Modular synth ‘secrets’ (2013)

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Those looking for a modern introduction to modular synths … in particular so-called Eurorack modular ‘format’ … could do a lot worse than The Secret World Of Modular Synthesizers, an SOS article from 2013.

Come with us as we step away from the modular mainstream and take a look at some of the more eccentric Eurorack synth modules this weird world has to offer.

There are, to generalise, two schools in modular synthesis. On one side you’ve got what is referred to as the ‘East Coast’ style: the simpler, fixed-function world of Moog, ARP, Oberheim and the like….

On the other side of the fence is what’s referred to as ‘West Coast’ thinking, an approach championed by brands such Buchla, Serge and Wiard. Here you may not recognise the names of the functions so easily, because they aren’t strictly dedicated to just one purpose. For example, a ‘Quad Function Generator’ could, depending on how you had it patched, be several different things. Many West Coast modular synths do not have filters….

And if you fall deep enough down the rabbit hole, you may never turn your computer on again, except, of course, to hit record. Never forget: once that patch is made, capture it. We will never hear anything like it again.

New blog 20khz

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20kHz is a new blog exploring the technology and science behind music and sound.

Recent (Oct. 2015) posts include Here’s Why Perfectly-Timed Synthesized Music Can Sound Slightly Wrong and A Beginner’s Guide to the Synth.

Roland AIRA goes modular, Malekko

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If you’ve been waiting to hear about/see the new modular options for Roland’s AIRA synth, then go here (or straight to Youtube) to see a video shot at the 2015 Musikmesse.
What’s upcoming? Consider CDM’s picture of the prospective modules lineup.

I haven’t figured out if the blinkenlights are either purely eyecandy or actually serve some useful purpose (other than in dark clubs of course).

Update Apr 25: Synths you’ve been gone: Vintage tech rules at Musikmesse 2015, a nice 5-page look into what Musikmesse wrought.

Since I just heard about them the other day, I’ll just throw in a mention of US west-coast module-maker Malekko and leave it at that – for now. You can check their artists-list in case that helps.

Generative music video and musings

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Music from very short programs – the 3rd iteration demos 7 minutes of, erm, organized 8-bit sounds generated by very short computer programs. Visit here to see what you can do; visit Viznut’s website to find out what he’s thinking.

The recent evolution of easy-to-get-at HTML5 audio generation controlled by Javascript will probably cause this kind of experimenting to take off. Not only is it fun (as it was since at least the C64 days, when it was more boffin-ey) but can lead to sophisticated and sometimes amazing stuff.(*Hmmm. How can I do that with my synth?*) Like the amazing textures the Absynth program (one of my all-time favorites) and Reason can do. Generative sound can take us right out of composer’s block and suggest directions. Getting from that to music is, as always, in the ear of the beholder.

How FPGA’s work

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This one’s marginal to many of us, but in case you’ve seen the letters before and wondered, this one’s not too technical … at first. How FPGAs work, and why you’ll buy one.
The basic lowdown is that modern FPGA’s have “DSP slicers” in them. The important part for music:

In addition to being a hardware prototyping platform and an accelerator architecture, FPGAs are also uniquely suited for software-defined I/O…. FPGAs are the ultimate platform for software-defined I/O because of their timing control (if I said 4 cycles, it takes 4 cycles)

Somewhat related: Android’s 10 Millisecond Problem: The Android Audio Path Latency Explainer

The world of PMCs – Linnstrument

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Wired introduces the world of PMCs (polyphonic multi-dimensional controllers) as ‘revolutionary’ MIDI machines that

can sense finger movement in three dimensions simultaneously—in addition to controlling volume, a musician can also change a note’s pitch and timbre in real time.

The article details the Linnstrument; others cited include the Roli Seaboard, the Haken Continuum, the Eigenharp and Madrona Soundplane.

Fifty years from now, the 1970s to 2015 will be regarded as a strange period in history when people played musical sounds with secretarial input devices: on-off buttons, switches, sliders, and knobs. Controlling numbers by pressing keys. That’s a horrible interface. – Roger Linn

Over at Youtube you can check out what Roger had to say at NAMM 2015, and this well-played Linnstrument using a classic guitar patch.

Online DSP primer – Circles, Sines, and Signals

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Seeing Circles, Sines, And Signals is an interactive “Compact Primer On Digital Signal Processing” by Jack Schaedler. It’s getting a lot of positive comments. Jack says:

My goal is to explain the Discrete Fourier Transform using a miniature curriculum which leverages your ability to learn concepts and absorb information visually instead of linguistically. My hope is that these glyphs become slightly more comprehensible and slightly less intimidating after reading the subsequent 30 or so pages.

Articles like this seem popular on SynthTech, and this is a very-well-done intro, so have at it!

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