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In-depth Feature:  Synthesis - Whats Next?
Time for something a bit different says Mark Tinley
Mark Tinley writes: .

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conceptual model of an audio synthesiser
Many of my contemporaries remark that I write like a technical author, too literal perhaps, not enough humour. And though a lot that follows sounds technical I promise that it's not. I actually feel that technical issues are the problem and could be the very reason that we are all standing around at trade fairs muttering "this is so boring".

I put it to you that the foundation for electronic music is fundamentally flawed and needs a rethink so that we can move on. The absence of humour in my writing style might help a bit too. A document written in such a style may be the bridge between the technocratic mind of a synthesiser designer and the imaginary World of music. Perhaps I am someone who shares a language with both parties and can act as an interpreter.

Maybe it's not all about phon, µbars and anechoic chambers at all... Maybe sound can't be harnessed by thinking about it in that way and we have missed something important.

In chemistry the definition of synthesis is "taking elements and fusing them together to create a compound". In music perhaps it could be defined as "the production of complex sound by reaction from simpler parameters".

But what should these parameters be? Frequency, amplitude, time? You see, by using these parameters audio synthesis has come a long way, or has it?

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dazz    Said...

It sounds as if you want to be Harry Partch, but you're waiting for it to happen inside of a box, which could take a generation or more, and reality will still be more complex and beautiful....

19-Feb-07 10:23 AM

EDW    Said...

Yea, synths are in a rut, more due to corporate domination of the market than anything else. Corporations are risk-averse, so they crank out the same crap year after year, attracting and rewarding mediocrity in their design staff - which makes them easier to manage.

Your dream synth description strikes me as pie-in-the-sky. Personally, I want a genuinely new form of controller tightly coupled to a predominately physical modeling synthesis engine. A guitar can keep me entertained for hours and it doesn't have a 3D operating system. I want something more like that.

23-Feb-07 05:42 AM

SvenLabots    Said...

It´s true,Mark.Maybe some of your ideas are a bit radical,but with a virtual plasma-screen or something like that,floating let´s say 25 cm.above the "main device"-say,a synthesiser,we could do miracles already.Of course it would be all touch-screen and manipulative in whatever way, thus imagine applying it to making music!It´s all possible,but it´s just a matter of the "hard-cash".It´s just still too expensive to manufacture.Or do I have to remind that this perticular Fairlight,who indeed was revolutionairy spectacular in 80,had a luxury car pricetag and those guys from Kraftwerk did something on their own and were already millionairs too,as was Giorgio Moroder.It takes us probably another genius rich lunatic to come up with such,but it´s just a matter of time...

27-Feb-07 09:49 AM

Terry    Said...

'The only limit is your imagination' has been used to advertise synths from the from the beginning. The magic is not in the instruments, but in the harmonic movement that touches the emotions. Anyone can do it yet no one can explain it. I encourage every electronic musician to explore the keys, intervals, and inversions that music is made of. Finaly, be concious of the proportions in your composition: tension vs drone, loud vs quiet, noise vs music, vocal vs instrumental, electronic vs natural, simple vs complex. Explore the extremes and evolve your music!

27-Feb-07 01:56 PM

dah    Said...

One only has to read the comments you recieved about this article to understand why companies don't want to risk a large investment in new technology when users are satisfied with the things they are given. They just want another guitar. I feel the main problem is that most users cannot grasp much more than a "virtual analog" with 2 osc and a LP filter. Yamaha fought this with FM, and we'll see the industry continue to pump out sample playback and virtual analog untill there is the market of end users that are ready for something more.

03-Mar-07 08:32 PM

Tangsonghe    Said...

I agree with the main thesis of the article, synthesisers are still VCOs and VCFs. Why, especially given the buckets of CPU and RAM available don't synths do something new? I guess given that it is only sample manipulation that the author doesn't think the V synth is new. Although there's a bit of COSM in there too.

I don't agree that frequency, phase and amplitude are limited concepts. OK, trying to understand sound in these terms means that we lose out because we can't deal with the complicated information that a full description in terms of frequency, phase and amplitude has. Direct intuitive manipulations of these quantities will always be fairly simple and predictable(VCF, VCA, ring mod etc). I don't think that FM synthesis is such a radical departure either. Still uses simple manipulations of frequency, amplitude and phase.

So it appears that the author's proposal is a dynamic object/space acoustic simulation. Its a nice idea but not to my ears a new one. For what is proposed a huge cluster of PCs would be necessary for realtime operation and a darn good GUI/hardware interface to make it an instrument and not a simulation. Still, all those manipulations sound like great fun. Imagine striking a gong and then morphing it into a tubular bell and then tossing it down a grassy hillside.....

09-Mar-07 10:51 AM

HS    Said...

I recommend reading the following article.

10-Mar-07 01:27 PM

Max    Said...

You say

«My hunch is that synthesisers are not evolving and that it is probably because of the way that scientists and mathematicians define sound».

Add marketing to this and forget that the synthesizer evolution will go further of even an inch. Many of the manifacturers regard the synthesizer as a sort of a toy ,believing that what counts the most is to have a set of flashing leds at the panels; it's not quite so; I believe that even in this context the artesan way must be resumed; and, most of all there must be a deep and close collaboration with the musicians in order to give out expressive and modern instruments; look at the old Yamaha CS80: if many people still use it and restore it though it weighs 100Kgs it's not because they still try to imitate Vangelis or so: they use it because it sounds and behaves and,most of all, can be used, like a real, even acoustic instrument. The goal to me should be to get something you can express yourself with, not only a newest synthesis method: let the manifacturers produce tools with natural velocity responses, poly aftertouch, ribbon controllers, breath controllers, all sort of levers and pedals , let these tools be expensive even we'll have instruments, not toys at last

18-Mar-07 12:07 PM

bentropy    Said...

I guess my experience and intuition leads me to feel that the issue ultimately lies with the playing interface, not the programming i/f (although improvements to it might not hurt). I'm not certain what a better one would look like, but I don't think its more sliders, buttons, knobs and pedals.

When I play my trombone, there are many ways I can affect nuances of the sound with tiny adjustments of muscles and breath. In some ways, the possibility of getting a really awful tone – rather than a mediocre but consistent one, as from an average synth – is a gauge of the potential control (or lack thereof). I suggest that greater expressiveness, not greater programmability, will lead to greater musicality.

Maybe a reverse "Dance-Dance Revolution" interface, allowing you to use nuanced motion of your whole body, or as much of any part of it as you want, would be a direction to explore. Game controllers are going this way anyway. best, bentropy

24-Mar-07 12:11 PM

JD    Said...

Completely bonkers. Sound IS defined in terms of frequencies, wavelengths, harmonics and so on. The author's fantasy synth wouldn't change that. Science is fact.

20-Feb-08 06:42 AM

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