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How to Build a KILLER EURORACK System The BEST SYNTHS Under $1000 Pro Tips to RECORD ANALOG SYNTHESIZERS
Things EVERY SYNTH NOVICE Should Know
THESYNTHISSUE Highlights from MOOGFEST 2016 MARCO BENEVENTO on his Synth Obsession PACK YOUR GEAR For Air Travel
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
VOLUME 26, ISSUE 7 Savannah Scruggs
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4. Letter From the Editor 5. Synthesis 101 10. How to Build a Eurorack Modular System 14. Bob Moog’s Legacy 16. Moogfest 2016 Highlights 18. Kyle Andrews on Analog Synths in Modern Production 20. Transforming Hammond Organs into Soft Synth Machines 22. Merrin Karras on Analog Synth Production 24. Five Things Every Synth Novice Should Know 28. Keyboard Wizard Marco Benevento on His Love of Synths 32. Marc Doty on the Resurgence of Analog Gear 35. The Hassles of Air Travel with Your Favorite Synth 36. The Best Classic Synth Solos of All Time 38. My Favorite Axe with The Phryg & Cellars 40. A Trip to the Vintage Synth Museum 42. BUYER’S GUIDE: The Best Synths Under $1000 48. FLASHBACK: Vintage Moog Ad Cover
PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 3
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Welcome to our little slice of synthtopia. It’s kinda like Fruitopia, but with more Kraftwerk albums.
with the absolute best synths you can buy for under a grand. Don’t say we never did anything for ya.
Anyway, as if you couldn’t already tell, this is our special synth issue, and I want to take the opportunity to thank all of our guest contributors this month. We’ve got some top experts in the field to guide us through the ins and outs of the analog resurgence, how to set up a killer modular system, and even some tips on air travel with your most prized synth.
Keep an eye on performermag.com for even MORE synth goodness throughout July, including video walkthroughs, product reviews, tutorials and some of our favorite synth performances and documentaries. A word of warning: be prepared for massive quantities of prog. Apologies in advance.
As if that weren’t enough, we’ve jammed the following pages with tips on incorporating analog synths into modern recording workflows, transforming old Hammond organs into modern synth machines, and a full-blown buyer’s guide
So set you mod wheels to 11, and let’s get started. Benjamin Ricci, editor
Volume 26, Issue 7 PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143 CONTACT Phone: 617-627-9200 Fax: 617-627-9930 PUBLISHER William House Phone: 617-627-9919 email@example.com EDITOR Benjamin Ricci firstname.lastname@example.org DESIGN & ART DIRECTION Cristian Iancu EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Bob Dobalina email@example.com
P.S. – We realize mod wheels don’t actually go to 11. We realize this because our continued attempts (and letter-writing campaign) to change everyone’s mind on the matter have fallen on deaf ears.
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Allene Norton, Anthony Cammalleri, Benjamin Ricci, Chris Plietz, Dana Flinn, Denise Orxata, Ethan Varian, Jason Amm, Kyle Andrews, Marc Doty, Merrin Karras, Michelle Moog-Koussa, Richard Nicol, Roger Lussier, Tony Rolando, Torbin Harding CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Brian Livingstone, Daniel White, Danielle Garza, Marc Doty, Marco Benevento, Merrin Karras, Michael DiDonna, Niki Fandel, Rodney Boles, Roger Lussier, Ryan Sides, Ryan Snyder, Savannah Scruggs, The Moog Foundation, Yulia Yurasova
ADVERTISING SALES William House Phone: 617-627-9919 firstname.lastname@example.org © 2016 by Performer Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any method whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher. The magazine accepts no responsibility for unsolicited recordings, manuscripts, artwork or photographs and will not return such materials unless requested and accompanied by a SASE.
Performer Magazine, a nationally distributed musician’s trade publication, focuses on independent musicians, those unsigned and on small labels, and their success in a DIY environment. We’re dedicated to promoting lesser-known talent and being the first to introduce you to artists you should know about.
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EDITORIAL SUBMISSIONS In the words of our esteemed forefathers at CREEM: “NOBODY WHO WRITES FOR THIS RAG’S GOT ANYTHING YOU AIN’T GOT, at least in the way of credentials. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be sending us your stuff: reviews, features, photos, recording tips, DIY advice or whatever else you have in mind that might be interesting to our readers: independent and DIY musicians. Who else do ya know who’ll publish you? We really will... ask any of our dozens of satisfied customers. Just bop it along to us to email@example.com and see what comes back your way. If you have eyes to be in print, this just might be the place. Whaddya got to lose? Whaddya got?”
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THE SYNTH ISSUE Ryan Snyder
SYNTHESIS 101: An Introduction to Synth HistoryandtheBuildingBlockofSynthesizers A BIT OF HISTORY… A synthesizer is an electronic instrument that creates sound, and synthesis is to imitate or create a sound. A typical synthesizer includes several components that shape electric signals into sound. The resulting sound can be an imitation of a known musical instrument like a bass, or a natural sound like a rain drop. A synthesizer can even create a new sound; just use your imagination. One of the first “synthesizers” was Thomas Edison’s phonograph, built in 1877. Edison cut a continuous signal into a cylinder and when played back, he synthesized his own voice. Phonographs were of the first wave of synthesizers, then the invention of the magnetic tape machine allowed for longer recording and playback time. In the first half of the 20th Century, the components of what would become the modern synthesizer
began to appear throughout the world. Some avant-garde music studios in Germany and France collected these basic synthesizer components and modules. Interestingly enough, it was the classical composers who adopted music synthesis at this time. Pierre Schaeffer’s Musique Concrete produced concerts of noises on Paris radio in the 1940s. Karlheinz Stockhausen produced electronic music and Edgar Varese debuted Poeme Electronique at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. Synthesized music had hit the masses. It is no surprise that nowadays you hear synthesizer on almost every popular song. ENTER BUCHLA & MOOG The stage was set for Donald Buchla, who in 1962/1963 created the electronic music box, the first modern synthesizer, and Bob Moog,
whose last name has been synonymous with the synthesizer since 1964. Moog’s synthesizers put all the then-current modular components together with a keyboard in a commercially successful musical instrument. The key technology behind Bob Moog’s synthesizer is voltage control. In very simple terms, the synthesizer controls electricity to produce sound. And without this innovation (and the development of small, cheap solid-state transistors), we wouldn’t have the synths we know and love today. THE MAIN COMPONENTS OF SYNTHESIZERS The main components of the Moog synthesizer work in the following manner. A voltage control oscillator (VCO) outputs a tone based on a chosen waveform; sine, sawtooth, triangle, or square. The waveform can be PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 5
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Zombi at Motorco Showroom (Moogfest 2016)
run through Voltage Control Filters (VCF), Voltage Control Amplifiers (VCA), Envelopes, and Modulators, to shape and change its characteristics like pitch, timbre, and volume. The synthesizer player controls the resulting sound with a keyboard controller. The earliest versions of these synthesizers required patch cords to connect the different components together. By the â€™1970s, these modular systems gave way to more selfcontained units like the famous Minimoog Model D. The synthesis techniques of the Moog analog synthesizer are still used today; in many cases they have just been digitized (or updated with newer analog components). THE VCO & COMMON WAVEFORMS The voltage control oscillator (VCO) is a module that accepts electric voltage. Upon input the amount of voltage decides the frequency or pitch. With the Moog, a keyboard easily scales the volts to notes. The VCO outputs a waveform. Essentially there are two types of VCOs; linear oscillators generate a sine waveform and relaxation oscillators generate a square, sawtooth 6 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
or triangle waveform. The synthesizer allows the player to choose between a sine, triangle, sawtooth, or square waveform. Put simply, the waveform is the beginning of your synthesized sound. Think of it like this: the waveform is the shape of a soundwave in the sense of a graphical representation, showing variations in amplitude (loudness) over time. An easy way to understand the waveform types is that a sine wave is one simple fundamental frequency. The sawtooth, square, and triangle wave have a fundamental frequency plus harmonics that make the sound more complex (and musically pleasing). A sine is the most fundamental sound wave, the waveform corresponding to a single frequency oscillation. A sawtooth wave is a signal consisting of a fundamental frequency and all harmonics, with the intensity of the harmonics inversely related to frequency. A triangle wave contains a fundamental frequency and all odd harmonics, the higher harmonics fading quickly. Finally, a square wave, like a triangle wave, contains a fundamental frequency and all odd harmonics.Â
THE FILTER The voltage control filter (VCF) allows you to choose which frequencies of the sound waveform to pass and be heard, or which frequencies to cut and silence. You accomplish this by choosing a cutoff frequency. For example, if you choose a low cutoff frequency on a typical Moog synthesizer, you will replicate a fat bass sound. A contemporary example of using a VCF is the filter sweep techno music has popularized. The DJ sweeps the cutoff frequency through the music with a filter, slowly or quickly, adding or subtracting sound from the spectrum of the played music. This technique creates excitement and anticipation for the listeners. Often you are able to resonate or feedback the chosen cutoff frequency, which emphasizes a narrow band of sound, referred to as the Q. THE VCA The voltage controlled amplifier (VCA) varies the loudness of a sound based on the control of voltage. Simply put, this is like a volume knob, and is taken for granted nowadays. When working with analog synthesizers a VCA is very
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THE SYNTH ISSUE
Gary Numan at Carolina Theatre (Moogfest 2016)
important, because you could lose amplitude or volume when shaping your sound by subtracting elements. You often needed a VCA to boost the final sound louder. THE ENVELOPES & UNDERSTANDING ADSR The attack-decay-sustain-release envelope (ADSR), is what shapes the synthesized waveform through amplitude control over time. Often this component is the part of the synthesizer which adds a more musicality to the sound, as the envelope attempts to mimic how organic sound naturally behaves over time. All envelope filters go from one level to another based on level and time functions. The attack of the waveform is decided within the envelope. Attack is how long to go from no sound to peak level of sound. A quick attack is like a snare drum or percussive instrument like a piano. A slow attack is like a string section or a bowed instrument like a cello. The decay part of the envelope decides how long the volume of the waveform will get quieter till reaching the sustain level. Some instruments, like the organ, have no decay. The organ is sound on and sound off. T he sustain part of the envelope equals how long you will hear the main part of the sound waveform. The release part of the envelope decides how long the sound lasts after the key on the keyboard is released. Release comes from sustain; if there is no sustain, there is no release. By controlling the attack, decay, sustain, and release of a waveform, you can truly change its timbre. MODULATION & LFO Modulation is to change aspects of the synthesized waveform. There are different components used to achieve modulation on a synthesizer. Some common ways to modulate a waveform are to use a ring modulator or use a low frequency oscillator (LFO). A ring modulator is a component that mixes the original waveform with another waveform, typically a simple sine wave. A ring modulator can create a sound rich in overtones. The sound may be so complex that you do not recognize the original waveform. The LFO is another oscillator on a synthesizer separate from the voltage control oscillator. A LFO uses a very low frequency in order to change the sound of the original waveform. I think of the LFO as creating a shaky effect to the original sound. These effects a re r eferred t o a s t remolo and vibrato. An LFO can be incorporated to control pitch, loudness, and panning left to right, among other options. The amount of modulation can typically be assigned to a modulation wheel located to the left of the keyboard. The â€œmod wheelâ€? allows the synthesizer player to control the amount of modulation effect with one hand, while still playing the keyboard with the other hand. This allows for some pretty amazing real-time effects.
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M Geddes at Pinhook (Moogfest 2016)
IN CLOSING Synthesizers have added to the lexicon of music in such an impactful manner that it seems unfathomable to go back to a time when there was not some type of synthesizer. Every form of music today uses synths (either hardware-based or software-based virtual synths), and if they donâ€™t use a synthesizer directly, they record with a computer or an analog tape machine that is synthesizing the music upon playback. Synthesis is more relevant than ever with the world of audio samples and sound synthesis plug-ins in todayâ€™s DAWs. So take your pick: subtractive, additive, frequency modulation (FM), physical modeling, phase distortion, analysis, or sample based synthesis, and start playing. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Torbin Harding is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, B.A. in Music Synthesis Production 1995, and the founder of Lo-Z Records in 1997. He currently works in both the analog tape and digital recording mediums. For more info, visit www.Lo-ZRecords.com.
Buchla 100 Series at NYU
Minimoog Model D Front Panel PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 9
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HOW TO BUILD INSPIRING EURO
WHAT IS EURORACK? Eurorack is a modular synthesizer format that was created in Germany by Dieter Doepfer in 1995, when he first produced the Doepfer A-100 system. The Eurorack format specifies the form factor and electrical characteristics of the system: the height, widths, power connector and signal standards for the module and case components that are used to build the synthesizer instrument. Any module, case and power supply in the Eurorack format should be compatible with all other Eurorack modules, power supplies and cases. For about a decade, Doepfer quietly designed and built an exhaustive collection of synthesizer modules in the Eurorack format with few others joining in on the fun. However, by around 2008 a small handful of companies had been created with the sole purpose of designing and building more synthesizer modules for the 10 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Eurorack format. Companies such as Livewire, the Harvestman (today known as Industrial Music Electronics) and Plan B were among the earliest American Eurorack synthesizer manufactures. Inspired by The Harvestman, I founded Make Noise in 2008. GROWTH OF THE FORMAT By 2013 there were nearly 100 companies producing synthesizer modules in the Eurorack format! The format has continued to grow and today nearly every style and technique of synthesis is well represented in the Eurorack format, from the East Coast techniques which were perfected on Moog Modulars, to the West Coast techniques innovated on the Buchla 200 Series, Granular Synthesis, Additive Synthesis and even techniques that have yet to be named. The Eurorack synthesizer revolution has brought electronic music into what is truly the era of
No Coast Synthesis, where musicians utilize techniques and circuits from throughout the history and geography of electronic music, all while keeping at least one ear pointed toward the future, listening for new inspiration. HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN SYSTEM Building a modular synthesizer is like designing your own electronic musical instrument and understanding the instrument you build and the components that compose it requires some studying of electricity and physics. Today there is so much documentation and content surrounding modular synthesis that if you have the interest and motivation to learn about it, you will. For example, our own Make Noise YouTube channels has over 100 videos, many of which exhibit patch techniques using Make Noise modules but that could be carried
over to other makes of modules as well. For folks just getting started, the YouTube channel Tuesday Night Machines has a series about “Modular Synth Basics.” It is quite easy to submerge yourself in an endless cycle of system planning. For this reason, I often recommend to folks just getting started that they have a look at the complete systems offered from companies such as Make Noise. Even if you do not purchase a complete system from us, it could offer some perspective and guidance in putting together your own musical instrument. WHICH MODULES ARE MOST ESSENTIAL Most of our systems contain a core collection of modules: VCO, LPG, Modulation Sources and a Sequencer. There are many types of modules that could be added to a system, such as filters, digital effects and voices, clock manipulators, voltage controllable mixing surfaces and more, but the core system described below will provide a solid
Morton Subotnick, Raleigh–Durham International Airport, 2016
base regardless of what else is added. Keeping a system balanced is important to the inspirational feel of the instrument. THE VCO The VCO is a Voltage Controlled Oscillator, the primary sound source of the instrument. There are many VCOs available, but I would recommend a VCO that has some form of timbral animation integrated into the module. We make two different VCOs at Make Noise. One is smaller and lower cost, it is called the STO, or SubTimbral Oscillator. The other is called DPO, or Dual Prismatic Oscillator. Both of these VCOs are capable of timbral animation. What is nice about that is that with not much more than a Low Pass Gate and a Function Generator it is possible to create a pleasing, complex sound.
THE LOW PASS GATE (LPG) The LPG is a Low Pass Gate, which gently sculpts the timbre and controls the dynamics or amplitude of the instrument. The LPG is a combination of the Low Pass Filter and Voltage Controlled Amplifier that are commonly found in monosynths. The sound is quite different because the filter portion is not as dramatic as the traditional VCF (voltage controlled filter), and the VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) portion is slower and more organic sounding. Combined with a VCO that features Timbral Animation, you could achieve many sounds that are unique and different from the traditional monosynth. A great example of the Low Pass Gate is the Make Noise Optomix. MODULATION SOURCES Modulation Sources are what make the modular synthesizer go! Without modulation your instrument is not complete and you will not be taking complete advantage of the modular form factor. It is like trying to drive a car without getting any gas. I always recommend folks to start with a Function Generator and when possible add a Random Voltage Generator. The Function Generator is useful in almost every patch. It allows for creating predictable changes in the sound of your instrument. You could use it to create Envelopes and LFOs (low frequency oscillators) amongst other things, and is perfect for sweeping parameters related to timbre or amplitude or even pitch. The MATHS module is an excellent Function Generator. RANDOM VOLTAGE GENERATOR The Random Voltage Generator is more esoteric, but it could bring a level of uncertainty to your instrument that proves to be exciting and inspiring. Random Voltage Generators create control voltages that are not predictable, but a good random voltage generator offers some control over how these un-predictable voltages are created. For example, the Wogglebug allows for control over the Rate at which the random voltages are changing and also the maximum amount of change. This helps to craft how dramatic the random modulation will be. These types of Random Modulation are wonderful for animating timbre or modulating a more periodic modulation source. Yes, you are able to modulate the modulation!
SEQUENCERS A Sequencer completes the instrument, allowing you to craft musical passages by programming changes in pitch, timbre and creating musical events. If you use MIDI to CV (control voltage) with a DAW, the sequencer might be less important, but if you desire a complete instrument that is capable of operating outside the DAW environment, then a Sequencer is a must. Even if you do not sequence melodies, you could sequence timbre, tempo and anything else that is voltage controllable. Make Noise offers two sequencers, the René and BRAINS/ Pressure Points both of which also allow human manual control using touch-plates. The René sequencer is best for melodic sequencing while the BRAINS/ Pressure Points is best for sequencing timbral and timing shifts.
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D A MUSICALLY RORACK SYSTEM
POWER SUPPLY & CABLES In addition to a functional selection of modules, you will need a case with a power supply and at least 10 patch cables. Patch cables are pretty inexpensive, so always get more if possible. There are many power and case options available from Doepfer, Make Noise, Goike, Enclave, Tip-Top Audio, 4ms and more. Do some research, as some of the lower cost solutions that are available are not as reliable. While a case and power supply is not the most exciting thing to buy when building a modular synthesizer, it is a VERY important component of your system! With a good power supply your modules will work properly and a good case design, one that fits your needs, will make using your system easier and more fun. Portable cases are usually more expensive, but if you plan to travel with your system, take it in and out of studios or on and off stage, the extra expense will be nothing compared to the convenience it affords. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tony Rolando is a self-taught electronic musical instrument designer who got started by obsessively reading amateur radio books at the public library, building electronics for artists, such as the light controlled mixer for Simon Lee’s “Bus Obscura,” working for Moog Music, and playing in bands for many years. After three years of isolation on a mountaintop, he founded Make Noise. In his spare time, he enjoys walking the dog, traveling with Kel and skateboarding. Learn more at makenoisemusic.com. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 11
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MODULAR is not a Dirty Donâ€™t panic. Modular syn
ynthesis is about texture and feeling. It is about creating soundscapes and moods that have never existed before. Building a new universe to explore. Modular synthesizers provide the tools to do this without restricting artists to a fixed voice architecture with limited or hidden signal path routing options. Taking advantage of the power to create new and unique sounds is not as complicated as it may seem. Modern modular synthesizers provide an amazing assortment of powerful synthesis tools that are easy to understand and explore if approached properly. The patchable interface of a modular synthesizer allows for experimentation with many types of synthesis, but this article will use the more familiar East Coast style subtractive synthesis as an entry point into understanding and enjoying a modular synthesizer. UNDERSTANDING MODULES & CONTROL VOLTAGE There are many different types of synthesizer modules available from an array of companies, each offering a unique take on a particular function. However, knowledge of the basics will translate to a general understanding any modular system. A Pittsburgh Modular filter may sound very different and offer a different set of controls compared to a Studio Electronics filter, but the process and basic signal path are identical. Understanding the signal flow of one will translate to a quick understanding of the other. Another example would be with oscillators. Almost all voltage controlled oscillators share a one-volt-per-octave pitch tracking input to precisely control the pitch of the oscillator, 12 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
a waveform output, and one or more signal modulation inputs. Different oscillators will offer a unique take on these tools, but an understanding of the core functionality will carry from oscillator to oscillator. The power behind a modular synthesizer comes from the use of patch cables to connect the different modules together. These wires carry two types of signals, audio and CV (control voltages). CV signals are used as a control source to automate module parameters. They can control the pitch of oscillators, modulate the cutoff of a filter, trigger an envelope, or manipulate any voltage controllable parameters available on the synthesizer. Different control voltages can be mixed together to create more complex modulations. Control voltage is a general term that can refer to a static DC voltage of an envelope or gate, the AC output of an LFO, or even audio rate signals from an oscillator. All these signals can be used in very musical ways as a modulation source. TH OSCILLATOR The core of subtractive synthesis is the voltage controlled oscillator. Oscillators generate a continuous waveform, perfect for filtering and processing. Modular oscillators typically produce simultaneous output of multiple standard waveforms such as sine, triangle, saw and square waves. Various oscillators can offer additional waveforms like the Pittsburgh Modular blade wave, which is a unique modulatable saw wave. Control voltages can be used to modulate the frequency or pitch (FM), pulse width (PWM) of a square wave, and other types of wave shaping. The one-volt-per-octave input is the standard used to precisely control the pitch of the oscillator,
filter is exactly the opposite. It rolls off the lower frequencies. A band pass filter rolls off both the low and high frequencies while a notch filter functions like an inverted band pass, removing only a small notch of the frequency range. Adding resonance and controlling the filter cutoff frequency and other parameters with control voltages allows for a limitless sonic palate.
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ty Word! ynthesizers are not hard. The output of a filter is typically patched through a voltage controlled amplifier (VCA). This allows us to use a control voltage signal to control the volume of the sound. An envelope is usually used to shape a gate or trigger signal that is then patched into the control input of the VCA. Everything mentioned above barely scratches the surface of modular synthesis, but hopefully it demystifies some of the terms and functionality. Learning synthesis is a slow process filled with experimentation and amazing sounding accidents. The best way to understand how a modular works is to start patching!
allowing it to be played with a keyboard or other controller. Multiple waveforms from one or more oscillators can be mixed together using a mixer module to create more complex timbres. Mixing a sine wave with a saw or square wave will fill out a sound. Blending waveforms from two oscillators together will add harmony or dissonance to the patch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Richard Nicol, founder and chief designer of Pittsburgh Modular, sold the first Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers module design, the VILFO, out of his basement to fund his crippling synthesizer addiction. Since then Nicol has somewhat obsessively worked to create meticulously designed, beautiful instruments, which are both accessible to beginning sound experimenters, as well as infinitely extendable for professional musicians and producers. Learn more at pittsburghmodular.com.
TYPES OF FILTERS AND THE VCA The modular scene is rich with interesting and esoteric filters to experiment with. Every filter offers a different sonic signature. Some sound warm and creamy while others sound big and brash and scream with resonance, yet they all fit into a few general categories: low pass, high pass, band pass, and notch. Low pass filters are the most common. A low pass filter works by rolling off the higher frequencies. A high pass PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 13
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A Personal Essay by Michelle Moog-Koussa
Bob Moog’s Legacy Bob and Michelle
t times, it’s still difficult for me to fathom that my father was Bob Moog. For most of my life, the 37 years before he passed away, he was just Dad. Well, maybe “just” is selling him short a bit. My father was a complex man, a study in juxtaposed spectrums: serious yet humorous (mostly serious), introverted yet he loved good company, consumed with his work yet completely present when he was with you, nerdy yet cool, accessible, but with a rare, wise presence. When he passed away in 2005 after a brief fight with a relentless brain tumor, I was introduced to Bob Moog. Thousands of people came forward at that time with testimonies about how his instruments had inspired them, leaving their lives transformed. That was the turning point for me, and for the past 11 years I have been immersed in his legacy. In 1964, Bob Moog invented the Moog modular synthesizer. Not only did this instrument facilitate the exploration of a sonic universe previously unchartered, but it did so in a way that was accessible
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and democratic via its keyboard controller. The Minimoog followed in 1970, and its powerful, elegant interface and full, organic sound set the standard for nearly every synthesizer that followed. It defined the vocabulary by which synthesis is now understood.
But Bob’s legacy is not limited to instrument design itself. He not only set the bar for synthesizer designers everywhere, he set an example for what it means to be a human being. He categorically refused to subscribe to the notion of celebrity lest it was too exclusive. He denied notions based on superiority, instead attempting to find an equilibrium, accepting people based on their integrity, thoughtful consideration, and kindness rather than their status, education, or esteemed professional position. This was particularly evident in his later years when he gave himself the title of ‘Grand Poobah’ when his fledgling company Big Briar began ramping up its product line of Theremins. Later, when Big Briar morphed into Moog Music, he gave himself a promotion to ‘Chief Technical Kahuna,’ denying the sense of hierarchy normally reserved for titled CEO/ Presidents. It was this combination of technical brilliance, creative warmth, and humility that marked Bob’s career and cultivated a devoted following that has lasted for decades. Through the Bob Moog Foundation, we carry this legacy forward by encouraging creative thinking at the intersection of science, music, and innovation. We teach children about the science of sound through our hallmark education program, Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, and we inspire adults through the remarkable history contained in the Bob Moog Foundation Archives. While those two projects remain our focus, we have become increasingly driven to help the public understand Bob Moog’s true life path, beyond that of his iconic status. We recently embarked on the production of a documentary, Electronic Voyager, which will explore Bob’s sonic journey through conversations with those who worked with him and knew him best. By revealing the man behind the myth, we aim to relate a human story of perseverance, adversity, commitment, dedication, accomplishment, humility, integrity, and inspiration. We will pull back the curtain and share the man that I grew up with, the man who has inspired me to carry forth his legacy not based on his successes, but rather based on the sheer human fortitude that was required to innovate the sonic realm. I hope you’ll join me.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT BOB MOOG, THE MAN
the way we think about sound and I encouraged us to think creatively about how we shape the world around us.
Jason Amm, producer Electronic Voyager and I Dream of Wires
’ve recently added the title “film producer” to my resume, but first and foremost, I’m an electronic musician with an all-consuming passion for synth pop, synthesizers, and electronic music history. After producing the ultimate synth nerd documentary, I Dream Of Wires, my partner Robert and I wanted to continue documenting electronic music history, but also to branch off - for our follow up, we wanted a subject with a strong human story component. A new documentary on Bob Moog was the most obvious candidate in our minds, and we’ve now been developing Electronic Voyager for the past 6 months. After just a week of filming, I’ve discovered something about Bob Moog that I’m even more fascinated by than his pioneering synth work, much to my surprise. It’s something about Bob that I’m only beginning to come to grips with, and I’m already hungry to know more…. Bob Moog was obsessed with his work, so much so that it affected his personal relationships, and made him walk away from sensible, well-paying jobs. It seems that Bob needed his time alone in the workshop - and lots of it - to bring his visionary ideas to life.
Over 50 years later and following quantum leaps in technological developments, Bob Moog’s original designs are heralded, sought-after, and even reproduced. His dedication to sonic integrity, superior technical design, and high-level craftsmanship helped define what a musical instrument should be. As a result, his influence on the world of music is broad and deep; he revolutionized the way we think about sound and encouraged us to think creatively about how we shape the world around us.
I’m no Bob Moog, but with my obsessive production process in the studio, I can relate. I know what it’s like to stumble out of the studio after 14 hours, my brain so fried on the science of synthesizers that I barely even feel human anymore. This is something that’s often made me feel alienated from my family and from normal people. I can see how this must have been a huge factor in Bob Moog’s life, but what fascinates me so much is how, despite this, he still managed to make such a monumentally positive impact on just about everyone he came into contact with. I’m especially intrigued with how he has affected Michelle; even if one day I were to discover the cure for cancer, not even then could I imagine that my own daughter would dedicate her life’s work to my legacy. Beyond “Bob Moog the myth,” there is obviously something very transcendental about this man, to have inspired even one person to such a degree as he has inspired Michelle, let alone the countless thousands of people that Bob Moog has inspired. To learn more, visit electronicvoyager.com and moogfoundation.org. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 15
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Bernie Worrell at the Moog Pop-Up - photo by Carlos G
oogfest 2016 was an amazing, overwhelming, spiritually-engaging event that proved once again that the folks down in Asheville have crafted something truly magical (and that there might just be something special in the water down there). Moogfest celebrates the legacy of Bob Moog, the visionary engineer who pioneered the analog synthesizer and other technology tools used by artists like Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, and Kraftwerk. The four-day festival ran from May 19-22 and featured over 300 innovators in music, art, and technology -- from Gary Numan, GZA, Grimes and Laurie Anderson to virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier and transhumanist visionary Dr. Martine Rothblatt. For the first time, Moogfest took place in Durham, North Carolina, a fast-growing capital of technology, culture and entrepreneurship. Following its successful and acclaimed debut in Durham, Moogfest announced it will return to Durham again in 2017, from May 18-22. Organizers confirmed that the festival drew over
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7,000 ticketed attendees and an average of 3,000 people attending free programming each, for a total count of almost 40,000 attendees over the four days. “We measure success by the strength of our community as we make long-term plans for our future in Durham. We are humbled and proud to have this overwhelming show of support,” said Adam Katz, Moogfest CEO. “We are so thankful to all the talent and partners that made this festival possible. The staff and crew went above and beyond to deliver a world-class program. We are excited to begin thinking about making Moogfest even better.” HIGHLIGHTS OF MOOGFEST 2016 INCLUDED * Performances by over 100 of the world’s top music artists, and even an 8-hour, overnight “sleep” concert by Robert Rich where the audience slept in a theater of beds. * Keynotes by Dr. Martine Rothblatt, the transgender CEO of United Therapeutics who
made a powerful call for the repeal of North Carolina’s “bathroom” bill HB2, and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, who composed an original “Symphony for Moogfest” for his appearance. * Debuts and demos of the latest in music and art technology – from the announcement of a new Google project aimed at generating art and music using artificial intelligence to a marimba-playing robot to the debut of Artiphon, which allows you to strum a guitar, tap a piano, bow a violin, or loop
HEALTH at Motorco Park - photo by Ryan Snyder Park
a drum beat all on a single instrument. * Large-scale, interactive art installations that delighted crowds by allowing them create their own sonic experiences, remix a song by headliner Grimes, or experience the hum of Burt’s Bees hives like never before. * Free events throughout downtown Durham ranging from free outdoor concerts to workshops and special events for kids.
ECONOMIC IMPACT The festival was also projected to spur $5 million in direct visitor spending and almost $7 million in economic impact, according to The Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau. Although official reports have not come in, businesses in Durham celebrated record sales and near-constant activity throughout the weekend “We were so happy to welcome Moogfest
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m Moogfest 2016
in its inaugural year in Durham along with the thousands of people who came to celebrate, enjoy great music and conversations and learn about new advances in technology,” said Shelly Green, CEO of the Durham CVB. “We think it was an awesome event for attendees and for Durham. Our restaurants, hotels, shops, and entertainment venues were packed with diverse and eclectic crowds.” For more, visit moogfest.com. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 17
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Incorporating Analog Synth into Modern Production: An Artist’s Perspective WHERE IS MY SONG? It is a game of hide and seek. Somewhere tangled up in the patch cables, masked behind cascading frequencies, flickering between the LED lights, you know it’s there. It is an auspicious search - sifting through tones to uncover a mysterious and elusive place, yet if you press too hard it can simply disappear, evading your grasp just when it was on the tips of your fingers. You start with endless corners 18 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
to turn, but can suddenly find yourself stuck in a dead end. You retrace your steps, backtrack, make the smallest of changes to recover what was, and just when you think you’re onto something, you scrap it and begin the search all over again. You want to be surprised. You want to find a place you’ve never been and you know that a sound can take you there. Somewhere within
the instrument that you’re wielding there is a combination of harmony and tone that will make you feel new, but you have to be centered and ready to recognize it when it reveals itself to you. HYBRID RECORDING The recent creations from Chaos Emeralds, a synth-based band in which I work with with my neighbor Daniel Ellsworth,
MOVING THE BALL FORWARD When you aren’t really sure what key the other guy is in or what the intention is, you just know how it sounds to you and so you react. I would grab improvised riffs from Daniel off the keyboards through a Neve preamp for some extra texture, and then quickly manipulate them in Ableton. Pitch shifting is a huge part of the
in the studio. I prefer to just try something rather than talk about what should happen next. The truth is that I don’t usually know, at least not in a way that I could easily put into words, so attempting to explain it instead of just trying it seems like a waste of time, which is why this method works so well for me. Most of the time I’m simply waiting for the song to develop and lead the way instead of forcing it. Embracing digital recording means I can paint a picture with audio faster than I can explain my own thoughts most of the time.
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My first instrument of choice is typically my guitar. I can usually manage to strangle out some gleeful, wrenching noise to my satisfaction. For keyboard, however, I am more of a programmer: mostly using a combination of performance and MIDI editing. I’ve been working in Ableton Live for the last few years and I feel very free in this DAW. I love being able to mess with tempo, pitch, and loops instantaneously. Daniel, on the other hand, is a piano player first and foremost, so it’s a real treat for me as producer to have his skillful improvisation on my DSI Prophet. For what eventually became “Animal Kingdom,” a recent favorite Chaos Emeralds song, I started out by simply cutting together a bit of a drum loop for us to play over.
I want to build momentum. To feedback on what is there and what will be. I like to start from scratch on the Prophet and dial up the type of patch I’m needing because nothing is a momentum killer like scrolling through 500 presets. People start checking their phones or wondering what’s for lunch. The Prophet and analog keyboards in general react directly to each control - roll back the attack and the sound smoothly creeps in, lay into the aftertouch and the pitch wiggles a bit in response. It’s very tactile and feels like an extension of your own
“ELECTRO MUSIC CAN GET STALE REALLY QUICK IF IT’S NOT BREATHING.”
nthesizers An is one of the many reasons why I love to work in a hybrid recording situation using analog synthesizers. This new collaboration began with Daniel bringing in song demos that he wanted to develop further - it was typical for him to have tracks started in Logic using soft synths combined with sounds from his Nord keyboard, and while I am certainly no purest and have gobs of software synths myself, the instinct was to try to beat those sounds by using my analog gear.
sound - taking that classic, warm, fat analog tone and skewing it a few steps further just to see what it sounds like. In turn, I would then play that back to Daniel for another round of improvisation. We are both inclined towards melody and ‘hooky’ parts, so each of these passes added layers of ear candy. Working in this way, neither of us was ever over-informed on what the other was doing. To this day, the track still feels fresh to my ears partly because it would be near impossible to recreate it exactly the same way. A big part of what gives “Animal Kingdom” its organic pulse was having an arp part from the keyboard be the tempo guide for the rest of the track. As the song developed into different sections, verse and chorus, this pulsing arp would drift pleasantly rather than slavishly locking to a MIDI tempo. Electro music can get stale really quick if it’s not breathing, so the Prophet and Ableton were quite complementary in this instance. It allowed me to field and organize the unique performance of the analog keyboard and player. COMMUNICATION & MOMENTUM I’m not a particularly gifted communicator
fingertips. Being able to quickly get to a place of pure expression can be the difference between having a great new song or getting stuck in another dead end. “Animal Kingdom” was found in that quick back and forth, the interplay between myself as producer on the computer and Daniel as the player on synth. We created something joyful and vibrant using digital and analog gear to bring our wild sound to life, and so can you. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nashville-based indie-pop musician Kyle Andrews is a previous Performer cover artist. Always innovating, his video for “Sushi” involved 1.4 million interactive tiles and thousands of YouTube video stills, gaining accolades at the Guggenheim’s YouTube Play Exhibit. Hit single “You Always Make Me Smile” inspired an epic viral music video in which 4,000 people engage in one of the world’s largest water balloon fights. These musical feats are made all the more remarkable due to the fact that Andrews remained, for all intents and purposes, a one-man operation: a bedroom recording project that slowly went global. For more, visit kyleandrews.com. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 19
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How Analog Outfitters i Organs from the Trash H Them as Modern-Day MI
sing a Hammond organ on the road is something musicians from all walks of music crave, but transporting a real Hammond organ has never been a painless task. The frustrating experience of taking a Hammond on the road was the inspiration for the Analog Outfitters ORGANic MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) controller. Analog Outfitters spent ten years repairing amplifiers before making the jump to building them. In 2011, with no intention of starting an amplifier business, Ben Juday built a custom amplifier from one of the hundreds of old Hammond organs he had lying around the shop, as well as some old signs and empty scientific 20 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
equipment cases. This developed into AOâ€™s flagship product, the Sarge. Since then, Analog Outfitters has continued to develop new products and expand internationally. Conceptualized as a way to solve the weight and maintenance issues of the Hammond organ, the ORGANic MIDI has an identical layout to the Hammond B3. A standard Hammond organ weighs roughly 500 lbs, and requires constant maintenance like tube replacement and generator oiling. With so many musicians wanting to use the Hammond organ in touring and professional settings without the inconvenience of constant upkeep, AO took it upon themselves to find a solution.
Using vintage Hammond keyboard manuals and parts, and bringing the overwhelming weight of the organ from 500 lbs down to 95, the ORGANic MIDI was born. The ORGANic MIDI plays and feels like a real Hammond B3 but is simpler to transport and doesn’t involve the hassle of continual care. Creating one of these beautiful instruments is remarkably labor intensive, and takes
experience to the organ as possible, in which case AO will use the old organ it came out of and restore that as the cabinet. The organs recovered for the ORGANic MIDI are salvaged from instruments dating back to the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The age of the manuals has never once been a drawback, due to the fact that they were incredibly well built and engineered. Not only does this give artists
ANALOG OUTFITTERS HAS MADE IT THEIR MISSION TO USE RECYCLED OR UP-CYCLED MATERIALS WHEREVER POSSIBLE.” roughly 50 hours to build. On top of that, Analog Outfitters has made it their mission to use recycled or up-cycled materials wherever possible, so finding an unwanted and commercially unusable organ is the first step to building an ORGANic MIDI. Capable of creating the rich, classic tone of the Hammond, the ORGANic MIDI combines the original key contact and drawbar infrastructure with a patented MIDI-capable interface that can be applied to a wide array of MIDI software.
a cool piece of history to play, but it provides a stable musical platform by which proprietary
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s is Rescuing Hammond h Heap & Reinventing MIDI Controllers electronics can be connected. The original Hammond Organ Company, which ceased organ production in the mid 1970s, had over 40 models of organs, all of which were built with the same craftsmanship and skill as the extremely coveted B3 organ. Today, many of these models have virtually no commercial value and are likely to end up in landfills or bonfires. Since these organs used endangered wood species such as Redwood and Mahogany and featured the same keys, drawbars, and switches as the original B3 organ, Analog Outfitters has made it their mission to find a new use for these beautiful, discarded instruments. Through the AO MIDI controller, artists can retain the original organ experience without the typical logistical problems. The weight has been reduced to one-fifth of some original models, making these instruments lighter and smaller than even the sleekest B3 chop. Without the need for constant maintenance, this controller is road ready. And as a musician, you’ll definitely stand out with one of these stunning controllers. The ORGANic MIDI Controller line is available worldwide through Analog Outfitters’ website at www.analogoutfitters.com.
To generate this tone, Analog Outfitters disassembles an unwanted organ and rips out the manuals. The wires are then removed from the manuals and the MIDI is painstakingly hand wired with updated circuitry and installed into a cabinet. The cabinets for the MIDI are all custom and handmade from repurposed organ wood. However, some artists want to have as close an PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 21
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How to Get the Most out in Today’s DAW-Driven P THE NEW GOLDEN AGE OF SYNTHESIS Analog synths have undergone a radical resurgence in the last 7 or 8 years. Companies like Moog and Korg are now re-issuing and updating their former flagship models, or innovating once more with brand new iterations of the form. Others like Roland and Yamaha are re-issuing digital versions of some of their classic synths. On the other end of the spectrum, modular is more popular than ever, with legions of boutique
module manufacturers churning out all sorts of Eurorack-compatible products. It really is a golden age of analog synthesis once again. You might assume that I’m an analog purist. But that’s not quite true. I’ve got a small, but highly functional studio setup which is a perfect mix of budget hardware analog and digital synths, along with a few carefully chosen VST instruments and effects, all of which have their particular
strengths and all of which feature heavily in my productions in perfect unity. The one unifying thread though with all of them, is that they are either real analog or analog-modelled synths. I favor quick results over super complex sound design, and analog synthesis lends itself perfectly to this. WHY CHOOSE ANALOG? Analog synths allow me to translate my melodies and ideas into fully formed pieces, in the shortest amount of time possible. They usually sound great, straight out of the box. You don’t necessarily need to tinker for hours to get the sound you want, though of course, you absolutely can. Indeed, analog synths reward all kinds of users, from the inexperienced newcomers to the seasoned enthusiasts. Analog synths sound “warm,” a much over-used term, but never more appropriate. The gently drifting tuning, noisy cables or components and gentle distortions all combine to give the sounds that warmth. They are real instruments, every bit as playable as a guitar or piano, and every bit as “alive.” USING YOUR SYNTH WITH YOUR DAW A lot of producers tout instant recall as the main reason they’ve made the switch to in-thebox production. But it’s really not that difficult to get instant recall using analog synths, too. If the synth supports presets, then all you need to do is save your sound once you’ve finished editing it and add a program change control to its corresponding MIDI pattern in your DAW. Every time you load the set and press play, it will instantly jump to that preset. If your synth has MIDI out you can also record all your automation and parameter tweaks straight into the DAW, and they’ll be available every time you load up the track. Certain synths may have integrated VST versions - for instance the Dave Smith Tetra has a VST available which essentially controls all aspects of the synth from within your DAW; you can use it exactly as you would any other VST, it’s just playing the sounds from the synth itself. Likewise, there are also various Max devices available within Ableton Live, which can also control all sorts of external hardware from vintage to new. Indeed, it’s not too difficult to program these yourself.
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TIPS AND TRICKS FOR GREAT SOUNDS 1. My favorite control for sculpting sounds is the filter, especially a 4-pole, low pass filter - turn up the resonance a touch and then twist the cutoff knob - drop down to lower settings and move up to higher settings to ramp up the intensity and drama - a simple technique I use in almost all my tracks to add movement and progression.
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out of Your Analog Synth n Production Workflow 2. A great trick for getting super wide, real stereo sounds is to record two identical passes from a synth. The nature of analog means that every pass will be subtly different and as a result, you can pan each recording far right and far left and they will not cancel each other out, but instead give you an ultra-thick stereo sound. I use this technique a lot when recording pad sounds from my Oberheim Matrix 1000. 3. Another technique I use for getting particularly interesting rhythms is to run a synth through a quantized digital delay. Then I put an LFO on the filter, and adjust the speed of the LFO gradually as the track plays. It results in some beautiful, galloping rhythms which gradually come in and out of focus depending on where you move the slider. My Roland Juno 106 lends itself particularly well to this kind of technique. While the vintage models are often worth more than a small car, you can still pick up some lesser known synths for a steal. And with the absolute explosion of affordable new machines on the market, there’s no excuse for not throwing yourself in and exploring the world of analog. ABOUT THE AUTHOR After producing and playing under Chymera for more than 15 years, Brendan Gregoriy’s distinctive take on house and techno has seen him play at iconic venues like Panorama Bar, Womb, Output, and Rex Club, and release music on respected labels including Ovum, NRK, Delsin and Cocoon. But, 2016 sees Brendan take on a new alias... Inspired by the sounds of artists like Klaus Schulze, Biosphere and Abul Mogard, and finding renewed focus in creating without external pressures or deadlines, Gregoriy’s ambient experimentation emerged, fullyformed, as Merrin Karras. His debut album under this moniker, Apex, was released in June on A Strangely Isolated Place.
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THINGS EVERY SYNTH NOVICE SHOULD KNOW Niki Fandel 24 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
1 - You don’t need to break the bank. The high price point and elusiveness of vintage brand name synthesizers can feel discouraging. Fortunately, technological advancements mean a wide array of free to low-cost smart phone apps and hand-held synths are now widely available.
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Delving into the world of synthesizers without knowing where to start can be intimidating. Here’s what I learned along the way as a total amateur.
Synth pioneers Moog offer the iPhone Animoog app for $5.99. Requiring no setup after downloading, it contains a variety of controls, a way to save custom sounds, and much more. Moog recently released a more robust Model 15 modular synth app for $29.99. Highly praised, the online consensus compares it to being just as good as owning an analog model for a fraction of the cost. For a more tactile and simplified experience, pocket-sized synths start at around $25 and can be ordered from most online music retailers. The analog Stylophone Retro Pocket Synth includes a powerful built-in speaker and has a pleasing organ-like tone. Several musicians have incorporated the Stylophone into recordings (David Bowie, Erasure, Pulp to name a few), and Little Boots famously uses one during her live performances. Newly-released ‘pocket operators’ by Teenage Engineering feature hand-sized programmable digital synths and drum machines. To keep costs low, their build is minimal - imagine a calculator without a case. Packed with studio-quality sounds and extensive presets, they can be linked to each other, modular synths, or almost anything else with a cable, costing around $59 each. For larger synths, consider buying used and keep an eye out for fellow musicians selling gear. There is an active used market online just make sure the synth you are looking at is noted as “functioning” or “serviced,” as many non-functional (read: DOA) vintage synths are still sold for parts and repair purposes. 2 - There’s no right or wrong way to use a synthesizer. Everyone is pretty much messing around. Part of the charm of a synthesizer is the randomness of sounds and tones created by
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THE SYNTH ISSUE plugging in patch cables, turning knobs, and pushing sliders until you hear something you like. Approaching synthesizers as a guitarist, I looked to musicians I admired, such as Annie Clark and Kim Gordon, who often describe using their instrument as a noise box and gleaning knowledge along the way. You don’t need to be a virtuoso pianist or an electrical engineer to use one. The instruction manual for my synth puts it best: “THERE ARE NO RULES. YOU CAN’T HURT IT!” 3 - The learning curve is as big as you want it to be. Jumping in and randomly moving settings around can be enjoyable, but learning basic terms will provide more control and direction. Simple explanations of what synthesizers do, the difference between analog and digital, and a breakdown of common terms can be found online. There are several free, in-depth tutorial videos which I’ve found to be the most helpful for me - type in a synth you like and the word ‘tutorial’ into any search engine or YouTube and you’ll find step-by-step demos and explanations. The amount of information can get overwhelming, so take whatever seems most useful for you to get started and build from there. 26 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Once you feel more confident, you’ll find creating your own sounds quite rewarding, but remember: 4 - Document the settings you like. Small adjustments in parameters can change what a synth does completely, which can be fun and utterly frustrating at the same time. The most useful tip I’ve seen so far: if you find a sound you like, write it down or take a photo (otherwise you’ll never, ever find it again). Some analog synths will include a few pages of blank schematics in the manual to record customized settings. If you can draw, sketch out the synth’s layout and make copies to build your own book if you can’t find a blank schematic online. In a pinch, I use my phone’s camera and email myself a description of the sound along with the photo. Digital synths allow you to save your own presets - just make sure not to overwrite anything already saved. 5 - Have fun! Going to a local synth meetup with a bandmate exposed me to an enthusiastic and friendly community of collectors and tinkerers.
Even though I was one of the few femmes there, most people were happy to answer my questions, and I even had a chance to try out some interesting synths I had never seen (or played) before. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Ever. Throw guitar pedals into the mix, get loud and noisy, or be as ambient as you want. There are no rules. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Denise Orxata is a self-taught guitarist and singer/songwriter based out of the greater Boston area, and a proud owner of a Realistic Concertmate MG-1 (see pg 27 for more). You can find D online at www.orxataspace.com or on Twitter @orxata_.
MY FAVORITE SYNTH with
I’m a self-taught musician from El Paso, TX, currently based in Boston. I work on my own and also collaborate with other musicians. MAKE & MODEL
1981 Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1
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WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU
I joined a synthpop band as a vocalist around 2011. My bandmate wanted me to learn simple synth leads for live shows and lent it to me to practice in my free time – it was the first synth I ever touched and I was terrified! Never quite learning those leads, I parted ways with the band and returned the synth, thinking I’d never see it again. Years later, my bandmate contacted me letting me know he was selling it but wanted it to go to a good home. I’m convinced this synth and I were meant to be together. WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE
HAL 9000 never quite getting over a disco phase. COOL HISTORY
This synth was manufactured by Moog and was sold through Radio Shack under the Realistic name, as a way to introduce a more affordable synth to the market. It has true polyphony, which was rare at the time, especially at its price point. There are some non-obvious features like ring modulation (which is called ‘bell tone’) and plenty of quirks. One of the sliders, if pushed all the way up, goes past a breaking point and will start making a whistling noise, like air escaping from a pod bay door. CUSTOM MODS
My bandmate painstakingly removed the infamous interior foam for me. It deteriorates into gunk over time and can damage the synth. TUNING “CHARMS”
I don’t believe it can ever be truly tuned properly, which is a major part of its appeal to me. The “detune” slider is also pretty loose, so I’m able to make the tone jump a couple octaves up on the fly if I wiggle it around on its lowest setting. CAN BE HEARD ON
My SoundCloud demo “Space Ghost – Test” at www.soundcloud.com/dorxata Got a favorite instrument you’d like to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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MARCO BENEVENTO DISHES ABOUT HIS SYNTH OBSESSION And Why the KORG Polysix Will Always Hold a Special Place in His Heart
Marco Benevento & Michael DiDonna
arco Benevento, member of the Royal Potato Family and pianist extraordinaire, has been called “one of the most talented keys players of our time” by CBS Radio. He self-produced his latest LP The Story Of Fred Short (out now) in his own home studio in Woodstock, NY, and we fell hard for it. Aside from his immense songwriting and performing talents, and the endless list of names he’s played with both live and on record, Benevento is a self-professed tinkerer, known for circuit-bending and an incredible spirit of experimentation when it comes to electronics and effects. It should come as no surprise, then, that he’s got a soft spot in his heart for the king of all knob-twisting, wheel-bending, analog experimentation machines: the synthesizer. We recently caught up with him while he was working in his studio to chat about all things synth… Where did your attraction to synthesis come into play? When I was a kid, about 11, there was a KORG Polysix for sale at my local music shop in New
I knew synth stuff existed just from hearing songs on the radio, like “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock, and I was always wondered what those
“I really love the idea of using synthesizers for composing.” Jersey. I bought it; it was $375. Well…my parents bought it for me, I was only in the fourth or fifth grade. And that was the big one for me. I basically figured it all out on my own and with the manual that it came with.
freaky keyboard sounds were. I grew up learning piano and getting into keyboards that way. And I remember finding out about Moog synthesizers and calling up the local music shop and asking, “Do you guys sell any Moogs?” And they were like,
“No, those are dinosaurs, man. Those don’t exist anymore.” There was no internet or anything back then, you know? So I called up again and kept asking questions, like “How did The Who make the ‘Baba O’Riley sound?” And they were like, “I don’t know, kid. Stop calling!” [laughs] Did you know what you were getting into? Did you have any knowledge of what synthesis was, or was it sort of trial and error? It was trial by fire. When I was in high school, I started learning more about it. When I was a senior I got out early and took evening classes at a college, things like Introduction to Synthesis. So that was when I really started understanding things like waveforms, and harmonics, and started leaning about it more scientifically. And PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 29
THE SYNTH ISSUE that opened up a whole other can of worms. After the KORG, did you move on to a lot of other analog gear? I used that for a while. I didn’t get any other synths when I was in college because I got pretty deep into jazz piano, and learning how to improvise. So all the synth stuff fell by the wayside; about five years ago I started collecting other [synths]. Now I have this Roland SH-1000 that I really like, and a Roland SH-101 that I use a lot. I remember [when I was younger] listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man” solo and thinking, “What the hell was that?” and even Van Halen’s “Jump”… Yeah, throw a couple of detuned sawtooth waves and you’re good to go… 30 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
That was 1984, so I was only 8 years old or something. But I remember Rush, and those big filter sweeps I was really into. I gotta admit, I’m not that fluent in modular stuff. I have a KORG MS-20… They just re-issued that, didn’t they? It’s modular, but it’s not, if that makes sense. I actually used an old one for the bass on a record with one of my bands Garage A Trois – when I first played the MS-20 I didn’t use any of the modular stuff. Then I got this mini one, and have been going on YouTube messing around, seeing how people patch stuff. It’s sort of half-modular, in fact I don’t know if you’d even consider it modular… It’s an interesting hybrid. Because you can
play it normally, without ever having to patch anything. Yeah, absolutely. Another early one that I was in love with was the Moog Prodigy. They sound amazing, it was another one of my early synth memories after I got the Polysix. There was one for sale, and I thought it looked so cool. I borrowed it as much as I could growing up… You said you drifted away from synths until about five years ago. It’s interesting because we’ve seen quite the resurgence in that same timeframe from other artists rediscovering the instrument. Can you speak to that a bit? Yeah, it’s all around. I tour a lot, and going from city to city is interesting. Like in Portland, Oregon, my friend comes up to me saying, “They’ve got this modular synth store here!” And
What’s in your stage rig now? I actually don’t bring a lot of synths with me on the road. I sample a lot of my synths, like the Roland and the KORG, and I trigger them with a MIDI keyboard. The reason I do that is because I used to travel with my synths, but they would just get thrashed out on the road. Sometimes you just use a synth because it has that one sound you only need on one part, and it’s not really practical to being everything on the road, to keep it simple. And realistically, that stuff doesn’t all fit in the van. Some people might think it’s kind of a lame way to do it… It’s not, though. It’s practical – and do you really want to be traveling with all that gear? And what if things break down and need service? Who wants that hassle – but in the studio I assume you’re using the real things, right? Oh yeah. In the studio, I love the imperfections and the little crazy variables that happen [with analog gear]. What kind of stuff are you using in your studio now? I still have the Polysix. I use the Mellotron a lot, and I love drum machines. I have a very rare Casiotone 8000 that attaches to the Casiotone RC-1, which is the coolest rhythm machine in the world. They’re so hard to find on eBay, so I’m hoping this thing never breaks. [laughs]
there’s all these companies making [Eurorack] modular things that all connect together, now. I think it’s amazing.
I bet Moby bought them all, that’s why they’re so rare. Totally, right! You know what I really love is a Roland JX8P – I have this little synth thing that attaches to it, called the Roland PG800. It’s this external thing that allows you to mess with all the sounds on the Roland JX8T, and I really like that one a lot. I have this old Wurlitzer, it’s a threetier keyboard, and the one on the top is more of a synth called a Wurlitzer Centura Deluxe. That’s another favorite of mine.
If you could address an artist who’s getting into synthesis for the first time, and might feel overwhelmed, would you have any words of advice or encouragement? Yeah - I would say buy it, use it, you’ll figure it out. It’s worth it. Get your hands dirty – if it’s something you’re interested in, the only way you’re gonna learn is by buying it and saying, “Why did I buy this? I have no idea how it works.” And then there’s gonna be one night where you look at it, and go, “You know, I’m gonna mess with this.” And you go on YouTube, and there are so many answers out there – it’ll open up a whole new world of songwriting.
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many more notes [in jazz].
I really love the idea of using synthesizers for composing. I like to call it ear candy – you get these amazing sounds you love, and almost feel you can bite into them. It gets you writing, instantly. It’s the biggest way I compose music, I flip things on and get these weird sounds, and just record myself going for it, making things up on the spot. If things aren’t good, I might fire up another keyboard to get another weird lead sound to inspire things. I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the new album. Can you tell us a bit about how you recorded that? I did the whole record here in my place. It’s our sixth record, more rock and pop than our previous ones. I basically wrote the complete Side B in one hour-and-a-half improvisation, which involved me standing up, hitting start on the drum machine, and playing along with the Polysix and SH-1000 and SH-101. I extracted the best of it, which ended up being about 30 minutes, after editing, and pulled out seven songs from that suite of music. It’s not jazz, or fusion, or experimental at all. It’s more of a rock, dance, ’80s synth party. For more info, please visit www. marcobenevento.com and follow Marco on Twitter @MarcoBenevento
For me, the reason that synths came back in my life is that I made a 180 shift in my music; after studying a lot of jazz and becoming proficient on the piano, I made about four instrumental records – heavily affected piano, more of a rock thing instead of a jazz thing. Now we tour around, and our crowds are getting bigger, and people are dancing, and I’m singing, and the music has gone from experimental to full-on rock and roll/ pop music with drum machines and synths. The synths really came back into my world after producing things on my own, and wanting that sort of synth-pop sound. Now it’s more about the song, really simple changes vs. lots of changes and PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 31
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Exploring the R Analog Gear w Dave Smith Instruments Prophet-6
WHAT IS SO GREAT ABOUT ANALOG? As a vintage and analog synthesizer demonstrator, I get this question a lot. “What has analog got over the great software and digital hardware synths of today?” That’s usually the next question, and to answer either of them, we have to examine the 25-odd-year history of the analog revival, its causes, and the generational changes that have occurred in it. First, what is special about vintage analog synthesizers is that the electronic design of early modern synthesizers led to “flaws” like drifting tuning, distortion, noise, and subtle variations in waveshape generation, frequency, and amplitude.
Now, you might say, “Those are all bad things,” ( just like musicians in the ’60s and ’70s did, and consumers today do) but in the right amounts, these “flaws” are the core of the attraction to analog synthesizers. Variations of waveform shape, frequency, and amplitude along with distortion and noise lead to a natural harmonic complexity that is common in acoustic sounds. These acoustic aspects make the vintage synthesizer’s sound pleasing to human ears. The somewhat-primitive electronics coupled with inventors with musical ears led to synthesizers that not only allowed you to author sound, but allowed you to author aurally-pleasing sound. Unfortunately, as we know from acoustic
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Resurgence of with Marc Doty instruments, these aspects of sound production are also not very convenient. It is challenging and time-consuming to play and record acoustic instruments, and that is also the case with vintage analog instruments. THE PHYSICAL ATTRACTION Another natural attraction to early synthesizers is the interface. By presenting all functions as accessible at all times through physical interaction, this abstract synthesis concept was made visually-accessible and physically-interactive, which are important aspects of real-time expression. But again, what early synthesizers presented in regard to interactivity and expression came at the cost of complexity, maintenance, and… well, cost. Consumers were frustrated by the inconveniences and challenges created by the aspects described above, and demanded that the synthesizer industry pursue more stable, more powerful, and less expensive options. Luckily, this came during the rise of effective and economic digital technology. Digital synthesizers were created that erased all of the “flaws” that were challenging to analog synth users, and gave the users much greater control and power. Complex forms of synthesis, digital precision, and expanded polyphony, for example. But this transition wasn’t without sacrifice. While digital synthesizer tuning was reliable and precise, the lack of waveform variation led to strangely sterile and “cold” sounds. Simply put: the precision and power came at the expense of beauty of tone. In order to control the functions of these new, complex digital synthesizers, new interfaces were required. These interfaces had to give access to the expanded functionality, and also needed to be economical to allow prices to be low. The results were small digital screens, a few controls on the front panel, and a very great deal of textual menu-diving… menus nested in menus through a tiny visual interface. Full real-time control became a thing of the past, and presets became the standard.
WERE THE SACRIFICES WORTH THE BENEFITS? The cries of “too cold, too sterile” increased, and Generation X found a solution in the early ’90s. They remembered the synth sounds of their past, and started purchasing second-hand synthesizers from the ’60s and ’70s. By then, they were very inexpensive…being “obsolete,” and all.
in the thousands of dollars. Musicians and recording artists increasingly used vintage analog synthesizers in performance and recording, and doing so became associated with status.
A groundswell of analog interest expanded over the ’90s, and resulted in greater scarcity of vintage instruments, and higher prices. Established synthesizer companies were reticent to jump into this mania due to their distrust of its longevity.
Were digital synth and software synth companies sitting on their hands during this revolution? Not by a long-shot. Designers were hard at work programming analog-emulative aspects. Digital synthesizers became more powerful, better sounding, and came equipped with better interfaces. Software synthesizers became more powerful, better-sounding, and even found ways to emulate analog synthesizer behavior.
By the early 2000s, vintage synthesizers that were nearly free in the late 1980s were worth
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and robotic accuracy. Synthesizer companies know this, and make their modern analog devices very stable, clean, and precise. This is great for reliability and accuracy, but means that modern analog synths are less likely to sound like vintage synthesizers. And, due to the fact that digital synths and software have made such great progress in emulating analog behavior, it means that digital/software synthesizers have simulated more of the variability of analog than they did. This is the reason why the “what’s so great about analog” question exists today. A lot of modern analog is more stable than vintage analog, and a lot of modern digital/software is more variable than vintage digital. As a result, it’s hard to discern between the two. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GREAT ANALOG TONE OF THE PAST? In 2012, something unbelievable happened. Korg, one of the largest synthesizer companies in the world, decided to actually remake an analog synthesizer from their past…the Korg MS-20. They made a faithful reproduction and allowed the synth to retain its vintage analog character… warts and all. Vintage analog had returned. They then recreated the ARP Odyssey, a synthesizer created by the long-defunct ARP Instruments… 34 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
and again, made a faithful vintage-sounding reproduction.
their vintage reproductions look and feel like the original synths (even if they are slightly smaller!)
Other companies followed suit, like Moog’s recreation of the previous Moog Music’s 1974 modular, and Tom Oberheim’s recreation of his SEMs and Two Voice systems from the 1970s.
2. Check out the synthesizers created by British boutique designer Analogue Solutions. They feature all of the benefits of modern implementation with analog components and vintage tone.
A 25-year history of embracing the past as well as improving for the future has made the “What is so great about analog” question a challenging one to answer. But I suppose I would say that the great thing about analog is that it inspires the user to expressively interact with the self-contained interface while generating great-sounding timbres that also have a pleasing tone. Everyone from nostalgia-loving Gen X users like myself, to young people seeking great timbres for modern music, can find inspiration in the great tones and inspiring interfaces of most vintage AND modern analog synthesizers. BUYER’S RECOMMENDATIONS If you’re looking to find great vintage analog tone today without paying the prices associated with vintage analog synthesizers or high-level modern analog reproductions, I’d suggest checking these synths out: 1. Korg’s analog reproductions: While Korg has a number of modern analog synthesizers,
3. At first glance, they may not SEEM inexpensive, but when you think about it… 6-voice polyphonic synthesizers feature 12 analog oscillators, 6 analog filters, and a host of other functions. Keeping that in mind, I highly recommend looking into the Dave Smith polyphonics, the Prophet 6 and the OB-6. They are extremely powerful, and yet, generate deliciously authentic analog tone. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Marc Doty is the composer and synthesist responsible for the weirdly-popular (over 7.4 million views) analog and vintage synthesizer demonstration YouTube channel “Automatic Gainsay.” Marc is also a synthesis historian, a public speaker at synthesizer industry conventions, and the Archive and Education Specialist at the Bob Moog Foundation. WATCH HIM NOW at youtube.com/automaticgainsay.
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One (Not Very Great, But Cheap and Effective) Way to Tour Europe With a Vintage Synth Roger F. Lussier
SHIPPING GEAR OVERSEAS My band Pretty & Nice were lucky to tour Europe twice, once right when I joined up, in 2009, and then on what might end up being our last tour, in 2013. Touring Europe is a wonderful, terrible, amazing, frustrating, meaningful experience that every band should try, unless they don’t feel like it.
don’t get a cheap one, because then you’ll end up searching through tiny electric stores in a crowded villa on Catania for just the right fuse and you’ll find one that is only just right enough. So get a nice one (after the crummy one that you bought in America blows out) -- go for the €50 one instead of the €20, even if you needed the money to eat that day.
As a touring band, we used a very particular set of equipment, but due to the expense of shipping amps overseas, we made do with what our Tour Manager provided to us, although we still wanted to bring over the particular instruments and pedals we were used to using, including my Realistic MG-1 (a late-’70s Moog Rogue copy that was sold at Radio Shack and is a surprisingly robust analog synth.)
CUTTING COSTS ON TRANSIT The next issue was transit. To save money on the flights, we took a number of cost-cutting measures, from bringing guitars as carry-ons packed two to a gig bag, to stuffing the bass case (the closest thing to a flight case we packed) with t-shirts and CDs. The MG-1 was packed into a comically vintage looking suitcase (I mean, people owned those things for a lifetime, they’re obviously pretty protective) stuffed alternately with acoustic foam, my pedalboard, and the aforementioned t-shirts, both merchandise AND our own, clean (on the way out) then very dirty (on the way back) clothes. The suitcase was held closed with a series of camping grade ratchet straps (because we knew that it had to have easy access in
GETTING THE RIGHT POWER SUPPLY Bringing the Realistic MG-1 abroad presented a handful of problems, the first of which is the power. Like everything produced for the U.S., it expects a regular 110V, 60Hz current. That means you’ll need a converter for Europe’s 230V, 50Hz current, and
case Big Brother needed to have a look.) We saved hundreds of dollars doing this, but I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t stressed out every time I checked that thing in for a flight. That said, it made it. Every single time. So yeah, if you want to save some money, consider using a strange vintage suitcase packed full of clothes; it worked for me with a 35-year-old synth but please do not email me or Performer Magazine if you do this and it doesn’t work out. There were a couple of flights where everything had very clearly been rearranged in the case, which I suppose makes sense because my pedalboard had re-cased pedals and I’m sure “red box with light and button” is pretty high up there on the “check this bag” list. So let’s call it a draw, shall we? KEY TAKEAWAYS Get a good power converter, get a road case or figure something else out and just throw caution to the wind, because you’re probably broke just from buying the nice power converter. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 35
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THE BEST CLA SOLOS OF ALL
nce upon a time, we lived in a world where rock bands comprised of an upright bass, a shiny hollow-body Gretsch, a drum set, and in some cases, a grand piano. Cleanly shaven and well-suited young men would wield their instruments lightly while smiling at their audience. Somewhere in the mid-sixties, however, a seemingly instantaneous change spread through the air. It took record stores, coffee houses, and pubs by storm, and suddenly, rock and roll had been redefined. Young chaps in matching suits grew their hair out a little longer, a muffled sound of nascent distortion echoed through the room, as guitar solos became something more than a swing beat for which audiences could dance. The once combed and bow-tied pianist, in the midst of revolution, no longer let his fingers dance melodically around a black, shiny Baldwin, but alternatively, an electric keyboard, capable of blaring a far groovier, organ-based sound. This machine, the combo organ, eventually evolved into an instrument which would live on to play a role in the music of decades to come: the holy synthesizer. Listed below are the top five most iconic, creative, or simply impressive synthesizer solos of the early, classic era of synth innovation and discovery that any budding synthesis should commit to memory. Enjoy. Pink Floyd “On the Run” from Dark Side of the Moon (1973) Synthesizer: EMS Synthi AKS Dark Side of the Moon went on to become one of the most iconic albums of its time, famous for its creative incorporation of stray sounds in songs to produce a unique, and almost unprecedented branch of psychedelic music. Only two years after the release of the EMS Synthi AKS in 1971, David Gilmore’s performance on On the Run was ingeniously pieced together using this synthesizer, along with distant voices and static sounds in order to depict the pressures of
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ASSIC SYNTH LL-TIME Anthony Cammalleri
traveling. With no lyrics or defined melody, Gilmore created this four-minute masterpiece from one repetitive synthesizer riff, revolutionizing psychedelic rock music from that point forward. Emerson, Lake & Palmer “Lucky Man” from Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970) Synthesizer: Moog Modular Synthesizer Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Lucky Man is to this day, still noted as one of the first mainstream songs to feature a synthesizer solo. Greg Lake has claimed in interviews that he had written Lucky Man at the age of twelve after his mother had bought him his first guitar. It was with the help of Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson; however, that the piece came alive with triple-tracked acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and vocal harmonies. Keith Emerson’s legendary Moog solo at the end of the song was the icing on the cake, introducing listeners used to electric guitar solos, to the modern sound of a gliding synthesizer cry. Herbie Hancock “Chameleon” from Head Hunters (1973) Synthesizer: ARP Odyssey Off his 1973 album Head Hunters, Herbie Hancock’s jazz/funk piece “Chameleon” would simply not be the same without the characteristic, funky wet pulse of an ARP Odyssey to start it off, and later to take off in a solo that will make its listener feel like he’s in a 1974 Cadillac Coupe Deville. When it comes to combining the elegance and musicianship of jazz music with the swagger and groove of funk, few solos can compete with the energy and style of Hancock’s space-age synthesizer solo in Chameleon.
Vangelis “Blade Runner’s Blues” from the Blade Runner OST (1982) Synthesizer: Yamaha CS-80 Originally composed for Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, Vangelis’ slow-paced ambient backing with the piece “Blade Runner’s Blues” consists of transcending echo, evoking a calm, yet mystic sensation. Vangelis’ composition was finally released in its full form in 1994 by Warner Music in the UK, and by Atlantic Records in the United States in an album which mainly compiled compositions written for Scott’s film. This soundtrack went on to hit the top 20 album charts in the UK, and is still considered iconic for its ethereal sound and quintessential ’80s style, having been recorded on a Yamaha CS-80, the same synthesizer used in Toto’s “Africa” and countless other radio hits from the decade. Styx “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” from The Grand Illusion (1977) Synthesizer: Oberheim 8 Voice Polyphonic System Although written by guitarist Tommy Shaw, “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” by Styx can be characterized by the into synthesizer solo performed by Dennis DeYoung, as well as returning organ-style riffs throughout the song, and an energetic fade out with one final solo to conclude the track. The violence and simultaneous fluidity of DeYoung ’s keyboard playing mingles perfectly with the excitement of the chorus, featuring pop bursts and vocal harmonies. Originally a B-side from The Grand Illusion, the track peaked at 29 on the US Billboard Hot 100. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 37
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I’m the keyboardist for the progressive funk band The Phryg. I play Hammond organ, Rhodes, clav, and synth for the band. MAKE & MODEL
Dave Smith Mopho x4 WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU
The Mopho x4 is my go-to keyboard for almost all of my synth parts – both lead lines and chords/pads. WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE
It can sound gritty. It can sound spacey. It can sound funky. It’s very versatile. It features 4-voice polyphony, 2 oscillators, 4 LFOs, tons of routing options, and a 100% analog signal path. I’ve created a lot of patches with this keyboard and I feel I’ve just skimmed the surface with what it can do. It’s exciting every time I mess around with it. PROGRAMMING
I do most of my programming with the free sound editing software. It makes seeing everything a lot easier than programming on the board itself, especially since many knobs on the board serve multiple functions. CAN BE HEARD ON
On The Phryg’s upcoming album, the Mopho x4 is used for synth solos on: “Turn You Out,” “Puddin’ Head,” and “Tang Slayer” (crazy synth stuff happens during this solo). Follow the band online at www.thephryg.com
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MY FAVORITE SYNTH
PLIETZ of The Phryg
MY FAVORITE SYNTH
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Cellars is an ’80s-influnced, synth/pop project founded in 2013 by Allene Norton. Influenced heavily by the music of the late 1970s and 1980s, Cellars’ music harkens to the age of early digital experimentation with a modern twist. MAKE & MODEL
1994 Roland XP-10 WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU
I was introduced to this synth by someone whose music I really appreciate. I fell in love with the sounds as it has that perfect sense of late ’80s/early-’90s nostalgia. It’s wonderfully light and excellent to play live with. WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE
It sounds like a typical, simple workstation from the early-’90s, with lots of cool dated sounding pads and leads. Some of the bass patches on here are my absolute favorites. SPECIAL FEATURES
There isn’t too much in the way of actual synthesis going on in this workstation, but you can definitely edit filters and envelopes, and layer the patches enough to create some really unique sounds. I also really appreciate the arpeggiator that’s built into it; it’s great for solid, dance-y bass sequences. CAN BE HEARD ON
On the album Phases, the tracks “Tropikool,” “Nighttime Girl,” “Curse Your Love,” and “Toys.” Also on most songs on my first record, Lovesick. Follow Cellars online at www.cellarsmusic.com PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 39
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Visiting The Vint Synthesizer Mus
“This isn’t just a generic collection of synthesizers,” Hill explains. “It’s a purposefully put together collection, of like, some of the best synthesizers ever!”
ucked in back of a nondescript commercial building in Emeryville, CA is one of the most impressive vintage synthesizer collections ever assembled. The edge city just north of Oakland may be best known as home to digital innovators like Pixar Animation Studios, but it’s this humble analog space that makes it worth trip for synth enthusiasts and analog freaks alike.
made all of the instruments available to anyone looking to explore the world of analog synthesis. Independent musicians including Bay Area staples Neurosis and Blackalicious have recorded synth parts here utilizing the museum’s fullyequipped studio space, which offers multiple high-end audio interfaces in addition to an array of vintage drum machines, tape echoes and spring reverbs.
Although just two years old, The Vintage Synthesizer Museum, owned and curated by East Bay local Lance Hill, is quickly becoming the premier public collection on the West Coast. Whether you’re seeking out the sound of Herbie Hancock’s ARP Odyssey on Headhunters or the torrid tone of Geddy Lee’s Moog on “Tom Sawyer,” you’ll be hard pressed to find a greater assortment of classic synths.
Hill began assembling the collection after buying and repairing broken synths on Craigslist to perform with his band. But as his collection grew, he knew he wanted to make it available to the public: “I’ve been involved with buying, repairing and selling synths for over ten years and have been wanting to do the studio thing for most of that time. When we found this space it was way out of our budget, but we took a chance.”
“This isn’t just a generic collection of synthesizers,” Hill explains. “It’s a purposefully put together collection, of like, some of the best synthesizers ever.”
A few highlights include modular and semimodular synths like the legendary ARP 2600 and the Battleship pegboard-styled EMS Synthi, perhaps best known for its use on Pink Floyd’s “On the Run.” Another prized piece is a rare Gleeman Pentaphonic synth originally owned by
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ntage useum Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, complete with a gorgeous transparent Plexiglas casing. The newest addition to collection, an early digital sampler called The Fairlight CMI, employs a delightfully ’80s stylus touch screen and giant floppy disk-driven hard drive to record and store samples on the drive, while also allowing the player to draw their own distinct wave forms directly onto the screen. Now that anyone can easily learn how to model wave forms on the computer, Hill explains the advantage of tinkering with these vintage instruments: “Just having your hands on them, being able to touch knobs… all of these synthesizers are over 30 years old, and if they were brand new they’d certainly still sound different than a computer, but thirty, forty-year-old electronics are going to sound different because a lot of it’s dying.” To view a full list of the collection as well as booking and rates, visit vintagesynthmuseum.com.
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THE BEST SYNTHS F Over the next few pages we hope to present what we believe are the best synthesizers for under a grand. Instead of simply listing them (we know, everyone loves a good list), we’ll be providing a short review, rundown of features and giving you the main strengths and reasons they’re appearing here. Be sure to head to performermag.com throughout the month for more in-depth reviews, videos and analysis on each model. So without further ado…
Every single thing about it is amazing. CONS
Yeah, right. PRICE
THE BEST OVERALL SYNTH UNDER $1000 MOOG SUB PHATTY
Sound Engine: Analog Number of Keys: 25 Type of Keys: Semi-Weighted Other Controllers: Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel Polyphony: Monophonic Sound Sources: 2 Variable Waveshape Oscillators, 1 Square Wave Sub Oscillator, 1 Noise Generator Mod Sources: Triangle, Square, Saw, Ramp, SH, Filter Envelope Mod Destinations: Pitch, Osc 2 Pitch Only, Filter, Waveshape CV/Gate Inputs: Filter CV, Pitch CV, Volume CV, KB Gate LFO: 0.1Hz-100Hz
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WHY WE LOVE IT
Well, to be blunt, we think this is the best damn synth you can buy for under a thousand bucks. How’s that? Hands down, when you put everything together and add it up (sound, features, feel, usability, flexibility, price) we can’t find another synth, especially an analog synth, that can touch it in this price range. Here are a few things we love, after testing out the Moog Sub Phatty for several weeks. For starters, the variable wave form selector on both oscillators is fantastic, allowing you to continuously sweep from triangle all the way to pulse width, and everything in between. And it’s smooth as butter, allowing you to accurately dial in the exact waveform(s) you desire, detuning them ever so slightly using the frequency knob, and then adjusting the amazing 4-pole ladder filter Moog is so famous for to make the final sound mega-beefy. Toss in a sub-oscillator an octave below oscillator one, and you find out pretty quickly where the “sub” in Sub Phatty comes from.
Everything about the Sub Phatty feels high-end – from the tank-like construction, to the heavy-duty pitch and mod wheels, down to the front panel buttons and knobs, and the excellent semi-weighted keybed. In fact, we loved the feel of the Sub Phatty so much it became our go-to MIDI controller for a while (and that’s not even really what it’s meant for). Speaking of MIDI, every knob you see (while providing realtime panel controls) can also transmit MIDI CC data, making this a pretty kick-ass MIDI machine on top of its status as a pretty kick-ass analog synth.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT
If you’re looking for the flat-out best sounding synth, and your budget is under $1000, then look no further. If money is even tighter, you can get almost all the way there with a MIDI keyboard controller and the Moog Minitaur, but trust us, once you fall for the Sub Phatty, you’ll be hooked.
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S FOR UNDER $1000 Improves upon a classic in every way imaginable. CONS
MIDI implementation is pretty weak. PRICE
WHY WE LOVE IT
For all its quirks, and for everything it did in the exact opposite fashion of the Minimoog, the ARP Odyssey became a classic synth of the 1970s because of that instantly recognizable sound (and let’s face it, it’s cool look). Some called it a “punk synth,” and others hailed its unique, wet funk bass sound (cough Herbie Hancock cough), but the Odyssey defies categorization and belongs in a class all its own. Where Moog had knobs, the Odyssey had sliders. Where the Moog was monophonic, the Odyssey was duophonic. Where Moog had wheels, the Odyssey had pads. Where Moog designed its instruments to be easily accessible even to those new to synthesis, the Odyssey looked like a keyboard hooked up to a mixing console that you’d need an engineering degree to figure out -- but the effort in learning the machine (especially the great re-issue we were able to play around with) pays off huge in the unlimited sounds you’re able to coax from its engine. Bringing it back over 40 years after its initial introduction, we were a bit skeptical as to what KORG’s re-issue would have in store. But all worries were immediately alleviated once we sat down, plugged it in, and started playing. The sound is spot-on. Close your eyes and you’re there, back in time, it’s that damn accurate. Some things have changed, though, but all for the better. The entire
casing is about 15% smaller, which is great because the original Odyssey never fit right on any desk I’ve ever used. You also have a new headphone jack, plus a selector switch for all three classic Odyssey filter revisions (an amazingly welcome feature). The keys are smaller, which might turn off some purists, but they’ve got a fast action, and there’s now a piece of casing underneath the keybed that wasn’t on the originals (a nice touch, because that lack of protection is precisely why you see so many of the old ones with broken keys). We love almost every addition except one. MIDI implementation is pretty weak. You’ve got note on/ note off and as far as we could tell (trust us, we dug around hoping this wasn’t the case), that’s it. So as a MIDI controller, it’s a bit of a dud. But really, that’s not why you’re buying it, is it? Nah, you want that Odyssey look (our re-issue is in the Rev 3 case, the classic orange/black combo) and sound without breaking the bank. And on that front, KORG delivers in a big, bad way. Color us impressed.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT
ARP ODYSSEY FEATURES
Keyboard: 37-note (Slimkey, No velocity sensitivity, No aftertouch) Maximum Polyphony: 2 voices for duophonic; normally monophonic VCO Waveforms: Sawtooth, Square, Pulse (Dynamic Pulse) VCF (Voltage Controlled Filter) Types: Low pass (I: 12 dB/oct., II III: 24 dB/oct.)
If you want that classic ARP Odyssey sound (and can live with its quirks), but can’t stomach the prices the originals are fetching on the used market, KORG’s reissue is a dream come true. The sound is dead-on compared to the original, and its smaller form factor is actually a big check in the plus column. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 43
THE SYNTH ISSUE
THE BEST BOTTOM END NOVATION BASS STATION II WHY WE LOVE IT
To start, what’s not to love about an analog synth under 400 bucks? The Bass Station II is the spiritual successor to the original Bass Station that came out in the ’90s. While we dug the old black and blue box back in the day, we love this one even more. Controls are simply laid out, which is great, and the preset bank is thankfully not only usable, but also easy to program. The real meat, though, is in the oscillator section. While we loved the Moog Sub Phatty for its beefy sound, we went absolutely bananas for the sub-oscillator on the Bass Statin II. Why? Simple – you can choose between one octave below or TWO octaves below, resulting in bass lines so deep you would swear Deadmau5 just showed up at your home studio to put on a private show. In all seriousness, though, the Bass Station II provides a lot of unique features, considering many units at this price point try their best to be Moog clones or one-trick ponies. One touch we really dug in our hands-on test was the filter section. You’ve got a classic filter, which can be set up just how most of us like it: 4-pole 24dB low pass. But if you want to get adventurous, we recommend flipping the switch to the Acid Filter, and letting your ears dig the subtle timbral 44 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
changes you can affect by making the filter high pass or band pass, and experimenting by going between the 24dB and 12dB settings. Besides the unique filter options, the pretty decent oscillators and the nice aftertouch on the keybed itself, we were pleasantly surprised to find a board in this range that had a useful arpeggiator and simple step sequencer on board. If we had to lodge a complaint, it would be the same thing that held us back from absolutely falling head-overheels for the original Bass Station, and that is that the construction leaves a bit to be desired. It’s not flimsy, per se, but it’s definitely not as rugged as we would have liked. The overall feel is a tad plastic-y, and there’s a bit of wobble to the knobs and switches. Not a major gripe, but worth noting if you plan on making this a road warrior.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT
If you want to jump into the world of analog synths, but don’t want to spend a fortune. Or if you want a dedicated bass-line machine with the flexibility to be a solo lead monster. Great for electronic music production and live electro sets.
Unique filter section, great presets, fantastic sub oscillator, tons of modulation options, great price.
Feels about as rugged as its predecessor, which is to say not very. PRICE
Analog synth: brand new version of the classic Bass Station Two distinct analog filters: brand new “Acid” filter joins the “Classic” original -Ships with 64 factory patches and a further 64 user slots -Pattern-based Step Sequencer and Arpeggiator -Layout includes dedicated controls for all major parameters -Two Oscillators plus an additional Sub Oscillator -Flexible modulation featuring 2 Envelopes and 2 LFOs -MIDI I/O and USB connectivity
THE SYNTH ISSUE
MOST VERSATILE KORG MINILOGUE
WHY WE LOVE IT
To say we were impressed with the Minilogue at NAMM would be a bit of an understatement. And after playing with our own hands-on, we were left scratching our heads. All this, and it’s under $500? Analog engine? Check. Polyphonic, up to four voices? Check. Built in 16-step sequencer? You got it, dude. Wood paneling? Now you’re speaking my language! But really, what you get with the Minilogue is nothing short of amazing. You have instant access to a few really cool modes, starting with true 4-voice polyphonic, duophonic for the Odyssey heads (worth noting that KORG also makes the new ARP re-issues), a neat unison mode, monophonic mode for the Moog junkies, chord mode for...well, duh, arpeggiator mode and something we’ve never encountered before: side chain mode, whereby the amplitude of the previous note you’ve played goes down when you strike a new note. It’s actually pretty cool, and each mode allows layering so that you can really fine-tune your patches to the nth degree. Build quality was great – no wobbly knobs to speak of, and the unit itself is substantially constructed. The metal face plate looks futuristic, but still employs an easy-to-follow panel configuration. Those looking for
a standard pitch/mod wheel set up will have to get used to a little “wiggle stick” (our term, not theirs), but since it’s located in such a good place on the panel, it actually lends itself to being used in a musical way, unlike the proportional pitch pads KORG has to use on the Odyssey re-issues (which never really worked all that great on the originals, anyway). All that said, we dug the two oscillators on the Minilogue; each provided a unique set of selectable waveforms that were great for solos, bass lines as well as pads, and the LFO and modulation routing options were actually a bit more flexible than we imagined they would be, offering a pretty wide range of mod options that are intelligently presented and can add a real sense of depth and texture to boring old waves. To top it off, you have a little display which sort of acts like a mini oscilloscope when you’re playing, allowing you to “see” the waveforms you’re dialing in – actually, this was really cool and a nice bonus to the board we weren’t expecting.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT
If you want to do just about everything you could possibly imagine, and you want the circuitry to be all analog, AND you absolutely refuse to spend more than $500. Well, then. Here you go. Enjoy.
Feels great, looks supercool, offers an amazing range of features, and sounds fantastic in all modes. CONS
Keyboard: 37-keys (Slim-key, velocity sensitive) Sound Generation: Analog synthesis Maximum Polyphony: 4 voices Sequencer: 16-step polyphonic sequencer
PERFORMER MAGAZINE JULY 2016 45
THE SYNTH ISSUE
BEST VIRTUAL ANALOG SYNTH STUDIOLOGIC SLEDGE 2.0 WHY WE LOVE IT
Can we start with how amazingly awesome (and how very Italian) the orange case is? Some call it school bus orange, which is what we’ll stick to, as well. In the world of synthesizers, you’ve got your analog purists, your digital enthusiasts and your “I’ll take whatever I can get as long as it’s nice to play and sounds good.” I fall into that camp, which is precisely why I wanted to get my hands on the Sledge 2.0. I don’t care that it’s technically a “virtual analog” synth (a most bizarre category if I’ve ever heard one). I just wanted to know how it sounded ever since I saw it demo’d at NAMM. And compared to some of the other VA boards I’ve used in this price range, the Sledge 2.0 simply kills the competition. If anything, it’s one of the most “analog” feeling digital boards I’ve ever played. In fact, the panel is laid out in a very Moog-like fashion, which makes you feel instantly at home and at ease. You can select from like a thousand patches, which is great, but you can also go into panel mode and play the Sledge like a true analog synth. We loved the feel, and as you may or may not know, Studiologic makes a great majority of the keybeds you’ve probably played, so this one was certainly no slouch. Aftertouch? You got it! And the full-size keys and 5-octave range means that traditional pianists will favor something like this over, say, a two-octave monophonic Sub Phatty. If you want to know what’s new compared to 46 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
its predecessor, the first thing you’ll notice is a much-needed bump in polyphony, up to 24 voices now. Add that to the fantastic Waldorf sound engine the synth runs on, and you’ll never been at a loss for a great patch. Also new are the simultaneous reverb and delay effects. Good, not great, but definitely usable. What are totally useable, however, are the filter sections, the surprisingly nice envelopes (both filter and amp ADSR’s) and the unique wavetable you can select from in oscillator one. With three oscillators in total, each with its own separate tuning capabilities, you can really stack, tune and layer waveforms to concoct ultra-thick, lush sounds very quickly and easily. With a multitude of modulation effects and routing options, you can imagine why we stayed up until the wee hours some nights just dialing in new pads and lead patches on this bad boy.
Sounds great, layout is very analog-like, great MIDI implementation, large keyboard is a welcome addition in this price range, lots of improvements over the original Sledge.
User sample memory is weak, some noticeable zipper noise when making quick adjustments.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT
If you simply want a full range of octaves for more traditional playing, dig the orange casing and need a ridiculously versatile digital engine to power your stage show and studio work, the Sledge 2.0 might be just the ticket.
-61 key polyphonic synthesizer with Aftertouch -Enhanced polyphony, up to 24 voices -Split or Layer mode, play two sounds at the same time -Up to 999 programmable Sounds -Fast and efficient sound selection via numeric keypad -Enable Pitch and the Hold separately for the Lower and Upper sounds -Enhanced Reverb and Delay effects with blend control
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48 JULY 2016 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
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Published on Jul 5, 2016
THE SYNTH ISSUE explores the best synths under $1000, pro tips for recording analog synthesizers, how to build a modular Eurorack system and...