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Fun synthesis & production signal graph games


Theo Verelst

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A signal graph is like how audio processing and control signals are connected, for instance, a Midi signal drives a sample play module, which outputs to a mixer where a signal is tapped to a chorus, which is mixed with the main signal, etc.

 

I'm not necessarily speaking about software or hardware with explicit graphical signal path editors, thought that idea is fine, but anything that makes a not completely trivial signal path work or fail in a funny way. For instance, when sampling became available, what was the processing/sampling replay path to get those funny effects like sampling somebody saying something, or burping in the mic, and playing that back at various pitches. Something that in spite of live pitch shifting software/hardware hasn't become more fun, somehow.

 

How does a studio phaser effect change and e-piano sound into one of those uber cool effects that makes people pay attention, or even, how does the sound in Hendrix' "all along the watch tower" work ?

 

You see, there are lots of funny and interesting graphs wiht good blocks of audio processing available, but somehow a lot of fun is lost, except some basic fun like "sing into this machines' Vocoder", or maybe a funny delay effect on the Rompler, which is probably because people presume the great stuff can be trivialized by dumbing most concepts down to a couple of samples (even if they're very long and high resolution) and effects that aren't tested like life saving guitar effects and provide the likableness grand studio production effects used to deliver.

 

I myself and not impressed by the idea that building the greatest audio workstation can be done by starting at the bottom and building machines with minimal processing and effect power whilst only paying attention to some general parameters that can be seen on all the existing stuff, but rather I like designs that have interesting part, powerful processing, and well through-thought structure.

 

As soon as you can analyze what a chorus does with frequencies, how a equalizer section can be properly inverted (not easy !), why certain combinations of eq and distortion give an impression of more and less power, and what a multi-tap delay does for a certain listening space, yu can start to make a difference between various synth and audio workstation setups that make more sense than counting the number of phasers, the polyphony, and if the LFO goes audio range or not.

 

Nowadays it is harder to discern the difference between a "good" machine (or some audio software) or a lousy one, not just because there are so many units and possible audio paths (most people here will understand some of the internals of a rompler and be able to tweak the main things they might be looking for), but because a different game has been going on than many people are aware of.

 

First of all, even though digital signals have the main advantages of reliability and hum and to some extend noise free-ness, a digital machine where everything is clocked together and only at the end there's one DAC, is going to sound recognizably digital in most cases, for complicated signal processing limitation reasons.

 

Of course it can also be the sheer number of effects and sounds that overwhelm so much that making fun with them is hard, but I mean the contrast that a lot of sounds in this era aren't as fun, or if they are they p*ss me of because of all kinds of imperfections that are by accident or on purpose built in. So while it sounds great to have a pitch shifter and a grand cathedral reverb effect, and the ability to put them on a piano sample or something, often it will not give much satisfaction to create something fun with that available power, and there are reasons for that.

 

Mainly I'm stating, that in order for the "modern" machines to become the fun equipment I like to play it might take either yet a whole lot more processing power made available, or very smart machines and very much work on the part of the makers of the synthesizer/workstation and even software.

 

I mean I know it can be fun to record say 10 tracks in a DAW or anything multitrack, and start playing with effects (for people who want to try this for free and aren't afraid to experiment, Rosegarden with Ladspa effects has been around for at least a decade to tailor to you computer's capavity), like delays, choruses, all kinds of reverb, compressors, limiters, noise gates, etc etc. But honestly, pretty soon it doesn't start to sound like one of those wonderful A grade studio projects in the build-up, but like a certain type of messiness that I recognize easily and prefer to avoid (for instance by using various types of effects, including analog, high sample rates, and various tunings throughout the effect chains that are too complicated to get into here).

 

So where's the fun ? More accuracy, and better effects and even sampling software, etc. The optimization a lot of software makers are looking for is not the main one I'd be looking for. Getting certain signal processing blocks to work right can be a hell of an engineering job, certainly much harder (and theoretically more well founded) than most people know about. Of course all main manufacturers of synths/workstations have their strengths, and their customers will know some of them. For me, most of it doesn't give me all the fun I'd want yet!

 

Today I got a step further with my Kurzweil work on (IMO) correcting the built in signal processing to make a lot more fun of using the provided synthesis and sample tools, up to the point of having a number of octaves of various types of sounds that start to sound right and deep, like I want it to, and from the results I know it can make the sound fun and variation I want it for.

 

That's however an unfunny signal path work: the corrections I find necessary are involved and complicated and presume quite some production tool and EE knowledge, so the result is fun (I'll make some examples, and synthesizer sounds download available) and can make those great broad sounds work on my big sound system, but getting there isn't fun.

 

Maybe some people find it fun to create all kinds of signal path perversion in a synthesizer to make sure the user grabbing the low pass control isn't by far as satisfied by how fun the instrument respond as he/she would be if the laboratory setup sounds would be available that acted as the basis for the "changed" machine internals available to the consumers ?

 

T.V.

 

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