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Archive for the ‘Synthesizers’ Category

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                                                                         synths

Here I have both Musictech’s write up from this past year (2013) of the top ten best hardware synths and also Musicradar’s own list from 2009 of their greatest hardware synths of all time. Each are interesting reads; Musictech’s lineup of synthesizers can give you an idea of synths still on the market if you are a soon to be buyer, Musicradar’s review of all time great synths can show you some synths of the past that you probably can’t find anymore but could find samples of on youtube to hear them. Both articles give you a little bit of information of each synth which is sweet and to the point. Always you could look…

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On YouTube I found this video today on the Ondes Martenot: an electronic instrument of the 1920’s which preludes today’s synthesizer. It is most widely known for its use in pieces by French composer  Olivier Messiaen:

I actually own a high quality software emulation of the Ondes Martenot made by VSTi producers Sonic Couture and use it quite often due to it’s distinct sounds. One of the interesting things about the Ondes Martenot was the ribbon controller demonstrated by Jean Laurendeau in the video.

A similar ribbon controller in a modern plexiglas enclosure now made by Eowave is also part of my synth studio. Here the Blade Runner theme is played on a synthesizer using the Eowave ribbon as a controller:

So although the Ondes Martenot may be almost a century old and is not often used as an instrument on its own, it’s sounds and concepts are still alive today.

More information:

Found through the Binary Heap blog : a short 27-minute Vimeo video documentary about the British Electronic Music Studios (EMS), famous for their groundbreaking VCS3 and Synthi synthesizers.

VCS3 advert

VCS3 advert

This is the synopsis of the video: Post-war Britain rebuilt itself on a wave of scientific and industrial breakthroughs that culminated in the cultural revolution of the 1960’s. It was a period of sweeping change and experimentation where art and culture participated in and reflected the wider social changes. In this atmosphere was born the Electronic Music Studios (EMS), a radical group of avant-garde electronic musicians who utilized technology and experimentation to compose a futuristic electronic sound-scape for the New Britain. Comprising of pioneering electronic musicians Tristram Cary (famed for his work on the Dr Who series) and Peter Zinovieff, EMS’s studio was one of the most advanced computer-music facilities in the world. EMS’s great legacy is the VCS3, Britain’s first synthesizer and rival of the American Moog. The VCS3 was a uniquely British invention, which changed the sounds of some of the most popular artists of this period including Brian Eno, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd. Almost thirty years on the VCS3 is still used by modern electronic artists like Aphex Twin and Chicken Lips.

What The Future Sounded Like uncovers a group of British composers and innovators who harnessed technology and new ideas to re-imagine the boundaries of music and sound. The documentary places the emergence of EMS in the larger context of 60’s post-war Britain, with its focus on “space age” technology and the advent of the counter-culture. A must-see for everyone interested in the history of electronic music and electronic music devices! If you want to know more about EMS and their activities and products after viewing the documentary, check the 2 part article series of Sound-On-Sound on the history of EMS.

And EMS still exists! You can still buy a Synthi A or VCS3 online. Check the website of “The World’s Longest Established Synthesizer Manufacturer” for prices and ordering…

I first became interested in synthesizers and electronic music in the late ’70’s through the music of Pere Ubu (US) and Cabaret Voltaire (UK).  Somewhere around 79- ’80 I decided I wanted to have my own synthesizer, inspired by albums like “Dub Housing” (Pere Ubu) and “Mix Up” (Cabaret Voltaire). Especially the weird sounds created by Allen Ravenstine on Pere Ubu records motivated me to start playing synthesizer (besides guitar) . These sounds were made by a modular EML synthesizer. I couldn’t afford an EML however, so I went for the Japanese budget alternative: a semi modular Korg MS-20, which I still own and play today.

Allen Ravenstine was part of Pere Ubu until the end of the ’80s. The modular EML synthesizer remained a basic ingredient of the Pere Ubu sound up until today, played by Robert Wheeler and others. I recently stumbled upon this video of a EML synthesizer jam session by Allen Ravenstine and Robert Wheeler, apparently the first time these Pere Ubu players ever played together. The video contains some interesting  interview fragments in which Allen Ravenstine explains how the EML synthesizer became part of the unique Pere Ubu sound:

Allen Ravenstine and Robert Wheeler EML synth session.

The video fragment seems to be part of an upcoming  film about modular synthesizers and their players. This is the text accompanying the video:

In late February, 2012, former Pere Ubu synthesist Allen Ravenstine and current Pere Ubu synthesist Robert Wheeler, two legendary figures of Cleveland’s punk rock scene met at Grant Avenue Studio to discuss and demonstrate the EML modular synthesizers that have been an integral part of the Pere Ubu sound for almost 40 years. The interviews are part of the upcoming film: “I Dream of Wires: The Modular Synthesizer Documentary”.  I DREAM OF WIRES interview segments are sponsored by MATRIXSYNTH (matrixsynth.com/).

I acquired the Clavia Nord MicroModular synth recently through eBay. The Nord MicroModular is a stripped down version of the mighty Nord Modular system and can be considered to be “the mother of modular software synths”. A PC software application is used to virtually patch, tweak, edit and design the MicroModulars synth patches in a modular fashion. Produced in 1999, this is still a standalone PC application and not a VSTi to be integrated in a DAW, however.

Nord MicroModular

Besides software the MicroModular consists of a small four-knobbed MicroModular interface/controller unit which houses the DSP power and audio and midi in/outs. After you’ve created a patch using the software you can load it into one of 99 memories within the controller. It can then be used live or in a MIDI studio as a synth module. The MicoModular controller has a volume knob and 3 other knobs that can be assigned editable parameters.

Nord Modular Editor

Limited as this might appear, you still get one of the biggest and most powerful modular synthesizer emulator software programs in the world: it contains loads of sound and filtering and effects modules, is fully modular in setup and has a simple and user friendly user interface. A nifty feature is that it can be used both as a modular synthesizer and a audio filterbank, by using the audio L/R inputs for filtering and modifying sounds of other synthesizers or samplers.

More information:


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