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Can Synthesizer Designers Design Sounds ?

Theo Verelst

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Of course they can! Isn't it ? I don't mean to imply Buchla simply rose to his own level of incompetence or Oberheims were the inadapt spin off of a failed attempt at a sound cancellation device. Or even that Bach should have never become a composer because he had no idea how his creations would sound on "modern" equipment. Not at all. That would be way too foolish!


The Sparkle Bill as an alternative would suggest that synth designers must limit themselves to ridiculous basic sounds, and leave all the added greatness and fun of sound design to dedicated sound designers. A guild thing, so to speak. That's also not what I'm talking about here.


I think I know that the great designers have had a great amount of control over the palette of sounds that they wanted to create. Well, you might interject, that's not true because we deal we details that they don't even know. I don't think so. Or, someone might point at the conspiration to put every imaginable additive or subtractive sound, regardless of how inconstant or screaming the results, in seductive software packages and hint at a history rewrite because of it (and maybe blackmail people that write software that doesn't hint at this into incontractiveness).


So if you widen your frame of reference (or consciousness) I make the case of uttering my presumption that the great synthesizer designers had a good amount of control over the sounds their musical creation would be able to produce, and also a fitting amount of control over the possibility of rejecting a lot of sound possibilities, which therefor are no part of the possible sound of the synthesizers are hand, by design.


How can this be ? Us electrical engineers can probably find it a little bit easier to imagine the phenomenon I'm talking about here, by imagining the parts and actual schematics of a synthesizer, in conjunction with certain electrical and digital laws, certain standard transforms (like various frequency transforms) and network theoretical rules (e.g. about energy and degree of complexity), such that certain types of sounds are possible and others aren't.


You could also think of it that Bob Moog (in his own words) would be "eating a hamburger, or cutting the grass, and it would come to me". Maybe we'd try all the knobs on a device, determine from each set of overall know positions what all the possible minimum perturbations would be that make an audible difference, and try to build an intellectual image of which sounds would result, and know before hand "a Moog cannot sound so and so", or "my favorite synth needs an extra LFO to get exactly so and so sound".


I think the great designers had parameters (hidden or not) in mind to influence audio components (some not so well known) such that their products sounded good, and played certain (sound) power games. Also, I believe there are a lot of sound-scapes the well known designers avoided (or made not easy) and that certain filling in of sound details for global sound considerations was achieved. Not so much for optimal punch or the most compressed waveform achievement.


Here I state I have the impression there are a lot of sounds pretty impossible that were rules out of synth designs. And, conversely, areas of sound design are there on purpose that wait to be exploited because they were intended to.




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If there are sounds that are musically useful, by all means, I would love to hear them.


Otherwise, I believe Bob Moog and others provided us with a way to create the most musically useful sounds.


As evidenced by the fact that 50 years later, musicians are still rehashing the same sounds, I believe we have reached diminishing returns. :laugh::cool:



"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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Seems that designers impart a 'personality' to their creations; an offshoot of themselves, perhaps ? Might be a little more clear cut with the original, all-in-one, keyboard synth designers (ARP, Oberheim, Sequential, Moog, etc ..), but I still hear some of that difference in current, higher-end synth offerings - even among VA instruments.

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


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Bit scientific speaking, but it may well be possible to prove and measure my main suggested phenomena in that the good analog and probably most digital (hardware) synth designs on purpose prevent sound possibilities that could in principle be generated with standard designs (ROMplers, VCO/VCF/VCA stand analog designs), and also that they favor certain complicated sound properties (related to power control and acoustics) that would not necessarily be part of the sound palette of the commonly known architectures much.


Of course there are synth characters, attention to certain detailed or course sound properties, even interface connected design issues, but that's not what I'm talking about now.



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Remember, that the initial intent of some of these designs was to try to recreate certain sounds - it's just that the technology to do it accurately wasn't possible, or at least feasible for a commercial product at the time. The limitations to be able to recreate these sounds made them fall from favor when advanced technology came out. It was only later that demand came for the sounds OTHER than what they were designed to create.


As far as purposely limiting capabilities - well that comes down I think more to making choices about what will be usable in the hands of the target market as well as cost and manufacturing feasibility. In the days of the MiniMoog, could they have made a polyphonic 3 OSC, synth with multimode filter, effects, POLY AT, etc, etc, etc.....sure, but it would be so expensive that nobody could afford it, and would likely be subject to regular component failures, and might be cumbersome for musicians of the time to program.


Capabilities are limited to focus on what the user can easily grasp to design the target sounds, which over the years have been different that the initial intent.


Look at the TR-808 drum machine. It attempted to the best of its abilities to create real drum sounds. Once PCM sample-based drum machines came out, every one was selling the TR-808 for pennies on the dollar. They got picked up by DJ's and Electronic Dance types who made them popular again for their decidedly electronic sounding drums.



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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