After posting about the rash of hardware synth sequencer performances on YouTube and speculating that it might be a micro-genre in the making, I noticed Cory Arcangel had a series of links to Ed DMX's website, which is chock a block with pictures of mostly '80s gear and the sounds they produce. Some great stuff there. (Like this .mp3.)

What we're seeing, I think, is the reaction to what DMX calls "the computer revolution" in music production. There's almost no function of old gear that your laptop and a good soundcard can't do better and more imaginatively nowadays, so inevitably the outmoded becomes fetishized.

It's ironic that the sequencer, a piece of gear that generates MIDI patterns for synths to play, was yesterday's soul deadening "end of music as we know it," but now that it's been made superfluous by software--honestly, nothing is easier for your computer to do than generate MIDI notes--it is all about "warmth" and "hands-on playing."

Not saying that analog synthesis lacks romance. I'm guilty of spending hours surfing old synth sites and have recently plunked down for a couple of pieces of such gear, but have mostly not succumbed to the urge to fill up my apartment with power-hogging, space-occupying, hard-to-transport machinery.

And I'm not saying that watching someone play a hardware sequencer live isn't superior to watching a performer stroke a laptop thumbpad. (Although, done badly, which they usually are, "sequencer workouts" quickly devolve into boring new age music.) And I'm not suggesting that the crackly, juiced up voltages of analog synths aren't sexy as hell.

But perhaps we need to separate what's irreplaceable about the "old new ways" from our kneejerk reaction to the "new new ways." Former computerphobe Brian Eno is selling off his gear--that's a good, positive role model for everyone. Small is beautiful.

- tom moody 8-30-2006 10:37 pm

its a strange debate.. anything analog is like a heavy, pricy antique (i.e. tube amplifiers for guitars..), so its meaning has changed dramatically... and making anything with computers is in a way completely free ($$ wise) because its something you might already have for another purpose..

i find it interesting that now the only machine you use to make music is the exact same machine others will use to listen to it (mp3s)
- guthrie (guest) 8-31-2006 12:23 am

Softsynths are definitely handy for certain projects, but I still use outboard gear for 95% of what I do.

I don't need a roomfull of gear, just a few special pieces. Aside from the Treewave gear I mainly just need my EMAX II sampler and Casio SK1. If I didn't have the C64s, I'd have one analog synth. Probably a Six Trak.

I'd rather spend a lot of time on one piece of gear and master it than have a room full of 100 synths that I sorta know how to use. I guess that's part of what I don't like about softsynths. When you can have download the synths in the world, none of them are special anymore.
- paul (guest) 8-31-2006 6:06 am

I'm gradually keying in on a few softsynths that I'm learning in depth. The Kontakt 2 sampler, Battery, and the RMIV drum machine are really great instruments. Cubase continues to surprise me with what it can do. With all its audio mixing capability, It's so much more than just a piano roll.

I'm not very good with Reaktor, but I would disagree that it's not "special." Just as a listener--those folks are going way out there with granular synthesis and the "recombinant" approach to building synths in one program. (I think they need to mix that platform with other programs/instruments and fuck things up more, but that's me.)

As a musician, Paul, you have a philosophy of how you approach gear that's hugely successful--I'm not saying those aren't valid working methods. But someone working with softsynths can develop work routines and a philosophy toward the "virtual gear" that are also valid, with the added bonus of being in an environment that changes as the software changes, with the further added bonus of being totally plugged into the internet and its communities at the software level. And having it all sitting on your lap.

I don't pretend to be there as a musician with that stuff, just saying it's possible.

It's funny--I don't talk so rhapsodically about software "advances" on the visual side. I mostly couldn't give a crap about the "drive to the virtual" that you see in movies, etc. But for some reason I'm more interested in the bleeding edge on the audio side. I think it's more convincing, somehow. Possibly because our eyes are more discriminating and skeptical than our ears? (I say "our" because I don't think it's just me.)

- tom moody 8-31-2006 7:01 am

I know, I was definitely exaggerating. I think softsynths are cool, and I had fun using that one on that Deep House thing I did.

And I'd much rather hang out with a guy that collects softsynths over a guy that collects real synths!!! Guys that collect real synths are usually creepy.

But I don't see how I could ever be as attached to a piece of software as I am to the EMAX II. I'd totally marry it if I could.
- paul (guest) 8-31-2006 8:51 am

Not to pry you two apart, but I know at one point you said something about hardware samplers being better for "having it all under one roof." That's pretty much how I see the software sequencer/softsampler partnership. The sequencer records audio and makes the patterns and the sampler does all the sound manipulation. With the added advantage of seeing the entire score and the entire sample map on a big screen (or two screens).

That deep house thing is amazing--no one would necessarily know it was all done virtually.
- tom moody 8-31-2006 9:20 am

"Creepy guys collecting synths" reminded me of someone who used to perform in the DC area in my youth, kind of a fixture on the scene--he had a massive modular synth and wore chain mail. I found his web page, which has files in Real Audio and hasn't been updated since 2000. I'll send you a link, it's just too cruel to post.
- tom moody 8-31-2006 10:37 am

My problem is that none of the soft-samplers I've seen have an interface I like. They're not even really samplers -- they're sample based synths. So the way I work, I can actually get stuff done faster on my EMAX.

The sampler paradigm has changed a bit. I even had a hard time finding a hardware sampler that I liked when I was shopping for a portable one recently.

And I don't really do much sequencing. Almost everything I do is played, so I just hit the record button and go.
- paul (guest) 8-31-2006 9:58 pm

Love my Moog Prodigy, Love my Moog Rogue, love my softsynths too!
It's a big freaky 3-way (or more) sometimes.
My all-time fave "synth" is my didgeridoo. Non-electric, termite-holllowed eucalyptus branch, play with your own body's harmonic resonance, your mouth, cheeks, tongue, lips, sinuses, other body cavities provide the "envelopes" + "filters". Best trip-toy of all time!!!
Very active user community for the last several thousand years, depending on where & when you are.
- Thor Johnson 9-01-2006 12:17 am

My favorite didgeridoo "concert" was in a talus cave in Pinnacles National Monument. It was if the resonances of the player, the instrument and the venue were working together.
- mark 9-01-2006 12:55 am

Good point Mark, the space of the place where a didgeridoo is played has a lot to do with the final tonal qualities produced. Caves produce awesome overtones that sound like angels screwing devils! My best experience ever playing didgeridoo was at Enchanted Rock (near Fredericksburg Texas) which has its own acoustical resonant qualities, in one of the "caves" there, not a real cave but a big chamber formed by some huge cataclysm aeons ago that piled huge boulders on top of each other. It was cave-like. The "cave" was about halfway up the rock, there are tiny cracks and rifts in the rock that continue from the "cave" up through to the very top of the rock, and when I was in there playing a friend of mine was up on top of the rock and he said the sound was being amplified and was coming out of the cracks beneath his feet, and other tourists were very puzzled as to what the sound was and where it came from, hilarious! Lots of fun, guys. Plus it feels great to play. I know this sounds really hippie but oh well.
- Thor Johnson 9-01-2006 2:05 am

I climbed Enchanted Rock once (as long as we're being hippie, here it is on shrooms--actually it's a 3-D pic but it gives you a sense how big that granite mountain is). At the time my brother was playing bagpipes and I know he had them on that trip. I don't remember the caves though.
- tom moody 9-01-2006 2:23 am

The "cave" is kind of hard to find, if you climb up from the parking lot and go around on the "left" side it is maybe halfway to 2/3rds the way up on the "back" side of the rock, you have to crawl on your belly to get in the hole but it opens up pretty big once you get in there. Crawling in I did get that "I could die in here" feeling, it is a little bit tight at first. On some of the "caves"there are signs saying "DANGER" etc. but this one did not have a sign.
I think the cave is pictured here:

this might be a description of the "cave":

"To the north of the summit lies Enchanted Rock Fissure, a deep, narrow, cave-like ravine with sheer drops and tight passages. Some climbing ability is needed to explore this feature."

"Tonkawa Indians believed ghost fires flickered at the top, and they heard weird creaking and groaning, which geologists now say resulted from the rock's heating by day and contracting in the cool night."
- Thor Johnson 9-01-2006 3:01 am

add a comment to this page:

Your post will be captioned "posted by anonymous,"
or you may enter a guest username below:

Line breaks work. HTML tags will be stripped.