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What is the Point of Synthesis Today?


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50+ years ago, analog synthesis opened up new possibilities in terms of sound design. 

 

Shortly thereafter, digital synthesis provided more technological stability.

 

Sampling technology took sound design even further.  Any type of sound was possible.

 

Synthesis opened the floodgates to new styles of music too.  New Wave, Hop-Hop, Synth Pop and EDM to name a few, would not have existed and/or be alive today without some form of synthesis.

 

What is the point of synthesis today?

 

From a sound design perspective, synthesis allows some users to revisit the technology that influenced the soundtrack of their lives.

 

To varying degrees, synthesis provides tactile access to sound design and liberation from the confines of frozen TV dinners, er, presets.

 

IMO, the constant remains unchanged.  Synthesis is a tool an imaginative/creative person will use to facilitate sound design and/or express musical ideas.

 

Regardless of whether it is analog, digital, subtractive, additive, sample-based, waveforms, wavetables, RA, VA, etc., synthesis allows for the construction of organized noise.

 

Synthesis allows musicians, composers (ads//TV/film), Foley artists, etc., to start with a blank slate and a host of modulation routing and destinations for sound design.  No modular monstrosity and patch cables required.  Everything is in the box like Prego.

 

So, upon approaching a synthesizer or KB of any kind, rather than grumble or complain about any real or perceived limitations… explore the possibilities of what it can do.   

 

The inventors of synths and electromechanical KBs that have become iconic had zero idea of the true sonic potential they were unleashing on the public. They were just nerds in a room messing around with electronics, parts and materials.  Recording weird noises and splicing tape got old real fast too.

 

Talented and creative people took synthesis and sounds to another level.  There is still plenty room for that today and beyond. 

 

Along the lines of being the change you want to see in the world, use synthesis to make the noises/sounds you want to hear and possibly share with the world.😎

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PD

 

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

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Why, its to keep me from watching the news more frequently and going >completely< batsh*t rather than just partially, that's bloody well why!

:redwall::cheers:

"Weaponized kindness" is my new
    ambient drone band name.
       ~ Rob Neschizza

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Do you want to hear cascading pad washes with whale calls and digital seagulls or do you want to hear a synth driven pop song? Or a 20 minute combination of both? See Tales of Topographic Oceans. I'm not sure anything new would sound all that new today. 

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2 hours ago, ProfD said:

So, upon approaching a synthesizer or KB of any kind, rather than grumble or complain about any real or perceived limitations… explore the possibilities of what it can do.   

 

Yes!!

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Interesting points of view!

I have two goals for using sounds, and two very different paths for attaining them:  for live in my cover band, and at home in my little demos and compositions.  I'm all hardware except for organ on an ipad for the first, and all software for the second!  There may come a time where the software bleeds into my live rig, I don't ever see the reverse happening.

Anyway, while my hardware keyboards offer a lot of "cutting edge" tech...I barely use it.  Again, cover band.  I tend to use relatively simple patches, not much in the way of effects.  This is the world where I might say "let's try to get an 80s Oberheim sound"  (though I'm pretty far from a make-it-like-the-record purist.)

Completely different at home.  Not only can some of the synth plugins do some amaing things, chained together with various fx plugins you can quickly and easily render a simple patch unrecognizable.   And often not by design.   Plus, I find it interesting to automate some of the many available parameters in that chain over time.  If I used an Oberheim plugin in this world, I wouldn't be trying to make it sound like anything in particular, I just want it to sound good to me.  If that Obie plugin ends up sounding like a DX7 run through a telephone line in the end, it's all good!

I tend to think you can make sounds that would have been unheard of in the past.   And there are still people thinking outside the box in physical ways...check into how the soundtrack of Arrival was made.  I'm not sure how that fits into any musical genre of today though, I don't try to keep up (heck I barely ever listen to music at all anymore.)

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In the current era... for fun, self-education, and self-fulfillment... I LOVE SYNTHESIS!  Still having a blast playing around with my CS-80 emulation software (especially now, in honor of the recently deceased Vangelis). 

 

Back in the 80s, I even made some use of synthesized sounds THAT I PROGRAMMED on my first synth (Korg DW-8000) in bands I was in. Synthy polyphonic sounds or wild arpeggiations were all the rage back then.

 

These days... NOT SO MUCH, except for having fun at home. Today, I much prefer friendship and comradery with bandmates, where we all have a common ground. This means (pretty much, for me) Piano and Organ playing, with a TOUCH of lead-synth, pad, or electromechanical (EP, Clav) thrown in. But, I suspect, that's where a lot of keyboardists are these days. It's the reason why Nord made the Nord.

 

I really do suspect that NO NEW SYNTH SOUNDS are going to excite anybody much anymore. We've become so much more jaded about synthetic sound since the 70s and 80s. "Organic" sound seems to be more where it's at these days.

Kurzweil PC3, Yamaha MOX8, Alesis Ion, Kawai K3M
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1 hour ago, Jr. Deluxe said:

Do you want to hear cascading pad washes with whale calls and digital seagulls or do you want to hear a synth driven pop song? Or a 20 minute combination of both? See Tales of Topographic Oceans. I'm not sure anything new would sound all that new today. 

 

A friend of mine posited that part of why prog rock caught on was the appearance of more potent weed at the time. He said it was a lot of the reason people could listen to something 20 minutes long. Ha! There may be some validity there! There are many listeners who enjoy ambient or rave material that goes on and on for an hour, but a 3-minute pop song makes them itch and start looking at their watches. Decadence is defined as the decay of a society as evidenced by the drop in the quality of its arts. Don't look at that too long, it'll make your brain stem hurt.

 

Personally, I like 20-minute long compositions. They take a whopping long time to create, so there's more pleasure to be had in unpacking them on the far end of the process. You can't fully grasp "West Side Story" the first time you hear it, especially if you are eight at the time. I got started on the good stuff early.    

"Weaponized kindness" is my new
    ambient drone band name.
       ~ Rob Neschizza

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7 hours ago, David Emm said:

Decadence is defined as the decay of a society as evidenced by the drop in the quality of its arts. Don't look at that too long, it'll make your brain stem hurt. 

 

This is one perspective (a symptom of a decadent society) which becomes increasingly difficult to convey and to be comprehended when the art of language decays towards a sinking lowest common denominator.

 

 

 

Edited to clarify and be more specific.

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I think the versatility of the modern synthesizer is its greatest impediment to its future as a serious instrument.  Consider its expressive capabilities in relation to other keyboards:

 

  • The clavichord has velocity and a bit of aftertouch.
  • The harpsichord has couplers, chorale tunings, and a lute damper.
  • The piano has velocity plus damper, sostenuto, and una corda pedals.
  • The organ has dozens-to-scores of stops, picked via pistons and couplers, and modified by swell boxes.
  • The hammond organ has additive synthesis (of a sort), articulated percussion, dynamic drawbars, volume pedal, and Leslie half moon.
  • My modern synth workstation has hundreds of multisamples, an FM engine, a clonewheel engine, and a simulated analog capability, all of which can be modulated by velocity, aftertouch, mod wheel, a ribbon controller, 9 each knobs and sliders, about 14 switches, four switch pedals, and two continuous pedals.  In terms of expressive capability, it should blow away all other forms of keyboards.  But you don't see people attending synthesizer recitals.

 

IMO, the biggest problem with the modern synth is that its great versatility makes its sound less predictable than previous keyboards, and thus makes it difficult to compose for, since most composition seeks a specific sound.  As a result, it's quite difficult to create any serious synth repertoire of the kind that would endure for much more than a single generation.

-Tom Williams

{First Name} {at} AirNetworking {dot} com

PC4-7, PX-5S, AX-Edge, PC361

 

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17 minutes ago, Tom Williams said:

I think the versatility of the modern synthesizer is its greatest impediment to its future as a serious instrument.  Consider its expressive capabilities in relation to other keyboards:

 

  • The clavichord has velocity and a bit of aftertouch.
  • The harpsichord has couplers, chorale tunings, and a lute damper.
  • The piano has velocity plus damper, sostenuto, and una corda pedals.
  • The organ has dozens-to-scores of stops, picked via pistons and couplers, and modified by swell boxes.
  • The hammond organ has additive synthesis (of a sort), articulated percussion, dynamic drawbars, volume pedal, and Leslie half moon.
  • My modern synth workstation has hundreds of multisamples, an FM engine, a clonewheel engine, and a simulated analog capability, all of which can be modulated by velocity, aftertouch, mod wheel, a ribbon controller, 9 each knobs and sliders, about 14 switches, four switch pedals, and two continuous pedals.  In terms of expressive capability, it should blow away all other forms of keyboards.  But you don't see people attending synthesizer recitals.

 

IMO, the biggest problem with the modern synth is that its great versatility makes its sound less predictable than previous keyboards, and thus makes it difficult to compose for, since most composition seeks a specific sound.  As a result, it's quite difficult to create any serious synth repertoire of the kind that would endure for much more than a single generation.

My simplified interpretation of this statement is that most synth players aren't synth programmers and don't want to be. There is a handful of bread and butter synth sounds like synth brass, mono moog lead, obi warm pad, ect that a player wants to get to, so he or she can jam some tunes.

And some have a vague ambition to program a cosmic synth symphony someday that never comes.

Plus I could spend a year composing my synth masterpiece then spend 5 more years trying to get somebody, anybody, to hear it and tell me how cool it is. Painter's paint a painting and 100 years later they are declared masters. Musicians don't want to wait that long.

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On 5/20/2022 at 12:12 PM, ProfD said:

...Synthesis is a tool an imaginative/creative person will use to facilitate sound design and/or express musical ideas.

 

 

 

Synthesis is the only guarantee I have that I'm writing something that hasn't been written before.  

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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I do start with presets when getting started with a song, but I usually end up using my modest repertoire of synthesis techniques sooner or later - filter is too bright or too dark, too much reverb, envelope needs tweaking, etc. - to get the results that i'm after.

 

When I first got started with this stuff, I though people who were vocal about editing synth presets were doing only for emotional reasons - wanting to look cool to their peers, or feeling ashamed for using only the factory preset, or whatever.  I was wrong.  There are usually practical reasons to do it.

 

Playing around on my Moog Matriarch is a different matter, as it doesn't have sound presets.  On that thing, I'm trying different things, and deciding if I can use it for a song, or just for free improvisation, or for sound effects.  It's a different mindset compared to auditioning 10 different synth brass presets and deciding which one to use for a particular song - with the possibility of a tweak here or there.

 

I've also come to appreciate that some types of synthesis are better suited to some jobs than others.  Sample playback works for a lot of scenarios.  FM though excels - IMO - for lively response to velocity.  I like FM better for that than most other synthesis methods other than physical modeling.  

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I got a Moog Prodigy in 1976, and have been programming since then. Roland JX3P, Kong DW8000, etc. Now I have a MiniMoog Voyager and the keyboards in my signature. The synth was intended for different purposes by different users. The days when users’ object was to emulate existing instruments were gone when samplers/romplers and keyboards like Nord electro took over. Nowadays, unlike the ‘80’s, the actual sound of electricity going through wires is not popular. But I think there’ll always be a time when musicians use an oscillator and a filter to make music. This thread reminds me of discussions I’ve seen where the future of the electric guitar is debated.

Kawai KG-2C, Nord Stage 3 73, Electro 4D, 5D and Lead 2x, Moog Voyager and Little Phatty Stage II, Slim Phatty, Roland Lucina AX-09, Hohner Piano Melodica, Spacestation V3, pair of QSC 8.2s.

 

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Every time I interact with my young adult kids I am reminded off how NOT on top of events I am, but here is what I am seeing and hearing ...

 

I think synthesis continues to be relevant in three of the four major streams in which it was relevant when it first began. In popular music, in soundtracks and in sound design. The classical/formal music use of synthesis seems to have become less important at as far as I know. (If I am mistaken, I would love you to correct me. Please. 🙂)

 

In popular music ... synthesis is less about monophonic leads and bass and more about percussive sound elements, the use of (aforementioned) studio tools and sonic support/replacement.

 

In soundtracks ... the Dune soundtrack (to take one example) is apparently greatly synthesized and influential in a similar way to the way the CS80 anchored Bladerunner soundtrack was. Dune won Oscars for best Original Score and Best Sound. 

 

In sound design .. art installations, musicals, movies, streaming video and popular music all use synthesis tools to give sound a professional polish.

 

The significant change is in the specific tools and the manner in which the tools are used, it seems to me. Analog has been replaced by digital. Artificial Intelligence is creeping into studio tools. Granular, physical modeling, sample interpolation and other distinctive approaches are nor longer so distinctive. They are simply baked in. A lot of sound is neither "natural" nor "synthesized". It is a composite. It is this blending which makes it hard to see the huge impact synthesis is having on virtually anything that is done in sound.

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