Essay Preview: Synthesisers
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An analogue synthesizer is a machine which produces sound by means of physical components: there are chips, transistors, discrete circuits and the like which physically create electrical signals (the analogue of the sound wave) that, when applied to the terminals of a loudspeaker, create sounds. Analogue synthesizers were mostly replaced Famous modular synthesizer manufactures include Moog, ARP Instruments, Inc., and Electronic Music Studios.
Early analogue synthesizers went out of fashion for a while because they went out of tune when they felt like it, their knobs were not always calibrated in a uniform fashion and they mostly didnt have a clue about MIDI. As a result, analogue synthesizers went onto the scrap heap until they were discovered there by seminal dance music producers who liked the fact that they were cheap and made strange sounds, such as huge basses, grinding leads, haunting pads and more space noises than you can shake an x-files fan at. These sounds have become the staple currency of much of modern music and analogue synthesizers have enjoyed a renaissance of popularity exceeding even their original reception.
Analogue synthesizers enjoyed some popularity until the mid-eighties when Yamaha introduced the DX7, which pretty much killed them overnight. The DX7 was an entirely digital synthesizer which employed a mind-bogglingly complicated form of synthesis known as Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis to produce stunningly lifelike electric pianos and bell-type sounds.
The DX7 was one of the first synthesizers with a full complement of MIDI ports. It also has a unique breath controller input port. This device allowed the user to manipulated the instruments timbre using breath pressure via a mouth held tube. The DX7 has 16-note polyphony, a 61-note velocity and an aftertouch-sensing keyboard, 32 onboard memories, additional cartridge memory and monophonic output.
The technique for synthesizing harmonic sounds through the increase of FM modulation was invented in the late 60s / early 70s by John Chowning and was later licensed to Yamaha.
Whilst experimenting with wildly exaggerated vibratos and a couple of oscillators, using the output of one to control the other, Chowning heard something remarkable. At a frequency of around 20Hz a recognizable tone colour, one that was rich in harmonics, emerged from the machine. He began tweaking his algorithm and pretty soon, as he recalls, “using only two oscillators, I was making bell tones and clarinet-like tones and bassoon-like tones, and I thought, you know, this is interesting.”
Physical modelling is the use of software to build a model recreating all the physical processes occurring when something happens, in this case when an analogue synth makes a sound. The idea behind this is that by recreating the process authentically, you will also authentically recreate its result.
The first commercially available physical modelling synthesizer made using waveguide synthesis was the Yamaha VL1 in 1994
With physical modeling you are not creating the sound directly – you are creating and controlling a process that produces that sound. You define the process which models the actual instrument, and then when you play this synthetic instrument, you are specifying some of the necessary parameters needed to make the sounds. This approach will take sound synthesis up to a higher level.
A sampler has no internally generated sounds at all. It is the digital recording of an existing sound – like acoustic instruments, the sounds of nature or the human voice, which is then replayed at a range of pitches
Sampling is a digital technology – there are no tapes or other conventional recording devices involved. Instead the external sound is analysed by a microprocessor, chopped up into tiny pieces and stored in the samplers memory as a huge array of numbers. Once the sound has been recorded it can be mapped over the keyboard (sample player device) and used exactly as the internal waveforms of the traditional synthesizers.
Today sampling technology is used in nearly every personal computer, and a sampling instrument is no more expensive than a regular synthesizer.
A normal desktop computer with a decent 16-bit soundcard can do everything that a dedicated sampling musical instrument can – and even with better sound quality, more functions and greater ease of use.
All thats required is some software to put this technology to work.
Sampling software exists in many different forms and shapes today, but one of the best software-based sampling instruments available today is the GigaSampler from NemeSys.
As recently as fifteen years ago, sampling required extremely advanced technology, and the few sampling musical instruments available (like the famous Fairlight CMI) had price