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Going to the Dark Side with Synthesizer Obsession

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by Skully, Jan 17, 2021.

  1. Skully

    Skully Doctor of Teleocity

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    The 1984/"The Boys of Summer" thread brought up something that's been on my mind a lot lately.

    The last few weeks I've really been getting into synths, watching instructional videos about how they got this sound for that song, etc. I bought a Behringer Poly D (a clone of the MiniMoog Model D) and I spruced up my VSTs with the new Arturia V Collection 8 (I already had the more limited Analog Lab, along with other VST synths). I also updated my guitar recording rig with Line 6 Helix Native amp sims and effects.

    The sounds I really like are played on the more primitive analog synths, like the early Moogs, Arps, Junos and Prophets. The Moogs and the Arps feel the most musical and alive, probably because of their instability and imperfections. The Poly D recreates that experience, and not always in the best ways. It needs to be warmed up and tuned. It has no presets and settings can't be saved on the machine, so I document them by taking a photo of the knobs and switches with my phone. But it's a blast to use and it sounds like a beast.

    As the synthesizers advanced and became more programmable, the sonics suffered. The limitations of early sampling synths (Fairlight, Emulator) gave them a quirky character. But early FM synthesis was stiff and brittle, and the omnipresent keyboard that used the tech, the Yamaha DX7, was impossible for most musicians to program, so they relied on the presets, stamping the music with a sonic sameness.

    You can hear the negative effects of the synthesizer evolution in the sonic evolution of Devo, as they kept pace with the latest technology. On 1984's "Shout," it became all about programming the Fairlight, and it sucked the life out of the band and its music. Something similar happened with Kraftwerk on "Electric Cafe," as they brought in Emulators, Synclaviers and FM synthesis. At the same time, both bands were probably also running low on steam creatively.
     
  2. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Nice. I want to get the Behringer Poly D, maybe this year.

    But what I really want is a ARP Omni-2...
     
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  3. medownsouth

    medownsouth Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

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  4. raito

    raito Poster Extraordinaire

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    I disagree with the thesis. In my opinion, it had little to do with programmability or advancement. It had to do with synths no longer being novel in mainstream music. That was what led to the sameness. As always happens in mainstream music, what becomes popular becomes copied. What was a glorious cornucopia of possibilities gets distilled, for better or worse, into a small number of memes. And those perpetuate for nearly eternity.

    (i.e. I swept the filter, now what?)

    This site is a great example of that. Look at the fetishism of old sound. Anything that doesn't sound familiar is poo-pooed.

    For synths, I'm only talking about mainstream music. Experimentation has been out there from the beginning. Research the east coast vs. west coast divide and go beyond what radio fed you.
     
  5. Rich_S

    Rich_S Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    After recording a cover of No Doubt's cover of "It's My Life", I went down a Talk Talk rabbit hole on YouTube this week. Those guys got some awesome and very organic sounds out of their Jupiters. In 1985, they had three Jupiter 8s on stage. That's a lotta oscillators. Guitar players (when they had one) didn't stand a chance.
     
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  6. deytookerjaabs

    deytookerjaabs Friend of Leo's

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    I like the FM synths, I like anything deeply programmable for that matter. The Yamaha stuff and the Casio CZ series from that era have more than meets the eye under the hood. I say that as a guy who has formerly owned most of the classic 70's analog offerings too.


    Problem with some of it comes in the nature of pre-sets. So many classic tunes with some big sounds are just pre-set 12 on the box, lol. I remember the guy who bought a Roland D-50 from me was crazy about making sure it had some factory sound on it that I was unfamiliar with but he bought the whole synth for that one pre-set.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2021
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  7. Skully

    Skully Doctor of Teleocity

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    I know people fetishize "old sounds." I'm generally against fetishizing analog, but with the synthesizers, it does make a huge difference. Their limitations not only make them sound different, they make them play different. You have to change your playing for a keyboard that is monophonic or paraphonic, and it creates unusual note sequences and sonic structures that would not occur with a full polyphonic synth. The low note or the high note might be prioritized. Notes get assigned different oscillators depending on how many keys you hit and when.

    Programmability can create stiffness. With arp sequences, it can be exciting. When all the music is programmed, it's tends to be the opposite of exciting. The well-documented challenge of programming and personalizing the sound patches of the Yamaha DX7 was a real and pervasive issue, and it was compounded by the pervasiveness of the DX7 itself. Everybody was using it. The first three years, it sold 200,000 units. The Minimoog D sold maybe 12,000.
     
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  8. Tele-beeb

    Tele-beeb Friend of Leo's

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    I too have (had) a strong desire to emulate the old synth sounds. Kraftwerk of course... but Greg Giuffria on the Angel self-titled and Helluva Band made sounds I still listen to as an adult... 45 years later :(
    Anyway, I first bought those apps...
    then an Alesis Ion...
    then a Roland SH-201.
    Sadly... I just couldn’t find the skill or patience.
    They morphed into P.A. equipment IIRC.
    Kudos and well wishes on your journey!
     
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  9. Skully

    Skully Doctor of Teleocity

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    It's personal, too. The limitations of the early synths jibe with my limitations as a keyboard player.

    It can be fun figuring out the presets. My daughter told me she liked the synth sound on a song I got her obsessed with, "Christian Boy" by Robert Seidler. It was a local hit in San Francisco in 1985. I wasn't really too aware of it when it was a hit. But I went to see A Flock of Seagulls (that's right!) at the Berkeley Square in 1986 with my girlfriend at the time, and he was the opener. She was 11 years older than me, she knew Seidler and, in fact, he had given her her first kiss. Apologies for the digression. But I impressed my daughter when I found the main synth sound as one of the presets on my Arturia Prophet 5 VST clone.

     
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  10. Skully

    Skully Doctor of Teleocity

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    It's a slippery slope. Limitations can be an artist's friend on a multitude of levels. I talk to creatives about this all the time. Infinite choice and, to a lesser degree, infinite ability can be detriments.

    I'm gassing for other keyboards now, and it's really stupid. With the Arturia V Collection 8 and the Poly D, and various free plug-ins that can do complex modern wavetable stuff, my bases are more than covered. I hype myself into thinking I might want to buy this keyboard or that keyboard, then realize that I much prefer the sound of what I already have.
     
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  11. raito

    raito Poster Extraordinaire

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    Poking at your thought process here, if you're generally against fetishizing analog, then why do you do it? Have you done any A/B tests to see if there is actually any detectable sonic dofference? Lacking that, it's confirmation bias.

    Playing differently has more behind it, as the physical package can certainly affect the player's perspective. I suspect the difference is less than you seem to think, though.

    While programmability can create stiffness, it also created new genres where programmability was the point. And thus, not the opposite of exciting -- a different sort of exciting (one that not everyone appreciates, like many things).

    The DX7 programming problem is exactly the example of what I pointed out above. It sold more because the synth ceased to be novel in the 80's when it came out, as opposed to the Model D in the 70's. As for the programming itself, that whole thing also makes my point. The mechanics of FM programming are pretty simple if you take the time to understand them. But relatively few did, because what was in the preset banks was what was popular. Look at 'Lately Bass'. That was a feedback loop that was bound to marginalize the programming aspect. It didn't help that since the 60's, all the synths had been subtractive and that was what the programmers were used to, and musicians in general are notorious for not wanting to change. Computerized sampling had actually been done in the 50's, but the endgame there was to recreate traditional instrument sounds rather than do much that was new, and the computing power that was necessary kept that from being a performance instrument until later. I consider Fairlight, et. al. to be contemporary with the DX7, though that went in a different direction.

    You say it's personal, and I heartily agree with that. I try (and often fail) to not generalize my personal tastes. Elsewhere on the net, it's amusing to see guys over and over again buying up hoards of instruments, only to sell them off because they really only use a handful. The ones they started with.

    When I look at new synths or keyboards, I know I'm really looking for more of the same. Really better of the same. I did manage that successfully with Yamaha's Reface series, at least for piano and organ. The original ones, not the overpriced larger ones that have come out recently. I needed good electric pianos, and nothing else (from that noisemaker)! The CP does that for me. I needed good organs, and nothing else. The YC did that, too. I did need full-size controllers, but that's easy enough. And I did dig down to get CD-quality A/B comparisons between those and what they emulated. I wish I had kept the links -- it's been a few years.
     
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  12. Skully

    Skully Doctor of Teleocity

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    I'm not exactly fetishizing analog when I have one analog keyboard instrument in the vast ecosystem that is my recording set-up. I also have acoustic drums, congas, bongos, a wide assortment of hand percussion, and, of course, many guitars and basses. I use them all.

    I have digital emulations of the MiniMoog. The Poly D does sound different and, more importantly, it brings something out in me and also forces me to learn about the nuts and bolts of how these synths are programmed to achieve certain sounds, which, in turn, brings out more in me. If I set up a digital patch emulating Gary Numan's "Replicas" sound, it does not sound as rich and alive as it does on the Poly D. With cleaner sounds from '80s synths like the Juno, the differences are insignificant to me.

    Of course. That can be exciting. But when the musical world becomes quantized, metaphorically speaking, it has a pervasive excitement-sucking effect.

    You have it backwards. It became less novel because that particular synth (and synths in general) sold more.

    Re: the DX7. It didn't matter that FM programming is simple or not simple. The design of the keyboard made it very difficult to program. The DX7 was relatively cheap ($2K) compared to Fairlights and Synclaviers, which started at around $25K (a Synclavier could cost as much as $200K), so the keyboard was pervasive, and so were its preset sounds.
     
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  13. jondanger

    jondanger Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I’m a few steps behind you on the same path. Just got a Korg Minilogue XD and am learning the basics. Now I’m looking at rack synths and thinking about how I can set up my little basement studio to better integrate some synth stuff. The synth rabbit hole goes even deeper than the electric guitar rabbit hole, if you can believe that!

    My wife is a dedicated meditator and I am starting to make some soundscapes for her, with the goal of eventually collaborating on a guided mediation (her)/soundscape (me) project. That’s part of the justification of the expense ;).
     
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  14. Tele-beeb

    Tele-beeb Friend of Leo's

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    Listen to this with headphones.
    Synth... Mellotron, Echo... spacial singing.
    I go to a different place listening to this:

     
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  15. Hey_you

    Hey_you Tele-Holic

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    I love synth too! Ever since Moog came out in the 60's. One day I'll get into Rack Component. That is a very deep rabbit-hole if ya go that route. I had a DX27 back in the day. That's where I learned to edit. If ya wanna try a great program, check out VCV Rack. It's free and has about any component you know of. It is GPU heavy tho. Great forum community too. No hate. My SY77,D and Night Sky. So much fun!!!! 77 Strymon D.jpg
     
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  16. 24 track

    24 track Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I have no idea what you are talking about.....

    P1012448.JPG P1012449.JPG

    Im waiting for 2 more eurorack modules and Im complete , that and the behringer 2600 ( due out early february) , eurorack modules Ive installed since these pics are Behringer are 2X beh 173 gates and mults, Beh 962 sequential switch, ( for the Beh 960 sequencer Im waiting for ) Doepfer A 156 quantizer, and A183-2 offset , Polyend poly , this dickie allows me to take midi input turning it into CV/Gate voltage for 8 chanels , the other unit Im waiting for is a Beh 150 sample and hold. I started wiring it all up last night , I built this over the past couple of months from scratch, I made a power supply to power the eurorack from an old ATX computer power supply and can easily drive usb and 28 modules .
    the beauty of this stuff is it can talk to each other something the originals could not as none had midi or usb


    my main keyboard ( not in this photo ) is a kurzweil K2000

    although this is hardware heavey I have a ton of virtual synths my goal is to use thes engines to enhance, augment and modify standard synth sounds. sequences you see on youtube drive me nuts , I cant stand 4 beat thump driven drums from machines.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
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  17. Skully

    Skully Doctor of Teleocity

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    I live for such justifications. :)

    I like it before the singing starts. ;) Especially the space-y stuff.

    It looks like you have the Behringer Model D there, which minus a feature or two, is the rack version of the Poly D.

    I looked at VCV Rack, and that's a bit too deep for me. :) The mess of patch cords -- even virtual ones -- are too much. However, I'm proud to say that at the moment I do have a patch cord on my Poly D running from the headphone out to the EXT IN, which is the most basic hack for adding distortion.

    This is what you really need



    I hate the lame standard issue hip hop sequences your hear so much of today. But I love the old fashioned beep-bop-boop arp sequences. I've thought about running my guitar through the Poly D, but I know that it will be a fun experiment that is unlikely to produce any usable sounds.

    What I really like is the rock and pop stuff from the '70s and early '80s. I like rock (but not prog) that uses the synths as a color in the palette to full-on synth pop, including (on the slightly more esoteric tip) Kraftwerk. Sometimes when it's used just for coloring, it's even more memorable, like what Steve Miller did on the albums "Fly Like a Eagle" and "Book of Dreams." There's not a lot of synth on those albums. The songs certainly weren't written on synths. But what the simple stuff he did really stands out.
     
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  18. guitarsophist

    guitarsophist Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    I read somewhere that the industry guys who programmed the early synths purposely created presets that were designed to demo all of the most extreme and weird things that the units could do, but the players who bought them were organ players, not programmers, so they just used the presets, and so was born the sound of the '80's.
     
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  19. Guitarteach

    Guitarteach Doctor of Teleocity

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    Get em all on ipad as apps.. midi keyboard.. sorted.

    Korg got some great modules.

    We play a lot of older stuff.. can’t beat a nice arpeggiator function. My old SY85 and QY700 sequencer still get daily use too... but i need to retire the old synth from gig duties. Too nice to risk.

    I had a CS80 for a while years ago... an absolute monster weight and a total beast of a machine... the touch strip was magical..
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2021
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  20. Skully

    Skully Doctor of Teleocity

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    It's interesting that the more musically accomplished players were less likely to make interesting music with them. Early synths like the Moogs had no presets, so you had to dial it in. The dullest thing to do would be to follow the instructions and try to make it sound like a regular organ or a flute.

    There's an interesting interview with Mark Mothersbaugh in Sound On Sound, where he talks about the band's history with synthesizers. For their most recent album, "Something for Everybody," which I like very much, he initially had the band playing together using just their vintage gear. That didn't quite work, so they took a hybrid approach instead.

    Here's a quote from Mothersbaugh I found particularly interesting.

    "The Minimoog kind of became my M16 rifle. That's the synth that, to this day, you could blindfold me and say 'All right, we want a white‑noise puffball with one sine wave wiggling at about 90bpm through the middle of it,' and I could sit there and dial it in. I learned it that well. I was very aware of what was going on with synthesizers, and looked at them lustfully. They were very expensive, and just the fact that I even had a Minimoog was awesome, a really big deal. It wasn't like buying a plug‑in."

    There are a lot of interesting free synth instrument plug-ins. Tyrell6 will give you all the "Blade Runner" sounds. Helm and Vital will let you do advanced spectral wavetable synthesis.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
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