Monday, September 3, 2012

Synthesis Chronicles: Extras

This may or may not be the final installment of this series. I'll tell you why after the end of this.

So I've been getting questions on exactly how the different parts of a synthesizer are actually synthesizer elements. It is true: most of what makes up a synthesizer isn't really helping with the actual synthesis aspect. In fact, the only thing that is synthesis is the most basic element: the oscillator. Yes, that's right: all you need to say you have a synth is a mere oscillator.

But how can this be? All synthesizers are huge things with filters and LFOs and ADSRs and all these other acronyms, how can this crazy guy say that an oscilaltor is a synth?

Simple: a synth is only three parts: an oscillator, a set of controls, and effects. Let's take this on part by part, looking up to modular synthesizers. As you may know, modular synthesizers are made up of, well, modules. Each modules does one thing, be it filter, make noise, make things louder, etc. Here we will look at each type of module and see how it all works together.

An oscillator makes a sound. It can be noise, a buzz, a sample, anything that is a sound. Sometimes oscillators have pitch controls, but in general that's all it is. It is the only part of a synth that actually creates something new.

Controls are really what affect everything. Controls are things like LFOs, ADSRs, wheel controls, pitch controls (like from the keyboard or the oscillator's control), and so on. Connecting controls to different parameters (filter cutoff, oscillator pitch, times on an ADSR) will change them. On modulars and CV-capable synthesizers, you can control these aspects with patch cables, which is good for automation as well as general connections.

Finally, we have effects. Think about it: after the oscillator, everything that makes the sound you hear is just effects. Yup, that's it. Effects. Filters, amps, distortions, waveshapers, all that fancy stuff is just effects. They shape the sound from the oscillators to create that 16-timbre soundscape that you were just listening to (well, assuming you just listened to soemthing like that).

So if all a synth really is is effects, why do we call the entire thing a synthesizer? Well, because the "original synthesizer", the accident that was an electromagnetic vibrator created in 1876 by Elisha Gray, was added onto to control the one single buzzing note and make it a somewhat musical device by Thaddeus Cahill. This "synthesizer" actually used what we now call additive synthesis, and was in fact a tonewheel organ. After that, people such as Bob Moog, Tsutomu Kato and Tadashi Osanai added onto it to create synthesizers.

And normally that's where this post would end, but I've more news for ya:

At some point in the near future (maybe tomorrow), I will be starting a webshow on YouTube. It will be pretty epic and I dont' want to give too much away, but what's really important is that the more advanced Synthesis Chronicles will now be on that webshow. I will advertise -- I mean politely inform you when the latest episodes are out.

Ok, now I'm gone.

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