My 2012 Go To Virtual Synthesizers

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I own a lot of virtual synths :^)  As part of a voluntary simplification exercise I started in January,  I’ve been limiting myself to a smaller number of instruments over the last year so I could go deeper and create more expressive and unique signature sounds for compositions and live performance. The image above (click to go to interactive map and then click branches learn more about these synths) shows a mindmap of synths I’ve been most drawn to over the last year. In other words, these are the instruments that consistantly make into my tracks like “And What do the Trees Hear When the Wind Blows”, “Orbiting Miranda”, and “Now is Now Remix”.

When narrowing down to this list, I worked to find a very complimentary set of instruments with great workflow. The instruments range in character from pure synthesis instruments (Zebra and Predator), to sample-based instruments (Sampler, Iris), to hybrids (Alchemy, ElextraX) to virtual drum machines (utonic). The instruments with green dots in front are ones I’ve been spending 100s of hours with working to create signature "patches” from scratch that I’ll use in future compositions, productions, and live performances. I should also note that I’m also using many of these synths as effects processors allowing me to capitalize on the investment I made learning the synth workflows (here is a post on this notion) .

Demos

For those not familiar with some of these synths checkout some audio samples from past sound design experiments. First is a clip with Alchemy (download MP3) where I use granular synthesis to repurpose the field recording of a fluorescent light bulb.

Here is a little behind-the-scenes video on the creation of this patch.

Here is another example where I use Alchemy (download mp3) to repurpose crowd noise from a CU bastkeball game, a morse code key, and add in something called factalized waveforms.

Next is a Zebrify patch where I slowly pitch up and then process this incoming signal of a Theremin with two comb filters with the pitch of filters being modualted by a step LFO (download mp3)?

Next Steps – Deeper with the Top 3

As I go into the fall I’m going to be spending a lot more time with Zebra and Alchemy. They are both extremely deep and very complimentary. They nicely cover the entire spectrum from pure synthesis to sample mangling. Absynth, which I bought in 2002, is the first virtual synth I ever owned so holds a special place in my rig. I’ll be doing some synth work with it as well but will focus heavily on using it as an effects processor.

Which Should You Pick?

If you have limited funds or time and just want to go deep with one synth, you can't go wrong if you pick one of the three mentioned in the previous paragraph. Again, Zebra is pure synthesis (no samples) and semi-modular. Alchemy is great at resynthesis and sample mangling so if you are into field recordings this is your best bet. Absynth is somewhere between the two and is a great pick if you want to work with extreme multi-segment envelopes and very interesting and unusually effects. I give them all 10/10 and the deeper you go, the more you’ll be rewarded.

If you are looking for a fantastic subtractive that can also be used as an effects processor Predator is fantastic choice. If you want a hybrid with subtractive workflow with visual feedbak, ElectraX is a good bet.

Controllerism with the Top 4

Now that I’ve further narrowed my list, I’m working on templates for various controllers to get even more expressive results with Zebra, Alchemy, Absynth and Predator. I’m using the Alchemy Mobile to control Alchemy on my computer, I’m working on a custom Lemur template for Zebra and Absynth. I’ll also be working on mappings for my Novation Remote SL and refining my AudioCube patches for these synths.

I’ll leave you with a video I did some time ago showing the use of one Percussa AudioCube face in sensor mode to play a note plus send MIDI CC info to control the XY of Alchemy.

Mark Mosher
Electronic Musician, Boulder CO

http://www.ModulateThis.com
www.MarkMosherMusic.com

Sound Design and Workflow Tip: Make Better Use of the Stand-Alone FX Versions of Your Virtual Instruments

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When I’m producing I use a lot of Ableton Live’s built-in FX. I do this because a) I like them and b) they adhere to the same workflow in everything else in Live so I spend more time making music. Of course sometimes I also want to use a third-party effect for variety or to take advantage of a cool feature. The down-side is that they all have unique workflow and you may find yourself scratching your head a bit rather than making music.

One way to have your cake and eat it to is to make more use of the effects within your favorite virtual synth as stand-alone processors. For example, in my rig, Absyhth, Rob Papen Predator, Slayer 2, Zebra 2 (Zebrify) all have FX only versions of their plug-ins allowing you to route signal through the FX processor sections of these synths.

The advantage of this is your synth chops can now be applied to your FX work and you can get more unique sounds in less time.

The Soul of a Synth in the Effects Processor

In many synths, it’s hard to separate the effects processor from the soul of the synth. Absynth for example has some very unique effects such as the wonderful Aetherizer which is used heavily in many factory patches. By using it as a processor on another synth or audio source you can combine the unique sonic character of the input with this wonderful granular effect.

More on External Input

Want to use your audio input as a modulation source? Both Absynth FX and Zebrifiy have envelope followers. Zebrify also has a pitch follower so you can map the pitch of an incoming signal back to synth parameters.

Below is an example of  my Theremin routed through an audio track in Ableton live with Zebrify in the device chain. As I slowly pitch up on the Theremin, Zebrify processes this signal with two comb filters and modifies the pitch of these filters with a step LFO.

Modulation Mania

Another advantage of using FX from your virtual synths as processor is that most modern virtual instruments are structured to make heavy use of modulation and a modulation matrix. This offers a lot of possibilities for automation and real-time control that often aren’t possible with many stand-alone FX processor plug-ins or even FX in your host.

Unifying Color

I also sometimes apply effects from a single synth FX plugin to all tracks (or a group of tracks) in a mix to help unify the palette of the piece. For example, in my recent track Ambient Drone track “Orbiting Miranda”, I used one instance of Absynth and three of Tone2 Saurus and then used Rob Papen’s Predator FX to do multi-effects with automation on every single track. One of the effects I used is a comb filter which nudged and shifted the timbral character of these synths more towards a center of color I wanted for the piece.

Download MP3 of “Orbiting Miranda”  here.

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=109433115/size=medium/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/t=5/transparent=true/

Presets to Get you Started

When you load the FX only version of these synths, you’ll see factory presets dedicated to just the FX parameters. Jump in, route audio through, and poke around. I was personally blown away at what is possible.

Maximizing Your Investment

I’ll close this by saying you’ve already invested money and time into learning these instruments. If you’ve not explored the use of the stand-alone FX capable plugs in your rig , your really missing out.

Happy producing – and workflow FTW!

Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Boulder, CO
Official Web Site: www.MarkMosherMusic.com
Listen/Download Albums: www.MarkMosherMusic.com/music.html
www.ModulateThis.com

Music Monday: DJ DKO “Heavy Metal Paperclip” Single on Electric Trombone

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For this Music Monday, I present to you the absolutely mind blowing cool new video and single from Darren Kramer (aka DJ DKO) called “Heavy Metal Paperclip" – on – wait for it – Electric Trombone!  Darren is a friend and one of the growing number of musicians in the Denver area who are working hard to use Ableton to both record and perform expressive music live! 

Checkout this video! Simply fantastic playing and use of Ableton Live.

Heavy Metal Paperclip from DKO Productions on Vimeo.

 

Here is what Darren says about this video and song:

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Electric Trombone DJ, Darren Kramer (aka DJ DKO), performing "Heavy Metal Paperclip" the first single from the upcoming CD "Beyond The Boneyard".

This new solo project “Beyond The Boneyard” is a cutting-edge live performance innovation that pushes the boundaries of the typical trombone stereotype as well as that of the traditional DJ. Kramer (aka DJ DKO) performs an inspiring live DJ remix of originals and covers via Ableton Live looping with electric trombone, virtual synths, vocoder, and the Jazz Mutant Lemur! Furthermore, this unique project is enhanced with spectacular visuals created in realtime by utilizing the latest VJ software to combine Kramer’s world-class photography and original video with live camera feeds for a truly stunning interactive audio/visual experience. Due to its technological sophistication, “Beyond The Boneyard” is also being taught by Kramer as a popular media arts presentation and workshop in schools throughout the country.

 

In a related note, I wanted to mention that Darren is also a co-founder of The Gig Easy company which provides iPad solutions for musicians (and used by the likes of Ric Ocasek, Jordan Rudess, Steve Martin and more).

As always, I encourage you fan up with Darren and consider a buy to support his art.

Links:

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Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Boulder, CO
www.ModulateThis.com
Official Web Site: www.MarkMosherMusic.com
Listen/Download Albums: www.MarkMosherMusic.com/music.html