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Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

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Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby desmond » Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:44 pm

In the early days, synths were new, and opened up a whole new palette of sounds, that seemed potentially infinite.

As new technologies made better instruments and brought new synthesis techniques to musicians, at each step along the way whole new possibilities of sound opened up we'd never been able to explore before - FM, additive, S+S, wavetable, deep modulation matrixes, high quality sampling, resynthesis etc etc. And new musical genres were created as musicians used these new sounds and created new music.

If you wanted an FM synth, but didn't have one, you needed to buy one to get access to that sound palette. Same with a sampler, or an analog polysynth etc.

Now though, we have pretty well explored the available sound palette, and while the potential range of sounds has been infinite for a long time, it seems that the next new synthesizer isn't necessarily bringing a whole new palette to the table - just very similar technology we're had for a while, in a different package.

So, for the folks who keep buying new synths, which for the most part are really making the same sounds we've already had easy access to for decades - is it really about *new* sounds, doing things you couldn't previously do, creating sounds that are impossible to make with your existing gear, and expanding your available sound palette - or is it more about "this year's new toy", or "new things bring new inspiration".

Has synthesis become more "playing with synths" than "making music with a new sound palette"?

And if so, how long has this been the case?

(I think you can probably infer my views from the post... :smirk: )
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby Dave B » Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:48 pm

"new" for a whole generation of people is going to be "cheesy old sounds we've heard before" for a bunch of old synth crusties. It doesn't invalidate it.

I am interested in the Korg OpSix as it should give a new lease of life to FM - it's quite an interesting take on it and might give us something more than the three usable patches that the DX7 had.

Likewise, their Wavestate builds on the old Wavestation in an interesting way and I can see myself with one of those at some points.

Will the sounds I make be new? To me, yes. Might not be to others.
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby desmond » Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:54 pm

Dave B wrote:"new" for a whole generation of people is going to be "cheesy old sounds we've heard before" for a bunch of old synth crusties. It doesn't invalidate it.

Yes, I'm aware there are a constant influx of new users buying their first synth, and maybe they haven't already downloaded a bunch of free synths plugins already. I addressed this in the first post, but then deleted the paragraph as I didn't think it was that relevant to the point - there are always people new to anything at any point, and that's a different thing really.
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby Eddy Deegan » Wed Dec 02, 2020 9:23 pm

A synth is much more than the synthesis engine at its heart. Take, for example, the Hydrasynth. There is nothing 'new' in it, not really. The mutants are a conveniently packaged method of modulating and shaping the sound but are in themselves just variations on a theme.

On the basis of pure specs there's not much to get excited about other than the poly-AT keyboard itself. It's sample-based, does a bit of wave-sequencing etc. but it's all stuff that's been done before.

But put together in the manner in which the synth is designed and you have a superb instrument with a huge range of sounds that's a joy to use.

The Arturia PolyBrute is another example (mine's not arrived yet but any day now hopefully). It's 'just another' polysynth but the addition of the morphing feature that smoothly transitions the parameters between two completely different patches in realtime gives it a (unique?) feature which significantly ups it's performance capabilities.

As always though, it's more about the people using them than it is about the synths themselves. And if you think synths are bad at reinventing themselves, look at the industry based on a couple of lumps of wood bolted together with some wires on them!
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby desmond » Wed Dec 02, 2020 9:29 pm

Eddy Deegan wrote:But put together in the manner in which the synth is designed and you have a superb instrument with a huge range of sounds that's a joy to use.

So, in this case at least, this is more about the fun and inspiration of playing with a new instrument (which we all understand of course), rather than being able to make sounds you couldn't otherwise make before?

My gut feeling says this is more where people are at with synths these days (excluding the new users to a certain degree, as the variables are a little different). "I want to see what I can do with this instrument", rather than "I'll be able to access sounds I just couldn't do at all otherwise"...

Eddy Deegan wrote:As always though, it's more about the people using them than it is about the synths themselves.

For sure.
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby RichardT » Wed Dec 02, 2020 9:40 pm

I think there are some technologies that are becoming more common now in synths, such as granular synthesis.

But I think modern synths tend to offer the ability to combine multiple synth and sampling technologies, and in some cases they are easier to use (on board screens etc).
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby IAA » Wed Dec 02, 2020 9:49 pm

Looking at all the synths I’ve owned/used I’ve got to a point where the synths I have in my studio now are there for 3 specific reasons. They sound good without FX are easy to program and feel like proper instruments when I’m playing them, that is they have nice keybeds and do modulation easily. I’m less of a sound designer more a player so where I need seriously strange sounds I have soft synths or sample libraries that get me there.
I still want to buy synths but invariably it’s less for a different sound palette, more for either nostalgia (ARP2600, SH09 etc) or it’s from a manufacturer whose sound inspires me sequential/Moog and they’re innovating (Moog One for eg)

So for me there are few sounds that I cannot produce given the software to hand, but I very rarely feel inspired sat staring at a monitor with a mouse to hand.
But in front of my Minimoog.......
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby zenguitar » Wed Dec 02, 2020 10:11 pm

Eddy Deegan wrote: And if you think synths are bad at reinventing themselves, look at the industry based on a couple of lumps of wood bolted together with some wires on them!

Hey!! If the fencing works, why change anything?

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby ManFromGlass » Wed Dec 02, 2020 10:50 pm

Fencing can be fun as this old chestnut reconfirms-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUL56vrK75I

:P
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby ManFromGlass » Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:05 pm

I don’t buy synths, just plugins and apps. For me it doesn’t matter if the controller is a full size or mini keybed, drumpads, midi wind instrument or something off the wall. It is if the patch inspires before I do any tweaking. And just when you think you’ve heard it all somebody adds a nice little twist with some fx or controller routing that makes it fun.
When the deadline clock is ticking moments of inspired fun don’t come by that often.

All good points in your first post Desmond. It made me think of Omnisphere right away for some reason. Currently there are 4000+ patches in Omnisphere. In theory I should be able to find everything I need there but I don’t. I can’t really say why either.
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby desmond » Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:16 pm

ManFromGlass wrote:Currently there are 4000+ patches in Omnisphere. In theory I should be able to find everything I need there but I don’t. I can’t really say why either.

Large libraries are a blessing and a curse, really. The larger a library, possibly the more likely there is to be a patch that's going to be in the ballpark of what you want, but it's also likely to be harder to find, regardless of what search/filtering tools there are as there is more stuf to wade through.

I find the most valuable synths are ones that are stocked full of my own sounds - because they are all sounds to my liking, and there aren't any that I dislike or are useless to my tastes. But then it's also useful to have sounds from other people that don't have your exact point of view as these can lead to surprises that you wouldn't necessarily have got to otherwise.

Curating a library takes time, but it's one of those things that I might do over time while listening to a podcast or having a break from something else - just choose the next category and bit by bit work through rating sounds, so you end up with a scored library where you can easily hide/ignore the sounds that are useless to you, and just focus on the good to great ones - which makes them more workable and faster when you're making music and looking for sounds...
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby The Elf » Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:23 pm

I can only speak for myself, but if a synth doesn't give me something unique it doesn't stay around for long. It earns its keep, or it's out the door.

Hydrasynth is a good example. That synth does genuinely take me places that none of my other synths do. Same with Peak. same with VC340, same with Pro Soloist, same with the reface CP... well, you get the idea. It depends on how 'different' a synth has to sound for one ear to hear 'unique'. Maybe I'm closer to it, but I owe it to anyone listening to my music that I've made the 'right' choices. It's like a golfer choosing a club; to an expert it makes a difference - the rest of us just hopes the ball doesn't end up in the trees.
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby N i g e l » Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:39 pm

I think that its not just about the sounds but the realtime control as well. There will be new methods of intelligently assisted parameter changing which leads to new styles of expression and seemingly new sounds.
Especially so, when the equipment is affordable and gets into the hands of youffs who are not hindered by the constructs of the past.

Im thinking of the 80s-90s dance scene when cheap analogue met cheap MIDI sequencers, leaving both hands free for parameter twiddling.

By the end of the 90s, FM & sampling were perhaps not so inovative, then along comes Scrillex in ~2010 and creates Dubstep, a whole new genre.

I like synths with "macros", i.e. turning 1 knob changes many parameters and perhaps the one knob "morphing" between patches too.


Dave B wrote:I am interested in the Korg OpSix as it should give a new lease of life to FM - it's quite an interesting take on it and might give us something more than the three usable patches that the DX7 had.

I was interested in the OP6 but recently went for the MODX.
8op FM+ via a 7" screen + effects, parameter sequencing and theres 8 parts of that.
[as well as the 128note AWM, user samples & PC integration]
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby John Stafford » Thu Dec 03, 2020 12:06 am

I find new ways to manipulate the synth more interesting than new sounds per se.

I'd probably be fairly happy for the rest of my life with just a couple of old fashioned analogue synths. That's not to say I wouldn't love owning all kinds of synth.

I'm also interested in algorithmic composition, and making my own digital sounds from scratch. In my head it's like two different instruments.
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Re: Synthesizers. Is it really about new sounds these days..?

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Dec 03, 2020 12:36 am

desmond wrote:Large libraries are a blessing and a curse, really. The larger a library, possibly the more likely there is to be a patch that's going to be in the ballpark of what you want, but it's also likely to be harder to find, regardless of what search/filtering tools there are as there is more stuf to wade through.

I find the most valuable synths are ones that are stocked full of my own sounds - because they are all sounds to my liking, and there aren't any that I dislike or are useless to my tastes. But then it's also useful to have sounds from other people that don't have your exact point of view as these can lead to surprises that you wouldn't necessarily have got to otherwise.

Beautifully put desmond, and I agree 100%. There's nothing more rewarding than being able to use 'your own' sound in a project. However, as you rightly say, sometimes a different person's take on a sound can launch your music in a completely unexpected direction.


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