Ableton’s Operator is incredibly powerful when it comes to FM and basic additive/subtractive techniques, but like several other additive softsynths, there’s no way to animate the harmonics for morphing effects. Fortunately, there’s a workaround that lets users create their own smoothly morphing harmonic structures. It just requires a few extra steps, but the result is shimmering, animated textures that are well-suited for unique pads and leads.
Filtering by Category: Electronic Musician
One of the hottest trends for clubs and festivals is incorporating drum machines and synths into DJ sets. Tastefully approached, adding live elements to recorded tracks is a great way to stand apart from the pack.
That said, I’ve seen some sets that just didn’t work because the DJ hadn’t thought their live strategy through. For one thing, the tracks in a set are already complete productions, often without much room for added parts. Another pitfall lies in attempting to be rhythmic with these live elements. Dance music is so tightly sequenced that unless you have Prince’s keyboard chops or zero latency on your arpeggiator, the new parts just won’t align.
Based on my experiences performing with a Roland System-8 with DJ/guitarist Cloudchord, I’ve discovered two key approaches to seamlessly blend additional instruments with recorded tracks.
Despite the fact that the Roland JP-8000 was released more than 20 years ago, its supersaw waveform is now a true staple in every synthesist’s arsenal. Electronic music historians may know that it first rose to prominence in the late 90s trance scene, but it became truly indispensible during the EDM era and can now can be found at the core of countless pop and future bass tracks. As a college professor, I’m always amazed that this is the first sound my students want to learn in their introduction to synthesizer programming.
While it’s only been a few years since Soundtoys 5 was introduced, the package has grown considerably and now encompasses 21 distinct processors. Fourteen of these effects can be found in its Effect Rack, which lets you mix and match devices and save the entire setup as a single multi-effect preset.
This product’s sonic authenticity is a big part of why producers such as Dave Pensado and Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) have so enthusiastically endorsed it. Soundtoys plug-ins sound and behave like actual analog gear, and over the years, ongoing refinements have made these plug-ins fairly considerate in terms of CPU usage.
With that in mind, several colleagues have urged me to take a closer look at the creative possibilities of this suite, which is capable of going well beyond basic hardware emulations. In fact, certain processor combinations yield results that are reminiscent of modular synth gear, specifically West Coast-style systems (e.g., Buchla and Serge), but with the ability to easily save and recall your patches.
An ever-increasing number of mainstream synths are supporting microtonal tuning these days. On the hardware side, Korg’s Monologue includes a set of the most common tunings, as well as user-created scales. On the software side, synths ranging from Alchemy to Zebra provide access to custom scales.
While getting the hang of composing with microtonal tunings can be daunting, there’s a simple way to experiment with one of the more common flavors: Harmonic sequencing. Although the standard 12-tone equal temperament scale is essentially based on the harmonic series with caveats for each key, working directly on harmonic sequences offers a tonal purity that’s immediately enticing for some artists.
In the pantheon of legendary productions, 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” ranks among the most respected tracks of all time. In fact, it reached a new generation of fans, thanks to its inclusion on the Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1 soundtrack.
Consisting of minimal instrumentation, a lead vocal recorded in one take, and a bass-plus-music-box middle section, its arrangement was incredibly risky for a radio hit, even by modern standards. The element that glues the track together — keeping it transcendentally beautiful even after over forty years — is the song’s centerpiece: A painstakingly multi-tracked set of vocal loops, consisting of 48 tracks of voices per note over the chromatic scale. These multi-tracked vocals were then repeatedly bounced and re-recorded as eight-second tape loops that were then played via the mixing console, as sampling hadn’t even been dreamed up at that time. [Diehard fans can pick up the original choirs as multi-sampled instruments at Sampletekk.com.]
Nowadays, the elaborate production technique for creating these vocals can be replicated much more easily using 21st century tools. All that’s required is a good microphone, a DAW, ample hard drive space, and an endless supply of patience. From there, it's quite straightforward.
In last week’s post, we examined a few methods for turning envelopes into LFOs on synths that support envelope looping. This time, we will invert that process and cover the possibilities lurking within LFOs that can also operate in one-shot mode.
One-shot mode is a neat LFO trick that can be found on several hardware and software-based synthesizers. The first time I encountered it in hardware was in Korg’s monophonic Monotribe ribbon sequencer. As for software, the ubiquitous Xfer Serum included it from its first releases.
Depending on the synthesizer’s implementation, one-shot LFOs can be either basic or mind-bogglingly complex. Here are a few techniques you can use on synths that support it.
Without modulation resources, a synthesizer is just a sophisticated organ. Modulation breathes life into a sound, adding motion to oscillators, filters, and amplifiers. Naturally, sound designers want as many options as possible for modulating synth parameters, but as is often the case with instrument design, pleasing every user equally is a daunting task: Some users want oodles of envelopes; others want LFOs galore.
What’s more, the feature set of a synth is a core component of its overall sound. While it’s fun to fantasize about softsynths and modular rigs having unlimited possibilities, the instruments that stand the test of time have a particular sound. And that sound is partially defined by the modulation tools that are available.
In this tutorial, we’ll look at a few ways to use envelopes as LFOs. Not every synth supports this level of versatility, but quite a few mainstream products—both software and hardware—do. Here are techniques for three of the most popular synths available now.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Dave Smith Instruments’ OB-6—a true collaboration with Tom Oberheim—has quickly become one of the most sought-after analog polysynths of the 21st century. By combining elements of Smith’s own Prophet 6 with the filter topology of the Oberheim SEM, the OB-6 is capable of textures that are unlike any other analog poly to date.
For this Master Class, I won’t be rehashing the generalities of analog synthesis. Instead, the focus is on programming tricks and techniques that highlight the possibilities lurking within the OB- 6. It’s also worth noting that several of the tricks in this Master Class also apply to the Prophet 6, thanks to its similar architecture, so proud owners of that synth may find a few tidbits they can use as well.
Back in the early ’70s, the Moog vs. ARP “war” was just as passionate as the Mac vs. PC debate is today. At the time, the Minimoog and ARP Odyssey were the two dominant mainstream monosynths. On the Moog side, the Mini offered three oscillators, Bob’s massive filter, and ease of use. On the ARP side, the duophonic Odyssey included lowpass and highpass filters, hard sync, ring mod, and incredibly sophisticated modulation resources.
Korg’s ARP Odyssey re-issues are available in a tabletop version, a module version, and the Odyssei app.
Even now, the classic Odyssey’s features are capable of textures that we normally associate with modular gear, which makes sense as the Odyssey was basically a slimmed-down version of the 2600—arguably the synth that first brought modular to the masses. So with Korg’s reissue of the Odyssey available in three formats (keyboard, module, and the Odyssei iOS app), it’s high time we took a closer look at its vast capabilities, using the tabletop version as our frame of reference.