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Is sound programming a dying art?


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I have seen on other forums that people are asking for keyboards with sounds that are good and have not been "rinsed" and overused.


I started with synths in the analog days. You had to tweak the knobs between every song and even in the middle if you should have another sound for the chorus. (we all remember Moogs, Roland SH, Korg MS, don't we?)

I'm still doing this programming and personalize my sounds.


Nowadays with digital pieces loaded with RAM's, and you have a tremendous amount of sounds available, it seems like the new keyboardists does not like to tweak.


But maybe we'll see some changes with the revivel of analog synths?


What's your opinion?




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OK, I'll date myself here just so you don't think I'm a newbie. My first synth was an ARP Odyssey, and I bought it when ARP was still making them! Anyway, that beast wouldn't even stay in tune, much less make any musically useful sound, unless you knew how to program it.


As synths became polyphonic and programmable, I pretty much kept up with it, and always had the machine full of my own sounds. I think I may have been the only DX7 owner in my hometown who could actually program it. But even then I was developing a tendency to start with a sound that was close to what I wanted, so I would only have to tweak it.


Then synths became even more complex, and started coming with disc drives and sound libraries. Like most other keyboardists, I found that it was much easier to sort through a large library of sounds and load in what I liked. I still understand the technology well enough to make minor adjustments until it fits me just right. But as was mentioned above, every synth made now comes loaded with just about every sound (or at least type of sound) that you need to make music, and customizing is quick and painless.


I still like to customize my sound, only now I do it by layering multiple sounds on several MIDI'ed synths and controlling their relative volumes, panning, tone, etc. with realtime controllers. Personally, I really don't miss the days when synths were the size of mixing consoles and you always had to spare a hand to tweak some knob or another while you were playing. My modern rig is so much more streamlined, yet is light years ahead of what I could do with my old ARP and Rhodes, and so much more intuitive and musical. Long live modern keyboard technology! http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/smile.gif



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Originally posted by SWBuck1074@aol.com:

Long live modern keyboard technology! http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/smile.gif


I totally agree with you. I'm not stucked in the early eighties with analog gear. If my message made it look like that it's my fault, not explaining properly.


This was not intended to be old vs. new question.

I think that we are about same age, and have started with those old things, and therefor have a better understanding for programming.

The keys today are very complex machines and are not easily grasped for a newbie.


My point is that I honestly don't think that young people today know about basic synthesizer programming. How a sound is built and what to do to change them.

Of course there are exceptions from this ruff statement.


Any youngsters that would like to prove me wrong?

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Interesting topic... I see both trends.


For the VA's (and pure analogs), I think people are again digging modifying sounds with the knobs. And for the certain modern styles, a lot of time the synth sound is a major component of the song, so people are putting probably more time coming up with unique sounds rather than extensive time with arrangements.


However, with ROMplers I see the opposite trend, people just want tons of presets. Sometimes it seems it's easier to find user patches for older synths than for new ones. The alesis qs series for instance. They have probably sold tons of these yet you're hard pressed to hear about anyone with custom banks.


Even for samplers, I see both trends. You have tons of sample libraries. Yet you have people like this guy who recorded his cat, truncated and compressed and did a whole bunch of stuff until it sounded like a snare. Pretty cool.


I personally have to admit although I like to tweak the sounds (adjust envelopes, effects, filter cuttoff etc), I've never really dug to deep into the synths. I look for a preset that has something close to what I want, and then tweak away. I've never owned a true analog. My first synth was a poly 800 when I was 14, then a ds8. I probably wouldn't know what to do if you put a minimoog in front of me. But I do plan to own a synth with knobs in the near future, hopefully .


Is it a dying art? Actually, I think it's making a come back, even if it's only in certain types of synths.



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I like your question. I guess I have two observations.



I think that sound programming has gone from being art to cottage-craft. The art has certainly died in that sense. The means of production have fallen into many hands, packaged tools are ever present (templates, randomizers, etc.), and the value of synthesized sound programming is diminished by the plethora of alternatives (sampling, effects processing). It is no less valuable to me (as a musician), but I think that the world has heard "excess, surfeiting", the appetite is sickened, the ear is jaded and it can no longer differentiate between ho-hum and brilliant. Today, sound-design is like baking a cake. You can buy it at the grocery store, or buy a cake-mix, or you can buy a package which include baking molds, color and design elements as well. All these will get the neophyte within a hair's breath of the artist (to the uneducated observer).



I think this raises a question for synthesists. "How will we know good sound-design if we hear it?" Personally, I place found-sound imitation (thunderstorm, gun-shot)and sound effects (trifles to titillate the ear) at the lowest end of a continuum in sound design, and at the highest, there are truly articulate "synthesized personalities". Unfortunately (this is also why the art is dying), synthesists and manufacturers don't spend time imbuing their sounds with a personality. Most other instruments have an aesthetic of "singing", or emulating a human (or animal) personality. We, unfortunally have not focused as much as we should in this area. Saxophones cough, breath and splutter. Guitars, sing, screech and roar. I wish synthesizer sound design would focus on building musical personalities, rather than emulating found-sound or creating impressive sound effects. If we must emulate, let's emulate emotionally relevant things. Let's put the emotion back in sound.









This message has been edited by Tusker on 03-16-2001 at 11:02 AM

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Keyboardists who don't/can't program their own sounds are just keyboardists.


Keyboardists who do program their own sounds are _synthesists_.


Personally, I think that people who use stock pre-programmed sounds are fucking losers.

If you live in the Washington Metro area, check out Slave Audio
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Originally posted by Faeflora:

Personally, I think that people who use stock pre-programmed sounds are fucking losers.


I don't think they are loosers, but they are sure not taking advantage of the synthesizers fully potential.






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I'll agree that many modern synths come ill-equipped, with preset patterns/patches for many different styles of modern music. It's easy to see why they ("they" being everybody from Roland to Korg to Yamaha) are doing this... it's much more condusive to the user getting a satisfactory (in the users mind) experience quickly after purchase. Unfortunately this doesn't lend itself too well to creative process, it's more bent towards the end user/hobbyist who wants to get up and running within 5 minutes of getting the synth out of the box. Then they can go tell all their friends they "make music". This isn't to say that these same tools can't be used by the serious user, eventually. I've heard some fantastic tracks created with a korg ER-1 or RM1X, for example, it just takes some twisting.


When I started making electronic music 5-6 years ago, I had only had a very select few pieces of equipment. They weren't the best or the most easy to use, but I got to know them very personally. It was eno who said something to the effect of, "even the greatest musician in the world couldn't make music, given access to every instrument in the world." He's done some crazy, crazy thing with the DX7. I guess what I'm saying is that even though we look back on these devices as having definite limitations, they can still be bent to create highly personalized music, even if it's not in the catagory of classic synthesis modes. I'm sure that, if these users have a vested interest in creating original music, they will do their homework as we have and discover subtractive synthesis. (which still exists in a very big way, even if the bigger manufacturers are pre-packaging it for easy consumption..) Tweaking is not dead!


BTW It is easy to neglect the software side of things in this equation. The relative success of such products as cycling74's MAX/MSP and Native-Instruments Reaktor gives me great hope, as these are fantastic, deeply tweakable/programmable packages. In terms of hardware, there are also a large number of smaller manufacturer names creating unique tweakable synthesizers. You just have to dig around a bit.


Oooh.. too much caffeine...



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