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One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

For fans of synths, pianos or keyboard instruments of any sort.

Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby desmond » Fri Apr 17, 2020 11:49 pm

Ok, so not sure how much detail is worthwhile to put in, but I'll give this a stab to get across my thought processes and rough outline of what I did. (Download links below, btw)

With these kinds of challenges, it's not much of a stretch to make a bit of music with a synth that's great at everything, so I like to pick something that maybe has strengths but also weaknesses - ie is deliberately *not* good at everything, as it forces you to work harder, to push a little further than just your usual tricks in order to problem solve and come up with something a bit different.

I chose Sculpture, which is a physical modelling synth plugin (in Logic), and is reasonably complex but also can be tricky to work with. It does great at plucky things, breathy flutey stuff, and plucked string and metallic things - so I wanted to avoid most of that stuff. :) (Again, trying to push past the obvious/easier stuff.) I knew I'd likely be using other FX plugins to enhance my pallette of tones and to disguise the source a little.

I wanted to get an idea done early, so I could use the rest of the time without deadline pressure to refine and polish. I wasn't too fussed about being musically clever either - just something quick and good enough to start would be fine. So on the first night of the OSC announcement, I pulled out Sculpture, and noodled around with some available sounds, found this nice synthy chord patch which is a modified preset, and something I could work with for a bass (which was a blend/layer of three Sculpture basses initially), which was somewhere between a DX7 and a more Minimoog-type thing, and figured I could work with this.

With the main chord part chucked in, I needed some groove, and again, I thought I'd work a bit differently to usual for the same reasons as above. In Stylus RMX, some years ago Spectrasonics made a small loop library for charity (the New Orleans flooding), which has a small section of sliced loops in various New Orleans styles played by great drummers from that area. I picked one that had a drum sound I liked, and ignoring the actual loop, just played in a two-bar groove from the slices mapped over the keyboard. You get nice variations in drum hits, and you can't really separate things like hats and kicks as they are just slices and mixed together, so there are constraints. But you do get a nice human feel from the grace notes etc even if the notes are quantised.

When I played the bass in, my original plan was to do some more funky Minimoog-style bass parts, lots of pitch bend and vibrato etc, but because each bass sound in the layer reacted differently and would need identical modulation programmed in etc, I basically sketched out the bass leaving a lot of space for later funky flourishes which I'd get back to later. (Of course, over time, the more you get used to how things are sounding in the track, and in the end I quite liked the sparsity of the bass so it stayed more or less that way.)

So that first evening, I had the chords, bass, a 2-bar drum groove going, and the three interlocking synthy parts over the top with a varying choice of sounds, which is realy the core of the track. I sketched out a quick arrangement, some space at the front for an intro, the main A section, a bunch of space for some kind of B section, and then a repeat of the A section to finish. Once you have a structure, you can then build it out from there, and it helps you get out of that horrible cycling loop rut it's so easy to get into.

I think the next evening I added the drone that goes all the way through the track with another Sculpture part and lots of reverb, and started to go through the drum track to get away from a boring loop, programming little details, matching the drum and bass parts up, little fills in various sections etc. For the middle section I decided to go with a more rocky thing with distorted guitars, so again, using guitar-type string sounds in Sculpture with distortion etc gave that - again, very simple, but just a bit of a contrast to the previous stuff and again, not the type of thing I'd normally do with a synth.

Then I'd leave it for a few days, come back, and think what does it need? - hmm maybe some rhythmic/arpeggiated stuff, so I'd try some stuff and find things that work, and keep adding parts until you've got enough to work with. "Colouring in" bits where there's nothing interesting happening, filling dead space, is fun for me. Yes, the "whales" in the first half of the B section are a nod to the OSC thread title, if anyone's seen Star Trek IV... Plus, it was one sound which was a bit of a giveaway of the fact I was using a modelling synth - Sculpure can get unstable and wild really easily! (I'm *not* doing any pitch bends in that part, it's the synth model that's warbling away based on your playing.)

I'm not trying to make a synth demo - you know, using only the raw sounds of the synth, and no effects processing etc - I'm making a track, so I'm using whatever tools I have to help make the sounds I'm using - so in many cases I am using FX and other stuff to get the sounds I need - using FX chains, filters, a few MIDI arpeggiators, along with modifying presets and also using previous sounds I've made.

I had pretty much the core parts and arrangement done within I guess the first week off and on, just coming back to it every few days and finding parts and ideas to fit in holes. At a late stage I decided to add an extra beat where everything drops out, so there's one bar of 5/4 - just again something a little different and less obvious - so I had to shift everything at the end back a beat, including the automation etc.

I did need something for the intro - at that point I just had the drone, and then the drums kick in, which was a bit jarring. I didn't just want a drum fill or something, but I did want to lead the listener into the rhythm, so I thought I'd have some gated sound effect thing that starts of stuttering fast and deaccelerates into the tempo of the piece where the drums start. So in a separate "science experiment" project I pulled up a bunch of Sculptures with a range of sounds, played some notes, chords and flourishes etc, and then used a bunch of automation to modulate through parameters changes to get some timbral movement, bounced that out and added it at the beginning of the project, and with some other FX and automation, I ran it through iZotope's Stutter Edit which is good at those deaccellerating stutter effects.

The mixing was a bit of a nightmare which I won't go into now, but it did take a lot of problem solving to try and figure out the bass end and balances, a bit of a crazy process which will just add more paragraphs to this already too lengthy piece, so I'll skip that for now.

But other than that, the mix for me is getting some basic balances, treating the sounds nicely, getting a blend and things working together and then using automation to push/pull different things in and out of focus - I like little things to catch the ear, a part down low that swells up for a moment, before something else takes over - and to modulate various sound parameters to get a more organic sound, and riding etc filter automation ramps into and out of sections, things like that.

Image
Image

Final version (tweaked a little from the original upload):-
https://soundcloud.com/mu-zines/one-sos-one-synth-challenge-iv/s-IzpP6L4Nl7K

So that's a rough idea - if anyone has anything specific in that track they'd like me to go into, please ask!
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby The Elf » Sat Apr 18, 2020 8:55 am

You can make my track downloadable. :thumbup:

All I wanted to do with my track was fool people into thinking it was a guitar synth. I've done a fair bit of work trying to emulate the GR-500 sound I love from stuff like 'Please Don't Touch', 'Land of a Thousand Autumns' and 'Virgin and the Gypsy'. That's as far as I thought before I began playing. Once that old folk tune appeared under my fingers it was set. All I had to do was get it in one performance, since editing poly AT is the stuff of nightmares!

I have a few 'classic' emulation patches in my Novation Peak, including Roland VP-330 strings, ARP/Siel strings, Taurus, Pro Soloist, etc - curated alongside the real instruments to ensure their authenticity. Here I used a couple of Pro Soloist and PolyMoog 'Vox Humana' patches in the middle section, just for a bit of variation. If I had allowed myself another synth or two I could have made more of those parts, but in this context I was content.

I was happy that my aim was very much met. I was so pleased to find that someone else had used a real guitar synth, since I knew that would spread confusion! :lol:
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby Dan LB » Sat Apr 18, 2020 2:38 pm

desmond wrote: I'll give this a stab to get across my thought processes and rough outline of what I did.

Thanks for the in-depth explanation desmond :thumbup:

I really loved your track and would never have thought it was Sculpture, but after finding out and listening again, yes I can hear it. Really great work! :clap:

Once you have a structure, you can then build it out from there, and it helps you get out of that horrible cycling loop rut it's so easy to get into.

This is something I really struggle with. I have rarely finished anything musical when working on my own and I get stuck in that rut all the time. I have a few friends that are quite prolific when it comes to churning out music (and it’s mostly pretty damn good!) and have tried to learn from them but I just find myself back at that horrible place all the time.
It’s very frustrating and disheartening and I’ve ditched lots of really nice ideas because of it.
:(
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby desmond » Sat Apr 18, 2020 3:38 pm

You're welcome, and thanks for the kind words. :thumbup:

Maybe a good separate discussion thread would be "Avoiding Rutland". I think it's a pretty common thing with all this loop sequencers and EDM stuff... You almost never get there when working in a band context, for instance - probably because musicians get fairly bored playing the same thing and there is a natural tendency to develop things and keep things interesting, even in groove-based genres...
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby Folderol » Sat Apr 18, 2020 11:37 pm

Just had another listen through, while reading all the comments and explanations. Overall I think this is most certainly the best challenge yet, and thanks to Dave for doing all the donkey work :clap: :thumbup: :bouncy:
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby blinddrew » Sat Apr 18, 2020 11:50 pm

Doh! I meant to say that earlier. Yes, thank you Dave B. :clap: :thumbup:
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby Logarhythm » Sun Apr 19, 2020 10:18 am

Folderol wrote:Just had another listen through, while reading all the comments and explanations. Overall I think this is most certainly the best challenge yet, and thanks to Dave for doing all the donkey work :clap: :thumbup: :bouncy:
Agreed - really high standard of submissions :clap:
I've created a Soundcloud account so I can share mine with certain other people, but also available to download if anyone wants it.
Happy for it to be made downloadable on the original playlist too :thumbup:
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby Dave B » Sun Apr 19, 2020 4:16 pm

So the soundcloud playlist has been edited and all of the tracks have been made downloadable. They have all been given their proper titles (not sure what that is when downloading) and the description for the track gives the composer and synth used.

HTH

:D
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby Folderol » Sun Apr 19, 2020 4:21 pm

:thumbup: :clap: :bouncy:
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby fatbenelton » Sun Apr 19, 2020 4:31 pm

Thanks for organising Dave. I loved hearing all the tracks and hope to get involved in the next one.
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby BillB » Sun Apr 19, 2020 4:36 pm

Dave B wrote:So the soundcloud playlist has been edited and all of the tracks have been made downloadable. They have all been given their proper titles (not sure what that is when downloading) and the description for the track gives the composer and synth used.

HTH

:D

Thank you, Dave :D
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby IAA » Sun Apr 19, 2020 4:44 pm

:clap: bravo Sir.
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby The Elf » Sun Apr 19, 2020 4:52 pm

You're a good man. :thumbup:
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby Random Guitarist » Sun Apr 19, 2020 10:57 pm

Yes, thank you for organising this. I only have one question, when's the next one?

Thanks,

Grant.
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Re: One Synth Challenge IV - The Voyage(r) Home

Postby N i g e l » Mon Apr 20, 2020 11:47 pm

:clap: :thumbup: Thanks for organising Dave.
I will listen again after reading the recording descriptions [I was a way for a few days], interesting stuff, thanks again
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