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Create sounds using analogue electronics (Part 7)

Posted: 27 Jul 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Pitch-bend  voltage control  subtractive synthesis 

Analogue modular synthesisers are not arranged in a logical order because there is no way to anticipate what they will be used for, except for the simplest cases. The most usual arrangement has the oscillators and other sound sources grouped together, usually on the top or on the left, with the modifiers (filters and amplifiers) in the centre or middle and the EGs on the right or bottom.

Performance instruments have memories that can be used to store and recall sounds or timbres quickly. They are often used as replay machines for a series of presets.

Modular synthesisers normally have no memory facilities, or very simple generic ones which do not have the immediacy of those found in polyphonic instruments (figure 5).

Figure 5: (i) A performance-oriented synthesiser is designed to rapidly recall stored sounds and allow detailed performance effects to be applied with a range of specialised controllers. (ii) A modular synthesiser provides a wide range of modules which provide great flexibility, but at the expense of complexity and ease-of-use.

Performance synthesisers have modules arranged in a way that enables quick results: VCO–VCF–VCA with EGs. Modular synthesisers have few preset connections, if any, and so whilst it is quick and easy to connect a VCO to an amplifier and get a sound which will play until you turn the VCO or amplifier off, it can take some time to get a sound from a modular synthesiser which can be used in conventional performance.

It has been said that modular synthesisers are the ultimate synthesisers and that it is only time that limits people's use of them. Actually, modular synthesisers are severely limited by a combination of the design and the user. The design is limited by the problems of trying to cope with patch-leads and lots of controls underneath.

The user is fully occupied trying to hold everything about what is happening in their head: a simple VCO–VCF–VCA setup with a couple of EGs can be spread over more than a dozen modules and 20 or more patch-leads. The limitations are all too evident: no programmability, a confusing and obscure user interface and lots of scribbled sheets noting down settings and patches. They are also often write-only devices – once the user has produced a patch, coming back 3 months later and trying to figure out what is happening is almost impossible. It is often much faster to start all over again.

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