamaha reface CS, Korg SP250, Korg mono/poly Kawai ep 608, Korg m1, Yamaha KX-5

 

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