Monday, February 17, 2014

New Modules!

Sooo... guess what I got in the mail today?
BEWM. Synthesis Tech E340 Cloud Generator and a Pittsburgh Modular Outs. And what's funny is I'm already finding that more patch cables would be useful. wtf.

And yeah, that's all this post is about. Well... almost... should I explain a bit?

You see the only reason I like modular synthesizers (aside from being incredibly useful as sound-creation tools) is this video from Deadmau5:

As you can see, one of the main modules used (and in my opinion sounds coolest) is the E340 (look around 2:50). Ever since I first saw this video like a year and a half ago or whatever, I've wanted it, and now I do. Now all I need is a cheap little MIDI-CV (like a MIDImplant) and a nice reverb and I can recreate this melody, as well as do a bunch more cool stuff with it.

In case you were curious, this is how I want to fill out the rest of my little rack there:
First steps into building a modular. Now wouldn't it be cool if I could even get my own modules to fit in the rack? haha

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Blog Layout

So as you can probably tell if you read this material on its website, I changed the layout. It's wider so the posts look shorter and I can make pictures larger. I'm not really sure if it looks good yet, but it's simple and plain so I guess it'll work for now. Feel free to suggest stuff.

How I Play GTA Online

So I've been playing GTA Online (part of GTA 5) pretty much since a couple weeks or so since it came out. Hackers, bugs, and douche players aside, I have a lot of fun playing it. It's kinda like a modern Skyrim, but instead of armours you have clothes, instead of swords you have guns, and instead of horses you have cars. Oh, and it takes place in a modern city instead of an epic mystical land of partial confusion. It's great!
Oh and you work at a newspaper place, obviously...
I do play the game slightly differently than most players, however. It seems that, where most people are hell-bent on murdering you for no reason, I'm chillin' in Passive mode just watching the bullets and tanks roll by on a lovely sunny day in the heart of Los Santos. People wonder how I got to be level 72 by doing essentially nothing, but what they do not know about is what I do when they're not around...
...such as using an airport as a drift track!
I start my day (or night, whenever I happen to log in at that particular moment) by entering Passive Mode, walking outside and stealing a car. Yeah, ok, not cool, but I then sell it and make some dough, usually around $5k. Then I hit up a few missions (Jobs, whatever) back-to-back, gaining me several thousand RP and about $40k in no more than half an hour or so, depending on the Jobs. Then I go back to freemode, still in Passive, and watch other players go about their business of trying to kill each other. It gets interesting when you see what they are doing and start guessing what they will do next.
Hiding behind a Rolls-Royce is obviously the best way to not get killed. 
It's usually around this time that Simeon, the local not-so-legit car salesman asks for you help in 'acquiring' some vehicles for his business. Usually this involves stealing a car, losing the cops, repainting the car, and driving it to the Docks where it gets loaded into a garage for exporting, then you get paid around $10k. After that I tend to sell another car individually, maybe do a few more missions, watch people, then go home and log off.

In between all that I do other stuff as well. Various activities, like golf and darts, are always options, but I prefer the things that aren't marked on the map: off-roading in the desert, riding my bike around town, cruising on the freeway, or of course the aforementioned walking around aimlessly, just exploring the city. I also enjoy shopping. Hit up a gas station or clothes store, or maybe restock ammo at Ammu-Nation. Some Ammu-Nation stores have a shooting range where you can try out new or locked weapons, too.
Or, hey, hit up your local night club.
I also love the detail in the game. Minor things that most players wouldn't bat an eye at if they were missing are in the game, like GPS and phones losing signal underground, water making your clothes and skin wet, even down to power lines swaying in the breeze. You can go bird hunting by shooting them out of the sky, or race NPCs between redlights.
Also, wind can blow around your sailboat. 
The thing I love most, as you may have figured out, is the freedom. You can go and do anything you want. Terrorise the city, or act normal. Have fun by yourself (in an appropriate way, of course) or with others. Pretty much whatever you want to do, it's there. Would I say it is my favourite game? You know, maybe not, but it is definitely in the top 5.

Images taken from in-game. All vehicles the woman is posing by are mine. The woman is my character, Avareth. Also, if you were curious, no she's not usually dressed like what you see here. The first two images are closer to what she usually wears. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Yoa on Synthesizers Vol. 2

"Why are modular synthesizers so expensive?"

This is a question I get asked pretty much any time after I tell a friend about modulars. Why is a basic VCO $200? Why is a simple mixer $80? Why are mults $50??? There's a simple reason for it. Well, three reasons:

1) Price of parts. A lot of electronics parts are very cheap, often just pennies per unit. Others average about $5 or more. Most modules are built to be high-quality, so panels are thick, jacks are strong, and connections are over-secure. Custom knobs are often employed, as well as silk-screened panels. A normal oscillator, like the Doepfer A-110, costs about $40-$50 to make.

2) Price of design. The real only reason Moog isn't the only modular brand, aside from they moved on, is because other people have different ideas. With this, of course, comes the fact that people should get paid for their time. Often, the people who design electronics for modular synthesizers went to school or have other formal training, and would at least like to make that money back with the skills they learned.

3) Profit. There's no real purpose in running a business if you make no profit. Profit is useful for stuff like, you know, food, and houses, and stuff.

Now, are there some examples of outrageous prices? Of course. Cases in point being anything by Cyndustries and Cwejmann and Modcan and MakeNoise and probably a few other brands. But, then you also have other things, like Apple, that want you to pay $3000 for a computer you'll mostly use for Facebook and cat videos. Or Gibson, who want you to pay $3000 for some wood and metal. But, since they have larger markets and have the same three reasons for their prices as modulars, people buy their products. They still complain about prices, but you also have people who complain about the price of a $1 phone app, which is something I'll never understand.

Am I saying that modulars are cheap? Nope. Am I saying that all prices are now justified? Negative. All I am saying is that usually, there is a reason behind the pricing.

"But why is it I can buy a Minibrute for $500, when that wouldn't buy but three modules?"

It is true that you can get a synthesizer for much cheaper than a modular and be perfectly happy with it. It is also true that, section for section, mainstream synths are cheaper (mainly because they can sell more, but still). But, with most mainstream synthesizers, they have a fixed signal path and few modulators. With a modular, you can design the signal path to be the most crazy, outrageous setup ever. Everything can make sound if you press it hard enough, and everything can modulate and be modulated.

What this means is you get a LOT more out of your $1000 modular than you do with your two $500 Minibrutes. "More bang for your buck" I think is the proper phrase there.

"But I can modify my mainstream synth to have jacks and it will be the same, right?"

If you have the skills and knowledge to modify your instrument with patch points, I say go for it. But, even still you are using what the synth comes with. That means you get that filter, that oscillator, that LFO. Modulars, sure, you can get one type of oscillator, or VCA, or whatever, but you can also get different ones from different people, and they will look, sound, feel, and interact differently. It gets unpredictable, which is usually where the "magic" comes from.

"But it is a lot of work!" or "But I can't save anything I do!"

All I can really say to this is why the **** are you trying to use a synthesizer at all? Yes, it takes half an hour to get your modular in tune, and yes it can take ages to get any sound out of it. No, there are no presets, but you can take pictures or use patch sheets, and you can record the resulting sound. You want easy and presets, either buy a new Moog or go digital. Modulars are about learning and exploration, either you want to do it or you don't. That's what you pay for, the ability to explore.

I'm not sure what the next Yoa on Synthesizers will be, so if you have a topic you want covered, just comment!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Yoa on Synthesizers Vol. 1

"Can't you make the same sounds on any synth?" is a question I get from a lot of people, mainly because most people I know barely know what a synthesizer is. I have already covered that in my 'Synthesis Chronicles' series (which, I know, wasn't the best explanation, but it got the point across), so now I am starting a more general series on one of the more interesting instruments on earth, the synthesizer.

This first installment will focus on the question first posed in this post, "can't you make the same sounds on any synth?" The short answer, as any synthesizer user knows, is no. Due to differences in circuitry (or in the case of digital synthesizers, coding and engine), no two different synthesizers can sound the same. Let's get into more detail, highlighting the main audio components: the oscillator, the filter, and the amplifier. Yup, this'll be a long post.

Before I begin, I would like to note that I am not taking into account various synthesizers that are different by design, but instead keeping it simple by referencing mostly simple subtractive synthesizers (which are by far the most common). FM, Additive, Hybrid, Wavetable, Sampling, and other types of synthesis (I know of about 20 total) will of course have their sonic differences, which are far too great to talk about in one post, and possibly even on one blog. Now, to the content:

Every oscillator is different. Sure, they all have the same general waveforms (saw, square, sine, triangle), but their exact sound is due to exactly how those waveforms are created. Let us look at a few examples of the standard saw wave from different synthesizers:
As you would well imagine, the saw wave we think of is best recreated by the Microkorg. We would expect this because at its core, it is a MIDI-controlled DSP budget synthesizer, and a straight saw wave is much easier to recreate than an analogue waveform (it has a slight curve due to the output circuitry's capacitors). However, Cakewalk's z3ta+ is also digital, however it uses waveshaping as its primary timbral creation technique, so it can more easily recreate capacitor charging, thus the more pronounced curvature. The Roland is also digital, and is still considered a Saw wave despite its odd look. Even looking at the analogue waveforms of the Moog and Oberheim, we can see that they are very un-saw-like, yet still are considered saw waves. Even the half-time saw is very saw-like, even in sound. How can this be? As you probably guessed, they are all very different designs, with different sounds. Now, sadly, I cannot possibly go into the exact makeup of each oscillator and how each part contributes to the sound, so I hope that just seeing these few examples helps you realise the true sonic span of different synthesizers.

Now, let us talk filters. There are a LOT of filter designs out there, each one is different sonically, technically, and, you guessed it, design-wise. In this case I will talk about analogue lowpass filters. I can't really touch digital filters, mainly because I have no real experience with how they work, but I do have experience with analogue filters, so I will talk about those. There are four main filter types that come to mind: RC, Sallen-Key, Transistor Ladder, and Diode Ladder.

Starting with the most basic, an RC filter is just that: a resistor and a capacitor. 
Really, all other filters use this at their core, but in different ways. The standard RC filter has no resonance as there is no feedback path, and is only single-pole. Very, very basic, and not usually used in audio.

Sallen-Key filters are much more advanced filters, containing 2 resistors, 2 capacitors, and an operational amplifier. (don't mind the values)
This type of filter is very popular, namely due to its fairly simple construction, and is 2-pole (aka 12dB/oct), which means you can make much more drastic changes to audio. You can also add resonance by placing an attenuator on the feedback loop. This is the kind of filter used in some Korg, Paia, Roland, and various modular filters, among others. Very, very common.

Transistor Ladder filters are the absolute best-sounding filters you can possibly make. Don't ask why I happen to have original design scans :)
As you can see, transistor ladder filters are far more advanced (thanks Robert Moog!), and even still are very much like RC filters. Each transistor acts as a voltage-controlled variable resistor, and each capacitor is, well, a capacitor. After the first 'rung' of the ladder, each additional rung equals a 6dB/oct filter (the normal Moog ladder is 24dB/oct). Resonance is added much like on a Sallen-Key filter, using the output buffer and an attenuator to the filter input, thus creating a feedback loop. Due to how transistors behave, audio going through it sounds very lush and full. And, since the design hasn't really changed over the years, you can play any modern Moog and hear how it sounds. This kind of filter has been used in Moog (duh), Roland, Arp, and various modular filters, among others.

Lastly, we have the Diode Ladder filter, which is rather unique (another original design scan):
This filter was created by the rather inventive Nyle Steiner. It uses a 'ladder' of diodes and carefully controlled current to make diodes act like variable resistors. This design is also rather flexible in that it can be used for highpass and bandpass filters, as well as lowpass. It has a very unique sound which is very dependent on the kind of diodes you use. Resonance is interesting as well, as it has a fixed feedback path, with resonance amount controlled by varying the gain of the output buffer. This filter is used primarily on Steiner-Parker synthesizers, but it can also be seen in some modules. 

Finally, we are at the amplifier. Really, the timbral aspects of it are very dependent on the components (or code/engine, if we're talking digital) used. However, most amplifiers are controlled in some way, be it voltage or 1's and 0's, and that added circuitry/code makes for additional timbral elements to be introduced. Instead of showing you amplifiers, I will simply tell you to look at various amplifier designs, because (just as with oscillators) there are millions of ways to make them, from analogue OTAs to digital attenuators. 

I hope that this has shed some bit of light onto how synthesizers do vary and how they sound different, despite having similar parts and controls. Next up: "Why are modular synthesizers so expensive?"